Over Christmas, we spent a full week adventuring all over Oahu and loved every minute of it. When you really get to slow down and enjoy all the island has to offer, it’s a pretty magical place. We hiked to the Makapu’u Lighthouse for incredible coastal views, watched whales spouting in the ocean and played with horses and zip lined at Kualoa Ranch on the Windward side of the island. And after a week of vacation on Oahu, I realized that it really can be a pretty incredible place! So in video format, here’s how we spent our week on Oahu!
It’s not often that I actually go to Hawaii to have a vacation, but this past Christmas, that’s exactly what we did. Considering that most of my trips there are for work and even when I lived in Honolulu, I was a local and not on vacation day in and day out. So when we spent 8 days there for Christmas, we truly experienced Hawaii like a tourist this time around, well sort of, considering we stayed with my parents who live there and did a little bit of work. But all in all, it’s safe to say we tried a lot of places and things to do that had been on my “tourist Hawaii” list for a while. So if you’re headed to vacation on Oahu, here’s some of my favorite things to do and my favorite places to eat!
What to Do
There is no shortage of things to do on Oahu and while there are so many things I could list, these are some of my recent faves!
Hike to Makapu’u Lighthouse – I’ve driven to the pull out at the Makapu’u lighthouse at the East end of Oahu many times, but I’ve never actually done the hike back around to the actual lighthouse and seen the views from here. On this past trip, we took a morning to do it and it was so great. We spotted a ton of whales and took in the gorgeous coastal views on this hike. It’s a pretty quick and fairly easy hike as it’s paved the whole way so pretty much anyone can do it and it’s so worth it!
Walk Magic Island – My mom’s local spot for her morning walk is at Ala Moana Beach Park or locally known as Magic Island. Nick and I walked it with her a few times while there and it’s such a great spot to take in the oceanside scenery and get a great workout in.
Go Ziplining at Kualoa Ranch – We ziplined the for the first time while in Hawaii and it was seriously so fun! I was super nervous about it beforehand, but truthfully, I’d do it again in a heartbeat. We chose to do it at Kualoa Ranch on the Windward Side of Oahu and had the best experience there.
Sunset at Waikiki – There is nothing quite as essential during a trip to Oahu as a sunset at Waikiki. No matter how crowded the area gets, as the sun sets, it seems to all get still and quiet as everyone is watching the incredible sight.
Shopping at Ala Moana – Honolulu has some world class shopping and no matter what you’re looking for, Ala Moana probably has it. I always make a quick pit stop at Zara while in the Islands but whatever your budget, you’ll find something at Ala Moana.
Where to Eat
Honolulu has some incredible food choices and while the list goes on and on, these are some of my favorites all price ranges.
DK Steakhouse – We ate at DK’s for the first time this most recent trip and it was a great spot in Waikiki for a steak. Just be sure to make a reservation.
Hy’s – This is an old time steak restaurant in Honolulu and in my opinion, still one of the best. I had the best filet mignon of my life there this past trip and it’s always a treat to go here. There is a dress code though and you’ll want to make a reservation so be sure to confirm both before hand.
Sidestreet Inn – One of the things Nick really wanted on this most recent trip was some great local island food. Think Mac salad and teriyaki chicken and yakisoba. And while there are a lot of places to get more of a plate lunch style of local food, Sidestreet Inn is one of my favorites for local food served family style.
Zippy’s – There isn’t anything else quite as local as Zippy’s. Whether for breakfast, lunch or dinner, Zippy’s is a local favorite and you won’t see many tourists here. There are a ton of locations around the island they are open all day long and while it’s not the most amazing food you’ll ever have, it’s a local staple. As a local recommendation, try the grilled cornbread here!
Asia Manoa – Again, this is a local spot up in Manoa that you won’t find tourists in but it’s amazing Chinese food. Their cake noodles and steamed sea bass are some of my favorite dishes.
Agu Ramen – For great authentic Japanese ramen, Agu Ramen is the perfect choice. With a few locations around Oahu, they are a great spot for your ramen fix.
Magnolia Ice Cream – If you’re in Waikiki and looking for a bowl of shave ice, this place in the new International Marketplace has an incredible shave ice offering. My favorite is a scoop of vanilla ice cream below your favorite shave ice flavor!
Koloa Landing Resort at Poipu – Kauai, Hawaii
2641 Poipu Rd, Koloa, HI 96756
When we decided to head to Kauai for an overnight stop en route to Honolulu, we wanted an easy spot for the night that would be really luxurious and comfortable. I was actually pretty underwhelmed with this hotel and while it’s probably great for families or longer term stays, it wasn’t the luxury or comfort I was craving out of a Hawaiian resort.
