Top Five Delicious Hawaii Tourist Traps on Oahu

There are no shortage of delicious treats hidden away on Oahu and yes, many of them are tourist traps designed to capture Hawaii tourist dollars by getting you in the door with the hype that has grown around them. When you go to these five locations you will wait in line, you will be joined by hundreds of other tourists, and you will be happy that you went because your taste buds will be singing glorious hapa-haole chants.

Dole Plantation

The Dole Plantation.

If you’ve ever seen the movie Forest Gump where he goes on and on about shrimp this and shrimp that – it would be easy to substitute pineapple and have him talking about the Dole Plantation – pineapple Candy, pineapple dolls, pineapple bread, pineapple wine, pineapple magnets, pineapple t-shirts, pineapple cookies, pineapple books – everything pineapple happens at the Dole Plantation – plus a pineapple garden, a pineapple maze, and a pineapple railroad trip.  And of course, the famous pineapple ice cream – Don’t forget the Dole Whip!

Kapahulu Malasadas Leonards

Leonards Malasadas

Leonards hasn’t gone into merchandising on the scale of the Dole Plantation, but they’ve still done an amazing job of branding themselves with the pink boxes, thier iconic Kapahulu signs, and of course the red and white malasada trucks they park all over the island. What’s the draw? The magical malasadas waiting inside! Always hot, light, delicious and so good that this little bakery usually has a huge line waiting outside of it! The record on my tours was a lady who ate seven of them – but one or two is perfect for most people.

Chocolate Haupia Pie Ted's Bakery

Ted’s Bakery

Ted’s Bakery is a North Shore institition. The food tastes best after a day battling the surf at Sunset Beach or Banzai Pipeline – but let’s be honest – the food is only so-so but the pie! You go to Ted’s for the pie. Specifically the Chocolate Haupia Cream Pie. You might have to wait in line – but it’s worth it.

Macadamia Nut Farm Oahu

Tropical Farms Macadamia Nut Outlet

There aren’t a whole lot of attractions that offer your freebies in Hawaii. Tropical Farms is one of them. Offering free samples of their locally grown macadamia nuts and free macnut coffee for weary tour drivers (or anyone else). This is a great local, family owned and operated tourist trap with plenty of local products, local handicrafts, and of course, the tasty macadamia nuts. Go in the back and smash a raw one on a lava rock or go with the tasty caramel, garlic, or honey roasted variety. Any way about it – you’ll be glad you stopped at Tropical Farms.

Matsumoto Shave Ice

Matsumoto Shave Ice

Matsumoto Shave Ice is one of those places you need to go at least once. It gives you a solid baseline for what a Hawaiian Shave Ice is. Plus, you can buy one of those t-shirts with the cartoon version of Stanly Matsumoto on it. The general store is filled with a wide variety of tourist items but you know why you are there – shave ice with ice cream on bottom, sweetened condensed milk on top, and organic cane sugar syrups giving you a mind-blowing sugar rush.

Ted’s Bakery at Sunset Beach on Oahu’s North Shore

Chocolate Haupia Pie Ted's Bakery

The North Shore of Oahu is known mostly for surfing but there are those who head there just for the Chocolate Haupia Pie from Ted’s Bakery too. While the North Shore’s 7-mile-miracle of surf breaks draws crowds, dont’ be surprised to find crowds also lining up at Ted’s. It’s easy to whiz past it when you drive up the Windward Side, pass the Turtle Bay Resort, and are tantalizingly close to Sunset Beach. Ted’s doesn’t look like much – it’s a little plantation style complex with an awning and some tables in front.

Ted’s serves up breakfast and plate lunches as well as the famous Haupia Chocolate Cream Pie – and yes, they are a full bakery so you can buy other types of pie, donuts, breads, and more – but if you are like most people – one bite of the signature pie will convert you for life.

