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Oahu Trip Report

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Oahu Trip Report

While I had carefully planned my trip itinerary months in advance, unforeseen circumstances came up and altered things. Had to cancel a lot of activities and my vacation was more of a hanging around at the condo sort of thing. Nevertheless I still had a wonderful time and can't wait to go back. I'll be posting this report in segments. If you're not interested in the topic, you can skip over. As you can see, I'm really into food so I know that some may find my food postings a bit long and unbearable. The trip was taken in August/September 2012.

Sweet E's Cafe
$$ - $$$, American, Cafe
Kono's Restaurant
$, American, Hawaiian
Seven Brothers
$, American, Seafood, Hawaiian
New York, NY
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266 posts
18 reviews
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1. Re: Oahu Trip Report

PLANE RIDE/CAR RENTAL/HOTEL/CONDO

I flew direct from NYC to Honolulu. Got really lucky with Hawaiian Air's promotion of their new direct route from JFK to HNL and paid about half of what I usually pay. The staff at Hawaiian Air is so nice but their food isn't. Luckily I brought along a quinoa salad with me on the plane ride to Honolulu. Bring your own food -- you'll be happier that you did.

When I landed in Honolulu, first thing we did was head out to Avis. Got a terrific deal on a convertible rental (base price of $33/day) and they let us pick our car. We ended up picking the Mitsubishi Eclipse. We did have a problem with the first car as it kept beeping to alert us that the top was not locked when in fact it was secured. There were times we had to put the top up and couldn't deal with the continuous beeping so we had to return it for a new one the next day. The Eclipse was a fun ride but not easy to drive if the top is up as it's hard to see out of the back. Should also mention that we were only able to fit one suitcase in the trunk, and our suitcases are carry-on size. Had no problems with Avis. The only thing that I didn't like was that they charged an extra $10/day for an additional driver. Other car rental places we've been to gave automatic spouse privileges. This just meant that my husband did all the driving while I just relaxed. Life is good.

My opinion is that a rental car in Oahu will vastly improve the quality of your experience. I've heard so many people complain about Oahu saying it's so dirty and polluted and crowded. Once you get outside of Honolulu most of Oahu is pretty rural. This is one of the reasons why I love Oahu -- you get all the benefits of a city (shopping, restaurants, culture) with beautiful beaches and vistas 1/2 hour to 1 hour drive away. Even if you're doing things in Honolulu, I don't like to waste my precious vacation time waiting for the bus and dealing with all of these logistical issues. I prefer the freedom of going and coming as I please. Plus your food options vastly improve once you get out of Waikiki.

The condo we wanted wasn't available for the first night. So we stayed at the Hawaii Prince Hotel by the marina. Got the cheapest pre-paid room ($169/night) and was upgraded to a huge room with floor to ceiling windows that looked out to the marina and ocean! The windows actually opened all the way which was really nice as it brought the outside in. Bathroom was also humongous. There are apartments in NYC that are smaller than their bathroom. There's a separate tub and shower stall. I'm not a tub person and love taking showers in a stall. The staff there were all so lovely. I thought the value was quite high at the Hawaii Prince and would stay there again if I had to.

The only downside of this hotel for most people is probably the location. It's a bit far away from the center of all the action of Waikiki. As I generally don't spend a lot of time in Waikiki this is a non-issue for me. And I prefer the quiet. I've stayed at the Sheraton and Outrigger Reef before in the past and felt I couldn't relax because of all the frenetic energy, even if there wasn't too much noise in the room.

The next day we checked into our condo, the Kahakai penthouse at the Diamondhead Beach Hotel. Paid an extra $19/day for parking that I thought was worth it. Last thing I want to do on vacation is look for parking. OMG! The panoramic views were beautiful! Had stunning views of the ocean, Kapiolani Park, Waikiki, mountains and Diamond Head. We were even able to see the Friday night fireworks from the lanai. Kitchen was well stocked; they even had a blender! Condo was tastefully decorated. I spent a lot of time on the lanai sipping an iced chai or jasmine tea watching all of the surfers, paddleboarders, sailboats, waves, etc. DH's beverage of choice was rose champagne. Location is the Diamondhead area which was perfect for us. Central but away from the crowds. It's about a 15 minute leisurely walk to the Eastern edge of Waikiki. The condo also came with two beach chairs and two umbrellas that helped us cut expenses as we were originally going to rent them from Snorkel Bob's. No pool but that didn't really matter to me. Laundry in the basement was a big help. Should mention that the elevator only went up to the 14th floor (really it's the 13 floor but labeled 14) and the penthouse was located one flight up. Not a big deal for us but may be for some people. And there was a sandy section by the seawall with a ladder leading down to the water. I went down once but got out after a few minutes as the tide was very strong (around full moon time). I'm not a strong swimmer and wasn't too crazy about crashing up against the seawall. There was a local boy who was obviously used to the water -- he was even doing backflips into the water at the shallow rocky point.

