Hawaii – Oahu | Travel Guide, Tips and Itinerary

Last updated on 08-Mar-2022

Aloha, everyone! This time I’m writing about our first visit to Hawaii – the picture above is from the arrivals area at the Honolulu airport, a lovely way to feel welcomed and start getting into the Aloha lifestyle! 🙂

But first, a small disclosure about my hubby and I. We prefer to say we are “spontaneous” and “value-oriented” regarding our vacation planning, but some people may say we are “procrastinators” and “last-minute-bargain-hunters”. LOL! Whatever you want to call it, we are usually very flexible with our travel dates and destinations, and try to find a combination of reasonable cost and interesting location each time.

Now back to the post subject. While looking for some options for a vacation to take advantage of the Canadian Thanksgiving holiday (early October), we noticed some low prices on flights to Honolulu, in the island of Oahu. It seemed “the stars were aligning” for this: some friends who also live in Toronto had visited Oahu not long before and had encouraged us to go. I also have a friend and blogger (thank you for everything, Lucia Malla! We loved seeing you guys!) who has been living in Honolulu for a number of years, and when I told her we were thinking of spending some time there, she mentioned that October is “low season” in Hawaii, and usually a great time to visit, as prices are lower and crowds smaller. That sounded great, so we bought the tickets and started packing/planning!

I read through many of Lucia’s blog posts and showered her (and others familiar with the islands) with questions to get tips/suggestions/recommendations and started planning an itinerary with some ideas on what to see and do. We only had 10 days there, and we always try to slot some relaxing “do nothing” time too, so we decided to stick to one island (Oahu) and maybe visit the other islands on future trips. Here are some of the highlights.