Location – This hotel is pretty easy on and off the main highway around the island and was a quick 20 minutes or so from the Lihue Airport. It was easy to find and easy to get to.
Lobby – The lobby is beautiful and offers a sense of a true Hawaiian vacation right from the get go. The staff was very nice from beginning to end as well.
Room Decor – The rooms were large and updated and had a great vibe. They were comfortable and had everything we needed. I liked the design and it felt very Hawaiian but very understated as well.
Random Maintenance Issue – When we arrived to our room, there was a weird paper bag over the smoke detector on the ceiling. Not sure what it was, we called maintenance to come look at it. Well after 4 different people came in on two separate trips, it was a production to say the least for something so stupid and no one seemed to know what to do.
Parking / Apartment Building Feel – Because it’s a self-park hotel and the parking is near your room (good in certain ways), it gave the entire hotel sort of an apartment building feel which I didn’t love. Paying pretty high prices per night I was expecting the grounds to be more on par with the resorts on Oahu and it just didn’t really live up to that feel.
Prices – We used a free hotels.com night for this hotel so we ended up paying just a tiny amount but it’s not cheap as far as prices go and for what you’re getting versus paying the same amount on Maui or Oahu, I felt the prices definitely didn’t match the overall feel and service of the hotel.
Restaurant Options – I really was in the mood for a nice beachside sunset dinner with a nice glass of wine the night we were there – we were on vacation! Most of the Hawaiian resorts I’ve been to on Oahu or Maui all have multiple dining options so that’s what I was expecting here however they have just one little cafe. We decided to give it a try anyways and the food was not good. I had coconut shrimp that were so bland I could barely even taste what they were and overall, we paid something like $100 for a horrible dinner.
NOTES TO KEEP IN MIND
Good for Families – If you are a family and just want to let your kids run out to the pool for the day, this might be a great spot for you. I felt for couples, this wasn’t a spot I’d recommend.
Park your own car near your building – You’ll self-park here so make sure you find a spot somewhere close to the building where your room is.
In December this past year, we decided to spend Christmas in Hawaii with my parents for a long 9 days of relaxation and family time. But on the way over, we decided to see a spot of the Hawaiian Islands that’s long been on our travel list: Kauai. The beautiful Garden Island as it’s known was well worth our 24 hour stopover en route to Honolulu and I’m so glad we got to see it. While I don’t know if I could spend long amounts of time there (it has a pretty small town feel), I loved getting to see the landscape which is so different than the other islands in the Hawaiian chain and get a sense of how different it feels. So in video format, here’s a good way to spend 24 hours on the Garden Isle!
People often ask us if we get tired of traveling, tired of the rigor of going through the airport and enduring security and dealing with issues from check in to the gate agents of airlines. And the answer is, truthfully, we have the act of traveling down to a science at this point and we very rarely have bad airport experiences. 99% of the time we are dropped off at the sidewalk, enter the airport and are through security within about 5 minutes. And if you’re jaw is on the ground right now, I will say it again, it is entirely possible to be through security in 5 minutes (in a normal airport situation) and in the following tips and strategies I’ll tell you how!
Use Mobile Boarding Passes.
The first thing that saves us an enormous amount of time – not having to check in at a counter or kiosk to get our boarding passes or carry extra pieces of paper around. Using mobile boarding passes (which most airlines offer) is a quick and efficient way for you to be able to head straight to security and bypass the whole first part of the airport experience at the check in counters.
Get Global Entry/TSA PreCheck.
I will never stop singing the praises of Global Entry and TSA Precheck – both programs you sign up and pay for. We did ours right when they started years and years ago and paid the small fee ($100 for 5 years) and it has been a life changer for us. While there are now other ways to get TSA Precheck printed on your boarding pass, this is still the most sure way to do it. Global Entry will get you Precheck at no additional cost and you’ll go through the Precheck lane at security – never needing to take out liquids, laptops or coats again. You put your bags on the conveyer as is, walk through the metal detector and voila, you’re done! This is the single most incredible way we’ve been able to get through airports so fast all over the country.
Know when your airport is busiest and avoid those times.
For your home airport, try to figure out when it’s busiest as this is going to be when the lines are longest. For Portland, early mornings tend to be busiest while evening flights usually bring shorter queues. So if possible, arrange flights when the airport is least busy.
