Hawaii is everything you’d think it would be. So chill. So relaxing. So beautiful. Warm. Beach. Sunsets. Tan. Waves. Surf. Expensive. Touristy. Drooling just thinking about those Hawaiian BBQ joints. Ah. WHY CAN’T DELICIOUS SWEET AND JUICY SHORT RIBS AND HAWAIIAN MACARONI SALAD BE WHOLE30 COMPLIANT?! (Here is a link to a paleo Hawaiian BBQ sauce recipe I haven’t tried yet and couldn’t find a paleo alternative to the macaroni salad.)
I went to Honolulu for a short trip back in August 2014 with my family of 12 (yes, it does get more complicated the more people you have to plan for/manage in a vacation but could be more fun); this trip was joint with a week in Tokyo, Japan. Just being there for a few days was amazing though. I wish I could’ve spent more time there. The culture there is so chill and the natives seem to be pretty nice (that’s probably because almost all the natives I interacted with deal with tourists all the time). Yahh braddah. Total 360 from the NYC vibes. I remember seeing a lot of love for spam (yes, the canned ham); even McDonald’s featured spam in some of their sandwiches. Oh and long lines for the popular Hawaiian BBQ joints even at closing (~9PM). And an ABC convenience/souvenir store on every block. If you need some R&R, get your butt here. I’d love to go back and travel to other areas/islands. I hear the best way to experience Hawaii is just to rent an apartment and a car and just drive around to different areas on an island. I did thoroughly enjoy that our hotel was like 1.5 blocks away from the beach.
Since I was asked about travel tips for Hawaii and spent some time trying to recollect what I did 2 years ago, I figured I’ll post it here hoping it helps others as well. As it was 2 years ago and my Squarm game wasn’t as hot back then, there are missing details from the trip. I’ll try my best to cover as much as I remember.
More details after the jump, but here’s a high level overview:
Thursday, Day 1
- Arrived at HNL Airport at 1:26PM
- Prearranged a shuttle (for the 12 of us) to the hotel from the airport
- Checked into Aqua Queen Kapiolani Hotel (we arrived to the hotel around 3PM and check in did take awhile. I highly do not recommend staying at this hotel)
- Dinner at Marukame Udon (Japanese)
- Walked around/shopped close vicinity of the hotel
- Checked out Waikiki Beach’s sunset
- Because we ate dinner so early, ate a snack at Me’s BBQ (Korean, BBQ)
Friday, Day 2
- Grabbed breakfast at Tucker & Bevvy Picnic Food and ate at the beach
- Morning beach time at Waikiki Beach
- Commuted to Hanauma Bay by bus
- Ate a quick lunch (nothing special, just convenient) at Hanauma Bay
- Snorkeling at Hanauma Bay
- Took bus back to Waikiki
- Ate dinner (I forgot where)
Saturday, Day 3
- Grabbed breakfast at Starbucks near hotel
- Commuted to Pearl Harbor by bus
- Pearl Harbor Visitor’s Center
- USS Arizona Memorial (free tickets.. details below)
- USS Bowfin Submarine ($17.50/ticket as of today.. would recommend buying)
- Lunch at Pearl Harbor (nothing special, just convenient)
- Commuted to Dole Plantation by bus
- Dole Plantation
- Train, Maze, & Garden (Combo ticket is $20.00 as of today.. wouldn’t recommend any of them; if anything, only the train is decent as it’s a ride around the plantation)
- Took bus back to Waikiki
- Dinner at Hula Grill Waikiki (good food/drinks, but pricey)
Sunday, Day 4
- Breakfast (I forgot where)
- Walked to Diamond Head State Monument (~50 min, 2.3 miles)
- Hiked to top of Diamond Head (~2 hrs round trip)
- Commuted by bus back to Waikiki
- Lunch at Duke’s Waikiki (wouldn’t recommend lunch buffet)
- Shopping for Souvenirs / Beach
- Dinner at Uncle Bo’s (decent spot for dinner, don’t do the unlimited appetizers option)
Monday, Day 5
- Breakfast (I forgot where)
- Beach day at Waikiki Beach
- 1 hr surfing lessons (I think we went to Star Beachboys, but I honestly do not remember. I would yelp around)
- Dinner at Rainbow Drive – In (long lines and not much seating but yummmmm!!!)
