Oahu’s Top Tourist Attractions: Which fits your VPT (vacation personality type)?

Aloha  Trippin’ Midwest Mam readers!

Welcome to the third and final installment of Trippin’ Midwest Mama’s Oahu series. We’re going to have some fun chatting about the island’s top tourist attractions and determining if they are the right match for your “vacation personality type.”

The words “Tourist Attraction” might conjure thoughts of the dreaded  “3C’s.”

Crowds, Cost and Commercialism.

But here’s something I’ve learned about Oahu’s top tourist attractions:

-COST: Many are free or low cost; others can be pricey, but provide guided tours, specialty meals or high quality, live entertainment.

-COMMERCIALISM: Not so much. With this much natural beauty, authentic culture and meaningful history going for it, flashing lights and billboards only get in the way.

-CROWDS: Sure, you’re sharing Oahu with other people. But many places are designed to accommodate plenty of tourist traffic. If crowds are your greatest deterrent, take advantage of the time change and arrive at opening.


1) Diamond Head State Monument:

Your vacation personality type: You love amazing views from great heights, aren’t scared of some exercise or sweat and don’t mind crowds.

Cost: $5 per car or $1 per pedestrian

This extinct volcano was once a military station. Now  over 3,000 people visit each day to take the .8 mile hike to the edge of the crater and gaze over stunning views of Oahu’s coastline.

Quick Tips:

Wear comfy shoes. Portions of the hike can be narrow, uneven and quite steep (especially at the end).

Many little stop-off points along the way allow people to take photos or rest.

Don’t be intimidated. Even though it’s a bit of a hike, there were people of all ages and sizes on this hike, from seniors to babies in carriers to chubby travel bloggers.


Just pace yourself, and you’ll get there.

And yes, it’s crowded. Especially at the top.

Sorry. You have to share Diamond Head with other visitors.

Without a doubt, bring water.  You will be sipping it at every stop along the way up.

While it’s open until 6 p.m., the last hikers are allowed to start their journey no later than 4:30 p.m.

2) Kualoa Ranch:

Your vacation personality type: You enjoy guided tours through jaw-dropping landscapes; you are a Hollywood movie buff; you don’t mind sharing tours with multi-lingual crowds and guides; you love a variety of tour/transportation options.

Cost: Varies. Anyone can swing by the ranch at no cost, but tours start at $45 on up.

If you’ve seen any of the Jurrassic Park movies, you’ve already sampled the scenery at Kualoa Ranch. This place is the go-to spot for Hollywood blockbusters featuring a tropical setting or exotic backdrop.

While it’s somewhat commercialized to draw tourists, the scenery is unspoiled and jaw-dropping all the same.

Quick tips:

Each tour has its own mode of transportation. Dress accordingly, because what may be appropriate for a boat or bus tour won’t suffice for a horse or ATV ride.

Keep in mind if you’re on an ATV or horse, you’re not going to be racing about freely with the wind on your face. Instead, you’ll be part of a long line-up of guests with a guide setting the pace.

Kualoa Ranch is extremely popular with Japanese visitors, so don’t be surprised if Americans are the minority on a tour. No worries! Either way, guides are provided for both languages.

If you’re there for the ranch’s cinematic connection, you’ll want to select one of the movie tours.

3) Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve

Your vacation personality type: You love stunning scenery; great snorkeling; beach lounging.

Cost: $7.50 plus $1 to park; 12 & under free

Formed inside a volcanic cone, Hanauma Bay is considered one of the best locations for snorkeling. Past crowds have threatened the pristine marine ecosystem, but enhanced education and tighter management have turned things around.


If you are super thrifty and hate crowds, get there at the 6 a.m. opening. We not only skipped the required video and entry fee, but we got to watch the sunrise over the Bay!

The parking lot does fill up; you can wait in line with the other cars to get a spot or try alternate transportation options.

