12 hours with a car on Oahu!
January 21, 2013 3:22 PM   Subscribe

We have 12 hours with a car, starting in Waikiki and ending at the airport. What to do?

We've been in Waikiki for a few days now, doing touristy stuff within walking distance. Before we leave on a red eye Thursday night, we will have a car to drive around and do stuff... Starting at 9 am in Waikiki and ending at 9pm at the airport.

Of course, the obvious question is -- what should we do? Admittedly, we came to Hawaii with little planning, but are just enjoying the food, atmosphere, beaches and sights of Waikiki on our virgin trip to Hawaii. We're very laid back, and basically just want to see the island of Oahu and sightsee for those 12 hours. Where should we go?
posted by cgg to Travel & Transportation around O‘ahu, HI (20 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Eat malasadas at Leonard's and Shave Ice at Matsumoto. Then die happy.
posted by jquinby at 3:24 PM on January 21, 2013 [5 favorites]

...and get the Shave Ice with ice cream and azuki beans. You'll thank me for both.
posted by jquinby at 3:25 PM on January 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

Go drive the North Shore and get lunch from one of the shrimp trucks or stands. Then Matsumoto. Then La Mariana for a tiki drink and a slice of retro Honolulu. THEN die happy.
posted by anonnymoose at 3:29 PM on January 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

P.S. I also think driving to the Pali Lookout will knock your socks off.
posted by anonnymoose at 3:30 PM on January 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oahu is a relatively small island, you can easily circumnavigate it (while hitting some highlights) in that time frame. Have you only been in Waikiki? Then get out!

Malassadas, shave ice (with beans!) and shrimp trucks, absolutely. Have you been to Hanauma Bay? It is lovely and you can rent snorkeling equipment. If you continue towards Waimanalo you will pass Makapuu lighthouse; you can see whales from shore.

North Shore also worth visiting; I always loved Waimea Bay (I think waves at this time of year may make it more sightseeing than swimming).

Have fun!
posted by maryrussell at 4:08 PM on January 21, 2013

Ooh, yes, Pali Lookout!

On the practical side:

1) - Keep an eye on the gas tank. Finding gas stations was harder than I expected.

2) - Try to get a handle on the one-way streets and contra-flow lanes in and around Honolulu, especially during rush hour.

3) - Factor in some extra time during rush hour, it can get bad.

(I'm not trying to be a bummer! It sounds like you have a specific time frame, and these were three things I wish I'd known when I was in that situation myself.)
posted by Room 641-A at 4:21 PM on January 21, 2013

The Byodo-In Temple
posted by pyro979 at 4:32 PM on January 21, 2013 [5 favorites]

Kailua Beach
posted by book 'em dano at 4:44 PM on January 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

We had a little more time than that but really enjoyed: the aforementioned malasadas, a genuine mai tai (which is nothing like what you'll get stateside), and getting leis in Chinatown (exotic flowers for much less than the main drag). "Enjoy" is not the right word, but Pearl Harbor was well worth the trip. We went for a snorkel trip on the North Shore, but not being strong swimmers we got bashed around by the waves and didn't enjoy ourselves. Hanauma Bay was much more our style. One thing we wanted to do was kayak out to the sand bars.
posted by wnissen at 4:53 PM on January 21, 2013

Just returned from a trip to Honolulu two weeks ago where we only rented a car for one day. We didn't drive all the way up to the North Shore, but I'm now wishing we did, especially around Turtle Bay. The Turtle Bay Resort looks great, it was where Forgetting Sarah Marshall was filmed.

I would definitely get in a lot of the windward beaches that are nicer, quieter, and have better sand than Waikiki. And as much local food as possible.

Also when ordering shave ice, I found it best to stick to flavors like lilikoi (passionfruit), mango, coconut, etc. It should be almost unnaturally smooth and fluffy, without lots of ice chips.

Get a copy of Oahu Revealed (they have an eBook and an iOS app out, the eBook is probably better for your purposes). They have great maps and driving directions that take you through all of the scenic routes all around Oahu (they re-drive and them regularly to verify accuracy). Of special note are any attractions marked as a "gem" or "don't miss." Look up the "Coastal route to Kailua" for an example. The author also offers lots of tips and tricks to getting in and out of Waikiki (he recommends exit 24A on H-1 to get into Waikiki instead of the congested Nimitz Highway, for example).

