This week’s Cities for Less post comes from the exotic destination island of Hawaii. Who hasn’t seen pictures of surfers on the beach, stunning sunsets and dramatic coastline and not been tempted to book flights? Let’s be realistic though, the South Pacific (I know technically Hawaii is part of the USA but in geography it is nearer to the palm fringed isles of the South Pacific) is not renowned for bargain basement prices.
The best way to visit Oahu for less is undoubtedly to get the low-down from a local, so if you are planning a trip to Oahu anytime soon, you absolutely must read these tips from Wendy of Pint Size Gourmets. Now before you lager loving Brits get carried away, her blog is nothing to do with pints of the alcoholic variety.
Wendy Awai-Dakroub founded Pint Size Gourmets as a kid-friendly food and travel blog to chronicle her family’s culinary world-schooling adventures. She is a writer, photographer, traveler, and mom to kid-foodies LouLou and Jaf with whom she travels the world trying different cuisines, taking food tours and cooking classes and exploring street foods scene. So let’s hear Wendy’s suggestions for getting the most out of a trip to Oahu.
How cute are those kids?
I was born and raised on the island of Oahu and lived here until I moved to California for work. As luck would have it, I accepted a job opportunity that would take me to the Middle East, which in the late 80’s was quite uncommon for someone from Hawaii. Taking that leap of faith allowed me to travel the world, expose myself to different nationalities and cultures, and gain a wider perspective on life.
But, Hawaii would always be home to me, and so in 2007, with husband in tow (whom I met in Dubai), I moved back to the island, and our family grew to include two kid-foodies! Since 2014, we’ve been world-schooling our kids, teaching them all about different cultures, as well as their own, through food.
I couldn’t be more excited to share tips on how to experience my hometown of Oahu on a budget!
Hawaii’s island of Oahu, located smack dab in the middle of the Pacific Ocean seems far for some, but once you get here, you’ll never want to leave! It is paradise, after all.
Since we are an island, the only way to get here is by plane. The main airport is Honolulu International Airport (HNL) on the big island with daily flights to and from the mainland USA, as well as Asia and Australia.
Tickets prices can vary depending on the time of travel. We suggest signing up for travel alerts from Kayak, it’s a good indicator of when to travel to the islands. Tip: If the price of a ticket is over $600 R/T (from the US mainland) it usually indicates “high season” and the island will be over-crowded with visitors.
Anne: I also recommend Skyscanner if you want to bag cheap flights to Hawaii from the UK as you can set up alerts and they search budget and bank bursting airlines in one go! From London to Hawaii will take you around 20 hours but if you can’t face it in economy, then check out my series showing you how to fly business for less than economy.
The best way to get around is by renting a car. It gives you the freedom to explore the island on your own, and is a way for you to get away from the tourist centers and visit local neighborhoods. However, if you’re more adventurous we highly suggest using the “DA BUS”, currently Oahu’s only public transportation system (a new rail system is scheduled to open 2018).
Hotels in Hawaii
Being a major tourist destination, hotels can be pricey, with an average nightly cost of $199. However, Trip Advisor has a list of the 10 Best Cheap Hotels on Oahu, with reviews from guests . And, there’s always Airbnb – where you can rent a private room instead. Many airbnb hosts are also able to tell you where their favorite hidden beach is and of course, where to find some “ono” grinds (that’s Hawaiian slang for “good food”).
Anne: sounds divine. Who doesn’t love a good beach? I love Airbnb and if you do decide to go ahead and book an Airbnb, be sure to use this link to get £20 off your first booking.
Things to do in Hawaii
If you intend to spend your vacation beach-hopping, please skip Waikiki. It’s noisy, and overcrowded, and not the best way to experience paradise. Instead, here are a few local favorites that we would recommend.
- Kailua Beach
- Haleiwa Beach
- Ko’Olina Lagoons (for snorkeling)
- Sharks Cove (for snorkeling)
If you want some adventure, there are plenty of day hikes you can go on.
- Diamond Head – go at sunrise when it’s quiet and less crowded, for a beautiful panoramic view of Oahu
- Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail where you may see a few whales breaching
Museums & Shopping
The Bishop Museum, which is Hawaii’s largest museum and located on Oahu, houses the world’s largest collection of Polynesian artifacts from the Cook Islands, Tahiti, Tonga, Samoa and Fiji, but more importantly items from Hawaii’s royal lineage.
Entrance costs $22.95 but is well worth it. Furthermore if you know a local, or are a member of the military, you can bag a ticket for a discounted fare of $14.95.
Before Hawaii became a part of the United States, it was a country in its own right, ruled by a monarchy, with Iolani Palace being the royal residence. To learn more about Queen Liliuokalani and her royal lineage, take a tour of the Palace and its grounds. A 60-90 minute tours cost $21.75.
The Royal Hawaiian Band also plays free concerts here on most Fridays from 12:00-1:00pm.
The attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 is just as important a part of Hawaii’s history as it is that of the United States. A visit to the USS Arizona memorial located in the Harbor is a sobering but necessary experience. Every day, the National Park Services hands out 1,300 free walk-in tickets on a first-come, first-serve basis. If you can, arrive before the doors open at 7:00am to secure yourself free tickets. If not, the narrated tour costs $7.50 and is 2 1/2 hours long. (Anne: I would love to do this tour!)
Aloha Stadium Swap Meet
Located in Oahu’s largest football stadium, the Aloha Stadium Swap Meet happens three days a week. It’s Hawaii’s largest outdoor market featuring over 400 vendors, crafters, and artists from all over. Open on Sunday from 6:30am-3:00pm and Saturday and Wednesday from 8:00am-3:00pm, it is the place to get your made in Hawaii souvenirs!
