TL; DR: Help me provide my friends who are traveling to Oahu on Friday a list of great things to do. Bonus points for kama’aina favorites.
I have a couple of friends who are traveling to Oahu. They’re arrive at HNL this Friday (November 27th) and depart on Sunday (December 4th). They have never been to Hawaii before. I offered to provide the usual list of suggestions, but when I sat down to compile said list, I realized that my suggestions are based upon a mental map of Oahu that is about 20 years of date. This is where you, my lovely island ohana, come in. If you have a few minutes, I’d really appreciate it if you would take a look at my list, tell me all the things I’ve listed that no longer exist or have otherwise become unavailable, and make suggestions for things I’ve missed.
Operational Parameters (or: Some Restrictions Apply)
As I said, I came up with a gigantic list of things that I would want to do, given a week back home. Then I realized that most of them were not actually suitable for the trip my friends are taking, since they have different needs and resources. In order to try to minimize the number of, “Yeah, I thought of that, but…” options, here are the things to keep in mind while coming up with suggestions.
They will not have a car, so everything we suggest should fall into one or more of the following categories.
- Walking: Between the two of them, they are used to a reasonable amount of walking. (One of them walks a ridiculous amount in pure distance. Throw in the inclines in Seattle, and it’s safe to say that walking is not a concern. I’m pretty sure the other obtains average “geek with dog” levels of walking.) This defines their walking range, whether starting from their hotel in Waikiki (no, I don’t know which hotel, or even what end of Waikiki they’ll be in; working on that) or from some other drop-off/pick-up point.
- Public(ish) Transportation: The destination is reachable using TheBus or the Waikiki Trolley without too too many transfers. (Unless things have changed significantly, I believe you can get from almost anywhere to almost anywhere using two transfers, so I guess that’s not a big deal. Sticking to one transfer would be nice, just for the “not having to pay again” bit.)
- Taxi / Taxi-Like Services:1 Ideally, getting to their destination and returning to Waikiki will not require co-signing a personal loan. Also, if the destination is somewhere off the beaten path, is it should be somewhere the driver won’t grumble about going to pick them up.2
- Built-in transportation: As I recall, a decent percentage of the tours / packages offer pick-up / drop-off service at your hotel and/or a communal gathering point in Waikiki.
Food & Drink
This breaks my heart. Really, it does. The amazing assortment of local food in Hawaii is one of the top three things I miss about living there, and most of the foods and/or eateries I want to suggest are pretty much not workable for my friends.3
- One of the travelers is pescetarian (vegetarian + seafood) with strong vegetarian inclinations (the seafood bit doesn’t happen very often). Sushi is, however, very welcome.
- The other traveler is an omnivore, but generally sticks to seafood and chicken for meaty choices. No pork.4
Things that didn’t fit into the other two categories.
- Nothing involving heights. (I think the particular issue is unsupported heights. For instance, helicopter tours of any of the islands or hang gliding out of Dillingham are right out. I’m not sure about things like the Haiku Stairs or the jumping rock at Waimea. Feel free to include things in the latter category, and then they can decide for themselves.)
- It’s the rainy season. While they’re not afraid of getting rained upon,5 some indoor options would be nice.
- Locale: They are staying in Waikiki, though I don’t know what hotel.
Here are the things I’m suggesting, in no particular order. Given the shortness of their stay, and their stated desire to not have their entire vacation crammed full of activity, I’m trying to limit myself to things they would feel silly for not seeing / doing while they’re there. I’m also sticking mostly to Waikiki / Honolulu, given the lack of car. (I am really really tempted to talk them into renting a car for one day, just to do the circle island drive. How’s the surf out at Pipeline? Isn’t the Triple Crown happening about now?)
Hawaii Landmarks / The ObHawaii List
- Bishop Museum.
- Boat tour of some sort. Glass-bottom, cruise, submarine, whatever.
- Diamond Head / Summit Trail.
- Dole Plantation. While the “pick your own pineapple” thing is fun, my favorite part of this attraction is the koi pond.6
- Duke Kahanamoku statue.
