Within the top 3 most frequent topics of direct messages that I receive, is the topic of Hawai’i. Most of the messages are either someone planning a visit to the islands and looking for my recommendations, or someone contemplating moving to the islands. Now although in the past I have written some short and simple O’ahu recommendation lists via features on outside brand websites or editorials, this is my first and only exclusive HAWAI’I TRAVEL GUIDE, which can be found – only here – on BALANCEDLIFEALOHA.com!
Q: WHICH ISLAND SHOULD I VISIT?
A: Having lived on the island of O’ahu for 11 years, the most juicy of details and thorough recommendations that I will have, are obviously for this island. I have only spent a small (in comparison to living on O’ahu) amount of time on the outer islands, so those recommendations will be fewer. Read further to learn more, so that you can perhaps make the decision regarding which island(s) is right for your visit.
Q: WHAT TIME OF YEAR SHOULD I VISIT?
A: Every season of the year has something different to offer when visiting Hawai’i. For instance, during the rainy months (Nov-March) you may witness natural waterfalls pop up while driving around the islands. Like on the East side of O’ahu through the Pali Highway, through the tunnels of the H-3, or perhaps the Likelike Highway. On the Big Island, there are certain times of the winter season where there is snow on top of the island’s high mountain volcano summits. The answer to this question, also depends on what your goals are, what kind of “vacationer” you are, and what you ultimately would like to experience. If you just want to chill out, bum in the sand and take in the Hawaiian beach scene – I would say that the spring break or summer season would be a sure bet for you since that is when it is mostly always sunny with warm waters! (Though these are also the “busier” times in terms of tourist seasons, so you’ll also have to take that in to consideration as well). Keep in mind also, that while hurricane season is technically from June-November; it peaks in August/September so you may want to think about purchasing some sort of trip insurance in case you have to cancel, etc. Basically, there is no sure-win answer as to WHEN you should plan a visit. That will always be a personal decision based on your desires.
The state of Hawai’i consists of eight main islands, but six distinct islands are open to tourists to visit. The main four being O’ahu, the Big Island, Kauai and Maui. Lana’i and Moloka’i are smaller, but still a possible option.
The main Hawaiian Islands contain about 1.2 million people, the majority of which inhabit the island of O‘ahu. Tourism is one of the major industries in the state and brings an additional 6.4 million visitors to the islands each year. The majority of these tourists come to Hawai’i because of the beaches and other ocean-related activities. Though there has been extensive anthropogenic degradation of the marine environment in the main Hawaiian Islands due to pollution, coastal development, overfishing, and military activity. (source)
O’ahu, “The Gathering Place” or “The Heart of Hawaii”
O’ahu is home to about 80 percent (876,156 residents) of the state of Hawaii’s total population. It is also where the state capital is located, in the city of Honolulu. In terms of size, O’ahu is the third largest island at 597 square miles. There are more than 125 beaches, which includes the famous Waikiki Beach and North Shore surf spots like Banzai Pipeline. O’ahu is a true mix of city/urban and country/beach – which seems to appeal to a wide audience of tourists, and perhaps also why it is deemed as, “The Gathering Place”.
O’ahu is definitely the busiest of the islands, which also results in vastly diverse cultures. You can arrange to visit places like Pearl Harbor Memorial, or the Polynesian Cultural Center to learn about ancient traditions, partake in some major world-class shopping (at the Ala Moana Shopping Center, Waikele Outlet Mall, etc.), and stop by local food trucks for gourmet grinds, or reserve a table at a high-class restaurant for some Hawaiian-style fine dining.
If you’re looking for a high-energy vacation with many different kinds of activities, O’ahu can for sure deliver on that goal. No worries though, white sand beaches and relaxing resorts tucked away from the hustle and bustle are also in abundance as well (check out my review of The Four Seasons O’ahu Resort).
Honolulu International Airport (recently named “Daniel K. Inouye International Airport“), has a wide array of flight options, making it an often starting point for island-hopping trips, too.
Maui, “The Valley Isle” or “The Famous Island”
As the second largest island (727 square miles), Maui earned its “Valley Isle” nickname because of the large isthmus that is between its northwestern and southeastern volcanoes and the many large valleys that are carved into the mountain ranges.
On Maui, you’ll find some more world-famous Hawaiian beaches featuring black, red, and white sand, the infamous “Road to Hana“, Haleakala National Park (this volcano forms more than 75% of the island of Maui). If relaxing is on your agenda, the plentiful beach resorts in Lahaina can offer that. World renowned snorkeling can be found at Ka’anapali Beach, which is home to Black Rock, boasting calm waters and frequented by wild green Hawaiian sea turtles. It was once named “America’s Best Beach”.
Flights to Maui (Kahului Airport) from the mainland are usually the second-cheapest for visiting Hawai’i (first being to O’ahu).
