Aloha! My ohana (family) decided to go on a big trip since we had not taken a true family vacation since the pandemic started and my parents were celebrating their 25th anniversary. Our destination of choice: Oahu, Hawaii! We spent a total of nine days on the trip, two of which were mainly spent on a plane. We flew from Austin, Texas to Honolulu, Hawaii, so it was about seven to seven and a half hours each way. I figured I'd tell you guys what we did and give you tips based on that! At the end, you'll find a summarized day by day itinerary. Here was our full 7-day itinerary:
We decided to stay at the Ko Olina Beach Villas Resort at Ko Olina in Kapolei, Hawaii. Here is a link to the villa that we booked through VRBO. It was a great place to stay for our first time in Hawai'i. The villas are located on Lagoon 2, which is between Disney Aulani and the Four Seasons Hotel on Lagoon 1, the Marriott's Ko Olina Beach Club at Lagoon 3, and the Ko Olina Marina at Lagoon 4. The property manager for our VRBO rental was super nice; she showed us around the rental and gave us suggestions for restaurants and activities. There's also a shopping area with restaurants near the beach villas (around 10 minute walk away). On our first day, we settled in and went over to Mina's Fish House for dinner. We got there during happy hour so we tried the calamari, brussels sprouts, and fish and chips. We then watched the sunset at our lagoon.
We were not adjusted to the time change, so we were up really early. We decided to check out Green World Coffee Farm in Wahiawa, where you can see some of their coffee trees, buy coffee and souvenirs to take home, and grab a coffee to enjoy then and there. We then drove further up to Laniakea beach. Since we got there early in the morning, there were very few people on the beach; three other people were there: one surf instructor and two people taking surfing lessons. Laniakea Beach is actually located right outside a town called Haleiwa. Haleiwa has a bunch of shops (surf shops!!) and restaurants! While in Haleiwa we got crepes from North Shore Crepes Cafe, and sliders and shrimp scampi from two different food trucks. The crepes and sliders were both really good. Even though the shrimp scampi was from a popular food truck, it was nothing special in my opinion.
From there we drove all around the North Shore. There isn't much in the northwest, but the northeast has little towns with hiking trails, beaches, and fruit stands all around. We stopped at some fruit stands and got fresh pineapple, mango, and other fruit. We also got fresh coconut and banana fritters! We wanted to check out the Dole Plantation, but there was a long wait and, honestly, we heard that it is not worth the time and money.
From the North Shore we decided to check out Byodo-In Temple, which is a Buddhist temple that was established in 1968. Don't forget to ring the bell three times before you enter the temple! The grounds are beautiful and you can feed the fish in the pond. There is fish food available for purchase in the gift shop. Once you start feeding the fish, they all swim over and stare at you as the birds also surround you and eat from your hands. When you leave the temple's parking lot, head to the ocean view terrace toward the right. Go to the very top of the road and look at the view. It's amazing!!
After the temple, we drove around the eastern side of the island. There are a ton of pretty beaches on the east side. We went to Kaluanui Beach, which was a nice beach to relax at. We headed back to Ko Olina and ate at Makahiki, a restaurant at Disney Aulani. They provide a 3-course dinner and you have a few options for your courses. It is quite expensive, but the food is delicious!! I got corn soup, tuna with couscous and bok choy, and roasted pineapple cobbler. It was all incredible and Disney treats you really well!
Each morning we ate breakfast on the lanai of our vacation rental. It was much cheaper than eating breakfast at a restaurant. Groceries are quite expensive in Hawaii (especially at the little market in Ko Olina), but it is still cheaper than eating out. After breakfast, we headed to Waikiki Beach to watch surfers. Parking in Waikiki is quite pricey (we paid $30 for the day at one parking garage), so that's something to just keep in mind. We chilled on Waikiki Beach and watched the surfers! There's a lagoon area if you don't want to go in the area with waves. There are a lot of surfers and people setting out for time on the water in outrigger canoes, so the lagoon is nice if you want to relax in calmer water. Near the beach is Luxury Row, a street lined by luxury brands like Chanel, Gucci, and Saint Laurent Paris. It's a neat place to go window shopping (or real shopping if you have the money). It's pretty much like the Rodeo Drive of Honolulu!
