Aloha! Tips for Planning a Trip to Oahu, Hawaii!

Aloha! I just got back from Hawaii and had a blast. It was relaxing, breath-taking, delicious, exhausting, warm, romantic and truly awesome.
I’m going to share with you some must do’s by category so you can have an AMAZING experience. I’ll be efficient and to the point so if you have any questions just let me know! So here you go… how to Hawaii.
Background: My husband and I stayed on Oahu at a Waikiki resort but cruised the entire island. It was amazing. We stayed for 7 nights and truly packed in the experiences.

HOTELS to stay at:
1- We stayed at the Outrigger Reef hotel resort and it was a great experience. I have zero complaints except it was a bit pricey. They offer a convenience room for you to shower and clean up in if you have checked out already but still want to go to the beach and don’t want to fly home in your filth.

2- If you are military, stay at the Hale Koa. They have the best rates of Waikiki and it is a very nice resort. I have not seen the rooms but everything else about it is very nice.
3- If you are not military and aren’t there to party, stay on North Shore. It is a smaller town, more beautiful, better snorkeling and less crowded beaches.
TIP: Check out the deals going on. There are a lot of offers that can get you at least a small discount. Don’t pay full price for a hotel if you don’t have to!
TIP: Book early! We booked last minute so the prices were high and there were limited rooms available in our preferred price range so we had to go above our price range.

What to EAT:
I was actually a bit disappointed in the food, especially since it was so expensive. I pretty much go on vacation for the food so it was a let down BUT I did have some things worth mentioning.
1- Bibas at Hale Koa- Get the Pina Colada Shrimp appetizer! It was to die for…ok it’s just shrimp but it’s the best coconut shrimp I’ve had. It only comes with 3 large prawns but totally worth it! They also had mouth watering buttery 18 oz ribeye steak that just melts in your mouth. Do it. It’s not horribly priced either.


2- Shorebird breakfast buffet- this was very good but not extraordinary and was $16.95 which seems like a lot but is a good deal for a good breakfast. If you want a nice breakfast in Waikiki with an oceanfront view (seabreeze included) this is a good choice. Koko at Kalia in the Hale Koa has a breakfast buffet that was good as well but it is not ocean front. I preferred Shorebird.
3- Zippys- it’s a food chain there that a local I was sitting next to on the plane ride over recommended. It’s where the locals eat plus it’s got a bakery attached to it. It has a huge menu and is a good price. It was pretty tasty too. I think it’s pretty fitting that I ate SPAM for the first time in Hawaii…and I liked it! I got the Zip-pac and made a good choice.

We also got Hot Fresh Malasadas with Chocolate Ice Cream. They are essentially little fried scones and super tasty. I love these types of desserts.


4- The loco moco- it’s their iconic food so give it a try at some point. (Zippy’s has it) We didn’t love it but Chris said if it were mashed potatoes instead of rice he would be all over that. Ya just gotta try it though.

5- Boots and Kimos for breakfast or lunch- They are cash only so bring cash. They do have an ATM inside if needed. It’s roughly $10-$14 per generous plate. There is a long wait usually so go early or hope to get lucky. There were only 2 of us so we got in relatively quickly. Everything we got was really good but they are known for their famous Macadamia Nut pancake syrup from Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. I got it on the original pancakes and it filled me up. It was very good. It can and probably should be shared. I also got a Pitaya Smoothie- recommended!. Chris got the Mochiko chicken which was also from Diners, Drive-ins and Dives and it did not disappoint!


6- Beachhouse at the Moana- Now I am going to say I don’t recommend this place only because it was so expensive. The food was good but not worth the $140 bill at the end. The hotel is on the beach so they do have ocean front seating but we weren’t anywhere near the beach. The ambiance was great though and they had live music. The Miso salmon ($34) was really tasty but I didn’t love the pickled vegetables. It must be for a more sophisticated palate. Chris had the Surf and Turf meal with appetizer and dessert ($80 or $65 after 8:30pm). It was good again but we won’t be going back. If you’ve got money to burn, by all means. I passed on the $10 for a half glass pina colada.
7- Strawberry Ice Cream from The Candy Bar on the Beachwalk. It hit the spot and the flavor was so refreshingly natural.


