Want to visit Oahu without looking like a tourist? No problem. We’ve partnered with Hawaii-based travel bloggers Reid and Maryrose Hicks from WanderlusStyle to give you a first-hand look at what to eat and where to explore while you’re in Oahu!
No one likes a crowded paradise. When traveling frequently, many look for those “secret” spots that are “non-touristy”. You may be the type of person that does not want to ride tour busses packed with twenty other people moving at their pace. Although there are rare moments when the reason to visit a location is for a famous landmark or exciting spot, this is dedicated for those true adventurers. We decided to share our favorite spots on Oahu that may help others avoid those tourist traps. If you want a different experience, try to see things in a new perspective; see things like a local! Here is a glimpse of options we love to do, eat, and experience, which encapsulates the essence of Oahu we hope you endeavor.
Eat Like a Local
Before we get started with satisfying our stomachs, let us mention that Local food and Hawaiian food are two different styles. Local food is a combination of different culturally influenced dishes which end up being unique to Hawaii. Some examples includes malasadas, manapuas, spam musubi, and chicken katsu to name a few. As for Hawaiian food, these are dishes comprising of ingredients ancient Hawaiians incorporated and are still cooked in the same manner such as pounding poi and using an underground oven for Kalua pork.
Waiahole Poi Factory
Remember tourist traps and how we are trying to avoid them? Many people think the only authentic Hawaiian food is by going to a Luau. False. Waiahole Poi Factory is one of the best Hawaiian food spots on the island, no doubt in mind. They offer many traditional dishes such as Laulau (pork or beef wrapped in taro leaf and cooked to a tender pulp) of all sorts of variety, Lomi Salmon, Kalua Pig, Chicken Long Rice, Poi, and locally made juices such as limeade and lilikoi. Along with main courses, they serve ono (meaning ‘delicious’ in Hawaiian) desserts such as Kulolo and Haupia! It’s so good that our never ending quest to find the best Haupia (coconut milk-based dish) may be finished. If you are able to visit, their dessert is a must!
Food trucks are a booming business in Hawaii and it seems that more and more “main” local restaurant chains have a satellite food truck to fit in with the times. When the question is asked, “What are we eating when we go to North Shore?” 99.9 percent of the time it’s a food truck, more precisely, a shrimp truck. It’s almost a monthly occurrence to eat at one, and at one point we were trying a new shrimp truck every month. Giovannis is the most well-known shrimp truck, but is mediocre at best. Here are a few others to try: Romy’s Kahuku Prawns and Shrimp, Fumi’s Kahuku Shrimp, and Macky’s.
Raw fish. Although this is native to many island/coastal based societies, this can be categorized as Hawaiian/Local food. Spicy Ahi (Yellowfin Tuna) is the go-to dish after a long day at the beach or daunting hike. We can’t nail our “favorite” Poke spot, but here are some that we find equally delicious: Pa’ina Cafe, Tanioka’s Seafood & Catering, Tamura’s Market, or even good ole Foodland. You can buy fresh cut fish by the pound and make it last for a couple days.
Shimazu Shave Ice
This ain’t your snow cone, buddy. This is freshly shaved paper thin pieces of ice that easily melts in your mouth. It can be flavored in your favorite toppings (up to three flavors). Imagine that – three of your favorite flavors fusing together to create one grand taste! It’s the most refreshing thing you can have on a nice summer day. Shimazu Shave Ice is your little hole in the wall go-to for the best shave ice around! In contrast, Matsumoto’s is the tourist trap.
The quickest pick up for your favorite local food. Anyone who eats should be able to find one dish they like here, I guarantee it. Personal favorites: Mochiko Chicken, Korean Chicken, and Chili Frank (which is a Redondo’s red hot dog & Zippy’s famous chili with ‘no bean’ option.) Other alternatives to Zippy’s may include L&L Drive-Inn or Loco Moco. These eateries have multiple locations and serve similar items on their menu.
