Hawaii is the home of good vibes and big waves, a tropical oasis full of treasures. Just like Bali, you can lounge, surf, explore and eat your way through the island… so we totally did! If you're comparing magical getaways, I have a Bali travel guide too! Honestly, you can't go wrong, both islands are beautiful beyond belief. When we got our tickets to Honolulu I was bursting with ideas and adventures, I wanted to see and do it all. We would need so much longer than a week to properly explore all the islands that make up Hawaii though.
We decided instead of dipping our toes in a piece of The Big Island, Kauai, Maui, and Oahu, we would submerge into the full Oahu experience.
In Oahu, you get a taste of everything, the bustle of Waikiki, the city of Honolulu, and the remote beaches of the North Shore. We laced up our shoes for hiking, put on our sun hats for Mai Tai's by the pool, tried our hand at surfing – I even caught a wave! – and.... slept on the North Shore beaches in our vintage Volkswagen van, Mango! My favorite thing about Hawaii is the unique experience we had there, nothing is quite like it!
OAHU | NORTH OR SOUTH
The north and south sides of Oahu are like night and day. The North Shore is rural, full of food trucks, big waves, and hidden treasures. The South is busier (definitely more of a tourist feel) with beginner surfing waves, rad restaurants, mopeds, and resorts. The best part is, they are only about an hour away from each other- two if you take the scenic route – and you should! I RECOMMEND YOU SPEND SOME TIME AT THE NORTH AND SOUTH SHORES- THE BEST OF BOTH WORLDS.
WHERE TO STAY ON THE NORTH SHORE
In a vintage van, of course, meet Mango! One of the coolest experiences I've ever had, hands down. We had the freedom to cruise around with everything we needed. No need to go back to the hotel or pack a beach bag, Mango had it all! Waking up to the sound of waves and putting on a pot of hot water to sip coffee with the side door open and a beach breeze coming in was pretty epic. What more do you need? A shower you might think, yes that would have been nice. We stayed in the van for two nights and it was perfect. If you know me, I love a little luxury, so I was ready for a hot shower and fluffy bed after our stay. I do highly recommend giving it a try, especially if you're low maintenance (this is a real campers dream) for us; it was a dreamy experience and I wouldn't trade for a lavish hotel. I'll never forget driving around Hawaii, camping on the beach, and living in a van with my friends
*I don’t recommend getting an Airbnb while in Hawaii, it’s very frowned upon with its negative effect on the housing industry for island locals. You can learn more here if you’re curious!
CAMPING DO'S AND DON'TS | FOR MANGO
Do get a campsite for the night. Pulling off to the side of the road isn't really legal or safe. Camp sights fill up fast though so book in advance if you can. We stayed at Malaekahana Beach, spot #5 is the best!
Do know how to drive a stick shift. The van is a manual transmission- with no labels or gear pockets– it's old school! We had a little learning curve ourselves but if you've driven one before you'll get the hang of it.
Don't expect to be in a new pimped out ride, it's vintage! There are broken handles and it might break down or have some issues. We got stranded one afternoon for an hour but honestly, the surprises are half the fun and make a more memorable adventure.
WHERE TO STAY IN THE SOUTH | WAIKIKI BEACH
Oh, the options. This area is pack full of gorgeous hotels to fulfill your resort cravings. We stayed at a brand spankin new hotel right on Waikiki beach, Alohilani Resort (technically across the street, the infinity pool overlooks the beach but isn't on it.) There is white everywhere – my favorite– and the rooftop pool and restaurant were wonderful! You get complimentary Mai Tai's when you arrive too, a hotel after my own heart. That's always the first thing I want to do after I check in; unpack, change and hit the pool for a festive cocktail. Everything was beautiful and I would absolutely stay there again.
A quiet beach on the North Shore of Oahu. There is a big rock just to left you'll see daring souls (not myself) jumping off, into the beautiful blue waters. It's a lovely beach with mild and fun waves!
The absolute biggest waves I have ever seen! Come to find out – after swimming in and tossed around by them– this beach has the most deaths, oops! The waves are HUGE and crash right on the shore, so you'll get slammed if you're not careful. I could have sat there all day though with the bright teal waves crashing into the rocks. We brought our surfboard, but needless to say, these were not surfing waves! Sandy Beach is longer and busier, but the best and least crowded area is all the way to the right (toward the cliffs) you'll hopefully find your own little oasis.
Sunny with warm and welcoming vibes, this beach is for the visitors! I normally shy away from busy tourist areas, but Waikiki Beach was lovely and the waves were calling my name. You can rent surf and paddleboards there too (great beginner surfing waves!) It cost about $20 to rent for an hour and $5 for each hour after, cash only!