8- Beachwalk Cheeseburger- If you’re in the beachwalk Waikiki area, this is a good place to get a good burger. It filled our tummies and was really convenient. Their food was very good with huge portions.


TIP: If you are going to be in Oahu during a holiday, make reservations for that day, especially for the really good buffets. They book up fast. You have to make plans in advance. We wanted to go to Hoku’s but it was completely booked on the day we could go because it was Father’s Day.

Stuff you GOTTA DO:
1- Snorkeling- We went to Hanauma Bay on the South Shore as well as Three Tables on the North Shore (Next to Shark cove). We were disappointed with Hanauma Bay where we were snorkeling. It was shallow and really choppy so it threw us into rocks and gave us some bumps and scratches. It made me feel a bit claustrophobic. We didn’t see much but some standard small fish and a couple big ones. {Except this one time when I was being bashed into a rock, inhaling water and having a mini panic attack, I started heading back to the shore and turned the corner to see a huge eel in front of me! It made me scream and I crawled up on the coral and screamed for Chris. I was not a happy camper!} So we decided to throw in the towel there and try to go see turtles on the North Shore at Three Tables. We didn’t see any turtles but it was a much more pleasant experience. It was deeper which is much more comfortable. I recommend going to Three Tables rather than Hanauma Bay. Plus it’s free. If you do go to Hanauma Bay, go early before 7 so you don’t have to pay or do the safety training, plus there will be less people.
2- Dole Plantation- it’s not this amazing crazy incredible experience but it’s pretty cool and you get to see some cool stuff and learn a lot about pineapples and things. It’s not as big as I thought it would be. It’s great for kids because they have an educational train ride and a bamboo maze. We spent 2 hours there without doing the maze and that was good. They have some amazing Tiki art to check out if you are in the market. You have to get their Dole Whip topped with fresh pineapple if you are there. It was lovely and refreshing on a hot muggy day while we stood in line for the train ride. Tip: There are long lines for food and short lines for the dole whip/beverage only line….don’t be a fool and make the same mistake we did…get in the right line the first time. The line goes pretty fast either way. Overall, it’s not at the top of my list but worth doing once. It was beautiful.


3- Visit the iconic surf town of Haleiwa. This is a beautiful place to take some sunset photos with palm trees in them since the sun sets on the North side of the island. By the marina, there is a Haleiwa park with grass and is a fun place to gather for a sunset. I hear Haleiwa Joe’s is the place to eat there.


4- See the countryside! It is so beautiful and really just lets you see the heart of Oahu with the beautiful greenery and stray cats and chickens roaming. Plus they have really loud bugs at night you have to experience! There is one main road around the island perimeter and one through the middle. We didn’t go on the west-side of the island (the local said don’t go over there because it’s the ghetto. ha.) but heard there are some beautiful beaches over there. The East and North side of the island are super lush and less developed. It’s full of surftowns, coastal homes and nature. The mist or fog hangs over the mountains constantly and it definitely looks like a scene from Jurassic Park driving through there.


5- Pali lookout at sunrise. It is just gorgeous. Go an hour before sunrise and get some good pics. It gets you up in the fresh crisp air and let’s you see Oahu in a whole other light.


6- Visit the Laie LDS Temple and watch the video in the visitors center. It is a gorgeous temple and has a great history which is shown in the video in the visitors center along with the history of the Polynesian Cultural Center. Stop by and admire the breathtaking landscaping and imagery. It’s definitely one of the most beautiful places in Oahu.


7- Polynesian Cultural Center- Do the all day pass with a Luau or if you are doing a Luau somewhere else, do the Prime Rib Buffet, which was absolutely amazing and worth the cost for a splurge. With an all day pass, you get to bounce back for free another day within 3 days so you can get 2 days for the price of 1. I wish I got to see more there so you could definitely fill up 2 days if you wanted to. Also, make sure you go to the nightly performance called Ha: The Breath of Life. Get seats in the center anywhere. That is the best view to see everything that is going on. The Polynesian cultural center was extremely educational and I found myself growing to love these people and their traditions. You really get to dive into the culture unlike anywhere else on the island. All proceeds go to funding students from other islands and areas to go to BYU Hawaii when they normally would not have been able to get an education.
8- A Luau- We did the Polynesian Cultural Center but next time we will do Paradise Cove. We heard it is the best but will be pricey. The Polynesian Cultural Center had a nice show with good variety. The food is good but nothing unique or extraordinary. It caters to the masses but they do a great job of making it as personal as possible.
9- Stroll the Waikiki Beachwalk at night with your honey and look at all the fun stores including lots of awesome art.

