Best Aloha Experience
April 17, 2011 11:22 AM   Subscribe

Visiting Hawai'i for 10 days. Staying on Oahu. I also want to go to the island of Hawai'i to Volcanoes National Park. What are the best site s to research my trip? Are there some overlooked interesting sights you can recommend, a can't-miss restaurant, etc., on Oahu or Hawai'i? Out of the way museum?

I have a hotel on Oahu, am considering a hostel on Hawai'i. recommendations welcome. I'll be traveling alone part of the time.
posted by Mom to Travel & Transportation around Oahu, HI (13 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
What would you like to spend per night on the Big Island?

Big Island Revealed (aka, the blue book) is a great, totally worth-it resource. You might look at their lodging recommendations on their website too.
posted by purpleclover at 11:30 AM on April 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've been to Hawaii more times than I can count. Beaches are great, shopping is fun, luaus are cheesy but I wouldn't have it any other way. Etc.

But the most spectacular thing I've done there is take a helicopter ride over a volcano. If you can afford it, absolutely go. I went as a treat to make up for the worst vacation on the planet - and it worked. I would relive that nightmare week for that hour watching from above as lava dumped into the ocean. And lava pools!

(I get a little motion sick at ... everything. Not in the chopper!)
posted by crankyrogalsky at 1:16 PM on April 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

From someone who lived on Oahu for five years:

The Honolulu Academy of Arts has a very respectable, beautifully displayed collection of art, and they show great movies for hot summer nights.

Schedule outdoor activities for early morning and late afternoon. Take a nap midday. Don't eat too many pineapples or mangos. Pineapples and too much sun interacts to make your tourist sunburn bright, bright red and uncomfortable---and the locals will be snickering at you.

Hanauma Bay is great on the windward side of Oahu. Take frozen peas and carrots for the fish; they can see it better, they eat veggies so its better for them than corn chips. The fish are used to people and beautiful, but they have beaks for scraping coral so they can unintentionally give you a very good nip. Get some Zoomers or other shorty fins to protect your feet from sea urchins and eels. Long fins are not ideal for snorkeling. Respect the waves and don't go out too far, or go in when you are intoxicated. The waves took an Olympic swimmer when I lived there, among many unwary tourists. The water is clearer early in the day and gets turbid as the crowd arrives. Don't leave anything but your footprints there.

If you are staying in a hostel and staying alone, keep your wits about you. Hawaii has a lot of drug dealing and other shady activities going on, so observe common sense rules for travel in unfamiliar territory. Areas around the military bases can get really rowdy.

I don't know if the military will still allow it, but you might consider visiting the Omega Naval Station on Oahu. I think there are three of them in the world. It's amazingly beautiful and there are some stunning gadgets so you can see your tax dollars at work.

Be respectful of the locals. Many of the Hawaiian natives do not appreciate being expected to do the Aloha to tourists, so don't assume they like that. If you can get yourself to a Hawaiian cultural center like the one in Kaneohe, they will have more traditional displays of Hawaiian dances than the Kahala Hilton.

The Kahala has a great sculpture collection and they used to have very tame greeter dolphins which was cool and kinda sad.
posted by effluvia at 1:25 PM on April 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Some thoughts for food: Thai and Japanese cuisine are great in Hawaii. Local Hawaiian food, not so much. Salted pork, octopus and taro leaves. The Thai food especially was my preference since it was affordable and nutritious. Japanese food will be more expensive, but the sushi is the best. The American steakhouses and such are not very good and very expensive.
posted by effluvia at 1:33 PM on April 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Full disclaimer: I've been several times, but I'm not from Hawai'i, although the majority of my very large family is. There is nothing they like better than to constantly discuss/recreate in exacting detail the foods they left behind, so I feel reasonably qualified to answer for the food, even as an occasional tourist. I don't agree with effluvia that Hawaiian food isn't so good, but you definitely have to have a certain kind of palate to fully enjoy it. I do, however, agree that the Japanese food is usually really excellent, speaking as a Japanese-American.

In my experience, da best local kine grinds (translation: tasty local eats) are going to be at the food trucks and bowling alleys, but you'll have trouble trying local foods if you're a vegetarian. Spam musubi, oxtail soup, loco moco, salmon poke, these are the backbone of Hawai'ian cuisine, and way delicious, but they're not veggie friendly. Local "Hawaiian" food is kind of lacking in veggies all around, and you can expect white rice with pretty much every meal.

Locals and tourists alike hit up Hale'iwa in droves for shave ice. Matsumoto's is real popular with the tourists (read: bigger gift shop), but I'm actually more fond of Aoki's.

