This post is dedicated to my family and friends who have not yet had the chance to visit Hawaii or Oahu. I write with hopes that it will assist you with your vacation planning if you decide on making a trip out there in the future (you definitely should if you haven't!). For those of you who have already been, I hope these photos and descriptions bring back some good times and fond memories! Feel free to drop a comment if you have any additional recommendations you'd like to give - I'd genuinely love to hear. And finally, shout out to my college friends from Berkeley who I shared my first ever trip to Hawaii with: John, Ronnie, Brian, Tiff, Vincent, Grace, Jeff, JJ, and Clay. You guys made my first tropical experience one to remember!
Honolulu / Waikiki / South Oahu
Located on the South Shore of Oahu is Honolulu, the capital of Hawaii. Waikiki is a famous neighborhood in Honolulu most well known for it's beachfront, Waikiki Beach. This area is extremely popular with tourists and has typical city features such as hotels, restaurants, and shopping centers. Honestly, we didn't try very hard to visit Waikiki Beach because we got a glimpse of it at Kaimana Beach, which was quite busy and over crowded with people during the daytime. Ala Moana Beach was a better, less crowded beach to go to in that area during the evening time. There are many places to eat in Honolulu including Rainbow-Drive In (local Hawaiian BBQ - the type that comes with mac salad and scoop of rice), Ono Seafood (traditional Hawaiian food - ahi tuna poke bowls), Marukame Udon (udon, shrimp & vegetable tempura sold cafeteria-style), Musubi Cafe Iyasume (spam musubi and rice balls that come in different combinations), Leonard's Bakery (malasadas, think of it as Portuguese-style donuts that can come with cinnamon on the outside and custard inside), Coconut Cafe (shaved ice with ice cream inside), Honolulu Cookie Company (pineapple-shaped shortbread cookies dipped in chocolate), and Lanikai Juice (fruit smoothies and acai bowls, basically their Jamba Juice).
There are a ton of activities and attractions in Honolulu. To start, there is the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center, where you can visit the USS Arizona Memorial and book the following tours: USS Missouri, USS Bowfin Submarine, and the Pacific Aviation Museum. You can visit the USS Arizona Memorial by reserving tickets online for $1.50 and picking them up the day of. The visit will include a brief informational film about the history of USS Arizona and a ferry trip to see the memorial that was built over the sunken ship at Pearl Harbor. If you are interested in hiking and want to see lush Hawaiian scenery, you can hike Manoa Falls or walk through the Harold L. Lyon Arboretum (where you can also go up a shorter trail to see 'Aihualama Falls) in the Monoa Valley. Another gorgeous hike is Lulumahu Falls, located in the Nu'uanu Pali Valley. Lulumahu Falls is a very challenging, but incredibly rewarding hike that will take you through bamboo forests, open green valleys, and across streams, ultimately leading you to a refreshing falls with a small pool. (Side note: bring bug repellent if you hike in this area because there are mosquitos and also wear old shoes that you don't mind getting very muddy!) If you just want to see a panoramic view of windward Oahu without hiking, stop by the Nu'uanu Pali Lookout. One of my personal favorite activities was snorkeling at Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve, where you are required to watch a quick safety video about protecting the reef and then and then can snorkel all day over living coral reefs with different species of fish and sea creatures. Continuing south along the highway around the island, you can stop by the Halona Blowhole Lookout to see a rock formation that sprays and shoots up ocean waters into the air like a geyser. Drive down a little further and you will pass by Sandy Beach Park (potential South Shore surfing spot because of the bigger waves) and get to the Makapu'u Lighthouse Point Trail, where you can hike a wide, paved path to see the Makapu'u Lighthouse or venture down the rocky cliffside to see the beautiful Makapu'u Tidepools (amazing to float around in). Two other popular outdoor South Shore hikes we didn't get a chance to do are Diamond Head and Koko Head, perhaps next time we'll get to visit these extinct volcanoes!