Even if you are early and skip the educational video, remember to AVOID physical contact with the coral (it’s a living thing, after all) and respect all the marine life. We saw some guy actually standing on the coral in the middle of the water.  And everyone else on the beach agreed he was an idiot. Don’t be that guy.

While you’re packing your beach bag, include a small cooler of drinks and snacks.  While they sell food at the top of the hill, once you hike/shuttle down to the beach, there are no food vendors at the beach.  Oh, and no big coolers allowed.

You can rent snorkel gear, but if you plan on doing any other snorkeling, I suggest you bring your own. Grab a swim shirt and water socks while you’re at it.

Hanauma Bay is closed every Tuesday. Check out their FAQ page for more details.

4) Waimea Valley:

Your vacation personality type: You love leisurely strolls through lush, green surroundings; always dreamed of swimming in a waterfall; want to learn more about Hawaiian culture.

Cost: $16 adults; $12 students and seniors; $8 kids 4-12

Ancient Hawaiian history, sacred religious traditions and natural beauty are all part of the Waimea Valley story.

Quick tips:

The entry point has shops, dining options and a variety of colorful, feathered locals wandering about.

There’s a calendar of special events, which includes a Farmer’s Market every Thursday at 2 p.m.

You can purchase a shuttle ride to or from the falls. But I think the mellow  1.5 mile roundtrip walk was my favorite part. Wide paths are stroller friendly.

You are permitted to swim at the waterfall with a life vest (rental available) if conditions are suitable. Call (808) 638-7766 to check first if swimming is important.

If you’re interested in Hawaiian culture or botany, consider taking one of the corresponding complimentary walking tours.

5) Polynesian Cultural Center:

Your vacation personality type: You love history and interactive cultural demonstrations; enjoy relaxing for a bit while taking in a big stage production; are looking for an excellent luau option; are up for a little retail therapy with a cultural twist.

Cost: $72-$240 (depending on age and ticket package); some free options (see tips)

“PCC prides itself on being historically and traditionally accurate, which is why our Aliʻi Luau is award winning and one of the best luaus in Hawaiʻi,” Rachel Sipes, public relations, explained in an email to Trippin’ Midwest Mama.

The entry to the Island Buffet. We didn’t have time to tour the “islands” or do a luau, but we did enjoy the marketplace and the nighttime show.

While the Polynesian Cultural Center is famous for its luau, you can easily spend an entire day here as you travel through time to experience the heritage and culture of six different island nations. You’ll want to set aside plenty of time to experience the many interactive demonstrations, exhibits and shows.

Quick tips:

The night show that follows the luau, “Ha: Breath of Life,” earns rave reviews, and if your schedule is tight or you already have dinner plans,  you still can consider show-only tickets like we did ($67 for adults, $55 ages 4-11).  No, you won’t find them online, but you can purchase them at the box office or check with your resort concierge.

Hukilau Marketplace, at the entrance of the Polynesian Cultural Center, is free to the public. Here, you’ll find charming array of  shops, restaurants, live entertainment and local craftspeople.  Even if you have no tickets, it’s really just a fun place to spend a laid-back evening.

Sports fans will also want to swing by the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame, which is also open and free to the public.

6) Pearl Harbor:

Cost: Free, unless you purchase a tour upgrade option.

Your vacation personality type: You’re a war or history buff; you want to pay your respects to our nation’s fallen heroes; you want a better understanding of the events that led to the bombing of Pearl Harbor and what followed.

Oil still bubbles to the surface above the USS Arizona, which is the final resting place of 1,102 of the 1,177 sailors and Marines killed on the battleship.

For many visitors to Hawaii,  Pearl Harbor is at the very top of their “must see” list.  Pearl Harbor allows guests to thoughtfully reflect on the series of events of that led to the US entering WWII while paying their respects to the thousands of soldiers who lost their lives in a surprise attack by Japanese forces on December 7, 1941. Many visitors to other Hawaiian Islands fly into Oahu for a day just to visit this historic site.


