First timers guide to Waikiki
Where to stay, what to do and where to eat
If you're heading to Honolulu for the first time, chances are you will want to do a range of activities from chilling out at the beach to exploring the sites.
We recently visited Honolulu for the first time and while we only had a chance to spend three short days here, it was enough to get in some sightseeing, and enough for me to know what I definitely want to do next time!
So, read on to find out what we did and what we have on our "next time" list.
Where we stayed
When looking at accomodation, we explored all options from Airbnb to hotels and resorts. We ended up deciding on a hotel as it included the extras that we wanted, like a pool and a gym, as well as ocean views. We stayed at the Hyatt Centric, which is conveniently located in the heart of Waikiki, Honolulu.
I highly recommend this hotel. The staff are lovely and incredibly helpful, ensuring that we had everything we needed for a pleasant stay. On check-in, we received a complimentary welcome drink (a delicious mixture of pineapple, ginger, lime and soda), as well as shell leis. For our first time in Hawaii, this was a lovely touch! We decided to upgrade our room, and we are really glad that we did. Our upgrade allowed us an ocean view, which was an incredible way to start our Hawaiian holiday.
The hotel is a short walk to the main beach, and positioned near a range of stores if you want to go shopping. If you've never been to Honolulu, this is definitely the location to stay.
What we did
As we only had three days in Honolulu, or indeed, on Oahu, we had to carefully plan what we wanted to do. Unfortunately, this meant that we weren't able to fit everything in, especially as we were also battling jetlag! All three days that we were in Waikiki, we managed to have afternoon naps for a few hours. My #1 recommendation? Get enough sleep and power through the jetlag! You'll be able to do much more than we did.
Having said that, we did manage to do a fair few things from our list, and have added many more thing to do next time.
Relax by the pool
Our No. 1 priority for this trip was to chill out, relax and just unwind, which we definitely achieved in Honolulu. Our hotel, Hyatt Centric, had a beautiful pool and outdoor space adjoining the bar, where we were able to enjoy cocktails and recharge.
Chill out at the beach
When in Hawaii, the beach is obviously a priority! On two of our three days, we ventured down to the main Waikiki Beach in the late afternoon to have a swim and experience sunset. We visited in April and the ocean water was very warm, like a nice bath. So much so that if you visited in the heat of the day, I'm not sure if you'd cool off enough.
Visit the beach or pool at sunset
Going to the beach is one thing, but going at sunset is a totally different experience. Hawaii has some of the most beautiful sunsets, and where better to experience them than by the water? On our first night in Hawaii, we were fortunate enough to actually be by Surfside Moana's pool for sunset, and it was breathtaking.
Shop the outlets
We had heard that the outlets were incredible, so we took a bus out to see for ourselves. Honestly, we were a little underwhelmed. Yes, there are a fair few shops there, but unless you want to still spend a decent amount of money (the AUD to USD conversion is not good for us Australians) and buy mainly Tommy Hilfiger, Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein etc clothing, there won't be much there for you.
Visit Pearl Harbor
This is one activity that I am so glad we made time for. Neither of us had been particularly interested in visiting Pearl Harbor as we don't know a lot about World War II. (Fun fact: I hold a BA in History but I focussed on ancient history and the Russian Revolution.) We took a tour bus at 6.10am from our hotel to Pearl Harbor in order to get there nice and early and secure USS Arizona tickets. This had us arriving at Pearl Harbour at 7am, which gave us enough time to visit one of the museums before our 8.30am USS Arizona tour. The museum that we visited told some background behind Pearl Harbor, what the climate was like and how it happened. Really insightful before our USS Arizona portion.
While we had tickets for the USS Arizona, unfortunately we weren't able to actually go on the memorial as the dock was closed for extensive renovations due to structural damage. However, we went out on the boat past the site of the USS Arizona, where we could see parts of the ship itself and just how big it is. The captain also told us about that fateful day, and the whole tour group was incredibly moved by the sacrifice of the World War II soldiers, and indeed all soldiers who are still fighting.
100% must do
Where we ate
While we obviously ate at more than two places, there are only two that I recommend. On the whole, we did find a lot of the food quite salty, or just really expensive (it is a huge tourist area after all), but these two were great.
1. The Cheesecake Shop
My father-in-law had actually recommended The Cheesecake Shop to us and I'm glad we listened! There was a large range of food options on the menu, far more than you ever see in one restaurant in Australia, so no matter what you feel like, there's something there for you. On our first visit, we both chose burgers, sweet potato fries and pineapple moscow mules, a Hawaiian twist on the classic. D-E-L-I-C-I-O-U-S.
On our second visit, we tried the restaurant's namesake - the cheesecake. With so many flavours to choose from, our waitress actually recommended that we try a flavour other than their most popular - Original with fresh strawberries. Instead, we bought the banana cheesecake and omg am I glad that we did! It was SO good. 10/10 would eat again.
2. Marukame Udon
We had walked past Marukame Udon twice at night (between 6-8pm) and the line outside this restaurant was ridiculous both times. We figured that something this popular was obviously worth the wait, but we decided to be strategic and go back at around 3-4pm for a late lunch/early dinner and skip the queues! Almost exclusively selling ramen, the food tastes authentically Japanese and is at a very affordable price point. It's clear to see why it's such a popular restaurant in Waikiki.
Our 'must do' list for next time
& for anyone who is visiting Oahu
Hike Diamond head
Visit Turtle Bay
Go to the North shore
ATV tour of the Jurassic Park film site
Hoomaluhia Botanical Garden
Attend a luau
Get malasadas (Portuguese donuts) from Leonard's
Let me know in the comments what your "must do" Oahu experiences are!