Hawaii: The Balance Between the Urban Experience and the Laid Back Country Life
Oahu is the main international gateway to the Hawaiian Islands but often overlooked as the more “rugged” gem of the island chain. Home to Honolulu (the state’s capital and only proper city), Oahu is way more than just the concrete jungle of high rises on Waikiki Beach.
With volcanic craters dotting the coastline, magnificent beaches, and the signature eroded peaks of the Pali Coast – Oahu may possibly be the most beautiful island in Hawaii if it weren’t for its exploding population.
I spent four days in Honolulu while exploring the whole island of Oahu and I must admit I was pleasantly surprised. Sure, in a relatively small island where 70% of the state’s population and nearly one million people reside, expect a different experience. But the warnings to be cautious of the “concrete jungle” proved to be mostly false.
The time spent in Oahu was quite reminiscent of my visit to Ko Lanta on Thailand’s Andaman coast. Not only did they share similar demographic characteristics, but the two also share stunning geographic features. It’s often nice to have the modernities of a proper city such as shopping, restaurants, and nightlife, but Oahu’s added value is that once you leave the city of Honolulu, the island’s beauty is remarkable.
The Laylow, Autograph Collection
The Laylow is Oahu’s first Autograph Collection Hotel, a luxury hotel chain owned by Marriot. It’s conveniently located in the heart of Honolulu, just one street away from the famous Waikiki Strip and on the same street as the International Market Place – a perfect ambiance with retail shops and new restaurants.
The Laylow delivers warm, friendly hospitality and a stylish space designed with Instagram in mind. Stay here for the hotel’s punchy personality, ultra-photographable corners, and mid-century inspired decor.
↑ Hole-in-the-wall goodness
Ethel’s Grill in Kalihi is known for its tataki sashimi – fresh tuna, lightly seared, served on a bed of bean sprouts and drizzled with sesame oil and garlic soy sauce. Parking is tight, the restaurant is small, but the food is well worth the hassle.
The O.G. ↑
Roy's Hawaii Kai is where it all started more than 25 years ago. The “Original Roy's” is truly a neighborhood family restaurant and still has the same buzz and vibe it had in 1988. Outstanding food and an amazing view of Maunalua Bay.
What to Wear
Vacation Outfitting 101: loose/flowy shirts, fitted trousers (the lighter the better), espadrilles (instead of flip-flops), and sunglasses (duh). Here are three of my favorite outfits from my trip to Hawaii along with shopping links so you can accomplish these looks on your own tropical vacation.
Since I’m constantly on the hunt for sweets, I thought it’d only be right to highlight some of my favorites. Luckily there’s more than enough dessert options to choose from in Hawaii. Here are three of my favorites.
Dole Whip may appear to be a simple snack, but only once you try it for yourself will you understand its powers. It’s a non-dairy, pineapple-flavored soft serve that you can find across the Hawaiian islands (and at Disney parks). With that being said, all things pineapple are worth trying when you’re in Hawaii.
There’s a big difference between a snow cone and a shave ice. The shaving produces a very fine ice that appears snow-like so the flavored syrups are absorbed by the ice instead of surrounding it, and as a result, it gives it a cool and refreshing silky texture. Make sure you get yours with a "snow cap"…you’ll thank me later.
These generously-sized balls of dough are fried until they’re golden brown on the outside and light & fluffy on the inside. They are sugar-dusted and filled with custard. Leonard’s is at the top of every list and their malasada puffs filled with chocolate, custard and haupia puddings are the ones to try.
Diamond Head Crater Hike
Hiking to the top of Diamond Head is at the top of every ‘Things To Do In Hawaii’ list and now I can see why. The extinct volcano is a popular hiking destination (so it’s a little crowded) but its rugged trails lead to the most beautiful panoramic views which makes it worth it.
These boots were made for hiking
I always pack a pair of Teva hiking boots anytime I’m traveling to a place with hiking trails. They’re waterproof and the traction on them is great. I feel confident hiking in them.
Here I’ve hand-picked 4 of my favorite Teva hiking shoes (click to shop)
Waimanalo Bay Beach Park
Stretching nearly five miles from Wailea Point to Makapuu, Waimanalo Bay Beach Park is one of the longest beaches on the island. Despite rougher waters, which make it less suitable for inexperienced swimmers, the size, scenery and soft sand make Waimanalo a classic Hawaiian beach that is great for boogie boarding, fishing, sunbathing or walking along the shoreline. Waimanalo Beach Park was name “America’s Best Beach” by coastal expert Dr. Stephen Leatherman, aka Dr. Beach, in 2015.
Possibly the most famous beach in all of Hawaii, the 2-mile stretch of white sand is divided into several sections by various hotels, but each is connected to the other by a boardwalk. The peaceful waters offer good swimming and surfing year-round, as well as some fun activities like surfing, canoe racing, stand-up paddling, and volleyball.