Since 1950, Liliha Bakery has been one of Oahu’s brightest gems. This neighborhood coffee shop, diner, and bakery will provide you with some of Oahu’s tastiest treats or a well cooked sit down meal for a reasonable price. There are two locations – one at the original spot in the Makiki neighborhood on Liliha street and the other on the Nimitz Highway between downtown and Honolulu International Airport.
A couple of items from Liliha Bakery stand out for me. First, the signature Coco-Puffs – sweet chocolate filled cream puffs with a dab of mocha creme on them. Second are the Poi Mochi Donuts – these are chewy donuts made with rice gelatin and pounded taro (which gives them their purple color). Starting at 2 am each day, Liliha makes fresh and delicious treats better than any other bakery on the island.
One of the best things about the original location is the diner bar. If you want to feel what it was like to grab a meal at the diner in the 1950’s just sit down and wait for one of the waitresses to take your order. Watch the cooks dish your food in the kitchen and enjoy some thick coffee. Some of the cooks have been there for more than thirty years and the coffee may have been there with them. The diner food is classic local recipes like loco moco, saimin, Portuguese sausage and rice and pancakes. Open for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
There are no shortage of great things to do on Oahu. When you visit Hawaii, it’s perfectly fine to bring the kids with you and most activitives are great for the whole family. Things like swimming, snorkeling, having beach time, hiking in the rainforest, or just doing some shopping in Waikiki. Sometimes though, you might want to do something that will make the little ones squeal with delight – for those times, I offer the following.
The Dole Planatation is great for everyone but the little ones get a special thrill. All the bright colors, the pineapple ice cream aka Dole Whip, getting lost in the world’s largest pineapple maze, and taking a train ride through the old plantation days. The kids will love this one.
Sea Life Park
Sea Life Park is a blast for the kids. Sure, there are controversies and real concerns about the way that marine animals and animals in general are treated, but in Hawaii, the legislature, businesses and every day people take those concerns seriously, so why not go and watch a dolphin show or check out the sharks in the big aqaurium. Visit with the penguins and see Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles in an environment where they are safe and protected (from tourists).
The Honolulu Zoo can be a lot of fun with the kids – during the summer months there are concerts inside and great after dark programs where the kids (and adults) can explore the zoo grounds, learn about the nocturnal behaviours of the animals that live there, and more – but don’t discount going to the zoo during the day. I think that mornings right around feeding time are the best time, but there’s always something going on – especially with the gibbons.
The Waikiki Aquarium is a blast – especially if you hit one of those days when it’s raining or you don’t want to be outside very much. Head to the Waikiki Aquarium. You can spend hours or minutes there but spend at least enough time to see the sea horses and sea dragons! Also the touching zone is a favorite with kids of all ages. For those looking for a more psychedelic vibe…spend a bit of time zoning out on the jellyfish under blacklights!
Matsumoto Shave Ice
Every child should get to experience a very good shave ice. You’ll find that in many places but one of the most fun is Matsumoto Shave Ice in Haleiwa on the North Shore of Oahu. This is one of the most family budget friendly treats in the Hawaiian Islands. Go whole hog and you aren’t going to spend more than $5 on a mountain of sweet delicious local flavors. Don’t forget to get the snowcap! It might sound unnecessary…but you’re not buying the kids shave ice because it’s necessary, right?
The Hawaiian word for delicious is ‘Ono’. There are no shortage of ono restaurants in Hawaii and most of them are located in Honolulu or on the island of Oahu. The following are five places where you can get an ono meal that you will tell your friends about for as long as you are still able to talk and remember eating there…
Waioli Poi Factory – Midway up the windward side of Oahu you will find a tinroofed shack with delicious Hawaiian food for reasonable prices. The crowds have been growing at this local favorite – so I’m not going to post the address or hours – you’ll just have to find it on your own. Make sure you order the poi, the kalua pork, and the haupia!
