When I turned 30, I needed to go on a trip in order to make me feel better about the loss of my youth (cue the people older than 30 ripping into me for that one).
Seriously though, I did feel a little depressed about it and I needed to make myself feel better, so I did what any self-respecting travelaholic would do and booked myself a week in Hawaii to make myself feel better. As far as medicine goes, it worked. I stopped being sad about getting older and instead got excited about Hawaii! Mission accomplished.
Anyway, my birthday is in November so it was Autumn, not that it really mattered. The weather was beautiful, the water was warm, and for all I could tell it was just as summery as ever. We packed a lot of fun into a week on the island, so I wanted to write about what we did in case you’re planning a week on Hawaii’s most populated island, too.
What’s nice about going in the Fall is that there are often some really good deals on flights from the mainland West Coast. As a result, I usually go to Hawaii in the fall. Our accommodations weren’t too expensive either (see next section), so really the biggest expense we faced was the rental car. Although I would have liked to forego the car, I love the freedom that comes with being able to drive anywhere, any time, so it was worth the cost.
Where we stayed.
We decided to skip the hotels and instead got ourselves an Airbnb rental that was within walking distance to Waikiki Beach for a fraction of the cost of one of those fancy beachfront resorts. It was a small, sparse apartment but it had everything we needed for two people to live comfortably for a week. It was basically like a little hotel room, but didn’t have the daily maid service so it was a lot cheaper (and if we’re being honest, do you really need daily maid service?). This was no fancy resort, but it was a clean, comfortable place where we could sleep at night, make some coffee and simple meals, and it came with an awesome view of the Ala Wei Canal, so all in all I would say I recommend this place.
What we ate.
We ate, we drank, and we were definitely merry.
North Shore Shrimp Trucks.
I wasn’t about to leave Oahu without trying out the famous North Shore shrimp trucks, and I was wise to do so. They were SO good! I’m a big fan of shrimp (or prawns, for those of you from parts of the world that refer to them as prawns), so I was certainly in shrimp heaven on the North Shore. I tried several different ones while I was up there and they were all really good, so I can’t go with a recommendation of one over the other. Hawaii Magazine has a great guide to shrimp trucks, however, so I’ll link to that article here.
Mall food courts.
I know, it’s a little shameful, but we were on a budget, after all, and since Waikiki area caters to tourists, the food wasn’t exactly cheap. I found that the food court was the cheapest food in town, and they actually had some pretty good food there, so don’t judge. Our Airbnb was pretty close to the Royal Hawaiian Center, and we walked past it most days on our way down to the beach, so it was somewhere we stopped frequently for meals. They had a variety of food stalls at reasonable prices, ample seating, and occasionally there were even performers playing music of doing hula, so all in all it was a pretty good place to find a meal. Plus, dining here helped quell any disputes about where to eat between my husband and myself, because he could get a bowl of Japanese ramen while I chomped down on Korean BBQ or tacos…whatever. Here is the link to the Royal Hawaiian Center Food Court. There are also a lot of great options at the Ala Moana Center, if you find yourself there.
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As a budget traveler, I rarely travel anywhere without ending up at a grocery store. Our little Airbnb rental included the tiniest of kitchens with a refrigerator, so we made a lot of our own meals at home and packed a lot of picnics to take with us during the day. This also meant that I ate a pineapple a day. Yes, a whole pineapple. Yes, every single day. Don’t judge. You haven’t lived until you’ve tried pineapple in Hawaii. Not only is grocery shopping economical, but it’s also practical in a place where many days will be spent hiking or lounging on the beach, so packing things like sandwiches and trail mix just makes sense.
As I stated above, I ate this all day, every day. If you haven’t tried pineapple in Hawaii yet, it’s the best! I just felt that Hawaii pineapple deserved it’s own section in this post.
One fancy dinner.
For my birthday, of course. We just meandered down to one of the fancy resorts on the beach in Waikiki, found a menu that looked good, and chowed down. Quite honestly, I can’t remember the name of the place we ate at. It was good, but there are a lot of good restaurants in Hawaii. You really can’t go wrong with some of those fancy schmancy places down at Waikiki Beach.
Where we went/what we did.
Snorkeling at Hanauma Bay.
