Our first few days in Oahu were spent easing into our vacation. We had booked our tickets to the Pearl Harbour Museums for the very next morning after we arrived. Since our bodies were still on Mountain Time (Hawai’i’ is about 3 hours ahead of MST), it wasn’t difficult to wake up early.
We were staying in a fairly central location (on the non-touristy edge of Waikiki in Honolulu) in a very pleasant and quiet AirBnb. There was an array of breakfast foods available for our use in the kitchen and we took advantage of that daily. It was nice to have a quiet and simple breakfast in the morning before heading out for the day.
We also spent the last two days of our honeymoon in Oahu winding down from our vacation. Our AirBnb for one night was up in the steep suburbs of Honolulu, very quiet and peaceful, but still only about a 15 min drive from downtown.
Sights we saw
Pearl Harbour Museum
This was the very first thing we did. We are both pretty interested in history and this seemed like the perfect way to get started. The Pearl Harbour Museum is actually a combination of museums you can choose from. We chose the Passport option which gave us access to everything; we also signed up for a boat tour of the Arizona Memorial.
I knew about the significance of the Pearl Harbour attack and its overarching details, but this visit (which took up our morning and afternoon) was a deep dive into the details that was incredibly fascinating.
We explored a real submarine using a self-guided audio tour they provided and got to see the USS Missouri where Japan finally surrendered to the Allies (and the Canadian rep messed up the surrender documents by signing on the wrong line causing a mess. 😂)
Seeing the USS Missouri was overwhelming. It’s one thing to know that big battleships like that housed between 2500-3000 people and another thing to go see how big it is. We explored the USS Missouri as much as we could but we doubt we saw even half of it. That ship is massive.
The boat tour of the Arizona Memorial was interesting and sobering. It started with a movie in the theatre that gave context and showed clips from the actual Pearl Harbour attack, including the fireball that engulfed the USS Arizona. Then we hopped on a boat and went around the harbour, getting close to the memorial built on top of the Arizona wreck and seeing where the other ships had been stationed during the attack. One minute you’re just on a ship, prepping for possible war; the next minute a bomb drops on your entire armament sector igniting all the bombs on the ship and you’re dead. It was horrifying to come face to face with it.
There were several audio tours you could do throughout the museums and we did a few. There were others where we just chose to roam and read the captions and cards. Seeing a real nuclear missile gave me the chills – it was huge, but still pretty tiny for the level the destruction it could wreak.
So glad we did this tour. I think this is a worthwhile item on anyone’s Honolulu itinerary.
This was a beautiful lookout with history on the way to the Byodo-In temple. Pali means cliffs, and these cliffs are tall and incredibly windy. The king of Hawai’i fought and defeated the ruler of Maui and Oahu on these cliffs. The view is just gorgeous. We spent about 20 minutes or so at this lookout, enjoying the view and reading the plaques that told of its significance. Just the road driving to the cliffs is beautiful.
One of the things we really loved was that driving in Hawai’i is incredibly picturesque. The least picturesque place was Honolulu itself, but even Honolulu has its charms because half the city dwells on the incline of mountains and in eroded valleys. Everywhere you go, it’s beautiful, and the long drives on highways were worth it for the views alone.
Byodo-In Japanese Temple
This spot was a Google Trips suggestion. We weren’t entirely sure what to expect, but quite liked it. It doesn’t warrant a special visit, but as part of a day trip where we drove around visiting many sights, it fit in perfectly. The first view of the temple is gorgeous with the huge cliffs in the backdrop.
The temple is an exact replica of a 900-year old temple in Japan and it was built here in Oahu to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of the first Japanese immigrants to Hawai’i. It’s not a functioning temple and the actual building is quite small. There is a large statue of the Lotus Buddha and a huge brass peace bell that anyone can ring.
Surrounding the temple are beautiful Japanese style gardens and huge koi ponds. I’ve never seen so many koi in real life before. We really enjoyed walking around in this garden – it was quiet, pretty, and we saw all sorts of wildlife and plants (tortoises, fowl, so many types of bamboo, etc).