Foodland Poke Bowls – Yes, there are lots and lots and lots of places to get fresh poke in Hawaii. We have hidden gems we won’t tell you about – but the thing that surprises a lot of people is that the best poke isn’t found at fancy restaurants – it’s found in local grocery stores, liquor stores, and side of the road markets where people go for lunch. Grab a spicy ahi poke bowl from any foodland seafood counter. You won’t be disappointed. In fact, you’ll probably go home and tell everyone it was the best poke you ever had!
Mike’s Huli Chicken I haven’t been to Mike’s Huli Huli Chicken since they left their Kahalu’u location a few months ago and moved to Kuhuku with all the other food trucks – but I’m sure that the food is just as good as it always was. Maybe it’s even better.
Fumi’s Kuhuku Shrimp There is a reason why Fumi’s is my favorite of all the Hawaiian Shrimp Trucks on Oahu – it’s because they cook it right, raise it right, and keep their sanitation on the obsessive compulsive side in their kitchen. They pull the shrimp from their family owned ponds and serve them with aloha (and lots of garlic).
Nico’s Pier 38 I’m jaded about Nico’s – because it used to be so much better than it is today. The truth is though , Nico’s Pier 38 is still one of those places that you have to go and you will remember forever as long as you order the swordfish or the furikake crusted ahi.
Hawaii is filled with great spots to surf and snorkel, dive and hike. In fact, there are so many great snorkel spots on Oahu that it’s easy to miss the best ones – and, unfortunately – it’s also easy to wander into areas where the water isn’t safe, the snorkeling isn’t that good, or you are putting yourself in some other kind of danger. With that in mind – I want to share my three favorite snorkel spots on the island of Oahu. One of them is in Waikiki, one of them is on the North Shore, and one of them is on the wild South Shore. All three are generally safe and depending on conditions, are almost certainly awesome places to see lots of fish. As with anywhere you are going to get in the water – check with lifeguards or locals to find out the conditions, make sure someone knows where you are going, and make sure you know how your equipment works before you head out of the shallow water. One last note – do not feed the fish and make sure that you are wearing reef safe sunscreen – both things help preserve our beautiful ocean so that many generations can continue to enjoy it.
I’ve never seen a shark at Shark’s Cove, but I’ve seen many other kinds of fish. This is a reef protected inlet with some amazing fish viewing and a variety of snorkel areas that are suitable for everyone from brand new beginners to seasoned scuba divers. To get there, go to the North Shore and drive until you see the Foodland shopping center at Pupukea – Shark’s Cove is right across the street. I recommend Sharks Cove during spring, summer, and autumn…though it can get a little crowded during summer weekends.
During the winter months, Sharks Cove isn’t usually a great place to go – not because of sharks but because of something that has caused many more deaths…big surf. The North Shore gets anywhere from 10′ to 60′ waves in the winter and this can not only cause crushing death…but also create dangerous currents, riptides, and undertows…as such during the winter, I usually keep my snorkeling at either Hanauma Bay or the Waikiki Fish Preserve
A volcanic crater filled with coral reefs and fish…what’s not to like about that? Even though it is one of the best known tourist attractions in Hawaii, Hanauma Bay is still worth visiting. Bring your own gear or rent it before you go because if you choose to rent it at Hanauma Bay…it will cost you almost as much as if you were buying it new at Costco or Target. Closed on Tuesdays. Here are more details on Hanauma Bay
Waikiki Fish Preserve
I generally don’t like to give away my secret spots – but this one should be okay. If you go towards Diamond Head on Waikiki Beach and pass the statue of the surfer across from the Honolulu Zoo – you will walk along an area where there isn’t really a beach – just a walkway next to the water. You will reach the Waikiki Aquarium and the Natatorium, the crumbling WWI memorial and then Kaimana Beach. If you are in the water, that entire stretch is known as the Waikiki Fish Preserve and it is absolutely teeming with marine life. You can enter the water at Kaimana’s or at Queen’s Beach. There are no lifeguards here and you are on your own, so make sure you can swim and know how to use your equipment. Be sure not to harass the fish.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
No 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 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 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.
In 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.
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).
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.
Fumi’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.
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
Starting 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
One 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.
The 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.
The 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.
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.
The 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.
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.
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.
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.
Whether 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.
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.
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.