A recap of our trip to Oahu and Kauai, including all the delicious food and gorgeous sights we enjoyed!
I don’t think I mentioned it on the blog, but a couple weeks ago, I was in Hawaii for a week and a half. I promise, I haven’t become a total jet setter! My older sister-in-law got married on Maui, so Scott and I used it as an excuse to go island hopping. I went to Hawaii when I was in high school with my mom and brother, but Scott had never been before. I remember Hawaii being beautiful, but it was so much more incredible than what I had remembered! Of course, if you know us then you won’t be surprised to hear there was very little beach time and a whole lot of eating, hiking and exploring.
The food was pretty incredible! I was expecting it to be really touristy, but because Hawaii is such a melting pot, there’s tons of fusion cuisine and authentic Asian restaurants. Oahu was littered with hole in the wall ethnic restaurants and Kauai with food trucks selling awesome food made with local ingredients. With it’s pretty much perfect climate, the produce is fantastic too. Oh, and those avocados….
Today I’m sharing a recap of our first few days on Oahu and Kauai, then next week I’ll give you a peek into our time on Maui.
Scott and I left early Thanksgiving morning and hopped on a flight to Oahu. After 14 hours of travel, we landed in Honolulu, late afternoon on a rainy day. Since most places were closed for Thanksgiving, Scott and I went for a nice long run along Waikiki’s main drag, then up to Leonard’s for malasadas, a type of Portuguese donut. I’m not even a donut person but these were heaven – warm, yeasty, fluffy and sprinkled with sugar! We couldn’t decide what to get, so we ended up with ones stuffed with coconut cream, custard and another sprinkled with li hing mui, a kind of salted plum candy popular in Hawaii. Probably not the greatest idea to run with donuts and custard in our belly, but somehow we made it back to our hotel for the most spectacular sunset of our trip.
Our Thanksgiving dinner was kind of untraditional – sushi at Yanagi Sushi, one of the best sushi restaurants in Hawaii. Hey, there were lots of carbs involved so we were happy!
The next morning, we got up at 4:30 (which wasn’t as bad as it sounds since we were up at 3:00 with jet lag anyway) and hiked to the summit of Diamond Head Crater for sunrise. Unfortunately, about 16 tour busses had the same idea we did. Despite the crowds, it was a pretty epic view and we found a nice, somewhat quiet spot to enjoy it. If you’re going, it’s definitely worth getting there early and (please don’t sue me if you get hurt) hopping on top of the covered overlook at the top to avoid the crowds of tourists filtering through.
We were pretty hungry at that point, so we enjoyed a yummy breakfast of avocado toast with dukkah and potato rosti with mushrooms and eggs at Tucker and Beevy, the cutest little cafe (they also have a great pickup place on Waikiki for lunch!). After waiting in a long line for tickets to Pearl Harbor, we visited Iolani Palace, built by a former king of Hawaii, and wandered around Chinatown and downtown Honolulu.
Because apparently we didn’t get enough Vietnamese food when we were in Vietnam, we grabbed lunch at this incredible Vietnamese restaurant, The Pig and the Lady. The sweet and sour broth in my vegetable noodle soup with pineapple, tomatoes and lemongrass was possibly the best broth I’ve ever tasted. I also got a lemongrass tofu banh mi, while Scott had a more traditional banh mi with bacon, a fried egg, and shallots and a bowl of bun bo hue soup.
After lunch, we took the trek back out to Pearl Harbor to visit the USS Arizona memorial. It’s a very somber place, but pretty incredible to hear the people who work there talk about the dwindling number of survivors who still make it out there.
After a sunset walk along the beach in Waikiki, we enjoyed a local beer at our hotel rooftop, which had a perfect unobstructed view of Diamond Head. Then we walked down the street to Ono Hawaiian Foods for some of the best Hawaiian food on the island. Anthony Bourdain says it’s true so it must be! Scott and I split a combination plate which came with pipikaula (beef jerky), lomi lomi salmon (salmon and tomato ceviche), kalua pig, pork lau lau (pork cooked in taro leaves), hot chili and vinegar sauce, and poi, the somewhat interesting puree of fermented taro. It was served with very specific instructions of how to eat the foods in a specific order ‘until you fall asleep,’ which we just about did after a long day of hiking and adventure. For dessert, we had haupia, a type of coconut pudding.