This is the most touristy spot in all of Honolulu. It’s very clean, very well developed, and features lots of expensive shops and random street entertainment. We spent our first night walking around Waikiki and visited a little Chinese bazaar behind all the expensive shops where we haggled and bought a lot of little souvenirs for our families.
There is not a lot of culture here. It’s great for shopping, the Waikiki beach is nearby, and many hotels and some resorts are in this area. We came here because one of the best rated Poke places in our vicinity was in Waikiki and that did not disappoint.
Saad and I love Poke. We discovered it here in Calgary when Kensington Poke opened up across from my favourite coffee shop to work in. We had lunch there one Friday and were hooked. After that, we tried various different Poke places in Calgary, and possibly one of the reasons we chose Hawai’i was to experience Poke in its native place.
This beach is walking distance from the most touristy pair of streets in Honolulu. However, it’s clean, it’s pretty, the sunsets are gorgeous and it’s fairly big. We never visited it during the busiest times but we saw a sunset here and spent an afternoon walking along it. It’s a nice beach to relax on, play beach sports and do some swimming. If you didn’t want to leave the touristy area, I imagine you’d spend a lot of time on this particular beach.
Diamond Head Crater
This was the very first hike we did in Hawaii. The crater is in Honolulu near the coast and used to be a lookout point to check for enemies coming towards the island.
There’s a pretty easy hike that takes you up to the highest point of the crater where you can see panoramic views of Honolulu and the coast. We really enjoyed it. It took about 45 minutes to hike up with the hardest part being a long set of stairs. But anyone in good health can do this hike, no problem.
Once we came down, we had pineapple smoothies to refresh ourselves before we headed to the beach!
Although we had a snorkelling tour booked in Maui, Saad really wanted to go snorkelling right away. So he looked up spots on this side of Oahu that were good for snorkelling and Hanauma Bay popped up.
A quick Google Maps search revealed Snorkel Bob’s as a place that did snorkel rentals so we headed there to rent some snorkels for the day. This was a great visit – we discovered they were on all the islands (and we rented from them again on the Big Island), and the experience of getting snorkels (regular for me and prescription ones for Saad) was pleasant. If you head to Hawai’i and want to rent snorkel equipment (you should!), I recommend checking out Snorkel Bob’s.
Hanauma Bay turned out to be a protected bay that is actually part of a volcano crater that slid into the ocean. Carelessness and bad habits over the years started to destroy the reefs and killing the marine life there, so it was turned into a protected area. This turned out to be a great first major beach visit for us though.
The beach has a small entrance fee and before you can actually make your way down to the beach, you’re required to watch a short educational video that teaches you the history of Hanauma Bay and proper etiquette to help preserve and protect it.
One of the things that everyone there is adamant about (rightly so) is keeping the reefs safe. Particularly by using reef-safe sunscreen. Regular sunscreen bleaches and hurts reefs and this is how a lot of the reefs in Hanauma Bay, particularly, we’re destroyed. I had read about the need for reef-safe sunscreen and we bought some as soon as when we got to Hawai’i. It’s easy to find anywhere – we bought a stick version from Walmart that was easy to put on and didn’t count as a liquid while we travelled between islands.
The beach is soft, sandy, has lockers and washrooms, and the water itself is calm and easy to snorkel in. For our first snorkelling experience, it was the perfect place.
The reefs here are just starting to recuperate, so a lot of it is small and only just coming back to life. However, there is all kinds of marine life in the bay and it was a joy to explore. The bay is extremely shallow in parts so it was often very difficult to explore and not touch the reefs (touching reefs is harmful to them but can also be harmful for you). There were occasions where I couldn’t help touching them lightly as I tried to leave the vicinity and retreat to deeper waters. But we tried our best.
One of the most disappointing things was to watch other snorkelers explore the bay without caring about touching the reefs at all. We should all do our best to preserve and protect the sights we see. Carelessness like that tarnishes beauty and natural environments all the time; that’s not fair to the environment or to anyone else who may want to visit and appreciate the beauty of a place after us.
