Hawaii = Paradise. Surprisingly, this is a phrase I only started to hear after I went away for college. Warm weather, beautiful beaches, lush scenic views, Hawaii is known for being the ultimate vacation spot. Growing up in Hawaii, however, I never quite realized how lucky I was. I always longed for the “city life” (which I did end up loving, hence the move to Tokyo)! The glamour of living in a high-rise apartment, the beautiful city views, and the vibrant hodgepodge of cultures and scenes that seemed to flourish in the city. It seemed like you could do anything in the city. You could be anything you wanted to be.
Hawaii, on the other hand, is a tiny tiny island in the middle of the nowhere, and the local community is even smaller (everyone knows everybody). Within this tight-knit community, there is a strong local culture and it can be very stereotypical at times. Most of the people I know love to surf, fish, and hang out at the beach all day. Everyone is always relaxed and on “island time”, and the typical Hawaii wardrobe consists of slippers (or as mainland people call them, “flip flops”), shorts, t-shirts, and sundresses. Jeans are only used for more “formal” occasions (like going out to a nice restaurant or club) and for “cold” weather (basically anything below 75ºF, hah!)
Unfortunately for me, I am a horrible local person. I have never surfed in my life. On a good year, I go to the beach maybe about once every month or two, and I never swim when I do. I just walk on the sand and look at the water (so sad, I know)! And I consider slippers to be the bane of my existence. I love fashion so it’s kind of depressing when you have cute clothes but no where to wear them to in constant fear of being overdressed.
Despite all of this, I really do love Hawaii, and I always will. Sometimes I tend to take for granted the beauty of Hawaii and the warmth of the local community. It’s one of those things where you don’t cherish it until it’s gone, and I’m just so blessed to have this island as my home. And so, because I’ll leaving in a couple of weeks, I’ve been ☀︎touristing☀︎ in my own home. I know it sounds kind of lame, but I’ll definitely miss it when I’m gone, so I’ve made a mini bucket list of things to do before I leave/some recommendations for you all as well!
1. Local Food. The local food in Hawaii is absolutely amazing. Because Hawaii was the main port for Asian immigrants back in the 1900s, our cuisine has been in influenced by Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Portuguese cooking over the years, and it’s resulted in some pretty delicious dishes such as saimin (similar to ramen), shoyu chicken, locomoco (hamburger, fried egg, and rice served with gravy), spam musubis, and shaved ice, just to name a few.
Also, pancakes. I know! It’s kind of weird, and I’m pretty sure the rest of the U.S. has no idea about this, but Hawaii is becoming internationally famous for its pancakes and waffles. Japanese people love pancakes and waffles and eat them as desserts in Japan. They go all out with their toppings too, adding whipped cream, chocolate syrup, nuts, ice cream, and fresh fruits, and the pancakes are at least an inch thick. While Hawaii pancakes aren’t nearly as dessert-like, they do come with fresh fruits, powdered sugar, and island-flavored macadamia nut and coconut syrups. Plus you can order bacon or portuguese sausage on the side (which you rarely find in Japanese pancake shops). It’s the perfect meal for that lazy Sunday brunch, before you spend the afternoon sipping Blue Hawaii’s and kicking back on the beach, soaking up the sun.
Needless to say, local food is definitely not the healthiest food around, but why not indulge a little while you’re on vacation!
2. Shopping, shopping, shopping! I cannot stress the great bargains we get in Hawaii with a sales tax of 4%.
My shopping picks ♥︎:
☆ Alamoana Shopping Center– Alamoana is a 3-story outdoor shopping center, which has the widest selection of stores on the island. They carry mostly the standard U.S. brands and department stores: Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, Victoria Secret, Gap, etc. There are also a lot of designer and luxury stores: Chanel, Prada, Rolex, etc. Aside from clothing, Big Island Candies, and Honolulu Cookie Company are stores to definitely stop by before you leave. Hawaiian shortbread cookies make excellent omiyage (お土産) or souvenirs! The Honolulu Cookie Company is known for its adorable pineapple shaped shortbread cookies that come in a wide variety of island flavors (pineapple passionfruit mango, Kona coffee, macadamia, etc.) A box of 8 cookies will probably cost around $8, so it’s not too bad (the perfect gift price range).
☆ Waikiki- My second favorite place to shop and my number one place to window shop is in Waikiki. While Waikiki has a few large retailers such as Forever21, Urban Outfitters, and Sephora, I mainly come to Waikiki for its designer deals! T Galleria Hawaii by DFS has some of the best bargains in my opinion. I love it because these stores are all duty-free (no sales tax) so the price you see is the price you pay! Compared to places in Asia where they tack on import prices, you can save as much as 40%. The first and second floors are open to everyone, while the third floor is restricted to international visitors and US citizens holding an international boarding pass, so don’t forget to bring your passport/boarding pass! (Shops include Balenciaga, Burberry, Hermes, Chloe etc.)
Aside from some of the great designer shopping you can accomplish here, Waikiki is also home to many tiny boutique-y stores scattered throughout the streets. Walking down the side streets on Kalakaua Ave. onto Kuhio Ave. you might be able to find some hidden gems along the way! My personal favorites are Genius Outfitters and Pineapple County on Lewers Street. Both have a unique Japanese/American fusion style, which I really love.