HIKES to go on:
1- Koko Head- not for the faint of heart! I thought I was going to die but looking back, it was a cool experience. I just wasn’t prepared. The trail is an old railroad that goes straight up a hill so you are climbing railroad ties the whole time. Don’t go at night…or anytime when it will be dark. We were trying to catch the sunset but we missed it and ended up navigating the treacherous terrain in the dark with our phone flashlights. It took us an hour and a half overall. Do a morning hike and don’t go in the middle of the day when it will be hot. You will be sweating and burning a lot of calories! This is challenging. I was not fully prepared but I’m stubborn so I finished it. Not recommended for children. They will probably whine and you probably won’t be able to carry them. 🙂


2- Manoa Falls- #1 recommended thing to do in Oahu for me. This one is an easy hike although you WILL get muddy. It is absolutely breathtaking and truly indescribable. Take a good camera. There was a rain storm when we went which just added to the authenticity of it. It is like walking through the forests of Jurassic park. It was so lush and felt like you were walking into a fairy tale scene. Take misquito repellent! It’s a pretty quick hike, probably 20 minutes to the top, but we stopped to take a million pictures.

Where to BEACH:
1- The beach out in front of many of the hotels on Waikiki have coral chunks and interrupt your fun when you step on them. It is very rocky when you walk in deeper into the ocean as well. Wear water shoes if you are going out there. The sand towards the west side of Waikiki near the Hale Koa and Hilton have better beaches that are much less rocky and corally. The beaches on the east side seem less rocky.
2- Marine Base Beach- If you are military, make time to go to the beach on the base. The colors of the ocean and beach are so vivid with the black rock contrasting against the white sand and green and blue ocean. The water is crystal clear and it is shallow with big waves which is fun for playing in. There are showers and bathrooms and nobody else around (most of the time). It is its own little bay so definitely go there when you can. Plus they have fun little crabs to watch along the beach.

SOUVENIRS:
1- Chocolate! They have some pretty tasty chocolate there grown and made on the Island. It has a unique sweet tone to it. Malie Kai at the Royal Hawaiian Center (mall) had a Dark Milk 50% chocolate that was dang tasty but it was $7 for a small bar of 3 squares. Hey, sometimes you gotta splurge. They had some other interesting flavors as well.
2- Coconut Candles- I couldn’t pass this one up. It smelled so good.


3- Coconut Syrup- This is a really fun twist on breakfast! It’s super thick and definitely delicious.


4- These awesome Grass Flip Flops.

Random TIPS:
1- Rent a car! Just do it. I thought I could get away without it but we wanted to do so many things around the island and have the freedom that we decided to rent a car for the full week and it was the best decision. It is way too expensive to take a taxi anywhere due to either the traffic in Waikiki or downtown Honolulu or the distance between the other parts of the island. Parking at the resorts is expensive but just figure that into your expense of having fun and being in Hawaii. Make sure you have a GPS and you’re golden.
2- Bring lots of $1 bills for tipping the bell boys and stuff.
3- Beware the sun. You will burn whether you feel like it or not so wear your sunscreen.

Fun FACTS:
1- Cats and Chickens are the most common wild life you will come across (outside of birds trying to eat off your plate at breakfast). We counted 52 cats between when we got into our car and when we exited the Koko Head hiking trail parking lot at night time…no joke.

So if you are planning a trip to Oahu, consider the tips above to enjoy the splendor of Hawaii. Doing your research and planning ahead just a bit will make it so you are having maximum fun while your there and not spending your time planning.

Are you planning a trip to Hawaii? What’s on your agenda?

Mahalo for reading!

~Sara