Constant sunshine. Breezy summers. Low humidity. Green, lush plants that surround all around you. Stretches of honey sand with crystal, clear turquoise waters. You step off the plane and are immediately greeted by mountains. It was the first time my fiance and I have ever seen mountains in person. Of course, we took a few minutes to document it like the millennials we are. But in that initial moment, we were filled with excitement. After a layover in Houston and 7 hours on a plane, we were ready to explore the beautiful island of Oahu…
Or were we?? lol I have to admit, with the time change and by the time we checked into our room, we were both exhausted. That first evening, we decided to stay low-key and hang around the hotel area. We stayed at the Hilton Waikiki Beach and the area is busy and filled with tourists. Upon our arrival, they were shooting a TV show (I’m not sure which one) and the hotel was crawling with extras. We made it to our room and was pleasantly surprised with the views. High in the skies, our room overlooked the city with a backdrop of mountains.
I quickly changed my clothes and anticipated a quick bite we could grab around the hotel. We opted for a poke bowl. I know, we’re in Hawaii and you expect a food item that is more exotic? Well, sushi and poke bowls are widely eaten in Hawaii. It was quick and good, and mine had fresh ahi tuna which is local to the island. After grabbing food, we walked around and explored Waikiki Beach. I have to admit, the beach is beautiful but way too overcrowded.
After taking a walk along the beach, I decided I wanted to grab a Dole Whip and it was amazing! Trust me, pineapples hit different in Hawaii. After doing some more sightseeing, we decided to head back to the hotel and rest. We were asleep by like 8 PM. Pretty uneventful first night lol but traveling can take a toll, especially international ones. And the jet lag is insane! I was up at 3 AM ready to start my day, bright eyed and bushy tailed. Luckily, I was able to fall back asleep and wake up at 7 AM.
Our first full day in Hawaii had a whole itinerary. First we would eat breakfast at a local restaurant call Shorefyre. It’s a short walk from the beach and my fiance and I witnessed many of the locals coming straight from the beach to go there, barefoot and surfboards attached to their hips. We figured if locals trusted the place, it must be good. And we were right! The breakfast was beyond satisfying and delicious. Definitely large portions as well. I ordered upside pineapple pancakes. They were made with locally grown pineapples and were as large as my plate. Price wise, it wasn’t too bad. Prices ranged from $15 to $20. A little tip- food in Hawaii can get very costly, especially in a tourist area. Just be mindful of that if you ever visit.
After breakfast, we headed to the Royal Hawaiian Center, an outside mall filled with high fashion stores. A fun fact about the tourist area in Hawaii: The Japanese has heavily invested into the area and placed attractions that would generate revenue and/or fulfill their shopping wants and needs. A lot of high end brand labels are extremely expensive in Japan, but in Hawaii, it is a lot more affordable than what they are accustomed to paying. We didn’t come to the Royal Hawaiian Center to shop though- they offer many complimentary classes focused on Hawaiian traditions such as lei making, hula dance lessons, and ukulele. When researching things to do in Hawaii, this was at top of the list. Traveling and staying in Hawaii can get expensive, so I was very adamant about find free or affordable activities to pass the time. We opted for ukulele lessons that was taught by a Hawaiian native born and raised in the island. I point out that she is a Hawaiian native because believe it or not, there’s not many left on the island. The majority of Hawaii’s population is Asian and White. Only about 11% of the population is Hawaiian native. The instructor has been working with the center since 1994 and was filled with knowledge about the island and great energy. Ukulele was a lot harder to learn than expected! We even had to sing the song in Hawaiian! We learned that Kaimana Hila means Diamond Head which is the mountain trail we climbed during the vacation. The reason this mountain is called Diamond Head is because during the 19th century, it was believed by British settlers that they have discovered diamonds within the land. However, it was not diamonds. They were actually calcite crystals that resemble diamonds but instead are a semi precious stone.
After the ukulele lessons, we had a long conversation with the instructor. We noticed how commercialized the tourist area was and wanted to get to know about the real Hawaii. The instructor was more than willing to offer some knowledge. Although Hawaii is considered one of the 50 states, Hawaiians rather not be associated as such. Queen Liliuokalani, the first and only reigning Hawaiian queen, was overthrown by the United States. Locals refer to us as the mainland but they rather keep the island separate in association. The instructor also informed us that many locals prefer to stay away from the Waikiki Beach area. As expected, this area is not the real Hawaii. But what I didn’t know is that many of the locals cannot even stay in the hotels in the area. Overall, they feel invaded and unwelcome.
The instructor also gave us some pointers on where we can find inexpensive food that locals enjoy. The popular spot mentioned was Rainbow Inn, a fast food restaurant that serves big portions for under 8 dollars. About a 20 min walk from our hotel, we decided to foot it and see what the hype was all about. It was definitely busy within multiple lines curling around the corners of the pole outside. I didn’t take a picture of this meal because honestly it didn’t look visually appealing lol but it was tasty. I opted for the mixed plate which served fried battered ahi tuna, chicken, and steak, with white rice and macaroni salad as sides. Another local menu favorite is the Loco Moco, which is two beef patties that sit on top of a bed of fried rice, topped with a fried egg. The Hawaiians eat A LOT of rice, beef, and pork for any meal of the day.
Later that evening, we went to a hula show at the Kuhio Beach Mound. This is a free event that takes place at 6:30 PM, right before the sunset. It does get packed quickly and seating is first come, first serve. Because of this we were at the location by 5:45 PM to grab a front row seat. It was enjoyable and the scenery was beautiful on the beach as the sun began to set. They opened the show with conch blowing followed by singing and playing instruments, along with displaying several different styles of hula dancing.
