Monday, January 27, 2014

Oahu, Hawaii | Part 1

When deciding which Hawaiian island to visit, it came down to one factor: flight cost. We were able to fly to both Hawaii and Alaska during this trip because we had vouchers from an airline company (we agreed to be bumped a few times during the previous year, in exchange for vouchers). So Oahu for the win!

Some sources we used to help plan our trip: Tripadvisor's attraction lists for both Honolulu and Oahu; we usually refer to the NY Times 36 Hour articles, but they didn't strike our fancy this time around; and a general google search of "to do in Oahu." Yelp was our go-to, as always, for finding the best spots to eat. We used Airbnb for lodging - hotels and even hostels were either too expensive or not available, plus we enjoyed getting out of the main area of Honolulu, away from the buildings and traffic. We rented a car at the airport (We missed our boy Zion the whole time! After driving Zion for so long on the road, it felt like we were missing part of the family while we were in Hawaii.) but bought along our own GPS instead of paying for one through the car rental company (it was fun to have the familiar voice of our GPS!).

When we arrived in Honolulu, we set out in search of food. We decided to head toward the main area near Waikiki and check out Marukame Udon for lunch. After a painless wait in line, we enjoyed delicious bowls of noodles and perfectly crispy tempura.

Since we had a few hours until we could check into our rented room, we decided to walk around Waikiki. Neither of us really knew what to expect, but I wasn't prepared for the endless crowds and extreme corporate feeling that encircled the main Waikiki area. We quickly knew this wasn't our scene and left toward our rental, in hopes of finding a more secluded beach along the way.

The next beach we came upon (I didn't get the name of it, but it might have been Kaupo Beach) was filled with locals, easily identifiable by their super toned, tanned, and tattooed bodies. We didn't stay here long; the lifeguard on duty was screaming out to any obvious tourists that the current was too strong and only skilled swimmers and surfers should get into the water. We moved along to the next beach, Waimanalo, where the views were postcard-perfect and only a few others could be seen along the shore (much more our pace!). Bonus: there was a guy selling coconuts on the roadside, right near the beach entrance.

Later that evening we ended up back at the main area near Waikiki, after a search on Yelp for a cheap, casual dinner spot led us to Queen's Cafe at Sans Souci State Park on the waterfront. We ordered at the window then sat down to enjoy the beautiful sunset while we indulged in fresh shrimp covered in a delicious butter sauce. [Note: Queen's Cafe has now been changed to Barefoot Beach Cafe. The menu and quality seem to be significantly different than the 4.5 star rated restaurant we ate at - what a bummer!]

Waikiki at this hour was much more enjoyable than during the daytime (or maybe it helped that we were now at a less popular stretch of beach, further down the road?) - the crowds had abandoned their beach chairs in search of dinner, and it seemed that only the locals were out jogging along the waterfront or surfing and paddle boarding in the less crowded waters. An air of calm resonated over the area, and we truly started feeling the relaxing vibes you would expect from a Hawaiian vacation. And, I mean, that sunset!

After dinner we walked through the waterfront park and over to the main strip to see what the area is like during nighttime. While we had to fight off excursion salesmen at nearly every corner, I did enjoy the lively ambiance as all the bars and restaurants were filling up for the night. We also came across a cute outdoor market, which is always a win in my book (the International Market Place seems to now be closed, boo!).

We eventually found our way to the outdoor bar at the Westin Hotel, where the ambiance seemed right out of a movie: live music, soft lighting, and the sound of the waves crashing in the water. I ordered a traditional Mai Tai (when in Hawaii...) while Taras went for some other tropical concoction, and we toasted to a successful first day in Hawaii.

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