Kauai, “The Garden Isle”
As the oldest (geologically) island, Kauai is the fourth largest at 562 square miles. Its’ nickname stems from the fact that about 97-percent of its land consists of undeveloped mountain ranges and rainforests. Kauai is the second “wettest spot on Earth,” getting about 450 inches of rain every year.
For beach lovers, Poipu is a sunny town on the south side of the island with a population of only about 979 residents, but boasts a group of high-end hotels, resorts and one main shopping center. The beach in Poipu is also a common place to spot humpback whales during the winter season. Waimea Canyon (also known as “the Grand Canyon of the Pacific”) is on the way while driving to the infamous Na Pali Coast – a secluded state wilderness park.
Most flights hop from O’ahu to Kauai, but a few airlines fly from the West Coast in to Kauai’s Lihue Airport (although expect to pay more for direct flights).
Hawaii, “The Big Island”
The Big Island is the geographically biggest of all the Hawaiian islands (encompasses about 4,028 square miles) and still growing, thanks to the world’s most active volcano, Kilauea. Yet the island has a population of only 186,738 residents. The land areas of O’ahu, Maui, Kauai, Moloka’i, Lana’i, Niihau and Kaho’olawe could all fit into the Big Island’s land and there would still be some left uncovered!
You can literally travel through all but four of the world’s existing climate zones, on the Big Island. With everything from the tropics to the polar tundra – there are also lots of coastal scenery, coffee farms, and cattle farms, each boasting its own unique climate and industry. On the Big Island, you can spend time on black, green, and red sand beaches, as well as possibly witness flowing molten magma!
The Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park contains a Mars-like landscape along Crater Rim Drive, which passes steam vents, the Jaggar Museum/volcanology exhibits, and viewpoints overlooking Halema’uma’u Crater.
On the Hilo side of the Big Island, the Kohala Coast is perhaps the sunniest region (reportedly 355 days of sunshine per year). For the golf enthusiasts, you can find some of the most beautiful courses here too!
Due to size, there are two “main” airports on the Big Island – Kona International Airport in the west and Hilo International Airport in the east. Although, still, most flights from the mainland fly into O’ahu then take a 40-minute flight over to the Big Island.
Moloka’i, “The Friendly Island” or “The Rustic Island”
Moloka’i is the the fifth largest Hawaiian island, at about 260 square miles, and is the least “touristy”. You won’t find a building taller than a palm tree nor fast food chains. Laid-back lifestyle is the way things are on this island, and visitors commonly deem it as “the friendliest” of the Hawaiian islands.
One of the most remote visits to Hawai’i, would be to Moloka’i – which is one of the least populated islands (about 7,345 residents) with the least modern amenities. It also has some of Hawaii’s highest sea cliffs and longest continuous reef.
The history of the island of Moloka’i includes the remnants of one of history’s horrific medical sequesters. Kalaupapa, which was Hawaii’s leprosy colony, is where 8,000 people were once sent into exile over the course of a century. Reportedly, six of those sequesters still reside there, though the law that banished Hawaii’s leprosy patients was lifted in 1969.
Most of Moloka’i’s residents have indigenous heritage, which makes it one of the most traditionally Hawaiian places to visit. Though no big name resorts, this island is a place for those looking for a true break from the noise of today’s society.
There are no direct flights to Moloka’i from anywhere outside of Hawai’i, so you would have to connect from either O’ahu or Maui – to Hoolehua Molokai Airport.
Lanai, “The Pineapple Isle” or “The Rugged Island”
The smallest inhabited island in Hawai’i is Lana’i. With a population of about 3,193 residents, and an entire land area of 140 square miles, it is also privately-owned.
Most of the population lives in Lana’i City, which has a small collection of buildings in the center of the island. This is the only area of Lana’i that can be classified as a town, and there is only one school, Lana’i High and Elementary School.
According to official government visitor guides, Central Lana’i offers hikes among native ohia lehua trees, horseback riding adventures amongst lush valleys and ironwood forests, plus heritage site tours and more via UTV guides. North Lana’i has some stunning beaches and rugged nature preserves which offer a perfect mix of relaxation and adventure. South Lana’i is home to Hulopoe Bay, known for snorkeling and sunbathing, or picnics overlooking Puu Pehe (Sweetheart Rock).
Most of the island’s population descends from plantation workers (once the world’s largest pineapple plantation, the island was developed in the 1920’s by James Drummond Dole – yes, of Dole Pineapples). Today, there are two world-class resorts (favorited by celebs like Bill Gates, Will Smith, and Beyonce/Jay-Z) on Lana’i, as well as a very renowned golf scene.
