Aloha from a diehard Hawaii fan. I love the place, I cannot get enough. I’ve been to the 50th US state 5 times now, and it’s a 10/10 visit every single time. And if you (like many of my friends and family and workmates before you) were to ask me what my recommendations for living it up island-style would be, I’d definitely tell you to eat at the Cheesecake Factory at least 3 times during your visit. However, as my headline here suggests, there are plenty of other activities to busy yourself with.
Now, my first recommendation would be to visit another island — particularly Kauai, which is untouched and beautiful and basically heaven on earth — but for the purposes of this yarn I will keep all my tips to Oahu only because let’s face it you scored a cheap-ass Jetstar flight to Honolulu didn’t you? OK, here goes:
1. Hoover Up The Brekkie Buffet At Duke’s
I’m sorry to every other breakfast buffet in Waikiki, but Duke’s has the best breakfast buffet in Waikiki. In fact, back in Feb I stepped right off the flight and ordered an Uber to take me directly to Duke’s. It’s affordable (USD$14.95 for an all-you-can-eat buffet), extremely tasty and because it’s located right on Waikiki Beach, the view is stupidly good.
Do yourself a favour and hit up the omelette station, and make sure you drink a POG juice (pineapple, orange, guava) while you’re there. My brother has been attempting to perfect a recreation of this combo since he went to Waikiki 5 years ago and has failed on every attempt.
2. Rent A Chair On Waikiki Beach
One holiday in Hawaii I was only in Waikiki for 3 days, because I spent the rest of my trip on Kauai. Since we’d been to Waikiki loads of times, my boyfriend and I decided to be lazy shits and lie around on the beach for the entire time. But we did it in style, hiring umbrellas and chairs from our hotel, the Royal Hawaiian. It was a very indulgent but very good time, let me tell you. They even bring your lunch out for you! Also, if you’re a sneaky boozehound like me you can drink cocktails out there in the comfort of your own lounge chair, right there on the beach.
You can hire chairs and brollies from any hotel, even if you’re not staying there. You’ll also find independent operators slinging umbrellas and chairs for hire on the beach, but keep in mind they won’t bring your lunch out for you. Priorities, people!
3. Wake Up Your Lazy Ass With A Hike
So after lolling about on a beach chair and stuffing your face at Duke’s, you might feel slightly guilty and feel inspired to do something ~active~ on your hols. Hawaii is obviously a very beautiful place, and there are tons of good hikes to do — especially if you have a car and can go up to the North Shore. On my most recent trip, I did a North Shore hike called the Ka’ena Point Trail, which rewarded me with two big fat seals sunning themselves on the beach when I reached the end of it. For a famous hike within easy reach of downtown Waikiki, you can jump on a bus and head to Diamond Head Crater. It’s a fairly easy hike but be warned there’s a buttload of stairs to get to the top, but the views are just amazing enough for your glutes to forgive you.
if you want a more extensive hike that contains some actual infortmation about the area you’re tramping about in, you can book a guided hike with a local, like this one run by Melissa, who was born and bred in Oahu and takes punters up to the amazing Lanikai Pillboxes, a fave hike for the local community.
4. Spend All Your Money (And Money You Don’t Have)
Another famous spot in Hawaii is less picturesque but equally beautiful, in my opinion. It’s the Ala Moana Shopping Center and it’s approximately the size of Tasmania. Catch the Pink Line Trolley (make sure you have $2 in cash or they won’t let you on — seriously they can be a bit mean about it) from Waikiki and head on over. It’s the biggest open-air shopping centre in the world and the ninth-biggest shopping centre in the entire US of A.
There’s of course a Victoria’s Secret roughly the size of my entire apartment building, plus Sephora, MAC, big department stores Nordstrom, Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s, a huge and glorious Barnes & Noble bookstore, your GAP, Banana Republic, Anthropologie, Abercrombie & Fitch, Hot Topic as well as heaps of good restaurants upstairs. You could literally spend an entire day here, and if the dollar ever improves then you can pick up legit bargains.