- Duke’s for a sunset meal and fruity beverage.
- Haunama Bay.
- Hawaii Mission Houses.
- Iolani Palace / Iolani Barracks / Keliiponi Hale.
- Kawaiaha’o Church.
- King Kamehameha statue.
- Pearl Harbor / USS Missouri / USS Bowfin / Pacific Aviation Museum / USS Oklahoma Memorial.
- Polynesian Cultural Center. I think this is going to fall into the, “If you have a day to kill and don’t mind being trapped on the other side of the island with lots of other tourists, in an admittedly beautiful setting, where they will try to feed you lots of things neither of you eat, and pay a lot for the experience,” bucket.7
- Punchbowl. I seem to recall there was a daily thing from Waikiki to visit. Investigation will have to happen.
- Waikiki Beach & general exploration of Waikiki / Kalakaua Avenue / Kuhio Avenue / etc. (If I didn’t list it, someone would point out that I didn’t list it.)8
Beaches, Parks, and the Great Outdoors
- Ala Moana Beach Park.
- Kapiolani Park.
- Kuhio Beach.
Food & Drink
- Kapiolani Community College Farmers’ Market.
- L&L BBQ. Dietary restrictions may make this a non-starter, but… damnit. Though, I guess the chain exists here in the Seattle area.9
- Leonard’s Bakery.
- Liliha Bakery.
- Manapua. While I think the pescetarian might be out of luck on this front (unless she finds taro acceptable), there are a number of tasty pork-free manapua for the omnivore. I’m just having a hard time of thinking of somewhere to get reasonable manapua in or around Waikiki. Thoughts?
- McDonalds. No. Seriously. Locals know why.10
- Nobu. I did mention sushi is a favorite, right?
- Moana Surfrider‘s Beach Bar. Because it’s one of my favorite places in Waikiki to sit on the beach and have a drink or three.
- Shave Ice. What’s the current recommendation for real shave ice accessible without a car? 11
- Yummy Korean B-B-Q. Again, I’m not sure this is gonna be a hit with the non-meat-eater, though she may fish jun tasty. Mostly, because I miss this place terribly.12
- Zippy’s. They should be able to eat here without problem. 13
Other Places to Explore
- Ala Moana Shopping Center. Is it still the world’s biggest open-air shopping center? My favorites here were Crack Seed Center, Shirokiya14, and the food court.
- Jelly’s Books & Music. I’m actually not sure if this would be their thing, or if it’s just mad projection on my part.15
- Plantation Village. Though, getting to Waipahu could be interesting.16
- Waikiki Beach Walk.
- First Friday in Chinatown.
- Royal Hawaiian Band at Iolani Palace.
- Royal Hawaiian Hotel.
There are so many many things that aren’t on this list. (I started a spreadsheet. When it reached 300 items, I realized I was being a tad unrealistic.) But this is probably a familiar task for you: (friend, relative, colleague) is coming to Hawaii, has limited time, but wants to a kama’aina’s take on what they should do.
Mahalo for reading, and for any help you throw our way!
- Do things like Uber and Lyft exist in Hawaii? How reliable are they? How ‘gouge the tourist’ are the drivers, in general?
- (This footnote is not in any way related to the stated “helping meri’s friends” purpose of this post. It’s just an amusing anecdote about one of the few times I ever used a cab service in Hawaii. Feel free to skip.) On one of my last nights in Hawaii, I got paged to a bar in Kailua. My dad’s ship was in port, and so he’d wandered to his favorite watering hole. I was staying in town at the time, but it took TheBus to Ala Moana, transferred to the 56 (I have spent more time busses on that route…), and was dropped off a block or so from my destination. What I didn’t consider was getting back to town. Hanging out with data ran well past the last bus back over the Pali. Dad readily offered to pay for a cab, and we called and requested a dispatch. They told me it would be a while, which wasn’t surprising, given where I was. While waiting for the cab, dad and I continued chattering with each other. At one point, I asked him why his ship was in port. “Oh, it’s part of RIMPAC.” At this point, I realized that I was in for a long, long night. The cab finally arrived about 3.5 hours after I had requested it. I couldn’t even blame the driver or the company. They were essentially making continuous (increased fare) flat-rate runs from Pearl to Waikiki, stuffing as many sailors into the vehicles as they could. Taking the time to come to Kailua, pick me up, and take me back to Kaimuki was seriously eating into the evening’s profits. Once we realized what was happening, dad significantly upped the cash he was providing for the ride.