Because we were being extremely budget friendly, especially with the circumstances of myself being unemployed during this trip, we opted to buy a bottle and enjoy drinks outside of the typical bars and lounges. So long story short, it was a wrap for nightlife… you know I like to keep it honest! Plus we had an early morning and long day ahead of us. We would start our next day by hiking Diamond Head 🙂
Our morning started at 7 AM. We completely skipped breakfast, although I opted for a coffee and a banana at least for energy. We checked out the bus routes and decided to get an all day pass. The buses in Hawaii are very easy to maneuver and the drivers are friendly and helpful. Diamond Head was about a 15 min ride from our hotel. It was a hot, summer day… cliche. We started our journey up the entrance of the trail, which is a hike within itself! Once you get to the entrance, they only charge $1 per pedestrian, so very affordable. The time it takes to go up the mountain varies on your physical endurance and depends on how many breaks you take. I’m not the most active so I did take a few breaks when I felt like my lungs were going to collapse. The trail is very steep and there are many, many stairs. Also, there is a lot of steep pathways with uneven ground so it’s very easy to trip if you’re not careful. I definitely reevaluated my life throughout the whole way up 😀 and oddly enough, I figured out very quickly how claustrophobic I am when we went into the narrow cave. I have never sweated so much in my life! And by the end of the trail, when we made it to the top, I legitimately wanted to cry tears of joy. But when I tell you, the views were SO worth it. It’s like believing in magic for the very first time. You get so wrapped up in the technological advances we have in our world, that you forget such beauty exists in nature.
After the trail, we headed back to the hotel to get cleaned up. We wanted to check out Downtown Honolulu. First stop was the Iolani Palace, which was the royal residence of the queen. They offer self guided audio tours for just $25. Also, very close in the area, is the Honolulu Museum of Art. Tickets range around the same price as the palace.
Next stop was the Aloha Tower. Originally a lighthouse, the Aloha Tower is one of the most recognized landmarks of Hawaii, second to Diamond Head. It was built in 1926 standing as the tallest building in the islands for nearly four decades! It also served as a welcoming beacon to the island for sea travelers. Present day, the Aloha Tower is now part of a marketplace and the Hawaiian Pacific University. On the 10th floor of the tower is an observatory that offers city views overlooking the harbor.
After visiting the Aloha Tower, we decided to grab lunch (finally!). Chinatown is about a 10 minute walk from the tower. We spoke to a local bartender when we first landed and her top suggestion for food in Chinatown was The Pig and the Lady, a Vietnamese fusion restaurant. It’s a pretty casual place with cool accents within the restaurant.
The food was delicious, of course, and fairly priced…
Chinatown isn’t much of a scene during the week/day. I heard it gets very lively at night on the weekends but unfortunately, it was Wednesday and our last full day in Hawaii we had left to explore. We kept it moving.
After lunch, I had a sweet tooth and I knew just the place to go for it. When researching about Hawaii, I came across several websites that listed must try foods in Hawaii. I saw Leonard’s Bakery pop up 5 times, so you know I had to try. They are famous for their malasadas, Portuguese donuts that are fried and filled with custard or chocolate. We hopped on the bus for a 45 minute ride towards to reach our destination. After all, I was on a mission and oh so determined. As we approached the bakery, we realized very quickly that it was definitely a popular destination. The line extended all the way outside (very good sign 🙂 ).
…they didn’t disappoint. AT ALL!
After enjoying the malasadas, we went back to the hotel to rest a bit before getting ready again to head out at night. We decided to check out Wang Chung’s Karaoke Bar, another local suggestion and not too far from our hotel. It was a cool vibe with dope lighting. Lots of drunk people singing for your entertainment 😀
After having a couple of drinks, we decided to call it a night. Spending the majority of the day outside, in the heat, exploring from 8 AM to midnight, we were barely hanging on. I don’t think I’ve ever slept so hard than I did that night.
On our last day, I woke up at 6:30 AM and decided to watch the sunrise on the balcony of our room. I wanted to soak up as much of this place as I could before we left. Honestly, I didn’t want to go back to reality. The harsh realization always hits the hardest on the day you depart. And our trip felt incredibly quick! Back to responsibilities…ew. My fiance and I took one last walk to the beach. Our flight didn’t depart until 1 PM, so time was of the essence. We sat on the beach. People watched. Admired the slow pace of everyone as they lounged around enjoying their surroundings. Jumping off the high ledges and splashing into the ocean. It’s moments like that when you realize this is what life should really be about. The slow moments that allow you to fully express gratitude. To absorb it all. We often take nature’s beauty for granted. So preoccupied with the busyness in our lives to appreciate our surroundings. Besides the beautiful beaches, Hawaii has some of the most beautiful flowers and trees. I wanted to spend some intentional time appreciating it all.
My final consensus of Hawaii? It’s beautiful. But I do think it receives A LOT of hype. It is very expensive to have an ‘amazing’ time there. If you ever plan to take a trip out there, my suggestion would be to get a car and get out of the tourist area. Anticipate on having at least 500 dollars for just spending money…and this does not include flight and hotel. I would love to come back and check out Northshore, which was about 45 minutes away from where we were staying, driving time. I would also love to check out the Dole Plantation. I think I would visit another island besides Oahu, as well. I hear Maui is breathtaking. We made the best out of our trip considering we had limited time and funds. I have some must do things in mind for the next time we visit. But I definitely cherished every moment of this trip. Anytime I am able to get on a plane and just go somewhere, I am grateful. So until next time Hawaii, Mahaulo! Thank you for sharing your beauty ❤