Only 1,300 tickets are released per day, so they often sell out. You can either purchase 2 months in advance, or wait for the 24-hour window when the park releases additional tickets. While it’s more of a gamble, during both of my recent visits, we were able to secure the 24-hour tickets.

Many resorts offer Pearl Harbor tours at a higher cost with transportation included. If you can drive or Uber there, secure your own tickets and visit at your own pace, I really don’t see the point of spending the extra money.

Your free ticket includes campus/museum access, a short film, and a US Navy operated boat ride to the USS Arizona Memorial. Upgrades include a headset/audio tour or access to the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park, the Battleship Missouri Memorial, and the Pacific Aviation Museum. These can increase your cost significantly, but make for a full day of activities.

If you only have a couple hours, opt for only the free USS Arizona tour; however, I also recommend the audio tour upgrade (only $7.50 extra) to hear personal, first-hand accounts from the survivors who experienced it.

If the conditions aren’t accommodating, there’s  chance your boat will sail by the memorial site rather than dock.  That actually happened to us on my second visit, and I won’t lie. It was disappointing, but the visit was still worthwhile.

Years ago, there may have been issues with noisy, clueless tourists behaving less than respectfully at Pearl Harbor; that has changed.  Tour guides and the film make it clear that this is a place for thoughtful, respectful reflection.

Travel light, because bags of ANY SIZE aren’t allowed. If you can’t fit it in your pocket, leave it behind. However, in a pinch, there is storage available at $3/bag.

Parting thoughts:

There’s a reason these six sites are at the top of a tourist’s itinerary. From historical significance to dream-like scenery, each has something special to offer visitors who make the journey to Oahu.

The good news is that with proper planning, visiting them doesn’t haven’t to break your budget or cause undue stress. And each experience can be adjusted to fit your schedule, whether you’re looking spend a full day or a couple hours.

Guess what? This concludes my 3-part Oahu series.  Mahalo for joining me on my Oahu adventures! Hope you enjoyed tagging along as much as I enjoyed sharing it with you.

You can find links the the other two here:

Part 1: The Beautiful Beaches of Oahu

Part 2: Trippin’ Midwest Mama’s Taste Bud Tour of Oahu

You may also be interested in:

How to Plan a $4,000 Hawaiian Vacation for $150

If you have any questions, comments or advice of your own to share, please leave a comment! I love to hear from my readers.

Trippin’ Midwest Mama’s Complete Guide to Universal Orlando

Since launching Tabby Travels with Simply Mouse Vacations , I’ve noticed Trippin’ Midwest Mama’s Universal library  just keeps growing and growing.  So, as part of my spring cleaning, I’ve  updated the blogs with the most current information, and decided to create a single spot here with links to each of them.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley at Universal Orlando Resort.

I expect this guide will grow over time, because Universal Orlando is always shaking things up!

So far, here’s I’ve got so far:

 1 Day in Universal Orlando

I share my personal itinerary from a single-day visit with my teenage son, which includes a ton of attraction details and time-saving tips.

5 Game Changers Coming to Universal Orlando

New of some of the big changes and additions at Universal as of Dec. 2017.

10 Way to “Chillax” at Universal Orlando

Think a trip to Universal has to be a non-stop, action-packed thrill ride? Here’s how to save time while setting aside time for some R&R.

15 Tips to Know Before You Go

This blog is loaded with insider tips I learned from my own experience at Universal.

A final note:

I’ve poured a ton of personal time and research into these blogs for the simple reason of making my readers’ travel plans run smoother.  I only ask that if you are planning a visit to Universal, consider booking with Tabby Travels at Simply Mouse Vacations. You can read all about that here in my blog, “Announcing my New Venture…”.

If you’re interested in learning how I can support your Orlando vacation plans to Universal, Disney or Sea World, you can reach out to me on my travel agent Facebook page or email at TabbyTravelsSMV@hotmail.com for a no-obligation vacation quote. My services are offered free of charge to clients booking with me.


