Sunday, April 17, 2016

Aloha-My Top Oahu Vacay Tips

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Hawaii is a great place.  I spent a semester in college attending school on the North Shore of Oahu taking classes like Marine Biology, Pacific Natural History and Hula!  Hard to believe that I let over 20 years go by before I returned to paradise.  Fortunately for me, I had some good friends move to Oahu and gave me a standing invitation to visit and stay with them--so I did, 3 years in a row!

Oahu is the most populated of the Hawaiian islands, but there are so many great things to see and do there!  Everything in Hawaii has a "just go with it" feel, so most of the time I'd get up in the morning and decide what I felt like doing, and then doing it (Hint, most of the time it included the beach).

Here are some of my favorite things.

Beaches

In general beaches are crazy busy on weekends and quiet during the week, so plan accordingly.

Kaiona Beach Park-This awesome beach park was never busy when I visited (weekday) and it has a parking lot as well as restrooms and showers for rinsing off.  Its on the east side of the island, near Makapu'u lighthouse and Waimanolo.  I've also had great luck picking up sea glass here.  At low tide, there are a couple of tide pools that are perfect for bobbing around in.   Are you a fan of Magnum PI? The house used as the "Master's Estate" is about 3 houses down the beach. 





Kailua/Lanikai beach--My favorite beach on all of Oahu.  The sand is so, so soft.  The water is clear and calm.  I can just sit and stare at the water all day (and I did).  Kailua Beach Park has a couple different parking lots, picnic tables and restrooms.  You can also rent kayaks here.  Lanikai is about 1/2 mile up the road, and also very, very nice--just no services and you have to park in the neighborhood.  The town of Kailua has a really nice shopping center where you can grab lunch at FatBoys or Teddy Burger, stop at Target for bottled water or postcards (and mail them from the post office right next door).  Kailua is super nice and not nearly as crowded as Honolulu beaches since so many tourists never leave Waikiki.





Water Sports

SUP Yoga with Yoga Kai-This was one of my favorite activities all week!  I took the sunset class at Ala Moana Park (near Waikiki, giant free parking lot conveniently nearby).  The beach park was pretty busy, so it wasn't your usually contemplative yoga session, but the sunset was really nice! (And as a bonus, there will probably be several weddings on the shore while you are there).  The morning class looks like it might be nice too.  I highly recommend this company and the activity!  They provided all the equipment and took photos for us too.

 


Surfing lessons--This is a blast.  I've done it twice and really enjoyed it both times.  My first visit, I used Kai Sallas Surf Pro, which is located in the Marriott lobby at Waikiki.  They provided the board, quick transport to a spot off of Waikiki that was not crowded, as well as a long sleeve rashguard and water shoes.  They had a photographer who was in the water with us.  My group had 5 people in it and I managed to get up and surfing by my second try!  They were a bit spendy, but I loved my photos and my experience.  This trip I did a Groupon with Big Wave Dave, also on Waikiki.  Even though it was a group lesson, I was the only person scheduled for that time (as a bonus, my instructor did all the paddling out for me; he just hooked his foot on my board and towed me out to the wave spot).  I had to provide my own rashguard and shoes (and I wore capri length swim/gym tights--you will be really glad you did).  BWD also had a photographer, but he stayed on the beach and used a long lens--he did shoot video too, but I prefer the photos I got from Kai Sallas.  Next time I go, I'm headed to Costco to buy the $100 surfboard and just go out whenever I want! I promise you'll want to cover up your skin for this adventure--not only for sun protection, but to keep your skin from being rubbed raw by the grippy board and sand.




Stand Up Paddle Boarding-  I did lessons from 3 Friends SUP during my first visit- really great instructor, GoPro attached to your board and a great afternoon.  For my most recent trip, I had arranged for a lesson/rental from another company...and they never showed up (Groupon made it right for me)--and while I was waiting on the beach for the no-show company, I met Matt from Paddle Core Fitness--and I joined their group for their afternoon session.  Paddle boarding is a serious core/arm workout--but I did get to see 2 sea turtles during my paddle time!  If all you want to do is paddle around quiet water, you could arrange for rentals from Aloha SUP Club--they will bring the boards to you at Ala Moana Park and pick them back up and they have good reviews online (and they promptly replied to my text when checking on rentals, sadly they don't do Mondays so it didn't work for my schedule). 




Hanauma Bay snorkeling-It will cost you about $10 (more if you need to rent equipment), but its a convenient and safe place for snorkeling.  Its a really popular place, so you need to plan on getting to the parking lot before 9am or you probably won't get a spot.  I enjoyed watching the sunrise here (I was there at 7am).

Hikes and Views

Makapu'u Lighthouse trail-Get up early and do this hike.  Its paved, 2 miles roundtrip--I've seen folks with strollers on it, but you'd want to be careful not to let the stroller escape!  In the winter/spring you can see whales.  The lighthouse is really pretty and the view of the ocean is great.  Fun fact, you will find cactus growing here--its a windy and dry spot, so the cactus do well.  Do this hike in the morning, then drive the mile or so down the road to Kaiona Beach to swim and relax!

The most popular is probably Diamond Head Hike, you get a great view of Honolulu at the top, but its a pretty brisk uphill hike with no shade and LOTS of tourists.  You have to pay to park and its $1 to do the hike.  As an alternative--drive up to Punchbowl Cemetery of the Pacific; in addition to the many military graves, it has a super view.  You could also drive all the way up to Tantalus Round Top for a great view with no hike required.

Another scenic spot is Pali Lookout (on the way to Kailua)--you have to pay to park there too, but you'll probably only be there 15-20 minutes, so its a cheap thrill.


