USS Arizona Memorial, Pearl Harbor
The islands of Hawaii have been one of the favourite vacation spots in the world for many years. I always wondered why until I got to visit it the first time in 2011. It consists of 8 major islands and due to its location in the middle of the Pacific Ocean you get a perfect weather nearly all year round and an exposure to a huge variety of unique plants and creatures, which are 95% endemic. In addition to that there is so much history with numerous museums and palaces. You get a huge selection of activities for young childless crowd as well as folks with small children and retirees. All of the above makes it truly an amazing vacation destination for any ages or even a perfect family reunion location.
Although I’ve been there on my own, without children, as well as with children, I’ve done the following activities both times and they are fun whether you have children or not. So here they are… 10 top things to do on the island of Oahu, Hawaii.
Waikiki beach and the Kalakaua Avenue
I do admit it is an overused suggestion. However, I believe it is a must see because you get to be a tourist in a place full of tourists. Kalakaua Avenue is like the Strip in Las Vegas. It has tons of stores, restaurants and is full of people. You also get to visit the International Market. I spend hours there both times I went to Hawaii. You can get so much different stuff, such as jewelry, shirts, ukuleles, frames, wallets, etc that you don’t need (haha! ) but yet your trip won’t be complete without. I highly recommend getting a cheesecake at the Cheesecake factory (I tried 5 different types, but my favourite is the raspberry lemon cheesecake… yum!) and going to the coffee shop at the Royal Hawaiian Centre and ordering an “island latte”. I will always remember that as one of the highlights of my last trip. We sat outside the coffee shop (which is on the second floor of the mall) and had our cheesecakes while listening to a local artist sing downstairs. Cost: free, unless you buy something.
Duke Kahanamoku Statue at the Waikiki Beach
View of the Waikiki Beach at night and the Diamond Head (and stars!), one of my personal favourite photos from my last trip.
Kalakaua Avenue at nighttime
Waimea Arboretum & Botanical Garden
It is a fun and educational activity to do with small children as well as for adults. You get to see plants, trees and bushes that you don’t get to see anywhere else in the world. At the end of the trail you end up at a waterfall, which, depending on the rainfall, can get really big. Even though the water is cold, you can swim in the waterfall. Also once a month (or rather once every 28 days), you can come after dark for a “moonlight walk” when the moon is full and once you get to the end of the trail you can see the moon hitting the waterfall in the dark, while it’s completely dark around. Truly breathtaking. Definitely visit the gift shop and try to plan your visit when they have a local farm market. You get to try foods you would not see anywhere else. I personally just love local farm markets anywhere I travel. Cost: entrance is not free to the botanical garden, but you can get one of the tourist magazines at the entrance and get a discount. Last time we got a great lady working at the botanical garden and she saved us some money by pointing out the coupon in the magazine.
Waimea Falls at the Waimea Botanical Garden during the day
Pearl Harbor is definitely a must see while in Oahu. We all know the devastating story of the early hours of that Sunday, December 7, 1941. It’s a great opportunity to learn more about what happened, visit the memorial and a great educational activity for the whole family. While waiting to be departed to the Arizona Memorial (a free 5 minute boat ride) you get to watch a documentary, which includes the actual footage of the attack. Entrance to the Pearl Harbor, museum and the Arizona memorial is completely free. I would highly recommend going to the submarine (access to the submarine is not free). You can easily make it a whole day activity for the family and my children especially loved it. Right by the submarine entrance they have a huge nice food court where you can buy some food and enjoy a covered area to just relax and listen to some local music or have a quick meal (sorry, no healthy choices there!). A tip: while they do say on their website that bags and food is not allowed, the first time I brought my camera bag without any issues. Well, the second time I had to go back to the car to drop it off, and I’m not a fan of that, since the highest chance of any crime happening in Hawaii – is locals stealing stuff from tourist’s cars. Apparently they can spot one right away. Cost: while the entrance, museums, movie, boat ride and visit to Arizona is free, visit to the sub or to the USS Missouri it is not free. My children had a blast at the submarine. So did I. Totally worth it! I do admit I’m a little geeky, so I am sure if I ever go back to Oahu I will go back there again and this time I’ll explore USS Missouri or maybe spend the whole day there.
At the USS Arizona Memorial
If you haven’t noticed yet, but I’m totally into educational stuff. Whether it is for the kids or for myself. I love learning new things, history and getting exposure to something that I wouldn’t normally get exposed to. Dole plantation was certainly an educational experience, but also fun and just give me a feeling like I was back to being a kid! At the Dole Plantation they have a huge gift shop where you can buy a huge variety of things. I personally got addicted to the local coconut pancake syrup “Hawaii” (they serve it at most restaurants that serve pancakes) and I bought 4 of them at the plantation. Good thing I’m currently on a diet and they will last me a while, since they weren’t that cheap – $8.00 per small bottle. But if you love coconut flavoured pancake syrup – trust me you will go crazy over that one just like I did (I couldn’t find it anywhere, so as soon as I saw it at a gift shop I bought all I could carry ). Also inside the gift shop they have a pineapple cutting presentation on how to properly select the best pineapple and how to properly cut it. They offer tons of local products, like candy, candles, frames and such. Also they have a pretty good food court. Their Chicken Tariyaki was delish! Freshly BBQ corn is just a great addition to a yummy lunch. Their pineapple ice-cream is to die for. Typing this just made me hungry! :) Also at the same plantation: the world’s largest maze. That’s right! It’s huge! If that wasn’t enough they have a garden where you can view how different plans grow, and finally a Pineapple Express, which is a cute little train that takes you around plantation on a recorded tour. You get to see how various plants grow, as well as enjoy the views and the local music. Cost: Pineapple Express (adults $8.50 & kids $6.50), Maze (adults $6.00 & kids $4.00), and Plantation Garden Tour adults $5.00 & kids $4.25). Totally worth every penny. If in doubt always think of a sunken cost: what did it take you to get there?! Probably a lot of money once you add up flights, hotels/vacation rentals, car rentals, and food and entertainment. Enjoy the vacation to the fullest and memories are priceless anyways.
