I’ve visited the Hawai’ian island of Maui a handful of times growing up: it was our “big” family trip destination of choice. While it was beautiful and always an amazing time (actually, our most recent trip to Maui was one of my first blog posts back in 2015, when I was too anxious to post pictures), I wanted to see the island of O’ahu, where my dad was born and raised in Honolulu. On top of wanting to dive with my partner Grant (we are both rescue certified and despite being together for two years we haven’t gone together yet) and visiting Grant’s friend Brice who has lived in Honolulu for a number of years now, we thought it was high time for another vacation.
Luckily, my parents got suckered into a timeshare on our first Maui trip that they don’t use anymore and my brothers and I have been exploiting, making our lodging free (to me). As it seemed, we had limited options of stays on O’ahu and even more limited date options, but seeing as we were planning our whole trip around this limiting factor, it didn’t matter too much. We booked our trip back in April for mid-July.
Monday, 11 July: We flew to Honolulu by way of Maui and Brice picked us up at the airport and took us to our hotel: Kuhio Banyan in the heart of Waikiki. The hotel was perfect for us: the location was primo with lots of shops and restaurants at our feet, the beach less than ten minute walk away, and minimal but with enough space (the two couches were really nice for when Brice came over to hang out).
Of course, with the beach so close it was the first thing we had to do. We walked Waikiki Beach for a bit before going to Uncle Bo’s for dinner. We had pupus (appetizers) for dinner, and not just because it’s fun to say. Our favorite was the unique Bo’s specialty: boca rota, which is chopped prime rib sautéed with mushrooms in chili aioli served with cheesy bread. It was definitely one of me and Grant’s favorites of the trip, and as you will see we ate a lot of great food.
Tuesday, 12 July: The next day, we grabbed Donut King, which would become a regular spot throughout the week. They have great iced coffee and the yeast donuts are so light and fluffy. We took our spoils to Waikiki Beach where we hung out lounging on the beach, reading and enjoying our breakfast. Brice then picked us up for a day at the beach. We arrived at Sandy Beach, but the conditions were too dangerous to swim, so we moved down to Sherwood Beach and posted up. It was a very nice beach with lots of shade to sit in the shade and good swimming, but when Grant and I tried to snorkel, we didn’t see anything (the waves were picking up too much sand) and we both got stung by a jellyfish. While mine hurt in the moment, Grant’s left a gnarly mark that still shows.
That evening, we went to Ginza Bairin for some Japanese fried chicken (very good) and Duke’s for a hula pie dessert a few hours later.
Wednesday, 13 July: We started our day queuing up for Kona Coffee. The line was (and usually is) quite long and the coffee was okay but the pastries are so worth it, I got the chocolate, banana and almond croissant and it melted in my mouth.
Brice picked us up to begin our day with the Lanikai Pillbox hike and it was so beautiful. I recommend parking in Kailua Beach parking lot as it’s massive and the trailhead is residential parking only. The hike is short but very steep with no shade, so be prepared! The view was breathtaking and with Brice’s telescope in tow, we got to see a lot.
We were ravenous afterwards so we made our way to one of my aunt’s suggested restaurants of Boots and Kimo’s and that was probably my favorite meal of the trip: blue berry French toast with their house macadamia nut sauce. I highly recommend this easy to miss restaurant but be mindful of the hours as they close in the early afternoon.
We then headed to a local independent bookstore, Bookends where I got my souvenirs: A Man Called Ove and Jane Eyre. They had a great collection of both used and new books.
We made our way to Byodo-In Temple which was absolutely stunning, the warm colors of the temple against the rising green mountains was gorgeous. I know this was one of my grandma’s favorite places on the island to visit so I definitely felt her spirit in there.
On our way back to the city, we stopped at Waihole Poi Factory for some ice cream with poi (fermented taro root). While the ice cream was tasty, I wasn’t a fan of the poi but I’m glad I tried it. Finally, after a long day we had a relaxed evening and ate at J. Dolan’s, a pub with surprisingly good pizza.
Thursday, 14 July: We ate at Kono’s, another place that would make us repeat customers, for breakfast that head great “bomber” breakfast burritos.
We tried to visit the beach where my Dad’s house used to stand (it was torn down for being too close to the water as it was literally on the beach) but it was now a gated community that we couldn’t get into. It was a bit of a bummer, but I’m glad we tried.
Grant and I went scuba diving with three other customers including one who was getting her open water certification. One of the other divers claimed he had only been diving once since he got his certification, but when we were underwater it was clear there was something more going on, he was doing way worse than the open water student flailing his arms to swim (in scuba, you’re only meant to use your legs for propulsion), not being able to control his buoyancy and not understanding simple signs when asked how much air he had; you know, the fundamentals. As it turned out, he wasn’t actually certified, he has only done a Discover Scuba session, which is basically a crash course/sampler for those interested in scuba before going on to actually get certified. This was very bad and dangerous but the divemaster was extremely generous and let him continue. I am not naming the shop because I don’t want them to get in trouble. Anyway, we did two shallow reef dives and saw a handful of large green sea turtles, including a majestic free-swimming one, a white tip reef shark hiding in a cave and a variety of reef fish including butterfly fish, trigger fish including the state fish humuhumunukunukuāpuaʻa and trumpet fish. The water so so clear and beautiful even if they weren’t the best dives of my life.
