Oahu help!
October 8, 2008 11:23 PM   Subscribe

Looking for Oahu travel advice....

We'll be travelling to Oahu for 7 nights in December, already bought the airfare into Honululu, but now we need to find place(s) to stay! We've decided to stay on Oahu rather than spend money to travel to any other islands, first time in Hawaii for both of us and the choices are a bit overwhelming.

We're looking for one or two different locations on the island in which to rent a condo/vrbo, hotel, b&b, or something similar. We're interested in fantastic beaches and swimming/snorkeling, as well as some sojourns for great hikes, greenery and jungle type atmosphere. Preferably with a less touristy vibe. Looking to spend less than 200 per night at the very most. If a place had a kitchen we'd probably cook a fair bit, so that's why a rental may be interesting, but not necessary.

Does anyone have town or island area recommendations that would help me narrow down the lodging search? Specific experience with any particularly lodging would also be great, as well as things not to miss. From what I've read so far, Waimanalo and Kailua look pretty great. Anyone have first hand experience with staying there?

Any Oahu advice would be so greatly appreciated. I feel like we just need to pick a great town or two and then the lodging will take care of itself from there. Any hidden gems out there for great beaches, atmosphere, and relaxation?

Thanks for the help!!
posted by gatorbiddy to Travel & Transportation around Oahu, HI (8 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
\Unfortunately, in December, a lot of the snorkeling spots are unusable due to the tides. The north shore (Three Tables/Sharks Cove) is pretty calm in the summer, but is evidently surfing only in the winter (very, very big waves). For more snorkeling spots, check out Shorediving, which has accounts of different spots around the area.

Hanauma, though crowded, is quite nice.
posted by Ghidorah at 11:56 PM on October 8, 2008

Kailua is definitely a great place just keep in mind that it'll be a lot rainier there in the winter since it's on the windward side of the island. There are lots of places you can rent there (apartments, condos, etc.) but many are rented out illegally as the laws out here pertaining to B&Bs and vacation rentals are . . . tricky. Up that way you might consider Schraders in Kaneohe. It's a quirky place with mixed reviews (check Tripadvisor) but it's definitely within your budget and for relaxation and being away from the hubbub it's a good option. There's good snorkeling at the Kaneohe San Bar and I really recommend renting a kayak or two and doing some paddling there as well. Another fun trip is paddling over from Kailua to the Mokuela Islands just off the coast. (Pack a lunch and hang out on the northern one, you can't land at the southern one.) If you're in that area also visit Lanikai which is a real nice, quiet spot. Shoot if you can find a place to rent in Lanikai that fits your budget that would be clutch.

Waimanalo is cool as well but I think that the places you'll find for rent there are either right on the beach ($$$) or on the mauka side of the Kal Highway so not really an ideal location. Waimanalo also has a bit of a reputation for being tourist-unfriendly. The reality is that it can be but well, just don't act like a jucket from middle America and you'll probably fare much better than others.

The Leeward side of Oahu is also much less touristy but also has the same reputation as Waimanlo -- but the same advice applies. The Makaha Resort is a decent place but also has mixed reviews as it's older and not at the same level as better resorts here. If you go into it with the right expectations though (you ain't gonna be staying at the 5-star Four Seasons) you'll probably have a great time. There's good snorkeling right there at Makaha Beach and also Kahe Point. One thing to know is that the towns on the Leeward side definitely do not have the same feeling as what you'll find in Kaneohe or Kailua. Many refer to them like this: "that's where the locals live". While in and of itself this is more true than not, the pejorative undertone is annoying.

The North Shore is super but as Ghidorah mentions it will be tough to snorkel there in the winter. (The Shorediving site mentioned in that post is *super*.) If you are there on a good day though, snorkeling at Shark's Cove is unbeatable. Allow me to veer off on a little tangent here: I'll exhibit a bit of personal bias against some of the attitude one sometimes experiences on the North Shore. I've experienced quite a bit of . . . better-than-thou attitude from many of the haoles who live up there (haole is the local term for "whitey"). I dunno if it's the surfer thing or a hyper-environmentalist attitude or what but it's a bit weird. Some people up there just have a prejudice against people who they feel "don't get it, man". I had a really pleasant conversation with a North Shore haole who thought I was a chill tourist from wherever but when I mentioned that I live in Honolulu it was like I was Satan and the cause of all the problems in the world. Weird. Anyway, don't let that taint your experience. People are people and one needs to get to know what's deeper than the labels and the superficial. The North Shore is a cool place to visit and can be quite quaint when not overrun.

Good luck to you! Enjoy your and our beautiful islands!
posted by lazywhinerkid at 12:31 AM on October 9, 2008

If I understand what you are looking for, I think you might reconsider your decision to stay on Oahu. Oahu is very "touristy" and trashy pretty much everywhere. The image you conjure up with your description of great hikes, greenery, less touristy fits Maui better.
For 200 a night, you are going to get crappy accommodations pretty much anyplace here, plain and simple. So, I'd get a crappy $100 room in Maui instead and get what you are looking for in a vacation.

Whatever you do, I suggest getting the lonely planet tourist guide to find lodging and hikes.

If you are still intent on staying on Oahu:
To my mind, the only areas worthy of a vacation stay are Waikiki and the North Shore. Clearly Waikiki is very touristy. Whats good about that it is oriented for..well..tourism so you can get a guide for anything you want on the island. Its also a freaking zoo.