One of the views you get to see while on the Pineapple Express at the Dole Plantation
If you are a fan of something educational, but yet extremely fun – this place is perfect. Be prepared to spend the whole day there and another hour in the huge gift shop that they have. Since we were on a vacation and were late risers we arrived too late to make it a full day experience. But half-day with lunch was just fine! It was $99.00 per adult and $59.00 per child admission and you get to choose two tours that you can take there. We did a “Movie Sites & Ranch Tour” and “Jungle Expedition Tour”. Both lasting an hour. The views we got to see is something that is hard to explain. Just wow. Also our tour guides were amazing guys and went out of their way to make it extra special by taking us into a quick hike up the mountain to where one of the scenes from the TV show “Lost” was shot and it was just breathtaking:
View from the hiking trail at the Kualoa Ranch
What do you think? We also got to taste a guava that has zero shelf life and cannot be sold for that reason. It’s completely wild but you can just try it there. I can go on and on about the views and the tour, but yet still cannot say enough about this place. Childless couples can enjoy a horse tour. That seemed like fun!
The North Shore
North Shore has its own unique feel and atmosphere. Although it’s a little “poor” in a sense that not a lot of tourists make it there, so you get to experience more “authentic” Hawaiian experience, but the feel there is just great. There are tons of free activities: snorkeling at Shark’s Cove, watching surfers on a world famous surfing “Pipeline”, or enjoying a sunset on a Sunset Beach.
Banzai Pipeline Beach
The Valley of the Temples
Some people might not like this place, especially if they are very religious, but it was one of the highlights of my last trip as well. The day we arrived there it was raining a bit and since its right by the mountains we had this cloud over us…. It was truly magical. The cemetery is just beautiful and inside the temple you get this wow feeling. I’m not sure… maybe in my past life I was of that religion, but I totally had that yoga feeling where you feel like you are at the right place, you can relax and just fly away and meditate. I just wish I was there by myself so I could have enjoyed a couple of quiet hours of just meditating and taking it all in. It’s quite magical. That’s all I can say, looking at my picture, what do you think?
Valley of the Temples Memorial Park
This island is perfect for hikers as well. I mean you can hike every day while you are there and still not hike all of the good spots. I personally recommend the Diamond Head, take a look at the view from there, isn’t it just breathtaking?!
Amazing view from the top of the Diamond Head
But if totally touristy stuff is not your thing, why don’t you explore Manoa Falls, or hike Hau’ula Loop Trail (bring mosquito repellent! I learned it a hard way!), or Koko Head or at the end of Farrington Hwy or Olomana Three Peaks Trail (personal favourite of President Obama, who actually was born and grew up on the island of Oahu). The list goes on and on. Don’t forget to stop along countless viewing points while driving around. On my last vacation over Christmas 2012 I actually got to see Obama in one of the viewing points along the Pali Hwy. Did I say he also stayed in the same area as we did and his security was just 3 houses down from where we stayed?!
Explore the restaurants and historic sites
I eat out and I love eating out. I love trying new things to eat. What can I say, read one of my previous posts of loving food here J So now that I got my point across, I’m moving on to my next point. Eat out. Check out the Tripadvisor first and go for it. But sometimes you just can’t check some things out there. I absolutely enjoyed eating raw Poke while on the island. I done that every day I was there and didn’t get food poisoning or anything like that. It was amazing! Poke is a type of tuna and although I always prefer salmon sashimi – Poke and the marinade locals use is just so yummy you can’t stop eating it! Buy meals at local food buses which are mostly located on a north shore. Like this one:
Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck at the North Shore. Also at the same “stop” a few small places selling fresh fruit and other local stuff.
Their garlic shrimp combo was just delish! Contact me or ask in the comment section below if you’d like particular restaurant names in different areas of Oahu, and I’ll gladly help you with most of the areas.
As for the historic sites… check out Iolani Palace, Bishop Museum, Emma’s Summer Palace, and others!
King Kamehameha Statue
And last but not least (and trust me I can go on and on, but I have to eventually stop talking about Oahu!) – Oahu Top Beaches. Yet again I think almost every single one of them is special and you can have the greatest time. For me the best beach in Oahu is Lanikai Beach. I came along that beach on my first vacation and fell in love with it the first moment I saw it: white sand fine like a powder (which is weird as it is attached to Kailua beach which has yellow sand that was not as fine), waves are strong, but yet just perfect, it’s never busy there and it is also rated top 10 beaches of the world. I liked it so much, so I found a vacation rental just a couple of blocks away from the Lanikai beach for my second trip to Oahu. Cannot get better than that! Check this out:
Lanikai Beach, Kailua at Oahu Island, Hawaii
As I mentioned I can go on and on about this wonderful place. Feel free to ask me for any suggestions or travel tips! I will be writing a few of those articles as I have travelled a few places in the past couple of years and going to California at the end of May (and of course will write an article about that experience as well!). What is your favourite vacation destination and where would you like to go next and why?