Making it to the Hawaiian islands is something that was delayed for far too long in my life. I am almost embarrassed to say that I didn’t make my first trip there until after turning 30. I honestly couldn’t tell you why I put it off… maybe a small part of me thought it was a cliche vacation to take, or that other places were more easily accessible. Thanks to a family member’s wedding on Oahu, I was finally pushed over the edge and had to plan a trip. A beach wedding in the middle of winter… you don’t have to twist my arm guys!
The wedding was booked in Paradise Cove, and my husband decided to book us a place in downtown Waikiki Beach, and upon our arrival it was apparent that we were doing a few things right. Our hotel elevator basically dropped us off from our room onto the beach… we walked out at dusk and loved the warm air, the sound of the waves, the white sandy beaches, it all felt just right!
The rest of our trip continued to get better. It in all, was a perfect visit! So, I am sharing with you my TOP 5 pieces of advice to take into consideration when visiting Oahu!
1. Stay on Waikiki Beach
In a touristy area, there are places to stay galore. You can surely save a few bucks not staying on the beach, but all our friends who did that regretted doing so! We found many family members who stayed off-beach driving around tons and traffic/one way streets there are a NIGHTMARE. Also, when looking for some beach time, they were packing bags, loading cars; it was quite a maneuver… especially for families with kids! Every evening after all our day-time activities we were on the hotel beach by 4pm at the latest, and most of our family would join us an hour or two later due to poor logistics. I am sure we got in hours more of beach time thanks to our location on Waikiki Beach!
In regards to WHERE on Waikiki Beach, I have a few suggestions here too. We stayed at the Outrigger Waikiki Beach and I was enamored by it. To start, their customer service was outstanding. We were greeted at check-in with cold hand towels and flutes of fresh Guava juice. Their concierge was always more helpful than you expect, and our daughter’s puppy dog even got special treatment from the housekeepers. In addition, the location was absolutely perfect. We were in the heart of downtown Waikiki, immediately on the beach. Everything we wanted to do was right at our fingertips – there is even a Duke’s attached! We enjoyed several meals there on the lanai, and I did lots of shopping at the cute boutiques in the lobby. My other top recommendations for places to stay would be the Sheraton Waikiki Beach (AMAZING pools!), or the Grand Hawaiian, which is known as being not only the first resort on Waikiki Beach, but the most elaborate.
2. Bring your athletic gear and go for some hikes!!
The views on Oahu are spectacular, the more so the higher up you go. There are countless mountains and waterfalls that have relatively easy hikes associated with them… okay for almost any athletic capability or age. Our second day, we enjoyed the Diamond Head as a large groups. There were hikers ages 10 months – 60 years old! The path was relatively paved the whole way (true pavement on the bottom and cobblestone towards the top) and our 3-year-old was able to run up the whole thing. Summit was beautiful, and the frequent showers over the island (thanks to the rain forest climate) allowed us to enjoy several beautiful rainbows… more brilliant than I have ever seen!
in regards to other hikes, I would first check this website for suggestions, but second, just ask the locals when you are there! Even people at the check out counters at some of the shops we stopped at were willing to offer advice as to what the good hikes were, per our families abilities (aka, what a small child can tolerate). Diamond Head was about as easy at it gets, but there are much more complex ones too!
3. Dine Local!
One thing that did kill me a little, was all the chain restaurants I saw walking down the main street in downtown Waikiki. Our first night we couldn’t believe the line outside the Cheesecake Factory. Do people really vacation and look forward to eating processed, frozen then thawed, mass-produced food from these massive food chains?? Don’t even get me started on the Hard Rock Cafe.
Oahu offers an incredible foodie experience, and some cuisine unlike any other region! I think in a past life I must have been a pacific islander, because their food is total comfort food to me. Our first night I enjoyed some fresh ahi poke tacos at Duke’s, and they literally melted in my mouth.
The next day, we dined out at Buho for dinner, an entirely open-air cantina featuring Mexican/Islander fusion cuisine and it was to die for! The fresh margarita menu was impressive, the live music popping, and the food was spectacular.
As we ventured outside of the city later in the week, we gave a local Hawaiian BBQ joint a try, called L&L BBQ. If you are a Northwestern-er, think of the interior and ordering like your average teriyaki shop found in every strip mall in and around Seattle. Just replace teriyaki with the best Kahlua Pork you have ever tasted, with heaping sides of rice and mac salad. Some people don’t understand the mac salad thing, where I say load it on!
In all, I had no regrets with any of the food I tried and love where Polynesian culture is at with their cuisine! I wish I had some sushi there just because the meats seemed so quality and fresh, but I may have ate enough Poke to make up for it. Any time convenience or comfort leans you to non-local cuisine, steer yourself away and you will be glad you did! And of course, grab some shaved ice while you are at it 🙂
4. Get away from the tourism – Kualoa Ranch & Lanikai Beach
Again, Waikiki Beach is fun and flourishing, but also very touristy! The amount of selfie sticks I almost got poked in the eye with were ridiculous. I have family on the island who graciously offered to get us out of the high-volume touristy areas with an island tour. She took us all the way to the windward side of the island, first to enjoy Kualoa Ranch. Kualoa Ranch is a massive nature reserve, featuring attractions such as tours of where Jurassic Park was filmed, zip-lining, ATV tours, and much more. The part we enjoyed however was their market! With locally made crafts, fresh produce, locally farmed Kona coffee, flavored macadamia nuts to taste, and much more, we easily spent hours there collecting delicious treats and souvenirs to bring home. The locals were so kind and friendly, even allowing my daughter behind the scenes to try fresh “apple bananas” on the farm.
For our second half of the day, we made it over to Lanikai Beach, which is truly the most beautiful beach I have ever stepped foot on in my life. It was a windy day, but the water wasn’t totally blown out and we were able to have fun swimming, snorkeling, and of course soaking up the sun. Lanikai is known for being a great place for snorkeling and paddle boarding, and we will surely always come back to this spot when on Oahu in the future.
5. Visit the Royal Palace
The Hawaiian culture is extremely rich, and has a very interesting and tragic past. As an American citizen, I knew that Hawaii was a state and wasn’t quite sure the history of how it was acquired… with a rainy cool day on the island that left us searching for indoor activities, we came across the idea of touring Iolani Palace. Iolani was the Hawaiian Royal Palace that has since been restored and iconic/historic artifacts recovered, after their tragic overturn a centuries ago. It was a very eye opening experience for us to see how advanced the Hawaiian culture was, how much they were thriving, how well they were living, all before European invasion and introduction of disease that decimated their way of living and population. The cost was minimal, and the audio self-guided tour very informative. One thing to know – children are welcome but must sit in strollers (provided for you). It is a very hushed environment, so it would be important that the child is able to sit politely for about 45 mins to an hour while either participating in the self-guided or group tour.
In all, we had an AMAZING time on Oahu! Don’t let the pictures fool you – we did a lot, but there was so much that we wished we had time to do but just weren’t able to squeeze in! The weather, the culture, the environment… it was all so awesome that it took us a literal few weeks to get our minds off the beach and back into Seattle life at home.
If you have a visit planned to Oahu, don’t hesitate to reach out and ask any questions! I am happy to answer where I am able.