Hawaii was a very long trip for us, both in distance and time away. New York to Hawaii took 17 hours and 3 plane rides to get there. It was also a long time for us to be away from kids. This was a couples trip for us and was meant for us to have some time to our self, to reconnect in our marriage, to be adventurous and to sleep!
I will say that I didn’t care for Honolulu quite as much as I thought. Waikiki is very touristy and I felt like I could have been in any old city USA. The food was phenomenal though we did not have a bad meal, I will recap all the places we ate too, if you want recommendations.
I celebrated my 30th birthday while we were there and we kinda had a big splurge day that didn’t exactly keep us on budget. We started my birthday with a couples massage at our hotel. We stayed at The Hilton Hawaiian Village which was fabulous, and the Mandara Spa actually had really high ratings so we booked that. After our massages we took a snorkel catamaran tour from the hotel and got to snorkel with the sea turtles. The catamaran trip was only about an hour long which was a bit disappointing but it was still fun and included two free cocktails.
We walked to dinner at Nobu-Waikiki and this is where we over-did it a bit. The restaurant came highly rated from friends. Instead of just ordering dinner, we decide to do the Waikiki chef’s tasting, which was a 7 course, (absolutely amazing) display of the chef’s faves. I would highly recommend this, but it came with a hefty price tag!
Next up, we took a day to drive up to the North Shore, which was so much more the authentic Hawaii that I wanted! We rented a car for only 2 days of our 8 day trip. Most of what we did was walkable from the hotel (because, city life). We rented each day separately right from a vendor at the hotel so we could avoid overnight parking fees. First we visited Pupukea Park to check out the Banzai Pipeline, there isn’t much to do here but watch all the amazing surfers. Then we road tripped back up the coast and hit up Waimea Bay, and the little surf town of Haleiwa. We tried the garlic shrimp plate at Giovanni’s Aloha Shrimp and then had the shave ice at Motsomoto, served over ice cream! It was huge and we probably could have shared one!
Day two with our rental car we headed to the small town of Lanikai and hiked the Lanikai Pillboxes. Everything we read said the trail was hard to find, and although it was weird that it was situated in the middle of a neighborhood, we didn’t really have any trouble finding it. The hike was a bit rugged, not difficult but there were some steep climbs and boulders to scale. It was a short hike and the view at the top, the “moks”, was amazing. You could also see Lanikai Beach from the trail, which was our second stop. After getting our sweat on, we headed to the beach to relax. Dan has a hard time sitting still and relaxing when he knows we have more stops to make, so we didn’t stay long before we headed back out. We grabbed lunch at this small place that had excellent Yelp reviews and I cannot for the life of me figure out what it was. We both got a lunch plate and it was probably one of the cheapest meals we had while in Hawaii and equally delicious!
The second part of the day was supposed to be an afternoon at Hanauma Bay, which out of everything I read before this trip was the ONE THING you HAVE TO do! But of course, we got there and it was closed!! We were able to still go into the park because its a State Nature Preserve, but the beach access was closed off due to electricity problems on the beach. The day before it was closed because of jellyfish! So beware that this can alter your plans a little.
Instead, we did the Byodo-In Temple which was beautiful and so peaceful and something we weren’t sure we’d have time to do. It was such a change in pace from Waikiki Beach, where its bustling with people. We entered the temple where you have to take your shoes off and then rang the gong before we left. The temple sits in the middle of a giant cemetery with a gorgeous volcanic mountain backdrop. It was awesome and I’m pretty glad our plans got a little off course!
On our second to last morning we wanted to hike Diamond Head, but we didn’t have a car anymore. There are plenty of cabs or tours that travel to Diamond Head at sunrise but we found out that the trail was only about 3 miles from our hotel, so we put on our running shoes and ran! We ran the 3 miles to the crater, hiked about 1.5 miles up to the top at sunrise and then ran back. It was about 8 miles total and worth every second. The Diamond Head hike wasn’t exactly what I thought it was though. It was like herding tourists up a mountain, there were so many people and tour groups, and the trail was a path with handrails, hardly a rugged trail hike, there are also a TON of stairs at the very top, which burned a little after a 3 mile run! But in general totally worth the view at sunrise! Just know you won’t be alone up there! I would say there are hundreds of people who are making the “walk” up diamond head, including bus loads with tour groups on board.
The rest of the trip we did a lot of beach time, we took a surf lesson at our hotel, we sat at the pool and I feel like the trip revolved around where to eat next! A few more suggestions on amazing places for food…. The Cream Pot. We were again referred here by friends and if they hadn’t told us about it, we never would have found it. The restaurant is super small and looks like a charming little dollhouse. Its off the tourist path a little which is what makes this place so special. I had the strawberry souffle pancakes and Dan had Eggs Benedict, both were out of this world, and the price wasn’t too bad.
We also couldn’t come to Hawaii and not try the Acai Bowl. On our last day we went to Island Vintage Coffee, It was so delicious I wished I had started every single day with one!
The last place I recommend is someplace I easily would have overlooked on Yelp, but it was so good we ate there twice! The Goofy Cafe & Dine. You have to go up to the second floor of what looks like a tiny (and kinda dumpy) outdoor shopping center. Once inside it’s a quaint, beach-house type restaurant, with amazing super fresh and healthy food. Lots of salads, granola, acai bowls etc. I ordered the same thing both times we went!
If we go again:
There are a lot of things I would do differently next time.
- Eating out: Because it was just the two of us, we were more comfortable eating out a lot. While it was really awesome to try a lot of local food, If we had our kids with us I’d make sure to get a hotel room with a fridge/microwave or small kitchenette. It would save us a ton of money and sanity to find a little grocery store and make some meals in our room. Sampling local cuisine is half the fun of traveling, but with a little research you can pick the best places to eat out and save some time and dollars by planning ahead.
- More authentic Hawaii: Oahu was the easiest to plan and easiest to travel to, but it felt like a beach I’ve been to before. We also could have rented the car for another day or two and explored a little more rather than staying at the beach right at our hotel. We are also used to All-Inclusive Caribbean vacations where you don’t leave your resort a lot and you spend more time relaxing then sightseeing. Figure out what your trip expectations are and what your travel companions want out of their trip.
- Plan on Jet Lag: This was our first time crossing a huge time zone, if your a seasoned traveler this may not be a thing for you, but if your not used to this, this can kick your butt. We were in bed by 8pm and up around 4am every day. I didn’t take this into account when trip planning, but not much opens at 4am, so we did a lot of strolling the beach. We saw a bunch of sunrises though!