☆ Waikele Premium Outlets– Waikele is also great place to shop for bargains. I would go more often, but it’s about 30-40 minutes away from town and if you get stuck in Hawaii rush hour traffic, it can take you over an hour to get out (avoid going from 6am-8am, and 3pm-7pm). While the commute can be horrendous, the deals do make up for it! Waikele includes stores such as Barneys New York Warehouse, Coach, Saks Fifth Avenue OFF 5th, etc. The stores usually hold special sales and events so I would check it out if you get the chance!
3. This may be a given, but Hawaii has a gorgeous night view! It’s definitely a little different than the view of the Seattle or New York skyline, but it doesn’t make it any less romantic!
My scenic picks ♥︎:
☆ The Top of Waikiki– The Top of Waikiki is fine dining restaurant at the top of Waikiki Shopping Plaza. I know a revolving restaurant may sound a little nauseating, but the movements are so slight that you can’t feel it turning at all! Plus you get a gorgeous 360º view of the mountains to the sea.
☆ Diamond Head Lookout- Diamond Head Lookout is right at the base of Diamond Head Crater. It overlooks the ocean, and if you’re lucky, you can get a beautiful view of the full moon above the water at night.
☆ Tantulus- Tantulus has a great view overlooking the Honolulu city lights. Following the winding road, it takes about 5-10 minutes from the base of the mountain to drive to the top. However, I wouldn’t recommend traveling here at night alone. Drifting and loitering are the two main problems at Tantulus, so be careful!
4. Touristing in Haleiwa. The North Shore is a must see place for those visiting the island. I love visiting here for the “Island Vibe” and just to take a break from the city. Haleiwa is considered the country in Hawaii, and it’s about as local as you can get. Not only are the waves are excellent for surfing, but the North Shore is filled with great food (the grilled corn, garlic shrimp trucks, Matsumoto’s shaved ice, and the fresh seafood and fruit are must haves). Plus during the winter, the sunflower fields are in full bloom; perfect for a photo opt.
Tip♥︎: On your way to Haleiwa, I would suggest passing by the Dole Pineapple Plantation and driving through the acres of pineapple fields!
5. Skydiving, hiking, and other outdoor/water sports! While I’m not a huge fan of these, for all those adrenaline junkies out there, skydiving, parachuting, swimming with sharks etc., are just a few of the extreme activities offered in Hawaii. Kualoa Ranch (where Jurassic Park was filmed) offers zip-lining, horseback riding, ATV riding, movie tours etc. Of course, the standard surfing, kayaking, snorkeling, and hiking are all popular outdoor activities, and you can rent most of your equipment from little rental shacks set up along the beach.
6. Lounge around in the resort hotels in Waikiki. My all-time favorite activity is to sip an iced tea or cocktail at an outdoor hotel bar, lay back, and watch the sunset, while chatting away with my girl friends. I definitely recommend walking around the hotels in Waikiki even if you aren’t staying in one. A lot of the hotels have little boutiques and fun outdoor bars and restaurants along the beach. Many restaurants will also have live music (maybe some hula dancers too!) The resort hotels in Waikiki are so beautiful and it would definitely be worth while to check them out. Who knows, you might find a hotel for your next visit!
My hotel picks♥︎:
☆ Halekolani– The Halekolani is probably the most upscale hotel in Waikiki. The elegant and classy decor makes it a perfect wedding venue. The Halekolani is also known for its fine dining restaurants within the hotel; however, my personal favorite is House Without a Key, a more casual outdoor restaurant with a great view of the ocean. They normally have live Hawaiian music, so it’s a perfect place to relax, have a drink, and enjoy the view!
☆ Hilton Hawaiian Village- Although the Hilton Hawaiian Village is probably the most out-of-the-way hotel in Waikiki, it makes up for it in its massive size. The Hilton Hawaiian Village has everything. There’s the beach (with a lagoon and pool), a shopping center, great places to eat, and it even has its own wedding chapel. The only complaint I have, is that the penguins can be quite loud at night. Yes, the Hilton Hawaiian Village has penguins (and turtles), and I don’t know if any of you have ever heard a penguin squawk before, but it is not a pleasant sound.
Tip♥︎: Every Friday night the Hilton Hawaiian Village also hosts a firework show! My personal recommendation is to pick up food beforehand, bring a blanket, have dinner on the beach while the sun sets, and then watch the fireworks show at 7:00pm!
☆ Sheraton- The Sheraton will always have a special place in my heart, mainly because it was where my high school prom was held. I also used to frequent here often in high school. My friends and I would buy an ice cream (they have a Baskin Robbins in the hotel), then lounge on the hammocks overlooking the sea.
8. Lastly. This is for everyone out there who is completely unfamiliar with the Hawaiian language: Mahalo means thank you, not trash! “Mahalo” is written on all the our trashcans so visitors often get confused and assume it means trash (although I do find this quite adorable and amusing, haha!)
Anyway, these are just some of my personal favorite activities to do on the island/my mini-bucket list of things to do before I leave. Although I’m excited to be moving to a huge city like Tokyo in a couple of weeks, apart of me will always miss Hawaii. Hawaii will forever be my home, and I’ll always be an island girl at heart ♥︎!