Can't miss on Oahu? (Kailua, specifically)
July 21, 2014 12:43 AM   Subscribe

Flying out to Oahu, staying in Kailua tomorrow and would love absolute can't miss places in Kailua town or anywhere else on the island. Looking for great food, beautiful (not greater than "intermediate" difficulty) hikes, where to go to rent jet skis, and any other literally-we-have-to-see-this off-the-beaten-path sort of suggestions.

We're here until Sunday of this week, we have a car, I have hiking boots and jeans, but also shorts/swimming equipment, etc. Definitely going to spend some time on the beach, of course, but specific tips on where's best for nice snorkeling, jet skiing, hiking, etc., are welcome.

Willing to spend a bit of money on something if the experience is fantastic.

posted by disillusioned to Travel & Transportation around Kailua, HI (10 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I'd recommend Morning Glass for amazing pour over coffee. I stop every time I'm on the island. It's in proximity to Manoa Falls if you decide to do that hike.
posted by rdnnyc at 4:46 AM on July 21, 2014

You should do the pillbox hike. More info here.
posted by procrastination at 6:49 AM on July 21, 2014

It's about 25 minutes away from you towards Honolulu - but Fresh Catchhas amazing poke that I enjoyed a lot while I was there.

Inexpensive - but easily the best meal we had while on Oahu.
posted by Suffocating Kitty at 7:02 AM on July 21, 2014

Best answer: Reserve tickets to see Pearl Harbor ASAP. You can go online and get tickets for the 1:15 or 1:45 pm tour (150 tickets for each time slot) and they will only be available a day prior to the tour. It used to be that they would sell out weeks in advance, but they have added tour times & changed the system so this is good news.

Each day, 300 additional tickets will be available for next-day tours. Each person may reserve a maximum of six tickets per day. Valid photo identification must be presented to claim tickets.

Walk-up Tickets
The National Park Service distributes approximately 2,000 free tickets each day beginning at 7:00 a.m. (HST). These tickets are distributed on a first-come, first-served basis until they are gone.
Reservations are available everyday starting at 7:00 a.m. (HST) through or by calling 1-877-444-6777.

Also look to see if tickets are still available for Doris Duke's Sangri-La. The Punchbowl Cemetery, Iolani Palace, Bishop Museum are also popular cultural destinations.

The Polynesian Cultural Center may be interesting -- it's eight simulated tropical villages, performers demonstrate various arts and crafts from throughout Polynesia, and you can spend the day there, and end with a luau show. Many of the people you will meet there are students from the South Pacific who are there representing their home regions. The proceeds of the show goes into scholarship funding for students.

Also, you must get the Oahu Revealed guidebook. 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." They also have smartphone apps that take advantage of your phone's GPS.

TripAdvisor Driving tour #1 for Oahu: stops such as Diamond Head, Hanauma Bay (popular snorkeling spot, don't forget it's closed on Tuesdays), Halona Blowhole, Makapuu Lighthouse, Pali Lookout, and more. (Since you're starting from Kailua already, though, you'd have to use different directions than what is written though.)

Driving tour #2 (scroll down on that same page): covers Byodo-In Temple, Chinaman's Hat, Turtle Bay, Banzai Pipeline, Shark's Cove, Laniakea (Turtle) Beach, and more.

Driving tour #2 would be where you'd squeeze in a trip to the famous Matsumoto's Shave Ice and possibly some Dole Whip at the Dole Plantation (a tourist trap but a good snack/restroom break). Pro-tip: 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 ice cream on the bottom. The best places make their own syrups from fresh fruit, etc. Uncle Clay's is supposed to be one of those.

Sunset from Tantalus Drive is supposed to be amazing as well...

You may want to do a helicopter tour (though personally I'd probably leave that to another island, like Kauai).

Do not miss Lani Kai or Kailua beach, since you'll be so close by. 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. This can mean Pacific Rim/Hawaiian fusion or it can mean plate lunch or it can mean produce grown on or seafood local to Hawaii. Also Honolulu is a Japanese food heaven due to the many tourists who come from Japan, so hit up some sushi, ramen, izakaya, kaiseki, etc. if you can.

For the local food type places, always call ahead to confirm hours. Lots of plate lunch & poke places are more lunch oriented and run out of food by the end of the day. Shave ice places in general are more of a mid-afternoon treat. Also a fair number of poke places aren't open on weekends/certain days of the week.

While the Saturday AM KCC Farmers Market near Diamond Head is the most famous one, it's also very crowded. You need to get there around opening. The Thursday night Kailua farmers market one is probably closest to where you're staying; it's also quite popular I've heard so I would get there 15-20 minutes early. The Kailua Farmers Market is every Thursday from 5-7:30pm at the Kailua Town Center fronting Longs and Pier-1 Imports. Both these farmers markets are backed by the Hawaii Farmer's Bureau. I recommend Ono Pops, North Shore Farms (famous for their tomatoes and pizza), Marine Agrifuture Sea Asparagus (free samples of their sea asparagus), Grandma G’s (prepared foods), Monkeypod Jams, The Pig & the Lady, PacifiKool syrups.

There are also additional farmers markets in Kailua not backed by the farm bureau, like this one on Sundays and another one Weds/Sun. And the Kailua Whole Foods will also have a good section of "local" items.