Lana’i is known to be an enticing and romantic island, given the secluded resorts and protected marine reserve. There is only 30 miles of paved roads, one gas station, and a landscape that spans from desert-like to stunning coastline with break-taking views all around.
With no direct flights, you’ll have to fly in to either O’ahu or Maui, and then hop on an inner-island flight to Lana’i Airport or take a ferry from Maui.
Niihau – “The Forbidden Isle”
Niihau is the seventh largest (69.5 square miles). It’s known as the “Forbidden Island” because it’s generally off-limits to all but relatives of the island’s owners, U.S. Navy personnel and government officials. There are a few supervised activity tours and hunting safaris that opened to tourists in the late 1980’s, but for the most part, the island remains fairly isolated from the rest of civilization. (source)
Kaho’olawe – “The Target Isle”
Kaho’olawe is the smallest Hawaiian island (44.6 square miles). It became known as the “The Target Isle” after serving as a training ground for the U.S. Army during World War II. Today, the public is still prohibited from accessing the island because it is not guaranteed that it is free of unexploded bombs. (source)
- Respect the land and those who live here. Leave absolutely NO trash on the beach, nor partake in ANY kind of littering – this includes cigarette butts!
- Support the local community by choosing to eat primarily at places other than corporate chains (like McDonalds, etc.) as much as possible.
- Always tip your taxis, bartenders, servers, waitresses, bellhops, and valet!
- If you are going to bring your own sunscreen – make sure that it is reef-safe, as Hawai’i is the first state in the U.S. that has banned sunscreen containing the coral-harming chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate.
- Don’t damage coral – touching or stepping on it is harmful!
- Respect private property. Though all beaches in Hawai’i are open to the public, do not walk across someone’s private yard to reach the beach. Use public accesses.
- If you are given a lei, always accept and wear it with gratitude. Never take the lei off in the presence of the person who gave it to you – that is seen as disrespectful.
- It is unlawful to bring any fresh flowers, fruits, vegetables, etc. to Hawai’i as they could be harmful to Hawaii’s delicate ecosystem/environment. Any plants or animals brought into Hawai’i must be declared and inspected upon arrival.
- Don’t approach or harass sea turtles, monk seals, or humpback whales. They’re all endangered species and protected by law.
- Don’t honk your horn in traffic unless it is an emergency. Drive with aloha!
Poke (pronounced “POH-kay”)
Lilikoi Juice/or Fresh Lilikoi Fruit Pulp
Garlic Shrimp Plate
Hawai’i has one of the toughest laws against smoking in the United States. The “Hawai’i Smoke-Free Law” prohibits smoking in public buildings, including airports, shopping malls, grocery stores, retail shops, buses, movie theaters, banks, convention facilities, and all government buildings and facilities. There is no smoking in restaurants, bars, or nightclubs. Most B&Bs prohibit smoking indoors, and more and more hotels and resorts are becoming smoke-free even in public areas. Also, there is no smoking within 20 feet of a doorway, window, or ventilation intake (so no hanging around outside of a bar to smoke—you must go 20 ft. away). Even some beaches have no-smoking policies. (source)
Furthermore, the “Smoke-Free Ride when Keiki Inside” was an act enabled in 2018, which made it illegal to smoke or vape in any motor vehicle when a minor is present. Violators are subject to fines (fine amounts vary by county). Kauai county law only applies to youth under 13. In all other counties, smoke-free vehicle laws apply to youth under 18. (source)
A few years ago, Conde Nast Traveler hailed Honolulu as “The Next Foodie Frontier” while reporting on the upscale new wave restaurants opening up throughout the city. Today, this still couldn’t be any more true… which is also why my food recommendation list is pretty extensive (and honestly, most important – in my opinion).
“First Fridays” has been an interactive social experience happening in Chinatown for over 15 years now. Of course during my college years, this was the place to be on any first Friday NIGHT of a month (ESPECIALLY on Halloween); but I have come to find that there are also family-friendly parts to be enjoyed before the sun sets. During First Fridays, streets are all closed off to vehicle traffic, and food vendors/restaurants come to life in a celebratory scene spilling on to the streets and sidewalks.
Honolulu Chinatown is also where “The Arts District” is found (Fort Street Mall to Maunakea Street + King Street to Beretania Street), the iconic Hawai’i Theatre, traditional lei shops, Chinese herbalists, fruit and vegetable booths, meat markets, and a plethora of locally owned restaurants.
