BEFORE THE TRIP
First things first, traveling to Hawai’i is not cheap, but even if you’re on a budget, it is not impossible!
February is a great time to travel to the islands, and although it is winter for most people, the islands stay in the comfortable 70 degree Fahrenheit range, “because it’s not too hot, not too cold, all you need is a light jacket.”
If you don’t need to travel during specific dates (and even then), I always go to momondo.com because they make it easy to find the cheapest dates to fly (and no, this is not a paid advertising, although I wish it was). I was able to book a non-stop round trip flight from Houston to Honolulu (8hrs) for less than $900.
For lodging I highly recommend looking for private rentals slightly outside of Waikiki. You might be able to get a hotel for $100 a night, but you never know what you will get. And if you rent a car (which, unless you are planning on staying only in Waikiki, is recommended) those Waikiki parking fees add up pretty quickly. I initially booked a private room in an apartment through AirBnB for $50 a night ($350 for 7 days!).
I rented the car from Priceline (Name Your Own Price), and the total for 7 days was less than $300 (I declined all the additional insurance since I have a full coverage on my own policy).
So my total for the trip at this point was $1550. But – sometimes things don’t go according to the plan. My AirBnB host had to cancel the reservation due to an emergency less than a week before my arrival! Since my travel took place a week before Valentines Day, almost everything was already booked up! My options were limited, but I did find another AirBnB with a private room for $75 a night+ fees. I used my refund, plus the additional money AirBnB added to my account to book the new place, so it all worked out. This place was actually even better, it was in a house, not an apartment, and the area and the room were great! My room even had a small lanai (a porch) with a view of the ocean!
The only thing to be aware of when booking a private room or a house is that AC is not common in Hawaii. My bedroom did not have AC, but it did not bother me. The people that were in the other room (the house had 3 rental bedrooms) seemed a bit more bothered by the temperatures. So I guess it depends on your personal body heat.
The flight was nice and smooth, and as soon as you get out of the airport you feel the warm air. I had another hiccup upon landing though, I bought a FitBit right before the trip to track my steps and I lost it at the airport either in the bathroom, or when picking up my checked bag, I really am not sure, I never found it. But c’est la vie, life happens. Well, enough about logistics, what did I do in Hawaii?
I picked up my car from Alamo rental, a Toyota Yaris, plugged in my phone charger, and entered the AirBnB house address into the GPS, it was a mere 15 minutes from the airport. I arrived on Sunday afternoon, but after an 8.5 hr flight and 4 hour difference, I did not have energy for much. I did need a meal, so Zippy’s, a local chain restaurant was the first stop. I was recommended to try Chicken Katsu, a Japanese style fried chicken. It was not my favorite, but their Passion Fruit drink was delicious! That was it for Sunday. After dinner I went back to the room and got a good night’s rest. The first night in a new place is always the hardest for me. I’d wake up at the slightest noises just because I am on high alert. But by the third night I slept like a dead man.
Monday started with a breakfast at The Original Pancake House. I got pineapple pancakes, which again, were not my favorite. I guess I was just expecting more. The biggest thing that bummed me out is that the pineapple pieces were from canned pineapple, not fresh. But the place has great reviews on Yelp, so perhaps it was just me.
The day continued with a long drive along the East Shore all the way to the North Shore and stopping at many scenic beaches along the way. Ah, beaches!!!! That is the true attraction of Hawaii, the island is surrounded by the beautiful beaches, some are rocky, others are sandy, but all are equally breath taking!
Evening concluded with dinner at Haleiwa Joe’s Seafood Grill. Their ceviche and fruit salad (forget the name) were great, their pork sliders were too greasy and lacked flavor, so I did not finish them. Drinks were delicious, though. 🙂
By Tuesday we found a great breakfast place – Waikiki Beachside Kitchen, where you can get a hearty breakfast for less than $5!
Then we headed for the Dole Pineapple Plantation. There we took a 20-minute train ride along the plantation, while learning the history of it and munched on some fresh pineapples afterwards. Dole Pineapple Plantation had great souvenir shops too.
After the pineapple plantation it was too early to go “home” so I put “beach” in my GPS, which took me to the closest beach at the North Shore. The waves were high for swimming and the bottom of the ocean was a bit rough, but the water was clear and there was no one around! A great change of pace after Waikiki and all the touristy attractions. And it was at this beach that I spotted a honu – a green sea turtle. I watched the guy hanging out in the water by the shore for almost an hour, but was not brave enough to get in the water with him.
And then there was this surfer guy.
The next couple of days were dedicated to learning more about the culture and the history of Hawaii. Wednesday we toured Iolani Palace, where you not only tour beautiful architecture, but also learn about the history and pains of local Hawaiians. You’ll also understand where the names of local streets and places come from.
For dinner we discovered a great place to eat – Bogart’s Kitchen. They only take cash, but they serve up some great food at an affordable price!
On Thursday we continued our cultural program with the Pearl Harbor Memorial tour. It gets crowded quickly, and they only have a limited number of spaces for the day. Although the visit is generally free, I highly recommend paying $1.50 to reserve the space online ahead of time. The tour starts with a short film about the Japanese attack, and then you get on a boat which takes you to the memorial.
After Pearl Harbor, we drove to the Polynesian Cultural Center, where we had general admission and Luau show with dinner. Time really flies at the Polynesian Cultural Center because you are constantly doing something: you learn how to crack a coconut, how to weave a basket, and see a cute guy climbing the palm tree. I also got to try a green banana boiled in a coconut milk, which surprisingly was very delicious and I normally do not like bananas. The dinner was great, it was a buffet with many different treats, my favorite was the guava cake from the dessert section. The show after the dinner was spectacular! It reminded me a bit of The Lion King, but was about a Hawaiian family.
Friday morning I woke up early to hike to the Manoa Waterfalls. The hike is so beautiful! Actually my favorite part was the beginning of the hike. This is where they filmed some scenes from Jurassic Park, Lost, Hunger Games, and of course Hawaii 5-O. It has not rained in a while, so the waterfalls were actually dry. 🙁
After a busy week, we decided to spend a day just resting at the beach, so we headed to the famous Kailua Beach. This was my last full day in Waikiki, so it was great to unwind and spend the whole day at this beautiful beach.
For dinner we stopped at The Hibachi where I tried my first Ahi Poke, which was delicious! It’s basically a salad with fresh yellowtail tuna.
On Saturday it was time to say “bye” to the beautiful weather, gorgeous beaches, and the breathtaking scenery. The trip ended with a hike to the Diamond Head, which has some gorgeous views of the East Shore and Waikiki Beach. The rental car was returned, and it was time to board the plane back to Houston.