Hawaii Travel Guide: Oahu and Maui
Hawaii Travel Guide.
I've been lucky enough to travel to Hawaii quite a bit in my 33 years. My grandma started her courtship with Hawaii back in the 70's and had the foresight to buy a timeshare. Apparently, back in the day, the OG timeshares were worth the money and you didn't have to sit through a "free breakfast buffet" to get hassled to buy one. Over the years, she was generous enough to share those timeshares with her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. You could say she's partly responsible for my love of travel. It quickly became our family summer travel destination.
Where to Go.
I get this question a lot. Everyone always wants to know which island is the best. First, the clarify a few things: Oahu is typically the island everyone refers to when they are talking about Hawaii. This is where you can see Pearl Harbor, stay in a high rise in Honolulu or layout on Waikeke beach. The Big Island is not Oahu. The Big Island, which I'll talk about in a future blog, is the largest island, but is not where the capital is located and is definitely not fitted out with high rise buildings.
Okay, back to the fair, but hard question. My initial response is always to visit all of the islands, if you can. If you have the time, book an inter-island flight. There isn't a ferry, but there are many flight options, especially now that Southwest is flying to Hawaii. Ultimately, it depends on what you like, yes a cliche response, but it's true. Each island definitely caters to the type of travel you enjoy.
Disclaimer: When I travel, I lean towards exploring the outdoors and getting off the beaten path, so take that into consideration when I explain each island. I may have some bias when it comes to hiking and tend to turn my nose up at shopping.
Airport code: HNL
Oahu is interesting. While it used to be my least favorite island, it's slowly inching into the lead, but you have to do it right. Oahu, for me, is like Jekyll and Hyde.
Honolulu is a large city, with bustling traffic, more people than I care to be around and a below average man made famous beach (Waikiki). Now, if you love the city life and shopping, this area is likely your spot. But if you like adventure, and fancy trading skyscrapers for small towns, then the North Shore is the place. It's magical. It has everything from epic surfing, beautiful waterfalls, rain forest hikes, turtles basking on beaches and snorkeling in crystal blue water. Have I sold you yet? It takes about 45 minutes to reach the North Shore if traffic isn't terrible, but it's a beautiful drive. Our timeshare is in the middle of the city, so when I visit, I drive to the north shore every single day.
This comes with one caveat. You should definitely spend one day in Waikiki and visit Pearl Harbor. It a must do, even if you aren't from the United States. It's a very well done memorial about WWII and a humbling experience. Diamond Head is also an easy hike if you want to stay in the city and provides an awesome view of the city.
Food - in the city, you should eat at Lulu's, Dukes on the beach and the food trucks in the marina parking lot. So good.
Best Things to Do.
Eat at North Shore Tacos. They have two locations. They have a food truck at Pupukea, a pretty great beach spot near sharks cove. We went for a great snorkel there and swooped up some tacos AND shave ice afterwards. They have a restaurant as well, which is a little deceiving, because it looks like an old fast food place they've redone. We originally found this place by chance. We were starving after a day at Waimea Bay and rolled the dice. I think we ate here 5 more times after that. Y'all - it's good.
Speaking of Waimea Bay, it's one of my favorite beaches, mainly because they have cliff jumping. But, if you're not into that, then you can still lay on the beach and read a book. They have some surf here, so depending on the day, you could maybe even boogie board. There is a touristy trap across the road. You'll see a lot of cars parked and people coming and going, but it's not really that great. I wouldn't waste my money on it. Average, at best.
Snorkel Sharks Cove. As mentioned above, this snorkel spot is epic. Tons of turtles. If you need to rent gear, they have it at the little shop across the street.
Visit Haleiwa. Stop for breakfast at Cafe Haleiwa and explore the little town while you are there, it's quaint and cute. You should also try Haleiwa Joe's for happy hour or dinner. It's right on the water with beautiful views and a good atmosphere.
Sunset Beach. Watch the amazing surfers battle it out with these massive waves at sunset beach. We didn't spend a lot of time here, but always check it out to watch the activities. They also have great food trucks in the parking lot, if you are hungry or need a snack.
Ted's Bakery. This place is like a local legend. Everyone goes here for the baked goods and cheap lunch specials. You should definitely make a stop.
Turtle Bay / Zip Line. So Turtle Bay is beautiful and a few movies have even been filmed at the resort, but it is a resort. However, you can get to the bay without going into the resort and avoiding the crowds. There is a public access area off the highway - it's across from a fruit stand, but you'll likely see other cars parked along this section of highway. If you have a paddle board, it's a great area to do this or just go for a swim. Since it's a bay, the water is normally very calm - it would be a great area for kids. We also zip lined near this area, which was really fun and had epic views of turtle bay. We used this company they did a great job and were very safe.
Airport Code: OGG
Maui is completely different than Oahu. Maui doesn't have a bustling metropolitan area like Honolulu, but still has plenty of shopping and eating. The best part is that Maui is pretty epic no matter where you stay.
We stay in one of two places: north of Lahaina or Kihei, depending on which timeshare we use. Lahaina is the main town area in Maui and is built along the seawall. They have tons of shopping and even a Bubba Gumps, if you're into that sort of thing. If you go on excursions, it's likely you leave out of one of these places as well. Just make sure which one because they are about 30 minutes apart, depending on traffic. Either way, spend time in both places no matter where you stay. Kihei is really cute and has tons of places to eat and shop. However, my favorites are the food truck park and Kihei Cafe.
