Oahu, Hawaii- Liv
Instagram: @livstravelgram blog: https://www.livstravelblog.com
Stepped foot into Hawaii for the first time about a week and a half ago on the island of Kauai but was also lucky to get a chance to stop in Oahu on our same trip! I compiled a list of a few favorite things that I did in Oahu, what we saw and the yummy foods we ate. There are also a few places that I think were just okay, even though a lot of people raved about it. But if it's your first time visiting (like me) then I would still check it out!
Top 4 Things to Do
If swimming with a dolphin isn't on your list of things to do (before you die; that was mine), then I would just skip to number two. I've always found a fascination with dolphins and wanted to swim with them for as long as I could remember. What better time to do it than in Hawaii right?
I originally looked into swimming with dolphins in the ocean / open water but wanted to be able to touch one and the open water options don't allow you to touch them since they're "wild." I found an option at Honolulu Sea Life that had three different activity options for dolphins. I chose the Dolphin Swim Adventure mainly because I wanted to get a ride and kiss from a dolphin.
Sea Life itself is similar to an aquarium but very small compared to Monterey Bay Aquarium in the Bay Area. In order to do the Dolphin Adventure, you have to remove all jewelry (earrings, necklaces, etc) before getting in. This was a struggle for me since I have 9 ear piercings and some I had never removed before (rook and tragus). Prior to getting in the waters as well, a worker will give you instructions on how to put your life jacket on, what to expect, etc.. just a quick breakdown basically!
Once I got in, the trainer I was with gave us an overview of what kind of dolphin we'd be interacting with that day. I was lucky to be put in the group that had the opportunity to interact with a wholphin... no, that is not a typo... A wholphin is part false killer whale, part bottlenose dolphin. Kekaimalu (the wholphin's name) was born at Sea Life and is the only one in the United States to have known to survive. She was pretty awesome and had this personality that resembled dogs. It's almost like they're just dogs in dolphin form!
If you're into snorkeling, seeing colorful fishes and possible sea turtles - then I highly recommend Hanauma Bay. Hanauma Bay is located on the west side of Oahu and has the clearest water and lots of coral / reefs to float over.
Driving up to Hanauma Bay from Downtown Waikiki takes about 25-30 minutes depending on how busy the streets are. Parking can also be a little tricky, especially if you go at popular times. I'm not entirely sure when those peak hours are but if the lot is full - you'll have to find elsewhere to park. We went on a Saturday afternoon around noon and surprisingly, there was no traffic at all getting in. Lots were packed but had a few handful of spots leftover.
Parking = $1; cash only
Entrance Fee = $7.50/person; card or cash
Tram (optional) = $1.25, one way; card or cash
Snorkel Rental (fin, goggles, tube) = $20/person; card or cash
Once you park and pay your entrance fee, you're directed to go into this theater to watch a quick 9-minute video about Hanauma Bay and how to help preserve the area. After the video, you'll be directed on how to get down to the bay. The walk down is about 5 to 7 minutes depending how much stuff you're carrying down or if you stop to take photos. There is a tram (similar to Disneyland's parking lot tram to the park) that will take you up and down as well.
If you don't have any snorkel gear, they do have a rental shop at the bottom! You can also purchase your own snorkel gear and bring it it to the bay. ABC Stores (they’re on every corner in Waikiki) sell them for $14 for a pack of two: includes goggles and breathing tube. If you want a better experience though, I would suggest just renting because the ABC Store gear isn’t as good as the one you can get at Hanauma Bay. The breathing tubes from ABC are shorter and more difficult, especially if the waves get higher than your tube… you’ll be sucking in salty ocean water.
If you aren’t comfortable going far into the open water, I would also suggest getting a floatie! ABC Stores also sell them for $5 - $10 depending what kind of floatie you want. Our group had a donut floatie as well as the long chair type floatie. The long one fits two to three people sideways and you can both hold on and just kick your way / float around and look downwards to see the fishes!
BIGGEST TIP: Put more sunscreen on your back, behind of your legs, and butt because you will be facing down when snorkeling and you will most definitely get burnt. I learned that, first hand experience! I normally don’t put sunblock on my legs because it’s never gotten sunburned but I didn't think about it when we went to Hanauma Bay. Let’s just say that the back of my legs are quite tan at the moment…
Our group wanted to do a Luau on the last night in Oahu to celebrate and just have a good end-cap to the trip. We were deciding between Paradise Cove and Chief’s Luau but since a few people had already done Paradise Cove, we decided to go to Chief’s Luau so it would be a new experience for everyone.
Chief’s Luau offers a shuttle service that will pick you up from Hyatt Regency in Downtown Waikiki (they might have other options but since we stayed downtown, this was our closest option). Our bus and cultural representative was named Vetti and the bus driver’s name was Ben. I only mention this because they’re two pretty funny people and made our bus ride to Chief’s Luau very entertaining. They picked us up at 4:00 PM and we arrived thirty minutes later. You’ll also get back on the same bus after the luau.
There are a few different package options for the luau and our group decided to go with Paradise so we’d be able to get food second and have two drink tickets to go with our meal. The two drink tickets include mai tais, beer or soda.
The luau has a few other activities you can do prior to the entertainment starting such as airbrush tattoos, making headbands, spear throwing, and photo ops. They also take a photo for you in the beginning when you walk in ($20 for one hard copy at the end of the luau; we didn't purchase them since you can’t exactly split one hard copy with six people). Once the shows start, you’ll get your chance to grab food shortly after. They will have workers directing you so it isn’t hectic. The food was okay, not amazing (compared to local foods) but it is buffet style. I recommend grabbing two plates so you don’t have to go back in line for seconds! Our entire group had two plates walking back and even the workers complimented us saying, “That’s the way to do it!”