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2. Re: Oahu Trip Report

BEACHES

We ended up going to only two beaches during our stay. Luckily we went to my favorite ones -- Lanikai and Waimanalo. Lanikai must be in all the Japanese guide books because there were so many Japanese families there. Japanese tour buses dropped people off at Lanikai. Even though it was more crowded than I would have liked, it's still nothing compared to Waikiki. It really is my favorite beach on Oahu. Super powder white sand that you can dig your toes into. Picturesque setting. Waimanalo was great except that there was a big red flag warning people of man-of-war. Still didn't stop me from entering the water but got a bit freaked out and ran for the sand when I felt something slither around my leg. It was probably a piece of seaweed (though I didn't see any seaweed in the water) but didn't want to spend a good chunk of my vacation nursing a man-of-war sting.

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3. Re: Oahu Trip Report

HIKING

Did a few hikes as well -- Diamond Head, Lanikai Pillbox, Mariner's Ridge and Kaena Point. Kaena Point was more of a walk than a hike. There was one section of the walk where it was washed out. There was an alternate route that was a bit more rocky but still not too bad. It's more of a hike at that point but it doesn't last for too long. We went in from the West side and gave us an opportunity to see the West side of Oahu past the Koolina lagoons. You cannot approach the point from the West via SUV. You may be able to make it about 1/3 of the way through before boulders will stop you. We encountered an SUV full of tourists heading out of there. A man was driving while a woman and child were walking, presumably because there were some pretty tight spots and he didn't want to endanger his family. It's about a two hour walk round-trip and honestly can get a bit monotonous after a while. But the point was really beautiful and very symbolic of the yin/yang principle. I understood why Hawaiians view this point as an area where souls depart the earth.

I really don't understand people's classifications of hikes in Hawaii. I hear so many people complaining about how difficult Diamond Head is while the Pillbox and Mariner's Ridge are considered easy hikes. Is it because almost everybody does Diamond Head while a subset of the population attempts the other hikes?

I've done hikes in NYS that have been labeled intermediate and advanced, and probably would categorize certain parts of Pillbox and Mariner's Ridge as more of an intermediate status for NYers. Guess Hawaiian are just a lot more fit than we are. There's one part of the Pillbox hike where they have rope on the side to help you down the incline. I didn't encounter any issues making my way up but going own was a different story. The dirt was extremely dry and slippery and the rope really helped me make my way down without falling. There were parts of both hikes where I went down on my butt because I didn't want to chance dealing with an injury. Diamond Head is rocky but kind of mimics pavement where I felt that you could navigate the hike on slippahs if you really wanted to -- though I'd still wear sneakers.

Well, both the Pillbox and Mariner's Ridge hikes offer fabulous views without a large time commitment. My opinion is that these hikes are more difficult than Diamond Head as the risk of injury is a lot higher. The hikes aren't super difficult, but I wouldn't consider them easy like Makapuu.

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4. Re: Oahu Trip Report

TOURS

Iolani Palace (Downtown Honolulu)

We did the self-audio tour and thought it was the perfect amount of time. I'm not a huge history buff but thought it was very interesting. DH is a big history buff and thought that the if the tour was any longer he would probably get bored. I would say to budget about a couple of hours for this excursion.

Kahuku Farms Tour (North Shore)

This is a relatively new tractor tour given on this farm. There is some shade on the tractor for those of you not thrilled about sitting in the sun. Very lovely people and it seems that they are having a difficult time trying to see the farm through another generation. An educational experience and I hope they stay around.

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5. Re: Oahu Trip Report

TEMPLES

Byodo-In Temple (Windward)

Stunning temple. First time I was there was towards the end of the day. So it was just a lot more surreal as it was relatively empty. This time I went early afternoon so I had to share it with a bunch of tour groups. Still a very beautiful site. If you're a Lost fan, it's where Sun and Jin got married.

Mu Ryang Sa Temple (Honolulu)

A bit off the beaten path in a residential neighborhood of Honolulu. Stark contrast to the Byodo-In temple where it's all about minimalism. Mu Ryang Sa is colorful and bold. I believe they give tours on certain days but we were there on a non-tour day. Definitely a feast for the eyes.

