I didn’t plan much (at all) before coming to Hawaï. Partly because my last few months in London were packed with my 2 jobs and seeing friends. But also because I liked the idea of ‘going with the flow’. So I did. And the Most beautiful experiences have presented themselves to me.
I did book a flight into Honolulu and a flight out of Maui a month later.
Also worth mentioning that I have a friend living in Honolulu, who very kindly said I could stay as long as I needed to and her housemates happen to be 2 awesome equally kind guys. Thank you for letting me stay and making me feel welcome!!!
I knew I wanted to see the other islands during my month here, but I had heard that ferries did not run between islands (whale protection reasons) and my friend had mentioned that flying was fast and affordable, meaning I could decide how long I’d stay in Honolulu/O’ahu once I was there, and I am so glad I did.
For some reason, I expected Honolulu to have a Big City feel and after SF and Burning Man, And while being ona traveller budget, I was looking forward to being in nature more than in a city. To my surprise, Honolulu is the greenest ‘big city’ I’ve ever visited (eat your heart out Singapore :p).
The Island it’s located on, O’ahu, is incredibly abundant and you can see the beautiful green volcanoes from the 41st floor of my friend’s flat. The beaches around the island are as paradise like as you may imagine and even the beach downtown (Ala Moana) is one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve seen! And I grew up in the Caribbean!
Anyway, I am now leaving after 12 magical days (double what I had in mind…) and I wanted to share a few simple tips with anyone who will be visiting.
Before I start, I’d like to point out that I did not read any city/island guide books… But, I was staying with ‘expats’ and had no real time constraints. So here are my tips to experience Honolulu and O’ahu like a “local”.
Do’s and Don’ts
Do understand and adopt the Aloha spirit and way of life. Great article that explains the meaning of “aloha” here .
Respect the land, locally said: Malama ‘aina which means to care for and nurture the land so it can give back all we need to sustain life for ourselves and our future generations.
Do connect with locals. Like everywhere, they are your best shot at understanding their culture and what it is like to live in Hawaï. Hawaïans all seem to be kind and welcom
Do drive to the North Shore of the Island and eat at the most famous shrimp place on the Island: “Giovanny’s’.
Eat a Ramen at Wagaya – Best Ramen I have ever eaten!
Do try a weird and wonderful flavoured ice cream at Wing Ice Cream parlour. Miller, the Oakland born, Hawaïan raised, rainbow hair, cool owner, makes all the sorbets and ice creams from scratch himself!
The Mayan Choc (with cinnamon and cayenne) is mind blowing!
Fellow customer and local Coconut man kindly encouraged me to try his pineapple & thai basil and lemongrass & cilantro sorbet combo, which were without a doubt, the most flavoursome and delicious sorbets I’ve ever had. (Thao, from my fave shop, see below, came up with the flavour idea).
They also have garlic for the more adventurous palates. The flavour list is long and exciting and they do not offer tasters so you’ll just have to go and embrace the choice making fun, to the sound of latin music.
I was lucky to witness Mango freeman aka coconut man’s skills, as he finished up a Haku hat for Thao, which
added to the tropical vibe of this little ice cream parlour. (Turns out the parlor is kind of a big deal here, and I am not surprised in the slightest!) I asked Miller if he’d like to be a kind of Ben & Gerry’s, to which he replied: “ No, if I wanted to make money I wouldn’t have gone into Ice cream. I wouldn’t want to loose the quality.” (Uses maple syrup instead of refined sugar and coconut milk for vegan options!) I explained that I was only asking as I would love everyone to have access to his weird and wonderful flavours and after a min he said “yeah, maybe one day!” so keep your eyes peeled ice cream lovers!
Do try matcha flavoured everything. The many Japanese visitors and immigrants have infused some of their tea adoring culture into Hawaï.
Do eat locally grown fresh pineapple. Buy a whole one from a supermarket for $1 or for shopped for $6. #bigmargins
Do accept that Everything is expensive. You’re on an island and most products are imported. Accept and get over it is the best advice I can give.
Though Thao kindly shared with me that there are many farmers’ markets all over the town, where you can buy affordable local produce.
Do climb Koko Crater just before sunset or for sunrise – avoid midday heat (check sunset times as this will vary depending on when you visit). It’s a 2,000 “step” hike so do come prepared. Enough water, good footwear and a positive attitude. Please note that many of the steps have been replacedLinkLink by makeshift wooden pieces, But the view is totally worth it!
Do allow enough time to go back down before the sun has totally set.
Do Not hike Ka’au Crater trail unless you are an experienced hiker and/or in good physical condition. If you chose to do it, go with one other person who is equally capable. Your life may depend on them at times (not kidding). The trail is not maintained by the state so it is wild and dangerous. But, it is also the most beautiful hike I have ever done, and the views from the top of the volcano left me speechless (rare I know!). If you do decide to do it, pack enough water and some snacks. The hike took us 7.5 hours. (Link to a video montage of our hike, thank you Danny!)