Oh my goodness guys. Kauai is actually heaven. I had heard so many great things about Kauai and it exceeded all my expectations. I wish we had another couple weeks (or forever!) there to explore! It was easily the most naturally beautiful place I’ve ever been.
Right off the plane, we hopped straight on to a helicopter to tour the island from the air. Taking a helicopter tour of Hawaii has been on my bucket list ever since I saw Jurassic Park as a child, so we went all out with a private, doors off helicopter. Seeing the island from the sky was spectacular. We flew over and into Waimea Canyon, through Na Pali coast, into an extinct volcano crater and past what seemed like a bazillion waterfalls. Unfortunately, I got a little airsick. More than a little airsick. Like, I threw up. Twice. I think I impressed our pilot with my ability to puke and rally, because I wanted to soak up every minute in the air, nausea and all! Still, it was still the highlight of the island and one of our favorite things we did in Hawaii And frankly, I kind of did it to myself. They told me to stare at the horizon when you start to feel nauseous, but the scenery was so gorgeous I couldn’t take my eyes off of it!
For lunch, because clearly I had some room in my stomach after our helicopter tour, we went to Fish Express. If we had another week on the island, I would eat there every day! They had the most epic deli with all different kinds of poke (fish salad), bento boxes, and fish plates, all made with freshly caught local Hawaiian seafood. We picked up some ahi poke (because raw fish is known for settling an upset stomach…), I got macadamia nut crusted ahi and Scott ordered cajun crusted swordfish.
We took our picnic lunch out to Waimea Canyon, aka the Grand Canyon of the Pacific. I think Hawaii was in the mood to show off, because we got to see a huge rainbow over the canyon! We spend the rest of the day driving back into the canyon, stopping at every viewpoint we could find. We couldn’t get over all the gorgeous colors in the canyon! Unfortunately, by the time we were getting to the end, storm clouds were rolling through and there was zero visibility. If you’re going there, I suggest going early in the day or driving all the way to the back, then working your way towards the shore, where it’s usually pretty cloudless by the end of the day.
For dinner, we were still dreaming of poke so we went to Ishihara Market to pick up a picnic dinner to enjoy with sunset on the beach. Spicy ahi poke with fish roe, seaweed salad, and two types of octopus poke for the win!
The entire Kalalau trail is an 11 mile hike in (then 11 miles out) along the Na Pali Coast, the most rugged (and beautiful) area of Kauai where massive sheer cliffs meet the ocean. Since we weren’t really equipped, we took a shorter version, in 2 miles to a rocky beach, then back inland 2 miles to a massive waterfall. The hike was absolutely insane! The trails were soaked from recent rain so it was basically like hiking in a mud pit! We just said ‘F-it’ to our shoes and went straight into the ankle deep mud. It’s okay because they were washed clean in the 8 or so creeks we had to ford!
On our way back, we stopped at a few of the beaches and viewpoints along the northern coasts, then for a seared ahi nori wrap with Thai iced tea with coconut at Mermaids Cafe. We then drove out to a few more waterfalls near our hotel, and stopped at the ruins of an ancient Hawaiian heiau, or temple. Back at the hotel, we enjoyed much needed beers and a shower before dinner.
For dinner, we went out to Verde, a Mexican-Hawaiian farm to table fusion restaurant. I am still dreaming of my vegetarian sopapillas filled with crispy fried taro, cheese, guacamole and spicy chili sauce.
The next day, it was so hard to say goodbye to Kauai! We drove as much of the coastline as you possibly can, but I still felt like there was so much more to explore. But it was off to Maui for wedding festivities and family time. Can’t wait to share a sneak peak next week!