How do you make a top ten list for paradise? With great difficulty! Visitors of Hawaii often gush about how great it is. Travel forums and experts passionately advise against cramming all the islands in a short period of time (less than a week). So I heeded their sage words, and made the decision on behalf of my family, to just go to Oahu. Oahu, apart from being easily accessible from the mainland thanks to the Honolulu international airport, is a perfect introduction to paradise. It may not have the exciting volcanoes of the Big Island, or the idyllic serenity of Maui, but beach bum foodies like me have quite a few other things to appreciate!
(10) Shopping sprees in ABC Stores
While fashionistas go gaga over the high-end luxury shops which line the streets of Honolulu, the store numero uno in our hearts is the ABC store, where you can buy mostly anything. Toiletries, Snacks, water, chocolate covered macadamia nuts, souvenir keychains, and my personal favourite, a very tanned Hello Kitty in a grass skirt. ABC stores are everywhere! We probably visited one at least once a day, everyday!
(9) Friendly Hawaiians!
Mahalo! Shaka! Aloha! These words easily became part of our daily salutations. The locals made us feel at home right away. It helped that we look like the locals ourselves. The islands have such a laid back, relaxed vibe. There were surfers and sunbathers lazily hanging around the beach on a weekday afternoon. Pinoys are everywhere of course. Most of them Ilocanos!
(8) Leonard’s Malasadas
What are malasadas? They’re basically Portuguese donuts sans holes. What are Leonard’s Malasadas?? A taste of heaven! Leonard’s Bakery is a local institution in Honolulu, founded by Leonard and Margaret Rego, descendants of Portuguese immigrants in 1952. These puff daddies paired with a nice cup of coffee make the mornings sing. I especially liked the Li-Hing flavour (sweet and sour sugar), which reminds me of champoy.
– malasadas from Leonard’s
(7) Shaved ice
Soooo… what’s so special about shaved ice?? In places like Hawaii, brain freeze is always welcome! Our local guide took us to award-winning Waiola Shave ice. To honour the US Commander-in-chief, I had the Obama Rainbow with ice cream, a delightful afternoon treat.
(6) Circle island drive
Oahu Island has more to offer than world famous Waikiki beach. Our driver guide took us to a place where we had a spectacular view Honolulu and Diamond Head. We travelled up to the North Shore, where we caught a glimpse of the somewhat local life. The road was right next to the beach. Anyone can just park roadside and take a dip, fly kites, surf, or sunbathe. The mysterious rolling mountains in these parts have been the exotic locations for films such as 50 First Dates, Jurassic Park, The Descendants, and Pearl Harbour. We also visited a Macadamia nut farm, where we enjoyed free Kona coffee.
We can’t help but giggle every time we order this Hawaiian local favorite. Poke is basically anything, mostly raw tuna, that’s been marinated in some sauce (soy or vinegar) and onions. Very similar to ceviche or our local kilawin. There’s something comforting and familiar about this dish. Being the fish lovers we are, poke was part of our every meal. The best ones had were the Prime rib poke from Tiki’s Grill & Bar (flash seared and topped with homemade pipi kaula aioli), Alan Wong’s Ahi poke avocado stack, and the fresh sashimi from Ocean house. Here’s another funny tidbit. Poke is a pupu in Hawaii! (Pupu is the local word for starters!)
(4) Garlic shrimps food truck
Ahhh. I love seafood. I love shrimps. Friends who have been to Hawaii were quick to recommend Giovanni’s as the must go to for garlic shrimps. Our tour guide, Ron Wong, took us to Big Wave Shrimp North Shore instead, which isn’t as crowded. They had good selection of shrimps: garlic, lemon pepper, and chilli. Succulent and tasty. Perfect with rice and a cold drink.The beef ribs were also great. Nomnom!
(3) The complete Pearl Harbour experience
We spent the whole day soaking in World War II history at Pearl Harbour. The memorial center was pretty impressive, battleships kept in tip top shape, and the tours very organised. We visited the USS Arizona, the USS Missouri (recently made famous by the movie Battleship), USS Bowfin submarine, and the aviation museum. At the end of the day, we were suntanned, with Franklin Roosevelt’s “Day of Infamy” speech ringing in our ears.
(2) Polynesian cultural Center
Who knew a trip to an educational theme park would make for an enjoyable day? Located in 45 hectares of prime North Shore land, the Polynesian Cultural Center showcases the Polynesian cultures from Samoa, Hawaii, Tahiti, and Tonga. Highlights of our day at the center include the hilarious Samoan presentation led by funny man Cap, the tasty luau (I love our leis!), and Ha! the musical and fire show.
(1) Catching the waves and swimming in Waikiki beach
You know the saying ‘don’t know what you got till it’s gone?’ That’s how I feel about beaches now. So it wasn’t a huge surprise that the first thing on our Honolulu agenda is hanging out in Waikiki beach, which unbeknownst to some, is a man-made beach! Before the tourism boom of the 1950s, this area was swampland. The good people of Hawaii imported sand from California and Australia. We had such a good time catching the waves with our boogie boards. The view is pretty great. Nothing beats the white sandy beaches of Boracay of course, though the Waikiki waves are super enjoyable.