My Intro to the Aloha State
I arrived on Oahu expecting to hit the ground running and with the whole Saturday evening to observe how the locals get down for Halloween -- there was a huge annual music and costume festival called Hallowbaloo, along with multiple after parties at bars all over downtown Honolulu. I set out to Enterprise to grab my rental car, check into my hotel, and hit up Hawaii, but that joyride screeched to a halt before it even began. My car confirmation email had $166 as my total price for the 5-day rental (thanks to my friend's employee discount), however, the kiosk screen when I checked in read $311. I was like, “Come again?” My friend who made the reservation for me and I both thought the expected price already included the pesky under 25 rental fee and the other random costs they tacked on, but nope. Damn those fees!
I turned to my dear ever so clutch Relay Rides, a community-driven rental car service, to look for an alternative, less expensive, last minute option. It took me a whiiile to get it all together, but I found a car I was able to rent from someone that very same night for under $200 total. Relay Rides, for the win.
A few hours later than expected, I hit up the Chinatown district, which is about 15 minutes away from Waikiki, where mostly all Honolulu tourists stay. I caught the tail end of the Hallowbaloo festival, regrettably missing all the live music performers. The streets were still packed, though, with hundreds of crazy costumed individuals who were still getting their party on. They went all out, playing zero games when it came to creativity. I’d never seen that many people donning Halloween costumes all at once, especially ones that were so well executed.
Having not eaten anything since taking off from LAX, I was starving. I stumbled upon the Downbeat Diner, “a booze-serving late night diner in the middle of the action” that my favorite travel blogger once mentioned during her time on Oahu (I went back through her posts prior to arriving to pull out some of her suggestions). It was cool to recognize the familiar name. Throngs of people inside (normally a good sign) and an appetizing menu invited me in. The action was most definitely on and the crowds certainly hadn’t died down just because the festival had ended. I was lucky to nab a seat at the bar, where I ordered two spiked strawberry lemonades (btw, cocktails in mason jars >) and a yummy teriyaki burger while chit chatting with a couple of locals. One was actually driving one of those electric mobility scooters, and I swear I couldn’t tell whether he had gone really overboard with his costume, or if he actually was limited in mobility. That could have been an awkward question to ask, eh?
Afterwards in a nearby corner store, I came across what was probably one of the most silly but genius costumes I’d seen all night. I had to take her picture! I was a bit buzzed off the drinks and almost didn’t even get the photo.
Good thing I did. Her eye-catching, hand-made Cup of Noodles costume was a hoot -- I loved how her blonde 'fro served as ramen noodles complete with the veggies! I tweeted this pic on Halloween, and quickly discovered I wasn’t the only one who found it amusing. My mentions wouldn’t sleep for a couple days, with hundreds of retweets and people cracking up at her creativity.
Tamika arrived Sunday, the next day, in the early afternoon. It was our only full afternoon together before she’d have to spend the rest of her days in HI working on her assignment. I’m all, “let’s hit the beach! Let’s go do fun stuff!” Next thing I know, we end up strolling to the mall. Going shopping wasn’t on my radar at all for my very short time in paradise, but Tamika wouldn’t be Tamika if she wasn’t dying to make acquaintances with somebody’s mall. If you are a shopaholic and you know it, you’ll be glad to know that Honolulu has great shopping; the mall is close to everything in Waikiki...a nice, large, outdoor-style (of course -- it’s Hawaii) with both your traditional and high-end stores.
Paddle Boarding, Biking, and Hiking in Kailua/Lanikai
Tamika had to work from then on, so the next day I ventured off on a solo expedition. I signed up for a stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) lesson at Kailua Beach through Hawaiiactivities.com. Paddleboarding was an absolute must for me; I've wanted to go ever since I found out SUP was a thing about a year and a half ago. I'm all for all types of water activities, and what a better place for first time SUPing than here?
For $114 (you have to reserve online to receive this 15% discounted price), Kailua Beach Activities provides round trip transportation to Kailua from Waikiki, 2-hour group paddle boarding instruction, lunch, an extra hour and half or so of free time for snorkeling/biking/hanging at the beach, and a souvenir water canteen to take home with you.