Also on the snacky side of things, malasada's at Leonard's are pretty damn awesome. They've got a storefront, but they also have a couple of food trucks in various locations.

As for things to see, you don't mention when you're going, so how crowded stuff is will depend on the time of year, but a couple of my favorite large beaches are at Hanauma Bay and Waimea Bay. Hanauma can be pretty spectacular, especially for snorkling, but also crowded beyond belief. I found Waimea is a little more low-key, but can still get crazy crowded if there's a surfing competition going on. In general, Hawai'i is so gorgeous and incredibly geared towards tourists, you'd have a harder time not finding beautiful sights and pleasant things to do, but the local haunts will be rougher than the tourist spots.

For souvenirs, do NOT take the lava rocks! Legends state it will bring you bad luck, but it's also illegal and will earn you local scorn. Instead, take lots of pictures, have a great time, and bring back some delicious cookies from Big Island Candies!
posted by Diagonalize at 1:44 PM on April 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

I adore Honolulu, and especially Waikiki in all its cheesy touristy glory. Really! Hike Diamond Head, take the Iolani Palace tour, and visit the Bishop Museum. Hang out at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel - the lobby is beautiful, the beach is open to the public, and the grounds are amazing. Visit Bailey's and buy yourself a nice made-in-Hawaii shirt. See the free hula show at Kuhio Beach. Have a drink at the House Without a Key while listening to some good music. Catch the Hot Club of Hulaville at Che Pasta on Friday nights. Aw man, I need to plan a return trip myself!
posted by chez shoes at 2:51 PM on April 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

On the Big Island: our favorite restaurant is HuliSue's, in Waimea. AMAZING BBQ, if you like that sort of thing, and the people are so nice. It was one of our favorite food stops our entire trip. Also, if you're staying the night and want something a little less traditional, my husband and I stayed in Honokaa, at Hotel Honokaa. It was sort of like a hostel/bed and breakfast and very affordable. Not fancy by any means, but Honokaa is such a beautiful little town and fantastic if you want to get away from "touristy" areas.

Also, if you are super adventurous, it's waaaay fun to camp at Volcanoes National Park! My husband and I camped there, and it was incredible. The views were amazing, and there are some really interesting hiking trails in the area.

On the road from Volcanoes National Park to Kona, there is a really neat Kona Coffee plantation that has a neat museum you can walk through, plus coffee samples and tours. I don't remember what it was called, but it was well worth the stop. It was, maybe, 20 minutes out of Kona? Don't remember for sure, but if you travel that way, it's worth trying to find.

On Oahu, my favorite stops have always been the Royal Hawaiian Hotel and the International Marketplace. Favorite restaurant is Chuck's Cellar (they treated us really nice, and the food was excellent, although a bit pricey).
posted by I_love_the_rain at 4:23 PM on April 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Byodo In Temple on Oahu's windward side is nice if you like the quiet beauty of a Japanese temple.

Also quiet and beautiful is the Koko Crater Botanic Garden, which has dozens and dozens of beautiful plumeria trees, in all colors you can think of, and a bunch of other stuff.

The Arizona Memorial is pretty spiffy too. And the hike up to the top of Diamond Head is worth a look.

Enjoy your trip!
posted by marble at 5:23 PM on April 17, 2011

For the big island, there's a town called Volcano which is only 3-4 km from Kiluaea national park - it's tiny, but if you're planning on spending most of your time at the park it's pretty handy as a place to stay. We enjoyed it.
posted by xiw at 7:00 PM on April 17, 2011

Take frozen peas and carrots for the fish

I'm pretty sure there are posted rules at Hanauma forbidding feeding the fish. Other than that, Hanauma is fantastic. Also good is the three tables/shark's cove spot on the North Shore. If you rent a car, you can have a pretty fantastic day driving up and around the coast. There's snorkel rental across the street from the three tables beach, and you can get your shaved ice after snorkeling (Matsumoto's is just down the road a bit). There are also a lot of parks along the road, so you might consider a picnic breakfast on the way to three tables.
posted by Ghidorah at 7:22 PM on April 17, 2011

Having returned last week from a similar vacation, I'll share my thoughts. I'll try to show my prejudices about what I like and dislike.

We weren't fans of Oahu, more because of heavy traffic, and we're not Waikiki beach/touristy folks.

We did enjoy snorkeling at Hanauma bay (we rented from the park, it's probably cheaper to pick up from somewhere else). I'll second Ghidorah, no feeding the critters at the park.

Dole plantation is hugely touristy, but for a rainy day was worth visiting. North shore is where the big waves are, if you enjoy watching surfers.

