In January 2018, we spent a long weekend on Oahu to seek some sun and warmth as a break from Seattle’s winter. In contrast to our past Hawaii trips to Kauai, the Big Island, and Maui, this was a relaxed vacation, with just a few short hikes and a good amount of time reading on beaches and in other beautiful places. Oh, and a chance of missiles.
We arrived in Honolulu a little after 1pm, collected our bags, and picked up our rental car from the airport. We first drove to our hotel, the Hilton Garden Inn Waikīkī Beach (Booking.com | Hotels.com).
After checking in, we set out to wander Waikiki and find some food. We found our first bit of food — paella from Pindan Foods — at the Kings Village Farmers Market. Paella in hand, we wandered down to the beach to eat and enjoy the warmth. It was delicious.
After we ate, we walked the coast as far as the War Memorial Natatorium and Kaimana Beach, where we enjoyed sunset and then turned around.
Sharing one paella meant that we were hungry again by the time we were done with our walk. We headed to Maguro Brothers, a street side stand known for good poke. After a short wait, we ordered a poke and some donburi to share; both were fantastic. Full and happy — and still on Seattle time — we went back to the hotel to get some sleep.
Saturday January 13
The next day, we woke up and ate breakfast at the hotel. The buffet was ample — lots of choices, some of them good, though none particularly great. After breakfast, we went back to our room to get ready to head out.
As we got ready, the hotel PA system came on and told us that because of the “situation” we should stay in our rooms until further notice. Neither of us had any idea what they were talking about, and so we both picked up our phones which we had left charging. An emergency alert read: “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.”
Sometime in the preceding days, I had read an article about North Korea’s missile tests and what to do. I had half-formed the thought that perhaps we should get in the bathtub when I noticed the time. The alert had been sent seven minutes prior, so… any threat should have arrived. As we searched and looked at Tweets, the story of the false alert started to come together.
We followed the news enough to satisfy our curiosity, and let sufficient time pass to recover from our adrenaline surge, before picking up with our plans for the day. We first headed east, stopping at various views and beaches. At Sandy Beach, we took a short walk. Further along, at Waimanalo Beach, we had a longer pause and read for a while.
We reached Kailua in time for a late lunch at Kono’s. Kyle and I shared a pork plate and sliders, mud milkshake, and guava lemonade. Thinking back on it now, my mouth is watering.
From Kono’s, we drove to Lanikai for the Pillbox Hike, also known as the Kaiwa Ridge trail. Despite cloudy weather, it was a busy day. It took us a bit to find parking, but we soon started the climb up the ridge. We found it to be fairly straightforward — definitely a steady climb, but only about 600′. I’d imagine that on rainy days, the social trails could get muddy and slippery, but fortunately the route was dry.
All along the exposed ridge, we enjoyed the views, especially bits of golden light cutting through the grey clouds. We went as far as the third pillbox. Most people seemed to turn back at the second, so we found some quiet along this stretch. At the third pillbox, a trail descends the other direction, but we turned around back toward our car.
Once down, we took Highway 61 back to Waikīkī. After several orbits, we found parking and dropped our things at the hotel. For dinner, we headed to happy hour at the O Bar. Despite being a hotel bar–which we usually try to avoid–we thought their happy hour was a pretty good deal.
Sunday January 14
In the morning, after breakfast, we headed to the Kukaniloko Birthing Stones, which I remembered as a peaceful spot from a previous solo trip. We enjoyed a leisurely walk around the grounds before continuing along our way.
We next stopped at Pua’ena Point Beach Park in Haleiwa. Here, we walked along the coast, poking at various tide pools as we went. After an hour or so of wandering, we returned to the car to continue along the coast.
From here, the North Shore traffic started picking up, as did our hunger. We stopped first at the Aji Limo food truck for some tasty fish tacos and then at Ted’s Bakery to pick up a slice of their famous choco cream pie.
While in line for the pie, we debated our afternoon plans. Rather than sit in traffic between various destinations, we decided we’d rather sit on the beach and enjoy the afternoon. We stopped along the Bonzai Pipeline. We found a comfortable, partly shaded spot, and got out our books. Until sunset, we alternated between reading, napping, and wading in the ocean. I’m not normally a beach person, but I really enjoyed the relaxing afternoon and crashing waves. We also ate the pie. Verdict: very good, but I’d prefer Leoda’s pies, from our trip to Maui, any day.
After sunset, we headed back toward Waikīki, searching Yelp for dinner options. Yelp guided us to the Hi-BBQ food truck in Kahuku. We arrived just as they were closing. Initially, we were concerned they might be sold out, but this turned into our lucky day: while some sides and mains were gone, they gave us an incredibly-sized portion of delicious ribs for an equally incredibly good deal.