Trippin’ Midwest Mama’s Taste Bud Tour of Oahu

There are some advantages to visiting Oahu, the most populated of of the Hawaiian Islands.  One of them is the food. Restaurants on this bustling island are varied and cater to all tastes.

The small plates at Haleiwa Joes are sure to satisfy a wide range of palates!

You’ll find Asian cuisine has a major influence here, where it’s often fused with tropical flavors. But if you’re not into sticky rice, stir fry  and sushi, never fear. There are plenty of other delicious choices on Oahu’s collective menu.

Goofy Cafe offers eggs Benedict with the twist of Hawaiian pulled pork and local veggies.

Speaking of tropical flavors, eating pineapple is a must while visiting its natural home. My husband doesn’t care for pineapple, until he enjoyed some on our Oahu visit.  He’s declared eating fresh pineapple in Hawaii to be a completely different experience than eating it in the Midwest.

The grilled pineapple at Seven Brothers is a novel take on this celebrated local fruit. But, if you ask me, fresh is still the best!

If you’re staying on resort in Waikiki, you’ll have no shortage of beachfront restaurants to choose from.  While you won’t go hungry, you will be paying more than any local would.

Do you yourself a favor, and ask your server where their favorite places on the island to dine might be. Chances are good it won’t be at a resort.

You can be sure the line outside Koko Head Cafe includes plenty of hungry locals.

I was lucky to experience Oahu as a resort-dwelling tourist in the fall and a house guest of residents who’ve had some time to investigate the food scene. This list is a mouth-watering compilation of my favorite experiences.

North Shore

Haleiwa Joe’s

 Best for Small Plate Sharing


This is the perfect place to chill while visiting the quaint surfing community of Haleiwa, and it’s a great choice for lunch or dinner.

While there are plenty of tempting entrees to pick from, I recommend selecting from their small plates menu.

While we devoured a little of everything, the sizzling mushrooms and balsamic glazed flatbread stole the show. The Korean style beef short ribs were pretty tasty as well.


Cafe Haleiwa

Best for Waffles

The view from the back parking lot. Expect some local feathered friends to be strutting their stuff.

When I visited last fall, this was our last Hawaiian meal, and it was a hit. They describe themselves as “American Diner meets California Mexican with a Local twist.” I describe Cafe Haleiwa as “Yum.”

The impressive Belgian waffle menu caught my eye, with offerings like toasted caramel pecan or tropical delight. I settled on the day’s special: hazelnut spread on a waffle drenched in coconut syrup, topped with strawberries and whipped cream.  i’m happy to report the waffle tasted as good as it looked.

We loved everything about this bustling cafe, and it was the ideal way to enjoy some parting flavors before leaving North Shore.

Seven Brothers “at the Mill”

Best for Coconut Shrimp

If you Google “Seven Brothers, Hawaii” you’ll find there’s multiple locations. Do yourself a favor, and set your GPS for “Seven Brothers at the Mill.”

You’ll find a number of shrimp spots along the North Shore, where freshly caught seafood goes from the ocean to the kitchen to your belly.

Some people have described Seven Brothers’ famous coconut macadamia shrimp as “life changing.” I wouldn’t protest that description.

Instead, I’d just add a side of their perfectly prepared potatoes and call it a day. A very good day.



Best for Ramen

So, full disclosure, ramen really isn’t my thing.  But if it was my thing, the award-winning Agu probably be my favorite restaurant on the island.

Since  owner Chef Hisashi opened his award-winning ramen bistro, it’s been so successful, he’s branched into Texas.

There are broths, spices and styles of ramen so far beyond those microwavable cups of my college days, I didn’t know where to start.  No worries if you’re unfamiliar as I was; just ask your sever to give you a crash course, and you’ll be on your way to ramen heaven.

Or study this helpful menu before hand.