Since I’ve never been to other luaus, I don’t know how this compares to other places but I can say that I laughed a lot and was very impressed with the fire dance / tossing at the end of the show. The Chief also makes a lot of jokes and invites people up to the stage. I thought it was a pretty good way to end our trip!
Parasailing was also on my bucket list of things to do but for some reason, I didn't find it as exciting as I imagined. Don't get me wrong, it's an awesome view when you're up there and definitely something I would do again, but maybe if the ride was longer or higher I would have liked it more. It might be because I've gone sky diving in the past and that was more exhilarating than parasailing.
I booked the parasailing adventure through Chase Travel and it ended up being with a company called H2O Sports. They're run by Japanese folks who are nice but their business focuses on tips a lot. It was something that I didn't really enjoy since it seemed like your experience could be based on how much you tip them prior / after.. it was just a weird feeling that I got.
Places to See
Makapu'u Lookout: The pictures below below were taken beyond the railings but it's so worth the view! And if you look down below, sometimes you can see people fishing down there.
Sea Turtles: this was another thing on my bucket list! I wanted to swim with dolphins and see a sea turtle. Successfully did that on this trip!
There are multiple spots that are known to have sea turtles. The spot we went to was located on the side of the highway in between Turtle Beach and Laniakei Beach on the West side of Oahu
Paradise Cove: You can go to Paradise Cove for a Luau or just to the beach itself. It's a really small area when there's a luau going on (to the right of the photo) so you pretty much get a private beach if there's no one around!The water is super warm in the evening and a night swim is a must!Parking can be difficult when there is a luau going on. They reserve a lot of the parking for luau guests but if you are able to find the entrance past the guest side and drive all the way in - you'll be able to find one row available for beach guests. There really is only about 5-8 spots back there.
Waimea Bay: or Wailua Beach for Cliff Jumping
Ono's Steak and Shrimp Shack
This place was so good that we went twice! They’re located on the East side of Oahu, really close to Sea Life. We stumbled upon this place after my swim with the wholphin at Sea Life and it was literally one of the best meals I’ve had on Oahu. They started off as a shack (hence their name) and expanded into a truck and now a little storefront in the middle of nothing.
There's a variety of things to choose from but both times, I ordered the half garlic shrimp / half kalbi plate with rice and potato/macaroni salad. The garlic shrimp was delicious and on-point. I also tried Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck the day after and though Giovanni’s tasted good,Giovanni’s shrimp wasn’t as fresh and it was super oily. I also tried their fish taco and all I can say is you'll have to order one to try it for yourself. It’s topped with mangos and just …. mmmm delicious! If you like barbecue and that smokey flavor, you’ll also like their smoked meat plate option.There's other places that has a similar name - but they do not have a chain so be careful when you look this place up!
This place wasn’t originally on my list of food spots to try but I had a few friends (Thanks Steph & Randy!) who said it was their all time favorite for poke and I am so glad to have tried it! Though I tried a bunch of different poke while in Hawaii (Hibachi and Foodland), this was my favorite in terms of sauce. They have few options such as Hawaiian or Shoyu but the best one in my opinion is the Miso Ahi option. It doesn’t taste like miso soup but it has this sweetness to it that’s just so good!
You can get a regular (1/3lb) or large (1/2lb) poke bowl an it comes with either white or brown rice and a drink. I tried two types of canned drinks while on the island (Hawiian Sun and Aloha) and Hawaiian Sun is the best brand for your fruit drinks.
If you want good poke, I highly recommend this spot. Parking is tough as they are in a tight lot with only three reserved parking spots but there is street parking across the street from where they're located.
If you like udon, this place is worth the wait (if there is a line). This spot is open from 7:00 AM - 10:00 PM so there definitely is off hours that you can go where the won’t be a huge line out the door. Though the line can get crazy long, it is actually a pretty quick service.
Once you are inside, you’ll see workers prepping the udon and you just grab a tray and plate (if you want tempura / fried sides) then place your order with one worker, slide on down to the next worker who will prep your meal, keep sliding to pick your sides, then pay for your meal. Once you’ve paid, you’ll have the option to sit wherever you choose as seats are first come first serve.
If you’re with a larger group, it will be more tough to find seats together but we were able to grab some single seats that faced the wall and just sat in a line next to each other.
We also went to Musubi Cafe multiple times since it's such an easy quick fix to our hunger. Sometimes the line gets crazy long but the wait isn't too bad. Their musubis are made fresh to order, though they also have pre-made ones at the cashier. Even their pre-made ones are warm though! There's a variety of options to choose from. I tried their bacon/avocado/egg/spam musubi, unagi/egg musubi, and salmon onigiri (rice ball). So fresh and so good!
Leonard's Bakery is equivalent to the popularity of Voodoo's Doughnuts in Portland, OR. They're a corner bakery located near Downtown Waikiki off the strip. Order the malasadas because that's what they're known for! They come in half dozen or dozens, cream filled or original topped with powder.
Waiola's Shaved Ice
This shaved ice spot was better than Matsumoto's in my opinion in terms of the "shave ice." At Matsumoto's, it's more icy and melts faster whereas at Waiola's, the ice is more fluffy and it melts in your mouth rather than in your cup / bowl. I even heard a local telling his visiting friend, "Waiola's is way better than Matsumoto's. I don't know why anyone would go want to go there over here!"
Places to Skip
Giovanni's Shrimp Truck
Matsumoto's Shave Ice
We were able to get around the island by renting off Turo. Turo is basically AirBnb but for vehicles and way more cost effective than renting from a rental company.