We ate what we could there. I’d estimate that was only about half the ribs, and so we packed up the rest to take back to the hotel. Back in Waikīki, we did several parking orbits and, in our food coma, called it an early night.
Monday January 15
On Monday, we got up before sunrise to head to Diamond Head, a volcanic cone with extensive fortifications. I’d visited Diamond Head on previous trips, and I enjoy it best at dawn, when the light casts magical shadows and it is not too crowded.
We arrived at little after sunrise. We were surprised to find the parking lot and trails already busy, but we still had no trouble with parking. Kyle and I enjoyed the hike and took our time at the various views and fortifications.
We got down in time to stop at the hotel for breakfast. Following breakfast, we drove to the northwest corner of Oahu to hike to Ka’ena Point. On previous trips, I had hiked in from Mokulēʻia, so we decided to switch it up and approach from the Waiʻanae Coast, to the point’s southeast.
From the parking lot on the Waiʻanae Coast, it’s about a two and a half mile hike along an old road. I’d say it is a tossup which route more scenic. I think I enjoyed the landscapes more on the route from Mokulēʻia, but the seascapes more from Waiʻanae. These included a large arch and a few blowholes.
Whichever route you follow leads you to the point, where a large area has been fenced off from predators. This provides safe nesting habitat for Laysan Albatrosses. We were happy to find many present at the point, both nesting and soaring. At the tide pools, we also saw a monk seal.
After our hike, we headed back to Waikīki. We picked up some King’s Hawaiian rolls (why are they so good?) at a grocery store. Combined with leftover rib meat, we made delicious sliders for a delicious and inexpensive dinner.
After dinner, we walked along the beach before ending up at the Mai Tai Bar at the Royal Hawaiian. I was a little concerned–would it be good, or would it be a tourist rip-off? To our delight, each of the mai tais we ordered was really good. We were paying a premium for the history and the location, but it made for a relaxing evening.
Tuesday January 16
On Tuesday, we headed toward the Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail after breakfast. This made for a lovely morning walk with good views, including one whale off in the distance.
From there, we went to the Spitting Cave of Portlock and the China Wall. Nestled behind the the residential neighborhood of Portlock, the coast here is different from other bits of coast I have seen on Oahu and elsewhere in Hawaii. Here, the rock is worn smooth, in layers that almost resemble something you might see in the southwest. We enjoyed a leisurely stay on the rocks. A less leisurely snorkeler jumped into the water in front of the cave. The drop offs are steep: people have fallen (or dove) to their deaths at the spot. If you visit, you should take care, especially with kids.
After our stop on the coast, we stopped for shave ice and then went to the Nu‘Uanu Pali Lookout along highway 61. Unfortunately, this side of the island had clouded up, limiting our views.
After a relatively short stop, we continued southwest. Here, we found sunnier skies, and so we headed toward Tantalus Lookout. We arrived in time to catch dusk and a bright orange sunset, with great views to Diamond Head, Waikīkī, and Honolulu.
Once the sun slipped below the ocean, we turned our attention to dinner. Reviews directed us toward Fresh Ahi Off the Boat in Honolulu. We had a surprisingly hard time finding the restaurant, but once we did, we were rewarded with a fantastic and cheap dinner, including a great poke bowl, a tasty ahi rice bowl, and some tasty sashimi.
After dinner, we headed to the airport, where we returned the rental car and returned home on redeye flights.
Where we stayed
Overall, our stay had a lot of nice touches:
- the staff were helpful and friendly.
- the room was clean and comfortable, and reasonably spacious. We had a king deluxe (king bed plus sofa). The room also had a coffee table that could raise to a desk height.
- our room (on the west end of a higher floor) had a decent partial ocean, partial city, and partial mountain view.
- the balcony, though not large, was more than enough room for two people to read and relax.
- the breakfast worked well for us. We liked the choice between a full buffet + cooked to order omelettes and grab-and-go from the market, and appreciated the long hours (6a-11am).
Unfortunately, there are a couple of hotel characteristics that interfered with the quality of our stay, and these were outside of the control of the great staff. The elevators seemed to have serious maintenance issues (at one time, 3 out of 5 were out of service); this made for long waits and long and crowded elevator rides.
Additionally, the hotel seems to have been built with doors with large gaps between them and the doorframe. We’d be awakened by the slamming of doors starting around 5am and could not get back to sleep — some better sound isolation would go a long way here.
If the hotel could fix these two issues, we’d recommend it enthusiastically — good value, good location, comfortable rooms, and great staff. Unfortunately, the elevators kept us from using our time well, and the noise kept the vacation from being as relaxing as it should have been.
View my full set of photos on Flickr.