What draws us back to Hawaii? We’ve been there many times over the years but we keep longing for our next visit. Back in May, we returned to our second home… Oahu, after a very sad and miserable year.
We were fortunate to have an empty seat next to us on the flight down which gave us a little more room in our economy seats. The view from the window was simply amazing and we enjoyed seeing the sun set over the Pacific.
On this stay, we opted for the Outrigger Waikiki Beach which has direct access to Waikiki beach. There’s really nothing like walking out of your hotel and stepping into paradise. The room had a partial ocean view (in other words, you can see water from certain angles outside your window) but was a good size. I found it strange that the bathtub was so tiny. You’d think they would have just put in a shower instead of the shower/half-bath.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll try to document the rest of our trip so check back as this page gets updated.
Coming in so late into Hawaii had us worried that we’d have difficulty finding somewhere to eat (after all, Waikiki isn’t like Vegas that’s pretty much open for business 24/7). Fortunately, we found M.A.C 24/7 in the Hilton Waikiki Beach Hotel which is, you guessed it, open 24/7. We had some seriously tasty Eleven-Spiced Chicken Wings as well as our first taste of poke on this visit… the Ahi Poke Stack.
The following morning, we woke up to an amazing pink/blue sky. One of the many benefits of being in a hotel that’s right on the beach.
On our last visit, they were still doing construction on the International Marketplace. I kind of miss the old, sketchy International Marketplace… the new place is all shiny and new but it kind of looks like all of the other shopping malls around town.
Right outside our hotel, there’s a narrow access walkway for the public to use to get to the beach. This is a great spot to take a picture of the colourful surfboards that line the walkway.
Our morning started off with an amazing breakfast at Cinnamon’s at the ‘Ilikai. Whatever you do, you’ve got to try their Guava Chiffon Pancakes here!
If you’re a Gilligan’s Island fan, you’ll appreciate that you can see the Ala Wai Boat Harbour from Cinnamon’s. (this is where the S.S. Minnow sailed from for their classic “three hour cruise”)
After breakfast, it was just a short jaunt over to the Hilton Hawaiian Village and Duke Kahanamoku Lagoon (this is where the free Friday night firework show takes place).
Heading west on Ala Moana Blvd, we wound up walking to Ala Moana Beach Park and down to Magic Island. You can get some nice harbour shots with Diamond Head in the background here.
Magic Island is a man-made peninsula that was originally created for a resort that was never completed so it was turned into a park.
Along our journey, we saw countless wedding parties taking advantage of the beautiful setting to take wedding pictures.
We really weren’t planning on walking this far but everything that we wanted to see was just a 10 minute walk away so we kept heading west as we wanted to check out Ward Village which is just on the opposite side of Ala Moana Blvd.
Unfortunately, most of the shops in the Ward Warehouse have been closed. Instead, we decided to get something to eat because we were pretty bushed from our walk in the 28°C heat. The temperature didn’t vary much in Honolulu during our trip (highs of 28°C and lows of 23°C) but the refreshing trade winds helped to keep us cool.
As I was saying, we were looking for something to eat and wound up at Piggy Smalls. If you’re a fan of The Pig and the Lady in Chinatown, you’ll probably love it here too. The menu is similar but more focused on small tapas like the LFC (Laotian Fried Chicken) and the “Chicken Adobo” Long Toast. I was really surprised at how good this long toast was!
After picking up some Japanese pen refills from the nearby Hakubundo shop, we walked back to Ala Moana Center and found ourselves in the newly renovated Shirokiya Japan Village Walk. This place is totally amazing! There’s stalls upon stalls of various Japanese food and plentiful seating to boot. Given how full we were from our earlier breakfast at Cinnamon’s and our lunch at Piggy Smalls, we decided to just grab a small snack from the Musubi Cafe Iyasume.
Later in the evening, after we returned to Waikiki, we decided to do some exploring in the newly opened International Market Place. The third floor is kind of like a lanai with some covered seating areas to provide shade from the Hawaiian sun.
There’s a bunch of restaurants located here and we wound up dining at Goma Tei Ramen.
I do like the fact that they kept some of the large banyan trees from the old International Marketplace and incorporated them into the layout.
By the way, if you’re ever here, make sure to check out the Kula & Ko store and try some of their pineapple-filling cakebars. These are amazing and almost remind me of mooncakes but with a pineapple filling.
There’s a large open-air courtyard where they tell stories about Hawaii’s past. On the second floor, there’s a number of wooden rocking chairs that overlook the courtyard and are more comfortable than the ones you find in front of the Moana Surfrider. They put on a daily torch lighting show after sundown on Kalakaua and then lead everyone back to the courtyard for the stories.
