5 Free Things to do in Hawaii that Should Cost a Fortune

5 Free Things to do in Hawaii that Should Cost a Fortune

They say that in life the best things are free, but we all know that usually is a crock of malarky. Food, housing, travel, clothing, family, medicine, eductaion – all of these things cost money. The thing is, though, sometimes you find that there is some truth to that old saying after all. Here are five things in Hawaii that are free to do but should cost a fortune.

Going to the Beach

Going to the beach in Hawaii

The beaches in Hawaii are among the best in the world. That’s the reason people are so surprised when they come to Hawaii and find that public beach access is a right that is protected by law. You don’t have to pay to go to any beach in Hawaii. They are all free and everyone is welcome.

Hiking in the Rainforest

Rainforest Hawaii

You can pay for a guide if you want to, but the truth is that you can find plenty of information online about where to hike in Hawaii and it won’t cost you a cent. You can hike all day in public rainforest with no entrance fees, no charge for the guavas, and no charge for the bird watching.

Swimming in a Tropical Waterfall

Hawaii Rainforest Hike

You need to pay atteintion to the signs and learn about Leptosporosis, but while you’re sweating on that hike in the tropical rainforests of Hawaii, don’t be surprised to come across a waterfall in the jungle. Falls like Mauawili and Manoa falls are fantastic for swimming and wading. Let the warm water wash over you and imagine yourself in a soap opera.

Seeing Giant Sea Turtles and Hawaiian Monk Seals on the Beach

Giant Sea Turtle Hawaii

Nobody will charge you to see the wild life in Hawaii, but if you harrass the animals you will get charged a hefty fine so remember not to approach too close to the sea turtles or Hawaiian Monk Seals while they are lazing on the shoreline.

Watching the Sunrise and the Sunset over the Pacific Ocean

Sunrise

Because the islands aren’t very big, you can watch the sunrise over the Pacific Ocean as if you are in Japan and then watch the sunset over the Pacific Ocean as if you are in California. My favorite spot to watch the sunrise is from the bunker in Lanikai on  Oahu’s Windward side. My favorite sunset spot is from Sunset Beach – it’s called that for a reason.

Exploring the World with Iwahai

If you haven’t yet downloaded and played with the Iwahai app, you are really missing out.  There are still a few bugs to work out, but for the most part – it’s already a fun way to explore and share the world. Need proof?

Easily done – but you’ll need to download and open the app before you can check out these amazing markers. And since you have the app now – why not add some memories of your own on there? Share some insider knowledge. Make a recommendation. Or – say hi to a friend. The more you add and share on Iwahai – the more fun it will become. Bring your friends on, Iwahai is free, it’s easy, and it’s fun.

This was the first marker ever placed and recorded on the Iwahai Map

Curious about where the best tacos in Los Angeles are? An Iwahai user told us.

Wanna know what it’s like to visit Culver’s in Milwaukee with someone’s grandma? Check it out! An Iwahai user shared it!

An amazing spot to go kayaking in New York – we learned from an Iwahai User

A robotic voice in Saudi Arabia which says (in Arabic) “Knowledge is Light and Ignorance is Darkness”

The only known audio recording of artist and pop-icon Frida Kahlo from Mexico City, Mexico

Someone’s personal opinion about the person living in the White House in Washington D.C. and another’s opinion of Mar al Lago in Florida – the so called “Winter Whitehouse”

My experience seeking out a famous witch on the island of Siquijor in the Philippines.

Or maybe you want to take a little mini -tour of some of my favorite places on Oahu in Hawaii that I’ve recommended to friends and family.

-A slow but delicious Hawaiian shrimp truck

-The unobtrusive and not obvious location of Banzai Pipeline

-The best Farmer’s Market on Oahu

-The cheapest and coolest place to stay on the North Shore

The Hawaii Convention Center in Honolulu – Explained

Hawaii Convention CenterA lot of visitors to Honolulu ask me about the unique design and history of the Hawaii Convention Center near Waikiki. It’s a massive building. It cost over $200 million to build back in the late 1990s and has more than 1.1 million square feet of usable space. The building is owned by the Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) but strangely, they outsource the management of it to a California company (such practices are why we have low paying jobs and a stagnant economy here in Hawaii).