Some other ideas:

- Leonard's Bakery. We tried all of the malasadas when we were there: sugar, cinnamon, and li hing mui for the unfilled kind. Best devoured on the spot, while warm. Li hing mui was the best -- salty dried plum powder, that really tasted kind of spicy. Good contrast with the sweetness of the malasada. Of the puffs (filled malasadas), the current selection is coconut, chocolate, custard, and flavor of the month, guava. Delicious! My favorite was the custard.

- Please tell me you've been eating poke while in Waikiki! (Poke is cubed marinated raw tuna and is delicious.) A five minute walk away from Leonard's is Ono Seafood. Not to be confused with the different but equally awesome Ono Hawaiian Foods, which serves plate lunch. Maybe get some poke, to go, with some ice or a cooler? They open pretty early in the morning, and the people who work there are super sweet. There's a Safeway nearby as well.

- Also on the same stretch of road as Ono Seafood, Ono Hawaiian, and Leonard's is Bailey's Antiques and Aloha Shirts. Beautiful vintage Hawaiian shirts (worth thousands of dollars), as well as reproductions of vintage designs. It's crammed with thousands of shirts. You may have seen this place on No Reservations. Their site indicates that they open at 10am.

- Drive to Lanikai beach on the windward side. It's stunning. Soft sand (way softer than Waikiki's), clear blue water. And it's slowly eroding away, formerly one mile long, to currently half a mile long. So see it while you still can. It should be very, very quiet in comparison to Waikiki. No parking lot or restrooms. Park on the street and walk down to the water.

- Kailua Beach next door to Lanikai is also beautiful, and this beach is where a lot of Lanikai's sand has ended up. It's very long, 2.5 miles of gorgeous beach. There are also tons of kitesurfers and they are impressive to watch! We parked at what was officially Kalama Beach Park (which does have a parking lot and restrooms) to get closer to the center park of Kailua Beach.

- Find a farmer's market! The most gorgeous fruits and flowers I've seen in a long time.

- On the North Shore, the most famous shrimp truck is Giovanni's. I'd bring some wet naps, as these are peel and eat shrimp with lots and lots of garlic.

- Stop at the Dole Plantation for Dole Whip, if you've never had any or don't live by a Disney theme park. It's creamy soft serve made from pineapples, and made entirely without dairy. I have no idea how they make it. It seems like there should be dairy in there, but there isn't. It is amazing. Admission to the Dole Plantation is free but activities like the maze cost money.

- At Pali Lookout, bring a sweatshirt, maybe pants, and some non-flip flop, closed-toe shoes, if you want to stay for more than a few minutes. It's really freaking windy up there!

- Helena's in Honolulu is another foodie destination that is not really convenient from Waikiki unless you have a car. They specialize in Hawaiian plate lunch and their signature items are pipikaula style short ribs. Pipikuala is Hawaiian style beef jerky, and it is delicious. It's got to be the only plate lunch plate where the chef has a James Beard award! They are only open Tue-Fri 10 am - 7:30 pm and run out of certain items by the end of the day.

- So is Made in Hawaii Foods who make this great and hard to find fresh strawberry mochi. It is an entire Kula strawberry with red bean paste wrapped inside. They have two outlets that you can purchase them from. Each them as soon as possible, as they are perishable and also cannot be brought back to the mainland, as they are considered fresh fruit.
posted by kathryn at 5:23 PM on January 21, 2013 [4 favorites]

Seconding the Byodo-In Temple and heading up to the North Shore.

(on preview: can't top kathryn's advice!)
posted by jeoc at 5:30 PM on January 21, 2013

Maybe snorkel at Hanauma, then head to Kailua beach Drive up the east coast. Maybe rent a kayak. Grab some food at Kalama market.
If you do go to lanikai beach take your valuables out of the car. It's a regular place to get your rental car broken in to. Ironically it's surrounded by million dollar houses but they can spot a rental car.