–Brick Fire Tavern (Pizza Napoletana, Bar)
–J. Dolan’s (Handcrafted Pizza, Hand-poured Drinks)
–The Pig and The Lady (Vietnamese, Pho)
–Ethopian Love (Ethiopian)
–Yakitori Hachibei (Japanese, Skewers)
DOWNTOWN HONOLULU + AREA:
The downtown scene is a little bit perplexing. I used to work in a high-rise business building during my legal career in my early 20’s – the norm is for businessmen and businesswomen to walk to lunch during the weekday work hours. Small little shops on the street level of these high-rises are busy-as-can-be during these rush hour times. However, after about 5p.m. or so on weekdays, most tend to close, and during the weekend it can sometimes feel like a ghost town. That is however, aside from the spots that are ONLY open for the dinner hours (many on the list below). It’s confusing, I know, but if you find yourself in the area during any of their open business hours, I have a few recommendations:
–Aloha Beer Company (Beer, Small Plates, Charcuterie, Sandwiches)
–Café Duck Butt (Karaoke Bar, Korean food, 21+)
–Restaurant Senia (Gastronomic Experience, Pork Belly, Short Ribs, Charred Cabbage)
–The Rice Place (Boat Noodles, Musubi, Sandwiches, “Winner Winner Chicken Dinner”, Kalbi)
–Kabuki Kapiolani Restaurant (Bento Lunch Plates, Ramen, Sushi, Natto Donburi Poke Bowl, Mochi Ice Cream)
–Egghead Cafe (Breakfast/Lunch, Espresso, Shrimp Omelette, Pork Belly Eggs Benedict)
–Yelllow Cab Pizza Hawaii (Pizza, Pasta, Pizza Rolls, Appetizers, Gelato)
–Taste Tea (Bubble Tea/Boba, Nutella Brick Toast)
–Bread & Butter (Mac Nut Latte, Bottomless Brunch Sat-Sun, Charcurterie)
–Thai Issan Cuisin (Curry, Thai, Noodles)
–Pokeway (Poke Bowls)
–Kamehemeha Bakery Inc. (Poi Glazed Donuts)
KAKA’AKO AREA + “SALT”:
Kakaako is an up-and-coming urban neighborhood community transforming from a warehouse filled commercial hub to a residential metropolis filled with a wide range of restaurants, shops, street art, markets, and boutiques. “SALT” is a city block-long center filled with restaurants and retail space. Here are my recommendations for restaurants:
–Arvo Café *THIS LOCATION CLOSED BUT FOLLOW-UP TO SEE WHERE THEY RE-LOCATE TO* (Avocado Toast, Coffee, Matcha Chia Pudding, Fresh Orange Juice, Strawberry Guava Tea)
–Moku Kitchen (Pizza, Burgers, Fries, Sandwiches)
–Mr Tea Café (Bubble Tea)
–Juicd Life (Pressed Juice, Acai Bowls, Salads)
–ICE HNL (Hand-Crafted Drinks, Teas)
–9BAR HNL (Bake Shop, Coffee, Brunch, Aloha Bowl)
–Up Roll Café (Sushi Burritos, Bowls)
–Karen’s Kitchen (Cash only, Local Style Breakfast/Lunch Plates, Tripe Stew, Baked Spaghetti, Lau Lau, Prime Rib, Sweet Bread French Toast, Carrot Cake, Mochiko Chicken, Stuffed Cabbage, Loco Moco, Sweet-Sour Pork)
–La Cucina Ristorante Italiano (Classic Italian, Crostini Al Porcini, Crème Brulee Cheesecake, Bone Marrow, Fettuccine Scampi)
–This Is It Bakery & Deli (Breakfast, Pastrami Sandwich, Bagels)
–Insomnia (Vietnamese, Sauteed Chicken, Breakfast Sandwiches, Pineapple Thai Iced Tea, Plate Lunches)
–Real a Gastropub (Beer, Appetizers)
–Chef Chai ($$$$, Contemporary, Prefix Dinners, Fish)
WARD CENTER + AREA:
–Paina Café (Poke Bowls)
–Piggy Smalls (Pork Belly Sandwich, Pho, Fried Chicken)
–Goma Tei Ramen (Ramen, Japanese)
–Kakaako Kitchen (Short Ribs, Plate lunches, Ahi Sandwich)
–Tango Contemporary Café (Brunch, Fried Rice, Burgers, Crab Hash, Pancakes)
–Scratch Hawaii (Rustic, Seasonal Menu)
–El Chamo (Venezuelan Food Truck, Arepas!!)
–Nobu Honolulu ($$$$, Sushi, Japanese)
ALA MOANA CENTER + AREA:
–Blue Water Shrimp (@Ala Moana Mall -Makai Market Food Court, Poke, Garlic Shrimp)
–Choi’s Garden (@Near Walmart, Korean, Short Rib, BBQ Pork, Contemporary Soups, Stews, Grill-Your-Own BBQ)
–HI Steaks (@Foodland Farms, Steak/Shrimp Plate w/ Garlic-Butter)
–Mariposa (@Neiman Marcus, Lobster Sandwich, Pork Belly, Scallops)
–Goofy Café & Dine (@Between The Modern Hotel and Hilton Hawaiian Resort, Breakfast, Loco Moco, Acai Bowl, Pork Belly Eggs Benedict, Local Cuisine)
–Hawaiian Sweet Potato Factory (Locally-Grown Sweet Potato Foods, Aloha Pie!)
