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Hawaiian Vacation


So, you've decided to finally take that dream vacation? "I think that there are only two kinds of people: those who have yet to visit Hawaii, and those who are between visits" (Keith Wood, The Sierra Times).

After living a few years on Oahu, vacationing on Kauai, and receiving numerous requests from friends and family for information about Hawaii for travel there, I decided to create this page as a reference, specifically about vacationing to either Kauai or Oahu. I offer this information as my personal opinion, as one who has lived there, about what places and activities are worthwhile, as well as the places to avoid because they're not worth your time and money.

Travel Tips
Places to go see on Kauai
Places to go see on Oahu

Travel Tips

One thing that many people don't think to do that helps a lot is pick up the free tourist brochures located at the airport baggage claim and along the sidewalks in Honolulu, especially in the Waikiki area. In the brochures are not only plenty of ideas of places to go see, but also helpful roadmaps for navigating around the maze of streets in Honolulu and around the island. I recommend you get a few maps of the island and Honolulu and keep them with you.

Unless you plan to do a lot more than relax on Kauai, you don't necessarily want to rent a car there since the point of going to Kauai is to either relax on the beach or go hiking. There's not much on Kauai other than its natural beauty, which you can see by helicopter; plus, there are shuttles from hotels that can take you where you want to go. However, you'll definitely want to rent a car on Oahu to get around and see all the sites. "The Bus" just doesn't cut it; you'd spend all day trying to get where you want to go.

WARNING: Hawaiian beaches are very alluring and can easily lull you into the worst sunburn of your life if you're not careful. Then you'll spend the rest of your vacation in a lot of pain! I've seen crab-colored tourists begging for aloe vera all too often. Don't go out without sun block on, and don't stay out on the beach for several hours at a time.

You'll want to plot out which places are near each other and visit them on the same day so you're not running back and forth across the island. Some of the places I've included below are popular tourist attractions, while others are places the locals and the people in the know go to.

Places to go see on Kauai

Say it with me now: "Pair - uh - dise".
Sadly, most visitors to Hawaii just go to the island of Oahu and figure they have seen all there is to see in Hawaii. As the locals will tell you, every island in Hawaii is very different. While Oahu has plenty to see and do for a very active vacation, the other islands, such as Maui and Kauai, have less urban development and are the places to go to relax. Kauai is argued by many to be the most beautiful of the Hawaiian Islands, being known as the Garden Isle (which is one reason why we went there for our honeymoon; that, and I know too many people on Oahu). I've heard that one of the best beaches to go relax on in Kauai is Poipu Beach on the south side of the island, but I've never tested this rumor myself. Should you go to Kauai, don't expect a lot of big tourist attractions like theme parks. For those travelers looking for adventure instead of just lying on the beach, you can hike the "Grand Canyon of the Pacific" or, even more beautiful, the Napali Coast.

Napali Coast
View of the Napali Coast from a helicopter tour. This beatiful area, popular for hiking, remains almost completely untouched.

The Fern Grotto
Relaxing on the beach or near a hotel pool are the activities of choice for visitors to Kauai. However, if you want to break the routine for an easy going tour that will take a few hours out of your lazy day, you can go see the fern grotto. As shown at right, first, you ride a large boat up a river along beautiful jungle scenery, then hike along a paved path to the fern grotto, which is a shallow cave with unique ferns hanging down from its walls. The place has been the site for several weddings. It's not a heart-stopping experience, but it certainly is pretty jungle scenery and worth the few dollars for the boat ride. Ask your hotel about getting a shuttle to the grotto. Boats leave regularly and make several trips a day.


Boat to the fern grotto

The fern grotto

Helicopter Tour
Since there is isn't much to do on Kauai other than relax and enjoy the peaceful beauty, renting car isn't necessarily required as long as you don't mind walking to the store and riding shuttles for tours from your hotel. One way to forego renting a car and still see just about the entire island is to go on a helicopter tour of the island. There are a few companies that offer these tours, and around $150 a person, it will be the highlight of your stay on Kauai. The view from the aircraft as you flying alongside steep, green mountains and into valleys of waterfalls is breathtaking. The Napali Coast is especially beautiful. If you do nothing else on Kauai, go on a helicopter ride! It's a must.