BISHOP MUSEUM, HAWAIIAN FOOD, & USS ARIZONA
After some time at the beach, we headed back to Bishop Museum. The museum was established in 1889 and has different exhibits on the history and culture of Hawaii. It's really awesome and you can spend so much time here! We had time reservations for the Pearl Harbor National Memorial in the afternoon, so we didn't have a lot of time here before we had to get lunch. It was worth it though!
For lunch, we tried some traditional Hawaiian food at Helena's Hawaiian Kitchen! I tried Menu 1 (kalua pork, lomi salmon, poi, coconut pudding, and an extra side of rice) and it was so good!! For two Menu 1s, an extra side of rice, and two orders of pork and cabbage it was around $55 total, which was the cheapest meal we had in Hawai'i. It was quite busy, so we ordered it to go and ate in the car.
By the time we finished lunch, it was time to head to the USS Arizona Memorial. Getting these tickets was honestly kind of stressful, but the stress was worth it. To reserve a time, you either have to book at 3 p.m. HST EXACTLY eight weeks or 24-hours in advance. I thought it meant we could reserve a time from eight weeks up until the date, but it is only eight weeks before or 24 hours before. It was $1 to reserve a time, but there wasn't an entrance fee. There is also an interesting video you can watch after you visit the USS Arizona Memorial! The USS Arizona Memorial is a must when on Oahu. I also found it really interesting that there is still oil leaking from the ship!! You can occasionally see a little pocket of oil float to the top of the water and disperse!
We weren't ready to head back to the vacation rental just yet, so we went back across town to Uncle Clay's House of Pure Aloha. You must try their shave ice!! I shared the small classic rainbow with my Dad; it was delicious and the perfect amount!! We stopped in Foodland for some snacks and food to take home with us. They had so many different things in the store than we do in our grocery stores here in Texas. They even had some European foods that are rare to see in Texas. Foodland is now one of my favorite grocery stores 😂
GO FOR A DRIVE
My Mom is a HUGE Magnum P.I. fan, so we drove up the Kalaniana'ole Highway on the eastern coast to see some of the areas where the show was filmed. I highly recommend driving on this highway at some point. The views are incredible!! On a clear day, you can see all the way to Maui, Moloka'i, and Lanai! P.s. the Obama family's vacation home is located right next to this highway.
For our 3rd full day we had a 2 hour ATV Raptor tour booked at Kualoa Ranch and it was outstanding! You get to drive the ATV and follow a guide around the ranch. They show you incredible views and movie/show (Jurassic Park, Jumaji, 50 First Dates, etc.) filming spots around the 4000 acre property. Wear clothes that you don't mind getting dirty because you will definitely finish the tour covered in dust! Kualoa Ranch also offers ziplining, horseback riding, and other tours (one takes you to all the different filming spots and into their musuem to see memorabilia from the movies and shows). The tour was great and all the staff at the ranch were incredibly nice!
GOOD FOOD & BEACH
After the ATV tour, we headed down to Kailua for lunch. We stopped at Buzz's Original Steakhouse and wow!! It was delicious! We tried poke, the fish sandwich, teriyaki chicken salad, open face crab sandwich, ice cream pie, chocolate tart, and cinnamon bread pudding, and it was all DELISH! I highly recommend stopping here to eat not only because the food is good, but also because it is right across the street from Kailua Beach. The beach is beautiful and you can even rent kayaks to paddle out and see the island from the water! We stopped for a quick dip in the ocean after lunch and it made for the perfect relaxing break in the day.
Once we finished our moment of relaxation, we started heading back toward the west side of the island and did a little detour for an Oahu-must on the way. We stopped at Leonard's Bakery on the way to get some malasadas! Malasadas are essentially Portuguese doughnuts! It's fluffy, fried dough that is rolled in sugar. You can get the original (plain, rolled in sugar), cinnamon sugar, a sweet and spicy one (it's so good), or ones with custard in them!! I tried the original, sweet and spicy, dobash (chocolate), custard, and haupia (coconut) and I can't recommend them enough. I'm seriously craving a malasada from Leonard's as I'm writing this!
