Its been four weeks now since returning from our amazing Hawaii vacation. My tan is fading, and the free hair highlights I got from the sun and salt water are gone. A trip to the salon for a trim was inevitable. Since those souvenirs are disappearing, there’s no better time to keep the reminiscing going with a few recaps on the blog. “A few” probably isn’t an accurate description, to be completely honest. This trip to Hawaii was chock-full of activities, photos and details; a couple posts wouldn’t do it justice. So brace yourself for a long run of recaps.
I should start out by saying that our trips to Hawaii are never full-on touristy-type vacations. Since we’re able to stay with family, we get the benefit of experiencing more of the real Hawaii. Dive restaurants, local hangouts and off-the-beaten path beaches. That’s not to say we don’t do anything touristy. But when you visit Hawaii and separate yourself from the places populated with hotels (Waikiki on Oahu or Kaanapali on Maui), you open yourself up to seeing more than what the travel writers consider “world’s best”. You get to form an opinion of what you consider your own best.
Secondly, I think we’re at an advantage when it comes to visiting the islands of Hawaii. We made this trip with my parents who have that “islander mentality” built in. My mom was born and raised on the tiny island of Guam. My dad was born in Maui and raised on Guam. There are hundreds of similarities shared between Hawaii and Guam, so in many ways, being on Hawaii is like being on Guam. There’s a familiarity that makes exploring all that more adventurous. Like, who cares if we get lost. It’s an island with three major highways; you can’t get too far away from home.
That really describes the approach we took to experiencing Oahu. Our days were full of non-stop beach-hopping. Just get in the car, drive and hang at the beach until you get hungry or get the itch to find the next beach around the bend. That is definitely our preferred way of vacationing in Hawaii. With beaches every which way and no admission to pay, it gives you the chance to see some of the most beautiful beaches in the world without costing an arm and a leg. So here goes the Day 1 and 2 recap — but most importantly, the pictures.
Day 1: White Plains Beach
Most of Day 1 was spent catching up with family. We slept in, had a lazy breakfast with Lola (Lola is the Filipino word for grandma) and took a walk around her neighborhood in Ewa Beach. About a mile or so away from her subdivision, builders were constructing a whole new phase of beach-front properties. That, of course, had us dreaming of buying a brand new home on said beach-front property. The golf course we passed on the way there wasn’t such an eyesore either.
That afternoon, we decided to head to our first beach. My Auntie Lou recommended White Plains Beach, located only minutes away from Lola’s house on the southwest end of Oahu. We pulled into the parking lot and then set up shop in a shady spot underneath the coconut trees. Mom and Dad stayed behind in the sand, while Mikey and I tested the waters.
From our spot in the sand, we could see Waikiki and Diamond Head in the distance. The waters were populated with surfers, out catching a wave. The beach had a boogie board rental shop on site, and there were a handful of people conducting strength training exercises closer to the parking lot where the sand met the shade. Not far from where we were lounging, there was a row of beach cottages Auntie Lou had told us about. They were the Barbers Point beach cabins available for rental to active duty and retired military families. The cabins are quaint — no air conditioning, only the bare necessities. But when you’ve got sand in your toes and swimsuit bottoms all day, who really needs a memory foam mattress?
With White Plains being our first beach stop, I was quickly reminded of how much sand gets stuck in your swimsuit when swimming in Hawaii. Unlike Guam, Hawaii’s shores aren’t protected by a large reef, so the waves often break on the shore, bringing tornadoes of sand with every break. But those breaks are what also make Hawaii a surfing capital of the world. Needless to say, we left White Plains Beach that day with more sand in my swimwear than I had bargained for.
Day 2: Drive Around Oahu
Have you ever heard an islander say, “Let’s go drive around the island.”? You might assume that means hopping in the car, driving here and there, checking out a few stops along the way. No, what it really means is literally driving around the island coast. Because unlike living in California or Illinois or Texas, you can actually drive around Oahu in a day.
“Driving around the island” is another one of our favorite pastimes, and that’s what Day 2 consisted of. We left Lola’s house armed with beach towels, beach mats, a beach umbrella, a beach chair, snorkel gear, sunscreen, our cameras and a cooler packed with drinks and snacks. Dad drove our rental SUV east, passing downtown Honolulu, Aloha Stadium and the ritzy residences of Hawaii Kai, until we found ourselves on the eastern coast of Oahu. Our first stop was the Halona Blowhole Lookout.