Pioneer Saloon

Best for “Japan meets Hawaii” Cuisine

Take your time to look the menu over and make your choice before you’re at the front of the line. I say this because it could be a hard decision to make, and the frequent visitors behind you are probably ready to order.

From eel to ox tail, the meat choices are endless. Fortunately, their is no wrong choice.

We settled on sirloin and teri chicken. And even with those generous portions (you could easily split an entree), you may not want to share.

This quirky, rustic eatery stays busy, so don’t be surprised if you have to wait in line to order at the register. But the wait was short for us…and well worth it.

Koko Head Cafe

Best for Celeb Chef Breakfast

Consider Koko Head your breakfast splurge, even though it costs the same or even less than most resort breakfasts. But seriously, you are in for a treat.

You may recognize Koko Head’s Chef Lee Anne Wong , as she appeared as a constant on Season One of Bravo’s Series “Top Chef.” A rising star in the restaurant world, the New Yorker moved to Oahu five years ago, where she offers her “global fusion” cuisine to lucky locals and informed island visitors.

I can confirm the French-style scrambled eggs in the Chicky and Egg skillet are like silk, because I sampled from my  friend’s plate.

However, I was in the mood for something on the sweeter side, so I went with the popular cornflake french toast served with billionaire’s bacon and frosted flake gelato.

Great. Now I’m getting drool on my keyboard.

Leonard’s Bakery

Best for Malasada Puffs

Speaking of sweets, Leonard’s Bakery is sure to satisfy any sweet tooth with a vast selection of delectable baked goodness. But, lets be clear, the malasada is the star of the show.

A malasada a Portugese doughnut without a hole, fried to golden brown perfection. Leonard’s offers a variety of malasada puffs, but if you ask me, opting for a filled malasda is a no brainer. We went for custard (there’s also dobash (chocolate) and haupia (coconut), in addition to seasonal options.

If you don’t make it to the bakery, you can keep your eyes peeled for the Malasadamobiles at Waikele Shopping Center, Pearlridge Shopping Center and Koko Marina Shopping Center.


Waiola Store

Best for Shave Ice

There is no shortage of shave ice (I call it “shaved,” but it seems the locals drop the “d”) options in Oahu. But the question remains, which is the best?

I suggest saving your shave ice encounter for a trip to the Waiola Store, which my friend insists is the best of the best.

She isn’t to only one.  In addition to its rave online reviews, Waiola Shave Ice has been featured on Travel Channel, Huffington Post and many other media outlets.

Shave ice is different than a snow cone. The shave is finer, so the texture is fluffier and smoother, delivered in a variety of flavors and styles.

The hardest part? Deciding which style and flavor to go with.  I checked with the staff, and they recommended the custard.  After a group sampling, I had to agree the custard was the winner in my book.

Duke’s Waikiki

Best for Resort Brunch Buffet

Situated at the Outrigger Waikiki Beach Resort, Duke’s Waikiki is the only resort-located restaurant I’m mentioning in this blog.  Named for local legend Duke Kahanamoku, who  popularized the ancient Hawaiian sport of surfing, the ocean front Duke’s Waikiki is one of six restaurant locations (they’re also popular in California).

For $18, the breakfast buffet is served from 7-10:30 a.m. It offers a tempting selection of traditional breakfast foods presented with Hawaiian flare.

Banana pancakes served along side coconut syrup. Fresh tropical fruits bring juicy color to your plate. And of all your a.m. favorites are provided with a relaxed ocean front dining experience. And super friendly service.

Even after the buffet wraps up, you may not want to leave. In which case I recommend an ocean view mimosa.

Goofy Cafe & Dine

Best for  Natural/Local/Healthy Fare

Located a short walk from the Hilton Hawaiian Village, Goofy Cafe & Dine serves up a fresh feast for the senses all day long.

When I researched breakfast options in Waikiki, I kept coming across Goofy’s.  I heard it could get busy, so we headed there shortly after they opened.  Seating was already filling up, and while we had only a brief wait, the line outside behind us kept growing and growing.