Local Activities & Attractions
Kualoa Ranch is home to many activities: Sight-seeing tours, movie location tours, horseback riding, ATV, or zip-lining to name most. It may have a flux of tourists attending these events, but Kualoa Ranch is massive, which still allows for plenty of “privacy” although you are only allowed around via tour. Another factor, which limits too much activity, is that it’s about 45 mins. – 1.5 hr. drive from the Waikiki strip — this is far considering the heavy Oahu traffic.
Skydiving is one thing, but skydiving in Hawaii is astonishing. This is far from normal, and by no means a tourist trap, as not many are wiling to do this. Definitely a great thing to do, so let being in Hawaii be an even better incentive for a “once-in-a-lifetime” bucket list tick. Quite honestly, there’s no explanation possible to describe skydiving, the best explanation is to experience it yourself, which we highly encourage! (fun fact: it’s not like a roller coaster). “One way to get the most out of life is to look upon it as an adventure.” – William Feather
KCC Farmers Market
Free to attend. Fresh fruits and vegetables. A great place to taste local food and best of all — you’re supporting all local businesses! It’s hard to leave this Farmers Market without buying anything for yourself or loved ones back home.
Friday Night Fireworks at Waikiki
Most hotels are in Waikiki, so if you are around on a Friday, this is a great free attraction that is not well-known. It’s located at Hilton Hawaiian Village and it starts after sunset, approximately 7:45 p.m. It’s great for families! Enjoy a nighttime picnic on the soft sand as a warm breeze blows over a calm ocean and the fireworks explode overhead.
Hikes & Beaches
The best possible alternatives to paying for an activity or attraction, not to mention the reason most people come to Hawaii, are the beautiful beaches and scenic hikes!
Lanikai Pillbox Hike
One of the best views you can have along the East Coast of Oahu. This hike is for the (at least) average-level hiker, because it does come with a little huffing and puffing. The prize is a priceless view of Lanikai, Kailua, Kaneohe Marine Corps Base, all the way to Waimanalo (Bellows beach area), and Makapu’u. One of the best sunrise hikes you can do!
After accomplishing the Lanikai Pillbox Hike, hit up the non-crowded beaches down below, without moving your car! This is the “double-relation-whammy.” Combine the two for an all-day adventure: start early with a nice sunrise hike and rinse off in the cool Pacific afterwards. Lanikai Beach is shallow for approximately 20 feet/6 meters out, and has a sand bottom for a majority of the area. The waves are also generally small to none on most days.
Just around the bend lies Bellows Beach in Waimanalo. Sherwoods and Bellows are along the same coast and are even the same beach however, the Bellows section is on a military base, where as Sherwoods is not. Growing up it was easily a favorite spot because of the endless sandy bottom and fun-sized waves; good for bodyboarding and bodysurfing. This beach is great for families with kids who want to jump in with manageable size waves.
If you’re tired of sunrises, take a drive out to the West side in Ko’olina and witness a life-changing sunset with incredible colors (experience may vary!). It’s hard to miss a good sunset in Hawaii, you just need to find a great spot and Ko’olina offers just that. Any of the four man-made beach coves provides perfect seating to watch the display of dancing colors. Kids will be safe at play in the placid waters of the lagoon, no matter how choppy the outside ocean may appear.
This hike is the most demanding hike on the list. It requires some rock scaling and is an uphill battle the entire way. It’s not as popular as the other hikes — which is always a good thing — but be there early if you want to be the only one on top, as many people still want their own selfie!
Makapuu Lighthouse Hike
Quite possibly the safest and easiest hike on Oahu. No matter the shape, size, or physical condition, this hike can easily be accomplished! Mothers can even take their children up in strollers on this trail. We’ve seen people pushing their grandparents in wheelchairs. Pets and children will find this hike very enjoyable, yet tiring. It is state maintained and has a newly renovated lookout platform with a gorgeous view.
We hope you explore like a local on your next visit to Oahu! Embrace your inner local, and enjoy the experiences others never knew existed!
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