Ted's Bakery hawaii oahu sunset beach

For those unfamiliar, haupia is a traditional Hawaiian coconut milk desert – almost like coconut jello. Ted’s brilliant innovation was to put it between layers of chocolate, whipped cream, and a perfect flaky crust. If there is a dessert in heaven, this is probably it.

Ted's Bakery

The bakery started (like most things on Oahu) with the sugar cane industry. Ted’s grandfather worked on the North Shore in the sugar industry and eventually bought land from the Kuhuku Sugar Plantation that was too rocky for cultivation. A couple of decades later, his son, Takemitsu Nakumura opened the Sunset Beach Store in 1956. In 1987, Takemitsu’s son, Ted, opened Ted’s Bakery and the rest is history. His pies were a hit all over Oahu. Today Ted’s sells pies to restaurants and stores all over the island of Oahu. So, you can get the pies anywhere – but they always taste best at Ted’s.

Ted's Bakery

My recommendation is that you buy the pie by the slice unless you have at least six people to help you eat a whole one – because otherwise, you will be tempted to eat it yourself!

Hanauma Bay – Oahu’s #1 Snorkel Spot – See Hawaii Underwater

Hanauma Bay Oahu HawaiiNo trip to Oahu is complete without a visit to Hanauma Bay on the south shore of this beautiful Hawaiian Island. Whether you are going to snorkel or simply look down at one of nature’s wonders from the lookout point above – this is a definite must see natural attraction in Hawaii.

To get there, head south from Honolulu and Waikiki. You will go around Diamond Head, through the neighborhood of Kahala, and on through the neighborhoods of Aina Haina and Hawaii Kai before reaching the turn just as you are passing Koko Head. Hanauma means ‘curved bay’ in Hawaiian languange and this is a beautiful coral filled bay in the remains of a tuff cone volcano. Not your average snorkel spot.

Hanauma Bay is a Nature Preserve and Marine Life Conservation District. It is open to the public six days per week with the seventh day reserved for park maintenance – or as we say in Hawaii – to let the fish rest. To enter the bay, you will need to attend a short environmental presentation that teaches you how to respect and appreciate the beauty of nature in the bay. Visitors are not allowed to touch fish, marine life, or walk on the corals in Hanauma.

Hanauma Bay Oahu Hawaii

Hanauma Bay is home to Hawaiian green sea turtles and over 400 species of fish including parrotfish, rasses, and even the famous humuhumunukunukuapua’a. Global warming has exacted a terrible cost on the bay and nearly half of the corals in it have died as a result.

Hanauma Bay itself was born about 32,000 years ago. It was one of the last eruptions on this island. A crater was formed and eventually waves broke through and flooded it creating the perfect environment for corals and fish. Hawaiian Kings and Queens frequented the bay and one possible interpretation of the name is that there were a variety of sporting and wrestling events held there each year at makahiki. The bay belonged to the Bishop Estate until the 1930s when it was purchased by the City and County of Honolulu. It became a protected area in 1967. In the 1970s white sand was brought in from the North Shore to create the beach you see there today.

The area was overused and suffering greatly up until the early 2000’s when the city enacted an entrance fee, closed the park on Tuesdays, and began requiring visitors to attend the educational presentation. The city has also restricted how many vehicles and how visitors can come to the bay. Commercial vehicles are strictly regulated.

Hanauma Bay Oahu Hawaii

Hanauma Bay can still  be crowded with nearly 3000 visitors each day. If you are going, bring reef friendly sunscreen, water, and it is recommeneded that you bring your own snorkel gear as the rentals on site will cost you almost as much as buying a new set of gear.

The Shrimp Ponds and Food Trucks of Kuhuku on Oahu, Hawaii

Shrimp Trucks OahuIn ancient times, Hawaiians harvested more than 2-million pounds of fish and shellfish each year – much of that came from fishponds. It’s estimated that there were more than 750 major fishponds in the islands at the time of Captain Cook’s arrival here. Hawaiians were one of a handful of civilizations who had mastered aquaculture. So, it’s great that aquaculture continues to this day – one of the best places to see and taste that is near the North Shore of Oahu in the little town of Kuhuku. Kuhuku was a sugar town until 1971 when sugar left.

