Close your eyes and envision the landscape of heaven for a moment. Got it? Good. Welcome to Hawaii.
As I have yet to visit the other Hawaiian islands I can’t comment on O’ahu being the best – But I can say that my trip to Honolulu surpassed any trip to the Virgin Islands, Bahamas, Aruba.. or any other tropical paradise. We chose O’ahu because, while still offering the remote lazy beach life, the island is vibrant with nightlife and restaurants in Waikiki and Honolulu. Okay, well and it was the least expensive flight from LA.
WHERE TO STAY:
Turtle Bay on the North Shore. Newly renovated, Turtle Bay resort offers unbelievable beach views from every room, championship golf courses, horse stables, helicopter rides, fine dining, beach sand bars, snorkeling, paddle-boarding, a luxurious spa and fitness center, and the list goes on and on. Picture this. You wake up to a soft orange glow streaming in through the open balcony. You hear the waves from the bay gently lapping against the white sand beaches. The palm trees sway effortlessly in the breeze, which carries this sweet scent that you can’t put a name – maybe pineapple? An impressive breakfast buffet of local fruits and hawaiian bread pudding with mango compote awaits you downstairs. And after your organic ocean scrub massage and your boyfriend’s tee time, you’re ready for your complimentary snorkel rental. You glide over the reefs, taking in the bright yellow and pink fish while you let the warm waves sway you back and forth under the bright sun. Perhaps you’ll hit the beach bar for a lava flow drink, or take off for a helicopter ride – but the day is yours. Did I mention the price is incredibly reasonable? ($250/night and up).
IF you feel so inclined to stay in the action of Waikiki — which I think it a God awful idea – then the only hotel options are Royal Hawaiian, Halekulani and the Moana Surfrider. Royal Hawaiianwas established in 1927 and maintains a Beverly Hills esque charm that I find fabulous ($200/night and up). Halekulani will cost you – but it is pure 5 star decadence. Surfrider, for me, is similar to Royal Hawaiian but missing just a bit of the charm.
WHAT TO DO
You need to rent a car. And it should be a convertible. Preferably a jeep. Step one. Drive the east coast. Keep your cameras ready.
- The Beaches. Remember that picture of heaven I told you to envision? You’ll find it at Kailula… If you go to one beach the entire trip, this should be it. For the sunset, well of course –Sunset Beach, but you can catch a pretty epic view right from Turtle Bay. Sharks Cove for scuba diving and Hanauma Bay for snorkling. For the best SEA TURTLE sitings, look no further than Laniake Beach. If you’re looking for a full beach day with cabanas, cocktails, great snorkling and ukelele music – look no further than your hotel. Turtle Bay rents cabanas for $25/4 hours to guests and beach chairs are free.
- Snorkling. A must. Plan on checking out your snorkling gear from the hotel and visiting Hanauma Bay and Shark’s Cove for snorkling. Hanauma Bay is a bit more.. serious. There is a small entrance fee and you are required to watch a brief video about preserving the bay. The video is decently educational and not nearly as bad as you would imagine. Although they did rip off the “Under the Sea” song and I’m sure they didn’t get the copywriting approved. Sharks Cove is no frills. Just dive in and cue the “under the sea” melody. Underwater cameras are strongly encouraged.
- Scuba Diving. Okay. So, I doubt that any company you go with will be a bad experience. The water is crystal clear all around the island – and there are miraculous fish darting in and out of coral ever few feet along the coast. I suggest that if you are staying at Turtle Bay, you chose an outfitter located in the North Shore. We went with Hawaii EcoDivers and couldn’t have been happier. for $100 each, we privately dived with one instructor at Shark’s Cove. He pointed out eels and specific fishes, and took photos and video of us underwater throughout the dive. The tour was from 9-1 with two full tank dives. The company also offers night dives for a bit more money. The other scuba company that was recommended to me by a friend who lives on the North Shore (and is an underwater photographer by profession) was Surf and Sea. Things to know. You have to be a certified diver, or take a course with the companies for an additional charge. If you prefer a boat dive instead of a walk in you will have to call quite a bit in advance to reserve the boat. Truthfully, I wish that we had taken this route, called ahead, and did a dive to one of the dozen wrecks (like Cosair plane) off of the shore. Next time.