–The Brilliant Ox (Gastropub, BONEMARROW!, Okonomiyaki Fries!)
–Friend Café (Lychee Tea, Bubble Teas, Boba, Crepe Cakes)
–Forty Carrots (@Bloomingdales, Lobster Loco Moco, Frozen Yogurt, Lunch)
–Shirokiya Japan Village Walk (@Floor Level Ala Moana Mall, 48 Vendors, Ramen, Bars, +)
–Katsu-Midori Sushi ($$$$, Prince Waikiki Hotel)
NIMITZ HIGHWAY + AREA:
–Nico’s Pier 38 (Local Seafood, Happy Hour, Ahi Sandwich, Fresh Ahi, Guava-Smoked Pork Belly, Kalbi)
–Liliha Bakery (FAMOUS COCO PUFFS!!!!!)
–Chef’s Ramen (Poke Bowls, Mochiko Chicken, Japanese, Ramen, Noodles)
–Joe’s Grill Express (@Near HNL Airport, Plate Lunch, Loco Moco, Nachos, Shortrib, French Toast)
–Restaurant 604 (Waterfront, American, Hawaiian, Full Bar, Live Music, Happy Hour, Sriracha Shrimp, Nachos, Poke Bowl, Loco Moco)
–The Lanai @ Mamala Bay (@Pearl Harbor/Hickam Air Force Base *Must Have Military Access*, Ocean-Front, Lunch Buffets, Fresh Fish, BBQ Chicken)
MCCULLY STREET + AREA:
–Pint & Jigger (Eclectic Gastropub, Bar Food, Beer Garden, 20+ Craft Brews On Tap, Burgers, Scotch Egg, Sandwiches)
–The Social Honolulu (Sports Bar, Happy Hour, Kimchi Fried Rice, Dynamite Chicken, Kalbi Fries, Honey Walnut Shrimp)
–Inaba (Japanese, Soboro Don, Mentaiko Don Buri Bowl)
–Izakaya Torae Torae (Japanese, Late Night Happy Hour, Sushi, Spicy Tuna Tartare)
–Hideout (@The Laylow Hotel, Bar, Lilikoi Mojito, Pork Belly Bowl)
–Waikiki Yokocho Gourmet Alley (@Waikiki Shopping Plaza, Ramen, Sushi, Musubis, Bars)
–Mahina & Sun’s (@The Surfjack Hotel, Happy Hour, Ahi, Beignets, Burgers, Fried Rice, Bar)
–Eggs’n Things (Macadamia Nut Pancakes, Omelets, Crepes)
–Illupino Trattoria & Wine Bar (@Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center, Outdoor Patio, Traditional Italian, Wine, Eggs Benedict, Lobster Risotto, Breakfast, Caprese Salad, Lobster Ravioli)
–Kulu Kulu (@Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center – Food Court, Japanese Cakes, Desserts, Kona Coffee Soft Serve Ice Cream, Hibiscus Jelly Lemonade!!)
–Bills Hawaii (Ricotta Pancakes w/Banana Honey Butter)
–Eating House 1849 (@International Marketplace, Appetizers, Poke, Burgers)
–Royal Hawaiian Bakery (@The Royal Hawaiian Hotel, Pineapple Scone!, Banana Bread, Pastries, Coffee, Fresh Orange Juice)
–Tucker & Bevy (Acai, Sandwiches, Juices, Picnic Food)
–Dean & Deluca (@The Ritz-Carlton, Sandwiches, Coffee, Charcuterie, Wine Bar)
–Pineapple County (@Lewers St. – Inside Pineapple County Store, Gelato, Pineapple Shaped Ice Cream Cookie)
–Aloha Kitchen (Breakfast, Lunch, Soufflé Pancakes)
–Marukame Udon (Udon, Noodles, Curry, Niku)
–Hawaiian Aroma Caffe (@Beachcomber Hotel, Breakfast, Coffee, Acai Bowls)
–Matcha Stand Maiko (Matcha Soft Serve, Desserts, Shaved Ice)
–Tommy Bahama Restaurant (Crab Bisque, Ahi Tacos, Salads, Burgers)
–The Street HNL (@International Marketplace – Street Food Hall by Chef Michael Mina, Different Food Vendors)
–Heavenly Island Cafe (@Shoreline Hotel – Seaside Ave., Tomato Avocado Eggs Benedict, Loco Moco, Local and Organic Food)
–Coffee Shop 831 (@Pearl Hotel, Organic Hawaiian Coffee, Tea, Sandwiches)
–Strip Steak ($$$$, Steakhouse)
KAPAHULU/DIAMOND HEAD/KAHALA + AREA:
–Uncle Bo’s Pupu Bar & Grill (Dynamite Shrimp!!)
