Honolulu Highlight Reel
It's official. Honolulu has stolen our hearts. All four of them. The whole island of Oahu, really. But there is just something special about this city. The energy of the people, the crescent shaped beach lined with elegant older hotels, the hustle and bustle of a city with the laid-back lifestyle of a beach destination, the most delicious tasting food, the numerous activities in water and out, and last but not least the inviting and mesmerizing turquoise ocean. Then there's Diamond Head, a prominent dormant volcano standing proud (and remarkable) over her city. Close your eyes, reach for that invisible mai tai, and envision yourself on the beach. Queue the Hawaiian music...now.
Hopefully I can adequately convey my affection for this city in this post. It's hard to put into words or photos just how deep my love for this place runs. Like I said, not just Honolulu, but the whole island of Oahu. Yes, it was a special place for me as I was growing up but it continues to impress me, and the people who have visited us or that have come, seem to share similar sentiments. If you haven't been to the Hawaiian Islands but have been dreaming to visit, like usual, I'd say GO FOR IT. Save your pennies, make your plans, and press 'purchase' on those plane tickets. I really don't think you'll be disappointed. In fact, I think it will surpass your expectations.
With that, the following 7 activities rounded out our incredible two weeks in Honolulu:
Hike Diamond Head State Monument
Since I talked up Diamond Head in the intro, I'll lead with it here so you can first get a glimpse of the views offered from standing at the top. Being one of Hawaii’s most recognized landmark, it's known for its historic hiking trail, incredible coastline views, and military history. The price for admission is $1 per walker or $5 per car. The hike is fairly quick (an hour-ish one way) and culminates after passing through underground tunnels, old military bunkers, and ascending up a very steep set of stairs. Waiting at the tip top of Diamond Head are well-worth-it sweeping views in all directions. It's hard to pick a favorite viewpoint to stare at...perhaps, overlooking the city of Honolulu I'd say. The hike is always busy but sharing the experience with a bunch of Asian tourists was a welcomed experience. Just be careful you don't smack your face on anyone's selfie-stick. True story.
We came twice, long story, but the second time I came alone and at sunrise. Waking up at 5:30 is a a big feat for me (us), and doing so in total darkness, now that's just weird. But I'll admit that it was all worth the time and effort. With this being a place my dad and I used to hike, it was another bittersweet spot for reflection and to reminisce about the past.
Visit Pearl Harbor & The USS Arizona Memorial
It's hard to visit Hawaii and not want to dive into part of its history. Our friends from New Zealand that were visiting had the desire to visit Pearl Harbor (we did too!) so we made it a priority to sign up for a tour of the USS Arizona Memorial. The tickets are free (if you arrive early on preferred day of tour) or you can wake up at 7 am the day before and reserve online ($1.50 "reservation fee" if you do it that way). There are other options that cost more money but I bet you can guess what we chose.
Visiting the U.S. Base at Pearl Harbor can be a bit of a somber experience. We arrived a little early to walk around the grounds and to learn more about the "date that will live in infamy." The tour began with a short film in the theater complete with live footage from that day. Afterwards, everyone boarded a navy-operated shuttle boat that motors out to the memorial. Here we were able to see the wreckage just below the surface, fuel still leaking out of the 500,000 gallons that are estimated to still be within the ship. 1,177 people died aboard the ship that day and remain entombed in the wreckage. At the far end of the memorial is a wall filled with names of the men who gave their lives in action that day.
Take in The Views At Aloha Tower
Once the tallest building in Hawaii for four decades, the Aloha Tower has been and still is an active lighthouse welcoming ships into the Honolulu harbor daily. The building sits at 10 stories high and as you can see offers incredible 360 degree views from the top observatory. When we used to visit the Aloha Tower Marketplace twenty years ago it was the spot to come for action, dining, and entertainment. But now, sadly, little remains but the tower and a few restaurants. We still enjoyed a few hours scoping out the ships, eating lunch, and taking in the views from the top deck of the tower.
Splash At Hilton Hawaiian Village
If I were wealthy and had the burning desire to stay in a resort, I'd probably pick the Hilton Hawaiian Village to blow my cash at. Nope, not getting any money to say that either. It just blows my mind walking around as a tourist, so I can only imagine what a guest staying there must feel like. It's literally a mini-village on the skirts of Waikiki. There are pools & waterslides, exotic wildlife, ponds & waterfalls, the beach, restaurants & bars, entertainment, its own lagoon, and a Friday night fireworks show.
We strolled over one evening to swim in the lagoon at sunset. Simply beautiful. The sun-kissed buildings hugged us in tight as the clouds turned pink and sun began to melt into the ocean. See the video below and just imagine yourself there.
Enjoy Waikiki Beach Every Single Day
Hands down my favorite place in Honolulu is Waikiki (a popular neighborhood/beach within the city). I hardly feel like this place needs an introduction because the photos can speak for themselves (sorry there are a million). Any stretch of sand you find your butt hitting, will feel like heaven. There are boat cruises, surfing, swimming, SUPing, restaurants, hula dancing, shopping, Hawaiian music, and people watching all while Diamond Head hangs out in the background beautifully watching the days unfold. In Waikiki, you can do anything and wear anything (think skimpy bikinis and banana hammocks). The sun is hot, the ocean inviting, and the weather is consistent. The sunsets are incredible and the fun doesn't stop (ever) in Waikiki. We, of course, didn't experience the nightlife but the beach continues to hop even after nightfall.
