“Aloha, welcome to Hawaii!”, the flight attendant greets us thrilled passengers over the PA system as we taxi after landing at Honolulu International Airport (HNL). For the FA, it was a routine. But for me, it was something else (more like everything).
It was my first time in Hawaii, a place that I could only dream of months before, and you could only imagine the excitement we had when my mom told us we were flying off to this breathtaking paradise for a wedding, and following that, a road trip around Oahu – the main, touristy island where the famed City of Honolulu and Waikiki beach are.
The wedding, well, it was hula-themed of course. I was more excited about dipping into the warm waters of Waikiki Beach and go on a road trip around the rest of the island, more than anything else.
Hawaii has a different vibe and culture of its own – it’s called the surf/aloha culture – very laid back and easy going, and non-locals (like me) tend to get absorbed into this kind of culture very easily.
The lush islands are strewn in the middle of the vast Pacific Ocean, and these green jagged mountains are actually the tips of underwater volcanoes, which make for Hawaii’s distinct and gorgeous landscape. If I have three words to describe this paradise, I’d say it’s majestic, magical, and awe-inspiring, and this was clearly evident during our road trip around Oahu.
Given that, wouldn’t it be nice to hear “Aloha” from the lovely flight attendant in your next trip? You’ve already seen this paradise on TV before and of course, the movie ‘Jurassic Park’, but experiencing it for yourself is worthwhile and satisfying. If you’re reading this, I am quite sure you’re planning your upcoming Hawaiian trip and you wanted some tips, or you’re really inspired by Hawaii that you just want to daydream about it. I’m hoping it’s the former. :)
I’ve been there and I’ve done that. And of course I wanted to share with you all the awesome stuff I’ve learned when I went to the rainbow state, hence, I’ve created this guide detailing what you need to know about and what to do when visiting Hawaii, the Aloha state. Enjoy!
First off, where is Oahu and Hawaii in the map?
Ever noticed in the intro that I kept on saying Hawaii, then Oahu, and back? Is it baffling you out? I might mention these words many times as we go along, so to avoid the confusion, let me take the initiative to clear this first. If you are from the US and you think I’m crazy (tourist ignorance issues) and it doesn’t confuse you in any way, head on to the next part.
Hawaii (The US state) – refers to the whole of Hawaii, and all islands in it.
Hawaii (Big Island) – this is where it gets confusing. Mainly because the state’s biggest and southernmost island is also called Hawaii, or the Big Island.
Oahu – the most populous and most touristy island in Hawaii state. This is where most of the activity is. This is also where the state’s capital is (Honolulu).
Honolulu – a city within Oahu, this is where the famed Waikiki beach is.
Got it? So in this blog post, which will focus on Oahu, note that whenever I say Hawaii (unless otherwise mentioned), it means I am talking about the whole of Hawaii in general, and that includes Oahu, the island.
When in Hawaii, prepare to bask in the sun, and some rainfall in between
When you see Hawaii gracing the pages of magazines, you always see warm sunshine that perfectly goes with its incredible beaches, don’t cha?
So there is the expectation of bright, all-day sunshine, sun-kissed tan, all that.
But in reality, it rains somewhere in Hawaii every single day. And it tends to get worse during the “rainy-er” months of November up until March. In fact, Oahu is known to have the longest rain shower in history – totaling to more than 200 days of continuous rainfall – beat that!
If you’re coming in for the first time, you have to set your expectations and try to book your trip away from these rainy months. And be prepared with an umbrella, too.
I learned this the hard way – we went in March and experienced cloudy thunderstorms more than seeing bright, sunny days. There was even this one time when we had to wear our ABC store grocery bags over our head while running over to our hotel because of an unexpected shower LOL.
But of course, without its unique sunny-wet-sunny weather, Hawaii wouldn’t have that lush, green landscape that it’s known for.
And also don’t feel bad when it always rains where you are in Hawaii, because it is the cause of frequent rainbow shows popping from one area to another. It’s called “Rainbow State” for a reason, you know.
When in Hawaii, do and wear like the locals
It’s easy. First off, wear something that you would normally wear when on a beach. You know what I mean – those skimpy bikinis and mankinis are welcome, too. You can also wear whatever it is when taking a stroll through the busy streets of downtown Honolulu – no issue with that. At all.
I think we all overdid it a bit in this photo, but it was an Aloha-themed wedding anyway so we were excused.
Then, project a laid back attitude. Now this one is a little bit tougher, but in case you want to blend in, the easiest way to do this is to wear shades and stay cool and casual at it, and then do the Shaka sign, which is almost mandatory when taking photos, like the ‘peace’ sign they do in Japan. The Shaka hand sign means to “hang loose” and this mostly relates to the Hawaiian surfer culture.