Trippin’ tip: Don’t enter the building until you are called. 

Our breakfast was as beautiful to look at as it was to taste.  The food was anything but ordinary, so if you’re looking for a conventional menu, look elsewhere.

While my eggs Benedict with Hawaiian pulled pork was a savory delight, the honey french toast served with chocolate lava was the belle of the ball!


Moke’s Bread & Breakfast

Best for Lilikoi Pancakes

Okay, so the photo (that’s right, singular, as in only one) that goes with this review is a little pathetic.  For good reason.

You’ll understand if you ever get to Moke’s and have a Lilikoi Pancake placed in front of you. You won’t be thinking, “Oh, I need to take a photo.” The only think you’ll want to do is EAT. THAT. PANCAKE.

Then when you are done eating that pancake, you will lick the plate. Nobody at Mokes will judge you, because they know.

Moke’s is a great spot for all sorts of satisfying vittles before or after an a.m. visit to the stunning Lanikai Beach.

If you’re staying in the area all day, you may also want to try an evening visit to the pricier Buzz’s Original Steakhouse, which is rumored to be one of Obama’s favorite restaurants in Oahu. Unfortunately, when my husband and I tried to visit, it was a holiday, the lot was PACKED and we had a plane to catch.

Oh well, I guess that means I’ll just have to go back and try again.

Trippin’ Midwest Mama’s Taste Bud Tour of Oahu is part 2 of a 3-part Oahu series. You can find part 1: “Beautiful Beaches” here. Check back soon for part 3 for tips on visiting Oahu’s most popular tourist destinations.

Trippin’ Midwest Mama’s Guide to Ireland…at Home and Abroad

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, I’ve compiled my “Celebrating the Emerald Isle” blog series into one neat and tidy piece.

While a couple of the pieces contain a wee bit of information relevant to 2017, most of the details are anything but malarkey.  Whether you’re looking to add a little Irish to your Midwest travels or you’re considering a visit to the Emerald Isle, you’re sure to find a bit o’ luck in this delightful series!


7 Steps to Touring Ireland in Galena

My behind-the-scenes tour of the Irish Cottage Boutique Hotel and Frank O’Dowd’s Pub in Galena to learn what makes this place so authentically Irish. And make sure to check out their current calendar for a complete lineup of entertainment.

7 Lucky Facts that Surprise American Tourists in Ireland

Some fun and surprising tidbits I picked up during my visit to Ireland! It’s been a while since I’ve visited, but I still consider this one of my favorite trips–one that really fueled my love of of all things Irish.

Summer Family Fun at Milwaukee’s Irish Fest

A look back on my interview with Milwaukee’s Irish Fest organizers and a couple of dads who love attending with their families.  This event claims to be the “World’s Largest Celebration of Celtic Music & Culture !” You’ll want to visit their 2018 page for updated plans!

Guest Blog: Irene’s Irish Adventure

Irene takes Trippin’ Midwest Mama’s readers along on her journey to Ireland! I so enjoyed her itinerary, insight and photos. This blog is sure to inspire you to start making plans for your own Irish adventure.

A parting Irish blessing as you go about your St. Paddy’s Day plans:

“May your thoughts be as glad as the shamrocks. May your heart be as light as a song. May each day bring you bright, happy hours. That stay with you all the year long.”

Happy St. Patrick’s Day from Trippin’ Midwest Mama!


Beautiful Beaches: Oahu Series Part 1 of 3

Join me as I whisk you away to the sandy shores and stunning horizons of Oahu.

True, some folks feel that crowds, traffic, and high rises have compromised the paradisal aura of Hawaii’s most heavily populated island.  But now having visited twice, I think it’s the ideal place to go for a little bit of everything.

The fact is, you need not travel far to find lush, mountainous landscapes and stunning skylines where ocean blue meets sky blue.

And when it comes to beaches, you’ll find Oahu is a little bit country and a little bit rock n’ roll.