Aside from Ala Moana, there’s heaps of shops along Kalakaua Avenue in downtown Waikiki (including my precious Urban Outfitters) and there’s a big outlet mall called Waikele Premium Outlets which you can book a spot on a shuttle bus to. They’ve got Vans, Michael Kors, Levi’s, Kate Spade and more shops for you to throw your money at.
5. Hang Ten On The North Shore
The North Shore of Oahu is famous for it’s totally tubular surf *insert shakas here*, and while it can be fun to just sit on the sand and watch more capable people surfing (a real Puberty Blues vibe, minus the Chiko Rolls), you can also give it a go yourself.
Local surf nuts like Conor from the Catcha Wave Surf School run lessons at Haleiwa which you can go to even if you’re an absolute grommet beginner who has never been on a wave in your life — it’s super easy to book too through Airbnb Experiences. It’s fun, safe and the sense of achievement when you manage to stay upright on a surfboard for 0.5 seconds just cannot be beaten. Shakas forever!
6. Get Lei’d By A Local
One of the most delightful parts of being in Hawaii is seeing the beautiful flowers everywhere. Bonus points if your hotel (or Uber driver from the airport) slings a fresh floral lei around your neck or even atop your scone upon arrival. But if no one does it for you, there’s actually local Hawaiians like Kiana who runs sessions on how to make an extremely Insta-ready traditional Polynesian lei po’o (flower crown).
You get to pick your own tropical flowers to use for your creation, and Kiana will talk you through every step of the way so your crown is as majestic as humanly possible. Your garland will last between 3-5 days, and my advice is to chuck it in the hotel fridge to prolong its life.
7. Pretend To Be A Mermaid In This Hidden Cave
Local Hawaii residents will HATE me for telling you this, but there’s an extremely cool hidden spot on Oahu that any wannabe mermaid will absolutely froth on. Located just off Zablan Beach on the west coast of the island, these cool natural wonders involve some of the bluest, most Insta-ready tides you’ve ever clapped eyes on.
To get there, head to Kalaniana’ole Beach Park (also known as Nanakuli Beach Park) located in the west of Oahu. This handy site has detailed instructions on how to find the actual cave, so definitely hit it up so you don’t end up swept out to sea. But basically, from the carpark you need to go to the rocky side of the beach and look for a “large gaping hole to the left”. From there you’ll need to travers some rocky lava terrain, so definitely wear trainers or those diving shoe things. The relatively difficult (yet short) journey is totally worth it though, because the caves are like actual magic.
8. Guzzle Down A Mai Tai Or 12
The Mai Tai is the official cocktail of America’s 50th state. Think of it like the drink version of Jason Momoa — strong, delicious, smells of rum (sorry, Jason, I’m just assuming you do).
A combo of light and dark rums, juice, orgeat syrup and also probably some form of magic, it’s boozy goodness with a cherry on top. Loads of bars in Hawaii claim to serve the best one, and while I haven’t tried every single one of them because I respect my liver too much, I can recommend the Mai Tai Bar at the Royal Hawaiian in Waikiki, Duke’s also make a good one (if you sleep in for breakfast just go get boozed?), and I’ve sunk way too many of these cocktails at the Beach Bar at the Moana Surfrider on Waikiki Beach.
9. Learn The Local Moves
The people of Hawaii have so many incredible traditions, and one of their most famous is the hula. It’s a beautiful, graceful dance practiced for centuries by men and women. If you’re like me and anything BUT beautiful or graceful, you can still give the hula a go by taking lessons.
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Heading back to kc after an inspiring week home. Not only pushed to grow in my photography, but as a Polynesian and a dancer. I love my inheritance ❤️ . Hālau Nā Lei Punahele Kumu Punahele Andrade Soloist: Kiana Anakalea . . #hikuauli #hikuauli19 #hawaii #kona #kohala #halau #hula #island #culture #capturereality #momentphotographer #blessed #aloha
Ka’Ilihiwa began practicing hula at age 3 and now runs classes just outside Honolulu, open to people of all ages and coordination levels. For two hours she will take you through everything you need to know, and you’ll leave feeling light on your feet and slightly more Hawaiian.Image: Instagram / @josieroze