By Jacqueline Roberts
Hawaii is made up of 8 major islands with the state’s capital, Honolulu, being located on the island of Oahu. With Hawaii being located close to the equator you are almost always guaranteed perfect weather no matter the season: perfect for Chicagoans who want to escape our everso fluctuating weather patterns!
While all of the Hawaiian islands are beautiful, each carrying their own unique magic, visiting the island of Oahu is perfect for families and couples alike. The city of Honolulu carries similar features of any other city with carefully groomed parks, shopping centers and restaurants, so while it is an island, keep in mind it has its own beautiful qualities such as Chicago with our Lakefront and New York with Central Park. Honolulu’s Waikiki is in particular the most famous beach and contains qualities that feel similar to Michigan Ave in terms of its proximity to the beach, the types of hotels, restaurants and shopping.
Plenty of hotels are located on the Waikiki Strip and in particular I would recommend the Alohilani Resort. It is located just two minutes from the beach and offers partial ocean views which ends up being beautiful with half of the balcony facing the ocean and the other half of the balcony facing the lush green volcanic mountains. What a view to wake up to!
(click to watch video of view)
There are plenty of beach days to be had while visiting the island of Oahu and while Waikiki might be the most famous beach, it is the most crowded. Sunset and Waimea Beach are both located on the North Shore, so a bit of a commute, but are totally worth the effort to escape the Waikiki crowds and live closer to the local standards.
Early Morning View of Waikiki Beach
In terms of transportation, renting a car would certainly make it easier to see more of the island as a whole, but with Uber and Lyft these days it’s easy to get around without a car if driving on vacation is not your forte. Bikes are also an option if you plan to only stay in the city. Similar to Chicago and our divvy bikes, Honolulu has 100+ locations of BIKI bikes that are easy to rent and use to get from place to place.
Shopping is a must while visiting Honolulu. The Ala Moana shopping center has more than 350+ stores ranging from luxury to casual necessities. It’s interestingly enough owned by the same people who run the Oakbrook Mall and Water Tower Shops.
If going to the beach and shopping aren’t the types of activities you are looking for then maybe some of these other activities will peak your interest instead.
The Iolani Palace is a great place to educate yourself about Hawaiian History. Walk through the gorgeous Palace landscape and surround yourself with the Queen’s jewels. So much to see and learn about here.
The Honolulu Zoo is perfect for kids. You can explore all the exhibits that the zoo has to offer and even book a twilight tour which would be magical to watch the animals prepare for bedtime as the sun sets on Oahu.
As long as you are comfortable swimming in the ocean and riding on a boat, a snorkel trip is an absolute must when you visit Hawaii . All Hawaiian islands have snorkeling offered, but Oahu is famous for its sea turtle snorkeling trips. Most trips range in time and price so doing a little research to find the best snorkeling fit for you is important in order to get the experience you are looking for.
Green Sea Turtle
View Coming Back From Snorkeling Trip
Diamond Head trails are great for travelers who are looking to hike and remain outdoorsy on land. Hike to the top for great views of the island.
Kapiolani Community College Farmer’s Market: Support local Hawaiian farmers and businesses by buying and tasting their products. This market happens on Saturdays so make sure to get there early.
Acai Smoothie Bowl From Farmer’s Market
The Byodo-In temple is a non-functioning temple, however, it is a replica of the Buddhist temple in Kyoto, Japan. It was commissioned to be built in 1968 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the first Japanese immigrants to settle in Hawaii. Located in the mountains of Oahu, this temple is stunning and draws in bounties of peace. It is said if you ring the bell it will bring you peace, happiness, and blessings for a long life. Who doesn’t want that?! Go ring that bell…
Byodo- In Temple
Buddha Inside Byodo-In Temple
Now, if you still can’t find an activity to suit you, maybe eating will be your thing! There are so many high quality restaurants on the island. Due to the high Japanese population in Hawaii, there are lots of great restaurants that pride themselves in Japanese cuisine. But don’t worry, there are still some American favorites too.
Tommy Bahamas: Right in the middle of Waikiki this restaurant ticks all the boxes. Service is great, fresh bread and homemade whipped butter are served to your table as a starter and the menu ranges from the fresh catch of the day all the way to steak and mashed potatoes. Dessert is great too- key lime pie and Hawaiian crème brûlée are the two must haves!
Ramen Nakamura: Conveniently located right next door to Tommy Bahama’s, this restaurant is authentically japanese. Picture an American Diner with its high top counters and busy service schedule with an authentic Japanese service and cuisine. There are only three different meals that are served, potstickers, multiple types of ramen, and fried rice. While the menu is limited you kind of want it to be because the one thing you order will be delicious and it saves you the worry of feeling like you missed out on another great item. This restaurant is famous for its oxtail ramen. Picture a beef soup bone ladled into a giant bowl of homemade broth fixed with sprouts, celery, pickled bamboo, noodles, garlic, and so much other goodness. An absolute favorite of mine. In fact, I went there twice on my week-long trip!
Roy’s Steakhouse: Located on the North Shore as well as downtown Honolulu, this restaurant is an American Steakhouse with a Hawaiian-Japanese flair. While it is a steakhouse I have never ordered anything but fish. Every fish dish is luxurious, specifically their famous butter fish. While it is pricey, it is worth it. It is a true dining experience. Reservations are highly encouraged.
The Butter Fish
View Outside of Roy’s
Eggs n Things: For some reason finding breakfast without a line out the door is difficult in Waikiki. But if you have to wait in line for hours this line is worth it. A true breakfast joint, this kitchen is pumping out multiple types of pancakes and syrups. For instance there is guava syrup, coconut syrup and of course maple syrup, but it is the pancakes that are the star of the show. The pineapple pancakes are fluffy and sweet, with a touch of acidity at the end from the tart pineapple and are the perfect island start to your day. Not to mention the view while eating breakfast is incredible.
View of Waikiki Beach From Our Table
Pineapple Banana Pancakes
Hopefully, I have convinced you to visit Hawaii! There are so many activities and places to visit that this guide is just the beginning! In fact, the best part of vacation is exploring your destination and stumbling across places you didn’t even plan to visit or eat at- vacation magic! Welcome to island time and enjoy your exploration of the Hawaiian islands. Mahalo!