Beautiful Beaches of Oahu

Honolulu Beaches

Waikiki Beach

When you say “Oahu” and “beach” the first word that comes to mind is “Waikiki.”  The most famous of Oahu’s beaches, it teems with tourists, many of whom are staying in the giant resort complexes that line Honolulu’s shorline.

You’ll find surfing, canoeing, snorkeling, swimming, boogie boarding, sand combing and all sorts of stimulation aimed at visitors to the island. A popular, free hula show across from the Hyatt Regency takes place  Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday evening, weather-permitting from 6:30 pm to 7:30 pm.

When we stayed at the Hilton Hawaiian Village, I quite enjoyed sitting on the beach to take in all the action and people watch. We even enjoyed an afternoon cruise on the The Spirit of Aloha.

They also offer a  fireworks dinner cruise and sea turtle snorkel lunch cruise. In the same area, Atlantis Adventures offers a submarine tour where guest can  explore life “under the sea.”

When visiting Waikiki, expect to have plenty of shoreline drink and dining options…and expect pay to pay top dollar for them!  The Barefoot Snack Shack, located by the beach at Hale Kao Hotel  is one of the more affordable options, offering hot dogs, burgers and other beachy eats under $5.

Kaimana Beach

If you’re looking for a beach in the Waikiki area with fewer tourists and a more local vibe, Kaimana is a great option.  A public bathhouse allows showers, clothing changes and restrooms breaks.

My friend warned me to not be alarmed if you see a few homeless folks in or around the bathhouse, though that wasn’t the case when we visited.

This was a great beach to just veg out, picnic, and wade into the cooling waters.

Ala Moana Beach Park

Located next door to busy Waikiki, this is a local favorite in Honolulu.  Long distance swimmers and stand up paddle boarders come here burn some calories.

While the shallow waters have a rough, rocky start in most areas,  visitors can wade in via sandy pathways that give way to larger expanses of smooth beach floors.

With very little wave action, it’s also great place to simply float the day away.  This was our last beach stop before packing up for our departing flight, so we sent off our leis by plucking the orchids from the string and returning them to nature.

Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve

This snorkeler’s Camelot is also one of Oahu’s top tourist destinations.  Sadly, decades of overuse harmed the coral and threatened  the sea creatures that called it home.

However, with more careful management and tourist education, Hanauma Bay is once again providing a top shelf snorkeling experience.  Even if you don’t care to snorkel, it’s just as lovely to relax on its sandy shores and visually devour this pocket of paradise.

It may grow crowded as the day progress, but we most recently visited on a lovely Sunday afternoon, and I didn’t mind sharing the beach with plenty of other tourists. However, if the parking lot fills up, you may have to wait in line to park or if the line is too long, park elsewhere and hike up to the entry point. There is also shuttle service for $25.

When I visited with my husband last fall, we made the most of the time change and arrived at Hanauma Bay near its 6 a.m. opening time.  Not only did we beat the crowds (skipping the otherwise required educational video and $7.50 entry fee), but we were able to watch a spectacular sunrise.

Keep in mind Hanauma Bay is closed every Tuesday to give the preserve a little break from the crowds.

North Shore Beaches

No visit to Oahu is complete without a visit to the North Shore. With a scenic 45 minutes drive, you can leave city life behind  for this famous surfing destination. While winter months bring higher waves, there is still plenty of sun, sand and snorkeling to enjoy year round.

Shark’s Cove   

It may be considered one of Oahu’s top snorkeling spots, but it’s probably not the best place for beginner snorkelers, and when the waves are high, it’s downright dangerous.

However, during my March visit, the waters of Shark’s Cove were as smooth as my friends have ever seen it.   And the snorkeling was FANTASTIC.

I was so excited to get in the water, I forgot to take photos. However, you can come along on my underwater adventure in this YouTube video, courtesy of our most excellent hosts and friends, Erin and Holly.

