A few hours on Oahu, what to do?
January 8, 2019 6:58 AM   Subscribe

In a couple weeks my wife and I are traveling to Hawaii. We will spend time on both Maui and Kauai and will have some time to kill on Oahu before our flight leaves to go back to the mainland.

We've done enough research that I think we're good on tips for Maui/Kauai (but feel free to throw something at me if there's something that can't be missed). My question is what to do with the few hours we'll be on Oahu. Our flight from Kauai lands at HNL at 1043 and our flight out is at 1826. It looks like there is an option for short term luggage storage at the airport so I'd like to explore a tiny bit instead of spending multiple hours at the airport.
posted by likeplus to Travel & Transportation (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
If you've never been before, Pearl Harbor is worth a trip.
posted by Mchelly at 7:40 AM on January 8, 2019

Maybe see if you can fit in a tour of Iolani Palace. And read about Queen Liliʻuokalani before you go! There's Julia Siler's book, Lost Kingdom, and you can also download Liliʻuokalani's own works, which are in the public domain. Make a lot of allowance for travel though. Traffic in that area can be really serious.

If it interests you that Anthony Bourdain went to a place, La Mariana is not that far from the airport and Bourdain loved it, as I recall.
posted by BibiRose at 7:48 AM on January 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

It kinda depends what kind of things you like to do and if you're getting around without a car, that will limit you. I went to those 3 islands in Sept and Oahu was by far my least favourite, but it's still definitely worth leaving the airport. Just keep in mind traffic is a LOT worse than the other two islands and also the airport did everything slowwwwly so give yourself lots of time to get back.

A few specifics:

-We went to Bishop museum on very strong internet recommendations and found it...ok, interest-wise (pretty average museum quality) but very overpriced for not much content, we really took our time reading all the plaques and saw absolutely everything including the kids section in about an hour, but tons of people love it.

-I really liked the Manoa falls hike, though I don't recall how easy it would be to get there if you aren't renting a car. Tons of people, even more than the hikes on other islands, but some parts of it had really magical scenery.

-Makapu'u lighthouse "hike" (more like a paved walk up a hill) had nice views, though nothing special compared to the other islands (meaning still gorgeous) and very easy. Also not sure if you can get there without a car.

-Diamond head hike was pretty meh, I don't regret going but wouldn't do it with my only ~6 hours there, it's so packed that literally it's like standing in a line that moves up a mountain at a slow walking pace for an hour or two, but it was kinda cool to know you're inside a crater and the view over the city is nice. Parking lot was IN.SANE. I think we waited for 20-30m to park and cars were packed so tight we didn't have the option of leaving the line. If you go, highly suggest parking outside the crater and walking.

-My favourite things on Oahu were pretty much all food: poke at ahi assassins (very difficult to find, we drove by twice, total hole in the wall on the second story with like no sign, tastes amazing, cheap, and super nice people), malasadas at leonard's bakery are an absolute must, and mochi ice cream at bubbie's. So, so, so good. Highly recommend all 3, but leonard's is #1 in my books if you have to choose.

Enjoy! It will be amazing. For the other islands, the highlights of my whole trip were sunset on haleakala in maui (we couldn't get sunrise tickets but I'm not sure it's any better, sunset was amazing) and hiking in waimea canyon in kauai (don't go off-trail, people have died). I also really liked the surfing lesson we did with the kauai surf school at poipu beach, and snorkeling was great as well, both on our own and on a boat tour.
posted by randomnity at 7:49 AM on January 8, 2019 [2 favorites]

We were there a year ago and had a really memorably fantastic lunch at the Pig and the Lady in Honolulu's chinatown. If you get great vietnamese where you live it may not be worth seeking out (they have other locations/concepts as well).

In the Ala Moana Center (and im not endorsing you visit a mall) is Uncle Clay's House of Pure Aloha, THE spot for shaved ice, IMO (well the original location is also viable, but its a bunch further from the airport).
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 7:50 AM on January 8, 2019 [3 favorites]

oh yeah, Ahi Assasins was incredible and Li Hing Mui Malasadas from Leonards were very good (i didnt love the filled ones, it tasted kind of commercial).
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 7:51 AM on January 8, 2019

I've done Oahu a couple times, and seriously one of my favourite things there are the scones from Diamondhead Market. You can walk from Waikiki beach if you're so inclined - it takes about 30 mins and you can walk along the water until Queens beach, then hang a left at the zoo. This wouldn't be my first stop if I was in full-on tourist mode, it's more a slightly-off-the-very-beaten-path thing but not too much.