–Diamond Head Market & Grill (Window Serve, Grilled Ahi, Char Sui Chicken, Plate Lunches, Loco Moco, Scones, Cakes)
–ARS Café (Avocado Toast, Boba Teas, Cold Brew Colombian Coffee, Gelato, Eggs Benedict)
–Wailoa Shave Ice (Famous Shave Ice)
–Donut King (Handmade Donuts)
–Pioneer Saloon Plate Lunch (@Monserrat, Poke, Seafood)
–Ono Seafood Hawaiian Foods (Poke!!, Lau Lau)
–Kono’s Restaurant (Breakfast Burritos, Sandwiches, Plate Lunches, Slow-Roasted Kalua Pig)
–Leonard’s Bakery (Famous Malasadas/Donuts)
–Rainbow Drive-In (Famous Loco Moco)
–Arancino at The Kahala ($$$$, Italian, Fixed Price Dinners)
–Side Street Inn ($$$$, Roast Pork, Calamari, Kalbi, Steak, Seafood)
WAILAE/MANOA + AREA:
–12th Ave Grill (Ahi Bruschetta, Steak, Dessert)
–Teapresso Bar (Boba, Bubble Tea)
–Chocolate & Vanilla Bakery (Strawberry-Guava Bread Pudding, Flaky Puffs)
–Dagon Burmese Cuisine (Calamari, Fried Rice, Vegan Options)
–Banan Hawaii (@Across from University of Hawaii, Banana/Dairy-Free Soft-Serve, Papaya Bowls)
–Uncle Clay’s House of Pure Aloha (Shave Ice!)
–The Counter Kahala (Gourmet Burgers, Vegan Options)
–The Olive Tree Cafe (Cash Only, Authentic Greek, Hummus!!)
HAWAII KAI/KOKO MARINA CENTER:
–BYO Bowls (Customizable Bowls)
–Sophie’s Gourmet Hawaiian Pizzeria (Artisan, Thin Crust, Customizable Pizza)
–Kokonuts Shave Ice & Snacks (Boba, Shave Ice, Acaibowl w/Toasted Coconut Topping!)
–Island Brew Coffeehouse (Waterfront, Avocado Toast, Garlic Butter Spicy Aioli Gluten-free Bread!, Cold Brew, Hawaiian Coffee)
–Kona Brewing Co. (Marinafront, Pepperoni Pizza Rolls!, Bar/Local Beers)
–Boots & Kimo’s (American-Hawaiian Breakfast, Mac Nut Pancakes!!!)
–Makai Bowls (Food Truck, Acai Bowls)
–Lemongrass Kailua (Vietnamese, Thai, BANH MI!, Tom Yum Soup! Pho, Vegetarian Options, Fresh Baked Desserts)
–Over Easy (Breakfast, Lunch, Scrambled Avocado Toast, Loco Moco)
–Tokoname (Dinner, Sushi)
–Cinnamon’s Restaurant (Breakfast, Red Velvet Pancakes!, Cinnamon Buns, Fried Rice)
–Boston’s North End Pizza (PIZZA!)
–‘Ai Love Nalo (@Waimanalo, Buddha Bowls, Vegan Options, Smoothies, Kombucha)
–Local Boy Sushi (Sushi, Poke Bowls)
–Kahuku Farm Café (Passion Fruit Mochi, Grilled Banana Bread, Paninis, Pizza, Iced Tea, Homemade Ice Cream)
–Kahuku Superette (Fresh POKE!!)
–Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck (@Haleiwa, Food Truck, Lemon Garlic Shrimp Plate)
–The Sunrise Shack (Pitaya Bowl, Papaya Bowl, Organic Bullet Coffee, Fresh Coconuts)
–Dat Cajun Guy (@Haleiwa, Cajun-Creole, Burgers, Shrimp, Fried Oysters, Banana Pudding, Pulled Pork Po’boys)
–Hukilau Marketplace (@Polynesian Cultural Center, Food Trucks/Vendors)
–Sandy’s Sandwiches Food Truck (Organic Sandwiches/Salads, Shoyu-Ginger Chicken Salad)
–Waialuas Lunch Wagon (@Waialua Distric Park Intersection Area, Open Weekends, Local-Caught Fresh Poke, Salad Plates)
–Wow Wow Hawaiian Lemonade (Local Handmade Lemonade, Acai Bowls, LILIKOI LEMONADE!)
–Surfers Coffee Bar (Non-Profit, Coffee, Tea)
–Maui Mike’s Fire-Roasted Chicken (Whole Chicken, Homemade Sauces, Sweet Potato Fries!!)