The thing I noticed about O’ahu is that it’s a little more touristy than some of the other islands. For instance, when I was in Kauai we did a lot of snorkeling. Usually that involved just driving around, seeing a spot that looked good, pulling over, and getting in the water with our snorkel gear. By contrast, Hanauma Bay is known to have some of the best snorkeling on O’ahu but is also a total tourist attraction. We’re talking entrance fee, mandatory viewing of instructional video beforehand, the whole shebang. That being said, it’s still a beautiful place and the snorkeling was pretty good, so touche, Hanauma Bay….touche.
An afternoon at a Buddhist Temple.
There is an awesome Buddhist Temple on O’ahu that you can visit, roam around, and get a little zen. I highly recommend you give this place a visit while you’re in town. The Byodo-In Temple doesn’t disappoint! Not that Hawaii isn’t amazing, but you’ll feel like you’ve been transported to a beautiful hideaway in Japan. It’s a non-practicing temple and welcomes people of all faiths, and I can tell you is one of the most beautiful, serene places I’ve been in the world. Definitely check this place out when you’re on O’ahu!
A drive up the Windward Coast.
On all the islands, the Windward side is beautiful. O’ahu is no exception. One of my favorite afternoons was spent just slowly wandering up the windward side of the island, stopping along the way whenever anything beautiful caught our eye.
Seriously, check out this amazing coastline:
Swimming With Sharks.
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I swam with sharks! Ok, so I was in a shark cage, but still…it was incredible! I wrote a whole other blog post about how amazing this experience was, so I won’t ramble on too long about it here, but I just want you to know that you can hang out with some awesome sharks on the North Shore of O’ahu and it’s an incredible experience. You should do it if you love sharks like I do. Read all about it here.
Kayaking to the Mokes.
There are a couple small little islands off the East coast of O’ahu, in the town of Kailua. The proper name for these islands is the Mokulua Islands, but they are commonly known as the Mokes. You can rent kayaks in Kailua and bring them to Lanikai Beach, which is a perfect landing spot to paddle out there. On the way you’ll have the opportunity to see amazing sea life, and when you get to the islands, it’s a great place to explore or just relax a bit before heading back to the main island.
Forgive my less than amazing videography skills, but check out how amazing it was here:
Hiking to the top of Diamond Head.
If you’re going to do one hike when you’re on O’ahu, you may want to pick this one. Not only is Diamond Head the most iconic sight on O’ahu, towering over Waikiki Beach in every iconic photo ever taken of the area, but it’s also a fun and interesting hike with great views at the top. Diamond Head is actually a crater, which is pretty incredible to see in person. The hike to the top is a little less than a mile, but has some pretty steep elevation gains. Still, anybody in reasonably good shape shouldn’t have too much trouble making it to the top. They have lots of hand rails and stuff, so this isn’t that rugged a trail. There are some interesting caves to explore near the top, and the views of Waikiki and downtown Honolulu are pretty incredible. You’ll love this hike, I promise.
Visited Pearl Harbor.
No trip to O’ahu would be truly complete without a visit to pay your respects at the U.S.S. Arizona memorial in Pearl Harbor. My husband’s grandfather was actually a World War II Pearl Harbor Veteran, and he had told us stories of what it was like to be there on that day, so it carried a little extra meaning having that connection, but even without that connection, the memorial built for the Arizona is one of the most moving and somber tributes I’ve ever seen. It serves as a lesson about the price of war. I don’t think you should miss this memorial if you’re in O’ahu. (Side note: we also went to the Hiroshima Peace Park in Japan, which is another incredibly moving monument to the atrocities of war. Let’s hope we can all learn the lessons of the past and not repeat the mistakes of our forefathers).
Took a surf lesson.
I wrote a whole post about my experience taking a surf lesson at Waikiki, so I’ll let that post speak for itself. For now, I’ll just say things didn’t exactly go well (but it was still fun and I recommend you try it).
Swimming at Waikiki Beach.
It was touristy, but the water was warm, the sights were iconic, and it was within walking distance of the Airbnb, so I swam here most days. Hanging out at Waikiki is a definite must when in O’ahu!
Free hula show at Waikiki.
There’s a great (and free!) hula show in Waikiki that you should definitely take the time to check out if you’re in town. The shows are held every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, weather-permitting from 6:30pm to 7:30pm (6:00pm to 7:00pm Nov-Dec-Jan), free to the public at the Kūhiō Beach Hula mound on Kalākaua Ave near Uluniu Avenue across from the Hyatt Regency Waikīkī. Seating is on the grass, so make sure to bring a blanket or a beach towel. Enjoy!
Have you been to Hawaii? What did you do? What was your favorite thing?