We had an amazing opportunity to travel southwest to our 50th State and visit paradise – Hawai’i. The Hawaiian Islands are beautiful, tropical, and just a quick trip away from Denver. The beauty is beyond anything I have experienced anywhere on the mainland – even California, with all its beauty, mountains and ocean, doesn’t compare.
The clear blue waters and sky of Hawaii have a beauty unlike any other State in the union. Here, I share some tips, some places to stay near, and what to do but keep in mind in our 5 days, and 5 nights there, we only stayed on the island of Oahu.
Flying in and out of Honolulu (HNL) was just fine – it is cheaper than flying elsewhere, and renting a car at HNL is cheaper because of the competition. I still think CostcoTravel has the cheapest rental cars if you are an executive member. The only non-stop flights from Denver are with United Airlines direct into HNL. All other airlines connect but if you don’t mind the extra travel time, you can get airline rates as cheap as $549-ish on US Airways or United connecting in Phoenix, SFO, LAX, or other such places. You can book Hawaiian Airlines out of Seattle or LAX as low as $450 but will have to get there from Denver. The direct, non-stop flights run from $680 to $750 depends on when you buy and when you go. The return flights are tougher because you either have to depart first thing in the morning out of HNL or take the red-eye back to Denver. Red-eye flights look great on paper, but in reality, are horrible. Kids do sleep but they kick you, each other, and generally, it is uncomfortable for you, not the kiddos.
On Oahu, these are the must see/do things: Waikiki Beach- First, you simply must hang out on Waikiki Beach. It is a commercial, tourist trap with expensive shops and the look and feel of Newport Beach but it is not. The waters are so clear you can snorkel right near the shore and still see fish! It is clear blue water, perfect sand, and you can grab a bite to eat for a reasonable fare along the coast. We stayed at the Hale Koa Hotel but only eligible military may stay here. The Hilton Hawaiian Village right next door on the beach to the Hale Koa is a
perfect alternative- check prices and using points or miles here will be a high rate. Hilton Waikiki is right up the road too! Check hotel prices, but staying close to the beach is so worth it! KOA services on the beach is great for renting umbrellas, paddleboards, snorkel gear, and fun boats. Military get half price on almost all of these rentals. It is a great deal so bring your ID card. At Waikiki, you can get great pics of Diamond Head, and the sunset. Waikiki Beach is on the South Shore and the sunsets over the Pacific here. We had an oceanfront view at the Hale Koa, and were able to get some great pictures of the sunset.
Diamond Head State Park- You simply must hike up the Diamond Head. You can see the views of the entire island from here. Diamond Head is a crater, and when you get to the top you can see the crater, and the shores of the east coast, and all of Waikiki Beach and Pearl Harbor. It is simply the most breath-taking view you can imagine! The hike up is treacherous, but get a trail map because a year ago, they opened a ramp so you can avoid the 99 steps and only have to climb about 10 of them. Know where to detour for this, so you can avoid the insane steps.
It’s an alternate route up but the entire hike is about 1.2 miles up, and takes 30 minutes to the top, and one hour round-trip. The sun rising over the Pacific is a sight to see because you can never see that from the mainland. My husband ran from Diamond Head (the base) to the hotel in Waikiki and it is about 5.5 miles so be aware of that, but a beautiful, scenic run along the beach and shore. Parking is $5.00 at the beginning of the trail head and worth it. There is no other entry fee. For food, and drink, a food truck is parked at the base, and they sell yummy fresh pineapple, water, and snow cones and it is good stuff! You will need it after the long round-trip, or on the way up. Also, restrooms are at the base, but nothing at the top or along the way.
Hanauma Bay Snorkeling- You simply must head to Hanauma Bay and see the beautiful coral reef, the beautiful clear blue waters, and snorkel (you can even snorkel near the shore) and see the fish, turtles, and other wild life. The coral is beautiful to see too. The water is clear (not foggy at all). In fact, my kids who were with us saw fish without snorkeling gear. You do not need it at all. Walk slowly, and keep still and you can see your own feet and all the sea creatures you wish for. Hanauma Bay is very kid-friendly, and the water is calm and clear. It is hot and sunny here so do get a shaded spot if you can, or bring an umbrella. Don’t forget sunblock and a hat. Also, military get in free with their active I.D. but all dependents need their IDs as well so remember that. They are not kind to military dependents who forgot their ID, even if the active member vouches for their spouses. The parking is $1.00 and the entry fee is $7.50 and kids under 10 are free. You have to watch a video to enter, and sign your name on the list so you can return without watching it again.