This place is just rad. That's all I have to say!
Make An Impact With Travel2Change
This was our second time signing up for an event with Travel2Change, a Hawaiian organization aimed to offer impactful activities to locals and tourists, that benefit local Hawaiian communities. Last month we spent a morning hiking, cleaning/maintaining a taro patch, and making new friends at Kualoa Ranch. This month, while in Waikiki, we signed up for a beach clean-up and yoga. It happened to fall on a day when we really could use it most too.
I'll never forget that morning. Around 8 am Chip received the dreaded (and typically annoying) emergency alert on his cell phone. He showed it to me with an odd look on his face and I almost dismissed it as a joke. It read: Ballistic Missile Threat Inbound to Hawaii. Seek Immediate Shelter. THIS IS NOT A DRILL. As we quickly exited our condo (with water, food, sunblock, and the boys' blankets in hand), we realized everyone else in Honolulu received the message as well. As if straight out of an action movie, outside our building people rushed in all directions, some crying, most wondering where to go. Cars screeched as they sped off. The city was buzzing with anxiety.
Still to this day I can hardly think deeply about these moments without the feeling of panic in my chest. I envisioned what it might feel like to prepare to die. To possibly not see my children again or my husband. Not knowing how the day was going to end, but guessing it might end in tragedy. We were scared. Like really, really scared.
We ended up hailing a taxi cab and hightailing it out of the city. By then I was crying. The boys were in the back of the mini-van acting silly and happy while Chip and I were every opposite emotion of that. Not more than a few minutes later, we received a second emergency alert stating it was a mistake. A MISTAKE?! I still have a hard time wrapping my brain around that one. To the person that found their fingertip dangling over the 'Enter' button in the first place, that was a cruel joke (or accident as they're calling it).
Back to my initial story. After crying a few more times, now in relief, we managed to regain our composure and walk down to the beach where we had signed up for a beach clean-up and yoga session. This was much needed for our wearied soul that day.
The first thirty minutes of the event was spent collecting trash contributing to a cleaner environment. The boys favorite pastime is trash collecting anyhow ("we're picking up trash so the earth is happy," they say to anyone who walks by) but we felt extra special as locals stopped to talk and thank us for taking the time. We concluded our morning with an hour of yoga with Jonathan from Yoga Love Mana. He had the most amazing energy about him. He encouraged us to listen to our surroundings (ocean, birds, our children laughing) and incorporate that into our yoga practice. It was a very healing and relaxing session for us. The boys would hop on the mat and off as they pleased and it didn't bother anyone to have them participate at ease. Should Jonathan ever find himself reading this: You saved us that day. Thank you for your gentle and kind spirit.
Partake In Happy Houring & (A Lot of) Eating...
One can't come to Waikiki and not experience a proper mai tai while listening to traditional Hawaiian music and watching hula dancers as the sun is setting. It's standard procedure for a tourist, often paying upwards of $15 per drink and not feeling at all guilty about it.
Actually we only did that once, but sometimes you gotta treat yo'self. Off and on we did just that while in Honolulu, finding the best food and happy hour deals. For us that was splurging, and while it meant we often had to eat dinner at 4 pm, we all welcomed the breaks from cooking and eating in. To make it special for the boys we'd stop at the ABC Store to buy the jibs one can of Hawaiian Juice that they'd share for happy hour. They'd proudly carry it to our restaurant of choice and sip on it slowly (we of course had to teach them). They'd say "Oooh, I'm savoring my happy hour drink," and "Mmm, this sure is a great happy hour drink, Bennett." The boys have clearly mastered their happy hour etiquette. Below are our fave hot spots...
A List of our All-time Favorites:
Best SunseT & live Hawaiian Music: (Tie) Halekalani or Moana Surfrider
*Music, hula dancer, views, and sunset make up for the $15 drinks.
Best Happy Hour Food (Deal$): The Yard House
*Poke Nachos, Onion Ring Towers, Fried mac n cheese, pizzas, vegetarian hot wings!!! This place was the jam!
Best BIG BreakfaST: Eggs n Things
Cheapest Happy Hour Drinks and Great Views: Tiki's Grill
*We were extra entertained with live music and hula dancers on Thursday nights!!
Best Bang For Your Buck Poke: Coco Cove
Best Shave Ice: Waiola Shave Ice
*Ice cream in the middle and passion fruit topping. YES!
There you have it, as you can see we enjoyed ourselves (after cleaning our undies following the missile scare, of course).
We round out our remaining time on the island of Oahu with two incredible weeks on the West Side. Stay tuned for the next post but spoiler alert: We mingled with locals, had friends from New Zealand and Steamboat, CO visit, and started every day on a beach and ended every day with a sunset. We also reflect about our time on the island with tales and way too many photos. More to come soon!!
Chip, Lindsay, Reid, Bennett