I had no idea what to expect in visiting Hawaii. I don’t know that many people who have been, and everyone has a completely different experience depending on why you’re going and what island you’re visiting. Here’s a little slice (honestly — barely scratching the surface) of Oahu and what you should check out on your visit there.
Marukame Udon has my whole heart. I am still thinking about the two lunches that I had there. It always has a line, but it moves pretty quickly and ensures that there will be somewhere to sit down and eat when you make it through the lunch line and finally have the goods. 12/10 would recommend. Side Street Inn is a weird one that was recommended to us by one of Claire’s coworker and is definitely off the beaten path. The fried rice was to die for.
As for dinners by the beach in Waikiki — I didn’t have a bad meal, but I also didn’t take any pictures of my food. I feel like a lot of them have similar menus, and you can’t really go wrong with a drink and dinner by the beach. We enjoyed Duke’s, Hula Grill, and Tiki’s Grill (plus others I’m sure I’ve forgotten!). We also had brunch at a couple of great spots — Mahina & Suns and Yield.
Dessert on vacation was obviously a necessity. Ice Cream Rolls Hawaii is a new…cart, essentially, that serves rolled ice cream. I had wanted to try rolled ice cream for a really long time, and boy did it live up to my hype. The guy did it himself in the cart, making my strawberry ice cream with Nutella and graham crackers with literal strawberries and cream. I loved it. Ted’s Bakery in North Shore had the best cake and was recommended by a high school friend of mine whose family is from Hawaii.
We only went to a handful of place specifically for drinks (though we did enjoy many a mai tai with our meals!). Honolulu Beerworks was my favorite. A super cute brewery with games, string lights, farm tables, concrete floors — the perfect place. On the way you can check out all of the street art in the neighborhood! The vibe at Maui Brewing Company was not as chill as Honolulu (it’s on a main street in busy Waikiki), but I loved their flight. Side note — it’s up a lot of stairs, so maybe start your night of drinking here. It’s a great spot to hit before dinner downtown or on your way home at the end of a relaxing night. We also went to Top of Waikiki, a fun rotating restaurant with a great view. I enjoyed a Singapore Sling on the day I finished one of the Crazy Rich Asians novels!
Hiking and beaches are probably two of the first things you think of when you imagine Hawaii. And with good reason! They’re great things to do! I didn’t really hike by myself (a couple of days before I got to Honolulu there was a story about someone who died hiking alone and I got spooked). Together Claire and I hiked Diamond Head (I don’t think you’re allowed to go to Oahu and not do this hike), and I drove to a few places ~ near ~ hikes like Nu‘uanu Pali Lookout and Lulumahu Falls. Picking a favorite beach is like picking a favorite child, but I think I’m going to have to go with Lanikai. It was perfect for relaxing, reading, and taking a quick nap. I don’t think I’d want to lounge at Waikiki, but it was the perfect place to watch the sunset.
A day on the North Shore is a must. Relax on the beach, go snorkeling, search for sea turtles (we saw two!), eat great food. Haleiwa town is an adorable stop where you can eat and shop (please go to Matsumoto Shave Ice, which has been serving shaved ice for more than 60 years). Visit Laniakea Beach (for the turtles) and Sunset Beach (for…duh — get cake at Ted’s Bakery then watch the sunset). You’ll need a car to get there, but if you don’t need a car the whole week I recommend Turo — it’s like Airbnb for cars. We rented a convertible for something like $35 for the day!
You’ll find Pearl Harbor and Iolani Palace on basically every guide to Oahu — this one included. For one thing, Pearl Harbor is free which makes it a great way to spend a few hours. The tour is very interesting (though we didn’t get to go in the Arizona Memorial because of a broken landing dock), and there’s wonderful exhibits to read. Iolani Palace is not free but presents a fascinating look at the end of the monarchy in Hawaii. The audio tour is included and teaches you a ton, and they have tons of artifacts (clothing, jewels, household goods) to see first-hand.
The Byodo-In Temple was a dark horse favorite. It’s a replica of a temple in Japan established in 1968 to commemorate the 100 year anniversary of the first Japanese immigrants to Hawaii. I’ve never been to a temple before, so that was fascinating, and the grounds around it were gorgeous. Don’t be spooked when you drive through a graveyard to get there — you’re in the right spot!
If you’re after rest and relaxation, look into visiting a spa while you’re in Oahu, and let me let you in on my secret — Groupon. I found a great deal for a massage at the Four Seasons spa, which got me access to the spa and their pools for an entire day. I wish I’d stolen one of the robes — if only I’d had a bigger bag!
Finally, take to the water — Friday night fireworks on the beach by the Hilton, a catamaran ride, and a sunset paddleboard class with Yoga Floats! Go with Becca, she was an awesome instructor and let us take as many pictures as we wanted when class was done.
You’ve got to get an aloha shirt. It’s kitschy, but they’re so fun and comfortable! You can find them at a lot of different convenience stores for cheap, but those are no good. I’d point you to Bailey’s Antiques and Aloha Shirts, where there are literally thousands of aloha shirts at all different price points. I bought two — it was too hard to decide! I browsed for over an hour in BookEnds, an independent book store in Kailua where I picked up a couple of birthday presents for friends and swooned over stacks and stacks of books. My favorite souvenir came from Mahina Boutique (bad website, great store), where I got a lovely iridescent and gold star necklace that I’ve worn every day since I got back (after accidentally leaving it in the store right when I bought it. Oops!).
The most convenient part of this whole trip was accommodation. Claire was staying in an Airbnb for her month in Hawaii; I stayed there with her. You’d never want to live there full-time (hello crowds and $$$$), but it was perfect for a vacation. It was a great location, just a short walk from the beach restaurants, and all of the main sights in Waikiki. I can’t speak to any hotels except the Hyatt Regency Waikiki Beach. They’ve got a lovely pool that I went to (snuck into) more than once. Thanks Hyatt! It was great!