A typical tour includes a shuttle ride from your hotel to the office of the tour company. There, you'll wait with other tourists for the next flight and probably hear a short training on safety and receive life vests to wear, as pictured at right. From there, you'll ride out to the launch pad and prepare for take off. The tours usually include a description from the pilot of the sites you're seeing, which you can hear with headphones. If you're interested in getting a video of your flight, check with the different companies before you buy your tour, as not all companies offer this service.


The yellow packs are life vests.

The beautiful Napali Coast as seen from a helicopter


Places to go see on Oahu

Windward Shore


Polynesian Cultural Center
The Polynesian Cultural Center is the most popular paid attraction in the state of Hawaii, and with good reason. The cultural center is not only the closest thing to a theme park in Hawaii, it also portrays the genuine and rich cultures of the South Pacific.

The center is located in the quiet town of Laie, which is on the northeast side of the island, near the northern most point of the island. The drive up the winding windward shore on the Kamehameha Highway is very beautiful, and you pass by several beaches. Laie is about an hour's drive from Honolulu, and the highway is windy and frequently under construction, so drive carefully.

Unlike most tourist attractions on the island, the Polynesian Cultural Center is an all-day event, so make sure you plan plenty of time for it. The center opens at noon, and you really want to arrive when it opens or shortly after and go through all the villages, see the canoe pageant, ride the canoe, and maybe watch an IMAX movie. I've always preferred the cultural presentations in the villages to the IMAX movies since the villages were real-life, but the IMAX can be nice on rainy days or if you really need air conditioning on hot days. There are also several gift shops to browse through.

You'll definitely want to stay for dinner and the night show afterwards. Of the three restaurants in the cultural center and the McDonald's in the parking lot outside, I recommend the Ali'i Luau if you want a genuine Hawaii dining experience. The Gateway Buffet is an inexpensive alternative if you're more of a "beef and potatoes" kind of person, and the Ambassador Dining is a fancier place, which caters greatly to the Asian tourists. I've eaten at all three restaurants, several times, and I definitely would recommend the Ali'i Luau not only for the food, but also for the luau experience. The climax of the night is the night show after dinner, the biggest show in Hawaii, with more performers than any other attraction. However, the cultural presentations in the villages alone are worth the price of admission. Before dinner, make sure you see the show in the Samoan and Tongan villages.

In addition to the cultural center, the small town of Laie has Hukilau Beach at the north end of town just off the Kamehameha Highway and Temple Beach just up the road from the cultural center after the Foodland shopping center. Also, a visit to the Hawaii Temple in Laie is very beautiful. However, remember the Polynesian Cultural Center is an all-day activity. (Some "circle island tours" just stop there for one village show and let their customers pay the price of admission, but they really miss out.) Fortunately, the cultural center offers free half-hour shuttle tours to the neighboring BYU-Hawaii campus and the Hawaii Temple, so you can see both if you like while at the center.


Hawaii, Fiji, New Zealand, Samoa, Tonga, Tahiti, Marquesas
Explore seven villages, each showing the culture of a different island nation, and take a canoe ride.

The Ali'i Luau not only offers the chance to offer food traditionally eaten at a real luau, but also Hawaiian songs and dances for entertainment while you eat.

Chief Sielu Avea spins fire knife at the night show.
The cultural center's after dinner show is the biggest show in Hawaii.

Valley of the Temples
One stop you could make in the morning as you drive up the windward coast to the Polynesian is the Valley of the Temples. Just north of the city Kaneohe on Highway 83 is the Byodo Temple, a very beautiful Buddhist temple hidden from the highway. Just ask locals where to find the Valley of the Temples or the Buddhist temple. You will know the intersection from the highway because there is a McDonald's at the light on one side and a large cemetery on the other. You turn into the cemetery and drive until the road ends. There hidden in some trees at the base of a mountain is the temple. It's open to the public and very interesting. It's not far from the highway and doesn't take long to see.

