Although I’m from Canada, I’m very much a summer baby, I live for the warm weather! Since my birthday is in February I actually haven’t celebrated at home for the past 4 years. When choosing where I wanted to celebrate this year Hawaii wasn’t my first choice only because I wanted to turn 30 and check off a new country off the bucket list all at once. I ended settling on Hawaii because I wanted to spend my birthday with family and a few friends (although I wish I could have invited every one of you to join!) It was also a lot closer than the other destinations I had in mind and the more I started to think about it the more I was reminded how beautiful the island was.
I had visited Hawaii 2 years ago for a friend’s wedding and had always wanted to revisit and explore the islands more. Since it was my was my family’s first time in Hawaii I decided the island of Oahu was a great place to start. With a quick overnight pit stop in LA for dinner, Mel (@mvandersluis) and I flew from Bahamas to Hawaii and my family arrived from Montreal a day later.
The day after that, the girls started to arrive from California, New York and Utah. These ladies are inspiring women who I adore and I was so excited to have their company for my big day. I met Quigley (@officiallyquigley) for the first time when I was in LA and I instantly fell in love with her energy. Elona (@elonatheexplorer) was visiting Montreal back in January and we ended up getting to know each other over lunch. I had actually never met Aubrie (@globetrotting_gingertravel) but we’ve been chatting over DM for what feels like years so I was so excited when she decided to come to Hawaii.
Our first day all together was kinda a bust. While off to a great start, we woke up and since we had requested a late check out we took our time hanging around the pool and Waikiki beach area soaking up the sun. When it was time to leave we slowly made our way up to the North Shore to our vacation rental. We arrived around 7pm to our rental only to find out that we had been scammed and that the villa was actually owned by the Turtle Bay Resort and was already being rented out. Crushed and unsure of our next move we spent hours in the resort lobby filling out police reports, and contacting other property owners and hotels for a place to rest our head for the night. At around midnight we had finally sorted ourselves out and decided to drive all the way back to Honolulu for the night to stay at a hotel.
The next morning we all committed to making today a better day & stay positive. We found a new rental, located in Hawaii Kai this time (one of the nicest neighbourhoods on the island), trying not to get too excited over it we drove there only to be greeted by the most lovely woman. I couldn’t help myself but hugged her with tears in my eyes, this house was beautiful and we could finally start the birthday celebrations with zero worries.
The day of my birthday we made our way to the beautiful Lanikai beach expecting to spend the day soaking up the sun. Unfortunately Mother Nature didn’t have the same idea as us. The weather was a little on and off so we decided to postpone the big luau celebration to Friday and had a big dinner party at our rental home instead. Which ended up being so much fun! It was a great way for everyone to hang out and get to know each other more. I can’t tell you how many laughs we shared that night!
Below you can read all about my favourite beaches, activities, food spots and much more! I hope this helps you plan your next trip to Oahu, if you have any questions feel free to leave them in the comments below, I’m happy to answer all of them! Mahalo! 🙂
Which island is the best?
I’ve only ever visited the island of Oahu however while there I did ask a local to give me the whole run down of each island so you guys know what to expect when planning your next trip.
Oahu has the most white sand beaches and home to a few of the worlds top beaches like Lanikai. And Waimanalo beach is Hawaii’s longest stretch of white sand. If you like history, Oahu is very rich in Hawaiian history and US history with Pearl Harbour. The North Shore of Oahu has the best surf in the world hosting major surf competitions at Banzi Pipeline and Waimea Bay. And surfing was actually invented on the famous Waikiki beach.
Maui offers a very relaxed atmosphere and houses some of the worlds top hotels. It is also known for having the best hikes and waterfalls as well as the famous Road to Hana. If you’re looking for a different kind of beach, Maui has red and black sand beaches due to the volcanic ash. Maui also has some of the best snorkelling and sunsets. No wonder its a popular honeymoon destination.
Kauai is best known for it’s amazing hikes and beaches. Some people call it lovers island, it’s romantic yet secluded. Kauai is for the most part still pretty untouched compared to the other islands, nothing is over crowded and there are no tall buildings. Kauai County continues to enforce a 48-foot height limit, no building taller then a coconut tree (I love the way they measure!) It’s a great place for camping and star gazing.
Big Island is most famous for it’s active volcanos, it actually houses one of the most active volcanos in the world. It’s the best place to swim with giant manta rays, has some good fishing spots and has some amazing waterfall hikes. Big Island also has some very unique beaches including a black sand beach and a green sand beach! (Green sand?! Now I’m curious!) Big Island is said to be the best for relaxing and enjoy the hotel accommodations as the hotels on the island are the largest in land size.
Where to stay on Oahu?