Find out which security checkpoint is least crowded or go through another terminal.
All airports have different security checkpoints and some might be more crowded than others so figure out which ones are usually empty and use those to go through security. For example in Honolulu, there is a side security checkpoint that is rarely used and we usually walk right through. You can also sometimes go through other security checkpoints and then connect to your gate in the other terminals. So figure out which one is best for your situation and which will get you through quicker. No need to wait in a long line if there is another option.
Carry on luggage only.
This is by far the fastest way we get through security quickly. We usually only carry on our luggage and have everything convenient for security. That means nothing falling out of your bags or bags you can’t lift – be ready to just throw them on the x-ray machine and go.
Have a pocket in your bag to put your ID and phone in quickly.
Even in Precheck lines, you’ll have to put your phone and ID away after it’s checked by an agent. Be sure to have a place to put those in your bags quickly and safely so as not to hold up the line at security.
Become an elite member of an airline loyalty program.
If you fly a lot and happen to be an elite member of airlines’ loyalty programs, you’ll know this is a sure fire way around the world to get access to shorter lines everywhere, but especially at security checkpoints. You’ll get access to way shorter security lines and be ushered through most areas of an airport – so rack up those miles to get elite status!
Travel is about so many different emotions and I find that with each different trip I take, I come away learning something very specific. Everyone experiences different destinations differently, however there are generally “types” of trips that all seem to have their own distinct experiences and you’ll walk away from each with a very different perspective on ourselves and our world. And while some people might prefer a beach vacation and others might prefer a city break in a high end hotel with amazing food, still others might prefer a mountain adventure trip or a yoga break in India. All of these types of trips each have a specific purpose for us as travelers and I personally believe that all should be experienced at different points in our lives. So give yourself this goal – the following are 4 types of trips worth taking at some point in your life – take away whatever you can from each because you’ll leave each one with a new awakening, I promise!
When I started traveling regularly, I wasn’t really the “adventure-type” of traveler. I much preferred a city break in a great hotel and modern conveniences. I’d say all that changed on our first trip to Iceland five years ago. I was never much of an “outdoors-y” type of person, but my time over the years in Iceland has completely changed the way I look at our planet. And I’m still not a “camping out in the woods” type of person but put me in a beautiful landscape like Iceland and I come alive, even out in the middle of no where. You might need to find the right place to really experience an adventure trip but when you find the right fit – it will change you. I’ve done things in Iceland I never thought I would and it’s pushed me outside of my comfort zone in ways I never could have imagined. Since that initial trip to Iceland, we’ve been to all sorts of destinations that I would deem adventurous: Cambodia and Peru to name just a few. Sometimes you just have to pull out that inner tomb-raider persona and go with it!
Ideas for an Adventure Destination:
- Explore the wind landscapes of Iceland
- Wander the ancient ruins of Machu Picchu in Peru
- Go zip lining across the mountains on Oahu
- Trek through ancient temples in Cambodia
- Drive the craziest roads in the world in New Zealand
- Experience the craziness of the souks in Marrakech
Sometimes life is so chaotic you just have to rest on a true vacation. This type of trip might mean a beach for some, for me, it’s a nice hotel in a place with good food and relaxing experiences. I don’t do these types of trips often, but when I do, I’m reminded of how amazing they are. We all need a break in this fast paced world and relaxing trips are the ones that you come home from totally refreshed and ready to take on the world ahead!
Ideas for a Relaxing Destination:
- Spend a week taking in the slow paced life in Hawaii
- Enjoy a few days at the gorgeous and luxurious Udaivilas in Udaipur, India
- Relax in a private villa on the beaches of Bali at the Oberoi Hotel in Seminyak
- Take in a long weekend in Paris with no agenda or itinerary
There are also times in life when you just really need a romantic escape with your partner. A few years ago Nick and I were having an incredibly crazy busy Summer and between a big promotion for Nick and a massive workload for myself, we were burnt out by August and felt like we’d barely spent any time together for months. So on a whim, I booked a long weekend in Amsterdam for us over Labor Day and to this day, it was still such an amazing few days together, without looking at our phones or worrying about what was going on at home – it was just us exploring a city we love together. When I say romantic escape, the sentiment is always that it has to be a luxurious hotel or a really romantic places with romantic dinners and such. Personally, I much prefer the places that just allow us to spend more time together and for me that’s romantic in and of itself. Romantic escapes don’t have to be this big blown out thing – oftentimes, a great romantic trip can be found in the smallest details.
