And now for something completely different! A dear friend of mine visited us on O’ahu a few weeks ago, and we packed so much into three short days and I took so many pictures that I thought it could be a good opportunity to share my recommendations for visiting this lovely little spot in the middle of the Pacific.
First up, why visit O’ahu over other islands? To be honest, O’ahu is not my favorite island. The Big Island has my heart always and forever. But O’ahu is amazing, and you should definitely choose the Gathering Place island if you are interested in two things: beaches and food. O’ahu has the best of both. The options for food are seemingly endless and the beaches are world-class. If you are looking for a relaxing, tropical, resort-style, non-hectic vacation, I wouldn’t recommend O’ahu over Maui or Kauai, and I CERTAINLY would guide you away from Waikiki if you still chose O’ahu. But if you are willing to drive a bit every day to get to the good stuff, O’ahu will charm your socks off.
I’ll eventually put together suggestions for a longer stay, but for those who might be island-hopping or simply getting away for a short visit, this itinerary will give you a great taste of the best of the island without having to spend beaucoup bucks on guided tours and fancy restaurants. Trust me, you don’t need it. Save your pennies and soak up the richness of the island.
Off we go!
Most likely, you’ll be arriving in Honolulu in the evening. If you do, head straight to The Edge at the Sheraton Hotel in Waikiki. Best pina coladas I’ve ever had in a killer location right at the eponymous edge of the ocean. Come on, who doesn’t want to start their vacation sipping on this
While watching this
Only silly people, that’s who. The best part is that The Edge will validate parking in the Sheraton Hotel for up to 4 hours, so you can start with some pina coladas and wander around Waikiki a bit before needing to head back to the car. Everyone needs to stop in an ABC Store just to experience the ridiculousness. It’s mostly fully of tchotchke junk, but it’s part of the Waikiki experience.
Saturday! If you are an early riser, or find yourself up at an oddly early hour thanks to jet lag, I recommend going to the farmers market at the Kapiolani Community College. I only go if I can make it as soon as it opens (7:30am) because companies literally bus in tourists and it gets ridiculously overcrowded in a hurry. But the produce! Oh, the produce. You can find new fruits (ONE THAT TASTES LIKE CHOCOLATE PUDDING),
and other Hawaii food stuffs and food trucks.
After grabbing some fabulous tropical produce, head to Long’s to grab some sunscreen. Please make sure that your sunscreen doesn’t have any oxybenzone.
Oxybenzone damages coral reefs and we all want to make sure the beautiful coral reefs are alive for years to come.
Aaaaaand now you should head out to the beach! Not just any beach; Waimanalo Bay Beach.
It’s one of the most beautiful beaches you will ever see with soft sand for relaxing and reading or active waves for boogie boarding or body surfing.
End the day with dinner at Kona Brewing Company in Hawaii Kai. Good local beers, fun seasonal options, and good food with a pretty setting. Bubbies Ice Cream is in the same shopping center and you need their mochi–Japanese rice cake balls stuffed with ice cream–in your life. NEED.
Sunday you should plan a drive around the island. Take H-1 West to Haleiwa. It’s a cute little surf town with some fun shops and a lovely art scene. Really good acai at Haleiwa Bowls, too.
As you head out of town and over the bridge, keep an eye out for a little macadamia nut stand off to your right. Make sure to buy a bag to munch on, because you’re probably hungry by now! But save your real tummy space for shrimp trucks.
(Side note: skip Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck and Matsumoto’s Shave Ice. They are super popular on Yelp and other sites, but we prefer another shrimp truck and several other shave ice places to be far superior. Be bold! Swim against the current!!)
After leaving the macadamia stand, you are ready to see…. sea turtles. Most people would recommend Laniakea Beach, but we have found it to be just PACKED with tourists. Our favorite spot is Secret Beach. Turn left on Papaiola Road and follow it along some of the most gorgeous houses on O’ahu until you get to a little parking lot on the left. The walkway to the beach is right there, and once you hit the beach turn left. Stop when you see a turtle (and keep an eye out for the algae-rich shallow water where they also like to hang out!).