Shrimp Trucks Oahu

In 1975, the State of Hawaii directed funding and research to develop oyster, fish, and shrimp farming in what had been taro patches, rice paddies, and small fish ponds. Today, the terms shrimp pond and shrimp trucks are almost synonyms for Kuhuku (which doesn’t mean shrimp or prawn, it means point).

Shrimp Trucks Oahu

Back in 1993, Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck was among the first to start selling the now famous garlic shrimp near Kuhuku and within a couple of years it was so popular that imitators had followed. Today there are literally dozens of shrimp trucks on Oahu. Some good, some bad, and some with bizarre stories. I will focus on the most popular ones here – Fumi’s, Giovanni’s, and Romy’s. There are others but you are taking your chances with them. Some of the names are Korean, Famous, Big Wave, Blue Wave, Garlic Shrimp, etc.

Shrimp Trucks Oahu

 

Shrimp Trucks Oahu

 

Shrimp Trucks OahuFumi’s is my favorite – hands down. On a busy day they serve up to 2000 pounds of fresh shrimp caught from their ponds. Their menu has a wide variety of options, the best of which (in my opinion) are the butter garlic, spicy garlic, breaded coconut, boiled, and salt and pepper fried. There are actually two Fumi’s trucks – I prefer the blue building over the truck – rumor has it that there was a schism in the family and they parted ways – which is why there are two locations with two different menus on two different sides of the family shrimp ponds. Expect to wait in line 10-15 minutes and another 10-15 minutes for your food to cook. They have a lot of people working and they are incredibly efficient without sacrificing taste. 5-8 large shrimp with two scoops of rice, a scoop of cold canned corn (wierd), and a slice of pineapple.

Shrimp Trucks Oahu

Romy’s is also delicious but the wait is much longer and the prices are higher than Fumi’s. Expect a minimum of 20 minutes wait in line and 20 minutes or more for your food on an average day.Personally, I find their shrimp harder to peel and not as delicious as Fumi’s. They are also owners of the ponds behind them so the shrimp are guaranteed fresh.

Giovanni’s is the wierd one. Even though they started the whole thing – I almost never go there. Their prices are higher and the shrimp are not cooked to order – personally, I’m not a fan of the quality. The original owner’s Giovanni and his now ex-wife – sold the business in 1997 – and then split up. Apparently, the ex-wife wasn’t happy with the sale and tried to buy it back from the new owner who didn’t want to sell – so she hired a couple of thugs who kidnapped him and forced him to sell at gunpoint! She was arrested and the sale was nullified. At some point people began signing the truck and finally in 2006, the current owners bought the land the truck sits on.  Since that time, the whole area around Govanni’s has become a sort of food truck mecca with everything from Fijian Indian curry to funnel cakes, Hawaiian BBQ, Da Bald Guy, Cheesus Crust Pizza, and more. Giovanni’s has built a pavillion and continue to sell buttery garlic scampi just like in the old days but without the kidnapping and extortion. If shrimp just isn’t your thing and you don’t like the vibe in Kuhuku, just keep heading down the coast until you reach Mike’s Huli Huli Chicken

Shrimp Trucks Oahu

The Downtown Honolulu Historic District

Honolulu Historic DistrictStarting in Chinatown and then heading towards Waikiki on King Street from Honolulu Will bring you through our financial district (just a couple of blocks, but we’re still proud of our clean and interesting downtown) and then you will suddenly find yourself with  Iolani Palace on the left and the fictional Hawaii 5-0 Headquarters on the right. For the next two blocks, you have an intense amount of the history of Hawaii.

