Travel Recommendations: Hawaii

So, Hawaii ruined a lot of things for us. Particularly food.

Oh, it’s not that serious. It’s just that we had Such. Great. Food! while we were over there that we’ve had trouble getting used to being back. That isn’t to say that food back here is awful. It’s just that the food we had in Hawaii was so good that we’ve been daydreaming about it since we’ve been back.

I figured I’d do the standard post-trip run-down of the places we visited, things we ate, and stuff we saw while we were there.

Food:
On Oahu
Cheeseburger Beach Walk
226 Lewers Street L200, Honolulu, HI
It took us a ridiculously long time to get our rental car at the airport and head to our hotel. By the time we got to the hotel, we hadn’t eaten in some time and we were all extremely hungry. We headed over to the Beach Walk, which was right around the corner from our hotel, and grabbed delicious cheeseburgers. I’m not usually one for pineapple on my burger, but wow.

Cream Pot
444 Niu Street (lobby floor of the Hawaiian Monarch Bldg), Honolulu, HI
We went here for breakfast on our first full day on Oahu, and it perfectly set the tone for an awesome amazing day with Robert and Mom. We each got a different dish: I got one of their savory crepes, Mom got souffle pancakes, and Robert got an eggs benedict made with sushi rice, and raw ahi tuna. He has since said that all other eggs benedicts are ruined for him now. By the by, I found this place through a random search of Google maps.

Famous Kahuku Shrimp Truck
56-565 Kamehameha Hwy, Kahuhu, HI
I stopped here the first time I went to Hawaii. I had originally thought of going to Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck, which is in the same general area, but on the other side of the sugar plantation area. So glad I went here instead. I was worried, when I took Mom and Robert there, that things would have changed. I can happily say it’s still as good as I remember it. I highly recommend asking for a half and half order of coconut shrimp and garlic shrimp. That way you get the best of both. Also, they put the garlic butter on the rice.

BBQ Corn (formerly Uncle Woody’s)
BBQ corn is a popular food item on the islands. Most places offer a standard butter-and-salt variety, which is normally what I would opt for (I’m from Ohio…I generally want to emphasize the corn itself). They offer three flavor options: Island (butter, sea salt, garlic salt, black pepper), Baja (butter, mayo,  lemon lime juice, baja seasonings, parmesan cheese), and Shoyu (butter and soy sauce). I also stopped here the first time I was in Hawaii. The Island option is a little more than I normally want on my corn, but highly recommended. Robert enjoyed the Shoyu corn.

Fruit and Smoothies truck
Located at the same covered dining area as Giovanni’s shrimp truck in Kahuku, this food truck (which I forgot to grab the name of) specializes in fresh fruit, fresh smoothies, and ice cold coconuts. We originally intended to get a coconut, but they were all out, so we opted for half a pineapple with some li hing mui (salty plum) powder on it. We’d never heard of it, but Mom and Robert both loved it. Also, the inside of the truck smells deliciously of all kinds of fresh fruit.

Wailana Coffee House 
1860 Ala Moana Blvd., Honolulu, HI
This diner generally has a little bit of a line, but rest assured that line moves swiftly and it’s worth the wait. Good food for great value. I recommend their macadamia nut pancakes with coconut syrup, or their Moby Dick fish and chips.

BBQ Corn Stand
at the Dole Plantation
I don’t think that this place has an official name, but it is incredibly easy to find. Just walk out of the front of the Dole Plantation and hang a right. There’s a fruit and corn stand off to the side, with a few picnic tables nearby. You can get four ears of corn for about $15, which means you can try almost all of their flavors. Robert’s favorite had soy sauce and furikake (seaweed crumbles) on it, while mine had lime, mayo, chili powder, garlic salt and a few other things I can’t remember. It was, hands-down, the best corn we had in Hawaii.

Heavenly Island Lifestyle 
342 Seaside Avenue, Honolulu, HI
Sadly, we went to this place after both Cream Pot and Kahuku Shrimp Truck, so our opinion of most of the food was colored by our other delicious meals. The food here is still pretty good, but what we really recommend is getting dessert. Go for the Hawaiian ginger creme brulee. You can thank me later.