–Tamura’s Market (Fresh Poke Bowls, Soft-Serve)
KAPOLEI + KO’OLINA:
–Hot Pot Heaven (Hot Pot, THAI BROTH!)
–Kalapawai Cafe & Market (Outdoor Seating, Bar, Shrimp Banh Mi, Steak, Baked Treats)
–Tasty Shack (Steak Banh Mi!, Pho, Noodles, Spring Rolls, Thai Tea)
–Mina’s Fish House (@Four Seasons Resort O’ahu, $$$$, Oceanview, Seafood Tower, Ahi Tartare)
–Kickin’ Kajun ($$$$, Seafood)
–Taniokas (Poke Bowls, Mochiko Chicken, Assorted Musubis)
–Leeward Drive Inn (Fried Noodles, BBQ Chicken)
–Dia De Los Tacos 808 (Food Truck, Mexican Food)
–Honolulu Kitchen (Deep-Fried Manapuas, Chinese Food, Fried Rice, Plate Lunch)
–Tiano’s Restaurant (American-Filipino, Steak, Pork, Crab-Stuffed Salmon, Calamari, Pork Adobo Fried Rice)
–Boba Cafe (Boba, Teas, Smoothies)
–Ono Thai (Shrimp Fried Rice, Crispy Spring Rolls!)
–Izakaya Kei Sushi, Garlic Steak, Desserts, Green Tea Ice Cream)
–Pieology (Customizable Pizza, Gluten-Free Options)
Where: Several Locations Across O’ahu
My Go-To: Hana Hou – a green juice packed with of local greens, kale, green apple, cucumber, celery, and lemon
–Nalu Health Bar
Where: Kailua & Ward Locations
My Go-To: Detoxifier – fresh juice made with beets, carrot, apple, celery, and ginger
Where: Kailua, Kaimuki, Aina Haina Locations
My Go-To: AC/DC Kombucha Cocktail – kombucha, apple cider vinegar, ginger, mint, and honey on ice
–Down to Earth
Where: Several Locations Across O’ahu
My Go-To: Salad Bar, Okinawa Sweet Potato Salad, Homemade Dressings, Coleslaw, Vegan Rice Noodle Wraps
Where: North Shore and Waikiki
My Go-To: Papaya Bowl, Fresh Coconut Water
–Tucker and Bevy
My Go-To: Gluten-Free Chips & Hummus, Green Bowl, Noodle Bowl, Cold-Pressed Juices
–Heavenly Island Cafe
My Go-To: Local Eggs Benedict, Acai Bowl
Where: Ala Moana
My Go-To: The Hot Bar, Coconut Curry, Poke Bowls
–Sandy’s Sandwiches Food Truck
Where: North Shore
My Go-To: Ginger Chicken Salad
–Hawaii Children’s Discovery Center
–Disney Aulani Resort (Character Breakfast!)
–Polynesian Cultural Center
–Dole Plantation (Pineapple Express Train Tour Ride)
–Sea Life Park
WAIKIKI HAPPY HOUR/DRINKS:
–Rum Fire (Oceanfront)
–Mai Tai Bar
–Duke’s Waikiki (Beachfront)
–Lulu’s Waikiki (View of Waikiki Beach)
–Maui Brewing Co.
–Waikiki Beach Walk
–Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center
–International Market Place
–Ala Moana Center
–Waikele Premium Outlets
–Ka Makana Ali’i
–Koko Marina Center
ADVENTURES + MORE:
Helicopter Ride – Nothing compares to seeing the depths of the island from the air! Helicopter tours fly over hidden waterfalls, historic craters, Honolulu, and some of the world’s best beaches. Paradise Helicopters & Blue Hawaiian Helicopters are well-known tour companies around the islands.
Museums + Art – The Bishop Museum is the Hawaiʻi State Museum of Natural and Cultural History. The Honolulu Museum of Art is the largest in the state and absolutely stunning! The Shangri La Museum of Islamic Art, Culture, & Design is a breath-taking mansion built by heiress Doris Duke near Diamond Head just outside of Honolulu. It is now owned and operated by the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art (guided tours depart from the Honolulu Museum of Art).
Botanical Gardens – Foster Botanical Garden (14-acres) is located in the center of Honolulu city and is the oldest of the Honolulu Botanical Gardens; it displays a mature and impressive collection of tropical plants, some of which were planted in the 1850’s! The famous “Hitachi Tree‘ is located in the Moanalua Gardens – and is a monkeypod tree about 130 years old that tourists flock to visit. The Lyon Arboretum is a 200-acre arboretum and botanical garden managed by the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa located at the upper end of Mānoa Valley (near the entrance to the Manoa Falls hike). The Kaneohe-based Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden Visitor Center is becoming a mecca for Instagrammers wanting to snap a shot in front of the Ko’olau Mountain Range at the entrance. In the North Shore/Waimea Valley, the Waimea Falls Park & Botanical Gardens is an area of historic cultural significance and a one mile stroll up through lush botanical gardens that lead up to the waterfall.