Because it was somewhat of an early and long morning, we headed back to the condo and relaxed for the rest of the day. Spend some down time at the condo or watching the sunset at the lagoon or pool!
TIME AT THE BEACH
For breakfast, enjoy one of your malasadas you got from the day before! After that, head down to the lagoon and enjoy some snorkeling. You'll see all kinds of sea life in lagoon! I saw fish, sea urchins, and a crab (up on the rocks)! Our VRBO had boogie boards, snorkels, towels, chairs, etc. all ready for us to use! The lagoon still has little waves, since there are openings to the ocean. It is, however, a great place to relax at the beach or snorkel if you want a little bit of protection from the big, scary (but not really 😉... okay in my mind, it is a bit scary) ocean.
After spending a day laying or swimming at the beach, head to Manoa Falls Trail for some activity! It's $7 for non-residents/non-military and $4 for Hawaii residents or military. It is definitely a good hike, but it isn't super duper long. The waterfall isn't huge, it is just a skinny tall waterfall. The hike, however is worth the views in my opinion. Toward the end of the hike, it is kind of steep and rocky/muddy so for sure wear tennis shoes and proper clothing. Back near the trailhead, there are restrooms and a stand that sells Dole whips (do not and I repeat, DO NOT pass up the Dole whip in a pineapple... trust me, you MUST try it), bento boxes, pineapple juice, snacks, water, and açaí bowls! The Dole whip in the pineapple was $10 and it was huge! It was also amazing and I will never stop talking about it. You can also buy pineapples to take on the plane with you!
After we got a little sweat in, we headed back to our condo to freshen up and get ready for dinner. Let me tell you something... we went to dinner at Roy's (at the golf course in Ko Olina) and gosh it was blasting expensive but WOW it was amazing. This is definitely not a place to go if you are on a budget. Honestly, it's not even a place to go to if you are just planning on having a regular dinner out with the family. It is very expensive and I would for sure consider it a special occasion restaurant. That being said, it was some of the best food I've ever had!! We tried an appetizer that was essentially a sampler plate; it came with shrimp tempura, pork ribs (quite possibly the best ribs I've ever eaten), spicy ahi maki, spring rolls, and blackened ahi. For my meal, I ordered the macadamia nut crusted local fish with an extra side of cauliflower au gratin... chef's kiss!!! Last but not least, for dessert I had a macadamia nut tart. Enough said.
After stuffing ourselves like it was Thanksgiving dinner, we rolled ourselves back to the condo and enjoyed the sunset on our lanai. I also chickened out of surf lessons. My fear of the ocean got the best of me this time, but it will not win next time. You heard it here first, I will do surf lessons next time I'm in Hawaii!! I pinky promised myself.
MAKAPU'U POINT LIGHTHOUSE TRAIL
Once again, we enjoyed breakfast on our lanai. Yep, you're right... I had another malasada for breakfast. After that, we went to Makapu'u Point Lighthouse Trail. Let me just say, it's a good trail. It's nice and paved, and it offers some of the most amazing views I've ever seen. However, there is absolutely no shade, so don't forget a hat and sunscreen like I did or else you'll end up burnt :)
HO'OMALUHIA BOTANICAL GARDEN
We drove through the Ho'omaluhia Botanical Garden, which is free and beautiful! There are trails that you can go on or you can just drive through and enjoy the scenery. There is a trail that leads you to a lake, which is really peaceful and a nice shady spot to relax. Even if you don't plan on staying super long here, I recommend at least driving through!
KAILUA BEACH PARK
Once we finished our little drive through the botanical garden, we decided to grab a really quick lunch and then head to Kailua Beach Park. This beach park is actually near Buzz's Original Steakhouse also! The thing I liked about this beach was that it offers shade (trees line the back of the beach), it's obviously beautiful, and there are restrooms and changing areas! I don't do great with dirty bathrooms (I've had to get over myself many times), but luckily this one was fairly clean for a beach park bathroom!! Clean enough for me to change, at least!
We arrived back at our condo and once again, I watched the sunset at the lagoon. The waves weren't too bad, so I was actually able to walk past some hedges and onto some rocks at the lagoon to see a view of the sunset and the coastline leading to the mountains in the back.
