Through divine intervention, I just happened to be scouring Google flights one Thursday night back in August, dreaming about Spring Break in a place I’ve wanted to visit for a long, long time. It was a dream, but I didn’t know if it would become a reality until I had more funds to make it happen. Out of nowhere, the flight prices started dropping right before my eyes. I began to refresh the page ended up landing a roundtrip flight from ATL for under $400! I’m the type of person that just can’t pass up an opportunity like that, so I jumped on it and trusted that the rest of the details would work themselves out later! And I’m so glad they did! When all was said and done, I spent about as much on the entire trip as I would have for what the flight alone normally would have costed. And out of all the places I’ve traveled, Hawaii ranks close to the top. I’ve never been to a more peaceful, unique place. If you ever get the chance to go, I hope you seize that opportunity too. Read on for all my recommendations from my time in Oahu!
Kualoa Beach Park
Where to Stay
I strongly recommend staying either at an Airbnb, VRBO or similar rental property of that nature. With Honolulu being a very popular tourist destination really at all times of the year, hotels and resorts anywhere on the island are insanely priced! On top of that, you have to consider what type of transportation you’ll be using. If you’re planning to get a rental car, some places charge high fees to park on site each day. We lucked out and found a place about 15 minutes from Waikiki that included parking. It was in a quiet, safe neighborhood just on the outskirts of the hustle and bustle of the main tourist area, so it was perfect! Since the island is fairly small, you can get to really anywhere within an hour of driving (give or take for traffic), but I preferred staying close to Waikiki where much of the tourist attractions were located and then ventured out from home base as we wanted to.
What to Drive
If you know me at all, you know my dream car is a black, 2-door Jeep Wrangler. So we thought what better car to drive in Hawaii than just that! Let me tell you, it was so worth it! And after all was said and done, it was only a small daily fee to upgrade to the Jeep from a basic economy sedan. Definitely do this if you get the chance! Just picture you in Hawaii, driving around the most beautiful sites with the top off. **Pro tip: parking in downtown Waikiki can be very tricky. We drove around for a couple hours looking for parking. Save yourself the trouble and go straight to the Honolulu Zoo. There is public parking that is much cheaper than any other lots/garages you’ll find even though it might be a couple more minutes of a walk to the shops.
My dream car!
Kualoa Ranch & Nature Preserve
When to GoHawaii’s climate really stays pretty mild year round. You can tell this is true because there are many open-air breezeways in a few of the important buildings in Oahu such as the airport and the state house. There really isn’t a need for these buildings to be completely covered because the weather is so gorgeous!! That being said, obviously more tourists are likely to go during summer and winter breaks. Going in February-March is a great time because the climate is warm but not too hot, and the island is bustling but not too overcrowded.
How to Pack
I highly recommend packing light. Since the climate is warm, you can get away with packing lighter and less clothing. It rained a little bit while we were on the island, so you may want to bring a rain coat. However, when I say rain, it’s more like a soft mist that comes for about 5 minutes while it’s still sunny outside and then goes away. It’s actually kind of refreshing, and as the locals would say, it’s a blessing from the heavens. You really don’t need the distraction of a laptop or any fancy beauty products. I brought my flat iron and my curling wand for my hair and never used it because the Hawaiian air did wonders! Plus, being able to carry on a bag and not have to pay extra or wait for a checked back with the risk of it getting lost is an added bonus!
Paradise Cove Luau
USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor
Hanauma Bay: this is the best place for snorkeling. Go as early in the day as you can as they close off the parking lot once it gets full. Our airbnb had snorkel gear we could borrow, so that was a plus!
Halona Blowhole: a beautiful lookout along an amazingly gorgeous winding scenic drive.
Makapu’u Lookout: another gorgeous lookout on this drive. I drove this road about 6-7 times to take it all in!