- Day/Night in Waikiki. Explore the beaches and luxury shops during the day. Don’t forget to stop at the Royal Hawaiian for a lava blended drink. Also during the day make sure to visitPearl Harbor and the US Arizona. On Friday night you can catch fireworks from Hilton village with an accompanying luau dance team by the pool. For dinner, you can’t go wrong withAlan Wongs or Orchids. Or skip dinner and bar hop the tiki light lined streets to find the perfect mai tai, fish tacos and pork skewers.
- Hiking Manoa Falls. The 1.5 mile RT hike is slippery and narrow at parts so wear sneakers – but it is totally appropriate for children or less physically inclined adults. I wish I could describe how breathtaking this hike is better — but all I can reference is that it looked like Jurassic Park. Honestly, I wouldn’t have been been surprised if a pterodactyl flew overhead. The lush jungle trees and exotic flowers lead way to a 100 foot waterfall with a refreshing small pool at its base. (*I just looked up the website to add to this post and saw that some scenes of Jurassic Park and Lost actually were filmed here.. hahah go figure). Other hikes we considered but didn’t have time for: Oahu Rock Bridge, Ka’au Crater Hike, and the Lighthouse Hike.
- Dole Plantation. Drive through the center of Hawaii and be amazed by the acres upon acres of agriculture. Stop at the Dole plantation for an informative train ride tour or a walk through one of the biggest field mazes in the world. And of course get a dole-whip with fresh pineapple. SO good. If you have time swing through one of the Macadamia nut farms and buy 2-3 dozen canisters of maui onion and garlic flavor. You’ll thank me later.
- North Shore Village. Swing into the village for lunch and some boutique shopping.
And if we had a month, or eternity, other activities we would do:
-Dinner in Chinatown (Honolulu)
-Helicopter tour of Volcanoes
-Polynesian Cultural Center (Located close to Turtle Bay – this is the place to go for a Luau and dinner show. Personally, I think these Luaus are commercialized and not necessarily something on my to-do list. Yet, out of all the companies that host the luaus this one has my recommendations. It is run by the local college kids and gives you a true glimpse into the polynesian culture. Great for kids!)
-Stand up Paddle-boarding
- Alan Wongs: Not just one of the best restaurants in Hawaii, one of the best I have ever visited. Off the beaten Waikiki tourists path, the restaurant is not necessarily aesthetically pleasing. The food and the presentation though… holy hell is it spectacular. Order the ginger crusted onaga fish and get the coconut sherbet in the chocolate shell for dessert.
- Haleiwa Acai: Have you seen that commercial about visiting Oahu on tv? Remember that little thatched roof beach shack that served acai bowls? Go there. Get the acai bowl with banana, granola, coconut and honey. Add strawberries and mango if you’re feeling adventurous.
- Pupukea Grill Food Truck: Where the surfers on the north shore eat. Don’t expect to find your typical fish taco fare here – it is healthy, organic and sustainable. Order the poke quinoa bowl and you will be extremely satisfieD
- Kailua Joes: Exceptional seafood. This is where the locals go to enjoy the freshest catch of the day. Sit on the patio and get the ceviche.
- Olas at Turtle Bay: Eating dinner, staring out at the waves illuminated by tiki torches.. with your feet in the sand. Swoon. Order the pork and goat cheese nachos as an appetizer and a glass of white sangria to wash it down.
- Tropics Bar & Grill in Hilton Village: Go for happy hour and get the mahi mahi fish tacos with edamame hummus and mango salsa.
- Giovanni Shrimp: If food trucks are king in Hawaii, than Giovannis is the Emperor. So popular that there is an entire little village of shops surrounding the truck. Get an order of shrimp scampi. Plan your visit accordingly, the lines and wait can be atrocious during lunchtime.
- Pa’aki at Turtle Bay: Interesting concept, with dishes you can cook right on a giant salt block brought tableside. We got the poke and a $74 full kampachi fish, followed by a sherbet trio. If I returned, I would chose different menu items. The poke and fish were rather lackluster.
- Surf Lanai at the Royal Hawaiian: I wasn’t necessarily impressed with the food. But the atmosphere is perfect and the drink menu exquisite. Oh, and our waitress, Dorothy, was in her 80s and nowhere close to retiring.
Places that were on my radar but I didn’t get a chance to try:
Orchids at Halekulani
Chef Mavro Restaurant
Lei Lei at Turtle Bay