Honolulu Historic District

First on the left side you will have Iolani Palace, the palace built by King Kalakaua for the monarchs of Hawaii to live in. Oppossite that you have Ali’iolani Palace and the statue of King Kamehameha – popularly known as Hawaii 5-0 HQ – though in truth, Hawaii 5-0 is a fictional crime fighting unit.

Honolulu Historic District

Next on the left you come to the Hawaii State Library and the statue garden dedicated to Patsy Mink. Opposite this you have the Territorial Legislature Building.

Honolulu Historic District

You will pass an intersection and on the left you will see Honolulu City Hall (Honolulu Hale) – the government headquarters for the City and County of Honolulu – notable for it’s Moorish design and architecture. Directly across from Honolulu Hale – you will seethe Kawai’ihao Church – a magnificent building made of coral bricks and the first church in Hawai’i – the cemetary connected to it has the tomb of one of Hawaii’s King Lunaliho. Next to the Kawa’ihao Church are the Mission Houses – the homes of the first missionaries to come to Hawai’i and first western structures built in the Hawaiian Islands.

Honolulu Historic District

Oppossite the Mission Houses you will see a building that looks like it belongs on the campus of Harvard – this was a memorial building built to honor those first missionaries. Finally you will find the lovely Fasi Park where many Honolulu events and festivals are held and next to it the beautiful concrete monstrosity that is the Frank Fasi Federal Building – a stark Le Corbusier style concrete block building that looks like it could be a prison.

Honolulu Historic District

Finally, you will come to a lovely sculpture of a Hawaiian Fisherman cleaning his nets next to a full scale waterfall. Each of the architectural attractions is rich in history and can occupy Anywhere from thirty minutes to three hours.

Haleiwa Town and the North Shore Neighborhoods of Pupukea and Waialua

HaleiwaOne of the most delightful little villages on Oahu is the surfing town of Hale’iwa. When I say surfing town, I don’t mean the town itself surfs- that would be silly – but the town does revolve around surfing. Once a plantation village where workers lived and bought what they needed to go about their lives, this village transformed into something else entirely when big wave surfing arrived. Today it is filled with boutiques, galleries, great restaurants, shave ice shops like Matsumoto Shave Ice, and plenty of surf shops. In fact, it is the perfect place to spend the day strolling, shopping, eating, and hanging out with friends and family.

Hale’iwa still has much of the slow paced country village feel about it combined with a chilled out surfer vibe which sits on top of a mouth watering culinary destination and an innovative artisanal movement. Hale’iwa epitomizes the Hawaiian ‘country’ scene without being backward or pretentious.

HaleiwaThe town sits between the villages of Pupukea to the East an Waialua to the West. Pupukea is little more than a grocery store, a fire station, and some food trucks (which happen to be sitting at the gateway to the world’s best surfing beaches and the amazing snorkeling at Shark’s Cove) and Waialua has died back to mainly farms,the North Shore Soap Factory and old sugar mill complex.  Waialua Bay wraps around and comes into Hale’iwa and then turns into rocky shoreline before reaching world famous surfing at Waimea Bay and the sacred temples in Waimea Valley and atop the hills in Pupukea. The small boat harbor in Hale’iwa is where many shark cage dives, dives, and sailing adventures leave from. To the south of Hale’iwa you will find the Dole Plantation and the town of Wahiawa.

HaleiwaThe present day location was the site of an ancient Hawaiian fishing village where it was a common destination for the Hawaiian Ali’i (Royalty) to escape the heat of Honolulu or ‘Ewa in the summer months. People have occupied the area for nearly a thousand years. Hale’iwa got it’s first western style building in 1832 but wasn’t founded as a town until 1898 when Benjamin Dillingham, a local businessman who contracted to have the Hawaiian railway built from the sugar and pineapple fields of the North Shore to the shipping port of Honolulu, saw the potential for tourism and built a hotel at the northern terminus. He named the hotel for the nest of the black frigate bird, called the ‘iwa bird in Hawaiian language. Hale is the Hawaiian word for house, so – House of the Frigate Bird.