Goofy Cafe & Dine 
1831 Ala Moana Blvd #201, Honolulu, HI
Again, there is always a wait for this place, but I also think it’s worth it. It actually took us two different days to get a table. I had originally brought Robert and Mom here on our first morning on Oahu, but we ended up going to Wailana instead. We finally got in on our last morning in Honolulu, before we had to head to the airport. Like the best places in Hawaii, their menu is sourced locally and seasonally, and the cafe does a good job of telling their customers where everything has come from. Get their Big Island honey French toast (I recommend the local dark chocolate lava variation).

On the Big Island 
L&L Hawaiian Barbecue 
Okay. Real talk. We really tried to avoid chains while we were in Hawaii. This was an exception, but there’s a little note with that exception. Technically, this place is a chain. However, it’s a Hawaiian chain. Meaning it started in Hawaii and has started to branch out to other places. I looked up their list of locations, and was amused that they have a location in Anchorage. The food was AMAZING. So good that we actually went here twice (two different locations, on two different days). Their galbi ribs were fantastic. I am hoping they make it out to the DC Metro area soon.

Mehe’s Ka’u Bar & Grill 
92-8754 Hawaii Blvd., Ocean View, HI
We were staying in Pahala while on the Big Island, so there weren’t a whole lot of options for dinner nearby. Ocean View is a little bit of a drive from where we were staying, but the drive is nice and the reviews recommended the fish and chips. So did our waiter. So Mom and I both ordered the fish and chips. At Mehe’s, the fish and chips are made with a fish called ono (also known as a wahoo). The texture of the fish was unexpected – it was more like chicken, and the taste was great. Would highly recommend.

Punalu’u Bake Shop Visitor Center
Route 11, Na’alehu, HI
This is probably the closest food place to where we were staying on the Big Island. There are screened windows all along the side of the bakery’s kitchen, so you can peer inside and watch the bakers working. They even have some helpful signs hanging up above each specialized section, informing visitors about said sections. The air outside and in smells heavenly, and the bake shop offers a nice selection of both baked goods, salads, and sandwiches. We planned ahead and picked up a small box of malasadas for the next day’s breakfast, as well as some souvenirs from the visitor center side of the store.

Flyin’ Hawaiian Coffee
95-5668 State Highway 11, Na’alehu HI
When we stopped at the Na’alehu farmers market, we also tried out Flyin’ Hawaiian Coffee, which is run from a food truck parked near the town’s Methodist church. I had a wonderful chat with the baristas while we waited for our drinks, and we looked through our recently-acquired bird books while we sipped delicious our delicious chais and mochas. We liked them so much we made a point of going back later that week.

Ken’s House of Pancakes
1730 Kamehameha Avenue, Hilo, HI
I love this kind of diner. A wide menu with something for everyone, lots of Hawaii-specific meal options, and the floor tiles/table tops reflect the years of popularity.

Humpy’s Big Island Alehouse 
75-5815 Alii Drive, Kailua-Kona, HI
You know when you are so hungry that you can’t even think straight, and any minute you’re going to sit down in the middle of a parking lot and cry because you’re surrounded by a bunch of food places but can’t figure out how to actually get food? No? That’s just me? Okay. [No jokes here, folks. That actually happens to me, more often than it should.] After snorkeling at Kahalu’u, we were famished. It took a bit of wandering, but we finally ended up here, where we took a table overlooking Alii Drive and the ocean. We each ordered something different off the menu, and everything was delicious. I highly recommend the BBQ Kalua Pork stone-baked sub. I generally dislike coleslaw of every type, but their lilikoi coleslaw was amazing. (Mom and Robert ordered the North Shore shrimp plate and the True Hawaiian pizza).

Three-headed selfie in front of the rainbow eucalyptus tree. PS: I made my shirt and Mom’s hat.

Sightseeing: 
On Oahu 
Dole Plantation
64-1550 Kamehameha Hwy, Wahiawa, HI
We went with the whole experience: train ride, maze, and garden. Well, Mom sat out the maze, but Robert and I went through it. There was a bit of a wait for the train when we went – about an hour – which isn’t great when you’re standing in the sun, but thankfully it didn’t take too terribly long to get up under the little shelter. And having a Dole whip float in hand (pineapple sorbet and pineapple juice) goes a long way towards helping to beat the heat. A little before we got on the train, a quick shower came through, which helped to cool everything down. The train ride circles the outside of the entire plantation, and you get to see pineapple plants, banana trees, papaya, cacao, and a number of other things that they used to grow on the plantation, as well as a quick history of the pineapple industry. Nothing in-depth, and obviously skirting around the less juicy tidbits (har har) about how American businessmen took over Hawaii in the first place, but that’s kind of to be expected. It’s sort of a Disney version of a pineapple plantation, so don’t go expecting to hear about the actual lives of the plantation workers.