Manoa Falls Hike-A fairly short hike near the Lyon Arboretum near Honolulu.  Pay $5 for parking (but there is an attendant, so that makes it nice for security).  You will want insect repellent and shoes that you don't mind getting muddy.
 


Places to Visit

Kamaka Ukelele factory tour.  This family owned company has been making ukuleles for 100 years.  Uncle Fred, the original owner's son is your 91-years-young tour guide (and he's awesome).  Its daily at 10:30am and free--but get there about 20 minutes early because there are only 5 parking spots in front of the store (Note:  The company is going to be moving locations summer of 2016, so check the website for details).



Pearl Harbor-This is a must do.  You make reservations to go out to the USS Arizona Memorial.  It will cost you $1.50 to make the reservations online (its near the Aloha Stadium swap meet, so maybe plan it for the same day)

Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center cultural activities--This is a fancy shopping mall right on Waikiki, but in addition to the high end stores, they offer free cultural classes every weekday.  Hula and ukulele lessons, and lei making (my favorite) and others.


Dole Pineapple Plantation-If you are either driving back from the North Shore or have been out at Pearl Harbor area, the plantation is a good side trip.  There are gardens where you can see real pineapple growing and some fun photo ops.  You can pay to go through a maze or take a train ride (but I've never done that).  I did however go into the store and get a Dole Whip and eat it on the porch.



Aloha Stadium Swap Meet-This is where you buy the cheap souvenirs for the peeps at home who are jealous that you are in paradise.  Its only open Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday.  It costs $1 per person.  All the kitchsy stuff you see at the ABC stores all around Waikiki probably buy their stuff here and then mark it up.  I bought my Hawaiian "slippahs" here as well as plumeria hair clips, swim sarong, fabric, canvas purse and charms for my bracelet AND a ukulele.  They sell T-shirts too, 7 for $20.  Wear a hat and sunscreen, bring a shopping bag and a bottle of water.  The vendors are set up all around the outside of the stadium and you'll notice a mix of "the same stuff" type booths along with some unique local craftsman.  I spent about 90 minutes here and had seen it all/enough.  


North Shore- There are lots of great places to stop on the North Shore.  If you are there in the winter you can watch giant waves and adventurous surfers at Waimea Bay (in the summer there are no waves and its a giant bathtub for swimming).  Laie is a small town that has the Polynesian Culture Center (PCC for short), BYU-Hawaii and the LDS Hawaii Temple. I visited the PCC this trip; my Alamo rental car magazine that I got for free on the shuttle bus from the airport had a coupon for 1 free entrance.  I visited some of the villages and watched the shows and did some of the crafts.  I watched the longboat dance show and called it a day (there is a big luau night show too).  I went to BYU-H for part of my studies, so it was fun to visit the campus again.  The LDS temple is the first non-Utah temple that the LDS church completed.


 



Misc

Shave Ice- My personal favorite spot is near to Hawaii Kai/Honolulu--Uncle Clay's House of Pure Aloha.  They make all their own syrups (you must try lilikoi and pineapple) and ice cream.  If you are on the North Shore, stop at Matsumotos in Haleiwa--probably a long line, but its tasty stuff.

Costco-You know how much you like Costco at home?  Here too (and you won't get out the door without spending $100 here either).  Its perfect for buying stuff to take home like macadamia nut treats, but its also good for buying things like swimwear, rashguards and even surfboards!  Be sure to walk through the back deli/meat section--SOOOO different than what my local Costco carries (poi, sushi, haupia cake, dried squid). I also bought some large Costco shopping bags, which are decorated with Hawaiian designs.  I think there are 2 stores on Oahu, but I've only been to the one at Hawaii Kai (near Hanauma Bay) which is east of Waikiki.



Where to stay?  

I stayed with friends, in a great house in a neighborhood near Diamond Head called Kahala-so I ate at home most of the time and walked to the beach. Waikiki is the most famous section of Honolulu, but parking is HORRIBLE (expensive and hard to find--see more below).  If you can rent a condo, I'd recommend the areas of Kahala, Hawaii Kai, Diamond Head, Kailua or Laie on the North Shore).  I haven't had a chance to explore the part of the island called Koolina, which is where the Disney Resort is located, but my friends with small children love it.  

Renting a car

Yes, do it!  All the fun places are only accessible by car.  However, if you are staying in a downtown Honolulu hotel, parking will be outrageously expensive (like $30 a night or more).  I have had great luck renting through Costco.  About 8 weeks before my trip, I get on Costcotravel.com and make my reservation.  Then pretty much every day I check to see if there are better rates--and usually the cost keeps dropping for 2-3 weeks.  I've never paid more than $160 for a full week (that includes all fees and an extra driver if you need it).  The nice thing about Costco is you don't have to pay for your reservation, so each time I found a better rate I made a new reservation and then cancelled the old one.  FYI Hawaii has a law that drivers can't even hold their cell phone while driving. 

Parking

As I mentioned, Honolulu is impossible!  Predatory towing is a real problem--so if a sign says no parking, or the hours are posted when not to park, then don't!  I watched 3 tow trucks hook up cars about 2 minutes past the posted time.  I have always parked at the Waikiki Shell or on the street Monsarrat--its free during the day (no overnight).  You can park at the Honolulu Zoo for $1 an hour.  I hear that the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center validates parking, so that might be an option.  If you are outside of Honolulu, things get better.  The beach parks have parking lots or you can park along the highway.

Books I've used in the past for planning

Oahu Revealed
Oahu Top 10


Aloha my friends...go to Hawaii! Relax and ignore your email and phone--you won't be sorry!












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