Diamond head is a good hike for views of the island. Get there early, the parking lot fills up, and while the hike isn't hard, it's narrow and gets crowded.

We did visit the Mormon run Polynesian cultural center, was a meh for me. (expensive, buffet was good, the dance/show at night was neat, but ... ).

For the big island, we spent a day in Hilo (I can suggest a great B&B), visited the Keck observatory visitors station (picked up that from an earlier Hawaii ask-me) for sunset, scoped out the farmers market in downtown (great, cheap produce).

My favorite was the Volcanoes park. Spent 2 days hiking. Most tourists (and buses) go to the lava tubes. The tubes are neat (bring a flashlight if you want to explore the unlit section of tube), but can get very crowded. Dress for rainy 50F temps (it's part rain forest and high altitude).

We highly recommend the Kilauea Iki crater trail. (and pay the $2, get the NPS guide book)

Expect that about half the park will be closed for SO2 levels and what not, which is a bummer.

The town of Volcanos, there's a great little deli, great (cheap) prices, huge sandwiches, right *behind* the general store. (Corner of old volcano road and Haunani rd, right off of Rt 11)

On the way to/from Volcaones (via Hilo) there's Hilo Coffee Mill (if you dig coffee plantations and roasting etc), and (totally blanking on his name) wood-crafter that uses native wood, makes cool things. He gave me a little tour of his wood-shop while there. (There's a diner attached to his shop, so we had lunch there too)

We never got to the Kona side.

While you're there, drink Kona beer. The longboard lager and golden ale are great.
posted by k5.user at 7:16 AM on April 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

As far as restaurants on Oahu go, I would recommend:

Sansei - a sushi and seafood restaurant in Waikiki...GREAT favorite dish would have to be the crab and butter ramen soup, and their sushi is always fresh and delicious.

Mavro's - fine dining at it's best. In my opinion, better than Alan Wong's which usually gets the local vote for Hawaii's favorite restaurant (Mavro's has been ranked one of the top 40 restaurants in the U.S. by Gayot; expect to pay lots of money, but the food is superb.)

Roy's - another great restaurant, billed as "hawaiian fusion cuisine". This place is also pricey, but again, I think the food makes it worthwhile. If you go, go to the Hawaii Kai location.

Panya - this is a bakery/restaurant located at Ala Moana Mall. Their laksa (a noodle soup with seafood) is very good, and I also recommend their oxtail stew. The atmosphere is nice too, and if you decide to hit the mall, it's the perfect place for lunch or dinner.

If you would like to try Hawaiian food, I recommend Helena's. It's a little hole in the wall place, but don't worry about that, just go for the food! Antie Helen (the founder) is a James Beard award winner, so she knows what she's doing.

There are many more great dining places, but I'll stop there; you can message me if you would like more. Also, I will second Ghidorah on the fish feeding; I don't think it's allowed anymore. That said, it's still a nice place to snorkel, particularly if you are new to snorkeling. You can almost touch the fish (the only reason you can't is because if you try, they will just move a little bit out of reach.)

Koko Crater trail is nice for hiking, with a beautiful view at the top. Be prepared for sore legs's a good workout!

Last thing, Bellows Beach is a great spot on the windward side...closed during the weekdays, though, so you have to go on Saturday or Sunday. It's beautiful, and you can get some decent waves for bodyboarding on most days.
posted by KillaSeal at 7:05 PM on April 18, 2011

Seconding k5.user on a lot of things. I haven't been off of Oahu yet, but my wife and I are a bit worn out on it. We're planning for the big island next, mostly for the volcanoes.

On Oahu, I'm not sure about the north shore now, but yeah, during the winter months, the north shore is closed to snorkeling because that's when the ridiculous waves come in, and the surfing competitions get started. I don't know if the waters will have calmed yet, you should ask when you get there. Because of the winter currents, even Hanauma can be affected, giving you murky waters and reduced visibility.

If you do drive up to the north shore, I'd recommend the Mexican restaurant near Matsumoto's. There's a little strip mall with all sorts of touristy knick-knacks, and in the middle of all of it, a pretty decent place for lunch. I would, honestly, avoid the Thai restaurants in Waikiki. Supposedly they're the best Thai places in Hawaii, but that's really not saying much. The food we had was bland and sad, not a hint of spice anywhere. It's definitely dumbed down for tourists Thai.

One last thing, about beer, I agree, again, with k5.user about local beers, but I prefer Primo (comes in a blue bottle, I think) to Kona's selection of beers. Much smoother, more drinkable, without Kona's aftertaste. Absolutely delicious.
posted by Ghidorah at 7:30 PM on April 18, 2011

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