2019 marks a significant year for my family. Jennifer and I celebrated 25 years of marriage, our daughter turned 16, and we recently moved our son to attend university. To add some icing to this cake of big events, we decided for the whole family to take a trip to Hawai’i. I am so glad we did. What an amazing time of making wonderful memories!
Why Oahu? I am familiar with this island. Many years ago, I was able to take a trip there to visit my sister who was living there at the time. Of all the places I have journeyed around the globe, my mind will often float back to one of the most beautiful places I have ever experienced, and I will share more about that spot here in just a moment. I also like that this island is easy to navigate, with a mix of downtown vibe, to a feeling of being on your very own beach or trail. Here is a quick list of the top tips for a vacation in Oahu.
I like the East Shore (Windward)
First tip, focus on the East Side of Oahu. No doubt the entire Island is beautiful, it’s Hawai’i for goodness sake, but this side is over the top. When you drive from Honolulu to the east side on the H3, you will drive through the Tetsuo Harano tunnel. When you pop out on that side of the island, I guarantee every time you will audibly say, “wow!”
Years ago, I experienced one of the most incredible places I had ever seen, the East Shore, near Bellows Field Beach – and it is still the same! You will find beaches like Lanikai, Kailua, Waimanalo, and Makapu’u, and they are absolutely stunning. There is a mix of crystal clear water, white powdery sand, black lava rock, and lush green mountains. One beach park is fondly named Sherwood forest and it truly has beautiful trees nestled near a white sandy paradise. This side of the island is home to the old 80’s Magnum P.I. series “Robbin’s Nest” and we drove past this spot many times while exploring. There are great hikes like the Makapu’u lighthouse trail, and other pillbox hikes. Talk about first gear recharge time!
Live like the locals
The second tip I would give is, stay and live with the local community. There are many ways to find places to rent – pick your favorite and go for it. We found a delightful upstairs apartment in the east side town of Kailua. The couple we rented from had an awesome upstairs studio apartment that would sleep us all comfortably and had a great kitchen. Our host was so kind and had ample gear for just about anything we wanted to do: snorkel gear, boogie and paddle boards, beach towels, umbrellas and more.
Kailua was quaint, with local flair, like a weekly food market with fresh food and hot food vendors, live bands and art. But the town also had tons of familiar spots: Starbucks, Target, Whole Foods and the like. This made it easy to pick up fresh milk, bread, eggs and fruit for the apartment. We enjoyed our pad’s kitchen for quick breakfasts as we began our daily tour, and then the grill for dinner and oven fresh cookies at night. Our host had a variety of Hawaiian treats like pineapple, macadamia nuts, and coconut cookies.
Another we way we worked to experience the community was to go to church on Sunday. We went to church at Kailua Baptist Church. It was such a good time! The fellowship was sweet and we made some quick friends for sure – and even experienced the Lord’s Supper together. In the town of Kailua, the “Aloha” lifestyle is real and I would definitely return to this spot to have as our home-base in Oahu for sure!
Pearl Harbor/Downtown/Aloha Bowl
Third tip, make a loop in the downtown area. Any trip to Oahu must include a visit to the historic location of Pearl Harbor. They do a masterful job of having static displays, murals and other guides to help you understand what you are looking at in the bay. There is also a very well done movie about the day of the attack, the bravery of the men and women of the armed forces, and the consequences for all from that day. During our visit, the actual USS Arizona Memorial was closed for repairs and it had been closed for some time. Regardless, we had a very meaningful ride in a navy vessel out and back along ship row.
Downtown Honolulu is like visiting any large metropolitan city, mass transit, high end shops and malls, restaurants and the like. The only difference is no other city also has its own beach like this, Waikiki. There was a very convenient mall, the International Market Place, where we were able to park our rental car. This mall is centrally located and convenient for seeing any of the sites of Honolulu. Quite frankly, Downtown/Waikiki isn’t really our favorite thing to do – but it is a site to not miss for sure, with incredible views of the Royal Hawaiian and Diamond Head. There is supposed to be a free fireworks display on Friday nights on Waikiki Beach, but on our night out it fizzled somehow – but hey, the views were still great and we found a great spot for dinner.
A bonus for my bargain shopping family is a quick trip to the Aloha Bowl Flea Market. Open a couple of days each week, vendors set up their goods around the perimeter of the bowl – everything from inexpensive t-shirts, souvenirs, and hats to more expensive items like jewelry and handcrafts. The kids enjoyed it, so much that we had to make a return visit later during our stay in Hawaii. There are snacks and treats as well to enjoy.
Diamond Head/Hanauma Bay
Fourth travel tip to Oahu, check out more iconic spots to visit: Diamond Head State Park and Hanauma Bay. The hike up Diamond Head is not hard, but it is also a bit of a climb, especially the “stairway.” The payoff is the view. Not only is the crater itself beautiful, but the view from the top across the sprawling downtown area is incredible!
For the visit to Diamond Head and Hanauma Bay arriving early is the key. Parking is limited at both locations, and both will have big crowds. We decided early in our trip to not vary greatly from our home time, which meant getting up early and hitting the road for the day would not be too painful.
Hanauma Bay State Park is a beautiful location for snorkeling in a natural reef among brightly colored sea-life. As we were continuing our quest of getting up early and hitting the road, we arrived at Hanauma Bay early enough to be allowed in by the staff before being charged for our visit. There is a visitor center, restrooms and snack shacks. For us, this was a quick visit in the early morning with other things planned for that day.
North Shore/Dole Plantation
One final tip is to explore the entire Island. There is so much we were simply not able to do – waterfall hikes, museums, other beaches, boat or helicopter excursions. But, we did trek across and around the island. One way to tag the good stuff in the island is to experience the goodness of a “Dole-whip!” The historic Dole Pineapple Plantation is a neat spot, centered on the Island. It would be easy to tag this on the way to say North Shore or Turtle Bay.
Speaking of the North Shore, the town of Haleiwa is a cool surfboarding town with lots of hip stores, board shops, and great restaurants. We spent the greater part of a day strolling the streets, checking out the local beaches, and having some great food at Teddy’s Bigger Burgers and Matsumoto Shave Ice.
We also had an incredible sunset Luau on the West Shore at Paradise Cove. The food was very good (buffet) and the entertainment from the time the gates opened throughout was exceptional. The sunset views on this side were definitely worth the drive across the island!
And a final word about Paradise
Many of our friends and family commented as we prepared for our trip, “Have fun in paradise!” No doubt this place is incredible. But here is what we also experienced (reality check) – disappointment. We did not always get along, sometimes we were grumpy, the food or idea/location we selected was bad, there was traffic, and as always jet lag stinks. Even worse we saw the pain of this old world, from homelessness to the lack of care for God’s creation.
So in this paradise setting, I found my heart longing for the new life to come – a place not marked or marred by man’s choice to do their own thing apart from God. Jesus said to the dying but believing man beside Him on the cross, “Today, you will be with me in Paradise.” Folks, this place is at the top of my list on the planet – and there are greater things in store for those in Christ Jesus. Confess Him as Lord of your life.