Respect the world you marvel at.
The day we landed back in Honolulu at the end of our trip, there was a flash flood warning across half the island. We came across intense winds and raindrops so big they looked like hailstones when we were driving on the highway before we got the alerts on our phones (one more reason for at least one person in the group to always have their cellular connection on).
We were already our way though and luckily the first place we were headed wasn’t within the affected area on the map. This lookout was so pretty. We really wanted to do the short hike but I was so incredibly sick that day that there was no way I could have done it. So we just enjoyed the views from this lookout instead of going all the way to the lighthouse.
I wouldn’t make a trip solely for this, however we were doing a long drive around the island to check out the other sights we hadn’t seen yet and this was just one of the stops on our planned drive.
The other famed area of the Oahu is the North Shore. North Shore is famous for its crazy waves – surfing is very popular there and for being a little less touristy. We knew we definitely wanted to check it out before we flew home.
This was the same day we went to the Lighthouse lookout and the weather wasn’t the greatest. Although North Shore was just outside of the warning zone for flash floods, it was generally dreary, windy, and a bit rainy. There was absolutely no one on the beaches and while there were no 30 ft surfing waves, there were constant crazy looking waves crashing into the shore repeatedly. It was beautiful and completely different from the ocean we witnessed around the south side of Oahu and the other two islands we visited.
We visited a little food court comprised of food trucks for some lunch. North Shore is famous for its shrimp so we both had shrimp dishes of different kinds. They were pretty good, but the best shrimp I’ve ever tasted, to this day, was in the Florida Keys.
North Shore is a long-ish little town with a few forks. We didn’t explore much, but just driving around gave us a sense of the place. It would have been cool to have a full day to poke around and explore the area, but unfortunately, the weather was crap, I was sick with a fever, and we were pressed for time.
During our day trip around Oahu, we knew we should stop in Ko Olina, even if just for 20 minutes. Ko Olina is made up for about 4 man made lagoons, which are maintained and surrounded by resorts (including a Disney resort!). The lagoons are gorgeous. Since there are surf breaks protecting them, the colour of the water is a very light blue, unlike any colour we witnessed in the islands and the waves were soft and very gentle, kissing the light coloured sand beaches.
Between the lagoons there’s rocky shore and standing on them, you can see the the real ocean and it wild wavy ways. They would crash into the high rocky shore so intensely, throwing up splashes and foam everywhere. It was quite a sight, and we stood there a long time just watching the waves.
I’m skeptical about whether I’d enjoy a resort vacation (maybe! We do plan on giving it a try some time), but I know I could spend a long time sitting by the shore, watching the waves and thinking about everything and anything.
Where We Ate
We rarely ate breakfast outside, preferring to have some instant oatmeal or cereal wherever we were staying. Especially in Honolulu where our AirBnb provided breakfast, so we didn’t try a lot of food places in Oahu, but enough to feel satisfied that we’d tasted some of the food scene.
The very first place we ate at was, of course, a poke bowl place. Saad and I love poke. This was in the very popular, very touristy Waikiki, right on the beach walk, surrounded by lots of high end stores and restaurants that cater to International tourist tastes.
Although the reviews for this place were very high, it was virtually empty when we arrived there. While eating there, we saw many people pass by and curiously look at the name and peek at the menu but not understand what Poke was and leave.
Poke is essentially deconstructed sushi with Hawaiian flair. Since there is such a large population with Japanese roots, there’s a lot of Japanese influence in Hawaiian culture. Poke is delicious. It’s sort of like a taco bowl but with marinated ahi tuna and a bunch of other sushi style mixins.
The Poke Bar builds your poke bowls subway-style. There’s a range of ingredients you can choose from and you point to the ones you want included. No matter what you end up putting in, your bowl will taste delicious. Since this was on the Beachwalk, it was a bit pricier than other Poke we had on the islands, but it was still absolutely delicious. Our first taste of local ahi was a success and we knew that we’d be eating a lot of poke while we were here.