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6. Re: Oahu Trip Report

SHOPPING

Being from NYC, we generally keep shopping to a minimum. We're also not shopaholics either -- you learn how to be very selective about what you purchase as most of us have limited space. But we did pick up a few things.

ALOHA SHIRTS -- BAILEY'S

DH was looking for some cheesy tacky aloha shirts. He had purchased some from Bailey's last time but they shrank (in spite of them telling us that the shirts don't shrink). The shirts were washed in cold water, gentle cycle and hung dry (no dryer). He likes to wear his clothes very fitted so he purchased an extra-small which just fit him perfectly at the time. And of course once they shrank he couldn't wear them because they went up to his belly (he's 6 feet tall). He brought them in for trade. Bailey's didn't believe that they shrunk and ended up giving him a $10 credit per shirt (the shirts were $80+ each to begin with). I wasn't there with him or otherwise I would have found the same shirts in XS at the store and have them compare the washed ones to the originals to show how much they shrank. He ended up buying a few shirts in S this time (which are slightly large on him) with the hope that they'll shrink to the correct size once they are washed. So if you're buying new shirts from there, please be aware that they do shrink. Most Americans tend to wear their aloha shirts on the baggy side so you probably won't notice a bit of shrinkage. But if you tend to wear things that are fitted, buy a size up.

He did check out Avanti in Waikiki but didn't find anything he liked. Unfortunately we didn't have a chance to check out the thrift shops but will be sure to do so next time around.

Haleiwa

Picked up a couple of kitschy art prints at one of the galleries. We were hoping to find some original piece of art at Bali Moon Hawaii like we did last time but nothing appealed to us. Also got a painted ceramic flower bowl to place our house keys in as we enter our apartment.

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7. Re: Oahu Trip Report

OKINAWAN FESTIVAL

Luckily we were there for the Okinawan Festival and it was only a 5 minute walk from our condo! There really isn't too many things Okinawan in NYC so I was very excited. I tried the andagi (Okinawan donut) served piping hot. I wanted to try the chicken nishime but it was already sold out! I saw the huge line for the yaki soba so I joined it. It was fine -- guess fried noodles are really popular. The most interesting dish I had was taco rice which is basically the makings of a tex-mex taco served over white rice. It was a bit strange eating bits of shredded cheese and rice together but it worked with the ground beef and lettuce. Having some scrips left I ended up picking up a package of potato chip arame cookies that was pretty good. Who thought about putting seaweed, soy sauce and potato chips into a delicious cookie?

Not sure how Okinawan it is, but the dunking booth was popular and such a riot. There was a middle-aged man who was the dunkee that did a great job riling up the people. I felt bad when his shift was over and a teenage girl who looked like she was somehow tricked into doing this was sitting in the hot seat. There were also some arts and crafts, bonsai, ikebana to look at. DH asked me if I wanted to do the kimono dressing but I passed on that one. It would have made for some funny pictures.

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8. Re: Oahu Trip Report

FARMER'S MARKETS

Wed Night Blaisdell Market (Honolulu)

Comprised mostly of locals. Smaller in scope compared to the KCC Saturday one, but a lot easier to navigate. Ended up having dinner at the Pig and Lady and had the fish rice noodle soup with tomatoes and pineapple, fried smelts in honey sauce, string beans with peanut sauce and shrimp, oxtail gnocchi. A huge benefit of renting a condo is that you can take home leftovers and eat them the next day for breakfast or lunch. The fish noodle soup was outstanding. Reminiscent of canh chua but using fishcakes instead of whole fish. The broth was quite soothing and I could drink bowls and bowls of it. The fried smelts were good, but a bit soggy. Lucky we got the last of the string beans (it was only 6P). The peanut sauce is so good that I could eat spoonfuls of it. The oxtail gnocchi was quite rich but tasty. Also ended up picking up a pineapple for the next day.

Sat AM KCC Market (Honolulu)

I was planning to get a lot of produce in addition to the prepared foods so I got there earlier than I have usually done in the past -- around 7:40A. Holy crap! Market was already super busy with locals and tourists. I ended up getting some lillikoi, rambutan, choy sum, edamame pods, corn, pineapple, mango ($5/lb), and tomatoes. Where were the mangosteens? I heard they were in season during the summer but couldn't find them anywhere.

