O'ahu, Hawaii - January 2016

O’ahu, Hawaii – January 2016

We love O’ahu! We’ve decided that it is definitely our favorite Hawaiian island that we’ve been. It’s our second time here together (the first time was on our honeymoon), so we have been excited for some time to revisit our favorite spots on the island. We stayed for a whole week, which honestly seemed like it was going to be too long we first arrived. However, by the time that we left we wished that we had a whole month. Here is why:

1 – Awesome food. Since it’s in the middle of the Pacific, Hawaii is somewhat of a melting pot in terms of ethnicities and food culture. This is particularly so in Honolulu – the only legitimate metropolitan area on the islands. Various waves of immigration from across the world have resulted in a mix of 55% Asian, 18% Caucasian, 10% Native Hawaiian, 3% African American and the remaining a mix of various races. We personally love Asian food, particularly Japanese food, so this is really food heaven for us.

There are many high end restaurants in Waikiki, which of course we avoided. We did go back to the Ono Seafood shop for Poke (well worth the walk) and we found a fun food truck alley. Surprisingly, the Ala Moana mall had a Japanese food court with all the classics – sushi, ramen, okonomiyaki (seafood pancake), takoyaki (fried dough balls with octopus) and many others. It was like being back in Japan.

Udon noodles from Marukame udon. We were looking forward to coming back to this place since our last trip. The broth was great but the noodles not what I remembered. There is usually a line about 30 people deep outside.

Solid ramen from Kamitoki food truck.

I found a new flavor of poke which I love!! It’s Marlin and they smoke it before mixing it with the other poke ingredients. It was a delicious cross between poke and jerky..

Maguro Brothers in chinatown market was small and nondescript but fantastic for fresh Ahi and miso glazed salmon.

Ramen in chinatown. Best noodles, soft boiled egg and atmosphere.

ONO Seafood poke! From left to right, spicy, garlic shoyu and hawaiian.

The poke quality and selection in the Cove chain of grocery stores in Honolulu is very good. Prices were surprisingly reasonable as well for being in the heart of the tourist district.

Marlin poke and another flavor

We hit a Korean restaurant just north of Ala Moana mall. The ramen dukbokki was perfect.

Elisa was in heaven!

2 – Relaxing sunset cocktails on the beach. We avoid buying drinks out for budget reasons, but when in Hawaii we splurge  When you have a nice sunset and relaxing Hawaiian music as part of the cocktail purchase price, the average cocktail price becomes more reasonable. Sidebar: I’ve decided that most Hawaiian music is better than a lullaby or soft jazz to falling asleep to. It seems to fit the mood of the islands perfectly. We also found the Hawaiian reggaeton interesting – native Hawaiian singers singing to Jamaica beats and with Jamaican accents but about island stuff.

Drinks next to the infinity pool. Done well. Pina colada and Mai Tai I think?

Apparently the flowers are edible.. they taste like grass.

At the turtle bay on the north shore. It was a neat atmosphere with the pounding waves and live music. Mai Tai and Lava Flow.

Gin Fizz and Long Island.. not really typical or tropical but tasty!

This was our favorite restaurant – House Without a Key – and they give free snacks with your drinks!

One of our favorite memories of Hawaii – live nightly Hawaiian music with the sunset at House Without a Key

3 – Hiking options. Like the fin of a humpback surfacing in the pacific, there are two super steep and narrow mountain ranges that cross O’ahu. Trails crisscross the island and usually reward hikers with a glorious view in exchange for a brief but aggressive climb. We checked out two of the supposedly best trails but would love to check out the others.

This was near the summit of the Kuliouou Ridge Trail. It was short but steep – the final steps leading to the top were close to 45 degrees.

View from summit of the Kuliouou Ridge Trail.

On the Makapu’u trail, which is paved and a shallow climb and therefore very crowded. Spectacular views though.

We saw some humpback whales from the lighthouse which was neat.

4 – Beautiful beaches. No surprise here. Elisa’s favorite beach ever is a Lanikai/Kailua and that’s here. There’s also the north shore which has some of most famous surfing. Finally, there is Waikiki which is kind of overrated and really crowded but still nice for people-watching and sunset drinks. During our visit this time there was a big ocean swell going on and the waves were “ripping” as the locals would say. Wave heights topped around 40 feet! It was amazing to watch the ocean move that way, even more still for the surfers that were out in the water.

Kailua beach feels very local. It was almost empty when we were there on a weekday. Perfect water for swimming.

We made it back to Lanikai beach! One of our favorites!

Another view of Lanikai.

Crazy waves on the north shore – the entire bay was full of foam and the sea seemed to just heave up and down with the waves.

Up close with the waves.

It was hard to capture on camera the scale of them.

Big wave surf riding just like in the movies0

Sunset on the north shore

Another view of the sunset

5 – Japanese culture. Seeing that It’s the closest place in the US to Japan, it’s not too surprising that there are so many Japanese visitors. Kanji is everywhere and every other restaurant is Japanese or caters to Japanese tourists. The majority of buses in Waikiki are colorful and have Japanese language drivers. The cool part is that there is some really good Japanese food and plenty of options.

Our favorite ramen noodle truck

It feels almost more Japanese in places in Honolulu than American. In this case, they have the funny toilet seats with all the different buttons like water jet, hot air, noise maker, etc.

6 – Beautiful biodiversity. We checked out the botanic garden in Honolulu which had some really interesting and exotic plants. I got freaked out a bit though when I was playing with a fruit that I thought was a Lili koi (a delicious fruit that we have only had on Hawaii) but glanced at the sign and saw that it was strychnine! Fortunately, its only incredibly poisonous when it is concentrated!

This tree has nuts that are blue!

Huge trees in the botanic garden

One of many pretty flowers

The cannonball tree has fruit that are heavy and round. They are also blue on the inside which is unique.

Cardinal. We also saw some wild parakeets in the park which was neat.

Colorful plants


Not sure what this one was..

7 – All the urban amenities.
Honolulu is the only sizeable city in Hawaii and has all the things that one would expect in a big city. We enjoyed the big mall (shopping for stuff to sell on Amazon), the decent public transit, and the big parks like magic island and kapiolani park (which has the best views of any soccer field ever.

Honolulu skyline from magic island park.

Sunset in magic island park

Another view of the skyline.

Tips to best experience Oahu:
• Get out of Waikiki tourist area! There is so much to see on the rest of the island. We stayed in Waikiki since it is the only place on the island with chain hotels and free nights. However, if we weren’t using points then we would want to rent an apartment in the area northwest of Ala Moana Mall and McCully neighborhood. There are tons of great restaurants there with easy access to the interstate and shopping.
• The bus pass is not worth it – you have to ride seven times a day to make it pay off.
• Buses are pretty easy to get and will go all over the island.
• Try the poke and seafood at the grocery stores – it is usually pretty good and more affordable.

Travel hacking note – we stayed using free nights the whole time on O’ahu. We cashed in three free Wyndham nights for a Ramada on the west side of Waikiki, followed by three nights using Hyatt points at the Hyatt place on the east side of the beach. All the nights came from the Wyndham and Hyatt credit card signup bonuses. Hotels in Honolulu are expensive! The daily rate was around $150/night for the Wyndham and $200/night at the Hyatt so I figured we saved around $1,050 using points!

Next stop – home to Nashville and then Charleston, SC…