- Walk around vicinity of hotel, last minute shopping
- Ate free samples at Honolulu Cookie Company (lol typical asians)
We stayed at the Aqua Queen Kapiolani Hotel due to primarily the location from the beach (less than 2 blocks) and its decent pricing over the other hotels in the area. Plus, I believe back then it had like 4 star ratings on Tripadvisor. I can’t compare my experience with other hotels in Hawaii, but I thought that this hotel was below average. Might be slightly okay if you didn’t have any problems with your room… but unfortunately I did. It’s an outdated hotel, and you can very much tell. Customer service at first was great, until we had a broken A/C and ant situation in my room (but the other 3 rooms I booked were fine). There were ants all over the door frame and the floors. I understand it’s a tropical area, but how come none of the other rooms had that same problem? It took multiple complaints to like 5 different people to get our room switched. It was very, very frustrating. Location is pretty nice though to the beach, shops, restaurants, and public buses. But, I wouldn’t stay here again and can’t recommend it to others as I didn’t even feel comfortable sleeping in my bed.
Things To Do
- Relax, tan, play in the waves
- Water sports
- Learn how to surf!
The beach itself stretches pretty far, and there are a ton of water sports, shops, restaurants there to keep you in that area all day. The beach is pretty clean, and the waves are super fun. Get those floaty blow up tubes. They were $3 at the ABC stores. Also, if surfing is on your bucket list, like it was on mine – here’s a great place to do it! There are so many surf lesson shops along the beach and in the area.. tripadvisor/yelp it. In my 1-hour “lesson”, I didn’t really learn how to surf (how to read waves, etc.), but I was able to catch 2 waves!
2. Hanauma Bay
- Snorkeling with pretty fishies!
It does get busy, so try to go in the morning. We took a bus to Hanauma Bay from near our hotel. $7.50 for adult entrance fee, $20 for snorkeling set, and $8 for a small locker ($10 for large). Once you enter, and before you get to go down to the water, you watch a mandatory short clip about Hanauma Bay and its preservation efforts. Then you get to go down to the bay (walking down/up a hill or paying a few dollars to take the tram). Get snorkel gear and put all your stuff in a locker. The gear was uncomfortable, but, it was still a fun time. I saw pretty fishies!
3. Pearl Harbor
- Pearl Harbor Visitor Center (free)
- USS Arizona Memorial (free)
- USS Bowfin Submarine ($)
- Battleship Missouri Memorial ($)
- Pacific Aviation Museum ($)
I highly recommend making all or any of these a part of your itinerary in Hawaii. It is a very humbling and moving experience just being there. The Pearl Harbor Visitor Center (includes 2 museums and several exhibits along the harbor) and USS Arizona Memorial (tickets required, though) are free. The other attractions such as the USS Bowfin Submarine, Battleship Missouri Memorial, and Pacific Aviation Museum all require fees. We only went to see the USS Bowfin Sub, which I thought was very interesting.
I don’t think this was an option when I went, but apparently now you can reserve tickets in advance ($1.50) to the USS Arizona Memorial, which obviously would be the way to go. When I went, the visitor center opens and starts distributing tickets at 7:00AM everyday, but we had to get there way earlier than that. I think we got there around 6:00AM back then, but I’m not sure how it would be now.
They do have some basic food options there. I think I ate a hot dog, lol.
4. Dole Plantation
- Shopping in the store
- Eating at the Plantation Grille ($)
- Pineapple Express Train Tour ($)
- Pineapple Garden Maze ($)
- Plantation Garden Tour ($)
We took a bus here from Pearl Harbor. The idea of visiting here is cool, but in all honesty, the activities they had here was not great. The pineapple express train went around the plantation, but there was like nothing growing so we didn’t see really anything. The garden maze got boring really quickly, and the garden tour wasn’t that impressive (to me – maybe plant junkies would love it?). I did enjoy taking a picture in a huge pineapple, and eating some Dole Whip (pineapple-flavored soft-serve frozen dessert) inside a pineapple container. It’s very sweet, but very good! Split it with someone (if getting the pineapple container), because it becomes overwhelming by yourself. They also have pineapple cutting demonstrations (and samples! :P) a few times a day.
5. Diamond Head
- Hiking to the top!
We walked here from our hotel and took a bus back. For most of the trail, it’s pretty easy I would say. There are a couple of stairs, especially the last looooooong and steep one (is a killer), but generally it’s not too bad. It does get crowded and HOT. So obviously, go early, or go late. The view at the top is cool.
