Waikiki is a great area to stay in, lots of places to eat and shop at, the beach is right there, and theres lots of action but it's often so crowded and busy. If I want to be in an area that is a lot quieter with little to no tourists, I stay in the North Shore area of Oahu, specifically the Laie area. Laie is about an hour drive away (2+ hours by public bus) from Honolulu so you definitely need a rental vehicle to get there. There are very few hotels in this area so I opt to stay in a rental home which is the best idea because there are few restaurants in the area as well and you would need somewhere to cook meals unless you want to spend a lot of your time driving around to get take out.
Since 2007, whenever I want to stay in the area, I have been renting a vacation home from a guy named Greg who I found through VRBO. Greg's Laie property is a large house which he has divided into 3 rental units and is conveniently located just minutes away from the Polynesian Cultural Centre.
The first floor unit can sleep 8, it has 2 bedrooms, 1 bathroom, a large kitchen and dining area and a living room. The second floor unit can sleep 4, it has 1 bedroom, 1 bathroom, a kitchen and eating area, and living room. And lastly there is a separate cottage unit that sleeps 3. The best way I can describe this unit is it's like a hotel room with a kitchen in it, akin to what you would find in a Best Western hotel. The first and second floor divider can be opened up as well if you wish to rent the whole house. It feels like Greg has thought of all the things people would need to make your stay at his units comfortable. He has included a number of amenities like wifi, coffee maker, blender, BBQ grill, almost all the kitchen equipment you need, utensils, plates, a washer/dryer, and even watersport equipment like snorkel gear and boogie boards. You can find all of Greg's rental properties here, he also has a unit in the Kailua area and on the Big Island.
The main reason I stay in Laie is the secluded beach that is less than 100 metres away from Greg's. Kokololio Beach Park is one of the best beaches I have been to in Oahu and is missed by a lot of tourists. I think this is because people mainly see the park area when they are driving along Kamehameha Highway and don't think to stop in. There have been days at a time (on weekdays) where there would only be around a dozen people or less on the beach during the day and some of these people are locals who fish off the beach. During the weekends, the park gets very busy with the locals so I tend to stay away from the beach on those days and do my touristy things in town at that time.
The beach is about a kilometer long and the waves don't get too big so it is quite nice to swim in. For kids, there is an area called "Alligator Rock" which has a very calm pool area with little to no waves affecting it. When you enter the beach area from the path near Greg's property, you will see the rock formation directly to the left and it will look like a partially submerged alligator. These rocks form a natural break from the waves and create a calm pool area. I like to snorkel around this area until I feel more comfortable to go out to the other side of the rocks.
If you are starting to feel bored of vacationing in the Waikiki area, I highly recommend staying on the North Shore especially in the Laie area. It will give you a taste of local Hawaiian life and your vacation will be completely different than what you've had in Waikiki. Next up, I will list some things to eat and do near the Laie area.
-Mahalo Nui Loa
Apart from the obvious (the beach and shopping), there are a lot of fun things to do in the Waikiki area. Some activities can be pretty pricey, like shooting guns, and others can even be cheap and educational, like the zoo. Here are my top things to do while in the Waikiki area.
I am an animal lover and I also love taking pictures of wildlife, so the Honolulu Zoo gives me a great opportunity to take shots of animals that I normally wouldn't see in nature. The zoo is located on the eastern side of the Waikiki area in the Queen Kapiʻolani Park.
The zoo is spread out in a 42 acre piece of land within the park and house over 1200 animals including elephants, tigers, crocodiles, exotic birds, giraffes, and many many more. Whenever I visit the zoo, I am in there for well over 2 hours since there is so much to see and do. There are scheduled talks that takes place throughout the day but I personally haven't gone to one of those so I don't really know what goes on in them. I like to explore the zoo on my own and take as many pictures as I can. My favourites are the tigers and elephants, oh my! (sorry I couldn't resist), and fennec foxes. I spend most of my time in those areas trying to get as many pictures of these magnificent animals. The zoo also has an eating area with a concession stand type stall, a number of vending machines for drinks that are spread out near the public washrooms, and a gift shop near the entrance.
