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Waikiki Weekend: 48 Fun Hours of Oahu Travel

View of Waikiki Beach from the Royal Hawaiian Hotel
View of Waikiki Beach from the Royal Hawaiian Hotel

I felt sleep deprived and a bit dreamy upon arriving in Honolulu after two long flights from the Midwest. Maybe that is why all the colors in Waikiki took on a tropical Wes Anderson vibe, starting with the exterior of The Royal Hawaiian hotel. Its iconic pink exterior complemented the vibrant green of the “96 Degrees in the Shade” cocktail I ordered at the beachside bar as soon as we arrived. The lobby and the grounds of this historic hotel are meticulously cared for, and it was interesting to see the displays of photographs and memorabilia from the past, including menus from the 1940s, mannequins displaying gowns from visiting princesses and tickets and photos from the hotel’s opening party in 1927.

Cocktail from the Mai Tai Bar at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel

The Royal Hawaiian Mai Tai bar overlooks Diamond Head and has an expansive view where we admired surfers, swimmers and spotted a curious seal. The 96 Degrees in the Shade cocktail was refreshing and potent with Captain Morgan rum, pineapple puree, lime juice and mint.

To make sure we did not succumb to a nap after cocktails, we walked around the International Marketplace window shopping at Waikiki’s high-end stores.

We continued our dreamy, happy mood with a seaside dinner at House Without A Key at the Halekulani Hotel. A Lava Flow, my favorite Hawaiian cocktail, started the dinner right. Never mind it was midnight body time, we were on aloha time now. Entrees like the signature steamed fresh fish with shiitake mushrooms and  baby bok choy in a sesame soy ginger broth dazzled with another pop of color from a decorative hibiscus. Dining at House Without A Key includes traditional Hawaiian music and hula dancing (By a former Miss Hawaii, no less, who is now in her 60s, but doesn’t look a day over 40. Maybe we should all add hula dancing to our exercise routines).

A Lava Flow is a lot like a pina colada that got hit by a strawberry eruption. Versions include bananas, pineapple, coconut cream, rum and strawberries. It’s an alcoholic dessert that pretends to be a cocktail.  What’s not to love? Prefer a signature Mai Tai? Here's the recipe from House Without a Key: The Halekulani Mai Tai Recipe | Halekulani Hotel

On the second day, we headed early to Pearl Harbor. The rainy weather added to the somber mood as we toured the museums and the USS Arizona Memorial. It is an extremely sad place to visit, but I do recommend it. Tickets are free but you need to plan ahead and reserve them nearly a month prior to the exact date and time you wish to go. 

Learning about the awful history of the U.S. government relocating Japanese-Americans in Hawaii to camps during the 1940s was on my mind as we left the museum. What a long way things have come, as Hawaii now has a large Japanese population and we were surrounded by many Japanese visitors. 

We decided to spend our day driving around the eastern and southern parts of Oahu to sample a variety of sites and experiences. For lunch, we visited Nami Kaze, a James Beard nominated restaurant specializing in Japanese and American cuisine. Sitting adjacent to the same piers where fish is being processed and shipped out, Nami Kaze prepared some of the best sushi I’ve ever had.

Sushi from Nami Kaze included crab, shrimp, tuna and avocado
Sushi from Nami Kaze included crab, shrimp, tuna and avocado

Then we visited the Byodo-In Temple at the Valley of the Temples Memorial Park. It is a replica of a nearly 1,000-year-old temple in Uji, Japan. We walked the grounds, witnessed scampering mongoose and many nene (Hawaiian endangered geese), rang the three ton Bon Sho (sacred bell) and admired the golden Amida Buddha statue as it glimmered in the returning sunshine. The site is extremely peaceful and worth a quick visit if you are in the area.

For great views and some exercise, we pulled over at the Kaiwi State Scenic Shoreline and took a hike with breathtaking views of the ocean on Makapu’u Lighthouse trail. The lighthouse was built in 1909. The constant sea breezes and nicely paved trail made our uphill journey less strenuous, but let’s not kid ourselves, it was not easy doing two miles with a 500-foot elevation (I was already justifying dessert).

Halona Beach Cove, Oahu, Hawaii
Halona Beach Cove, Oahu, Hawaii

Our last scenic stop along the Kalaniana‘ole Highway was at the Halona Blowhole, which is right next to the gorgeous Halona Beach Cove (where the famous scene takes place in “From Here to Eternity" where they roll around in the sand kissing). 

This beach also makes an appearance in the fourth “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie). This was another windy spot and wet if you get too close to the blowhole.

After our fancy hotel dinner on night one, we went for casual dining after our island drive (plus we were definitely not dressed for fine dining after our sweaty lighthouse trail hike). We sat waterside at Kona Brewery where we hit happy hour with the locals and tried a selection of Kona beers. Pulled pork tacos with pineapple salsa were a perfect (and inexpensive!) accompaniment.

To finish, we visited Ululani’s for shave ice. That’s not a typo: if you call it “shaved”, you may be corrected and you will certainly be identified as a tourist. This is not the crunchy brain freeze snow cones you had as a kid. A machine shaves the ice razor-thin and then flavored syrup(s) and toppings of your choice are added. Shave ice is so delicate that it melts instantly in your mouth and feels weightless. For an extra creamy experience, you can add a scoop of ice cream in the middle. I chose ube (a purple yam with a coconutty flavor) ice cream with the Haleakala toppings (leche, coconut and a sweetened condensed milk mixture “snow cap”). Delicious and worth a long uphill hike.


Yoga on the lawn of the Moana Surfrider Hotel, Waikiki Beach, Oahu, Hawaii
Yoga on the lawn of the Moana Surfrider Hotel, Waikiki Beach, Oahu, Hawaii

Time change is hard and waking up way too early would usually be annoying, but it gave me plenty of time to arrive at a rejuvenating beachside yoga class at the Moana Surfrider Hotel. Sun salutations in the Hawaiian sunrise is how I wish I always got to practice yoga. It was the perfect way to start the day, followed by bloody marys and brunch before we headed to the Big Island for the rest of our Hawaiian vacation.

Maholo, Oahu, for a great weekend!

Here's a map of our Oahu driving day, starting with Pearl Harbor and ending back at Waikiki Beach:

map of Oahu, Hawaii with destinations marked


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