Kayak – Paddle to Na Mokulua or commonly known as “The Mokes”. Just make sure to check the water conditions prior to committing to this adventure! On a clear and calm day it makes for a beautiful and fun experience. *TIP: Head out early to avoid the afternoon rush if you book with Kailua Beach Adventures .
Hikes – Koko Head Stairs for a good work out, Diamond Head for a more relaxed beginners hike, Manoa Falls, which can be crowded at times, is a medium difficulty hike that leads to a waterfall, and hiking to Lanikai Pillbox hike offers a stunning view of the Eastside (and SO beautiful at sunrise!)
Snorkel – Hanauma Bay is very popular amongst visitors because you can rent snorkel gear right there on the beach! Closed on Tuesdays, and parking fills up fast, so again – PLAN AHEAD!
Waikiki Beach – More crowded, but calm waters and famous for gorgeous sunsets!
He’eia Fishpond Tour – Paepae o He’eia is a private non-profit organization dedicated to caring for He‘eia Fishpond – an ancient Hawaiian fishpond located in He’eia Uli, Ko’olaupoko.
Moku O Loe Island “Gilligan’s Island” – Also called Coconut Island, this island’s iconic 29-acre palm respite, made famous by the tv show “Gilligan’s Island,” now supports world-class marine laboratories that you can visit. Tours fill up fast though so book in advance!
Shark Diving Tour – Hawaii Adventure Diving offers group and private charters, adventures to swim with sharks, snorkel, whale/turtle/dolphin watch – out of the North Shore.
North Shore – Drive up North to one-of-a-kind country views, relaxing, surfing (not for beginners though), historically big waves & professional competitions, roadside fresh coconuts & acai bowls, and tons more ONO food to try!
Jurassic Park + Zip Line + Horseback + UTV + Secret Island – Kualoa Private Nature Reserve requires advanced reservations for tours (like 2-3 weeks prior) – Secret Island Beach is an ideal place to relax and spend the day with lots of water sports equipment to use at your leisure. Kualoa Ranch offers all kinds of guided adventures. Keana Farms is another location and has the longest ziplines on O’ahu. On another side of the island, Coral Crater Adventure Park offers ATV, Climbing, Zipline, and Horseback riding too. Turtle Bay Resort also offers horseback riding tours + more.
Indoor Rock-Climbing – Volcanic Rock Gym is located on the east side of O’ahu in Kailua.
HOTELS + RESORTS:
–Marriott’s Ko Olina Beach Club
–Alohilani Resort (Waikiki)
–Four Seasons Resort Oahu at Ko Olina
–Disney Aulani Resort (Ko Olina)
–Turtle Bay Resort (North Shore)
–Hilton Hawaiian Village (Waikiki)
–Prince Waikiki (Between Waikiki & Ala Moana/Honolulu)
–Moana Surfrider (Waikiki)
–The Kahala Hotel & Resort (Kahala/Diamond Head Area)
–Outrigger Reef Waikiki Beach Resort (Waikiki)
–Hale Koa Hotel (*Military Only* – Waikiki)
–The Modern Honolulu (Between Waikiki & Ala Moana/Honolulu)
–Sheraton Waikiki (Waikiki)
–Royal Hawaiian Hotel (Waikiki)
–The Laylow, Autograph Collection (Waikiki)
–Shoreline Hotel Waikiki (Waikiki)
HAWAII – BIG ISLAND//
(Lava Rock Tide Pools – *do not go during rough ocean conditions!)
(Counter-Serve/Patio, Cash Only, Breakfast)
(Lunch, Dinner, Tomahawk Wagyu Steak, Lobster Tail)
–Road to Hana
(Mile Marker 32, 2 miles outside of Hana Town, a sign directs you toward the coast onto Honokalani Road for about a quarter mile under large canopies of trees, sizable park, freshwater caves near the parking lot along a path that takes you down and up a short stairway)
I hope that you enjoy your trip, and encounter nothing but the aloha spirit during your stay on the islands!
Thanks for reading,
*Disclaimer: Make sure to pay attention to any and all warnings and restrictions when partaking in activities, like the ones mentioned in this article. Follow officials instructions, do not swim where prohibited or in red flag/ rough ocean conditions and always take precautions and be aware of surroundings. This article shares personal favorites and is not liable for any possible damages due to mishaps. Also keep in mind that restaurants/businesses sometimes go out of business, so plan and check for updated local info ahead of using any of the listed parts as part of your schedule.