At the Pig and Lady (I just love that place -- super sweet folks with the best food), we got the pho gai and breakfast banh mi which basically is like a regular banh mi with a fried poached egg on top. The rice noodles in the pho gai seemed hand made and it's the perfect breakfast food for me (I'm not a traditional American breakfast person). I've had the pho ga before when they were operating their pop-up dinners at Hank's Haute Dogs. It seemed to be slightly better at Hank's -- probably because they were cooking it in smaller batches. But it was still so good. It seems that the Japanese tourists haven't gotten wind of Pig and Lady yet -- they were at the sausage, fried tomato, pesto pizza, grilled corn and grilled abalone stalls. So the line at Pig and Lady was relatively short at the KCC Market. At the Blaisdell Market, Pig and the Lady had the longest line. We shared a Pacific Kool basil ginger ale with our meal (though the Pig and Lady folks gave us complimentary cups of the pandan jasmine tea). I also got a milk chocolate strawberry mochi from Made in Hawaii (they were already out of the dark chocolate ones and it wasn't even 8A yet!). It was OK, but I prefer the mochi from Happy Hearts as I thought the texture of the mochi is lighter and fluffier. There's no storefront for Happy Hearts. You order via Email or phone and pick them up from Natsunoya Tea House (located in a residential area of Honolulu). I ordered a few bentos for gifts and picked them up on the day I was leaving.

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9. Re: Oahu Trip Report

MARKETS

Safeway on Kapahulu

Good for picking up basics (aluminum foil, paper towels, toilet paper, cleaner) for the condo. When I went to drug stores, a lot of these items were available only in jumbo packs. I also picked up some Rego's Purity of Hawaii Portuguese sausage there.

Whole Foods (locations in Kailua and Kahala)

The Kailua location is newer and larger than the Kahala one. It was really interesting to see the differences between the Hawaii Whole Foods and NYC locations. Ooh -- poke bar! I also really dug the bulk bins of sprouted nuts and seeds. Wish my local Whole Foods would do that. I ended up getting a bit of this coconut banana breakfast porridge from the bulk bin to try. If I liked it I would have picked it up for gifts. Unfortunately it tasted a bit like soap to me. The best thing about the Whole Foods was that the people working there were so friendly -- a bit different than the NYC Whole Foods!

Tamura's (Honolulu)

We stopped there to get some wines. Had good prices and decent selection of sparkling wines. Their French burgundy selection wasn't too hot. Seems that Hawaii is more into California wines. Big selection of beer and liquors as well. There's a small amount of food (eg. poke) as well.

Tamashiro's (Honolulu)

The largest seafood market in Honolulu. Unfortunately we got there late on a Sunday afternoon and pickins were slim. But I picked up some lobster, prawns, and manilla clams. The prawns and manilla clams were reasonably priced. But the lobster was expensive compared to NYC. We were glad they took credit cards.

Shirokiya's (Ala Moana Center)

We picked up some food before our flight departed Honolulu. We kind of rushed it (luckily we scoped out the selections the day prior) as some of our luggage was in the back seat of our car. Our convertible could not fit two suitcases in its trunk and we both wanted to pick our own food. We ended up getting eel over rice, meat jun, bitter melon stir-fried with egg, spam musubi and garlic chicken. Way too much food -- our eyes were bigger than our stomach. There's so much to choose from!

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10. Re: Oahu Trip Report

POKE

JJ's Seafood (Kaneohe)

Guy who owned it was super nice. He even threw in some cucumber kimchi for free. Very unassuming little shop, but the poke was very fresh and tasty. I will say that it was on the expensive side. The ahi pokes were around $26/lb! Generous sampling policy. We ended up getting 1/4 lb each of four different pokes and a couple of sides of rice -- they don't do poke bowls. He asked us whether we would be eating it right away. When I told him no, he gave us a separate container of shoyu for the shoyu poke so we can add it when we're ready to eat it. We took it to the Ho'omaluhia Gardens to eat our poke in a lovely setting.

Poke Stop (Waipahu)

We ordered two poke bowls. If we knew how large they were going to be we would have only ordered one. A good value (around $8 for a humongous bowl of two pokes over rice -- you can get different types of fried rice but I ended up getting plain). Unfortunately I found the texture of the fish very strange and mushy -- I think it might have been pre-frozen fish. I also thought it was too salty for my taste. I didn't eat very much of it and saved my appetite for those eggplant fries! Oh, Joebob from Chowhound was right! These were really outrageous and very addictive. While I probably won't come here for poke, I would definitely return for those fries!

Ono Seafood (Honolulu - Kapahulu)

Last time we were there they made our pokes to order. This time they were premade -- not sure if it's because we went during prime lunch time hours or they changed their policy. But the poke was still terrific. I think this is my favorite place for poke so far. I think prices went up a bit but still a bargain. Two pokes over rice and soda for $8.

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