Haleiwa

The hotel is long gone and village residents fight tooth and nail whenever anyone tries to bring a new hotel into the area. The last thing anyone wants is for Hale’iwa to turn into another Waikiki. If you want to stay on the North Shore, you need to either book a room at the expensive Turtle Bay Resort on the Northeast corner of the island or find a vacation rental. There are no other hotel options.

Haleiwa

The Polynesian Cultural Center – Visit all the Pacific Island Cultures on Oahu – Hawaii’s #1 Tourist Attraction

Polynesian Cultural Center LaieThe number one tourist attraction in Hawaii is the Polynesian Cultural Center in the town of Laie. Laie is also known as ‘the Mormon town’ and with good reason. The Mormons were early settlers in Hawaii and virtually the entire town of Laie is of the Mormon faith. There is a Mormon temple, a Mormon University, and the Mormon owned Polynesian Cultural Center (PCC). Now that we’ve got that out of the way – I’d like to introduce you to the PCC – and in case you are wondering – the Mormons do a great job of separating the attraction from their faith – so there is no need to worry that you are going to be preached at. It just doesn’t happen. In fact, if you didn’t know it was owned by the Mormons, you would never guess it.

Polynesian Cultural Center Laie

A bit of history – the PCC was born from an effort to raise funds to build their temple.  Native Hawaiian people had celebrated a harvest festival in the area called a hukilau – it was a sort of luau where everyone helped to gather and prepare food and everyone was welcome. They invited guests from Waikiki and the hukilau was a big hit. It grew into a weekly event, then it grew into a Hawaiian village, and eventually, it grewe into villages to celebrate all of the Polynesian Island Cultures.

Polynesian Cultural Center Laie

Inside the PCC there are villages with cultural activities, presentations, and more. The villages represented are Hawaii, Tahiti, Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, and Aotearoa (New Zealand). There are also movies, luaus, a beautiful canoe pageant, hilarious shows, and the breathtaking broadway style show ‘HA: Breath of Life’.  There is much more there as well with the Hawaiian Sports Hall of Fame, the Ukulele Experience, the Hukilau Village, and so much live entertainment that you won’t ever become bored.

Polynesian Cultural Center Laie

Located in Laie on the Windward side of Oahu on Kamehameha Highway. Open 12-6 Monday through Saturday. Tickets will cost you anywhere from $70 to $250 per adult. This is an all day sort of event. If you go to tour the villages, enjoy the luau, and watch the show you will be there until 10pm.

Polynesian Cultural Center Laie

Kokohead Botanical Garden – Desert Botanicals and Hawaiian Flowers in a Volcano Crater

Koko craterWhether you are a virgin or not – you should go in a volcano while you are in Hawaii. You can go in Diamond Head or head over to the Big Island but my suggestion is that while you are on Oahu, you visit a geologic masterpiece on the south side of the island.

You can climb up Koko Head Stairs and then you can go take a cool down hike through the Koko Head crater.  To get there you will drive from either the Honolulu side or the Kailua side. Between the two you will find Sandy’s Beach and that is where you’ll turn and drive through California looking suburbs, past a golf course, up to a horse stable and guess what…you’re there – inside the Koko Head Volcano. Look around and it will make sense, but when you drive in – you barely notice because one side of the volcano opens to the burbs.

Koko Crater

What I love about this spot is th at it is generally off the radar – the yoga/hiking/Instagram selfie crowd like to go to the tops of the mountains, the old bus tourists stay on the well worn coastal roads and stops, and Koko Crater just sits like a jewel waiting to be discovered. Sixty acres of serene, colorful, fragrant and almost never crowded dryland botanical garden. Dozens of plumeria flower trees (frangipangi), bougainvilla, cactii, and Hawaiiian endemic species all abound with color and beauty.