On our first full day in Waikiki, we were treated with a wonderful sunset. Twilight is very short here so you’ll notice that, as the sun hits the horizon, it becomes dark very quickly.
If you’ve just finished catching the sunset at the beach, try heading over to the Royal Grove at the Royal Hawaiian Center where they put on a free hour-long show Tuesday to Saturday.
We’ve taken a road trip to the North Shore in the past but on this occasion, we wanted to see some of the sights on the windward coast. Of course, the best way to do this is to rent a car (bus service is fine when you’re staying in the Honolulu area but it’s not very convenient when heading around the island). Instead of renting from one of the big name rental agencies, we opted for Envy Rent, which is located in a Volvo dealership. Have to admit that it was the friendliest, cheapest, and most convenient way to rent a car in Oahu.
Anyways, after picking up our car, we headed to nearby Kamehameha Bakery to grab some of their famous poi-glazed donuts. Damn! If you thought Leonard’s Bakery had good donuts, you’ll fall in love with these.
Afterwards, we headed on our windward road trip by heading up to the Nu’uanu Pali Lookout (about 17 minutes via the Pali Hwy). To saw this place is windy is an understatement… there were a few times that I thought my phone was going to fly out of my hand.
Next up on our road trip was to pick up some lunch to take to the beach. Unlike Waikiki Beach which has numerous food options within walking distance, the beaches on the windward coast have few amenities. So we grabbed some poke from Tamura’s Fine Wine (I know… who would think that a liquor store would serve up some seriously tasty poke?) and headed over to Kailua Beach Park.
Kailua Beach Park has a parking lot and is within walking distance of the more famous Lanikai Beach so it was the perfect spot for our poke lunch. Seriously nothing better than enjoying poke at the beach.
The white sand of Kailua Beach is immensely more enjoyable as it’s not as crowded as Waikiki Beach. The thing that I noticed was that it was quite windy and our beach towel kept getting covered over with sand.
After spending some time at Kailua, we walked east and then onto Mokulua Drive (a residential street) until we got to the beach access for Lanikai Beach. There’s no parking at this beach and not much street parking so it’s easier to just leave your car at Kailua Beach. If you’re up for a hike, the Pillbox Hike is nearby and will give you a great view of the windward coast. For us, though, we were just looking to relax on the beach.
After getting some sun at Lanikai Beach, we walked back to Kailua Beach to pick up our car and then headed over to Waimanalo Beach. This beach seemed even less busy than the last two but we decided not to spend too much time here as we wanted to head over to Makapu’u.
Makapu’u Point is the most easterly part of Oahu and they have a fairly easy trail to get to the lighthouse as it’s well paved. The incline of the hike isn’t too bad and, once you get to the coast, there’s an amazing view of the waters to the east. Make sure you bring some water along the hike because there’s no shade and, while the trade winds will cool you down when you’re walking along the coastal side, it can be baking hot along some of the switchbacks as the ridges block the wind.
Towards the end of the hike, you’ll see the lighthouse below and there’s a great view where you can see Makapu’u Beach and the coastline.
Sandy Beach was our next stop. This place is is seriously windy and they’ve got some big waves that crash on the beach.
The Halona Blowhole is only a few minutes away by car. When you stop by here, take a look at the little cove off to the right of the blowhole as this is where they filmed the movie From Here to Eternity.
Afterwards, we were feeling hot, tired, and hungry so we headed out to nearby Hawaii Kai for some tasty treats. If you’ve ever had ice cream mochi before, then you may have heard of Bubbies Homemade Ice Cream. You can find them in many of the stores in Honolulu. But if you’re looking for more variety, it’s best to go right to the source.
Their shop has a bunch of flavours that we’ve never seen before. They also serve regular ice cream here as well so this was a welcome respite after our long, hot hike.
While the Bubbies mochi ice cream was tasty, we were still hungry so we headed over to BYO Bowls in the Hawaii Kai Towne Center. This place lets you build your own bowl and there’s lots of customization available. We wound up getting their Kilauea Bowl and Thai Noodle Bowl.
The Kilauea Bowl was amazing! They combine spicy tuna with creamy avocado, green onions, sweet onions, and tobiko topped with furikake and crispy garlic with a sriracha-based sauce.
After heading back into Honolulu, we had some time left over before we needed to return our car so we stopped off to take a look at the King Kamehameha I statue in front of the Aliʻiōlani Hale building used for the Hawaii State Supreme Court. This building was initially designed to be the palace for King Kamehameha V but Kamehameha V realized that the Hawaiian government needed the building instead and had it commissioned for that purpose.