And for the ladies, you’ll be missing a lot if you don’t wear some Plumeria (Kalachuchi) flowers tucked in your ears and a big smile to go with it. I see this as a big thing among women and hey, it hey it’ll look pretty on you if you do!
Since the ‘surfer culture’ is all over Hawaii, you might want to bring your surfing gear as well. The waves in Hawaii are perfect for surfing, and having your rash guard ready for when the opportunity’s there makes the experience even more possible.
And then arm yourself with some cool facts about Hawaii
To make you the coolest of the bunch when in the islands, here are some interesting facts to know:
- Though a tropical archipelago, there is snow in Hawaii during the winter months. Yes, you heard that right. The catch is, it only snows in Mauna Kea. This dormant volcano stands tall at 33,476 feet from the sea floor, which is twice as tall as the Everest.
- Hawaii is the most isolated locale on earth. It’s comforting to not feel alone in Waikiki while knowing you’re in the islands that are strewn at the center of the vast Pacific Ocean.
- Blame it on the continuous churning out of fresh molten lava by the active Kilauea Volcano, the Big Island’s getting bigger by more than 42 acres each year. This volcano has been erupting for more than 30 years!
- Say ‘Aloha’ as much as you want, because this word can mean so much at once. It can mean ‘hello’, ‘welcome’, ‘love’, ‘best wishes’ or even ‘goodbye’.
- By law, no building on Kauai Island can be built taller than a palm tree.
- Niihau island, the westernmost and the seventh largest inhabited island, was purchased in 1864 by Elizabeth Sinclair from King Kamehameha V for $10,000 in gold and a promise that the family would preserve the native language and way of life. She then passed on to her descendants, the Robinson family. Lucky them!
- Sand was shipped in to create the beach in Waikiki in the 1920s, and before that it was a swamp.
- Spam is Hawaii’s state dish – at least this is what I choose to believe in. The people of Hawaii consume the most Spam per capita in the U.S. They love it so much, they have this salty, juicy and meaty delight in their staple.
When in Hawaii, explore what Honolulu has to offer
This is the capital of Hawaii, after all, and this is where the infamous Waikiki Beach is.
And there must be something special about Waikiki beach because 72,000 visitors go to this place on any given day and that’s about 44 percent of all vacationers present in the entire state of Hawaii, so it only makes sense that dipping into the beaches of Waikiki should be on top of your priority list.
Honolulu is where the ʻIolani Palace is, and this is the only palace in America where royals ever lived
And for the food, last-minute buys, Macadamia nuts, chocolates, and other stuff, don’t fret, because ABC convenience stores are almost in every corner of the city
When in downtown Honolulu, don’t be surprised to find yourself in the midst of a festival
We came at the right time in March during the Honolulu festival – a three-day celebration of culture and parade through Waikiki. And the best thing is, all the performances are free. If you’re in the city, it will help to check out the upcoming nearby events.
Where to stay in Honolulu, you ask? Well, there are too many options around.
But if you’re looking for an inexpensive hotel that’s at the center of all the happenings, I’d recommend Hokele Suites – this is where we stayed at and we enjoyed the fact that we didn’t need to take the bus to get around the city, and the famous beach, which is just a two-minute walk from the hotel. Each suite also has a fully-functional kitchen – perfect for saving $$$ on food in this very expensive city. Also when looking for affordable accommodation, it’s best to book weeks in advance – you know how expensive last-minute reservations are especially in Honolulu. Check affordable Honolulu hotel rates now!
When in Hawaii, don’t forget to go on a road trip around Oahu Island
When in Hawaii, basking in the sun along the sexy shores of Waikiki beach in the city of Honolulu is no longer enough. You might be tempted to it, but at least try to rent an inexpensive car and explore around the island because hey, there are lots of other better things you can do around the islands.
This can be actually done in a day, but if you would like a more leisurely road trip and stay the night along the way, it’s up to you.
Ahh, there’s a different atmosphere going on a road trip around Oahu, far away from the happenings of the city
And these green, jagged mountains that’s distinctive to Hawaii are majestic and awe-inspiring, they make you want to stop and be appreciative of all the nature around you
It also feels different, weirdly lonesome and exciting all at the same time, knowing that you’re on a road-trip across the most isolated part of the planet, in the midst of the vast Pacific Ocean
…and give you a glimpse of life as a local in Hawaii
Be sure to try local produce along the way
Since you’re already on the road, do not forget to try the Shrimp Shack for lunch