I will say, though, I found the gardens quite lovely. The three of us probably spent way more time in them than most other folks who wander in — this seems pretty par for the course when we go places with a historic or scientific focus. Google tells me that most people spend 1.5 hours here…we spent about 5 or 6 hours there, and we had to hurry at the end. Also, they have the most beautiful rainbow eucalyptus trees out front.

Halona Blowhole and Beach Cove
My family plays a bit of a game called “Hey! I’ve been there!” when watching movies and television. It’s simple, really. You just watch whatever you’re watching and, when a scene comes on that is in a distinct, identifiable location — say, the Washington Monument, or Mount Rushmore, or the Golden Gate Bridge, or the Badlands — you shout out “Hey! I’ve been there!” We find it endlessly amusing. I’m sure other folks don’t. (However! both my brother-in-law and Robert have started doing the same when watching stuff with us. It’s an easy game). Anyhoo, that game is the reason I made sure to take Mom and Robert here. Remember that scene from “From Here to Eternity”? You know, where they’re rolling around in the surf, ignoring the fact that they are probably going to get sand into very uncomfortable places, or that the tide might rip them out into the ocean? Yeah, that scene was shot here. It was also used for a scene in 50 First Dates, as well, and apparently stood in as “Whitecap Bay” from the Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides movie (which I haven’t seen).

Kalama Beach Park
Now, the weblink I’ve posted above includes the following description:

Kalama’s gentle waves make it a great beach for beginner surfers and body boarders.

I laughed when I read that, because that wasn’t our experience at the beach park. Well, maybe Robert. Mom and I spent most of our time being thrown to the ground and dragged to and fro against the sandy bottom by some fairly strong waves. I laughed the entire time, but we were exhausted by the end. Plus, there was SO. MUCH. SAND in my suit and other places by the end. So, I recommend the park, but make sure you check the tides schedule before you go.

Kualoa Regional Park 
49-479 Kamehameha Hwy, Kaneohe, HI
This is my current mental happy place. When the world is too loud, or hectic, or sad, I close my eyes and imagine myself back here. It has been my mental happy place since I first visited it, during my first trip to Oahu, and I desperately needed to take Mom and Robert here during our trip. I kind of wish we had gone swimming here, instead of Kalama, as the waves tend to be gentler, and there is a little bit of a barrier in one section of the beach. Instead, we walked along the shoreline and took pictures of birds and Mom kept herself entertained by finding pieces of beach glass and coral that had washed up on the sand. Happy place.

Sunset Beach
59-104 Kamehameha Hwy, Pupukea, HI
After dinner at the Kahuku food trucks, we headed north a bit in search of a lovely beach where we could watch the sun set. The natural choice was this place. Because why wouldn’t you view the sunset from a place named Sunset Beach.

Sunset from Sunset Beach

Duke Kahanamoku Lagoon and Kahanamoku Beach
I put these two together because they are right next to each other, and because there wasn’t anything separating our visit to them. On our very last day in Oahu (we were flying to the Big Island mid-way through the day), Robert and I took a quick swim in the cold waters of Duke Kahanamoku Lagoon (I’m sure it would warm up quickly later in the day, once the sun really came out) and the surprisingly very warm water of Kahanamoku Beach.

On the Big Island
Punalu’u Black Sand Beach
So, being an island, there are going to be a fair number of beaches to choose from on the Big Island. This was our favorite, but we never went swimming here. It was extremely close to where we were staying (we could see the ocean from the balcony off of the sleeping loft), was not at all crowded, offered a great place to watch surf spray up over lava rock and view the sunrise, and – most importantly to me – it is home to sea turtles! I could see sea turtles every day…and did!

Turtles!

Whittington Beach Park

This park was also fairly close to where we were staying – though not the five minute walk that was Punalu’u. I saw the sign for it while we were driving around to/from Na’alehu, and we pulled in to check it out. This beach park was second only to Punalu’u, in terms of how much time we spent there. I found the different types of ocean entry particularly interesting. In addition to a pier (that we only viewed from a distance), there were rocks/tide pools, and what I would describe as a natural fish estuary/wetland cove.

