Oahu, Hawai’i can be as affordable as any other sun and fun destination – maybe even more so, depending on the choices you make. If the sky’s the limit, Oahu can deliver the goods, but there’s no need to break the bank. Here are some suggestions for scrimpers, savers and those who can afford a little splurge.
Where to Stay
If you want to stay close to the action in Honolulu, consider the affordable Aston Waikiki Beach Hotel located on the Diamond Head side of Waikiki. The friendly staff will welcome you and your keiki (kids) with open arms and make you feel part of their ohana (family). The majority of the rooms have sweeping views of Diamond Head or million-dollar views of the ocean at a penny pinchers price. Borrow some beach toys, towels and folding chairs from the front desk and head across the street to sheltered Kuhio Beach. This stretch of sand will seem positively spacious after you’ve seen the towel-to-towel scene on nearby Waikiki Beach.
Spacious suites, a host of amenities and a central location make the Embassy Suites by Hilton Waikiki Beach Walk an excellent value for families. Each one or two-bedroom suite above the main floor has a balcony and, at a minimum, a partial ocean view. The fresh décor is based on native Hawai’ian printed fabrics called kapa and microwaves, mini refrigerators and wet bars are standard in every suite. Perks include a lavish complimentary made-to-order breakfast, a free nightly poolside reception, free wi-fi, a 24- hour fitness centre and morning yoga classes plus there’s no resort fee. Kids will love the 4th Floor Grand Lanai pool stocked with plenty of floatables, and it’s only a five-minute walk to Waikiki Beach.
Ready to splash out a little? The Hyatt Regency Beach Resort and Spa will pamper you and your family with the true spirit of aloha. The twin 40 story towers are right across from the shore in the heart of Waikiki Beach. The spacious, luxurious, modern rooms boast balconies with superlative city, beach or mountain views. All kids 5 and under eat free from the children’s menu. Upgrade to the Regency Club level, and you’ll enjoy complimentary continental breakfasts, cocktails (or mocktails), hors-d’oeuvres and desserts at sunset on the Club level terrace that overlooks Waikiki Beach.
Where to Play
Some of the best activities on Oahu are inexpensive or free. Begin with a stroll along Honolulu’s three-mile Beach Walk for world-class people watching. You’ll find surfers, stand up paddle boarders, divers, snorkellers and sunbathers taking advantage of every inch of sand. Look for a series of bronze statues and fountains along the way and take a selfie with the statue of Duke Kahanamoku, the revered Hawai’ian six-time Olympic swimming medalist known as the father of surfing.
At sunset on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, the traditional blowing of a conch shell signals the start of a free Hawaiian music and hula show at the Kuhio Beach Hula Mound, across from the Hyatt Regency Waikiki Beach Hotel. While the torches flicker and ukuleles play, grab a spot on the grass to watch some of Hawai’i’s best halau hula (dance troupes) perform the graceful dances of the islands. The International Market Place on Kalakaua Avenue has a free show every night that features storytelling, songs and hula under the stars in the Lamaku Torch Tower. The 45-minute performance starts at 6:30 p.m. (September to February) or 7:00 p.m. (March to August).
A climb up Diamond Head State Monument is a must for first-time visitors, and the views of the coastline from the summit are amazing. Don’t be fazed by the 170.6-meter ascent. The 1.2 km hike is mostly made up of gentle switchbacks, and there are plenty of places to stop as you make your way up this leafy extinct volcanic crater.
History buffs could easily spend an entire day at the Pearl Harbor Historic Site. There are 1,300 free walk-up tickets given out to the USS Arizona Memorial each day at 7 a.m., and they go fast. Get yours online in advance. Buy A Passport to Pearl Harbor (or separate tickets) to visit the last American battleship ever built, The Battleship Missouri. There’s a massive collection of helicopters and airplanes dating from WWII to the Gulf Wars at the Pacific Aviation Museum. You can explore the cramped corners of a real submarine, the USS Bowfin, then visit the Submarine Museum & Park or experience the new Pearl Harbor Virtual Reality Center with three historically accurate VR tours.
Grab a bathing suit and drive to Oahu’s North Shore. This world-famous surfing spot hosts the Vans Triple Crown competition each winter. Watch surfers riding the big waves at Sunset Beach, then head to the lush Waimea Valley Botanical Gardens where you can meander through a park-like landscape filled with towering tropical trees, pocket gardens of hibiscus, and rare plants. At the end of the path is a 10-meter deep swimming pond filled by a tumbling waterfall. That’s where you’ll need your bathing suit.
Head south and stroll through colourful shops and galleries of Haleiwa town. On the way back to Honolulu, explore the home of all things pineapple, the Dole Pineapple Plantation in Wahiawa. Try a Dole Whip take a train ride through the plantation on the Pineapple Express, find your way out of the 3.1-acre Pineapple Garden Maze or stroll through the exotic plants in the Pineapple Garden.
Join the 1% of people on earth who have ventured more than 30 meters (100 ft.) below the surface of the ocean on an Atlantis Submarines Waikiki adventure. The premium submarine seats 64 and has large viewing windows so you can spot turtles, sharks and other sea creatures as they cruise around shipwrecks and sunken airplanes. The live commentary offers 20,000 laughs under the sea.
Soar over hidden waterfalls and lush green valleys with a Paradise Helicopters tour of Oahu. Flights leave from Turtle Bay on the north shore, or from Kapolei. See Pearl Harbor, Diamond Head crater and the Ka’a’awa Valley, of Jurassic Park fame, from the air on the Circle Island tour. If you’d like to visit Madam Pele on the Big Island while she’s still cooking up new land with her volcano, fights are available for around $7,000 US one way, or if your pockets aren’t that deep, take a commercial flight and join a Paradise Helicopter volcano tour when you arrive.
Where to Dine
You’ll find familiar fast food options in Honolulu as well as inexpensive, tasty local dishes. For Hawai’ian foods like poke (marinated fresh fish) try Ahi Assassins or Foodland; for malasadas (Portuguese doughnuts) there’s Leonard’s Bakery; for filling plate lunches (entrée + rice + macaroni) you can’t beat Rainbow Drive-In.
Step back into the days when Waikiki was the playground of movie stars at Duke’s Waikiki. The décor is full-on tiki style with a palm-thatched roof, koa wood floors and bamboo accents. Photos of Duke Kahanamoku and surf memorabilia line the walls, and live bands fill the air with the gentle sounds of the ukulele and Hawai’ian guitar. Located right on Waikiki Beach, Duke’s serves Hawai’ian inspired American menus from the 7 a.m. breakfast buffet to midnight snacks at the Barefoot Bar.
In Honolulu, experience Vietnamese inspired farm-to-table dining at Chef Keaka Lee’s new Chinatown hot spot The Pig & The Lady (reservations strongly advised). The menu changes to accommodate the fresh seasonal ingredients that Chef Lee finds daily. At the northern tip of the island overlooking scenic Kuilima Cove, you can feast from locally sourced, Hawai’ian influenced specialties with your toes in the sand at Roy’s Beach House. Create your own surf and turf combination from the extensive seafood options (the She Sells Seafood platter is piled high with crab, oysters, poke and more) plus Roy’s succulent signature beef short ribs
The writer was a guest of Visit Oahu while in Hawai’i. As always, her opinions are her own. Comments are welcome! For more photographs of Hawai’i, follow her on Instagram @where.to.lady