Phew! I finally made it over to the island of Oahu for a little vacation and although it’s barely a 30 minute plane ride from take off to landing (just about the same amount of time it took us to drive from home to the airport on Maui), Oahu is vastly different for being so close. Having now been to six of the main Hawaiian islands, I can confirm they all really do have a distinctly different vibe – and they are all amazing!
I’ve got to admit, as a child of the 70’s, every time I heard “Waikiki” visions of the Brady Bunch on vacation popped into my head. Thankfully after recent visit to Oahu, that image is finally gone!
Not being a city person myself, I wasn’t really looking forward to spending a lot of time in Honolulu or on Waikiki Beach for that matter, but I was pleasantly surprised.
Although the high-rise hotels and office buildings of Honolulu look like any other city to me – without the ocean and mountain vistas that are so prevalent on all the other islands it’s easy to imagine you’re on the mainland. Until you merge onto Kalakaua Street and head into Waikiki. People bustling about from the multitude of shops and restaurants ranging from an everyday ABC Store to expensive upscale boutiques displaying two handbags on a 10 foot shelf – each with its own spotlight – there is something for everyone here – even if your thing is just people watching.
Day and night, Waikiki is alive with a steady flow of international tourists dropping all kinds of plastic at the upscale boutiques and two and three-story shops. At nightfall, tiki torches light the sweeping sidewalks that zig and zag leaving plenty of room for street performers and their gathering audiences. The spacious, landscaped sidewalks make for an enjoyable evening stroll even for those who don’t like crowds.
Amazing street performers like the young and incredibly talented musical brothers, Tiger (he’s 14) and River (he’s 11), who worked the crowd like seasoned pros, stopping mid-song to strike a pose for a picture and then pick up without missing a beat. (These kids will be famous one day.) And, like all cities, there’s no shortage of characters like the guy dressed like Santa singing Christmas carols in May.
Open air restaurants leak tempting aromas and live music escapes into the streets from various clubs, making the atmosphere perpetually festive. The International Marketplace, complete with Hamster Ball (more on that later) is perfect for souvenir shopping and bargain hunters. I recommend the magnet store.
I’m still a little annoyed at myself for falling prey to the tourist trap (I really should know better by now) and making the poor choice of eating at Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville on our first night. Having worked at the original restaurant in Key West back when there was only one of them, I wanted to stop in and try some of my old favorites – specifically conch chowder and yellow rice, but ouch! It was kind of like eating at Disney World – down to the fake tiki torches! The food wasn’t anything special, the price tag hefty and the atmosphere very disappointing. Live and learn.
I was surprised to learn that Honolulu has the worst traffic in the country, beating out Washington DC, New York, Boston and Los Angeles (all of which I have been stuck in and seemed much worse to me). Anyway, that’s the word on the street and since I am no expert about anything related to the city I’ll take their word for it. One caution for you – don’t believe the rental car shuttle drivers! The one we encountered was working hard for a tip from the moment he pulled over to pick us up – which is understandable – but he poured it on so thick and exaggerated so much that I was too embarrassed to point out that we were visiting from Maui.
But these streets are made for walking! And that’s just what we did. Partly because of traffic and mostly because parking is so expensive and hard to find, but also because the weather is perfect – even by Hawaii standards. Even in late May, the tropical air had a cool breeze and made for a very enjoyable evening of window shopping and people watching.
Waikiki Beach, with its turquoise waters, attracted me like ants to a picnic. Although the beach was crowded, it was beautiful and the temperature of the water was absolutely ideal – not cold, not warm – just perfectly refreshing. A sea wall breaks the surf on the southern end, making it nice for toddlers, or should I say, parents of toddlers since, after all, toddlers themselves are oblivious to danger. Kids can sit and play at the water’s edge without waves bowling them over as mom and dad watch from under the umbrella enjoying a Mai Tai with Diamondhead in the background – how’s that for a family vacation!
I did notice a definite divide between tourists and locals on this beach and there’s even a wall making the distinction clear. Locals, with kids as young as 5 or 6 years old, ride in on the long, low waves giving the impression that they have been on a board their entire lives – which no doubt some have. We saw a couple of little girls on boards playing Pat-a-Cake while waiting for a wave – adorable! Stand-up paddle boarders, parasailers, sail boats, and surfers all share the water, enjoying the laid-back Hawaiian lifestyle.