- There are a ton of shops in the area; just walk along Kalakaua Avenue. For souveneirs, I picked up a couple of bags of Kona coffee, as it’s something I believed weren’t sold back in NY.
- The Honolulu Cookie Company offers free little samples of their cookies! It also smells AMAZING in there. Fun fact: they continuously toast cookies in a toaster oven to get the store smelling like freshly baked cookies.
What to Eat
1. Rainbow Drive – In (Yelp: 4 stars)
3308 Kanaina Ave, Honolulu, Oahu, HI
7:00am – 9:00pm daily
If I could only have one meal in Waikiki, I would probably go to Rainbow Drive – In . They are always busy, but there’s probably a good reason for it – their food is the bomb. Portions are big and it’s reasonably priced, from what I remember. It’s hard to find seating, so we had to walk back to our hotel to enjoy. I had tried their loco moco and mix plate of bbq beef and chicken. and their macaroni salad (comes as a side). I never had a “loco moco”, which is two burger patties with 2 eggs and lots of gravy, on top of rice. It was pretty good! But I’ll stick with my BBQ beef.
2. Marukame Udon (Yelp: 4.5 stars)
2310 Kuhio Ave, Honolulu, HI 96815
Breakfast, Lunch or Dinner | 7:00am – 10:00pm daily
Okay, I know were were going to Japan in a few days, but I love Japanese food. Actually, my brother found this place and I was going YAS YAS YAS. This place is delicious. It’s not a waiter-type restaurant, but an “order, pay and find a seat” establishment.
I had the curry udon as well as the fried chicken. The udon noodles were great and the japanese curry broth was hearty and flavorful. The fried chicken was crispy and spiced well. There might be long lines but it does move fairly quickly. No wonder it is rated so well on Yelp.
3. Me’s BBQ (Yelp: 4 stars)
151 Uluniu Ave, Honolulu, HI 96815
Lunch, Dinner | Mon – Sat (7:00am – 9:00pm)
We ate dinner pretty early that day at Marukame Udon so my brother opted for a snack. We got there as it was closing, but they still had a line / people waiting for their food. Seemed to be a pretty popular spot. 4 of us shared I believe Kalbi BBQ with 4 sides. I remember the kalbi being pretty legit, but don’t remember what other sides we got, but we did get the macaroni salad.. that was my first ever, and I was hooked ever since.
4. Uncle Bo’s Pupu Bar & Grill (Yelp: 4 stars)
559 Kapahulu Ave, Honolulu, HI 96815
Dinner | 5:00pm – 1:00am
It looks pretty run down on the outside, but actually in the inside, it’s very nice! Our starving group of 12 decided to do the unlimited chef’s special, where pretty much the chef chooses what appetizers to bring out to you. If you like a certain thing you tried, you can order more of that. I remember the clams were amaaaazing and the other overwhelming amount of food we got were pretty good.
5. Tucker & Bevvy Picnic Food (Yelp: 4.5 stars)
449 Kapahulu Ave #203, Honolulu, HI 96815
Breakfast, brunch | 6:00am – 7:30pm daily
This was a block away from the hotel, and a block away from the beach. Sadly, I don’t remember much about this place, but we did get a few sandwiches and other breakfast items from here and ate in the beach.
6. Hula Grill Waikiki (Yelp: 4 stars)
2335 Kalakaua Ave #203, Honolulu, HI 96815
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner | Mon – Thurs 6:30am – 11:30am and 3:00pm – 10:00pm; Fri – Sun 6:30am – 10:00pm
I think we were planning to dine at Duke’s Waikiki but it was a long wait (especially since we had like 12 people) so we ended up making a lunch reservation for the next day. However, Hula Grill was near and told us that they could seat us within 30 minutes… so we decided to come here for dinner. I remember it being pricey, but the food and drinks were pretty good here. I think I had the poke tacos, and coconut seafood chowder which were both great.
7. Duke’s Waikiki (Yelp: 4 stars)
2335 Kalakaua Ave #116, Honolulu, HI 96815
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner | 7:00am – 12:00am
We did the lunch buffet which wasn’t great. I remember it being very slim pickings with the variety and the food itself was average. I would love to have come for their a la carte menu, though. That looked pretty good.
Hope this all helps; if you have any questions, I’ll try my best to answer, although it was a while ago. As I’m sure I’ll be returning to Hawaii, if you have any tips or recommendations as well, let me know.
Mahalo! Stay tuned for my Tokyo portion of the trip!