Hi, I’m back from winter vacation!
This year I was fortunate enough to visit the Hawaiian island of Oahu with my love for nine whole days, internet free. Last winter we visited Maui, which was an entirely different world. Maui (the way we interpreted it) was more of a relaxing vacation where the beach was the main event, there were major attractions to experience, and we ate big fancy dinners every night. It seemed like it was made for tourists, with quiet peaceful country, to forget about the real world. Oahu (the way we interpreted it) was a bustling city full of diverse culture, cheap eats, and fierce nature.
There were lots of cars and people, but more depth and real life. Both experiences were so different I couldn’t say which one was more enjoyable; it certainly depends on your taste. I feel so blessed to have visited both islands, which are each truly paradise in their own hue.
Oahu is a relatively small island; it only takes an hour to go from north to south, or east to west. There are major highways that connect the regions of the island, which can get pretty backed up during rush hours or after an accident. This is typical of any road system, but it can be frustrating on vacation where everything is supposed to be ‘perfect.’ Waikiki is tourist central. High-end shops and many expensive restaurants line the lively streets. Parking is a pain and beaches are crowded (though nonetheless beautiful). We stayed in Waikiki, but chiefly to sleep. Our daily adventures were mostly outside of this mainstream buzz, which was too much for our palate. There were however benefits of staying here. Waikiki holds a very central location to all sides of the island. There are many restaurants to choose from at all times of the day and night. There are great fancy restaurants to treat yourself at, and certainly a few memorable cheap eats if you know where to look. The view from our high-rise rental apartment was a fantastic cityscape that I loved to view from our lanai (balcony).
Waikiki resides inside the larger entity of Honolulu, an international city. The city is varied with buildings ranging from financial to historical, cultural, and industrial. The only royal palace in America is located here. There is a great Asian population on the island and a visit to the Chinatown Cultural Plaza makes you feel like you are in a different country. Certain streets could have you thinking you were in NYC, and the city is equipped with a Walmart so all bases are covered. It is typical of any major city, yet has it’s own unique flare; It is small enough that you can get a feel for the city in just a few days, but it could take a lifetime to truly know. Many people walked alone at night and I always felt safe in this city.
Head to the west and you will be entering the Leeward side of the island, home to many locals. This is the driest side of the island where we spent the most of our beach part of the vacation. We fled here when the weather was rainy on the rest of the island, which it often is in winter. There is a major resort out this way, Ko Olina that is fabulous, and if you’re into resorts I couldn’t recommend this place any more (from what I experienced). We ventured in to many local joints and some ‘high theft’ areas any never felt threatened for a second, and actually enjoyed passing conversations with local people in these areas. We enjoyed some of the best dive restaurants in this region, truly amazing food we will dream about for years to come. If I ever return to Oahu in the winter, I would stay Leeward for sure.
We caught unfortunate weather on both trips up to the Northshore, but still managed to have a great time. It’s quieter up here, and a bit out of the way, but that might be the charm of what certain people are looking for. There is a resort and some hostels, depending on your flavor. The waves in the winter are huge and mostly unsafe to swim in, only entered by surfers. Speaking of surfers, that’s the vibe. We accidentally came during the Pipe Master surfers’ competition and the place was packed, it was great to watch these superb athletes in the fury of Mother Nature.
There are some seriously tasty eats to be found, food trucks, local farms, and farmers markets alongside an array of regular restaurants. Most people venture up to the Northshore if only for a day, it is the polar opposite of Waikiki.
If you were ever wondering how the Windward region got its name, just visit. Ridiculously windy on both days we ventured east! Hiking a ridge trail and sitting on the beach we were really affected by the crazy amount of wind, however you can find some of the most beautiful trails and beaches here, so on a calm day this place could be absolutely perfect. Lots of great options to eat and shop, and it seems more laid back that Waikiki but still bursting with things to do. This would probably be my second choice of places to stay on the island, but hopefully during a dry season because this also seemed like the rainiest area.
The people on the island were all really friendly towards us, I felt very comfortable here. There is an exorbitant amount of new places to eat, parks to explore, and sights to see. The flora and fauna are peculiar to me, and therefore fantastic; so colorful and distinct. I truly enjoyed getting to know the common local birds, hearing their songs, and watching their quirky personalities.
There is a lot of history to be found here from the indigenous past to the military attack on Pearl Harbor (on many hikes you will find abandoned military bunkers and currently there are many military bases). The weather in winter was definitely a bit rainier than our experience in Maui, but if you don’t plan on spending your entire trip at the beach you can find lots of things to do regardless of the weather (plus after every rain there is a rainbow!).
Hawaii may have a rap for being extremely expensive, and it can be, but you can definitely enjoy the island of Oahu on a very affordable budget. The city can be high paced and hectic but watching a sunset from the beach has a way of slowing things down and reminding you you’re on vacation.
I will be writing a ‘Best Of‘ series containing all eats and activities that you should experience if visiting Oahu!