Kaanapali is beautiful, but it's definitely were the rich folk and celebrities like to hang. Most places to stay along the Kaanapali coastline are super pricey. However, it's worth the drive and you can eat in the resorts along the way and feel like you fit right in. My favorite thing to do is grabbing a drink along the coastline and enjoying the views. You can also go to the Sheraton and watch people cliff jump off the infamous black rock beach.
Best Things to Do.
If you enjoy diving or snorkeling, Maui is pretty great at both. The infamous Molokini Crater is off the coast of Maui and a hot spot for water sports enthusiasts. However, try to get an early morning trip. Molokini can get extremely busy. Also, be aware that while the reef is along the crater, you are definitely out in the middle of the ocean and can see some big pelagics too. Recently, we dove at a spot off the coast, which was great as well, called the cathedrals. Beautiful caves and arches as well as an abundant amount of marine life. On this last trip, we were also lucky enough to see a whale. Speaking of whales, whale season is early November to early May. However, if you don't go during this time frame, you will likely see spinner dolphins, bottlenose dolphins and pilot whales.
I also really enjoy the zodiac rafting. I prefer doing this on the Big Island, but Maui is a good second. Zodiac rafting is far more adventurous choice than a normal boat, but you get more adventure despite the bumpy ride. Most zodiacs will allow you to get up close and personal with sea caves and marine life. Most boats will also offer a few snorkel spots, so you get more for your money. One thing to mention - if you have a bad back or pregnant, they won't let you partake, so check out their website and the fine print before you book.
Okay, back to the land adventures.
On the northshore of Maui, you'll find one of my favorite towns, Paia. It's a hippie little town with lots of boutique shops and eateries. Fun fact, Willie Nelsons favorite restaurant, Charley's, is located here. I have been told he frequents it often, but I've never spotted him mid french fry. Even without Willie, the food is worth the visit. They also have small farmers markets and vendors set up around town for some local fare - just ask a local and they should be able to tell you the usual days.
Visit Haleakalā. Haleakalā is a massive shield volcano that forms more than 75% of the Hawaiian Island of Maui. The tallest peak of Haleakalā, at 10,023 feet, which makes for a fun ride down. Even though you can't explore Haleakalā, you can get a ride to the visitors center and then bike down the road, past the lavender fields and back into town. This is a great way to explore this part of Maui, but be aware that a lot of people have been hurt on this excursion. Coming from someone who does safety for a living, I would personally check my bike and the condition to ensure you don't have a failure. Also, kids probably don't belong on this road, in my humble opinion. To be blunt, you haul ass down this mountain and that is no understatement. Cars operate on the road and it is very windy - think of you typical mountain road, but very wide open. If you lose control or get nervous, it can be recipe for disaster and the end of your fun on Maui. So, make sure you are comfortable on a bike, have a decent level of fitness and check out your gear before you hop on and head down.
The infamous Road to Hana - okay. I think there are lots of mixed reviews on this, but in my opinion, you have to do it. However, I wouldn't sign up for one of those massive bus tours unless you don't feel comfortable driving the winding roads. We've done it several ways. We've explored until the turn around point and came back and we've also gone all the way thru. I think going to to turnaround point is the easiest option because if you are going all the way through it can be extremely rough and bumpy and you're literally in the middle of nowhere. However, you do get to see more, so it's up to you and your rental car. There are tons of offshoots, hikes, waterfalls, etc. when you are driving the road to Hana. You can get a map OR you can just follow the masses of people who are ahead of you and pulling over. To make the journey better, I would do a few things:
1. Wear comfortable clothes, including shoes.
2. Bring a change of clothes.
3. Bring snacks, lots of snacks.
4. Fill up your water bottle, but be aware of the shortage of toilets along the way.
5. Leave early and take your time exploring.
6. Be a patient driver.
7. Take motion sickness meds, if you're susceptible.
8. Take lots of pictures. It's a beautiful place.
What to buy before you go.
The revealed books. These books are a must buy. It's our bible when we visit Hawaii, even though we've been going for all these years AND there is a book for each island. My latest version (2015) is highlighted, underlined and has notes in the margin. I give it to anyone who is going so they can use it as well. They update the versions frequently and the reviews have never failed us. They also give you tips on how to find hidden gems, like hiking trails leading to green sand beaches or small dive restaurants with the best mai tai's on the island. You can buy them here: Amazon
Sunscreen. The sun can be brutal here, but Hawaii has also recently passed a law on the type of sunscreen you are allowed to use. These sunscreens will help prevent coral bleaching and protect the oceans. Basically, the sunscreen must be made without oxybenzone OR octinoxate. So they are oxybenzone-free AND octinoxate-free. In general, you may find a sunscreen label say that it’s oxybenzone-free, but do make sure to check for octinoxate too. Again, these are the 2 ingredients most important to Hawaii.
GoPro, iPhone or other cameras. The scenery is why tourist flock to Hawaii. Make sure you have something to capture those epic landscapes, underwater aquariums and family memories. We tend to travel with our DSl, GoPro and sometimes the drone, if we have enough space. But all you really need is your phone.
Casual Clothing. Hawaii is like any other island. I've never felt under dressed, really. Most people wear hawaiian shirts as their fancy attire, so I wouldn't be overly consumed with packing anything other than casual clothing. 80% of the time you are in your swimsuit with a cover-up.
Hiking Shoes. If you're going to hike here, there are all levels of skill. From paved paths,
to extremely muddy areas, so bring the appropriate shoes. You can also see everything from waterfalls to vast forests, depending on where you hike.
If you have anymore questions, I am always willing to give travel advice for Hawaii. Feel free to leave a comment below or send me an email.