Ideas for a Romantic Escape
- A weekend in Amsterdam wandering around and eating amazing food
- Spend a week in Paris, among the most romantic cityscape in the world
- Explore India, including a sunrise visit to the Taj Mahal, one of the most romantic buildings in the world
- A few days driving through the Vermont countryside in October as the colors create an otherworldly magical view
- Driving through the beautiful vineyards of Napa
The final trip that I wholeheartedly believe is worth taking is the trip to really explore within yourself. I personally don’t love traveling solo and would much prefer that Nick be with me, but at the same time, while my solo trips have been some of my hardest, they have also led me to really explore within myself. It was on my many solo trips to Seoul that I did some of my deepest soul searching and on my solo trip to Paris and London years ago when I fully realized the direction I really wanted to head in my life. Solo trips and personal exploration is a worthy and sometimes much needed opportunity to do that deep soul searching that you can’t always do in your daily life and to offer you some much needed guidance about where you’re headed and where you want to go.
Ideas for Personal Exploration:
Over the years of visiting Iceland, the capital city of Reykjavik has really grown on me. And while it’s definitely not a “big city” in terms of Paris or London, it feels huge compared to the other towns and cities around the country. It’s in Reykjavik where you’ll find the shopping and restaurants while you travel through Iceland, as well as a plethora of hotels and activities to partake in. Over the years we usually stop through Reykjavik for at least 1 night of our time in Iceland and we’ve come up with a list of Reykjavik favorites for the city. Next time you visit Iceland, don’t miss some of these quirky and fun spots to enjoy!
- Cafe Paris – This has become one of our favorite spots for breakfast or lunch while in Reykjavik. It’s got a great location and always has quality food, plus a fun French environment.
- Braou and Co. – We visited this bakery for the first time on our last trip and it became an instant favorite. We went for their cinnamon rolls (which are supposed to be amazing) and when we realized that they didn’t have a batch ready yet, we opted instead for their cinnamon croissants which were incredible!
- Reykjavík Roasters – This is THE Instagram spot in Reykjavik and everybody who’s anybody has visited this chic hipster coffee spot.
- Laundromat Cafe – This is another favorite for any meal of the day and offers a variety of items on their menu and a great location.
- Eldsmiðjan – On our last trip to Reykjavik we were craving some good pizza so we headed out in search of a great option – much to our luck we found this spot near Hallgrimskirkja Cathedral and it was delicious!
- Hallgrimskirkja Cathedral – This is a famous building on the Reykjavik skyline and well worth checking out when in the area.
- Shopping – Downtown Reykjavik is filled with quirky little shops and you’ll find everything and anything you need.
- Grótta Island Lighthouse – This cool spot at the tip of Reykjavik is great during the day to see some of the area around the city and great at night to try and spot the Northern Lights.
- The Pond – In the downtown area of Reykjavik you’ll find what is generally called “the pond,” a body of water that freezes over in the Winter and is lovely in the Summer. Wander by and take it all in!
- Kringlan Mall – If you need to do a bit of commercial shopping on your trip or need to stop in at H&M or Topshop, head to Kringlan Mall on the outskirts of downtown for whatever you may need.
- Radisson Blu 1919 Hotel – This has become our “go-to” hotel when in Reykjavik for its location and general aesthetic. We’ve tried out a few of the higher end hotels there and this has always ended up being our favorite.
- Icelandair Hotel Natura – For a one night stopover, this hotel is a great option, especially on a lower budget.
Tips for Reykjavik
- Use spare change for parking meters – Wherever you park downtown you’ll need to pay for parking at the meters!
- Watch out for pedestrians – There are people everywhere these days in Reykjavik so when driving be sure to yield to pedestrians.
- Explore the city but don’t spend all your time here – The beauty of Iceland really is out in the countryside so while Reykjavik is lovely, to really get a sense of Iceland, be sure to explore out of the city as well.
During our trip in November to Iceland, I was blown away once again by the beauty of the country. Our very first trip there was in late November and upon our return at that time of year, the more we explored, the more we felt overwhelmed by the brilliance of Winter. While a trip to Iceland is always going to come highly recommended by me any time of the year, Winter is especially beautiful with snow and horses and icy rivers running through the landscape. So after watching this compilation video of Iceland in Winter, if you aren’t ready to book a ticket to this magical place then I don’t know what will convince you!