For dinner, we went to Yakiniku Korea House for Korean BBQ, so pretty much just meat and I’m so shocked we ate it all, it was delicious.
Friday, 15 July: We headed to North Shore area to Waimea Beach for some swimming, cliff jumping and relaxing in what little shade we could find. It was probably my favorite beach the water was so gorgeous and we saw some spinner dolphins in the distance. We went to Waimea Valley and walked the mile through the gardens and culture exhibits to the waterfall where we took another dip.
To finish our day, we checked out the Haleiwa food trucks and landed on Surf n Salsa, while the tacos were good the seating area was the perfect place to unwind after the day.
Later in the evening, I got a little hungry so I indulged my curiosity for the typically long line for Marugame Udon right below our hotel. When all was said and done, the seemingly long line only took about half an hour and the noodles were unbeatable, you can watch them being made and you can just taste the freshness. Although the tempura left something to be desired, the udon was amazing.
Saturday, 16 July: Grant and I returned to the dive center for two more deep/wreck dives but unfortunately, the dive trip was cancelled due to the awful ocean conditions, the visibility would have been really low and the currents unsafe. While disappointed, any diver knows the number one rule is safety.
We went to Pearl Harbor with Brice where we spent an hour and a half in line for the USS Arizona Memorial. Reservations are limited and go fast so if you don’t get tickets, make sure you get there early in the day as the standby line can get quite long. But the memorial was beautiful and well-integrated into the wreck. It was especially touching to see survivors of the attack who have been laid to rest with their former crewmates.
Grant and I also explored the USS Missouri, which Brice said was the most bang for your buck ($35) which although I didn’t get to see any more of Pearl Harbor, I agree at least “Big Mo” was worth the money. It was massive with free short tours of the Surrender Deck and a huge below deck area. While Grant and I are familiar with boat life of 5-100 man crews, this held upwards of 2,000 with the facilities to match: so many staterooms, several galleys, a post office, a library and a donut room, yes a donut room. There was so much to see but we saw as much as we could before it closed at 4PM (something to keep in mind if you visit for yourself).
We rejoined Brice for a ramen dinner at Menya le Nood which was another one of my favorite meals with so many tastes in one dish.
Sunday, 17 July: Our last full day started at the beautiful Hanauma Bay. This nature preserve is open to visitors by reservations only and my God, is it stressful to get, so check out the website for details. Essentially, reservations go up two days (with the park being closed on Mondays and Tuesdays and closing daily at 3PM) in advance at 7AM HST and sell out within minutes. Brice, Grant and I all took different times to try to reserve and once you get to the payment page, you have the spot assuming your payment goes through. Brice got us a spot nice and early (8:20AM) and it took about half an hour to go through the educational material. As a conservation steward, I always love seeing what reserves are doing to balance tourism and eco-consciousness. They provided great, comprehensive information such as the dire situation the Hawai’ian monk seal is in and what to do if they approach the beach and how touching protected sea turtles is a federal offense. They also allow you to trade in your non-reef safe sunscreen for the reef-safe alternative at their gift shop for a discount.
Okay, enough geeking about conservation: we posted up on the beach with our chairs and snacks and took turns snorkeling. The view of the bay is beautiful, you can see where the corals lie in the shallow bay and how we had our pick of where to post up. I definitely recommend getting there as early as possible to avoid crowds on the beach and in the parking lot and the harsh sun (the beach doesn’t have much shade). The bay was extremely shallow and I wish the educational portion provided tips on how to avoid touching coral if you get caught in a shallow reef (hint: do nothing, just spread out your limbs and let the water carry you over the reef, the more you try to swim the greater the risk of hitting and harming the coral and yourself on the sharp rocks or urchins). The same conditions that led to our second scuba trip being canceled were apparent in our snorkeling: Brice said he’s seen better conditions and usually lots more fish. I saw a couple interesting fish like large parrot fish and Grant and Brice saw a large eel, but other than that not too much. The most interesting part of the bay for me was definitely the architecture of the coral and just witnessing its conservation efforts.
Back in the city, Grant and I took a nap before getting massages. It was a nice way to end our tiring but fun trip. We had dinner at a tasty hole in the wall Sam’s Kitchen with a filling plate lunch with delicious shrimp.
Monday, 18 July: Brice picked us up for breakfast at the Original Pancake House before dropping us off at the airport for an uneventful trip home and we got back to our house around midnight.
So for a few days on the trip, Grant and Brice felt a little under the weather, but nothing bad enough to prevent them from doing our activities. Then upon landing, I couldn’t pop my ears and it was causing me some pain. I woke up the next day with my ears feeling a bit better, but still a bit sick overall. I took a COVID test on the off-chance that I caught it being maybe 10% of people in Hawai’i wearing masks everywhere indoors and outdoors within six feet of crowds. What do you know, both Grant and I have tested positive for COVID. Luckily, we can quarantine at home with our already-purchased food and comforts (computers, books and video games) rather than being stuck in Hawai’i in a hotel we’d have to pay for ourselves.
However, all things considered, we had a great time and I was so happy to explore more of Hawai’i and see Brice.