Halona Blowhole Lookout
If we were visiting in the colder months of December and January, we would’ve probably been more likely to see the blowhole in action. But since the waves weren’t a-rockin’, we only got to see a little spew of water come up through the hole in the rocks. Hoping we can go back in the winter months and see it rise sky-high.
Another picturesque view at this lookout is the small beach that many tourists trek to sink their toes in the sand. It’s an amazing sight of waves crashing into black rock. The blue waters change majestically from dark blue to turquoise to light sea green as it makes its way up shore. It was breathtaking.
Only a short car drive away was our next stop, Sandy Beach. Dad told us this beach was known for its unpredictable currents and unexpected waves that break heavily on the shore. Some recommend that only experienced swimmers swim here. Sure enough, there were plenty of surfers out there in the choppy waters. The waves came splashing every which way as we stopped to take in the beautiful scenery and snap a few photographs. Many of those waves caught me off guard and soaked everything from my tippy toes to my thighs.
Ono Steaks & Shrimp
By this point, we were starved for some grub. So knowing that our next stop was Waimanalo Beach, we decided to drive through the village of Waimanalo, keeping an eye out for food joints to satisfy our hungry stomachs. Sure enough, there were food trucks and small mom and pop style shops lining both sides of the streets. Ono Steaks & Shrimp was the eatery that won out. With a massively good menu, including garlic fries and fish tacos with a mango-papaya salsa, they did not disappoint.
Practically around the corner from Ono Steaks & Seafood, we found Waimanolo Beach. The parking lot wasn’t very crowded at all, but there was an influx of limos coming in and out of the lot. We eventually discovered they were responsible for picking up freshly married couples off the beach. We probably saw about five or six Japanese couples leaving the beach, decked out in tuxedos and big princess wedding dresses.
As soon as we caught our panoramic views of the beach, we could see why it was such a popular wedding location. Clear skies and ocean waves in every shade of blue. A few mountains in the distance provided a perfect backdrop for wedding pictures too.
Mikey was eager to break out the snorkel gear, and while we thought Waimanolo would be the place to christen our new gear, the waves were actually coming in pretty strong. So we decided to save snorkeling for another day.
From Waimanalu it was onto the next beach — Kailua Beach, one of our family’s favorite beaches. Since it was close to 5pm on a Friday, we weren’t surprised to find the beach and parking lot completely packed. People were gathering for a live music festival on the beach grounds. Many people looked like they had just gotten off work and were hitting the beach for some happy hour R&R. There was a slew of tourists too. It was a mystery as to where they were coming from, though, since we didn’t know of any major resorts within close proximity. And of course, there were plenty of wind surfers out in the water, being one with the ocean.
Located on the windward side of the island, Kailua is a perfect environment for water sports like windsurfing. Those wind surfers and their kites help add to the beauty of Kailua Beach, and the four of us in the family always enjoy going there to sink our feet in the super soft sand, swim in the warm water, take a nap and photograph the pretty ribbons in the sky. Admiring the wind surfers and their athleticism from afar is also an activity we find ourselves doing at Kailua Beach. It seems like such strenuous work to balance on your board while keeping the controls of your kite in check. I don’t think I have that kind of coordination.
In keeping with tradition, Mikey and I drew our names in the sand — as we had done at Kailua six years ago. We’ve decided it’s a must-do whenever we visit.
By that time, night was falling — and that meant time for dinner. Dad drove us all the way to the North Shore for dinner at Kahuku Grill. He and Mom had been there during their last visit to Oahu two years ago, and Mom was a big fan of their burgers. By that time, the four of us were tired from driving around the island and sunning ourselves all day. But to sit outside on the patio and eat our burgers and macadamia encrusted coconut shrimp under the moonlight was pure perfection.
It was close to 10pm by the time we got back to Lola’s house that night. Luckily, she’s a night owl and is always willing to wait up for us. We stayed up for a few more hours, catching her up on the day’s adventures before hitting the futons for a full night’s rest… which was much-needed for the following day’s activity… SURFING!