Travelogue: Weekend in Waikiki

I’ve remarked that I may have done my worst job of over-packing yet for the 12 days we spent on Oahu. It became quickly apparent that we’d be living in bathingsuits and cover-ups day-in and day-out. Not, obviously, the worst of problems to have.

But that might give you a sense of how little I can say about glittering restaurants or hip bars in Waikiki, the place where our trip began. I’m hoping anyone with recommendations that don’t involve sun and sand might chime in below for the sake of others.

As for my part, here’s how our all-too-brief visit was spent…

The plan was to spend two nights in Waikiki, after which we’d drive up the east coast to spend five on the North Shore of Oahu, and finish with three nights at the Disney Aulani in Ko’Olina with family. The flight from Sacramento to Honolulu, er, flew by—it’s a direct 5-1/2 hours and, with the time change, you arrive around 9am local time.

Honolulu—and Waikiki—is a fascinating mix of natural beauty and the manmade. Many locals we met later, on the North Shore, spoke of avoiding its high rises like the plague. “Too crowded, too much traffic.” But we were sorry to go when the time came! It’s essentially a North American city in the middle of paradise—what’s not to like? We stayed on the western edge of the Waikiki resort district at the Outrigger Reef. The bed situation was a bit tight for the four of us, but otherwise it had everything we needed for a couple of nights—a large pool with a happy hour, direct access to the beach and to the beach walk, waterfront views at breakfast, and some fairly reasonable rates.

We took a taxi to our hotel and set down our bags before heading out for brunch.

The line looked short at Eggs ‘n Things—which we hear is always packed—but the wait was still long. The pancakes are the hot item on the menu, but I got the impression it’s one of those places that’s famous for quantity. (The kids loved it.) Aron’s Portuguese sausage was actually the standout item.

We came back to the hotel eager to change into our suits and get down to the water. And as soon as the waves hit Hudson’s ankles, he was jumping up and down and squealing with joy. It felt like vacation had officially started: such happiness!

There’s a long walkway that extends along the beach in front of the hotels. The sand has receded such that the waves were crashing on us as we went. I think just after I took this photo, a large one completely soaked me—and my camera! [Forehead smack!]

We walked for a while, taking in the sights before stopping for an early dinner on a whim. Sheraton’s Kai Market buffet had tables with wonderful views and a good selection of sushi and seafood, so we grabbed a table as soon as it opened.

Walking back, the gathering crowds portend a setting sun almost as much as do dimming skies.

We stayed out for the last of the light, the kids pointing out every crab that scampered along the jetty before they went scampering alongside them.

The next morning, we went downstairs for breakfast at the hotel’s restaurant. The buffet was mediocre but the views of the turquoise water and the early surf breaks were wonderful. There were couples taking romantic pictures in the surf and a drone hovering over paddleboarders in the waves—lots to watch.

After breakfast, we caught a ride to the Waikiki shopping strip and headed down a path to Queens beach, to check in at Faith Surf School. We signed up for outrigger surfing as a family, a group surf lesson for me, and a surfboard rental for Aron. 

The beach is packed. It’s sort of amazing how it seems to work without anyone getting hurt. Swimmers bob about in unicorn floaties as if in some azure bowl of soup, and children run in and out of waves while giant catamarans approach with little more warning than the call of a conch shell. Experienced surfers paddle clear of beginners, outrigger canoes go riding back and forth, and beach loungers try to keep hold of the sand (and their things) while the tide rises throughout the day. Such a scene!

Joining in, however, was the highlight of the day!

First, Aron figured out arrangements for us to go Outrigger Canoe Surfing with the kids (see the video). They were too little to paddle—Hudson was given one briefly at the end, but the crew actually solicited some guys from the beach to join us and help compensate—but it was an awesome way for them to experience being out in the break. We caught two waves and it was thrilling!

After lunch at Dukes, I took my first surfing lesson. I was surprised at how quickly I was standing up—and not surprised at how often I fell. Soreness definitely followed the next day.

Aron, who had surfed before, was also able to rent a board for $20/hour, so we traded off for time in the water while the other supervised the kids.