Richardson’s Beach and Ocean Park
2349 Kalaniana’ole Avenue, Hilo, HI
One of the things Mom and I wanted to see while on the Big Island was green sand. There is a whole beach made of the stuff (olivine sand) down on the southern tip, but it’s not easily accessible, and I was worried about Mom’s lungs getting down to it. So, we opted for Richardson’s instead. The sand here is a mix of black lava sand and green olivine sand. The water here is listed as a great place for snorkeling, and is a mix of ocean water and cold freshwater from nearby springs.

Carlsmith Beach Park
This park is on the same road as Richardson’s, and is pretty much right next door. There is a nice reef that protects the swimming area, making it much calmer and a good place for beginner snorkelers. We didn’t swim here, but we did see turtles!

Kahalu’u Beach Park 
786702 Ali’i Drive, Kailua-Kona, HI
Folks? Folks. I can not say enough good things about Kahalu’u Beach Park. We found it completely by accident, and it was the best thing that could have happened. Since we were unable to go view lava, due to the eruption of Kilauea (we went when the fissures were opening up in Leilani Estates and there were earthquakes twice a day at the summit), the next thing Robert really wanted to do was go snorkeling. The bay near the Captain Cook monument is generally regarded as one of the best places to go, but it’s more difficult to access, was going to be tricky finding gear to rent, and wasn’t going to be as beginner friendly as we needed, if Mom was going to join us. Robert was getting frustrated as we looked for a place to swim, and I directed him to go up the road a bit, to a park I spotted on Google maps.

We pulled up, found a spot in the busy-ish parking lot, and took in the beach park. There is a large, natural breakwater wall that stretches across half of the little bay, making it ideal for snorkeling. The other half of the park is open to the ocean, and is a great place for surfers. We made our way to the converted food truck that serves as a mobile nature education center for the park. They had all kinds of gear to rent, including corrective vision masks, which were going to be important if Mom and I were going to see anything at all. I used fins for the first time, but the lady at the center opted to only give Mom a mask and snorkel this time — fewer things to learn all at once. Instead, she directed Mom where to head out to, once we were in the water: there is a sizeable area where there is only sand underneath, so you can stand without stepping on coral. Then you just put your face down in the water and breath through the snorkel, and you can see a lot of fish without worrying about keeping your snorkel clear. It was a great alternative for Mom, who doesn’t consider herself a strong swimmer and was originally worried about snorkeling. She saw all kinds of fish!

Robert and I headed out to the portions of the bay where you can’t touch bottom, because there is living rock and coral under you, and we were able to see eels, and tons of fish, and a sea turtle (because I couldn’t go three hours on the island without seeing a turtle!). We never spotted the octopus, but we saw plenty of other things.

Getting back out was a bit problematic and nearly ended with me having a full-blown panic attack when I kept getting tossed by the incoming tide and nearly sticking my hands, feet and face into a crap-ton of sea urchins but, luckily, Mom noticed there was something wrong and sent Robert to rescue me. Even with that close call, it was the best experience I think any of us had on the whole island. Mom is even excited to go snorkeling again!

The education center does a really great job – it is nonprofit, and the money made from gear rental goes back into their educational programs. In fact, they’d had a program that very morning on coral spawning. Mom and I put some more donations into their jar – money and time well spent.

Even now, two and a half months later, I tear up thinking about how beautiful the place was, and how amazing our visit turned out.

Shopping:
On Oahu
Fabric Mart
1631 Kalakaua Avenue, Honolulu, HI
This place was on my list of shops to visit last time I came to Hawaii, but I didn’t get around to it (there were a lot of places on my list, and even less free time than I had this go around). We stopped in here briefly, on our way to the airport after breakfast. We really only had time to walk around and admire fabric before we had to go. In fact, Robert had picked out two different fabrics (I told him I would make shirts out of whatever he picked out), but the wait at the cut-out counter was taking too long and we had to abandon them in order to get to the airport in time.

Dole Plantation
64-1550 Kamehameha Hwy, Wahiawa, HI
There is a cafe, where you can get a quick-ish bite (there’s generally a line, but it moves well) and, most importantly, where you can pick up a Dole Whip or a Dole Whip float (using pineapple juice, in place of root beer – highly recommend!). The menu includes both the standard cheeseburger or nuggets, but also features things like the pineapple chili dog, loco moco, and a kalua BBQ pork combo. Beyond the grill, there is an extensive gift shop.

On the Big Island
Discount Fabric Warehouse
933 Kanoelehua Avenue #7, Hilo, HI

Note the additional roll of the same print, in a different colorway, to the right of the picture.

