Hawaii is a “big ticket” or once-in-a-lifetime vacation for most people so I thought I would share a list of my top tips for having a great time on Oahu.
- Rent a car for a day or more and get out and see the island on your own. Oahu is very easy to get around, the speed limits are low and slow, and there is something amazing around every bend in the road.
- Eat like a local. Don’t even think about eating at some crummy chain you have back home. Ask any and everyone you meet where they love to eat. The locals will steer you to the best places and as a bonus, these restaurants will likely cost a lot less than the touristy ones. Sweet Home Waimanalo, Side Street Inn and Camaron’s Shrimp Truck were all great local faves we were clued into. Every day I challenged myself to try something I’d never eaten before or can’t find back home. I’ve definitely enjoyed adding some new foods to my cooking repertoire!
- That said, do hit a few of the touristy favorites like Leonard’s Bakery, Dukes Waikiki and the Tiki’s Grill. These places are tourist favorites for a reason! Sure they are crowded and a bit pricey, but heck, how often are you in Hawaii? The malasadas at Leonard’s are a must-try, the salad bar and Mai Tai’s at Dukes are fab, and the macadamia crusted Mahi Mahi at Tiki’s Grill was one of the best fish entrees I’ve ever had in my life.
- Take in the local culture – visit the Iolani Palace and the Territorial Building; check out the Bishop Museum and the Army Museum of Hawaii; go to a quality luau; stop and check out the historical markers you pass; learn a few Hawaiian words and use them; tuck a plumeria blossom in your hair and savor the sweet fragrance. The native culture of Hawaii is rich and fascinating and it’s a beautiful addition to the melting pot of America.
- Hit an ABC store (or two). Now if, like me, you are from North Carolina you might be thinking “why do I need to hit a few liquor stores?” (in NC the state run liquor stores are called ABC stores). There are ABC stores on practically every corner in Honolulu, and at first I thought, “man, what’s with all the booze!?” Sure, you can get booze at the ABC store, but you can also get pretty much anything else. It’s like a mini Hawaiian Wal-Mart. If you need it on your trip, they sell it at the ABC store. If you want to bring something home for someone, they sell it at the ABC store. They’re fun, they’re kitchy. Go!
- Spend some time strolling and shopping on the energetic Kalakaua Avenue. Kalakaua is lined with huge, beautiful hotels and parks, all kinds of shopping from extremely high end designer shops to the kitchy International Market, and every kind of restaurant you can think of. The vibe is decidedly upbeat and international, so dress your best and join the parade!
- Take a sunset or moonlit stroll on Waikiki Beach. Daytime crowds on Waikiki Beach are oppressive to say the least. I have no idea where everyone goes after 5 pm (oh, yeah, Kalakaua Avenue), but a sunset stroll will be less crowded and beautiful and a moonlit stroll will be downright romantic! Be sure to stop in for a Mai Tai at any number of “walk up” beachside bars.
- Visit the North Shore to watch the surfers and hit at least two different shrimp trucks. And don’t just go for the garlic shrimp!
- Spend an afternoon driving the Kamehameha Hwy on the windward side and stop at every beach. Amazingly, they all look different. All beaches in Hawaii are public and many have simple facilities. Be extra careful to lock your car and hide any valuables (unfortunately smash and grabs are a problem in Oahu). If you go during the week, you will likely have a beach all to yourself. What a lovely way to spend an afternoon – on your own private Hawaiian beach!
- Hike Diamond Head. It’s an easy hike if you are even remotely fit. The history of the place is interesting (both geological and military) and the views are not to be missed. It’s $5 a carload, and get out there early before it gets crazy crowded and hot.
- Visit the Arizona Memorial and spend some quality time at the museum there. The audio tour is excellent and the displays are first-rate. It is a moving, fascinating complex for anyone to tour, and if you are blessed to be an American, it will make your heart swell with pride and gratitude.
And my number 1 tip for having a fabulous time in Oahu:
- Put down your damn iPhone, talk to the people you are actually with and enjoy the beautiful, amazing place where you actually are. sheesh!
Okay, here are a few bonus “don’ts” to help make the most of your time on Oahu:
- Don’t spend all your time on Waikiki or even in Honolulu. Oahu is so much more than a tourist mecca.
- Don’t use one of those group airport shuttles. You save only a few dollars with them, and you lose several hours of precious vacation time. Because those shuttles pick up a large group of people from all over Waikiki you end up spending a ton of time on the bus, not to mention the fact they will get you to the airport several hours sooner than you need to be there. You are probably spending thousands to visit Hawaii. Spend $5 more and get your own cab or use the excellent A8 service I mentioned in my Hawaii Travelogue 1 post.
- If you spend some time in Waikiki, don’t stay at one of the sprawling mega-resorts (such as the Hilton Hawaiian Village) – stay at one of the smaller properties. At the huge resorts you waste so much time just going to and from your room, and don’t get me started about getting to your car. Your stress level and probably your bill will be lower at a smaller property.