I went on a week long trip with my entire family to Honolulu, Hawaii. This was my first time visiting Hawaii and it was better then I could have ever imagined. The island of Oahu is truly paradise.

Trip Dates

Feb 22 – 28 2017

How We Got There

I flew to Honolulu on Hawaiian Airlines from Oakland, CA. I was surprised at how far away Honolulu was (roughly 2,500 miles) and how long the flight was. I am used to getting from SFO to JFK in under 5 hours and this particular flight seemed to drag on and on for nearly 6.

How We Got Around

I originally planned to use Lyft to get around, but was surprised (and slightly annoyed) that Honolulu Airport does not allow Lyft to pick passengers up at the terminal. We ended up renting an SUV through Hertz at the Airport, which was a great call because we were able to see parts of the island in the coming days, that would have been nearly impossible to get to otherwise. Oahu has a surprisingly robust public transportation system with buses going to nearly all the major parts of the island.

Where We Stayed

We stayed at the Courtyard in Waikiki Beach.

What We Did

We arrived on Wednesday afternoon, rented a car, and headed to the hotel to check in. After dropping off baggage we walked around Waikiki, got a quick lunch at Rock Island Cafe (a rock and roll themed diner), and enjoyed fresh coconut water out of a real coconut from the farmer’s market afterwards. We headed back to the hotel and I was so tired that I passed out at around 4 PM and did not get up until 3 AM the next morning.

A few hours before sunrise, my brother and I left the hotel and drove to explore the southeastern part of Oahu. Minutes after leaving the hotel, we were pulled over because the streets of Honolulu at night are so well-lit, my brother, the driver, forgot to turn the headlights on. The police officer was very nice and let us go with a warning and a statement that “there are no streetlights where we were going”. After thirty minutes of driving, and being close to the city limits, we found a Starbucks that opened at 4 AM. We grabbed some coffee and worked on side projects while waiting for the sunrise. The valet at the hotel suggested the best viewing point for the sunrise was at Hālona Blowhole, approximately 12 miles from our hotel, and only minutes away from the Starbucks we were drinking coffee at.

The sun was reported to rise at 6:56 AM (HST) that morning, and we did not want to miss a single moment. At 6 AM, we headed out to the Hālona Blowhole from Starbucks. Upon arrival, the sky was still pitch black, it was very chilly, windy, and all we could hear was the sound of the waves hitting the rocky cliff below us. We prepped our camera equipment in the car for several minutes, before heading out to the observation deck. In what seemed like a blink of an eye, we suddenly saw the clouds and the silhouette of the island begin to be illuminated by the yellow and orange tones from the twilight. From then on, every minute that passed the views were just breathtaking. We could see the yellow sand and crystal clear water of Sandy Beach below us. We could finally see the waves we have been hearing all morning, hitting the rocks below us and observe why and how the Hālona Blowhole received its designation. We could see the lush green mountains of the island behind and in front of us, revealing just how vast the topography of Oahu is. Watching the sunrise at the Hālona Blowhole is the closest experience to a magical moment and by far one of my favorite moments of the trip.

Soon after the sun had peeked out from behind the clouds and it was officially morning, we left the Hālona Blowhole and went to see “what the fuss is about” at Sandy Beach. Sandy Beach is located just below the Hālona Blowhole. As we parked the car, we could hear a rooster crowing, and after quick observation saw him sitting in a bush. Then, all of a sudden, we saw a chicken with five of her chicks, come out of the bushes and start running around the parking lot. This was an unexpected surprise, but we found it to be common in most parts of the island as we explored in the days ahead. The sand at Sandy Beach was gentle and very fine. Every step you take, your feet just dig in to shoreline. The waves at Sandy Beach on that morning were particularly strong, carrying a tremendous amount of riptide behind them. We were wearing bathing suits, so we were able to get into the chilly water slightly and take some beautiful shots of the waves crashing into the beach.

From Sandy Beach, we decided to drive a little further along the main road to see what else this part of the island had in store. We quickly wound up on a curvy road on the side of a mountain with beautiful views of the ocean on the other side of the car. Every turn we made, there was something new and beautiful to see. We parked at the first place we could along this road, which happened to be the Makapu’u Beach Lookout. At first glance, it was nothing too special, just a scenic overview, but as we made our way up the steps to the lookout platform, our hearts dropped from the scenery. Aside from the crystal clear blue water and gleaming yellow beach, right in front of us was a huge and beautiful island. We later learned this was the Kāohikaipu Island State Seabird Sanctuary, but at that moment it was definitely an unexpected surprise to us. We took some great shots at this overlook and drove down to Makapu’u Beach below for a quick glance. We found what looked like, and probably is, hardened black lava for the shoreline at Makapu’u Beach and more aggressive waves. We took some more amazing shots of the beach and the Seabird Sanctuary, and decided to head back to the hotel as it was already nearing 10 am.

