married life · travel · trips · vacations

tips, tricks, and favorite things to do in hawaii {oahu}

last night i had a dream about hawaii. i’m not sure if it was the false alarm the islands experienced yesterday, or just the winter getting me down, but my dream of lava and crystal clear beaches put me in the aloha spirit.

the fisherman and i were both hawaii virgins before our trip. my family didn’t take a ton of tropical vacations as a kid; we were more the visit-our-grandparents-in-colorado type of vacationers. my mom said once that she was trying to get my dad to go to australia, but that was like 10 years ago.

we had some built up delta miles from our beloved american express cards, and we decided to use them for a trip to oahu for our birthdays. the fisherman and i were born over 11 months apart, which makes our birthdays within weeks of each other.

we chose oahu because it was our first time to the islands. we knew oahu was tourist-friendly, and we wanted to see pearl harbor. plus, the fisherman’s uncle lived there  a few years ago, so we had a lot of insider info about the island.

we did a ton of research before we went, and even created a spreadsheet of what we would do each day, and how much time it would take. this was our final version:

Screen Shot 2018-01-14 at 12.59.03 PM

now, for the fun stuff! what to do, and see.

stay on the north shore. although i don’t want the north shore to get crowded, i absolutely recommend this. waikiki looks just like los angeles, and smells like it, too. the north shore is quiet and charming. it has a million little beaches where you can just pull off and swim/float/snorkle/lounge. we stayed in an air b n b, but there is also turtle bay resort, which is more of a big luxury hotel experience.

from the north shore, it can take about an hour to get to the honolulu side of the island {mostly because of the speed limit on the freeway} but once you’re on that side of the island, there is a ton of stuff to do, so you can plan to spend the day over there.

take in some of the tropics on foot. the fisherman and i love to hike. i am more of a leisurely nature walker {i prefer a paved trail, tbh} but we tried to do a hike every day.

one of my favorites was the waimea valley botanical gardens. it’s 1 1/2 miles roundtrip, winding through a gorgeous garden of lush island plants. it has small wooden signs everywhere that detail out specific species and how they got to the island {if not native}. there are also native hawaiian culture displays, like huts and such, that you can walk through and read about. at the end, there is a waterfall pool you can swim in!

other hikes we enjoyed were the makapu’u lighthouse trail and diamond head.

to note, we went on a hike where i complained nearly the entire time, maunawili falls.

as this link describes, ‘it is maintained by the city and county, but don’t kid yourself, you will be climbing over tree roots and hopping over rocks to cross the streams.’

understatement of the century.

the entire time i was dodging tree branches ready to smack me in the face; that is when i wasn’t swatting mosquitoes or trying to convince the fisherman to not jump off the waterfall {he didn’t}.

there were also *several* signs about island freshwater bacterial diseases, such as leptospirosis. it was honestly a beautiful hike surrounded by all the tropical plants you’d expect, including bananas, but was it worth it? debatable.

snorkle, snorkle, snorkle! of course, being married to the fisherman meant we needed to see a lot of fish up close and personal during our time on the islands. at the insistence of everyone we know, we decided to spend a full morning at hanauma bay.

it did not disappoint! its calm waters and extremely diverse marine ecosystem lent itself to hours of floating around and seeing the most amazing tropical fish. my big tip here is to go super early. we heard the parking lot fills up by 7 am {it does} so we got there around 6 am. the great thing about hawaii, though, is that we were in the water at 7:30 am it wasn’t cold at all. the sun is warm and it was light outside, so we didn’t even feel like we were swimming at a weird time. it gets *very* crowded as early as 9:30-10:00 am, so definitely go early if you want some quiet time without bumping into other swimmers.

we also proved the early bird gets the worm and went to shark’s cove around 8 am the morning of our last day on the island. honestly i was a little skeptical. there were a lot of rocks and i wasn’t sure how the tide/currents were. our friends recommended it, though, and lived to tell the tale, so i was optimistic. there were a lot of cool fish, but the more notable event was that the fisherman swam with a turtle! he was just floating along, and out of nowhere, mr. turtle appeared.


eat some treats. the fisherman and i love food. we’d both choose a fancy restaurant over buying souvenirs, which has led us to some great places around the globe. here are a few north shore faves:

banzai sushi

teds bakery {food is ok, definitely splurge on a piece of pie}

cafe haleiwa {the macadamia nut waffles are uh-mazing}

teddy’s bigger burgers {i went here twice}

matsumoto’s shaved ice {get the ice cream on the bottom, #yolo}

the fisherman and i were in the throes of saving for our house when we went to hawaii, as well as paying off student loans {#millenials} and trying to squirrel away money for retirement. this meant we grocery shopped and cooked for some of our meals, which worked out great! my recommendation for that is to not shop at Foodland on the north shore, go to rite-aid in haleiwa. it has a lot of foodstuffs and sunscreen type-supplies for cheap{er}.

visit some touristy sites. one of the major reasons we chose oahu was so we could visit pearl harbor. even if you’re not a WWII fan, as we are, it’s a humbling and almost spiritual experience to visit the base and monument. if you can, book tickets early to take the ferry to the uss arizona memorial, which sits atop the sunken ship. there is a museum with a copy of president roosevelt’s address to the nation about the attack with his handwritten notes. pearl harbor is still an active military base, which was cool/interesting.

if you’re into pineapples, as i am and have always been, a visit to the dole plantation is a must. i highly recommend taking the pineapple express train tour, which takes you all around the plantation where you can see fruits growing in their various stages. this was actually so fun. it sounds  a little hokey, and maybe it was, but the conductor notes fun facts and some history about hawaii, which was interesting. you obviously must also get a dole whip. which i know, i know, you can get in disneyland. but honestly people, not like this.

take a kayak into the open water. i was basically having an anxiety attack the entire time we did this, but i’m glad we embraced the adventure. with a rented yellow kayak beneath us, we trekked out to chinaman’s hat, which is a small uninhabited island located about 1/3 of a mile offshore. at low tide, you can actually walk out there, but you would never in a million years catch me doing something like that. a few times we tried to paddle around the the side of the island that doesn’t face the shore, but the waves were so high i was certain we would tip over and drown {despite wearing life jackets?}. it was a terrifying but rewarding experience.

a few other things to note:

*the honolulu airport has almost no charging stations. i think they are working on the delta terminal, but seriously consider bringing a power bank if you’ll be sitting in the airport for any length of time.

*when you’re heading back to the us mainland, you’ll need to clear your bags through usda checkpoints. if you’re transporting plants, fruits, veggies etc., they’ll need to be free of pests, diseases, etc.

*rent a car. it’s not terribly expensive and will be absolutely worth it.

*we brought our own snorkel gear, but i recommend buying it once you get there.

*if you plan to hike, bring a camelback. it’s so humid there you’ll need 10x the water you need IRL. omg, it’s so humid.

*since hawaii is close to the equator, the nights/days are about the same length. meaning, it’s gets dark earlier than you’re likely used to. start your day early! this is pretty easy if you’re coming from the us mainland because your body is still on PT/MT/CT or ET.

*we’re glad we went to oahu, but next time we’ll go to a less crowded island, like maui.

*get some waterproof phone cases for adventures like kayaking. we tested these before we took them out on the water, and they were indeed leak proof. this way we had our phones with us at all times, but if they were splashed or {heaven forbid} our backpack went overboard, we were covered.

i honestly turn to matt like once a week and tell him how much i miss the islands. here is a quick video of all of our adventures!





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