Kapiolani Community College on Oahu has a weekly farmer’s market that is a world class destination. It’s crazy, it’s crowded, it’s fun and it is DELICIOUS! This weekly event is sponsored by the Hawai’i Farm Bureau and goes on rain or shine. If you are a Farm Bureau member, you get in early from 7:00-7:30 and can avoid the crowds.
First of all – there is plenty of farm fresh produce – but don’t make the mistake of thinking that is all there is. There are food stalls that serve plenty of delicious foods from crepes to burgers to ‘Loco Moco’ to jumbo wild shrimp. The prices for produce are reasonable and for everything else – about what you would expect in Hawai’i, meaning you aren’t going to fill your belly for five bucks.
Strolling through the market provides plenty of opportunities for people watching. In fact, you can see people from pretty much all over the world. China, Japan, Australia, Europe, North America, South America, India – it’s a global marketplace. There are usually local musicians out and plenty of culinary wonders that do a great job of demonstrating just how diverse and eclectic Oahu’s food scene is.
Give yourself a couple of hours to explore and eat and enjoy and while you are there, don’t miss the desert botanical garden nearby. It’s filled with some beauties!
Getting to KCC is easy, it’s on the back side of Diamond Head near the entrance to the crater, right across the street in fact. You can get a taxi, a bus, an Uber or a Lyft from Waikiki for just a couple of bucks. There is plenty of parking so if you have a car, driving is an option. Don’t forget to bring your own reusable shopping bags!
The KCC Farmers Market takes place in Parking Lot C at Kapiʻolani Community College (4303 Diamond Head Rd.) every Saturday morning from 7:30-11:30. It’s free and has no entrance fee.
As you head up to the North Shore of Oahu on the Windward Side of the island, you will come to one of Hawaii’s most iconic landmarks. The little ‘sorting hat’ shaped island offshore from Kualoa Ranch has one of the least politically correct names in the U.S.A – Chinaman’s Hat. Okay, it’s not that bad and truth be told, there is a valid reason for the name.
The Windward Side of Oahu was heavily settled by Chinese immigrants who came to work in the sugar cane industry but then chose to stay and start their own farms. When the Chinese arrived, the island had a different name, but the locals who were already in place, noticed right away that their little island looked an awful lot like the wide conical sun hats the Chinese brought with them.
Rather than starting to call the hats ‘Mokoli’i hats’ – which may have happened at some point – the locals instead started referring to Mokoli’i as Chinaman’s Hat. There are some lovely stories and plenty of artwork that show a giant Chinese farmer living under the hat – with big catfish like Fu Manchu whiskers.
The Hawaiian name for the island, Mokoli’i, means little lizard. There are some great folktales about it as well. My favorite of them has the sister of Madam Pele, being harassed by the lizard, who fell in love with her and wouldn’t leave her alone. Unable to get her suitor to leave her alone, she killed him and then picked him up and threw him up to Kualoa where he landed. His head and back are formed by the Kualoa Mountain and the tail falls into the water where just the tip of it pokes out.
Chinaman’s Hat is a popular destination for pictures. The water is nice but there is a lot of reef and coral and not much sand. Visiting the island is best done by kayak but it can be swam or snorkeled to. One word of caution if you plan to do that – this is a tiger shark breeding area – so pay attention to the signs and conditions.
Once you reach the island, there is a short 20 minute hike that will take you to the tip of the hat.
If you are coming to Oahu in the hopes of swimming in a waterfall, learning about the ancient Hawaiian culture, and seeing unique and beautiful endemic and indigenous plants and animals – plus doing a bit of hiking and enjoying beautiful gardens and tropical flowers – then you should probably head straight to Waimea Valley and Waimea Falls on the North Shore of Oahu.
This stunning 1800 acre park has one of Oahu’s most beautiful waterfall hikes, historical sites, reconstructed and preserved archaeological sites, botanical gardens filled with indigenous plants and native birds, as well as a wealth of friendly and knowledgable employees and educational displays.