Polynesian Cultural Center- I thought we’d get a Lei off the plane but they don’t do that anymore, and the Leis will cost you now. So, if you want to see some Hawaiian or Polynesian Culture, head northeast to the Polynesian Cultural Center, to see some dancing, ukulele playing, and you can take lessons too! There are workshops and shows to attend, and kids activities. You can spend at least 3-4 hours here if not more. The tickets are cheapest if you get them from ITT/MWR (for military- available at all the local bases), or try to find a deal on-line if you are not military. Regular admission tickets are $39.00 and that does not include the shows or the luau at night. That generally will run you $94 per person for the entire package deal. The canoe parade with all the festive colors, dancing, and cultural explanations are beyond
ITT or MWR on bases sell the Polynesian Cultural Center tickets for $15 per person (over age 5- kids under 6 are free). This is a screaming deal! Honestly, if you want to do a Luau, try the one at the Hale Koa on Waikiki- I have heard great things. Kids under 12 are free, and adults are $49.50 all inclusive. We did not do a luau because I do not eat meat or fish, and luaus are set menus. But I hear the experience is worth it. Honestly, after visiting the Polynesian Cultural Center, I feel I received a lot of culture and experienced it all in one place. All in all, I didn’t feel I was experiencing any island culture until we hit the Polynesian Cultural Center.
Dole plantation & North Shore Beaches– Dole plantation is a tourist trap, overpriced, and ridiculous but you still have to go there and do it but just be aware of what NOT to do whilst there. So, there is a corn maze, a train ride, and a plantation tour that you have to pay for. I recommend picking one. It is expensive even with the military discount. The train ride is bogus- we did it for the kids and wish we could get that hour of our lives back. Sadly, we cannot. I recommend heading there, eating the dole whip (not the one with topping) and the corn (outside the visitor’s center) which is the yummiest thing ever, watching the pineapple cutting demonstration, walking the grounds, and then heading out to the north shore for food and beach fun. The corn maze, I hear, is fun for kids, but again, I recommend only doing one paid activity. The kids really enjoyed the dole whip as did we. Sometimes they run specials on the souvenir cup with dole whip so I recommend doing that buy one, get one half off deal to get a cheap souvenir. Enjoy walking the grounds and seeing the pineapple demonstrations (get to try some free pineapple too), and then head off north 10 mins to the north shore. We stopped at Waimea Beach on the north shore but you can go further east on the north shore to see surfers at Turtle Bay and Sunset Beach- GORGEOUS!
The waves are higher on the north shore in the winter so it is not safe for kids, but it is fun to jump and hop over waves. There are some great restaurants along the north shore as well – near Sunset Beach, but we had to head back towards Waikiki to meet friends for dinner. It is about a one-hour drive south back to the Waikiki/HNL area, and with traffic it can turn into 1 hour 15 mins. Keep in mind that traffic INTO Waikiki and Honolulu (the city) on
the H1 is bad, and leaving the city in the evenings, so when you make your plans, try to go against traffic. We got lucky each time, going in the opposite direction of the traffic.
We stayed at a military installation towards the end of our journey and it had its own private beach and unique features too which really made our enjoy pleasant and enjoyable. The Navy Exchange which is off-post near Pearl Harbor is amazing and huge, and open to all for the food court. I recommend eating here, and if you are eligible, you can shop at the commissary and on-site Exchange. The chocolates, dresses, shirts, and souvenirs are very cheap and great quality here.
Pearl Harbor, USS Arizona and War In the Pacific Memorials– Finally, on Oahu, you simply must visit at least one or all the Pacific Memorials for World War II. It is not to be missed. We visited the USS Arizona, and saw the film before hand. If the film does not get you, walking into this memorial, and knowing what rests below will bring tears to your eyes, and the history is just all around you. You can see all the sites, and visit the submarine, and take a boat to Ford Island to see the remaining ships and memorials. I highly recommend going early (before 0930) and it will take you at least one hour per memorial. There is also enough to do around here – walking around, reading all the placards, and seeing all the exhibits for free. It will take at least 2-3 hours from start to finish so plan accordingly, and remember to show your respect. The December 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor was the costliest for the U.S. Navy and our military – EVER! I had no idea over 2,100 sailors, soldiers and airmen lost their lives. I thought the number was in the hundreds. It is quite eye-opening. Keep in mind that you will explain the film to young kids – there is a lot talk of death, war, and casualties, and young kids do not understand this quite yet. Tickets to USS Arizona are free – it is a National Park Service and federally appropriated monument. All others cost some concession fee and military in uniform are free to all exhibits. Food on site is snacking only, and expensive, so drive a mile down the road to the Navy Exchange for an awesome food court open to all the public.
We also drove to the East shore, and it is beautiful. If you can go to Kailua do so, but it was a small detour out of our way to and from the Polynesian Cultural Center. You simply must take the LikeLike Highway from Waikiki area towards Kailua, and the Cultural Center. This is a gorgeous drive through the mountains towards the east shore and just gorgeous! The shore drive NORTH up the eastern shore towards Brigham Young Hawaii Campus and the Polynesian Cultural Center is narrow, winding, and only two-lane, but is gorgeous! You can stop on any of these clear, blue beaches and can’t go wrong. The waves are a bit higher here, water saltier, and sand washes onto you along with the water, but hey, it’s beach! Hawaii, our 50th State, a beautiful paradise, and an amazing destination to visit if you can. You will not regret it. We only visited Oahu, but hope to return soon to visit the other islands. Mahalo, Hawaii, and all its residents, til we meet again.