Just back yesterday from 10 days in Oahu, staying in Waikiki for four days, Kailua for 6, and driving all around the island. Overall impressions: beautiful island with amazing, surprising 'micro- climates; gorgeous, relaxing beaches; friendly people; challenging food scene; it can get a bit tourist-trappy, though, so I highly recommend going your own way as much as possible (unless you like touristy things).
Thursday Nov. 25
Arrived in HNL around 3:30 pm (45 mins early!!) after an actually pleasant 9.5-hr flight from Atlanta (due to comfy A330 plane and excellent service by Delta flight attendants) … took a cab from the airport for the speed, convenience and desire to NOT share another form of transportation with strangers. (As we left the gate in the airport I saw tons of drivers with signs for groups of people and the semi-chaos and touristy look of it all made me additionally glad we opted for a cab.) We were in the cab and at our hotel, the Waikiki Beach Marriot Resort, by 4:15 pm. (My review of the hotel is in a separate entry).
My husband and I have decided that we need to take a vacation every Thanksgiving … that day is an excellent one to travel as it is not very busy and everyone is pleasant due to the holiday!
I was thrilled to be early and able to catch the recommended Happy Hour (4-6) at the Hula Grill’s Plantation Bar at the Outrigger Reef hotel. It was fairly disappointing, however, because, though the Happy Hour did have decent prices on Pu-Pus and a variety of drinks, it was indoors with a sliver of beach/sky view between the wall and the ceiling … and due to the setting sun everything inside was in silhouette and it was disorienting. It was also a HUGE tourist trap: overpriced (even though happy hour) crappy food and pre-mixed drinks. We just had a couple Kona beers and rubbery calamari.
We then strolled up and down Kalakua Ave (the avenue next to the beach) trying to determine what to have for dinner … we stopped at Tiki’s at the Aston Beach hotel (next to our hotel), which was a recommended casual place. We had a drink on the rooftop bar but after looking at the menu and seeing other diners’ plates nothing sounded appealing so we ended up grabbing burgers at McDonald’s!!
Friday Nov 26
We spent the day at the beach, starting at Waikiki and ending at Kuhio in front of the park. We walked to Duke’s for lunch and I was VERY glad we weren’t going there for dinner … another huge tourist trap. We did have an excellent lunch of fresh grilled Opa with rice and tropical salsa, but that was the only fresh fish option. The rest of the menu was very generic and overpriced for what it was. The dinner menu looked even worse!
We spent the afternoon at our hotel’s pool and tried our first mai tai, which is the most popular/prevalent cocktail in Waikiki … and weren’t fans! It tasted like cough syrup to both of us! We walked across the street to watch the sunset, sitting on a bench just off the beach after grabbing two cups from the pool and a large bottle of Stella Artois from the ABC store in the hotel. Yes, it’s technically against the beach rules/laws to drink there, but we were careful about it and were just enjoying a drink while watching the sunset -- nothing crazy.
After that we watched the Christmas parade down Kalakua St. and just wandered down past Ft. Derussy park, admiring the new holiday decorations along the way and the high-end retail shops geared toward the super-fashionable and spend-crazy Japanese tourists. (We were entertained by that the entire trip!) The staff in the shops were so friendly, though. As I admired an $1,800 leather jacket in Ferragamo's, I was offered over and over again that I could try on anything I wanted! (I declined, thinking it would be dangerous for a number of reasons).
We ended up eating dinner at Keo’s Thai Cuisine, which was recommended in my Frommer’s guidebook … it was OK. My street noodles, though medium spicy (and I like spicy) ended up being WAY too hot and my husband’s eggplant was very oily.
Saturday Nov 27
Took the bus to Diamond Head and did the hike up to the observation tower … it was more difficult than I thought it would be given what guidebooks say (I truly don’t think ‘anyone’ can do it). I am fairly young and technically fit and I was out of breath with burning legs by the end. The trail was very rocky, uneven, and VERY narrow at times (I guess an overweight person wouldn’t attempt the walk anyway, but if they did there would be some passages they couldn’t even walk through!). Once we got to the bunker at the top it was a bit gross with old cobwebs, deteriorating steel and who knows what else (I guess building code doesn’t apply?! ) The view was so, so worth it though. Simply amazing. It took about 40 minutes to walk up from the ticket booth (plus the 1/2-mile from the bus stop to the ticket booth) and about half the time to walk back down.
We then strolled the KCC farmer’s market, right near the Diamond Head park entrance. There were some interesting things to see and smell and I got a recommended PacifiKook ginger cooler, which was good, but I thought the market was overrated overall … which is common for farmer’s markets.
We then walked through the neighborhoods to the Kapahulu area for an early lunch at Ono’s … there were only two people there so we timed it well. I had the pork luau-luau, which was delicious, though some of the accompanying dishes were … interesting. My husband had grilled fresh tuna but it was not very good. Granted, it’s not what they’re known for but when you don’t eat pork, the options were limited.
We walked back to our hotel through Kapahulu (I think we walked 10 miles total that day) and spent the afternoon at the beach (we like to be beach bums as much as possible so at least four hours every day were spent at the beach).
We left the beach early to shower and change to head to House Without a Key to watch the sunset over cocktails. THIS was one of the first ‘must do’s’ (after Ono’s) that even met, let alone exceeded, expectations. It was ideal. It was about a 15-min walk from our hotel and we were seated at one of many cocktail tables on the lanai. The setting included a huge banyan or hau tree (?) that framed the hula-music trio, with the backdrop of the ocean and setting sun. A little while later the lovely hula dancer came out and it was just perfect. The service was excellent, too, and we had two cocktails each. The first two were delicious and then my husband decided to try another mai tai, “done right” but we still didn’t like it. It is just not a taste either of us is a fan of, I guess! I had a ‘Tropical H’ which was OK, but not as good as my first cocktail.
We then walked around some more and ended up at Kiawa’s sushi, where we were the only non-Asian people in the place – a good sign!! The sushi and service there was excellent. We capped off the night with drinks at the Yardhouse (in the same shopping/restaurant area as Kiawa’s – I think the Waikiki Beachwalk?), which was a hopping place with 150 beers on draft.
More to come ...