For our first 2 nights on the island we checked into the Royal Hawaiian (also known as The Pink Palace of the Pacific). I was so thrilled to be staying there as its such an iconic building known for it’s pink touches in the form of parasols, pancakes, bath robes – everything is pink!) I had seen this hotel many times before on Instagram and I fell for it the moment I saw it. My favourite part was view from my room looking down below to the pool area surrounded by palm trees and the cafe patio with the big archways and beautiful tiling. The hotel also serves up a really yummy breakfast including their signature pink pancakes! The Royal Hawaiian is located in the most perfect location in Waikiki, it’s also steps from the ocean and a few steps in the other direction to some of my favourite restaurants. From the beach the hotel is always easy to point out, it’s the big pink one! Learn more about the hotel & booking your stay here.
We also stayed at the Moana Surfrider for a few nights before flying home. Moana is the oldest hotel on Oahu but has been so well-preserved with it’s colonial exterior and minimalist interior accented with white walls and dark wood floors. In the center of the hotel courtyard stands a large banyan tree. When the tree was planted in 1904 it was nearly seven feet tall, now it stands 75 feet high and spans 150 feet across the courtyard. The hotel didn’t hold as much IG character as the Pink Palace did but I loved that the room had a little more space to layout all our bags and the breakfast was better in my opinion. I loved that on the menu they had healthier options like a delicious acai bowls and egg white omelet. Learn more about the hotel & booking your stay here.
I had also looked into alternate boutique hotels when planning this trip but they unfortunately didn’t have availability. I typically love staying in boutique hotels as I find they are usually more uniquely designed and paired with cute decor and quirky details. The other thing to consider about Hawaii is although it feels like a different country, it’s still America and with that comes the American prices. A lot of the hotels on the island are larger chain hotels and can get expensive when you factor in all the additional fees such as parking and resort fees. (Resort fees are something I never heard of before). Some of the other hotels I looked into included: The Surfjack Hotel, I actually stayed here 2 years ago and it’s adorable, known for it’s pool which says “wish you were here”. I also checked out The Laylow, Alohilani Resort and The Modern Honolulu.
Best Beaches on Oahu?
While we didn’t visit too many beaches while on the island I did do a ton of research before the trip so I was a little more informed on the ones I hadn’t visited last time around. Here are some of the ones we really loved.
Sandy Beach is on the south shore of Oahu, it was just a few minutes from our rental home which was perfect to zip down and catch sunset. Sandy beach is know for it’s excellent bodyboarding/ bodysurfing due to the powerful shorebreaks. The waves get very large and powerful and you can see them kicking up all the sand as it barrels in at the shore. Due to the power of the waves be prepared to get sand everywhere!
When driving up the east coast you can stop at the Makapu’u tidepools. We didn’t actually make it to the tidepools although we wanted to because they look really cool. We got to the parking lot and found it it was a 45 min walk one way to get there so we decided to omit it since we already had a jam-packed itinerary. If you decide to go just make sure you set enough time aside to really enjoy it and wear proper shoes as the rocks get slippery.
If you continue to drive north east you’ll hit Lanikai Beach. It is consistently rated one of the best beaches in the world and always a favourite of mine on Oahu. It has the most beautiful fine white sand and tranquil turquoise waters and a beautiful view of the Mokalua Islands. It’s located in a residential area you you’ll need to find street parking. When we went there it was really windy that we actually ended up leaving early but on a beautiful day it’s paradise and you can rent a kayak and paddle out to the Mokes.
Hanauma Bay is one of the beaches we really wanted to visit but you have to get there early. We got there around 10:30am and the parking lot was already full only. Located only 15 minutes from Honolulu Haunauma Bay is one of the most visited beaches on Oahu. It’s a nature preserve which limits daily visitors and focuses on educating tourists on the natural wildlife of the area.
And last but not least, Waikiki Beach is in the heart of Honolulu. As mentioned earlier it’s the exact beach where surfing was invented. Ever since I visited Costa Rica for the first time 2 years ago I’ve been obsessed with getting on a board and surfing as often as I can. I was lucky enough to meet a surf instructor at our hotel who offered to take me out for a quick lesson to get used to the board. It was the first time on an 11ft board, much longer than I was used to but once you paddle out it all feels the same and riding a wave towards a big city is a pretty cool view.
Best hikes/ activities in Oahu?
One of my families favourite things to do is hike so when we settled into our rental we all decided to get up at 6am and hike the Makapu’u trail at sunrise. It’s an easy 30 mins hike on a paved road so it isn’t too strenuous but the view from the top is breathtaking. There are several view points along the way you can stop at but we were determined to reach the top before sunrise so we kept walking. At the top you have an incredible view of the Makapu’u lighthouse and coastline. We ended up being chased away from the rain and running the entire way down to protect all our camera gear but it was such an awesome way to start the morning!
I visited the Spitting Caves last time on the island and it was just too cool of a place not to revisit. The pathway is nearly unrecognizable (literally a thin dirt road between residential homes) and locals like to keep it that way. You can sit there for hours soaking in the sun and watching the waves crash into the cave and it “spit” them right back out.