Directly across the street from the King Kamehameha I statue is the Iolani Palace which was the royal residence of the Kingdom of Hawaii (and the only royal palace on US soil). Since it was late in the day, we didn’t go inside but we were able to get past the open gate and take some pictures of the palace. I’m not sure why it was so deserted because it is a stunning building.
Afterwards, we headed to Liliha Bakery (and got lost a couple of times).
I originally wanted to get their poi donut but apparently they’re well known for their coco puffs. Those coco puffs were really good!
After returning our rental car, we headed back into Honolulu and went for some late night eats at Mahina & Sun’s in the Surfjack Hotel. It’s kind of a laid back atmosphere here and they have live music at night.
The Pono Pork Rilette was served with pickles and a pineapple mostarda along with buttered pao doce bread. OMG, that heavenly soft, puffy bread was so good!
While we weren’t super hungry, we did pick up an order of Kauai Shrimp & Waimanalo Grits that was super filling. The dish seemed a bit expensive but the bacon and mushroom sauce with the grits was seriously good.
The next morning we decided to have breakfast in our hotel at went to the Hula Grill. Honestly, I’m not sure why we’ve never eaten here before. It’s located right above Duke’s so it has a better view of the beach. And their breakfast is right on point. The Sweet Potato and Chorizo Hash is definitely something you need to try.
And how can you beat the yolk porn on the Lobster and Asparagus Benny?
We decided that we should spend a day in Waikiki so we walked over to the Hilton Hawaiian Village and grabbed some Hawaiian smooties at Lanikai Juice.
The weather was fairly consistent during our stay (highs of around 28°C and lows of around 23°C) but the heat was tempered by the refreshing trade winds.
We were disappointed that they didn’t have the garlic shrimp stand at the beach this year due to the renovations at the hotel they were in front of previously so we had to make due with what we could find. There’s a little food truck area in the Pau Hana Market on Beach Walk so we grabbed some garlic shrimp at the Five Star Shrimp truck. Not exactly like the garlic shrimp that you can get on the North Shore but it wasn’t bad.
We hit up a lot of poke shops during our visit. One of the places that I read about was Shaka Poke which is a hidden eatery located on the lower level of the Waikiki Shopping Plaza. While the poke was fresh, it wasn’t necessarily my favourite as it was a bit lacking in flavour.
Plus, the amount of rice they used in my spam musubi was rather crazy.
We picked up a few more snacks while we went shopping in Waikiki (the Dole Whip inside the T Galleria by DFS as well as some more poke from Coco Cove).
After a quick rest, we headed out for happy hour at Maui Brewing Co. This is a relatively new spot on Kalakaua. Take some advice… if they ask you if you want to take the elevators or the stairs, pick the elevator. While their entrance is right on the street, the actual restaurant is located on the top of the Holiday Inn Resort Waikiki Beachcomber. While service was a bit lacking, the appies were 50% off during Happy Hour!
The following day, we decided to start our day at Goofy Cafe & Dine. I’ve been meaning to try this place for a couple of years because I always see line ups outside. We showed up around 8am and managed to get a table right away.
Their menu is rather limited and service wasn’t exactly that great. I’d say that I prefer Eggs ‘n Things over Goofy’s.
After breakfast, we wanted to explore a bit of the downtown area of Honolulu. At first, we thought we’d take a look at the Honolulu Museum of Art at First Hawaiian Center. However, we found out that this is actually just a large bank where they have some art pieces scattered about. It felt a bit odd walking through the bank and just looking at the art pieces. They had more upstairs on the second floor but it almost felt like we weren’t even supposed to be there. Instead, we decided to walk over to the Aloha Tower Marketplace. Along the way, there are some interesting buildings that we passed.
Aloha Tower is a gothic lighthouse building located at Pier 9 in Honolulu Harbour. For four decades, it was the tallest structure in Hawaii.
The whole area seems to be a bit run down and there really isn’t much to look at other than the Aloha Tower. It’s free to go up the tower and we took up the rickety elevator up to the top.
There’s some pretty good views of the harbour from the top but that’s about it.
On our way back from the Aloha Tower, we passed by some other interesting buildings such as the Dillingham Transportation Building.
A short walk way was the Hawaii State Art Museum on the site of the former Armed Services YMCA Building (which was originally opened as a hotel in 1872). If you get a chance, you’ve really got to visit this place. The architecture is really quite stunning and it’s not very busy so it’s easy to get a nice photo without people in the background.