HIKING & WATERFALLS
This was the only hike we made it to, but boy were the views spectacular! We just went up to the first and second landing areas, where you could see over both sides of the ridge. Beautiful Hawaiian views! The climb up isn't hard (if you're remotely in shape) but it is super muddy and slippery. Wear your sneakers and be extra careful, especially if it's windy. It's a bit unsettling when you're on the ridge with a strong gust of wind.
DIAMOND HEAD | PILL BOX HIKE | MINOA FALLS
We hit a wind advisory on our boating day, womp womp…such a sad moment. Boating and seeing the beauty of Hawaii from the sandbars of crystal blue waters was at the top of my bucket list. I didn’t get to snag that fun experience, but hopefully, you can! We were going to head out with a local boater – recommended by another lovely Hawaiian blogger-his name is Morgan, you can find and message him on Instagram here (@morganhalas)!
HO’OMALUHIA BOTANICAL GARDENS | GOLFING | KUONA RANCH
If you're hanging in Waikiki for a day or two, these babies are AWESOME! I'm a sucker for their color selection too, white and mint- picture perfect. We drove them up the coast, to breakfast, and around the block for a joy ride or two.
WHERE TO EAT
As I’m sure you know by now, this is my favorite way to travel. With a fork! Fresh fruits and local specialties give me endless heart eyes. My healthy eating habits go straight out the window when I’m on vacation, I’m immediately on the hunt for tasty, unique, colorful and just all around YUM! Hawaii did not disappoint. I was drooling over every food truck we strolled up to –there are tons around the North Shore if you have time to stop! Waikiki has some good options too, I don’t remember the names but there are two next to each other specializing in tacos and hotdogs and oh. my. gosh. they were amazing. I have all my favorite Hawaiian foodie stops just below so you can fill up on all the good eats while you’re in town!
I absolutely love this spot! It’s a cozy, Hawaiin chic rooftop restaurant. Cocktails and poké bowls are top notch! Great place to spend the evening for a fun night out with good views, vibes, and eats.
THE SUNRISE SHACK
I know it’s a shack, but The Sunrise Shack was honestly smaller than I thought. Right along the main east coast road up to the North Shore, just off to the left you’ll see this little yellow gem. The bullet coffee was THE BEST I’ve ever had and it was a great stop to fill up on fresh healthy foods. Straight from the shack!
OLIVE & OLIVER (IN THE SURFJACK HOTEL)
Darling little coffee shop with a killer matcha latte! From the tiles to the take-away cups everything is pattern perfect. It’s just inside The Surfjack Hotel (which has a pool that actually says “wish you were here” in the bottom- love it!) Swing by for a coffee, sit by the pool or walk on over to the restaurant for a spectacular brunch – that’s what we did!
MAHINA AND SUNS (IN THE SURFJACK HOTEL)
The full brunch spread below is from this restaurant. The staff was just as fun and good as the food too, big fan! We enjoyed everything we ordered but we were all most impressed with the Pork Adobo Fried Rice Bowl, it had all the good stuff
THE ROYAL HAWAIIN – PINK PALACE OF THE PACIFIC
The infamous pink hotel settled right on Waikiki Beach. They have pink everything, yes, even pancakes! It’s a fun spot, but take a peek at the menu before going, most dishes are around $20.
ARNOLDS BEACH BAR
Hawaiian tiki bar…check! A local Waikiki gem – thanks to a recommendation from our server at Mahina and Suns. Strong drinks, live music, and best of all… free popcorn! I was sold after spotting the popcorn machine in the back and the drink specialties scribbled in chalk for $6, dreamy!
ISLAND VINTAGE COFFEE
Yum, yum, yum! We discovered Hawaii’s all natural purple bread here, wild! It’s called taro and while it tastes the same, it sure does spice up the beauty of a classic bagel. Grab some smoothie bowls for the beach or a spot if you can find one and enjoy!
You’ll see this spot on most Oahu travel guides. It’s a lovely coffee and flower shop in the heart of Honolulu. The avocado toast and lavender coffee were just perfect, grab a table outside or order at the takeaway window!
I’m pretty open about my donut obsession, always on the hunt for a good pastry. Leonard’s is famous in Honolulu for their Hawaiin style donuts called malsadas and I can confirm, they are pretty darn good! I had 3 myself… oops!
PHOTOS BY ASHLEY BROWN | SHINING LIGHT PHOTOGRAPHY
Mahalo for reading! I hope this travel guide helps you create a beautiful and unique adventure of your very own.
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