One thing that I have noticed is if you wish to come to the zoo, try to do so in the morning or late afternoon. If you come during lunch hour, you may not see too many animals since a lot of them are sleeping or hiding in the shade since it can get quite hot out.
A free activity to do at night in the Waikiki area is to watch some native Hawaiian dance. The Kuhio Beach Hula Show is an outdoor show held on Tuesdays and Thursday, at around 6:30 pm (6:00 pm in November to January) weather permitting of course. The show is on the Kuhio Beach mound on Kalakaua Ave and Uluniu Avenue behind the huge banyan tree which is very hard to miss.
There are no seats around the stage and space is definitely limited. I got there late one night and I had to stand in the beach since all the spots around the stage was already taken by people who planned ahead! I was still able to get a pretty good view of the stage area and since people who were closer to the stage were sitting, it was pretty unobstructed. I was able to take a couple videos of individual dances and have uploaded them to my Youtube channel.
A not so cheap activity that is fun to do is to shoot guns in Waikiki. In the past, I visited the Royal Hawaiian Shooting club which was on the 4th or 5th floor of the Royal Hawaiian Mall. Last year, I noticed that the club's doors and windows were boarded up. I initially thought that was because of the extensive renovations they were doing to the mall. But doing a search today, it seems like the club has closed its doors permenantly. But not to worry, there is another gun club in the Waikiki area for your shooting needs, the Hawaii Gun Club. They have 2 locations, one on Royal Hawaiian Avenue (the Hawaii Gun Club) and the other on the western side of Kalakaua Avenue (the Waikiki Gun Club). I have only been to the Hawaii Gun Club location many years ago and I remember it being fairly tight in there. I also remember there being a pretty good selection of firearms to shoot but pricing can be pretty high.
These are just some of my top things to do in the Waikiki area that doesn't involve the beach or shopping and I know there are a lot of others as well. What are your favourite things to do? Let me know in the comments below. I'm always looking out for new adventures.
- Mahalo Nui Loa
Contrary to popular belief, it is not impossible to find affordable places to eat in the Waikiki area. Yes there are very pricey and touristy restaurants but locals have to eat somewhere too, right? There are 3 great places I eat at every time I am in the Waikiki area that cost less than $15 a meal.
The Rainbow Drive-In is located on the eastern end of Waikiki about a 10 minute walk north of the zoo. You may recognize it as Guy Fieri featured it in his Hawaiian edition of Diners, Drive-ins and Dives tv show. The type of food they serve are iconic Hawaiian plate lunches like loco moco, kalbi short ribs, fried mahi, shoyu chicken and lots more for under $10 a plate! The 2 best items, in my opinion, are the mix plate and the loco moco. Almost all plates come with 2 scoops of rice and mac salad, I find the portion sizes are generous and I often have a hard time finishing an order by myself. It's a great place to eat at during lunch and dinner. They also have a breakfast menu but I've never had anything from it.
If you're craving a poke bowl and are on the Waikiki strip, I would suggest going to a convenience store (yes, a convenience store!) called Coco Cove. It is very close to Duke's Lane, where all the souvenir stands are. The Poke bar is right at the front entrance, usually there are more than 6 types of poke you can choose from. For those not familiar with Poke, it is raw fish (usually Ahi tuna in Hawaii) that is flavoured in shoyu, or spicy mayo, and so many other sauces. You can get a Poke bowl for about $10 and can definitely fill you up. What I like to do is order a scoop of 2 or 3 types of just poke (no rice), usually limu, masago and something else that I've never tried. I head back to my hotel room with a beverage and sit on the balcony and just relax.
The last place that I always visit multiple times when I’m in the Waikiki area is Marukame Udon which is located on Kuhio Ave which is a block north of the main strip (Kalakaua Ave). This is one of those restaurants that you always see people lined up out the door and the queue is often 2 to 3 rows deep. In my opinion, the reason Marukame Udon is so busy is because they make an excellent bowl of udon at a very good price point. You order a bowl of udon which starts at around $5, and if you don’t want to add anything else to it like tempura or a poached egg, that’s all it’ll cost you. The add ons start at around a dollar each so it can quickly add up.
