Sometimes when people are planning a trip to Hawaii, they ask me some questions. The first one is, "Do you know anybody we can stay with?" The answer to that is, "No." Now that we got that out of the way . . .
The next thing is, "Any cool places I should go?" This blog was created to answer just that question about eateries. Now we're taking it to the next level.
Tourist Trap Stuff
Some of the regular tourist stuff in Hawaii is really a must-do, regardless of whether you like the off-the-beaten-path stuff better.
Pearl Harbor Arizona Memorial. The tickets are free, but you have to get there early if you don’t want to wait a few hours for your turn. They start handing out tickets at 7:30 AM. I’d be there before then. With an umbrella.
Dole Plantation. The main thing here is to try the pineapple ice cream. You can walk the maze if you like. You can also get it at the Lapperts Ice Cream stands in the airport (inside security only), so you could actually cross this one off your list on the way to baggage claim.
Matsumoto Shave Ice. Not that it’s that different from any other shave ice. It’s just THE place on the North Shore for shave ice. [Note: It is shave ice, not shaved ice. Just like it is Sandy's Beach, not Sandy Beach, even though it is a reference to the sand, not to a person named Sandy. That's just how it is. Get used to it.]
Kua Aina Burger. And while you’re up in Hale’iwa, you have to get a Kua Aina burger. It’s a rule. A rule you won’t mind following.
Shrimp Trucks. If you’re doing the circle island thing on Kamehameha Highway, do yourself a favor and try the shrimp from one of the roadside trucks. Our favorite was Giovanni’s.
Diamond Head. Nice hike up to an old bunker overlooking Waikiki. $5/car admission.
Pali Lookout. Nice view of the windward side and kinda fun on very windy days. Legend has it a large chief fell over the edge, but the wind was so strong, it blew him right back up. Some good hiking trails cross here and run back through the Ko’olaus.
Luau. Yes, it’s the ultimate touristy thing, but it’s also fun. I hear the Polynesian Cultural Center is the best on the island, if a bit pricey. We enjoyed the luau’s at Germaine’s and Sea Life Park, where they filmed 50 First Dates.
Swap Meet. If you’re needing to buy souvenirs in bulk for folks back home, the swap meet at Aloha Stadium is the place to go. Wed, Sat, Sun, 6a-3p. Wear a hat. Bring sunscreen and water.
Lesser Known But Cool Stuff
Drive Tanatalus. You’ll need a street map to get in and out, as it’s buried in the hood, but this beautiful drive through mountain rainforest is worth the trouble. The route is a winding ridge road that skirts one ridge above Manoa Valley, crosses the back of the valley along the Ko’olau Mountains, and comes back along the other ridge, making a giant, squiggly U. We always start on Round Top with a stop at Pu'u Ualakaa Park early on to get the best view of Honolulu possible. You can see from Diamond Head to Pearl Harbor, or at least Red Hill. If you’re so inclined, you can also pay a visit to the Punchbowl National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific.
Portlock Point. This is a very secluded but beautiful spot that is not well known, even by locals. Most of the times we went, there were only a few folks, mainly fishing. During whale watching season I’ve seen maybe a dozen folks there. The reason nobody knows about it is because it’s at the end of a dead-end road in an upscale residential district and is practically invisible from the road. We found it by accident. The Woman and I were trolling through Portlock, lusting in our hearts after all the multi-million dollar homes with views of Diamond Head. There are basically three streets that run the length of the ridge, terraced up so that all houses have great views. On the top-most street (Lumahai Street) we got to the cul-de-sac on the makai (ocean) end. Between two houses I noticed a blue sign on a pole next to a trash can. The trash can was of the style used in parks, not what you’d normally see in a residential neighborhood. We pulled closer and realized the sign was a list of park regulations. Somewhere back there was a park. We parked the car and took a look. There was a 10-foot gap between two properties and a trail leading almost straight down. We scrambled down, using the chain-link fence for balance, turned a corner and came out onto a ledge about 20 feet above the water. Some more pics here and here.
Hike. There are a lot of very cool hiking trails on Oahu. I’ve only been on a few. My favorite is Mariner’s Ridge. The views from the top are incredible. You are on the ridge of the Ko’olau Mountains and can see both sides of the island, from Sandy's Beach to Diamond Head on the south shore and from Makapu’u to Chinaman’s hat on the windward side. You can also look directly down into Koko crater. Inside Koko crater is a nice little flat hike through the botanical gardens. On the makai (ocean) side of Koko crater is an insane hike: 1,000+ stairs straight up to the top of the crater. I didn’t do that one. There are many other very stunning hikes I haven’t been on.
Lots of nice things on Kauai, but two stand out for me as a must-see.
Waimea Canyon, the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, runs up from the ocean toward the top of Mount Wai’ale’ale, the wettest spot on earth with an average annual rainfall of 460 inches. The canyon is 10 miles long, 1 mile across and 3,500 feet deep. Lots of hiking trails.
Napali Coast. Sixteen miles of seemingly razor-sharp cliffs jutting 4,000 feet up from the ocean. Incredible hiking trails. Good place for a zodiac, catamaran or kayak tour. Especially during whale watching season.
For another time.