After arriving at the hotel,we picked up our parents and headed down to the piers and Aloha Tower. We walked around the Aloha Tower square but found that there was not much to see as most of it was going through renovations. We decided to go up a couple of blocks into the business district and get a quick lunch at Honolulu Cafe. This was a great choice for lunch as they offered fresh, delicious salads and sandwiches as well as great service. It was just enough to keep us going until dinner time.

After lunch we walked to the Hawaii State Capitol Building, which was an architectural feat and differentiated from many of the traditional state capitol buildings I have been used to seeing since starting the Capitols Project. Surrounded by palm trees and fountains, this square shaped building has a very contemporary look, with an open courtyard in the middle of it. Directly across from the state capitol building is the Iolani Palace, the home of Hawaii’s last monarchs. We walked around the outside of this magnificent building and I was able to grab some reading material from the gist shop, but we opted out of the guided tour because it was over an hour long and we had too much to see. From here, we walked across the street to the Aliiolani Hale, home to the State Supreme Court. This building resembled the architecture of Iolani Palace and it has a gold status of King Kamehameha displayed in front of it. We went inside to walk through a small exhibit about Hawaii’s culture and beginnings as well as some history on King Kamehameha. This was but a small snippet of Hawaii’s history, and one of the employees there suggested going to the Bishop Museum for more information. We decided to head there next but we would need to get the car because it was not within walking distance.

On the way back to the car, we made a stop at the Hawaii State Art Museum. This art museum was very diverse in its collections. We saw paintings of Hawaii’s landscape by local Hawaiian artists. We saw various sculptures and masks. We saw some contemporary works from various artists that drew inspiration from Hawaii. My favorite exhibit was the art made by local high school students. These were some very creative pieces that touched on many current issues affecting people all over the world.

We arrived at the Bishop Museum approximately 3 hours before they closed. We started with the main exhibit hall, which was 3 stories high! This was exactly what I was looking for to learn about the history of Hawaii. From the ceiling hung life-size models of Hawaii’s most notable ocean sea life, including a very prominent Sperm Whale. Each floor took me through various time periods in Hawaiian history. From stories about the original Polynesian founders who sailed thousands of miles in canoes to James Cook and King Kamehameha, the exhibit gave a clear understanding of the culture past and present.  The exhibit showcased early living arrangements, tools, weapons and food that was prevalent in those times. There is a vast collection of artifacts from early settlers to the royalty that resided on the islands. After the main exhibit, we visited the on-site planetarium and watched a short presentation on satellites that orbit our atmosphere and the data they collect on the environment. From here we went to the Bishop Museum Science Adventure Center where there were many interactive exhibits to understand Hawaii’s environment and the steps being taken to preserve it.

To end the day, we wanted to watch the sunset and get dinner. We headed out to the southwest part of Oahu, towards Germaine’s Luau because we figured that there would be some restaurants nearby. Surprisingly, it turned out that Germaine’s, which claims to be “too good to miss,” is actually in the middle of the industrial sector without a single other restaurant nearby. We got back on the highway and kept driving west until we came across Ko Olina. This is the resort area of Oahu, full of tourists and families. Since the sun was starting to set, we first went to the ocean front and found a beautiful lagoon from where to watch the sunset. This was a very peaceful place, where the wind blew gently and the water was very calm compared to the activity we saw at the other beaches earlier that day. As the sun set, the sky was illuminated with tones of red, blue and purple. If you ever look at pictures of a Hawaiian sunset, it looks the same in real life, no filters needed. For dinner we went to the Pizza Corner at Ko Olina Station, where the food was delicious and the garlic knots were to die for. After dinner, we grabbed some coffee around the corner at Island Vintage Coffee, featuring Hawaiian grown coffee, and they did not disappoint. After a long first day, we headed back to Honolulu to get some rest.

The next morning, we woke up early again because we wanted to take our parents to see the sunrise at Hālona Blowhole. If you ever visit Oahu, you have to make sure to see the sunrise and sunset at least once during your stay. Unfortunately, this morning there was a heavy overcast and in addition there were camera crews set up to film a movie or music video at the key viewing spots. This combination of too many people and heavy overcast, left a rather disappointing sunrise, compared to the day before, although my parents still loved it. After the sunrise, we decided to show them the Kāohikaipu Island State Seabird Sanctuary down the road while we were in the area. From here, we drove to Pearl Harbor where we spent the rest of the day. I will go into more detail on our visit to Pearl Harbor in a future blog, but needless to say, we visited every memorial and historical site they had to offer, and even had to come back the next day to visit the USS Arizona Memorial. For dinner we went back to the Aloha Tower Marketplace and visited Nashville Waikiki. This restaurant is set up as a traditional Country Western Saloon, with great southern food, dancing and live country music.

