Hawaii has always been on my bucket list but living in Boston made it hard to justify traveling so far for the tropics when we could just hop on a short flight to the Caribbean. But as soon as my husband and I moved to the West Coast we made it a high priority to visit.
Before rushing to the Hawaiian Airlines website we had to figure out where exactly we were going. I admit we had little knowledge about this volcanic archipelago so we had to do our homework. One of the hardest parts of planning a trip to Hawaii is deciding which islands to visit since they each have their own vibe and landscape. Ultimately we landed on Oahu and Maui, which are great islands for a first time visit to the Aloha state.
Most flights to Hawaii land at Daniel K. Inouye International Airport (HNL) in Honolulu which is on the island of Oahu. The city of Honolulu itself is pretty busy and might not be exactly what you’re looking for out of a Hawaiian getaway but Oahu is the island where you will also find famous Waikiki Beach, Pearl Harbor and the World War II Memorial, the big green dormant volcano that is Diamond Head, and the big surf of the North Shore. Go to Oahu if you want a beach city vibe with history, surf culture and convenience.
WHAT TO SEE & DO
Waikiki Beach - It might not be the most remote or beautiful beach (though the view looking towards Diamond Head is pretty spectacular) but it is the most famous. Whether it’s from Elvis Presley, Bing Crosby, Magnum P.I., or even Don Draper and Jessica Fletcher, we all know of this place thanks to pop culture. The beach is always too crowded and a bit touristy, but it’s wonderful to look at from the private lanai of your hotel room. It doesn’t hurt to take a stroll along the sand and stop for a mai tai at Duke’s either.
Pearl Harbor - This place speaks for itself and is a must-do whether or not you are a history buff. There are several exhibits but the most famous is the USS Arizona which is the battleship that sunk on December 17, 1941 bringing down over 1,100 people with it. Tickets must be reserved in advance and are released 60 days prior at 7am Hawaiian Standard Time. If you are unable to snag tickets do not worry, they are released again 24 hours in advance. Tickets can be purchased online here or by calling 1-877-444-6777. If you still are having trouble, they release a bit more the day of but you must show up in person. Go early for the best chance because they sell out very quickly. Admission is free. NOTE: As of today, 10/23, the USS Arizona Memorial itself is closed due to repairs. It is currently unknown when it will reopen but in the meantime visitors are still able to watch the documentary and hop on a boat to the memorial, they just won’t be able to disembark. Updates can be found here.
Diamond Head - Another popular activity is to hike to the summit of the Diamond Head crater. The journey is about 1 hour along a rugged trail but you’re rewarded at the top with beautiful panoramic views of the island. More information can be found here.
North Shore - No trip to Hawaii would be complete without a little surfing. This part of the island is where world renown surfing competitions happen including the Billabong Pipeline Masters. But if you’re not a pro there are also surf schools located here as well so you can give it a go on the longboard.
WHERE TO STAY
Dozens of hotels line touristy Waikiki Beach so you will have plenty to choose from depending on your budget. Wherever you stay, I recommend upgrading to an ocean view room which will have beautiful views of the beach and was the highlight of our stay at The Royal Hawaiian, one of the most historical hotels in the area.
The Pink Palace, as it is informally known, goes back to the days where people used to arrive by boat to Hawaii. Because these guests would have just spent days looking out at the ocean, most of the rooms were designed to face inwards into the beautiful gardens of the resort. Today, there is also the Mailani Tower which offers private lanais with ocean views overlooking Waikiki Beach. While the views from the Mailani Tower cannot be reckoned with, the rooms itself are a bit generic. For the most charm, opt for a room in the historical building but know that they do not have lanais.
If Oahu is the only island you will be visiting or if the crowds of Waikiki don’t appeal to you, the resort area known as Ko Olina located west of Honolulu is a great option. If the budget allows, the Four Seasons Oahu is the way to go.
Stay tuned for my next post about the island of Maui. Mahalo!