Although I live in Alabama now I grew up as an army brat and lived in a different state almost every single year! It was crazy but I was fortunate to be able to visit so many unique places. I lived in North Carolina when I was 9 so all I remember is long summer nights, finally being old enough to ride my bike to school unchaperoned (I felt so grown up!) and finding a Barbie doll at the playground and thinking I’d won the lottery (so not that grown up after all! Ha!).
Shortly after leaving North Carolina my family moved to Pennsylvania… and then Hawaii. I was about 12 which was really the perfect age for a Hawaiian adventure… I was old enough to appreciate the culture but young enough that I didn’t have to pay for anything. Score!
I’ve been back to Hawaii a few times since then and going back as adult is definitely more expensive… but oh so much fun. The best part is showing my new friends all the best places. There’s a million things to do in Hawaii and if you know where to look you don’t even have to spend a fortune to have a good time!
So here’s the scoop… if you’re heading to Honolulu you don’t want to miss this!
Waikiki Beach (price: free!)
Alright y’all let’s start with the obvious one… the beach. If you’re heading to Hawaii do me (and you) a favor and spend at least one day stretched out on the sand or frolicking in the waves. You might feel funny using words like “frolicking” but once you spend a day on the beach you’ll be too relaxed to care.
Waikiki can get a little crowded so go early in the morning (or later in the evening) and bring an umbrella… the sun gets really hot!) Here’s a little bonus tip… the beach might be free but sometimes parking isn’t. If you don’t want to spend a couple minutes searching for a free parking spot be prepared to spend a few dollars on a parking garage (we always park at the Hilton Hawaiian Village parking garage which has lots of yummy shade… cars are hot after a day in the sun so pay attention to where you park!).
Hilton Hawaiian Village (price to explore: free!)
I know what you’re thinking… Betsy that’s a hotel. Why do I want to explore a hotel? Here’s the scoop…. You don’t want to explore the hotel you want to explore the grounds! The Hilton Hawaiian has beautiful gardens that you can explore (without being a guest) any time of day.
They truly have the Hawaiian feel with gorgeous tropical flowers… plus there are a few fun surprises tucked into the gardens. Try searching the map for the penguin pool (yup, I said penguins!), tropical parrots, flamingos and even a swimming pool if you’re feeling a little too sandy to venture down to the beach.
Swap Meet at Aloha Stadium (price: $1)
Alright y’all now I know you all want to find your perfect souvenir while on vacation… and if you think Hawaii is expensive just wait until you try to find the perfect flower lei to bring home. Luckily there’s a solution… the Aloha Stadium Swap Meet! If you hate your feet this is the perfect place to hang out… after a morning here your feet will just about fall off.
Honestly y’all bring your tennie’s for this one! It’s situated around the football stadium so this swap meet is longer than you ever thought possible… but they have the best stuff! We always head here to pick up our obligatory Hawaiian t-shirts, puka shells, and coconut bras.
If you’re looking for something a little outside the norm check out my post on travel souvenir ideas that you’ll want to display in your home. Search out the booth with the glow-in-the-dark glass sculptures… they’re inexpensive and oh-so-beautiful! I have a few from over the years (like this little glass whale) and they’re definitely my favorite souvenir. They also have beautiful driftwood pieces and beautiful hand painted shells.
Tip: it’s only open Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday so leave space in your schedule.
Mail a Coconut (price: $)
Yes you read that right… no I didn’t get hit in the head with a falling coconut. That’s dangerous! People can die from falling coconuts y’all…. It’s much safer to mail a coconut then get hit in the head with one!
For the price of shipping (and the coconut) the post offices in Hawaii will totally mail a coconut to anyone you like! I received my first coconut in college… while my mom was hanging out in Hawaii with her bestie. There are plenty of shops where you can find painted (dried) coconuts that you can mail to anyone you like… or if you’re looking for a less expensive option the post office in Moloki will provide you with a coconut and sharpies.
You can write a little note and draw a little doodle and the folks back home will get a blast when they open their mail box! (Tip: Any post office will mail a coconut but only the office in Moloki will provide a coconut). How cool is that? I still have the coconut my Mom sent me… it makes for a cute decoration and an interesting conversation starter!
Shave Ice at Matsumoto’s (price: $)
If you’re headed up to the North Shore you have to take a detour for shave ice at Matsumoto’s. Trust me… there’s nothing better than a cold shave ice on a hot Hawaiian day and Matsumoto’s is the place to be. They started as a small grocery store but with the best shave ice around they now spend most of their day’s serving up delicious shave ice to locals. Yum.
Plus they have so many flavors to pick from! Just be careful not to get stuck outside in the line… it’s not bad if there’s a breeze but guess what y’all? Hawaii is hot! Luckily you get shave ice at the end… so that’s awesome.
Shrimp Truck (price: $)
I know what you’re thinking… Betsy why would I eat food out of a truck while I’m in Hawaii? Shouldn’t I splurge on seafood and sushi? Well my friends there’s a time and place for everything and on your way to the North Shore is the time to eat at Macky’s truck. It’s delicious!
There’s nothing like a plate of shrimp made the real Hawaiian way and while there are shrimp trucks all over Hawaii Macky’s is my favorite. It’s literally parked on the side of the road on the way to the North Shore… it’s been there for YEARS so you can even google it for directions.
North Shore Turtles (price: free!)
Have you ever seen a sea turtle that was taller than you? I have on the beach at the North Shore. Honestly this might be the best thing you do in Hawaii… and it’s totally free. The north shore has a section of beach where the turtles like to visit… it’s not an exhibit or a museum, these are wild turtles y’all.
