A sensational week in Oahu, Hawaii: Festive activities and vibes

Photo of palm trees against a blue sunset sky
Eunkyo Jo/Staff

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After a long period of travel restrictions, my friends and I decided to go to Hawaii for spring break. We spent five nights and six days on the island of Oahu, vacationing in Waikiki — a neighborhood in Honolulu, located in the center of Oahu’s southern coast. It’s a tourist-friendly place with a lot to see and do, and it’s even more enjoyable with a view of the beach and city. Taking advice from those who have lived in or been to Oahu, we compiled our recommendations and headed off for an action-packed week in Hawaii.

Food and drink

Typical food and drink associations with “Hawaii” include poke, musubi, açai bowls and piña colada — and we did not miss out. We enjoyed ahi poke at Ono Seafood, avocado eel egg spam musubi at Musubi Cafe IYASUME, a classic açai bowl at the Sunrise Shack and a piña colada served in a pineapple at Aloha Table. At Aloha Table, I also ordered loco moco, a Hawaiian dish featuring a hamburger patty, fried egg and gravy sauce over rice. All of the food we had was so fresh, flavorful and perfectly textured.

Leonard’s Bakery served fresh-baked Portuguese donuts with flavorful fillings; SKY Waikiki, a rooftop bar, overlooks a beautiful sunset paired with tasty poke nachos and cocktails; and Duke’s Waikiki presented us with live music, a fresh ocean breeze and rum cocktails. Shabuya at Ala Moana Center only costs $20 for all-you-can-eat shabu-shabu, an affordable meal after spending all my money on souvenirs. At Dole Plantation, I tried the fresh, tropical pineapple soft serve Dole whip that successfully helped me beat the heat. All in all, each dish, drink and dessert was so well curated and complemented Hawaii’s views, weather and vibes.

Coffee

For coffee enthusiasts, Hawaii is the land of Kona, Ka’u and Maui coffee. As a coffee lover, I tried out americanos, lattes and cold brews at several coffee shops. Shops such as Island Vintage Coffee, Kona Coffee Purveyors, Green World Coffee Farms and Honolulu Coffee Experience Center used Kona coffee beans. Personally, Kona coffee isn’t something I would go out of my way to purchase, but it was still great with its fruity, vibrant and subtle acidic flavors. I especially loved Green World Coffee Farms, located in the middle of the island near Dole Plantation. The farm has an open garden where visitors can view coffee plants from up close, and inside the store, it offers tastings of pre-made coffee. The farm also sells dozens of various coffee beans from single origin to blended, whole and ground in small batches so that you can try multiple without committing. All the coffee shops we visited also had great pastry options too, freshly baked at the cafe.

Beach

Closest to our accommodation was Waikiki Beach, a beach great for chilling and surfing. We also made reservations to enjoy a few hours at an island on the east coast of Oahu called Secret Island at Kualoa Ranch, where many prominent films such as “Jurassic Park,” “50 First Dates” and “Soul Surfer” were filmed. The island was full of many beach activities, including canoeing, stand-up paddleboarding and beach volleyball. With its beautiful sight, the beach became our photoshoot spot that overloaded our galleries. We heard North Shore was the place to go for snorkeling, so we explored Laniakea Beach, which we found better suited for chilling on the sand and enjoying the waves. We then headed to Turtle Bay Resort, where we got to go snorkeling. It was my first time, and it took a bit to adjust to breathing only through my mouth, but once I got used to it, life beneath the ocean was a whole new world. Seeing the tropical fish, corals and rocks so clearly underwater was an eye-opening experience. 

Shopping

Located at just about every corner of the city was ABC Stores, the best place to go for quick essentials such as water, snacks and sunscreen. Per a local’s recommendation, we also visited Don Quijote, a huge Japanese discount store open 24 hours. Here, I bought delicious Kona coffee chocolate-covered macadamia nuts — along with the toasted coconut version — and they tasted absolutely amazing. Ala Moana, a neighborhood fewer than 10 minutes away from Waikiki, is home to the Ala Moana Center, one of the largest open-air shopping centers in the world. On Saturday, we checked out the market at Aloha Stadium, where hundreds of vendors had set up all around the huge stadium. It was literally endless, and we probably checked out 10% of the shops in an hour. I got a chicken skewer, along with a few souvenirs as reminders of Hawaii.

Views

We wanted to catch the sunset at Diamond Head, but it turns out that the hike closes at 4 p.m. Instead, we rushed to China Walls, a ledge over the ocean, located in southeast Oahu. It was such a memorable scene — the music playing from my Bluetooth speakers harmonized with the sound of waves and the wind, and in the distance, surfers watched the sunset with their friends. Mermaid Caves on the west side of the island also offered a beautiful view of the coast. Caves had formed from uniquely shaped holes on a huge rock platform, and some even dared to jump off the rock into the water to explore the caves. We went on a couple of hikes throughout our stay: Maili Pillbox on the west coast for sunset, a 30-minute hike to a pink structure highlighted by golden hour, and the Lanikai Pillbox on the east coast for sunrise, a shorter yet more slippery hike with a view in all directions. Although it was cloudy at sunrise, we still caught glimpses of sunlight peeking through the clouds alongside magical colors of teal and orange reflecting on the ocean. At Lanai Lookout on the southeast tip of Oahu, we could see other Hawaiian islands in the distance, and there we caught a faint view of a rainbow in the sky.

Our stay felt just long enough to explore most vicinities of the island, but I do wish we had more downtime to relax in one place. I will definitely miss the warm weather, the wild chickens and the high-quality seafood. Hawaii made me realize and rekindle my love for the beach and hiking. While I want to check out other Hawaiian islands, I would go back to Oahu in a heartbeat to experience a lūʻau on Paradise Cove, check out the views at Hanauma Bay and enjoy a piña colada while reading on the beach. My last spring break of undergrad in Oahu was well spent. Mahalo, Hawai’i!

Contact Eunkyo Jo at [email protected].