Koko Crater

The garden has been built since 1960 and is an ongoing and never ending project of the Honolulu Botanical Gardens. The climate in the crater is suitable for African, American, Hawaiian, and Madagascarian plants and cactii. There is a two mile loop trail with more than two hundred species on it. I usually spend a couple of hours there but I would recommend no less than an hour to enjoy it. Bring water and wear sunscreen. You don’t really have to worry about bugs here.

Koko Crater

The Bishop Museum – Hawaiian and Polynesian Ethnographic and Archaeological Museum

Honolulu Bishop Museum

The Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum is one of the most beloved and respected institutions in the Pacific. The museum covers art, science, cultural history, anthropology and ethnography, and even Hawai’i sports. Since 1889 the Bishop Musuem has housed the largest collection of Polynesian artifacts in the world. The museum is located in the Kalihi neighborhood of Honolulu on the island of Oahu in the state of Hawaii.

For anyone interested in Polynesian cultures or Hawaiiana this is a must visit. If you are a bug nut i.e. an entomologist – there are 13.5 million specimens at the Bishop – making up more than half of the 24 million items in the collections. It is the third largest bug collection in the USA. It is the largest collection of Hawaiian artifacts in the world. Most people going to the Bishop go for the Hawaiian and Polynesian artifacts.

Princess Bernice Pauahi BishopPrincess Bernice Pauahi Paki Bishop (1831-1884) was a Hawaiian high chief and direct descendent of King Kamehameha the Great. At one point she was asked to be the designated heir to the throne of the Hawaiian Kingdom by King Kamehameha V (an honor she refused and which led to the election of Kings Lunalilo & Kalakaua). When she died, her husband, Charles Reed Bishop, created the museum to preserve her royal inheritances. Her lands and wealth were used to create the Bishop Estate and Kamehameha Schools.

The museum itself was built on the original campus of the Kamehameha Schools. An interesting note – the koa wood cases in the museum are now worth more than the entire buildings they are housed in – Koa is considered a gem quality wood. The original buildings were joined in recent years by the Castle building which houses traveling exhibits and the Richard T. Mamiya Science Adventure Center which has exhibits tht include a volcano and aquariums. Near the main entrance is the Jhamandas Watumull Planetarium which offers great planetarium shows as well as programs about ancient polynesian navigation.

The museum is located at 1525 Bernice Street, Honolulu, HI. You can find hours and admission prices at www.bishopmuseum.org

Polynesian Artifacts

The Manoa Chocolate Factory in Kailua, Oahu

Manoa Chocolate Factory

One of my favorite hidden gems on Oahu is the Manoa Chocolate Factory Tour. Located in Kailua in the upstairs of a nondescript building, this fun and informative chocolate tour will teach you about sustainable bean-to-bar chocolate and also treat your tastebuds to the exotic world of custom chocolate.

Manoa Chocolate Factory

Started in 2010 by Dylan and Tammy Butterbaugh, Manoa chocolate takes it’s name from the University of Hawaii at Manoa – where they were both college students at the time. Their philosophy is simple – create great chocolate from great cacao and make sure that every step of the way is sustainable to farmers and producers. It all starts in Hawaii, the only state that can actually grow cacao commercially. The two started with home made equipment and a love of chocolate. Today they are in the top ten of bean to bar makers in the U.S. and the largest in the state of Hawaii.

Manoa Chocolate is located above Cinnamon’s Restaurant in Kailua at 315 Uluniu Ave. It’s not an intuitive location which is great because if you can find it, you can usually walk in and get the free 30 minute tour which starts with cacao and how it is grown and then moves on to how chocolate is made before ending with chocolate tea and a sampling of their amazing offerings – made from fair trade cacao they purchase from around the world – as well as Hawaii. Chocolate is a lot like wine and there are many different factors that go into creating the complex tastes.

