Highlights of Hawaiʻi: Oahu
Last summer, I spent the summer on the islands of Oahu, the Big Island, and Molokai. Continuing my series of travel posts, it makes sense that I should recommend some places for future travelers:
Oahu is the most populated island and home to Honolulu. It’s probably the easiest to visit as a tourist or find a job. Waikiki Beach is lined with hotels, shops, and mobs of tourists making their way up the trail to Diamond Head. What else is out there?
Driving around the island
There is The Bus which goes around Oahu, but if possible you should rent a car. I drove counter-clockwise. The scenery is beautiful the whole way around and through mountains.
Honolulu Museum of Art / Shangri La Museum of Islamic Art
In downtown Honolulu you can check out a beautiful art museum. There is a mix of art from Hawaii and all over Asia.
The only way to visit the Shangri La House is via a guided tour departing from the museum, booked a week or more in advance, and only available on certain days, so plan accordingly. Also bring sunglasses.
There is a short, paved trail up to a lighthouse, with amazing views. Tough to squeeze into a parking space, but people are always coming and going.
Bookends in Kailua
Fantastic set of used and new books, especially interesting if you want to learn more about Hawaiian history, traditions, foods, social issues. This is in a huge shopping center, so you can also pick up stuff from Target, shop at Whole Foods, find a restaurant or artisanal shop, etc.
There are nice beaches around Kailua, too.
Nu’uanu Pali Lookout
Panoramic view, bring $1s to pay for car parking and admission.
A replica of a Japanese temple. Bring $1s to pay for car parking and admission.
The North Shore / Haleiwa
Famous for surfing (during the right season). Things are more laid-back and relaxed, there are smaller shops, you can stay in little bungalows on organic farms. But be prepared for bumper-to-bumper traffic looking for beach parking, poor cell phone reception in some places, and private roads and beach entrances. I only had a few days here, and though I always hear good things about the North Shore, I didn’t really ‘get it’.
Ka’ena Point Trail
I drove as far west along as the northern coast as I could go, and ultimately this leads to a parking lot and a rocky beach trail. You’ll need sunscreen and water, go as far as you like or stay close to the car. I recommend going here for a few reasons: on the way here you pass through a more empty Hawaii, you can see gliders and parasailers, and the scenery is again amazing.
There are a few other hiking trails which I attempted while I was in East Honolulu: the Manoa Falls Trail (easy, but slippery path through the forest), the Wa’ahila Ridge and Mau’uame Trails (longer, steeper, above the trees with great views), and Ka’au Crater Trail (I didn’t get far, and the other hikers were built and dressed up like they were on Survivor).
One of the biggest setbacks for me was getting to the trail in the first place. With a car I think that you could easily visit Wa’ahila Ridge or wait for a spot to open around Manoa Falls, but the others were surrounded by expensive houses with No Parking and No Trespassing warnings.
Be prepared for rain. When I came down from the Wa’ahila Ridge trail, I was far from home, muddy, and soaked. When I got to some houses, I was lucky to find a dry carport to check my phone, and used a torrent of water coming off of the roof to wash the mud off of my boots. The homeowner appeared, we shared an awkward moment, and then I continued walking home.
Eating poké, malasadas, plate lunch, and diner food
Hawaiian food is this amazing mix of different East Asian cuisines, American takeout, and various treats which Hawaii is known for (including macadamia nuts and pineapple, which have been grown on Hawaii for less than 150 years).
There are always restaurants opening and closing, so one of the best things that you can do is subscribe to Frolic Hawaii, which can whet your appetite.
Obviously poké here is the real deal! You should find a seafood market or exclusively poké place to have the most options. My East Honolulu-area place appears to have since closed, but I can also recommend Poke Stop in Waipahu.
Malasadas are a type of Portuguese donut which you have to wake up early to get the best ones without lining up around the block. In Honolulu there’s Leonard’s Bakery and on the North Shore, Paalaa Kai Bakery.
One of the most common fast-food / takeout / counter-service options is a plate lunch, which usually offers meat with rice and macaroni salad. L&L is one brand which crossed to the mainland US, but smaller outlets are available virtually everywhere.
I more often go to diners (my one fancy place was Kan Zaman, a Moroccan restaurant downtown which recently opened a second location), and the Big City Diner and Koa Pancake House had a good selection of conventional and more-Hawaiian options.
Here’s Koa’s Korean Fried Chicken and waffle:
All in all an amazing trip, hope to return soon!