- Until I started dating a vegetarian, I never really thought about how difficult navigating the mishmash of foods the local cultures produce. Pork and fish abound!
- No kalua pig. No char siu. No Portagee sausage! No SPAM!
- They do live in Seattle, you know.
- We will not discuss my experience with the garden maze.
- Wow. That came off way more harsh than I meant it to. I enjoyed my obligatory high school field trip to PCC, but a later visit to take relatives was less enjoyable. Perhaps I was already in grumpy old man mode by that time.
- My friends are all smartasses, you see.
- I just discovered this while looking up their menu. Why was I not informed? My network of spies has failed me!
- The McDonalds menu in Hawaii includes things like spam and eggs, Portuguese sausage and eggs, and saimin. Not to mention fruit punch.
- I cannot for the life of me remember the name of the shave ice place that’s a reasonable walk from roughly the middle of Waikiki. Nor, of course, can I remember the name. I don’t think it was Waiola’s. I need to make some mad Google Street View magic happen, I think.
- Hey, Seattle people! Where can I get meat jun around here?
- Though, honestly, I’m not sure if I could face going to Zippy’s and not being able to have chili, Zip Pacs, Surf Pacs, and saimin.
- Oh, my brain just whimpered, thinking of Shirokiya.
- Did you know there’s a “Jelly’s New & Used CDs” in Worcester, Massachusetts? It’s on Park Ave, right next to TE. Comics and music, all in one trip!
- Honestly, I found this one while Googling. Was this even a thing in the 80s & 90s?
Auntie Pastos has changed owners a couple times now and the food has gone way downhill sad to say.
Kam Drive-in long gone. http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/6414
But the beach is still there! Go Bellows or Waimanalo, everybody likes ‘nalo.
Once I got to “pescetarian”, I thought of Leonard’s malasadas. Then I was stymied. Then I remembered there’s a number of places that offer great poke in a variety of styles. I’m gonna bet you could find tofu poke at more than one spot.
How about dim sum? There are fancier options, but I’m partial to Royal Kitchen, at the Chinatown Cultural Plaza. Menu’s online (http://royalkitchenhawaii.com/Royal_Kitchen/Menu.html), and they’ve got chicken, chicken curry, veggie, black sugar, coconut, and sweet potato baked buns. Also roast duck, chicken, and turkey. I’m getting hungry.
For that matter, just wandering around Chinatown (if they’re into that kind of thing) is cool.
Honolulu Museum of Arts (http://honolulumuseum.org/, still “Honolulu Academy of Arts” in my head) is worth a look.
Hawaii Theatre has the 8th Annual Na Mele O Na Keiki on Nov 28th & 29th. Tickets are probably gone, but you never know. And looks like Kumu Kahua Theatre might still have tickets available for their current play.
Man. Now I want a box of manapua, pork hash, and crispy gau gee.
My friend Yuka Nagashima who’s back visiting Hawaii for the first time after several years in Denmark shares her food musts list here:
(Your friends can probably skip the burger and breakfast places, but it’s a good list, especially for local and Asian food)
Oh my GAWD!! This is the most comprehensive suggestion list on earth!! Thank you thank you thank you!! I can’t wait to show Ali this!
I don’t know what your budget is like, but if you are willing to drop a small fortune on sushi – like $100 each – make a reservation at Sasabune and ask for the chef’s “Trust me” service. He decides what to make you, you eat it. There are only a couple other sushi places in the country this good; Japanese come to Hawaii to eat there.