I had been seeing photos from Ho’omaluhia Botanical Gardens all over Instagram lately and I was determined to visit it for myself. This is where you really get all those Jurassic Park vibes, just be forewarned as the security guards aren’t the nicest about letting you take pictures on the road. And make sure you take note of the hours of operation, we got there at 3pm to catch that soft afternoon light (park closes at 4pm).
On our last full day my brother, Aubrie and I decided to rent a Jeep and drive to the east coast to hike the Lanikai Pillbox just before sunset. The island is filled with pillboxes which used to be used as military bunkers, now they are the summit of some really cool viewpoints. I had hiked one on the North Shore before but I was really dying to do Lanikai. It’s an easy 15 min hike to which you are rewarded with a clear view of the water and of the mountains.
For my birthday the one thing I really wanted to do was attend a traditional Lu’au. We were invited by @thingstodoinhawaii to attend one hosted at Ka Moana (the same place where they filmed part of 50 first dates!) We arrived at 5pm to catch all the activities, head piece making, coconut tree climbing, and try our hand at Poi. When the sun went down we enjoyed dinner and a show. The MC for the night was hilarious and seeing all the traditional dances for each island in the French Polynesia was really fun. Then I got selected to go on stage and dance with some of the dancers which was a dream come true. The entire trip all I wanted to be was a hula girl, and that night I really got to be one!
Secret beach and the Crouching Lion trail are some of the other places I would have loved to visit while in Hawaii but we just didn’t have enough time.
Best food on Oahu?
Last but not least, food! You guys know I’m a big foodie so I’m always looking up some great restaurants and cafes when traveling. Here are a few places we really loved.
Arvo is a must when in Honolulu! It’s located in the coolest neighbourhood surrounded by all kinds of street art. I had been dreaming about revisiting this cafe ever since my last visit there. They give me my coffee and avocado toast fixing all in one and it’s the perfect little instagram spot! We visited twice and I always ordered the avo toast and the matcha chia pudding, I’m not always the biggest chia fan but this pudding was delicious! If you’re headed there for some pictures they have coffee art so make sure to ask for your latte with a palm tree on it!
You can find Moku Kitchen in the same complex as Arvo. We were searching for a place to eat before driving up to the North Shore and this place popped up and seemed to offer a little something for everyone. To ensure that 6 people are fully satisfied can sometimes be a challenge especially with different dietary restrictions but this was great! Tons of healthy/ vegan options for me, burgers for the boys, ravioli for Mel and the best part was that it was all really yummy!
Another must in the heart of the city was Buho Cantina. On our last night in Hawaii my brother and I decided to go there for dinner and stuff our faces with Mexican. It was only once we arrived that I realized I had been there before. haha. I ordered chips & guac and my brother got the chipotle fries to start. Then Michael got the Arturo burrito which our waitress described as a small child (and she wasn’t wrong). I immediately saw was a vege kale wrapped burrito on the menu and got so excited. I nearly got my heart broken when the waitress came back to tell me they were out of it (this literally ALWYAS happens to me), thankfully she rushes back to make my day that they found more kale in the kitchen!
If you’re looking for another coffee fix Oliver & Oliver is your spot! Attached to the Surfjack hotel this coffee spot is adorable. Who could say no to pineapple printed coffee cups! Make sure to take a walk around the hotel too, it’s too cute not to miss!
One of the things my dad really wanted to do was go eat at Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck. This truck is located on the North Shore and is the most popular shrimp truck on the island, we had to wait in a 15 minute lineup just to get to the counter to order! Dad ordered the 2 most popular ones the garlic shrimp and lemon scampi. After taste testing them both it was a unanimous vote that the scampi was better as it had more flavour.
The Sunrise Shack: Exactly as the name says, it’s a shack. Located right on the side of the highway, I swear if you drive too fast you’d pass it and never know. It was definitely one of my favourites as it super cute and really yummy! We ordered their papaya bowl which is filled with peanut butter and all kinds of yummy toppings. It’s heavenly!
Right in the heart of the North Shore Haleiwa Bowls is listed as the best acai bowls on Oahu and with good reason! Choose your blend, choose your toppings, wait patiently and enjoy! Trust me the wait is worth it!
Dole Plantation: While I can’t eat ice cream (I’m dairy intolerant) we were told by everyone to stop here. It’s right along the way if you’re driving up to the North Shore and makes the perfect pit stop. Everyone I was with seemed to really enjoy the ice cream, we had no idea pineapple ice cream could taste so good!
This is the longest blogpost I’ve ever written so if you’ve made it all the way down here congratulations! I really hope this travel guide helps you better plan your Hawaiian vacation. If you liked it please leave a comment below! 🙂
Lots of love, Lisa xx