Kualoa Ranch and Nature Preserve: this is a highlight! You can’t miss it! While it is one of the more expensive attractions, it’s so worth it. We did the 2-hour Raptor tour, and we got to drive through the rugged terrain of the beautiful Jurassic Valley where movies like Jurrasic World and Kong: Skull Island were filmed and also the TV show Lost!
Paradise Cove Luau: one of my favorite parts of the entire trip! Get there early to experience all that they have to offer from making your own flower crown to watching a coconut tree climbing demonstration. Then, once the actual Luau starts, you’re in for a treat with everything from amazing Hawaiian food to the classic hula show!
Pearl Harbor: get there early and get your free tickets to take the boat to the USS Arizona Memorial. The dock was under construction, so we couldn’t get out onto the memorial but still worth the visit!
Earl Sandwich: hands down the best sandwich I’ve ever eaten. Period. And such a cute little place!
Sunset over Haleiw’a
Dole Pineapple Plantation: this is a cute spot with some amazing pineapple soft-serve called Dole Whip! Take the train ride around the plantation and see how they grow the pineapple, and then you’ll want to spend some time in their amazing gift shop.
Byodo-In Temple: this peaceful replica of a temple in Japan was a beautiful spot. Nestled right under some very majestic mountains, it is a great place to walk around and get yourself some fresh coconut water from a freshly cut coconut.
Haleiw’a Historic Town: this quickly became one of our go-to places to hang out! We spent a good amount of time here. It’s a cute little town with a beautiful view and lots of sweet little shops and yummy restaurants.
- Garlic Shrimp Food Trucks: while you’re visiting Haleiw’a, you’ve got to make a stop at the many food trucks sprinkled around. The garlic shrimp is the specialty, and each food truck makes it a little differently. I loved what I got at the Camaron Food Truck.
Laniakea (Turtle) Beach: if you’re lucky, you’ll see a few turtles catching a wave! A once-in-a-lifetime experience!
Banzai Pipeline: the waves are huge, and this is the best place to watch surfers do their thing. One of my favorite memories from this trip was standing on the shore at sunset, looking around at my panoramic view of the giant, perfectly aqua blue waves, the golden light, and the misty air gracing the tops of the palm trees. I’ll never forget it!
Matsumoto Shave Ice: best shave ice on the island! You can tell by the giant line out the door, but they move you through pretty fast. You can choose from a lot of unique flavors and add on ice cream, condensed milk, and mochi if you so desire.
Dole Whip. Yum!
Waikiki Beach: it’s touristy, yes, but you have to visit this iconic beach at some point. I recommend going as early as you can to get a parking spot and a spot on the beach. On Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, they do free hula shows on the beach!
Diamond Head: this is a classic spot to hike and pretty easy to get into. The view is amazing, but go early to avoid the masses of people who also love this spot!
- Downtown Honolulu: there are so many high end stores and really unique malls along the main street. Most shopping clusters are open-air (once again), and one mall I ventured into had a huge tree and treehouse with string lights and a romantic pond just below. Beautiful!
I’olani Palace: we didn’t end up going inside for the tour, but it’s a very pretty place to just visit the grounds as well!
Tantalus Drive and Puu Ualakaa State Park: there were only a handful of people at this spot at the top of the mountain. Seemed like the best kept secret of the island! Driving through the windy road through a neighborhood is fun, and the view of Waikiki from the top is incredible!
Likelike Drive Inn: a great place that you can tell is local! We were the only tourists at this restaurant when we came in for dinner, and it was so fun!
Liliha Bakery: get the coco puffs! You won’t regret it. This is a local favorite, and there are a couple locations. We went to the bakery and also the diner. Neither disappointed!
Leonard’s Bakery: one word– Malasadas! The next best local favorite was this place and their freshly made to order donuts. We got lucky and ended up going on a day where the line wasn’t ridiculous. My fave was the Malasada (donut) with the coconut filling. Mmmm!
Aloha! And Mahalo for reading!