The colorful fish in the ponds there are interesting to look at, and you can purchase food to feed them from a small gift shop that neighbors the temple. When entering the innermost part of the temple, you will see signs asking you to remove your shoes. Besides fish, there are also several birds, including swans and peacocks, which frequent the temple grounds.


Valley of the Temples

Central Oahu and the North Shore


Dole Plantation
The Dole Plantation is located almost in the center of the island. You'll see lots of pineapple fields as you drive there. I recommend going through the maze they have there, which typically takes about 30-45 minutes to go through. You can also try some of the pineapple ice cream and check out the different kinds of pineapples growing to the left of the maze, as well as some fish they have in a pond there.

North Shore Beaches
Since the Dole Plantation is located in central Oahu, you could also drive along the North Shore and see the beaches of the big surf, such as Waimea. These beaches are famous for the big waves and ideal surfing conditions during the winter. You can also cruise through the town of Haleiwa (pronounced ha-lay-ee-va), a town that caters greatly to surfers, as you'll notice when you go there. Stopping in Haleiwa and getting some shaved ice is a nice way to cool off. I've also heard that Shark's Cove is a good place to go snorkeling. I recommend against going to the Waimea waterfall park; it's a waste of time and money. I actually got in for free as a local and still felt like I got ripped off.


Inside the gift shop at the Dole Plantation


Arizona Memorial
This is a must see for all patriots, but be forewarned if you go during the weekend or later in the day, you can expect a waiting time of up to three hours. When you go in the door at the visitors' center, you receive a ticket with a number on it and told an estimated waiting time. From there, while waiting, there are a few museum exhibits you can walk through. Listen to hear when your group's number is called, and line up at the entrance to the theater. You will watch a short documentary about the attack on Pearl Harbor, after which all of the people in the theater will board a ferry and ride out to the memorial that directly above the sunken hulk of the U.S.S. Arizona. Go first thing in the morning and get into the video and onto the ferry out to the ship in less than an hour! This is a very solemn and quiet experience. Parks officials allow photography on the memorial, but they ask that you keep your voice to a whisper out of respect, as the ship is the final resting place of over 1000 men. If you look closely, you can see some of the features of the ship below the water, including oil that still comes up to the surface.

Swap Meet
Right down the street from the Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor is the Aloha Stadium. DO NOT buy any souvenirs at tourist shops!!! Every Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday they hold the SWAP MEET, the place where all the locals go to get Hawaiian stuff cheap! Parking is $1, and then it's a huge ocean of cheap booths that stretch all the way around the stadium. Do not shop anywhere else (except maybe at the Polynesian Cultural Center, where they have unique items). Get all your souvenirs here for far less at the Swap Meet. You may want to do this toward the end of your trip if you can, so you have an idea of what you want after seeing it overpriced I the stores. You have to go early in the day; the booths start packing up as early at 1 or 2 in the afternoon. Go in the morning, perhaps right after the Arizona Memorial.


Arizona Memorial as seen from the stern of a ferry

Waikiki Beach
Waikiki is undoubtedly famous, most popular, and most crowded beach on Oahu. (If you're looking for secluded beaches, try another island, the North Shore, or Hukilau Beach in Laie.) You can relax on the beach and check out all the cool stuff to see on the streets closest to the beach.

Punchbowl Cemetery
Just north of Waikiki, this national cemetery is inside a volcano crater. It has war memorials and a great view of the city if you walk up to the view area on the south side. It's a little hard to find driving. Not really high on the list of things to do, but something really cool if you're bored.

Southeast Oahu

Giant aquarium
This giant aquarium is just one of the many interest sites to see along Waikiki Beach.