North Shore:
Check the surf report. Go to a shrimp truck, check out Haleiwa. Beach at Waimea Bay.

Bottom line:
Get either to the East Side or the North shore. I'm biased because I live on the windward side, north shore is cool too.
posted by ibakecake at 5:54 PM on January 21, 2013

I would skip the crowds at Matsumoto's and instead try Frost City. It's right in town, near the University. I'm not a shave ice fan myself, but Frost City kicks ass.

I'd drive around the south side of the island, around Makapuu point. You can stop there and take the short walk to the lighthouse for some nice views. If you want to hit a more or less secluded beach, keep driving through Waimanalo town, and turn left just past McDonalds. The beach there is often totally empty. Or keep going to Kailua/Lanikai. Google "lanikai pillboxes" for a neat little hike.

There's supposed to be another North Shore swell in the next few days. You should check on that. Traffic gets incredibly bad up through Haleiwa when the surf is up.

One thing I'd worry about, though, is someone breaking into your car. Many of these places (including Makapuu and the Pali lookout mentioned above) have serious problems with breakins. Maybe you can leave your stuff at the hotel for the day and pick up on the way back in.

On your way back, I'd stop in downtown Honolulu (park in the public lot at Chinatown Gateway Plaza, and have a pizza at JJ Dolans, on Bethel Street. Walk around Chinatown a bit, then head to the airport. Good luck!
posted by lex mercatoria at 6:12 PM on January 21, 2013

Near Ward Center (pretty near Ala Moana), there's the Asahi Grill, which has awesome oxtail soup. Other than that, the north shore is nice. The drive up the windward side is beautiful. Aside from shrimp trucks, keep an eye out for huli huli chicken. Giant rotisserie grills with dozens of chickens going at once. Grab some chicken, find a park overlooking the shore, grab a picnic bench and enjoy.

just be a bit cautious and careful with your car. Keep your keys on you, keep everything in the trunk. Theft from cars and outright stolen cars happens. After our rental got stolen, and all of our stuff with it, people kept telling us their run ins with theft, windows smashed, bags stolen, and so on.
posted by Ghidorah at 6:55 PM on January 21, 2013

If you go up to the North Shore, consider stopping at Laniakea Beach to see if the giant green sea turtles are hanging around, slowly munching.

Also try eating the aforementioned poke on hawaiian style potato chips (from the grocery store). NOM.
posted by tangaroo at 7:39 PM on January 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Seconding Byodo-In Temple, but all the suggestions here are great.
posted by SLC Mom at 7:50 PM on January 21, 2013

I would skip the crowds at Matsumoto's and instead try Frost City. It's right in town, near the University. I'm not a shave ice fan myself, but Frost City kicks ass.

From what I see online, Frost City is not shave ice, but rather Taiwanese style "snowflake ice," or xue hua bing, a cross between ice cream and shave ice. Served plated, with various fresh fruit garnishes.

It's probably tasty, but not exactly what I associate with Hawaii: a heaping, brightly colored cone of ice, drenched in sticky syrups.
posted by kathryn at 7:43 AM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you go to Byodo-In, make sure to bring your camera. It is gorgeous.
posted by anonnymoose at 7:47 AM on January 22, 2013

You can see a lot in 12 hours. I'd spend the day driving around the North Shore, head back to Honolulu after it gets dark for a bite on the way to the airport. And yeah, watch out for traffic.

The gardens at Waimea Valley are spectacular (even the short drive to the Visitors Center will make you feel like you've slipped out of this world into another).

Would also agree with Pali Lookout, Giovanni's and Matsumoto's.
Agnes Bakery in Kailua for malasadas over Leonard's. Irifune, Liliha Bakery, Gaku (pricier) are all good places in non-Waikiki Honolulu.
posted by lowest east side at 8:55 AM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Sushi Izakaya Gaku is awesome but tiny. Make a reservation beforehand, or risk getting turned away. Don't miss the chu toro tataki, spicy hamachi tartare, or the king crab bake.
posted by kathryn at 2:49 PM on January 23, 2013

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