I ended up being the only one of the bunch who was on the paddleboarding lesson for the day, and got to have a one-on-one session for the day between the instructor, Lara, and I. She was a great instructor, fun to talk to throughout the experience, and coincidentally from the DC area like myself.
We started off cruising on the tranquil canal, where Lara taught me how to properly balance, paddle, and turn the board. I got the hang of it pretty quickly, gliding through the waterway and simultaneously enjoying the exercise and incredible surrounding views.
With a palm tree lined golf course to my left, beautifully quaint waterfront homes to my right, lush green hills and mountains soaring into clouds beyond, and the heart-melting ocean behind me, I was blissed out like no other. Utopia at last.
Lara told me about what each of the main Hawaiian islands were like and had tons of suggestions for where to go around Oahu. I loved hearing all of her stories about living in Hawaii since escaping her blasé office life in DC two years ago to pursue her marine biology Master’s and a healthily active life in paradise. I completely understood why. My heart longs for this fulfilling lifestyle as well (minus the school). I'm telling you, my 9-5 days are numbered!
We ventured back to the ocean to try paddling the high seas. As idyllic as the translucent turquoise beach was, the wind that day was a bit unforgiving for a newbie SUP’er like myself. I tried following Lara’s lead, who had mastered the art of paddle boarding and effortlessly floated away against the breeze, but the current decided to take me and my board in the opposite direction. In an attempt to turn the thing around while keeping my balance, I took a tumble sideways right into the water. It was all good, I think I wanted to fall and splash into the splendid sea just once; is that weird?
I had a lot of fun paddle boarding for the first time at Kailua. As we wrapped up our lesson back on the calm and easy canal, I mentally checked it off my ‘life list,’ but I’d definitely love to continue SUPing at all future sea side destinations I plan to visit.
Afterwards, it was time for lunch. You have the option of choosing between a pizza place, a Hawaiian BBQ joint, or vegan. I went with the Hawaiian and practically inhaled a very traditional chicken katsu meal with a mellow guava juice. Then, I had the remainder of my time on this side of the island to either explore or hang loose right there at the beach.
I had an appetite for more adventure, so I sprang for the exploration. Lara told me about a moderate hiking trail I could check out and that Lanikai Beach was just a few minutes away.
I grabbed the shop’s prettiest kaleidoscopic bike and pedaled gingerly towards Lanikai, while feeling all around exuberant from the natural high that being in a place so perfect gives you. Lanikai means "Heavenly Sea" in the Hawaiian language, and is deservedly known as one of the most scenic beaches in the world -- with the whitest sand and bluest ocean I've seen in ages. It’s truly everything.
I found the Lanikai Pillbox Hiking Trail Lara told me about and shot up the trail as quickly as I could, despite it not exactly faring as an easy uphill climb in sandals (whew, she hiked in sandals!). I had spent so much time admiring the sights from my bike ride, stopping along the way to marvel and snap photos, that I barely paid attention to the fact that it was almost time for me to make my way back to the shop to catch my 2:30pm ride back to Waikiki!
It’s 2:17 and I’m nearly halfway up the hike. As much as I wanted to conquer it and climb to the very top, I definitely did not want to miss the bus and find my own way back to Waikiki 45 minutes away. Luckily, I didn't have to reach the very top to be rewarded with these amazing views. The Mokulua Islands, Kailua Beach, and Lanikai Beach scenery from up there was post-card perfect. Suddenly, I became even more wildly smitten with Oahu.
I'd be lying if I said the hike tease didn't kick my little butt just a little bit. Sweating from the heated effort, I zoomed back down the steep, rocky, and dusty path while being careful not to bust my ass in those sandals. I biked back to the shop as quickly as I could, arriving exactly at 2:30 on the dot. Phew. By 2:34, I was breathing easily in the shuttle's welcoming AC and on my way back to my hotel, extremely gratified by my very pleasant morning in gorgeous Kailua and Lanikai.
Do you enjoy being active when traveling, or are you more of a kick back and relax type of vacationer?