Hawaii Convention Center

The State of Hawaii was the contractor and the architect was LMN from Seattle, Washington.  This is their statement on the Convention Center:

The design celebrates Hawai`i through innovative functional planning, ecological responsiveness and a unique expression of place. Designed before sustainable design gained popularity, the facility employs energy conservation and passive building systems as integrated aspects of the architectural experience.

The building is configured on the site to capture Hawaii’s trade winds and optimize natural ventilation of public spaces.  More than 60 percent of the center, including lobbies, registration, pre-function areas and concourses, are open to the sky and shaded with trellis structures to provide abundant daylight while maintaining human comfort.

References to traditional building forms and landscape elements reinforce the connection to Hawaiian landscape and culture—expressed in roof shape, structural columns, and a series of folded fabric roof “sails” that induce air flow and create a dramatic civic presence.

Addressing its urban context, the building provides active edges on all four sides by enveloping the functional service areas within the building massing.  Landscaped public terraces are designed for a diverse range of active and passive use, integrating the entire facility into its active pedestrian environment.

The interior architects were Wimberly Allison Tong & Goo (WATG), one of the most successful firms to be born in Honolulu. Their idea was to incorporate Hawaiian quilt motifs and representation of Hawaii nature throughout the interior and exterior elements.

Hawaii Convention Center

It has been voted the most beautiful convention center in the world! The iconic sails on top represent the original Polynesian voyagers who became the Hawaiian people. It has appeared in many TV shows and movies including LOST and Hawaii 5-0.

Hawaii Convention Center Com Con

Our personal favorite events that happen there are Hawaii Comic Con and the Honolulu Festival but there are many more events, expos, and conferences that take place at the HCC.

Saturday Farmer’s Market at Kapiolani Community College on Oahu

KCC Farmer's MarketKapiolani 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.

KCC Farmer's MarketStrolling 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. 

Chinaman’s Hat – Oahu’s Politically Incorrect but Scenic Micro Island

Chinaman's HatAs 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.

Chinaman's HatThe 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.

Waimea Valley Botanical Garden and Waimea Falls Hike on Oahu’s North Shore

Waimea Valley Waterfall Hike Oahu North ShoreIf 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.

Waimea Valley Waterfall Hike Oahu North ShoreIn 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.

Waimea Valley Waterfall Hike Oahu North ShoreThere 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.

Details

Adults: $16
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

Hours:
Open daily from
Closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.

Sharks Cove at Pupukea on Oahu, Hawaii – a Beautiful Snorkel Spot

Sharks Cove Pupukea Oahu HawaiiSnorkeling 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.

Sharks Cove Pupukea Oahu HawaiiThe 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!

Sharks Cove Pupukea Oahu Hawaii

The Ala Moana Shopping Center in Honolulu – World’s Largest Open Air Shopping Mall

Ala MoanaWhether 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.

Ala Moana Shopping CenterIt’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.

Ala Moana Shopping Center

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.

Ala Moana Shopping Center

Visiting the Battleship Missouri at Pearl Harbor

Battleship Missouri 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.

Battleship Missouri

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.

Battleship Missouri

Battleship Missouri

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.

 

Battleship Missouri

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.

Battleship Missouri

 

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

There are many ver official looking sites that offer tours and tickets, but this is the only truly official website for the sites. https://ussmissouri.org/buy-tickets

Liliha Bakery on Oahu – Home of Coco Puffs and Poi Donuts

Liliha BakerySince 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.

Liliha Bakery

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.

Five Great Kids Activities on Oahu

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.

Dole PlantationDole Plantation

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.

 

 

 

 

Honolulu Ohau Sea Life ParkSea 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).

 

 

Honolulu ZooHonolulu Zoo

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.

 

 

 

Waikiki AquariumWaikiki Aquarium

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 IceMatsumoto 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?

Five Ono (Delicious) Local Hawaii Restaurants to Enjoy on Oahu

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…

WaikaneWaioli 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!

 

 

 

 

FHawaiian Pokeoodland 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 Huli ChickenMike’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.

 

 

 

 

Shrimp Trucks Oahu

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 38Nico’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.

Three Amazing Snorkel Spots on Oahu in Hawaii

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.

Shark’s Cove

Snorkel Hawaii

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

Hanauma Bay

Snorkel Hawaii

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

Snorkel Hawaii

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.

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!

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