Kailua / Lanikai / East Oahu
Some of the island's most beautiful, picturesque beaches are located in East Oahu, including Kailua Beach Park and Lanikai Beach (ranked one of the top beaches in the world and well known for its two islands in the background). Both beaches are less crowded than Waikiki, consist of soft sand and lovely turquoise waters, and seem like great places to kayak. My favorite beach from the whole trip, however, is Waimanalo Beach Park, because it is very peaceful, quiet, and more secluded with very little people. The water at Waimanalo is just as pretty as Lanikai with its teal colors, soft white sand, and perfect temperature. If you want to do an East Oahu hike or see an awesome panoramic view of Lanikai, there is the Lanikai Pillbox Hike. One way can take around 30 minutes (depending on how experienced of a hiker you are) and will lead you to one of two graffiti-ed bunkers on the top. The terrain is dry and the heat may make it difficult, but the view on top is quite stunning. As for food in East Oahu, I would recommend Cinnamon's Restaurant. It is a great family-and-big-group-friendly place to go for brunch with large tables set up in a courtyard. They also have a pretty big menu including guava chiffon pancakes and kalua pork eggs benedict!
Hale'iwa / Laie / North Oahu
If you're looking for beaches best for surfing, paddle boarding, and other active water activities, head on over to North Shore! There are plenty of beaches including Hale'iwa Beach Park, Laniakea Beach / Turtle Beach (where you can see lots of sea turtles swimming in the waves near the shore), and Waimea Bay Beach Park (for those brave enough for some cliff jumping or those who want to hike Waimea Falls nearby). Some of my friends and I signed up for early morning surfing lessons in Hale'iwa with Uncle Bryan's Sunset Suratt Surf Academy, which was a lot of fun! After two hours of surfing under the sun, our lunch stop right after was Giovanni's Shrimp Truck, where they have three options of delicious shrimp & rice plates: shrimp scampi, hot & spicy shrimp, lemon butter shrimp. Other North Shore food and desert destinations: Waialua Bakery and Juice Bar (sandwiches with sprouts and home-baked bread, smoothies, and acai bowls), Matsumoto's Shaved Ice (tropical flavors, condensed milk, and mochi toppings), and Dole Plantation (pineapple dole whip). The Dole Plantation has a huge souvenir shop, pineapple-cutting demonstrations, giant maze, plantation gardens (with rainbow eucalyptus trees), and a Pineapple Express train ride. If you drive up north and around the island to Laie, you can get to the Polynesian Cultural Center, a theme park where you can visit visit six different island villages (Aotearoa, Fiji, Hawaii, Marquesas, Samoa, Tahiti, and Tonga), watch different shows, ride a canoe attraction, eat a buffet/luau dinner, and watch the "Ha: Breath of Life" evening performance that showcases Polynesian dance, music, and fire stunts. Clay and I loved the show at the Samoa village, where we saw basket-weaving, coconut-cutting, palm tree climbing, and fire spinning. All the island shows are really enjoyable and entertaining and you are free to stop by whichever scheduled show that suits your interest!
Ko Olina / Kapolei
During our weeklong trip in Oahu, we stayed at one of the Ko Olina Resorts, Marriott's Ko Olina Beach Club. I can't say enough how lucky and spoiled I felt having a swimming pool and lagoon located just right outside the lobby. Apparently, we heard that even the locals head over there for their own vacation and getaway destination. Anyway, I wanted to include this last section for those staying in Ko Olina or Kapolei - hopefully this helps give an idea of some nearby restaurants where you can eat out without driving all the way to Honolulu. First, there is Curry House CoCo Ichibanya, where you can order various curry plates. I tried a mapo tofu and gyoza curry with spinach and it was very yummy. There's also Ko Olina Hawaiian BBQ (typical Hawaiian BBQ) and Thai Lao Restaurant (they have some spicy Pad Ki Mao!) that are close by. Right down the street from our resort, was a plaza with Island Vintage Coffee (great stop for morning coffee at the start of your day; one of five chains in Oahu) and Monkey Pod Kitchen (good place to go for some reasonably priced late night appetizers and pizza during happy hour).
Wow, that turned out to be quite a bit, but I hope that this was a helpful trip-planning blog post for new travelers to Oahu and served its purpose of giving a good, basic introduction points of interest around island! Mahalo for reading my comprehensive first trip to Hawaii documented in the form of this Oahu travel brochure blog post! :)
Just capturing as I go.