Preorder some mochi from 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.

Tamura's Wines & Liquors has a location in Kailua as well. They usually have many, many types of poke in their poke counter: shoyu, limu, Hawaiian style, inamona, hot shoyu with sea asparagus, spicy, sunrise (spicy with avocado and furikake), ninja (spicy with sesame seeds and furikake), wasabi, house tako, tako kimchee, tako sesame, pipikaula (beef jerky), king crab poke, and more. Mind-boggling poke counter when you first see it. Fresh Catch & JJ's in Kaneohe are supposed to be excellent as well but we never made it there.

For plate lunch on that side of Oahu, try Dean's Drive In (closed Mondays) or KJ's Local Grinds (just prepared that their mac salad is a little unusual as it has tuna / spaghetti).

Here's a great Chowhound post on Where to Eat What in Honolulu by a local. I haven't eaten everywhere on that list but my top picks would be Ono Seafood (takeout lunch, closed Tuesdays), Leonard's (malasadas), House Without a Key (sunset drinks and apps, nicer), Ono Hawaiian Foods (local foods, closed Sundays), and Ramen Nakamura. Most of these are relatively inexpensive and not terribly far from Waikiki with the exception of HWAK which is pricier and in Waikiki. Helena's Hawaiian Food is supposed to really excellent but she's only open Tuesdays through Fridays, and closes on the early side. I'd also look into the Angry Korean Lady (make sure you follow the rules & bring her some beer - Google for tips ahead of time). For upscale restaurants, we loved Chef Mavro (Pacific Rim fusion), NanZan GiroGiro (kaiseki tasting/open counter/lots of fun), and Sushi Izakaya Gaku (amazing Japanese small plates). Prima in Kailua is also supposed to be excellent.

A friend of mine is from Honolulu and goes home quite often. Here's her food and photography blog. I always get great tips from her and her site.

Also if you like aloha shirts, go to Bailey's Antiques and Aloha Shirts in Honolulu. Beautiful vintage Hawaiian shirts (worth thousands of dollars), as well as reproductions of vintage designs. It's crammed with thousands of shirts. Dusty, crowded, overwhelming, fun. You may have seen this place on No Reservations.
posted by kathryn at 7:30 AM on July 21, 2014 [10 favorites]

Lucky you!

If I were in that area, I would make time to go to Lee Anne Wong's Koko Head Cafe. Wong's twitter feed is also good for activities in various parts of Oahu.
posted by BibiRose at 9:03 AM on July 21, 2014

I can't top kathryn's post for awesome things to do, but don't forget shrimp trucks if you head towards the north side of the island! The shrimp won't get any more fresh unless you're eating them straight from the net, and you can smell the garlic the second you open your car door.
posted by TungstenChef at 12:48 PM on July 21, 2014

If you have any interest at all in snorkelling you need to go to Hanauma bay. Possibly a bit obvious but the water is very clear and you don't have to be an experienced snorkeller to see lots of different fish.
posted by Laura_J at 1:55 PM on July 21, 2014

Also, if you do go to Hanauma bay go early and beat the crowds.
posted by Laura_J at 2:00 PM on July 21, 2014

If you love snorkeling, Dolphin Excursions are pretty fantastic. I had no problems booking at my local Snorkel Bob's after I arrived. The boat ride along the northwest coast of Oahu up to the snorkel site was also really breathtaking (and fun).

If you are going to be kicking around the North Shore, Waimea Valley has a lovely botanical garden with Hawaiian archaeological sites and a waterfall.

Lyon Arboretum is about half way between Honolulu and Kailua. It has breathtaking views and a combination of maintained and unmaintained trails that can take you to some very beautiful, secluded spots.
posted by jazzbaby at 2:48 PM on July 21, 2014

Different people have different views, for my wife and I we had various plans of things to do while using Kailua 'as a base' but loved the place so much we essentially ended up doing the following all the days we were there:

-wake up and head for a barefoot run to the south end of Kailua Beach, noted by Wikipedia as being 'often cited as Hawaii's best beach. It was ranked as the finest American beach in 1998 by coastal expert Dr. Stephen Leatherman, and then "retired" from subsequent consideration'

-head into to town to pick up an expensive but delightfully wholesome and delicious selection of beach snacks from the temple to ethical consumerism that is Kailua Wholefoods - fresh chili guacamole, blue corn tortilla chips, peant butter and jelly granola etc. I have never been somewhere that felt so decadent yet so healthy!

-head over the road to the ginormous Salvation Army superstore charity shop. Browse through all sorts of things that you couldn't possibly take home (dishwasher, armoire, grand piano) before settling on something more portable (our purchases included books, baseball caps, mugs and other miscellaneous crockery, 3 outfits for my wife and a child's sipper cup)

-relocate back to the beach to enjoy your beach snacks and book whilst taking in the most fantastic views of the surf and either arm of the bay each side of you

-at about dinner time take a walk up to the northern end up the beach to mingle amongst all the locals who have just come out to walk the dog or for a post prandial stroll, maybe stop to watch the kite surfers (including the guy with no bindings or foot straps!!!)

-go home and do it all again the next day

In short despite our original intentions we had a fantastic time doing very little!
posted by thetarium at 3:14 PM on July 21, 2014

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