Saturday rolled around and we wanted to get breakfast at a top rated brunch place in Chinatown called Scratch. By the time we arrived, the wait was almost 1.5 hours, so we decide to get brunch down the street at Pho Saigon, a Vietnamese Restaurant. A casual style diner with traditional Vietnamese fare, this was a fine and unplanned choice for brunch that day. We then headed back to Pearl Harbor to visit the USS Arizona Memorial.

For dinner that evening we booked reservations at Paradise Cove Luau, back in Ko Olina. This is another great experience that anyone who visits Hawaii should participate in. From the moment we walked in we were treated to Mai Tai’s and “got leid.” Inside Paradise Cove there were many activities before dinner service began. There is a lagoon you can paddle around in a canoe, several parrots people were taking pictures with, a bar (of course), and various activities held by the host with audience participation that showcased traditional Hawaiian ways. Dinner was traditional Hawaiian fare and entertainment was provided on stage with Hula and fire dancers. The whole luau lasted approximately three hours and it was an amazing experience.

Sunday morning, we were set on trying Scratch for breakfast, so we arrived at their door, ten minutes before they opened at 7:30 am. The reviews were spot on and this was by far the best breakfast we had in Honolulu. Everything was made fresh and the staff were very friendly and helpful. After breakfast, we decided to drive along the western coastline. past Ko Olina until the road ended. Along the way we found many beautiful beaches, all with humongous waves. A storm was coming into shore from the sea, causing high winds which resulted in the large waves. However, everywhere we stopped along the way, we could spot surfers out in the water, braving the waves and making it look easy. After a couple hours of driving along the coast and many stops along the way, our next destination was the Dole Plantation, in the middle of the island.

This was the first time during our visit we were leaving the coastline. The drive to the Dole Plantation showed us a part of Hawaii we have not seen yet. Lush green mountains were noticeably visible from anywhere on the island, but as we drove into the mountains, we saw valleys, fields, trees and vegetation that we did not see previously on the coastline. In addition, we saw many horse ranches. Upon arrival at Dole Plantation, we ate lunch at their cafe and treated ourselves to Dole Whip, a pineapple flavored ice cream which was delicious. We rode the Pineapple Express, which is a train tour through the pineapple plantation that explains the history of pineapple growth in Hawaii. After the tour, we walked through the Dole Plantation Garden, which featured flowers and trees indigenous to the Hawaiian lands. The most important thing I learned from the Dole Plantation visit is that pineapples do not grow on trees.

Upon departure from the plantation, we decided to take the scenic route back to the hotel and continue our coastal drive. We headed to the North Shore and planned to circle back south from there. The north part of the island had noticeably different vegetation. The palm trees were replaced with pine needle trees, and more grass was prevalent. As we drove around the coast, the sun was setting fast. We found Waimea Valley off of the road, but they were closing so we made a note to come back the next day. We were able to make it to the Island of Mokolii, also know as Chinaman’s Hat for its distinct shape, before the sun set completely. We decided to stay here until the sun sets, and boy was it a good decision. From Chianaman’s Hat looking towards the sunset all you can see are large mountains. As the sun sets behind the mountains, they begin to glow, creating a wonderful opportunity for beautiful photographs. After the sunset, we took a shortcut through tunnels in the mountains back to Honolulu to rest up for the next day.

Monday was our last day, but luckily our flight did not leave until 10 PM. After checking out from the Courtyard by Marriott, the plan was to explore Waimea Valley. Along the way, we passed Dole Plantation, so we decided to stop in for lunch and some more Dole Whip. Waimea Valley is a nature preserve as well as a historical site, tucked away in Northern Oahu. Some features in the valley include ancient burial sites, buildings from an ancient Hawaiian village, various flowers and trees preserved for many years and a 45 foot waterfall at the end of the walking trail.

We wanted to see a Hawaiian sunset one last time before we left so we drove down to Ko Olina once again. We had dinner at Just Tacos, an authentic Mexican Grill and Cantina, at Ko Olina Station. Afterwards, we got coffee at Island Vintage Coffee and walked down to the lagoon to watch the sunset. Soon after the sunset, we headed to the Honolulu International Airport to begin our long journey home.

What Was the Fuss?

Where to even begin. Hawaii is truly paradise and the island of Oahu has hidden treasures at every turn. I almost regret going to Hawaii so early in this project because the other capitals are going to have a lot to live up to in comparison. I was in awe of the natural beauty, inspired by the stories of Pearl Harbor, and intrigued about the rich history of the Hawaiian People at the Bishop Museum. It is no surprise that Oahu is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the US.