Do pack/wear swimwear on your hikes, this island has waterfalls at every tree corner. Some you can swim in.
Do pack a pair of old trainers you don’t mind getting muddy, for the hikes.
Do observe the ocean before you decide to go in. The waves vary in size and intensity so give yourself a little time to get familiar with it before you assess whether you feel confident to go in, or not.
Do go to Sandy beach to watch the surfers while you relax on the white sand and hope that @1979coldbrew coffee, reggae and all round awesomeness food truck, is around so you can treat yourself to a fresh pineapple juice or an indulgent lemongrass, mint, caramel and rice milk iced coffee. It’s the bomb!! And the couple who provide these treats happen to be 2 sexy souls, which adds to the experience. Check out their adorable surfing boys’ instagram page.
Do watch the sunset at Sunset Beach on the North Shore. (Be aware that the waves break violently onto the sand so it is advisable to go into the water, with a board, if you are an experienced surfer only!)
Do watch the sunrise from Makapu’u Beach. I only got up that early because I had a photoshoot but I am so grateful I did and I am sure no one would regret it.(Do check the weather forecast just in case)
Do snorkel at Hanauma Bay Nature Reserve. They only allow 2,000 visitors per day, to protect the Bay so it can be a bit of a mission but it is worth it. Go there early (8am kind of early) or try your luck any time during the day and if you are rejected by the security because they car park is full, park at the shopping area nearby and walk the 15mins up the roadside to go in. Bring your own snorkel or hire it there. The reef is far from being the most beautiful I’ve seen but there are a few cool fish to see and the bay has a special secluded feel to it as you are surrounded by cliffs. #caribbeansnorkellingsnob
Ladies, Do pack the tiniest bikini bottoms you own and make sure to do your squats before you fly over to Rio de Janeiro’s most serious butt contender. Ladies & Gents, enjoy!
Do accept that there are many beautiful beaches and you may not be able to see them all.
My top 5 are: Lanikai, Waimanalo beach, Sunset beach and Sandy beach, Hanauma Bay Nature Reserve . (Makaha is beautiful but very isolated/local feel).
Do stop at the viewpoints. The Island is beautiful and very different throughout. Looking out the window is not quite the same as taking the time to take it all in from one of these dedicated platforms.
Do buy a good coffee (approved by local coffee connoisseur and new friend Danny) or matcha at 9 Bar like the locals.
And a very instagrammable light breakfast at Arvo.
Do buy/read an actual city guide as I hear there are lots worth seeing but I didn’t make it to any… #livinglikealocal
Drinking (mocktails count!)
Do go to 53 by the Sea for Happy Hour on a Friday. The view on Ala Moana beach is great and you can see the surfers catching waves. And they have fireworks at 8pm every Friday!
Do dress up for the occasion. This is a white cloth restaurant. If you can afford to, stay for dinner! We didn’t, but the appetizers said good things about the kitchen.
Do dine and wine in Waikiki area of Honolulu. I didn’t make it but heard great things.
Do try a Sun Yoga class (a mix of Vinyasa and Hatha designed here in Hawaï) to Sunyoga http://sunyogahawaii.com Michele Santos is wonderful but I am sure all the teachers are equally fantastic.
There are many talented local designers and it shows. My favourite shop (essential oils, crystal jewellery, beautiful clothing and more) is called Roberta Oaks and is located in Chinatown. The beautiful and multi talented Thao works at the shop when she is not cooking healthy food for yoga retreats.
Do allow an hour to walk around Foster Botanical Garden. Best $5 spent in the city. Make sure to check out the rainbow Eucalyptus!
If you want beautiful photos (whether you are celebrating something or not) do contact the talented David to inquire about availability.
Do go to Kuan Yin, Buddhist Temple to find peace not far from the Downtow hustle and bustle.
Do it! But at the end of your vacay so you don’t have to worry about sea, sun and sand during your stay in paradise.
Do not use buses if you can. They take between double and triple the time it would take to drive. If you do decide to get the bus, make sure you have the exact change $2.50.
If you have time…
Do check out the street art on Cooke St.
Do visit “Yoda” at Gadget Guyz if your phone or tablet decide to stop working. He’s better than the other Yoda and charges very honestly for his work. I am able to write this thanks to him.
Last but not least…
Do order small, remember your are still in the US! #merica
Do accept that you are on an island and time is slower. Aloha bruh!
Do learn a few words in Hawaïan
Aloha: Hello / Goodbye & anything you want it to ie: sorry / peace and love 🙂
Malama pono : take care of yourself
Mahalo: Thank you
Alternatively, disregard everything I have said in here, ditch the guide books and explore fof yourself!