  • We found our accommodations on AirBnB and got a studio (bedroom with private bathroom and small kitchen) with a balcony to sit and relax or eat breakfast. We bought beverages and breakfast items, and ate at the studio most mornings, so we could get ready and out the door faster and go straight to the beach or to explore the island. We did enjoy a few breakfasts out to try some local options as well.
  • People say Hawaii is an expensive destination, and while I agree it can easily be that way, a bit of research and flexibility could help a lot. For food choices, for example, depending on your accommodation having a kitchen or not, a trip to the grocery store can save you a bundle and allows for more control over what you are eating on your vacation. You can also save by having a small cooler, then grabbing something suitable on the way to the beach and having a picnic lunch there instead of eating at the restaurants nearby, which can be heavy on the wallet. I’m not saying you shouldn’t eat out, and for us, enjoying the local food is a very important part of experiencing any destination. But to enjoy the local flavours, you usually don’t have to go fancy all the time (check out these cheap eats). There are plenty of more affordable options the “locals” regularly enjoy, and if they live there, they should know, right?
  • Food recommendations:
    • Make sure you try the fluffy banana & macadamia pancakes with coconut syrup (many flavours available at breakfast places – pineapple, guava, lilikoi/passion fruit, etc – but this combination was our favourite!);
    • Brave the long line-up at the Waikiki location and get the fresh-made udon at Marukame ($5 and REALLY good!) – there’s another location downtown Honolulu which is much less crowded;
    • The Musubi Cafe Iyasume is small and busy, but worth a visit for musubi/onigiri at about $2 each – get a few and have them at the beach in Waikiki – I swear they taste better when looking at the beautiful ocean;
    • And POKE, so delicious and typically Hawaiian!  We had poke at restaurants, cafes and even grocery stores, and they were always outstanding! Special mention to Pa’Ina Cafe and the poke counter at Foodland grocery stores, where you can get several kinds of poke by the weight in to-go containers.
    • Find a traditional Hawaiian Restaurant (like the Highway Inn) and try the local specialties – I had the Lau Lau Chicken Combo!
    • Also, try the Mauna Loa macadamias (other brands available too) in different flavours (sweet and savoury) and take some tins back home for you or to give as gifts, if you can resist them! Our favourite flavours were Kona Coffee Glaze and Butter Candy Glaze.
  • We stayed right in Waikiki, the most “touristy” destination in Honolulu. Finding parking in this neighbourhood is very difficult and expensive, and it’s always busy and crowded, so we did not rent a car for the whole stay and we were glad to be able to walk to all sorts of amenities (restaurants, bars, cafes, ABC convenience stores EVERYWHERE, grocery stores, shopping centres, etc.) and to the very nice Waikiki beach! The Honolulu Zoo, the Waikiki Aquarium, and Diamond Head are also nearby.
  • Waikiki beach is a must-visit! It’s very “urban” and yet very beautiful, with a nice stretch of sand and calm shallow areas where you can snorkel or just float around. Going in a bit deeper, past the rock barrier, you get soft rolling waves perfect for surfing and there are always a lot of surfers there, from kids and novices to a more experienced crowd. The environment is not competitive, it’s just people enjoying the sea and the waves. And you can book surfing lessons or rent a board right on the sand. You can also rent beach chairs and umbrellas, paddleboards, etc.
  • We rented a car for a few days only and found that picking up at the airport gave us a much lower rate than getting a car from one of the agencies outside the airport (especially in Waikiki). Transit options from Waikiki to the airport are frequent and inexpensive, so taking the 1 bus there on the pickup day and then 1 bus back after returning the car made sense for us.
  • Driving around the island is easy and the distances are short enough to be able to visit different areas and still come back to “base” on the same day. With our set of wheels, we first visited Kahala, Hawaii Kai, Sandy Beach, and took on the Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail and the Makapu’u beach.
  • Along the way, snorkelling at Hanauma Bay is a mandatory stop (or a dedicated trip – it’s worth it!). If not taking a tour or shuttle, either get there very early in the morning (they open at 6 am), before all the tours arrive and they close the gate because maximum capacity was reached, or go after lunch when the tours have left. And remember, they are closed on Tuesdays.
  • Another drive took us past Makapu’u and into Kaupo, Waimanalo, Sherwood, Kailua and Lanikai (with a lovely view of the Mokulua Islands!). I fell in love with this side of the island and these beaches, each of them unique and lovely. Plan a stop at Ono Steaks and Shrimp Shack, in Waimanalo. Soooo good!
  • On another day, we made our way to the North Shore, passing by the Pali Lookout for some sweeping views of the island! Gorgeous, but be warned that the temperature cools down quite a bit and it gets very windy up there! Back to lower ground, stop and enjoy the surf vibe at Haleiwa and Banzai Pipeline (where top international surfing championships are held), and the many other small beaches and bays, great for snorkelling (please note that the ocean conditions change a lot in some areas at different times of the year, and beaches that are challenging for even the bravest surfers during some months become “swimming pools” in other months – so do your research!). And no trip to the North Shore is complete without a stop at the shrimp trucks (Giovanni’s is the original and it’s excellent) for some great fresh shrimp! Yum!
  • Heading West on another day, we made our way to Kapolei, Ko Olina (with its beautiful small bays and luxury resorts/timeshares), and Paradise Cove, where we had an amazing time snorkelling, watching a friendly sea turtle, and enjoyed a beautiful sunset! For dinner on the way back, we recommend the Thai Lao Restaurant in Kapolei (get the tapioca dessert!).
  • We are more “beach and nature” people, but we still took some time to go to Downtown Honolulu and see some historic/interesting sites (e.g. Aloha Tower, Kamehameha Statue, Iolani Palace, etc.). Research the local attractions in advance and plan the locations you don’t want to miss.
  • Not to be missed:
    • Watching the Hilton fireworks on Friday nights from Magic Island (beautiful sunset views there too – bring a chair/towel and a picnic, or visit the food court at the Ala Moana Center nearby for plenty of food options)
    • The Hula Dancers on Tuesday nights near the Duke Kahanamoku statue in Waikiki.

All in all, we loved Oahu and Hawaii, the stunning nature, friendly and laid back people. There’s a lot more to discover and many favourites we want to revisit there, so I hope we’ll be back soon. Mahalo for the hospitality, Hawaii!

Ever been to Oahu or other Hawaiian islands or want to go? Have a question or recommendation? Let us know in the comments below! 🙂

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