The courtyard is a pretty interesting area too and there’s a pool located in the centre. While it looks like the pool is filled with water, it’s actually empty and the blue colour is actually painted tiles.
We took the bus back to Ala Moana Center to grab some food from the renovated Shirokiya Japan Village Walk such as the okonomiyaki at Tokugawa, yakitori at Carp Dori, and Passion Mango Tea and Sweet Potato Mochi from Honolulu Juice Factory.
We were lucky enough to hit a farmer’s market (the one located in the Hyatt Regency Waikiki Beach Resort and Spa) and found some really fresh fruit. The Hawaiian grown lychee were better than any that we’ve ever had before.
Afterwards, we headed to one of our favourite restaurants in Waikiki, Sansei Seafood Restaurant in the Waikiki Beach Marriott. While their Sunday happy hour is the best in terms of value, lineups are crazy. We went for their Thursday happy hour (which isn’t as cheap) but didn’t have trouble finding a table on the patio that overlooks the beach. Whatever you do, make sure you try their DK’s Crab Ramen with Asian Truffle Broth.
After dinner, we were treated by a beautiful pink sunset. These pictures really don’t do it justice.
The following day, we decided to continue our cultural experience by going to Bishop Museum… but not before breakfast. We liked Cinnamon’s so much that we went back here for breakfast and had the most awesome tater tots. I know… it might not seem like tater tots could be that great but these are so worthwhile ordering.
While museum visits aren’t exactly on the top of my list when visiting Hawaii, I have to say that this is a really interesting place. They’ve got a lot of displays showing the history of the Hawaiian people and how their sovereign nation was overthrown by the US.
A must see here is the Hawaiian Hall – it’s massive and each floor focuses on a different aspect of Hawaiian culture/history. You could literally spend hours walking through here and looking at all of the exhibits. If I ever win the lotto, I want a library like this!
They also have a planetarium and volcano show. We saw a show that detailed the Hōkūleʻa as it sailed around the world on a three year trip in a Polynesian double-hulled voyaging canoe. This was a big deal as they were scheduled to return to Waikiki in the following month.
If you’re into dinosaurs, they have a T.Rex replica called Sue where you can get up close and personal.
And speaking of large animals, don’t forget to see the sperm whale hanging in the Hawaiian Hall.
Okay, back to food again… The area along Kapahulu past the Ala Wai Golf Course has some of the best poke in Oahu. Here you can find our favourite, Ono Seafood.
A little further up is Leonard’s Bakery. Yes, the malasadas here are good but they got our order wrong this year… twice! There’s a lot of other places in Oahu to get good donuts so make sure to try out Liliha Bakery and Kamehameha Bakery.
Across the street, you’ll find a newer poke place called Da Hawaiian Poke Company. It’s right outside the Safeway and not as divey as Ono Seafood. They also have more options available so make sure to check them out if you like fresh poke.
As this was a Friday, we wanted to catch the free fireworks outside the Hilton Hawaiian so we grabbed some garlic shrimp from Gilligan’s Beach Shack which is located in the parking lot next to the lagoon outside of the Hilton Hawaiian. Not the best garlic shrimp that you’ll find in Hawaii but those crispy fries were addictive. And who can beat enjoying dinner with a view of the beach and Diamond Head in the background?
The fireworks only lasts for about 5 minutes or so but it can get quite busy as tourists try to find the best spot. We walked a little further back towards the beach area near the Fort DeRussey side as it gave us a nice vantage to see the fireworks (which don’t shoot up very high).
Our last day in Hawaii started out with a beautiful morning.
We stayed close to our hotel and had another breakfast at Hula Grill… this time the Croissant French Toast and Fried Rice Fo’ Days.
What’s better than a view of the ocean? How about a cupcake from Leonard’s while you’re enjoying the ocean view from your hotel room?
We crammed in a bunch of food places on our last day in Hawaii, including TR Fire Grill where we enjoyed 80’s music while noshing on shrimp tacos and shrimp and grits.
That just made us want more garlic shrimp so we went back to Five Star to grab a last round.
Since it’s right next to Henry’s Place, we picked up some homemade guava ice cream. Make sure you check out this hole-in-the-wall ice cream place. They’ve got tons of fresh fruit flavours and they’re all served in styrofoam cups (I know it’s not environmentally friendly but it keeps your ice cream from melting).
Last but not least, you can’t come to Waikiki and not visit Marukame Udon. It can get super busy here so we always try to pick the off-peak hours like breakfast or early dinner. Their Nikutama Udon is simply the best and they also have a self-serve tempura bar.
Well, that’s about it for this year… looking forward to our next trip to Hawaii!