This restaurant was the first restaurant we went to in Hawai’i. It was a harbour-side open air restaurant with a pretty view of the water. Obviously, we had seafood – we were in Hawai’i after all, fresh seafood (in my opinion) is one of the biggest reasons to explore the food scene here. Living in land-locked Calgary has given me a far deeper appreciation of fresh seafood than I used to have before.
The food was excellent and I’d definitely recommend it. Apparently they have amazing Bloody Mary drinks as well (their menu declares this very proudly), if that’s to your taste.
Doraku Izakaya and Sushi
You can’t come to a place where fresh fish is available and not have some sushi. We went to this fancy little gastropub during our first couple days in Honolulu.
We would have loved to try Omakase but most of the restaurants were reserved for weeks. If I had known about Omakase before we got here, I would have definitely made reservations at one of the restaurants to experience it. So if you ever go to Honolulu, find an Omakase restaurant and make your reservations immediately!
I’d read about the famous Portuguese donuts (malasadas) here, especially at this bakery. I didn’t feel like we needed to make a special trip to this bakery, especially after the Royal Kitchen let down. I figured we’d grab some donuts wherever we saw them. Then on our way to Hanauma Bay from Snorkel Bob’s, we passed Leonard’s itself!
I pointed it out to Saad and he quickly turned into the parking for the bakery. We bought 4 different donuts and a drink and ate in the car. They were fairly expensive, as donuts go. But they were so good. This hype I totally got. They were very different from your regular donuts, light, hollow inside, and very yeasty. A fantastic mid-morning snack as we headed to the bay to snorkel. If you’re in Honolulu, you should definitely stop by Leonard’s.
Manapuas (buns with meat or sweet fillings) are ubiquitous here in Hawai’i. You can find them in convenience stores, street vendors sell them, etc. One particular place we had heard about was in Chinatown called Royal Kitchen. So we went to check it out and try some manapuas.
They were decent; a few can really fill you up. But they didn’t blow our minds or anything. There were pork, chicken, beef, and sweet fillings like brown sugar, sweet potato, etc. We tried a few different ones. They were definitely dirt cheap to buy though. We didn’t really get the hype around this particular take out place, however.
Glazers Coffee Shop
We didn’t want to go on any long drives on our very last day in Hawai’i. Our flight was at midnight but because Saad has a fairly common name that can cause an American security check when checking in, we wanted to get to the airport by 9:30pm (we also had to return our rental car). So we decided to spend the day chilling in a couple coffee shops and walking around Honolulu.
We checked out of our AirBnB at 11am and then made our way to this little coffee shop. The reviews said there were plenty of power outlets, the coffee was great, and the wifi was fast.
We settled onto one of the tables by an outlet, bought some coffee and bagels, and hung out for a few hours. I worked on some writing and fine tuning my goals and vision for 2019 while Saad watched videos, caught up on news, and worked on some Arduino projects.
Walking around the University neighbourhood
Turns out the coffee shop we were at was in the university neighbourhood. When walking around, you could definitely tell that this area was not for tourists. It looked like your average American downtown neighbourhood with pockets of residential buildings and a few parks along the river.
We had lunch at a local fast food joint and then we headed up to Pearl City (closer to the airport) and hung out at a Starbucks for a little while longer. I took a short jaunt to a Walgreens nearby to grab some medicine (since I had become fairly sick by this point – but getting better).
Our take on Oahu
As the first place we visited, we liked Oahu. Honolulu is pretty touristy but the scenic views are still pretty. The North Shore felt a bit more authentic and the vibe was more enjoyable. It’s a pity we didn’t get to spend more time there, I have a feeling we would have liked it a lot. Also, the incredibly lush mountains and cliffs in Oahu are breathtaking.
However, of the 3 islands we visited, Oahu was our least favourite. That’s not to say it’s not a great place to visit, just that the other islands were even better to visit. It was definitely a great place to start our honeymoon and we enjoyed chilling in a couple coffee shops winding down the last day before we headed home.