Yeah. Remember just two or so recommendations above when I said we had to leave Oahu without fabric? The thing that made leaving behind Robert’s choices back in Honolulu easier was the knowledge there were some good fabric stores on the Big Island, where we would likely find similar (or possibly even the same) wild prints in a variety of colors.

Kilauea Kreations II
680 Manono Street, Hilo, HI
We stopped here after Discount Fabric Warehouse…which is just absurd, really. Why would you go to another fabric store after you’ve just wandered an entire warehouse? Nevertheless, we did. And it was a really lovely shop. There was a whole section of sashiko kits, including kits that married traditional sashiko with applique piecing. If I remember correctly, Mom picked up one of those. I bought a sashiko kit that featured an octopus.

Ka’u Farmers Market
Highway 11, Na’alehu, HI
That’s about as much direction you need to find the farmer’s market. Just drive east down Hwy 11 through Na’alehu, and you’ll see it. The market is on the smaller side, which I feel gives you better access to the vendors selling their goods. Robert tasted a fermented pineapple drink (with a name that I can’t remember), I bought some absolutely mouth-watering lumpia and eyed the ice-cold coconuts, and we bought almost every bag of sun-dried macadamia nuts that one lady was selling. I tell you what…those were the best macadamia nuts EVER! I don’t feel like it’s overstating it to say that I honestly don’t think I’ll ever have one that tastes as good. She doesn’t roast them, like most people do, which helps keep the oils in the nut. They just set in the sun for a short while, and get the smallest touch of sea salt, and basically taste like butter and macadamia nuts from heaven. So. Good.

Hilo Farmers Market
Basically the spaces around the intersections of Punahoa Street, Mamo Street, Beckley Lane, and Kamehameha Avenue, Hilo, HI
Sadly, I didn’t realize that the day we went wasn’t the day of the big market, where they have over 200 food and craft vendors. That being said, I still enjoyed the market. We picked up some fruit and veg for dinner later that evening, and breakfast the next day.

fruit procured from the Hilo farmers market

Kona Farmers Market
corner of Alii Drive and Kualalai Road, Kona, HI
Right about now, you’re probably wondering a bunch of things, chief among them “How many farmers markets can one person go to?” The answer, in this case, would be “as many as I can get to in one week’s time.” I love a good farmers market. I think it’s a great way to get a sense of the community and culture of a particular area. [For instance, back home here in Virginia, the Falls Church market, Mosaic District market, and Old Town Alexandria markets share some of the same vendors but still have a vastly different feel]. Anyway, we had traveled up the road to Kona after our snorkeling adventure at Kahalu’u, with the intent of grabbing some much needed food (I probably should have come in for a snack much sooner, but I was having too much fun looking at tropical fish). I immediately got side-tracked by the farmers market [which is pretty remarkable, really, considering I was on the verge of hunger tears when we got out of the car]. It was here where I spotted what has become one of my favorite plants ever: beehive ginger. I mean, come on! How can you not like that plant!

Royal Kona Museum and Coffee Center 
83-5427 Mamalahoa Hwy, Captain Cook, HI
This was the last place we stopped (aside from where we had dinner) on our last day on the Big Island. Robert needed to pick up some Kona coffee for one of his co-workers, who was very specific about the brands he approved of. This site has a nice overview of the roasting process, offers tours of part of their facility, a museum about the history of coffee-growing in Hawaii, and a sizeable gift shop, where you can buy coffee that is roasted on site as well as some that is roasted at their larger facility down the road.

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3 thoughts on “Travel Recommendations: Hawaii

  1. Thanks for the reviews – we are thinking of heading there at some point. BTW – I have eaten at the L&L in Anchorage! We actually have a lot of Pacific Islanders here, and consequently a LOT of Hawaiian restaurants. It is pretty good, but I would be interested to try it out in Hawaii. Also – Humpy’s has a restaurant here as well – one here and one there 🙂

    • I hope the recommendations help for your future trip. We were so excited to take my mother to the islands, and we definitely want to go back again.

      I didn’t know about L&L’s presence in Anchorage the last time I was there, but I’ll definitely be on the lookout the next time I’m there. My current favorite place in Anchorage is Glacier Brewhouse.

      • The L&L is in the Dimond Mall in South Anchorage in the food court. Or at least it was last time we went. Glacier Brewhouse is good! There are some other great places in town too – Spenard Roadhouse, South coffeehouse and restaurant, Red Chair – lots to eat!

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