Honolulu, Hawaii Travel Guide
In this travel guide to Honolulu, you can find recommendations and reviews on:
I vacationed in Hawaii recently because my immediate family wanted to celebrate Chinese New Year together somewhere warm. Thank goodness too because I was starting to feel the winter blahs in Canada. To be able to walk outside in shorts instead of shivering beneath a million layers was a wonderful change.
January was the perfect time to go to Honolulu. The weather was perfect—not too hot and just breezy enough to be cool, not freezing. I did get spoiled by the sunshine after a couple of days, grumbling when it got slightly chilly in the night or something.
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Where to stay in Honolulu
Since this was our first time in Hawaii, we decided to focus on Oahu Island instead of island hopping. Waikiki Beach is Oahu's main hotel and resort area, and we stayed at the Pacific Beach Hotel (update: it's now known as the Alohilani Resort) close to the beach. The higher floors have amazing views.
The hotel was conveniently close to the beach and had helpful concierge to book us in for various activities around the island. We are a pack of explorers who can't sit still, especially my parents, who are always off doing something educational such as going to the museums downtown, the Iolani Palace, and the Pearl Harbour tour, all the while snapping pics and posting on their own Chinese social media accounts. I guess travel blogging is in my blood.
Things to do in or around Honolulu
No one in my family is the type to lounge around on a beach all day or desperate to do water activities. I had packed a bikini but didn't go swimming once. I did read my books on Waikiki Beach a couple of times and watched the sun set there every night.
The first day trip I took was to the Polynesian Cultural Centre in the northern shore of Oahu. They had such great reviews on TripAdvisor that we had to see for ourselves. The bus ride there takes over an hour. We booked the Ambassador Tour so we had a guide to show us around and teach us more about Polynesian culture.
Our lovely tour guide, Elizabeth, is from Tonga. She took us around to the different "villages." The Cultural Center is made up of replicas of authentic islands from six Pacific cultures: Hawaii, Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, Aotearoa (New Zealand), and Tahiti. What's cool about the place is that 70% of the employees, which includes Elizabeth, are students originally from one of the islands. In exchange for working here, I'm told their tuition is free at the university that owns the Cultural Center.
This was such a fantastic place to spend the day. Not once was I bored. I learned so much about Polynesian culture, and some of the music performed really moved me. I got to witness the Aotearran native greeting ceremony, their traditional song and dance with the Poi balls, how Samoan men start their own fires, climb coconut trees, and why they serve women first. I also learned why Maori men and women tattoo their faces, how to Hawaiian dance, and throw spears like the Tahitians. The boat parade showcased different dances from all the islands. Many of the activities were interactive and it's a great place for families. The dinner and Luau were fun, and the night ended with a spectacular performance of Hā–Breath of Life.
Where to Eat in Honolulu
If you're wondering what the food in Hawaii is like, I hope you like Asian food. With a predominately Asian population and numerous Japanese tourists, it's no big surprise. Waikiki has countless restaurants to choose from, but I did venture from the main area every so often to try places where locals frequent. I wouldn't say that most of the things I tried were healthy, like the Loco Moco, a popular local dish, at the Rainbow Drive-In, along with their burger. Poke bowls are always a healthier bet and Raffage Natural Foods near my hotel had consistently good lunch options.
Tiki's Bar and Grill is a great place for brunch because it gets too packed at dinner time. They have a great view of the ocean. And amazing red velvet waffles.
The Wakiki Yokocho Gourmet Alley is in the basement level of the Waikiki Shopping Center. The concept evokes dining in a Japanese alleyways, so you'll find everything there from authentic ramen to soft-serve green tea ice cream.
Plenty of fresh fruit juices, smoothies and shaved ice can be found around Waikiki as well. As for desserts, visit Leonard's Bakery for their Malasadas (Portuguese doughnuts), fresh out of the oven. They sell 1600 of them daily, so they know what they're doing. Even for sugary deep-fried dough, I couldn't believe how good they were.
Helicopter Ride of Oahu Island
Another highlight of my trip was taking a 45-minute helicopter tour around Oahu Island. A bus picked us up from the hotel and took us to the airport, where we boarded a windowless helicopter. What a thrilling experience. See all my aerial island photos and read about my experience in this separate post.
Waikiki Spa Day
While my family went hiking at Diamond Head, I decided I needed to get back to relaxing by booking myself in for a spa day. At least my bikini came in handy here. Read the full review of my spa experience at a slightly haunted hotel.
I also spent some time in the Beach Bar in the same hotel. Overlooking the ocean, the place is usually packed during meal times, but I like to come during the mid-afternoon to read and sip a cocktail under the beautiful banyan tree.
Hawaii Submarine Ride
Since I'd already gone up in the sky, it was time to go 100 feet underwater with Atlantis Submarines Waikiki. You first take a boat out and wait for the submarine. Watching the submarine emerge and then climbing inside was a pretty cool experience. The crew was lovely and professional, and I'm glad I went, but not a whole lot was happening once we were down in the water. We saw different fishes and a turtle, but if you're expecting a lot of action and sharks all over the place you'll probably be disappointed. The submarine took us past artificial "reefs"— boat and airplane wreckages planted there to attract sea life for the tour
Hiking in Honolulu
Since I'd missed the first hike with my family in favour of lounging around at the spa, I was excited to go to Manoa Falls. Manoa Falls is apparently a lot easier to hike compared to Diamond Head, but it's still quite the trek if you're not used to hiking.
To get there, you can easily take a public bus from Waikiki Beach to the residential area where it starts. The hike takes you up to the waterfall. I suppose you can also take a taxi, but I got pretty comfortable taking the bus with the locals any time I wanted to get out of Waikiki Beach.
Final thoughts on Honolulu
Hawaii is the best place to go in the middle of winter. The plane ride is long from Toronto, but Oahu Island's perfect weather, and a mixture of fun activities and places to relax, made for a balanced vacation for me. While exotic countries are fun to visit too, Hawaii is in the US, so the language barrier is not something I had to worry about. The predominately Asian population and the mixture of North American and Asian culture made me feel at home.
I've always lived in the city, so when I got to Hawaii, I let Mother Nature embrace me. Traffic can be brutal in Honolulu like in any city, but I never heard anyone honk because it's not "aloha." I can't imagine living here or any place that's sunny all year round—I'd probably get spoiled by the good weather and take it for granted—but I got to fill up on my sunshine to survive the rest of my Canadian winter.