Shark’s Cove is at the 3:25 mark, but I suggest watching the entire video if you have 6 and a half minutes to spare, as it also includes footage from many of the beaches mentioned in this blog, as well as my shark snorkel.

This was perhaps my favorite place to snorkel, due to the varied sea life (thick schools of tropic fish, sweet sea turtles and colorful eels) and the deeper waters. Once I got out further, I never felt crowded by coral, even though it was all around me.

Pupukea Tide Pools

Located next door to Shark’s Cove, the shallower Pupukea Tide Pools are a great place for novice snorkelers.

The tide waters overflow into Pupukea, so visitors are more protected from pounding waves.

There are still stunning displays of sea creatures, though you will have to watch your step , settling your feet for the sandy spots as you wade into its coral-covered shoreline.

Laniakea Beach, aka Turtle Beach

While this rocky, little beach isn’t great for swimming and, with no signage, is easy to pass by, it may be worth a stop all the same if the time is right.

If you see a gathering of people at Laniakea Beach, do yourself a favor, and pull over. Chances are good that sea turtles are sunbathing on its shores.

When these beloved, sleepy sunbathers arrive, volunteers set up a rope barrier and keep watch, so visitors can view the the sea turtles from a respectful yet fairly close distance.

Kuilima Cove

Located next to Turtlle Bay Resort, visitors can simply park in the free public/beach access parking lots.  In fact, even non-resort-guests can enjoy lounging on Turtle Bay’s comfy lounge chairs, if they’re available.

While it was plenty wavy when we stayed at Turtle Bay last fall, I still couldn’t resist some snorkeling, knowing sea turtles often visit its waters. And I wasn’t disappointed.

Just make sure to give these mellow “honu” their space, as it’s illegal to touch or harass them!

Windward Beaches

If you’re coming back from the North Shore, I highly recommend extending your travel time and driving along the Windward Coast.  And if you’re driving a convertible, even better. You’ll want the top down to take in the scenery, as the road falls between two stunning views: endless, blue ocean and unbelievably lush, green mountains.

Before you turn towards Honolulu, you’ll want to visit the community of Kailua. This residential area is where the Obama family prefers to vacation (you can rent the same vacation home they did at a mere $4,500/night).

Lanikai Beach

Located just south of Kailua and next to the lovely Kailua Beach, Lanikai Beach is what many people consider one of the world’s most beautiful beaches.

Because it’s not in a commercial area (just accessing the beach can be a hunt for those who don’t know where to look), you’ll find locals and in-the-know tourists at this beach.

While you can snorkel here, it’s not the reason to visit, as there are better snorkel spots.

Pack a picnic. Bring a beach read. Apply the sunblock.  And relax as you sink your toes into powdery sand that is so exquisitely smooth, it almost qualifies as creamy.

Parting Thoughts:

  1. Oahu’s beaches are utterly diverse, so I suggest exploring all coasts if you have the time.
  2. All of Oahu’s beaches are open to the public, meaning there is no private beach off limits.
  3. Respect the marine life. Remember, the ocean is their home, and you are only a visitor. If you are fortunate enough to see a sea turtle or monk seal,  do not touch or harass it. Not only is it bad manners, but it’s a crime punishable by law.
  4. Avoid contact with the coral, for your safety and its safety.  It’s a living thing, and the human touch can damage or kill it. It is also often covered in spiny sea urchins.
  5. Leave the beach the way you found it. If anything came to the beach with you, it needs to leave with you or be disposed of properly.
  6. Come prepared.  In addition to a towel, a hat, sunglasses, water, snacks and sunblock, if you plan on spending time in the water, I recommend investing in water socks and a swim shirt  for sun and abrasion protection, as well as snorkel gear (click on the products for affiliate links to my Amazon picks).

This concludes part 1 of of Trippin’ Midwest Mama’s 3-part Oahu series! Check back later this week for part 2 “Local food favorites,” where I explore the delicious flavors of Oahu that many tourists often overlook.