After taking about a billion pictures, hit the road for a bit. You’ll pass by the famous Waimea Bay (#eddiewouldgo), and drive through Pupukea (where you can stop at the Foodland for snacks and drinks if you’re starving). Banzai Pipeline Beach will be on your left, and if you are visiting in the winter, it’s worth finding a place to park and check out the surfing competitions that are held almost every weekend. The waves are RIDICULOUS and the surfers amazing. Sunset Beach is a little bit farther and worth a stop. As you might imagine, it’s known for its phenomenal sunsets. The sand is really course and the waves pretty rough, but it’s lovely for a stop.
But if you’re hungry, keep on driving. A little past Turtle Bay is this fantastic farmers market stand. You can get the beloved coconut
and, if the season is right, lilikoi. I. LOVE. LILIKOI. Also look for rambutan, mangoes, papaya, and dragonfruit for some truly delightful tropical experience.
And now that you have worked up a solid appetite, you are ready for an amazing shrimp truck experience. We adore Fumi’s.
We’ve had almost everything on the menu, and our favorites are the spicy garlic and the coconut. Regardless of what shrimp dish you order, you MUST get some fresh pineapple juice from the stand right at the entrance of the dining area. It is out of this world. Seriously, this cup of juice is worth the drive on its own.
There are a couple kitschy stores on the other side of the parking lot that are fun to wander through. Not necessary, but kind of fun. Beware the bathrooms, however. Toilet paper is not always guaranteed, and there is no soap. #yeesh
Once you’ve had your fill of pineapple and shrimpy goodness, it’s time to dive into the drive. There are some beautiful places to stop, but this drive around the island is lush and gorgeous and worth just cruising. Enjoy watching the little towns and sweet beaches go by.
If you have some time, and if you started early enough in the day, you might want to stop by Kualoa Ranch. There are some fun movie-centric tours, a great little zip line tour, and a fun, kitschy gift shop. But if you have other plans, keep on driving and wave at the dinosaurs as you go by.
My favorite last stop on the drive around the island is the Valley of the Temples. It’s a gorgeous memorial park with grounds designated for Catholic, Buddhist, and Shinto traditions. Drive slowly through the park to get to the Byodo-In Temple at the end of the road.
The Byodo-In was established on June 7, 1968, to commemorate the 100 year anniversary of the first Japanese immigrants to Hawaii. It is a smaller-scale replica of the Byodo-In Temple in Uji, Japan, which is over 950 years old and a United Nations World Heritage Site. Visiting it is a really beautiful experience. Ring the bell, walk up to the Meditation Pavilion, light some incense and stand in the beautiful quiet of the Buddha statue, and wander through the rest of the grounds. There are tons of koi fish and much quiet contemplation to be had.
Depending on your interest, you can head home now or finish the day with phenomenal sushi. Our favorite places are Doraku in Waikiki, Akasaka, and Yanagi. Stop by The Sake Shop to get a bottle of nigori (unfiltered sake–a cloudy, sweeter sake) to share for a relaxing evening at your hotel.
Your final day. This is a day for more beachin’. Our favorite town on O’ahu is Kailua, and when you visit, you’ll see why. Two of the prettiest beaches in all of Hawaii: Kailua Bay Beach
Lanikai is my favorite “reading” beach; Kailua has bigger waves for more fun activities. Pick up some sandwiches and lilikoi sodas from Kalapawai Cafe and Deli, a used book or two from BookEnds, coffee from Morning Brew and then head over to your beach of choice and settle in, coated in your oxybenzone-free sunscreen of choice.
Once you’re nice and brown and put some serious work into a book or your body surfing game, conclude you beachin’ at our favorite Hawaiian food restaurant, Uahi. Uahi has great kailua pork, fantastic ahi tuna, and their menu is consistently updated based on what is fresh and locally available.
It’s also your last night, so do what you love on your last day of vacation! I think you can’t go wrong with one more pina colada at The Edge as the sun sets or going for a stroll along the Waikiki beaches and some shops in the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center.
And that, my friends, is how you pack an island full of beauty into a long weekend. Happy tropical travels!