We stayed a block off Waikiki and the view from our hotel, the Aston Waikiki Sunset, gave us a panoramic, unobstructed vista of Diamondhead which we watched come to life each morning as the sun rose behind it while we sipped our coffee on the lanai. Not a bad way to start the day! This volcanic cone was known to early Hawaiians as Le’ahi. It’s English name, Diamondhead, was given by English sailors in the 19th century who believed the crystals embedded in the rock were diamonds.
Driving around the base of Diamondhead, we traveled counter-clockwise around the windward side of Oahu, stopping at various places along the way.
Hanauma Bay – If you’re looking for the ideal snorkel spot, you will not be disappointed with Hanauma Bay. From Waikiki, head south onto Diamond Head Road, around the famous landmark and onto the H1/Kalanianaole Highway. Follow the highway until you see the signs for Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve. If you have the time, pack a cooler and plan to spend the entire day. Just off the parking area there are shade trees and picnic tables throughout the grassy hilltop. Stairs lead down from the parking lot to the beach with striking views of this protected bay that swaddles a healthy maze-like reef, easily visible from above through the crystal clear, turquoise waters. An underwater camera would be a wise consideration!
Continuing along the rocky cliffs and past Sandy Beach – still heading north, we came to the town of Kailua which is a nice place to stop and have lunch or grab a coffee before heading toward the Kailua Beach Park along the coast. Continue over the little bridge on Kawailoa Road to Lanikai Beach. One of the many things I love about Hawaii is that all beaches have publicaccess. Lanikai is one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve seen anywhere and we just parked along the quiet beach road, took a short stroll between a couple of houses (lucky people who live there!) and there we were – on this idyllic beach. How many people go to Oahu and miss this little gem?
Chinaman’s Hat – This Oahu landmark is nicknamed for its shape which depicts the straw coolie hats worn by Chinese immigrant workers. The island’s official name is Mokoli’i Island. Pull over at Kualoa Park for the best view.
Our destination for this day was Haleiwa – a laid-back town marking one end of the Seven Mile Miracle that stretches from Haleiwa back to Sunset Beach and encompasses the highest concentration of world-class surfing spots in the world including Pipeline and Waimea Bay – all expert-level surf spots during the winter months. Laid-back even by Hawaii standards with aging storefront buildings housing galleries and eateries manned with warm and welcoming people who seemed to honestly enjoy “talking story” with us.
Located 13 miles from the airport is the Byodo-In Temple at the base of the Ko’olau Mountains in Valley of the Temples Memorial Park. This is enchanting attraction is a smaller-scale replica of the over 950-year-old Byodo-InTemple in Uji, Japan.
This may look familiar to you as the site has been incorporated into many tv plots including Hawaii Five-O, Magnum, P.I., Lost and House of the Rising Sun.
As you walk the tranquil grounds or meditate in one of the many contemplative settings, a peaceful tone, resonating a sense ofcalm wafts on the breeze from the five foot high, three-ton brass bell called bon-sho (sacred bell). The resonant sound of the bon-sho creates an atmosphere of tranquility. Visitors gently swing the “shu-moku” , a soft wooden log, to create the sound. It is believed that ringing this bell will bring you happiness, blessings, and a long life.
Directions: Take the Pali Highway over the mountains to Kamehameha Highway. Take the Kaneohe exit and continue tothe H-3 past the Likelike Highway. At approximately three miles, turn left onto Ave of the Temples and continue to the end.
The temple is open daily from 9:00am – 5:00pm. Admission to the Byodo-In Temple grounds is $3.00 per adult, $2.00 senior citizen, $1.00 child. Cash only.
The view from our hotel, the Aston Waikiki Sunset, gave us a panoramic, unobstructed vista of Diamondhead which we watched come to life each morning as the sun rose behind it while we sipped our coffee on the lanai. Not a bad way to start the day! This volcanic cone was known to early Hawaiians as Le’ahi. It’s English name, Diamondhead, was given by English sailors in the 19th century who believed the crystals embedded in the rock were diamonds.