They have recently opened a tasting room in the Hyatt Regency in Waikiki. Private tours and tastings can be booked through their website at the Manoa Chocolate websiteManoa Chocolate Factory

Waikiki – America’s Tropical Resort Neighborhood

WaikikiThere are songs and dreams of Waikiki. All over the world there are cafes, restaurants, streets, and shops named for this little slice of paradise on the southern end of the Hawaiian island of Oahu. Waikiki is properly written Waikīkī if you use the script that German missionaries created for the Hawaiian people – but mostly it’s really a word and a name you should say. The Hawaiians went for more than a thousand years without a written language and to be honest, written language seems to have brought more problems than solutions – so I don’t get too uptight about the punctuation – but some people do.

Waikiki

Waikiki might be the most famous tropical beach in the world. It is not the only beach in the Waikiki neighborhood though. There are actually seven of them. Queens, Kuhio, Kaimana, Gray’s, Fort DeRussy, and Duke’s (also known as Kahanumoku Beach and named for Duke Kahanamoku .) The name Waikiki means spouting fresh water and while it’s hard to believe today, it was once a swamp – but one without mosquitos (introduced by ship about 1840), snakes, gators, or other unpleasantness. Instead it was a paradise. The beach portion was pretty minor back then…and actually, the beach is almost entirely man made with sand brought from a variety of locations to make it.

Waikiki

The Ala Wai Canal on the ‘back side’ of Waikiki, was built to ‘drain the swamp’ and the emptied wetlands were filled with the dredgings. Prior to that, this was a retreat for Hawaiian Royalty – the literal Kings and Queens of Surf would lounge about in little more than their birthday suits among wetland agriculture, swimming ponds, and some small beaches . In the 1800s there were a couple of guest houses but the first ‘resort’ was at Sans Souci beach (now Kaimana). Many more would follow. And of course the resorts wanted beaches so they built them with sand from the North Shore, California, Maui, Fiji, Australia…an astounding number of places – but the truth is, Mother Nature doesn’t want a beach in Waikiki and she erodes the sand away constantly. If the beach were not ‘replenished’ or ‘nourished’ or more accurately restocked with foreign sand – it would not exist. The sand which washed out has also impacted the reef and changed the surf breaks.

Waikiki

Seawalls, piers, pillows, groins, and sand bags have all done their part to try to protect the commercialy important beach, but you can’t stop Mother Ocean. Still with scores of hotels that charge $500 per night for rooms – there is plenty of money to spend keeping the tide at bay. The first big hotels were the Moana Surf Rider and the Royal Hawaiian – built by the Matson Shipping company but the age of jet travel brought a lot more tourists and the cabanas at Halekulani were upgraded to Hawaii’s poshest hotel, the Hilton Hawaiian Village was born, and others have kept growing to match the ever increasing number of tourists who fulfill their dreams by coming here. You would think the resorts would pay for all of the beach ‘nourishment’ but actually, that falls on the people who live and work here for the low wages tourism offers. Tax dollars foot the bill and corporate dollars buy the politicians that distribute it.

Waikiki

Still, no one blames the tourists, the hotels, or the government because quite frankly, the beach is nice and even if most locals don’t get to enjoy the beach as much as they would like – we all get down there from time to time.  There are surf competitions, a nightly free hula show, the lighting of the torches, and every high end shop or restaurant you can imagine all competing for those coveted tourist vacation dollars.

Waikiki surfing

Waikiki is essentially the neighborhood from the Ala Wai Canal to the beach to the Diamond Head Lighthouse including Kapiolani Park, bequethed by and named for Queen Kapiolani, the wife of King Kalakaua (see statue of her above). The main roads in Waikiki are Kalakaua Avenue (named for King Kalakaua), Kuhio Avenue, and Ala Wai running parallel with the beach along with Kapahulu running inland (which will lead you to Leonard’s Bakery). There are also a large number of smaller cross roads. Kalakaua is the main drag for high end shopping. Kapahulu takes you out of Waikiki and to some great restaurants. Ala Wai takes you back to Ala Moana – and Kuhio is a little bit of a red light district – though not as bad as it used to be.