ALOHA STADIUM SWAP MEET & MARKETPLACE
You know the drill. Breakfast at the condo. As I mentioned earlier, food is pretty expensive in Hawai'i in general. We ended up spending about $35 on bread, eggs, and bacon from the little market nearby and relied on those groceries and the malasadas for breakfast. Even though the groceries were quite expensive, again my opinion, they were cheaper than eating out at a restaurant. We then made our way to the Aloha Stadium Swap Meet & Marketplace, an outdoor market that offers over 400 vendors! There are stands with clothes, knickknacks, pottery, handmade jewelry, food, and more! It's $2 per person to enter. Some vendors at the swap meet accept credit card as a form of payment, but I would bring cash to pay for your souvenirs! On that note, this is seriously probably the best place to get your souvenirs for yourself, family, and friends. The items here, even the handmade ones, are reasonably priced!
IOLANI PALACE & ALI'IOLANI HALE
After walking around, spending a bit of money on souvenirs and food, sweating, and getting burnt again, we drove over to Iolani Palace and Ali'iolani Hale to take a look at them! You can actually also tour both!! We didn't schedule a tour ahead of time, so we didn't see the inside. They seem like good, interesting tours though!
Next, we ate at Monkeypod Kitchen in Ko Olina. They have a bunch of different food options, from pizzas to tacos to seafood. I ordered mahi mahi, steamed broccoli, and rice from the children's menu 😂 It was good, but obviously a bit pricey since it is mahi mahi. The kalua pork, pineapple, and macnut pizza is delicious! For dessert (in typical Hawaii fashion) they have a selection of cream pies! The best way to walk off all this food is to walk to all the lagoons and watch the waves.
BEACH DAY & PADDLE BOARDING
To be honest, our last day didn't necessarily turn out as planned because it rained all day. We didn't let that bring us down, though. I paddle boarded at our lagoon ($35 per person/hour) through Four Oceans Paddle. They were really great; because it was raining, they gave me the option to cancel and receive a refund or to continue with the reservation. It was a lot of fun! They had the paddle and board ready to go at the lagoon when I arrived and let me explore lagoon 2 on the paddle board on my own :)
That's about it from day 7. It was supposed to be a "relax at the beach" day, which is the perfect way to spend your last day of vacation!
As promised here is a summarized day by day itinerary!
Summarized Day by Day Itinerary:
Dinner: Mina's Fish House
Morning Activities: Green World Coffee Farm, Laniakai Beach, Explore North Shore, Stop at a stand for some fresh fruit
Snack: North Shore Crepes Cafe
Afternoon Activities: Byodo-In Temple, Kaluanui Beach
Dinner: Makahiki at Disney Aulani
Morning Activities: Waikiki, Bishop Museum
Lunch: Helena's Hawaiian Kitchen
Afternoon Activities: USS Arizona
Snack: Uncle Clay's House of Pure Aloha
Evening Activity: Drive Kalaniana'ole Highway
Morning Activities: ATV Tour at Kualoa Ranch
Lunch: Buzz's Original Steakhouse
Afternoon Activities: Kailua Beach, Grab malasadas from Leonard's Bakery
Morning Activities: Beach (lagoon at Ko Olina)
Afternoon Activities: Manoa Falls Trail
Snack: Dole whip from stand at Manoa Falls Trail
Dinner: Roy's Ko Olina
Evening Activity: Sunset at the lagoon
Morning Activities: Makapu'u Point Lighthouse Trail, Ho'omaluhia Botanical Garden
Afternoon Activities: Kailua Beach Park
Morning Activities: Aloha Stadium Swap Meet & Marketplace
Afternoon Activities: Iolani Palace & Ali'Iolani Hale
Dinner: Monkeypod Kitchen
Evening Activities: Sunset at the lagoon
Day Activities: Beach day & Paddle boarding
If you've made it this far in the post, mahalo (thanks)!! There is a lot packed into this post, but like I said, it is based on what we did on our trip to Oahu. Hawaii is such an amazing place to visit, so pack your bags and get ready for a Hawaiian rollercoaster ride 🙂