Hanauma Bay
This is a popular snorkeling spot. Actually, this is the only place I've ever gone snorkeling. I thought it was cool, but my father-in-law who knows snorkeling, said it was lacking. This is a nature preserve; you have to pay a few bucks to get in and watch a video about how you're not to step on the choral, just the sand. You can rent snorkel gear there or buy a cheap set at a grocery store somewhere. There's a steep walk down to the beach from the parking lot on a paved road. If you're not up to walking up or down the steep road, there is a bus that shuttles people up and down that costs about a dollar. Another place that I've heard is good for snorkeling is Shark's Cove on the North Shore.


Good place for snorkeling

Pali Lookout
Up in the mountains overlooking Kaneohe, this place is hard to find but a breath taking view if you can find it. This spot is always windy, so bring a jacket. There's also a lot of history about this spot. This mountain pass was where King Kamehameha defeated the inhabitants of Oahu, apparently by forcing several of them off the cliff during battle, thus conquering all of Hawaii for the first time in history.


Pali is Hawaiian for cliff


Unfortunately, unless you know someone with a beach house or condo you can stay at, overpriced hotels are the rule in Hawaii. However, here is a list of a few hotels you can research.

Kauai Hotels
I don't know a heck of a lot about the different hotels on Kauai except that looking for one that wasn't expensive was difficult. When we went to Kauai, we stayed at the Kauai Sands Hotel and were satisfied. The hotel has two swimming pools and an okay (but not spectacular) beach. Right next door is a cute little market place with many different shops. The Foodland grocery store is about a half mile down the road. Nice and quiet place.

Oahu Hotels
Although most hotels are located in Waikiki, I recommend trying places outside of the city of Honolulu so you can see more of the natural beauty without having to drive as far to see it. Kaneohe, on the southern part of the windward coast, is nicely located to drive to several of the sites above. I would recommend against staying on the far leeward side of the island; it's a long drive to anywhere from there.

Speaking of getting out of Honolulu, you can't get any farther and still be on the island than the Turtle Bay Resort. Located on the northern most point of the island, this hotel is big and very nice looking (check out their website). It's right on the beach, and it's just off the Kamehameha highway. The Polynesian Cultural Center and the rest of the windward coast are just down the road from here, and driving down the opposite direction takes you to the North Shore.
Turtle Bay Resort
57-091 Kamehameha Highway
Kahuku Oahu, Hawaii 96731
Tel: 1-808-293-8811
Fax: 1-808-293-9147
Call: 1-800-203-3650

The Laie Inn is one choice if your main purpose on Oahu is related to the Polynesian Cultural Center or something else in Laie. However, I've heard that this hotel isn't exactly your top-of-the-line hotel. So, this might be a good way to save money, but I make no guarantees on the quality of the hotel. Me, I'm easily satisfied, so I could sleep on the beach. This hotel is located right next to the Polynesian Cultural Center in the town of Laie. It has a McDonald's right next door and beach access across the highway.
Laie Inn
55-109 Laniloa St.
Laie Oahu, HI 96762
Call: 1-800-526-4562
Fax: 808-293-8115

Here are some hotels if you prefer or must stay in Waikiki:
Waikiki Terrace Hotel. I've stayed at this one, and it's not too bad. You have to walk through a park to get to the beach.
Sheraton Waikiki
Pacific Beach Hotel
Ala Moana Hotel This one's further west in Honolulu than Waikiki. It has the most popular shopping mall on the island next to it.
Ambassador Hotel
Marc Resorts Several locations on multiple islands
Hawaiiana Hotel
Hilton hotel chain
Outrigger hotel chain
Royal Garden Hotel
There are tons and tons of more hotels; just run a search and see for yourself.



Why are the islands so special? Check out this article that appeared in the Sierra Times about the Polynesian Cultural Center and the town of Laie. If you can understand what journalist Keith Wood is saying, you can almost understand why this is a special place. Unfortunately, the rest of it, the warm weather, rich cultures, and breathtaking scenery you would have to experience for yourself.


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