They will come up on the beach and as long as you give them a few feet of breathing room it’s completely acceptable to walk among them. There are volunteers who hang out with the turtles… they’ll drape a brightly colored rope around each turtles space so that people walking by won’t accidentally step on them. Yes they’re huge but they tend to blend in with the rocks around them… survival of the fittest! That’s called natural camouflage!
The best part is that you can venture out into the ocean and swim with the turtles. They’re very gentle but you do want to give them a wide berth since the turtles are much faster in the ocean. Think speedy from the Swan Princess y’all.
If you’re not a decent swimmer go ahead and hang out with the turtles on land… they are wild and there’s no life guard so be smart y’all. Our last visit my bestie and I remembered to snag an underwater camera before hitting the beach… so we were able to get a few shots of the turtles underwater (like the one above, I took that picture!). How cool is that?
Pearl Harbor (price: $ – $$)
Pearl Harbor is definitely a bit more touristy but it’s so jam packed with history that it’s totally worth it. There’s so much to do here that you can make the day exactly what you want of it. For the price of admission you can visit the museum’s and watch a few of the movies that run throughout the day.
I don’t know about y’all but Pearl Harbor fascinates me so I really enjoyed the museum… I lived in Hawaii when the Pearl Harbor movie was being shot so I was mesmerized with the movie and therefore the history. Several of the houses in the movie were actual military quarters that were rented by the film crew… the house where the nurses lived was my mom’s bestie’s house! She and her family moved out for a few months while they were shooting… isn’t that wild?
Anyways back to visiting the real Pearl Harbor… if the weather is clear you can take the ferry out to the memorial. They have built a clear glass floor over the sunken ships in the harbor so you can literally walk on history. It’s a little haunting… definitely makes you stop and think about everything that happened the fateful day those ships sunk.
I’ve had the opportunity to visit the memorial a few times and it’s always worth it. On our last visit the weather was too choppy to visit the memorial so instead we spent a few extra dollars to visit the submarine they have on site. It was amazing to walk through the belly of the submarine and see all of the inner workings. A little crazy since I’m claustrophobic (Rachel you know I love you… otherwise I would have never gone in that thing!) but the history is amazing.
Hike Up Diamond Head (price: $)
This one is pretty self explanatory… if you’re into hiking you’ll absolutely love the hike up Diamond Head! There are plenty of hidden trails throughout the island but there’s nothing quite like the view from the top of the bay… with ocean and tropics visible for miles and miles around.
It’s absolutely beautiful.
Shopping at the Mall & Riding the Sky Train (price: $)
Now if you’re anything like me you love a day of good shopping…. And Honolulu has not one but two amazing malls full of all your favorite shops. As if that isn’t enough the two malls are connected… by the Sky Train. Since Hawaii is an island it becomes a virtual parking lot at rush hour… cars just sitting on the freeway. It’s not an unusual site to see a truck-bed filled with lawn chairs and locals around 5 o’clock.
So instead of driving from one mall to the other (on the opposite side of the island) they’ve built a sky train that will take you from one mall to the other… right over all of that traffic! It’s totally practical but I always loved riding the sky train… it’s an amazing view that’s only available to those strung high in the air over the city… plus how can you hate anything that involves shopping?
Dole Plantation (price: $)
Now this is a fun one… the Dole Pineapple Plantation. Not only can you see enough pineapple to last your entire life you’ll soon realize why locals love their pineapple more than we do. It’s just not the same as buying it in a store! While the plantation is free my favorite part is always the Dole maze. It’s a maze. Made out of Pineapples. It’s the longest pineapple made in the world.
That’s pretty self-explanatory… who wouldn’t want to see a maze made out of pineapples?
Hanauma Bay (price: $)
My hubby has a deep seated in-explainable fear of deep water (ok it’s not really in-explainable… he’s afraid something will come out of the water and eat him). Which is why I can’t wait to take him to Hanauma Bay. Water so crystal clear you can see every last grain of sand or piece of coral. He might actually swim with me!
Plus there is sea life like you’ve never seen before…. Schools of fish, eels… sometimes even a turtle or two. The best part is that it’s a curved bay, enclosed to the open ocean so you can swim and snorkel to your hearts content… honestly this is my favorite spot in all of Hawaii.
Luau at Paradise Cove (price: $$$)
I’ve tried to include inexpensive activities on this little list because let’s face it… flying to Hawaii is expensive enough. However if you’re going to splurge on one evening and you want a really fun Hawaiian experience hit up the Luau at Paradise Cove. You’ll want to be there right as the gates open so that you don’t miss a moment of the fun! This is truly the Hawaiian experience… this is the first place I ever experienced pork the Hawaiian way and it is to die for. They cook their pork the traditional Hawaiian way (in the ground)… and you’ll be able to watch the entire process.
With time to play games, go on a canoe ride, make your own lei’s and hold a parrot the luau is definitely not boring. Then it’s on to a traditional Hawaiian meal and if you thought store bought Hawaiian sweet rolls were good then you’ve never tried the real thing. The dancers will put on a traditional hula while you eat and if you’re lucky enough you might just get picked to dance on stage with a scrumptious male hula dancer… don’t worry honey this was before I met you ;).
Worth every penny!
So that’s it… my favorite places in Hawaii in 2,256 words or less 😉 If you’re headed out on your own Hawaiian vacation I hope you check out a few of the places on my list… and then let me know how your trip went! I’d love to see pictures!