Marukame makes their own udon noodles daily and often. Right when you enter the door you will likely see someone feeding flour into the machine. It is quite an interesting process to watch to kill time while you are waiting to put your order in. I often come here at odd times in between regular meal times like around 10am or 3pm to beat the crowds. They have a 2nd location in downtown Honolulu but I have never been to that one.
If you are more of a ramen lover, I recommend Ramen Nakamura which is located on the west end of Waikiki, kiddie corner to the Hard Rock Cafe where Beach Walk branches off of Kalakaua Avenue. Like Marukame Udon, Ramen Nakamura can get pretty busy during the lunch and dinner hours but a tip I learned from the servers at the restaurant is to come during "sunset" hours to beat the dinner rush. The restaurant has a large U shape bar with about 20 seats so it is often difficult to seat large groups of people together.
My favourite here is the ox tail ramen with gyoza combo which is around $18. I find the price to be a bit high for ramen but then again, you're in Waikiki. The ox tail is fall off the bone soft without being flavourless and the broth is excellent.
A restaurant that is on my list of must eats in Waikiki is Hana no Sato (Japanese website). It is not a cheap place to eat but it is one of the best Japanese meals I've had in Oahu. I stumbled upon this restaurant completely by happenstance. It was pouring rain in Waikiki one night and I had already waited about an hour and a half already to see if the rain would let up. When there was a little break in the weather, I left the hotel to go to Ramen Nakamura which was on the other side of Waikiki. All of a sudden, the skies opened up again. I was too hungry and too wet to keep going so I ducked into the first restaurant I passed which was Hana no Sato. Right when I entered this quaint restaurant, I was welcomed by the owner and his wife who saw that I was drenched. Luckily, they had room at the sushi bar and seated me right away. They gave me towels to help dry me off and some hot tea. I was given a menu and my attention was brought to their white board which had today's fresh sheet. My very first meal in this restaurant was a Chirashi don, it was excellent. The fish selection was very fresh and very generous (I'm pretty sure they didn't just pity me being soaked)!
Ever since that first time dining here, this has become my go to in Waikiki for Japanese food. The seafood is always fresh and portions are very generous. Staff are very friendly. They do not serve alcohol but you are welcome to bring your own, they dont charge a corkage fee. One thing that I noticed was they include a 15% service charge to your bill even when you're dining solo.
If you're looking for a great place for an açai bowl, go to Island Vintage Coffee. There are a few all over the island and in Waikiki, it is located in the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Centre. My first time having an açai bowl was at IVC and since then, I have tried a number of other places but feel that IVC is the best one for my taste.
I had been going to Hawaii for 8 years and I had my first açai bowl just last year. I have seen them advertised a lot but I just didn't know what the hype was all about. You know that feeling you get when you've eaten so much the few days before and just felt like something light? That was what I was feeling when I came across IVC in the mall. When I got to the counter and ordered, I mistakenly pronounced it as "akai" and the cashier repeated my order but pronounced it as "asai". Great, I was just tagged as an açai bowl n00b!
Being my first time, I didn't know what to expect other than it was highly recommended by a number of friends. After taking my first bite of it, I was hooked. IVC's açai is a perfectly blended smoothie consistency with crunchy granola and fresh fruit (bananas, blueberries, strawberries and a star apple slice) topping. I didn't find it overly sweet and I ate it fast enough (while avoiding brain freeze) that the granola didn't get soggy.
When comparing IVC's açai bowl with the Honolulu Coffee, IVC's version is a lot like a thick smoothie whereas HC's is more like a sorbet. If you look at the pictures below, you can see that you get more toppings from IVC's version (on the left) for about the same price point.
If you have any must eat places in the Waikiki area that I should try, let me know in the comments below.
- Mahalo nui loa
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