Waikiki is primarily a place known for surfing with a wide variety of breaks and waves. The statue of Duke Kahanamoku draws admirers and each year there are numerous competitions held there. If you want to learn how to surf, it is possibly the best place in the world to do so. Other attractions here are the Honolulu Zoo, the Waikiki Aquarium, and the International Marketplace .It is also where most people start and finish their Hawaii vacations…which is a bit of a shame – because with a great guide, it’s easy to realize that Waikiki is just another manufactured tourist destination next to the beach – but Honolulu, Oahu, the Big Island, Kauai, Maui, Lanai, and Molokai are where you will actually discover Hawaii. I’m not saying that Waikiki isn’t great, because it is great, but it’s not the best that Hawaii has to offer – though it is the best place to start and finish your trip here.

Koko Head Stairs – Oahu’s #1 Fitness Hike – Climb a Hawaiian Volcano!

Koko Head Stairs

If you’ve ever dreamed of hiking to the top of an extinct Hawaiian volcano – this hike is for you.  Sure, you can join the thousands of other tourists climbing up the inside of Diamond Head – but if you want to climb the outside of a volcano, get away from the entrance fees, experience sweeping wild views of the rocky South Shore of Oahu the Pacific Ocean, and even the neighbor islands of Molokai, Lanai, and Maui – then climbing the Koko Head Stairs is for you.

Koko Head Stairs

It’s a funny name…but there is nothing funny about this hike. 1042 stairs up the vertical face of a volcano on Oahu. Koko Head is 1208 feet tall (368m). That’s the tall part with the stairs. There is a bit of confusion around the name because in fact, the stairs go up Koko Crater – Koko Head is actually the headland on the other side of Hanauama Bay – the peak (where the stairs go) is actually named Kohelepelepe. Confused yet? Don’t be – just do like everyone else and call the hike Koko Head Stairs.

 

Koko Head Stairs

Koko Head last erupted about 35,000 years ago. So you don’t have to worry about that happening while you hike. You just have to worry about finding your way to Koko Head Regional Park. Once there, park past the baseball diamond. The pop pop pop you hear is the Kokohead shooting range. It’s contained and no danger to hikers. You’ll see exhausted hikers strewn all around the parking area.

Koko Head Stairs

Follow the path past the baseball diamond to the base of the stairs. You’ll see hundreds of pairs of hiking shoes thrown onto the power lines as you approach the base of the stairs. I don’t know why people do that. Shoes are expensive.

Koko Head Stairs

The stairs are the remains of a funicular built by the U.S. military during World War II. A small train pulled troops and equipment up to pillboxes and bunkers on the top. You don’t get that option because the train is long gone. The railway ties, howeever, remain. Get ready for over a thousand lunges…big steps. Halfway up you will have to overcome any fear of heights as you cross the crumbling railway bridge and then you will go up the last near vertical section just as you think you can’t go any further.

Koko Head Stairs

Finally, you will reach the top and share smiles and congratulations for your amazing achievement – don’t let the fitness freaks who have run past you four times on your journey up take away from the moment (they went up and down and up and down and up and down and up and down – freaks.) It’s not an easy hike. Many turn back. Many look up the stairs and don’t even try.

Koko Head Stairs

From the top you can find different views. The communities of Hawaii Kai and Portlock with Diamond Head in the distance. Hanauma Bay below you. The neighbor islands. And the interior of the Koko Crater which is filled with a desert botanical garden.

Koko Head Stairs

Hike up to the metal grate and take epic photos. Hydrate. And get ready for the hike down when your legs will turn to jelly.

Don’t forget to wear sunscreen, bring water, wear breathable clothes, wear good shoes – this is not a flip flop or barefoot hike. Also take breaks if you need to and don’t be afraid to call it quits if it is too much. A hat isn’t a bad idea either.

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