At $16 per person – this is probably one of the most affordable and enjoyable activities on Oahu. There is a 1.5 mile round trip hike on a gently sloping paved path that leads to the falls. At the falls, swimmers are required to wear provided life vests and there are life guards stationed to assist if you get in trouble. Along the path there are plenty of side trails that will take you to hidden parts of the valley – or you can stick to the trail and explore the many educational displays along the way.
In the visitor center there are frequent educational activities, a lovely gift shop, a good restaurant and always clean restrooms (as well as free wi-fi which you may need since there is no cell service in the valley). On Saturdays, the Pupukea farmers market is a fun and lively event with live music, plenty of great food, and a beautiful open lawn to picnic on. The visitor center also hosts weddings and parties as well as concerts.
There is a great luau which takes place in Waimea Valley.
This valley was one of the main settlements of Oahu in ancient times and it is filled with rich archaeological sites. It was evacuated in 1893 due to heavy flooding and never recovered. The valley is a sacred ahupua’a to the Hawaiian people – that’s a land division.
There are 41 different gardens in the valley containing more than 5000 different plants. For many of my visitors, this is the most fulfilling and memorable part of their journey to Oahu. In addition, it may look familiar because there were quite a few movies and TV Shows shot in Waimea Valley including Lost, Hawaii 5-0, 50 First Dates, Joe vs. The Volcano – and many more.
Children (4-12 years): 8
Seniors (60 years and older): $12
Kama’aina/Military Adults (ID required): $10
Kama’aina/Military Children: $6
Kama’aina/Military Seniors: $8
Annual Pass Individual: $50
Annual Pass Family (2 adults and up to 4 children under the age of 12): $100
Open daily from
Closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.
Snorkeling is one of the activities that visitors coming to Oahu, Hawaii or other tropical island destinations want to experience. There’s nothing quite like stripping down to the bare essentials and lowering your body into water that feels just right and then swimming around with ease while marveling at the beauty and diversity of the undersea world.
Most visitors end up either snorkeling in Waikiki – which has some decent spots but in general isn’t all that great in most places, or they join the busloads of tourists and head to Hanauma Bay – which is a spectacular place to snorkel but has an entry fee, is always busy, and is closed on Tuesdays.
Personally, I prefer heading up to the North Shore and checking out Sharks Cove. Open daily every day (though sometimes closed due to high surf in winter), has a wide variety of fish and different levels of snorkeling suitable for beginner through expert, and finally – has great food trucks and a grocery store just across the street.
The protected areas inside the tall reef are a perfect place for beginner to intermediate snorkelers and for those with more experience you can go to the deeper portions where you will find caves, a wider variety of corals and fish, and more. Please be aware of the conditions and watch out for the ‘salt water waterfalls’ where big surf hits the exposed reef and washes down the inside.
Sharks Cove is part of a Marine Life Conservation District and so there is no fishing or spear fishing allowed. You’ll also see scuba divers going 15-25 feet deep to explore the many underwater caves in the area.
There are also many tide pools in the vicinity and a lovely, but small beach for those who don’t want to snorkel. A few notes –
Entering can be a bit tricky as there is sharp lava/reef throughout, you may want to wear water booties or reef shoes.
Reef extends up to and above the surface in areas – careful not to scrape your chest/belly
Kids need to be supervised – there are some tricky areas and places where the reef opens up to the open ocean, so don’t just turn them loose – this ain’t the hotel pool, Martha
Parking is limited, so it’s best to come early or late
If the surf is up, the visibility will be terrible and the conditions can be dangerous
Finally, I’ve never heard of anyone seeing a dangerous shark inside sharks cove, but there are some outside – so be aware. You might see some small white tipped sharks – but they are harmless, if thrilling. The reason it’s called Sharks Cove though is because the outline of the reef is said to resemble a shark – plus, it scares away some of the visitors!
Whether you live in Hawaii or you are visiting – one destination that you have to go to is the mall! I know that sounds funny in the age of brick and mortar retail dying out – but Ala Moana Shopping Center is much more than just a mall. It’s actually the largest open air shopping center in the world and it’s a place that both residents and visitors to Oahu love to go.