The advantage of the North Shore is that it has the most amazing beaches but is not built up..(or..umm, down). In the winter, the waves grow huge and it the premier surfing location. The best snorkeling on Oahu is there (sharks cove, but there is better on the other islands)
I don't really agree with lazywhinerkid's warning about the people. Indeed many of the people are rich white hippy stoner surfing environmentalist californian children, but they are entirely harmless.
While its possible you have a good experience staying someplace else, its also likely you will have a terrible experience for one reason or another.

If you dont like touristy, do not go to Hanauma Bay and especially not the Sea Park! Only get guides and rides via the legit outfits with an office, stay away from street corner hucksters.
I've been on several hikes on Oahu and was disappointed each time. This could be because I was biased by Maui an Kaui. Most of them I get the impression I'm hiking around someones back yard, and also see garbage everywhere. Did I mention Maui is better? Hehe.
posted by Osmanthus at 5:36 AM on October 9, 2008

I don't exactly understand what Osmanthus thinks is touristy about Hanauma. During the winter season, it's likely to be the best place to go snorkeling due to the currents slamming into the north coast. As for Hanauma, you have to watch a video (starts every 15 minutes) about not being a jackass (don't step on the reef, don't grab the fish), then you go down to the beach. There's a rental place down there for snorkels (where the people working there could stand to be a little less assy), and then you hit the beach and go snorkeling. There is, yes, a gift shop up at the top, near the theater. You do have to pay a couple dollars to get in. However, on the beach, there's nothing remotely commercial (aside from the rental hut, set quite far back from the beach). No stands selling snacks, no people trying to sell trinkets. Yes, it can get crowded, but in terms of a national (or state, not sure which) it's pretty understated.

Should you try a different island if you don't want touristy? Probably. Oahu is pretty much the main place to go for vacations in Hawaii. That doesn't mean it's all crap. I've been there four times, and while, after four times, I'd like to try a different island, that doesn't mean I feel like I wasted my time in Oahu.

And, uh, waves grow huge doesn't tend to equal great snorkeling. Pretty much every guidebook says avoid the north coast during winter unless you're a pro surfer.
posted by Ghidorah at 6:55 AM on October 9, 2008


Kailua is a nice place to stay for longer in Oahu. (Check craigslist Honolulu).

Avoid Hanauma. But there's a nice hike from the park/tennis courts across the highway straight up an old railway track to an old Army outpost. I can't remember the name of the park but locals should know.

It can get pretty rough around Makaha - some of the beach parking lots on that side have been essentially become defacto homeless shelters, but it gets nice again out towards the tip.

And go to other islands.
posted by RandlePatrickMcMurphy at 6:59 AM on October 9, 2008

Basically, the Hawiian vacation experience is now divided into two options:

a) full on tourist, tiki bar/Don Ho/waikiki et al.
b) full on anti-tourist - where you get to see/meet no one but other anti-tourist tourists

In neither case do you really get the vibe of the place. If you've never been to Hawaii (or anyplace, for that matter), there's so much going on in local markets or malls or parks that are so strangely foreign to what you're used to that you're doing your experience a disservice in not just going there and getting good and lost.

You need to see other islands. Maui is just a re-branded Oahu for people with more money at this point - and all the people I know that were actually born there left as soon as they could. Big Island or Kauai (which I personally found boring, but different strokes).
posted by NoRelationToLea at 8:24 AM on October 9, 2008

"Oahu is very "touristy" and trashy pretty much everywhere."

This attitude blows me away every time I come across it. Oahu is a great damn place. Have an open mind and it will reveal its many-faceted self to you. It's far from perfect, but then so is everywhere, even Maui.

I empathize with the feelings behind what NoRelationToLea implies about the "bifurcation" of vacation experience in Hawaii but I mostly disagree based on personal experience of visiting as a tourist a lot in the past and living here permanently now. All I can relay is my own experience: when friends and family come out to visit, they're blown away by being able to snorkel in the morning, eat proper Asian food from a downtown food stall for lunch, visit decent botanical gardens and a replica Japanese temple in the afternoon, and then finish off the day at the beach with a couple bottles of wine. And that's just one day. There's a LOT to do here. Much is touristy. Much is not. Explore it for yourself and make your own decision.

Haunama Bay can definitely get a little crowded but it's a good place to visit. If you make it there, one piece of advice is to swim out past the first reef structure. (It can seem a little hairy because the water will only be like 10 inches deep over the top of the coral but trust -- just keep swimming, don't stop). After about 30-50 feet you'll be on the back side of it, and the water will be in the 6-12 foot deep region. In my opinion, too many people just swim around in front of the reef and wonder what the big deal is all about. Sea Life Park is . . . in need of refurbishment. If you really really want to see a dolphin show or seals and stuff then it's not a bad place to visit for a couple hours but the place has gone downhill, there's no denying it.

As for hikes in East Oahu, there are a few good ones as RandlePatrickMcMurphy mentions. I think he's talking about the hike up Koko Crater? It's a pretty strenuous hike but the views at the top are super. This is a good site to research hikes on Oahu.

P.S. This is probably obvious but one thing I feel like I really have to recommend is that you rent a car. You should absolutely be able to find something on Travelocity or the like for about $150 a week -- it's money well spent. You can use The Bus (which is a surprisingly good system -- I take it to work every day) but it can be rather inconvenient to have to plan your whole day around a bus schedule which can be spotty in the more far-flung areas.
posted by lazywhinerkid at 12:38 PM on October 9, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks a lot for all the advice!
posted by gatorbiddy at 4:11 PM on October 9, 2008

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