Nu’uanu Pali Lookout
This is one of Oahu’s most scenic spots, offering wonderful views of the island’s plush Windward Coast. This is also a site of historical significance, back in 1795, it was the site of the Battle of Nu’uanu when King Kamehameha I won the struggle and united the island under his rule.
Stop by this stunning small park and lookout point when you’re visiting the North Shore. The place is steeped in the Hawaiian legend of Laniloa, mo‘o which can be read on a granite plaque attached to a boulder in the park. And, if you happen to visit during January to March (peak whale migration months), come here for some whale watching.
The quieter side of the island, or what folks in Hawaii call the country, the North Shore is serene. To get there from downtown Honolulu, you’ll have to take X highway, which is a two-lane highway right next to the ocean. It makes for a beautiful, scenic drive.
Enjoy daily sunrise and sunsets by the water
If there’s one thing you don’t miss, it’s this. Sunrises and sunsets are extremely beautiful in Hawaii, especially overlooking the ocean. An early hike up Diamond Head will reward you witha stunning sunrise, or if you want to relax, head to Ala Moana Beach Park to watch the beautiful sunsets. Sunset Beach in the North Shore, is true to its name – expect an unforgettable view as night approaches.
Anne: who could disagree with Wendy on this one? Gorgeous! By the way, if you want to see Oahu from a whole other perspective, check out this post on skydiving Oahu.
Ali’i Luau at the Polynesian Cultural Center
If there’s one thing you must absolutely experience in Hawaii, it’s an authentic luau. Skip the ones offered by hotels on Waikiki, and head to the Ali’i Luau hosted by the Polynesian Cultural Center for a true taste of Hawaiian cuisine.
Guests are welcomed to the luau with a traditional lei welcome, and serenaded by the sounds of the ukulele, while hula dancers showcase their traditional dances. The luau consists of traditional Hawaiian foods like kalua pig, that’s been prepared in a traditional underground pit. In addition, you’ll also get seats to their evening show HA: The Breath of Life. Tickets start at $104.95.
Where to eat
Hawaii is one of the most diverse states in the United Sates, so it’s no surprise that the food scene is just as varied. With immigrants coming from all over Asia, you bet we have some delicious, and interesting dishes.
These dishes, common to our local Hawaiian cuisine, are a mixture of what Hawaii used to be back in the Plantation era when immigrants from China, Korea, Portugal, Japan, and the Philippines all came to the islands to work in the pineapple and sugar cane fields.
Blending these cuisines created what we call today local Hawaiian food. It’s an entirely different style of cooking, unique to the Hawaiian islands. Without it, we would be missing out on all of this multi-cultural charm.
Here are a few restaurant recommendations, some showcasing local Hawaiian food, and others showcasing Asian and Middle Eastern delights. Lunch costs anywhere from $10-$15, and expect to spend about $20 for dinner.
- Eat the Street on the last Friday of every month, local foodies come together at Eat the Street to sample dishes from Hawaii’s burgeoning food truck scene. Meals typically cost between $8 and $12.
- Makers & Tasters conceived by the creators of Eat the Street, Makers & Tasters is a new “street-food marketplace” where locals frequent for lunch and dinner, located along Kewalo Harbor waterfront.
- Highway Inn - You know a Hawaiian restaurant is good if you spot a lot of Hawaiians in it. Their combo plates cost $13-$15. If you’ve never tried Hawaiian food, we suggest the Lau Lau Combo.
- Elena’s has awesome Filipino food, it’s even been featured on the show “Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives”. They’ve been around for years – my grandparents used to eat at their restaurant in Waipahu! Try Elena’s Adobo Fried Rice, and a few orders of their Shanghai Lumpia.
- On your drive to North Shore, you’ll pass by a couple of food trucks – stop at Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck. These food truck veterans have been serving fresh shrimp plates since 1993 – way before food trucks were even a thing. We recommend their Shrimp Scampi plate or their Jumbo Aloha Hot Dog.
- Kan Zaman Moroccan-Lebanese is co-owned by the kid foodie’s father (he’s Lebanese), Kan Zaman is Oahu’s first Moroccan-Lebanese themed restaurant. We recommend the mezze platter, chicken kebab plate, vegetarian couscous and orange blossom cheesecake.
- Matsumoto’s Shave Ice – I guess you could call shave ice Hawaii’s version of ice cream. Made from crushed ice that’s flavored with a number of sweet syrups, it’s the perfect dessert to cool you down after a day at the beach. A popular North Shore institution, expect long lines, but the refreshing shave ice, which will cost you between $2.50-$4.00, makes it worth the wait.
- Genki Sushi – If you’re looking for affordable, delicious sushi on the island, head to Genki! They have these new zooming cars, similar to the Japanese bullet trains that quickly deliver your sushi order right to your table. We suggest: Karaage Chicken, Tuna Nigiri, and Garlic Salmon
- Sorabol – Up late and need to eat something other than fast-food? Head to the 24/7 Korean eatery Sorabol, that serves up delicious Korean bbq. We recommend the kimchi fried rice, and any of the bulgogi meats – they’re so tender.
Oh my! Wendy really has my mouth-watering with that concoction of foodie possibilities!! It certainly sounds like there are some real treats in store in Hawaii. Thanks so much to Wendy for sharing her top tips. Feel free to connect with her on Facebook.
Have you ever been to Hawaii?
What about you? Have you ever been to Oahu or any of the other Hawaiian islands and have top tips to share? I know one of my readers definitely has as she got married on the beautiful island of Maui. Her photos were amazing so if you are thinking of a wedding or honeymoon destination, maybe this could be the place for you.
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