Iceland Air Hotel Natura – Reykjavik
Nauthólsvegur, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland
When our plans were suddenly changed due to an ear infection (on my part) and a crazy storm blowing in that closed off the entire East side of the island, we ended up heading back into Reykjavik from Vik a night early on our most recent trip. So very last minute (like as in the day of) we needed a hotel for a night in Reykjavik – enter the Iceland Air Hotel Natura with a great fare and easy parking and we booked in an instant! And while this wasn’t my favorite spot in Reykjavik that we’ve stayed, for a night it was super easy and convenient.
Location – This hotel sits on the outskirts of downtown Reykjavik so offers easier access off of main roads than driving into the downtown area of the city. And yet, it’s 5 minutes from anything you want downtown which makes it the best of both worlds.
Parking – The parking in downtown Reykjavik is becoming an issue as more and more people visit the city which is why the super easy parking in a lot at this hotel is super convenient.
Lobby – The entrance to the hotel in the lobby is all redone and super modern.
Price – We ended up getting a great deal on this hotel for the day of our reservation and because it was last minute, I didn’t want to spend a lot. It was at least half of what we usually pay for the Radisson Blu 1919 hotel which is usually our go-to spot in Reykjavik. So for a cheaper option – this is your spot.
Availability – We booked this super last minute, the day-of, and I was really happy that it had availability for us.
Room was outdated and tiny – We’ve stayed at a bunch of Iceland Air Hotels around Iceland over the years and the rooms are usually really modern. This one however was really outdated and definitely didn’t live up to the design standard we’re used to for the brand.
Fire alarm in the middle of the night – Around Midnight, the fire alarm went off and woke everybody up. It was a hassle to say the least and the hotel didn’t even mention it when checking out to make up for it.
NOTES TO KEEP IN MIND
Great for a quick stopover night – If you’re just headed through Reykjavik for a night and then on to another destination, this is a great spot but I don’t know if I’d stay longer than one night.
Easy on and off of main roads through Reykjavík – It’s super easy access to the main roads that run through Reykjavik.
Great for a last minute booking – If you need a last minute booking, check it out!
Iceland has become quite the tourist destination in the past few years and it’s crazy how much the island has exploded as more and more people visit. With that said, arrival into Iceland can be a chaotic experience and while the Keflavik Airport where you’ll arrive is trying to update and accommodate the immense influx in visitors, it isn’t quite up to the task yet. You’ll arrive to a crowded airport, unsure of what to do and where to go and waiting in the immense crowds – but I’m here to make all of that easier for your arrival into Iceland with the following advice! So don’t worry a bit and follow the tips below to make everything smoother.
Have your cold weather gear ready for when you land. Often you will get off the plane on the tarmac and get bussed to the terminal meaning you’ll be landing in cold weather most likely and not in a warm airport terminal.
Because the airport is overcrowded, not all planes have gates when you arrive so they’ll often park out on the tarmac and bus you in to the terminal. This means that you’ll be out in the weather immediately once you arrive so if it’s cold outside when you arrive, be sure to have cold weather gear to put on or you’ll be freezing! I recommend having a warm coat and gloves or a hat ready to go for when you land!
If renting a car, have breakfast in the terminal and let the rush die down as everyone arrives all at once.
All the flights from the US arrive within about 20 minutes of each other early in the mornings in Iceland so the airport is a chaotic mess if you’re arriving from the US, it really is best to wait a bit and let the rush pass you by. We like to stop and have breakfast in the terminal (before you go out of baggage claim as there is less available there) and sit and enjoy a cup of coffee and something to eat. It will be early in the morning after all, so take your time in the airport terminal before you head out.
Try to book a car that has in-terminal locations – otherwise plan a solid 30 minute wait for the shuttle bus at peak times.
Some of the car rental companies have in-terminal desks for your car. Others are about a 10 minute shuttle bus ride away and while that might not seem bad, there is one shuttle that handles a ton of people at not very frequent intervals. I always try to book the in-terminal companies, but if you can’t, plan on a solid 30 minute wait for the shuttle at peak times. Also keep in mind you’ll be standing outside waiting for the shuttle, most likely in a line at peak times, and it can get quite cold.
Nothing opens in Rekjavik until 8:30ish so don’t hurry in.
If you’re headed into Reykjavik first, keep in mind that the flights from the US arrive around 6am and even if you wait around the airport a bit and have breakfast, nothing in Reykjavik opens early so take your time.
Most hotels charge for early check in and it’s not always available.
Since a lot of flights arrive early in the morning, some of the larger hotels in Reykjavik will allow you to check in early but for an extra fee and it’s not always available due to occupancy. So you can try, but have a plan of what to do if you can’t check in and have to wait all day.