It’s hard to believe, but the land that Ala Moana now sits on was once a swamp. It was purchased from the Bishop Estate in 1912 by Walter Dillingham, a dredger with a dream. He filled the land with the dredgings from the Ala Wai Canal and Pearl Harbor. His son, Lowell, took the next step – getting the ball rolling on construction of the mall in 1957 and opening in 1959 – the same year Hawaii became a state. At the time it was the largest shopping mall in the United States. Today it is still the ninth largest in the USA and the largest open air mall in the world with nearly 2.4 million square feet of retail space. There are well over 300 stores, restaurants, and vendors in Ala Moana – among them Bloomingdales, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, and all of the many luxury brands you can think of as well as Target, Ross, and other discount stores. Food courts, stages, entertainment venues, and the Shirokiya Japanese marketplace – a large Japanese street food themed food court with cheap beer and delicious food.
Getting to Ala Moana is easy – it’s between downtown Honolulu and Waikiki and sits between Ala Moana Boulevard and Kapiolani Boulevard. It is mauka (mountain direction) from Ala Moana beach park. Parking is plentiful. Ala Moana is a huge part of local life here in Honolulu – malls may be dying everywhere else, but not in Hawaii.
High on the list of many visitors to Honolulu, Hawaii is the chance to visit the USS Missouri, the last of the great American battleships – which is permanently anchored as an attraction at Pearl Harbor as part of the Valor in the Pacific National Monument.
The ‘Mighty Mo’ was the last American battleship commissioned (1944) and the last of the great ships to be decommissioned (1992). The ship still serves, but now it is as a monument to those who have served on American Navy ships.
To get to the Missouri, you will first need to go to the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center where you can purchase a ticket if you haven’t already bought one online. The entire complex contains the Missouri, USS Arizona Memorial, the USS Bowfin, and the Pacific Aviation Museum. From the visitor center you will take a military operated bus to Ford Island.
Don’t be surprised by the size of the ship. It is huge! At more than 18 stories tall from top to bottom and over three football fields long, be ready to climb lots of stairs and do lots of walking- there are elevators available for those who are mobility challenged.
The ship is kept in a state of what seems perpetual readiness and the smell of diesel fuel and paint is strong wherever you go. The passageways, galleys, and chambers on the ship feel ghostly alive with the sounds of the crew that no longer serves on board, recorded in the past and piped in on speakers in the present. Most of the ship feels as if you have arrived just as the crew is taking a break and has gone elsewhere – it’s eerie to look into the empty medical offices, machine shops, galleys, berths, mess halls, and quarters and not find a soul there (except for other tourists)
The Missouri is most famous as the site where the formal Japanese surrender happened. That and the site where Japanese kamikaze pilot smashed into the ship are both memorialized. The kamikaze display below decks, where the faces and final letters of the young men who committed suicide by smashing their planes into American ships is perhaps the most disturbing of the many museum displays on board the ship. It’s important to remember the high cost of war while you visit this huge machine of death – World War II killed an estimated 88 million people of which as many as 55 million were children, women, senior citizens and other civilians and non-combatents.
If you are not a patriotic American or a true fan of war machines or history, the first part of the tour can be a bit rough. You are required to take a docent guided tour where patriotism and gushing anthropomorphic descriptions of the ship are shared from a well memorized script. This portion can run from 30 minutes to an hour depending on the tour you book and your guide’s enthusiasm The guides always refer to the big ship as ‘her’ or ‘she’. After the guided portion, you can wander through the ship at your leisure – watch your head and don’t trip as you crouch through the hatchways.
There are two tours available – the standard guided tour (Mighty Mo) – which shows you the main decks and the nearly three times as long ‘Heart of the Missouri’ which takes you to below decks and through some of the museums and displays.
As with most attractions in Hawaii, Kamaʻāina and military members with photo I.D. get discounted prices. Visitors cannot bring purses, backpacks or bags into the entire complex. There is bag storage available or just leave it behind.
The Valor in the Pacific Memorial and Pearl Harbor Historic Sites are located at
1 Arizona Memorial Place Honolulu, HI 96818
Open daily. 8 am- 4 pm. Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Day
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!