I also really, really enjoy getting food from the Steak Shack (near the Fort Derussy Beach Park) and just eating it on the beach.
posted by cgg at 8:30 AM on January 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

Oahu has bus service, but that adds to the time requirements. Pearl Harbor deserves a visit; it's an important part of our history. You probably don't have time to go snorkeling at Hanauma Bay, but it's a highlight. With a short time frame, I'd consider Waikiki beach and the Royal Hawaiian hotel, because it's Old Hawaii.
posted by theora55 at 9:03 AM on January 8, 2019

On my last trip, I wish I had known about Shangri La, Doris Duke's collection of Islamic art. There's a tour at 1:30; you could grab a quick bite on your way there, go on the 2.5 hour tour (includes travel time to the estate and back), then return to the airport.
posted by topophilia at 10:14 AM on January 8, 2019

I found Pearl Harbor to be unexpectedly moving and powerful. Visiting the Royal Palace and getting a tour that covered the history of the Hawaiian Royal Family was very interesting as well.

I have a few other just sit and look at the ocean type places but if you are visiting other islands you probably will have your fill of that.
posted by mmascolino at 10:36 AM on January 8, 2019

Assuming you've already gotten your fill of fine dining, seafood, and/or plate lunches by this time, Big Kahuna's Pizza is located very close to the HNL airport and has perhaps the finest personal pan pizzas on Earth*, and definitely the best in the state. If you go, definitely get the garlic cheese balls, they are INSANE.

If you're over by Ala Moana Shopping Center anyway, Shirokiya might be a cool place to spend some time. It was more of like a traditional, Japanese-style department store when I lived there, but it looks like they recently expanded/renovated to convert it into a Japan Village Walk with Japanese-style food courts and shopping arcades. Also, Ala Moana Beach Park/Magic Island is a pretty nice beach and will give you lots of opportunities to take Diamond Head-view coastline pics without having to compete at Waikiki Beach.

*I grew up on Oahu, and I promise I wouldn't waste your time recommending a PIZZA PLACE in Hawaii of all places if this pizza weren't absolutely, positively, broke-da-whole-damn-mouth amazing.
posted by helloimjennsco at 11:07 AM on January 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

The Kahala Hilton has a nice art collection, very good food and access to a gorgeous beach. Friendly dolphins. Great for a short layover. You could probably even get a shuttle and your luggage taken care of as part of the deal.
posted by effluvia at 3:00 PM on January 8, 2019

Kailua and Lanikai beaches (next to each other) are a 40-minute drive from Honolulu and are both beautiful and pretty quiet. There's also a great hike in Lanikai called the Pillbox Hike. It's a very short but steep climb up to an amazing view.

I also loved the Hanauma Bay Ridge Climb hike. The entire thing takes a couple of hours but you don't have to walk very far at all (15 min or less?) to see a gorgeous view of Hanauma Bay.

(Note: both of these hikes, like many on Oahu, are not "official" and you have to feel comfortable ignoring the "Warning! Don't continue on this path!" signs)

I got around Oahu just fine using Uber, by the way.
posted by sunflower16 at 3:39 PM on January 8, 2019

Seconding the recommendations for La Mariana for the ambinace/drinks and The Pig and the Lady for the food. If you're going to Pearl Harbor, be sure to check that it's open if the government shutdown is still going on. It is for now, but I don't know if they can keep it up indefinitely. (Also, Shirokiya sadly is _just_ the "Village Walk" now, since the actual department store shut down.) :-(

If you like outdoor things, you might enjoy one of the short catamaran rides (we've gone with Holokai a couple of times and liked them, but there are a whole bunch of companies).
posted by LadyOscar at 4:07 PM on January 8, 2019

I'll second the Shangri La rec, it's a gorgeous place. That said, don't expect to learn anything about the actual art -- our guide was incorrect about the subject matter of a couple of the pieces, and Duke herself paid no attention to context, history, or nuance when shoving together objets from across a wide swath of the (Muslim) world.

In short, the house is staggeringly beautiful, and it's also a staggering monument to Orientalism, and well worth seeing on both fronts.

FYI, you will need to book tickets well in advance. If you can't get the tickets, the place the tour leaves from -- the Honolulu Museum of Art -- is worth your time, too.
posted by mylittlepoppet at 9:18 PM on January 8, 2019

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