On the way back to the hotel pool, we walked through downtown Waikiki. You could easily spend all your time shopping, if you were so inclined. It reminded me a bit of Los Angeles—Rodeo Drive’s and the Grove’s open-air plans came to mind.

Just around the corner from our hotel was a small open-air mall called BeachWalk where we stopped for treats and I noticed a nice hat shop—if you were in need!

For dinner that evening, we walked back up Beachwalk Avenue—taking note of a food-truck lot that looked appealing!—to Bill’s. Apparently Bill Granger is an Australian chef and food TV personality.

This turned out to be one of my favorite meals—I loved the space, and everything seemed very fresh and delicious. We ordered lots of happy-hour appetizers and some good cocktails, and the kids’ menu was perfect, with pizzas and shrimp burgers. It was a good note to end on!

In the morning, Aron caught a ride back to the airport to pick up our rental car before we checked out to head to the North Shore. Oahu is small enough that many visitors base themselves in Waikiki and make day trips, particularly up the windward (east) coast of the island, so we headed that way and made some extra stops.

It’s hard to pass up Malasadas (fried Portughese doughnuts) at Leonard’s. Each malasada is made to order with a choice of toppings (plain sugar, cinnamon sugar, or li hing—salty dried plum) or fillings (custard, chocolate, a seasonal flavor, or haipua—coconut). The simple cinnamon-sugar is hard to beat, but haipua is my favorite. We took turns sampling each, but couldn’t possibly finish them all.

We drove into the crater of Diamond Head, but decided against going on a hike on this visit—another time—and passed by the popular snorkeling spot, Hanauma Bay. A volcanic crater that formed tens of thousands of years ago has since filled with water, one of its walls exposed and lost to the sea, to form a beautiful bay full of marine life. However, it’s also filled with people! If you’d like, you can read about our last time there in this Oahu travelogue. On that trip, we also went for a hike in nearby Manoa valley.

We pulled out at lookouts along the way. This little cove is right beside the Hālona Blowhole—it’s apparently where From Here to Eternity‘s famous beach scene was filmed.

You can see the Makapuu lighthouse behind us. There’s a trail that runs out to it, if you’re looking for a hike.

When we got to Lanikai, we stopped for tacos at Mexico Lindo, but I still couldn’t pass up a Pittaya bowl from Lanikai juice. I’d make a meal out of one of those bowls at every chance I could.

The beach at Lanikai is wide, soft, and beautiful. We sat in the shade of an evergreen called Ironwood that drops thousands of green-grape-sized pinecones, which made for a game of collection.

There are two islands visible from shore called the Na Mokulua or “mokes.” Kayakers can row out to the northern island, but no one is allowed to land on the southern island as it is a bird sanctuary. We stopped to play for a while before pressing on. I think the kids’ favorite part was crabbing in the river just off shore. Skyler even proudly showed us a handful of little fish the other kids had shared with her.

From Lanikai, we continued north, stopping around Kahana Bay to watch kite surfers and paragliders in the wind. At the Waiahole Poi Factory, we pulled over for dinner—apparently the factory has been there for over 100 years, and if you go at the right time you can see them pounding the poi. The Kalua pork was delicious but I’d suggest reading through these Yelp reviews. It sounds like we should have ordered ice cream, too!

The beaches all along the windward side of the island were beautiful—and very uncrowded. As you round toward the North Shore, you pass the Polynesian Cultural Center and some shrimp trucks and a great shaved ice stop before coming to Turtle Bay. We checked out the latter on our last visit, but have yet to make it to the Polynesian Cultural Center. The kids would have loved it, so we really hesitated to pass it up, but it sounds like it deserves the better part of a day—next time!

Other attractions we will be saving for future visits include: the Honolulu aquarium, which I hear is small but impressive; hikes around the island, like Diamond Head crater and the many Pillbox stations; Honolulu’s chinatown; the Bishop Museum; and Pearl Harbor.

With the short flight from Sacramento, and Aron’s family’s timeshare at the Aulani, we hope to be back on Oahu in a couple of years!

Have you been to Waikiki? What tips would you share for others or for next time? 

P.S. Previously: Oahu travelogue and our first stay at the Aulani.  Next up: the North Shore and a return to Ko’Olina.

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