As our flight taxied in on the runway at Honolulu International Airport, I felt the same sense of excitement. No matter how many times I have made this flight, first as a high school graduate, then as a flight attendant working this desirable route, later as the wife of my then-husband, a roadie with various rock and roll groups that performed at the Waikiki Shell, and now with my BFF, who owns a timeshare at the Imperial Hawaii Resort ….it always thrills me.
Hawaii is known as a very romantic place for couples. In fact, on practically any given day, one can see just-marrieds being photographed in their hotel lobby, on the beach, or along Kalakaua Avenue, the bride in a gorgeous, long, white wedding dress, usually escorted by someone holding up the train of her gown to make it easier for her to navigate.
Yes, Hawaii is a definitely a place for lovers; however, I want to go on the record to say that Honolulu, and especially the Waikiki area, can also be an outstanding travel destination for two good friends, with no romance at all involved.
We always start our vacation with brunch at the Outrigger Reef’s Shorebird Restaurant. Situated on the beach with a view of Diamond Head, it’s the perfect spot to enjoy a comprehensive buffet breakfast for $15.95, plus tip & tax. (And, if you go online to the Shorebird’s website and show that page to the cashier as you enter, you’ll only pay half price for the second person’s buffet.) This generous spread includes freshly-sliced ham and turkey, scrambled eggs, French toast, fish, sausages, yogurt, a variety of fresh fruit and pastries, coffee, hot cocoa, tea, and various juices, including the always popular POG (a combination of passion fruit, orange and guava). Begin your day here, and you can be set for most of the day meal-wise.
Dining out in Waikiki in general is amazing because there are so many choices of cuisine in a variety of price ranges. Some recommendations of our favorites include:
Hula Grill in the Outrigger Waikiki Beach Resort, overlooking the beach with a view of Diamond Head. For breakfast, we tend to share either the banana/macadamia nut or the tropical pancakes and an acai bowl (a fruit smoothie served in a bowl with fresh fruit and granola on top).
Tilia Aloha Café at Kuhio and Kaiolu with its delicious waffles made of taro. Be adventurous and try these great-tasting waffles served with fresh fruit and mascarpone. Tilia also dishes up an excellent acai bowl.
Roy’s Waikiki for dinner, international cuisine with a Hawaiian influence, a bit pricey, but worth it. Do ask for the complimentary dinner rolls, which are baked right at the time you order them; otherwise, they may not be offered. We enjoy dining on the lanai and watching the world go by.
Ruth’s Chris Steak House for dinner or for happy hour. Their steaks are outstanding, but if you are a vegetarian, there are still plenty of options. Do try the amazing sweet potato casserole and one of their salads, and, if you are still hungry, they have delicious desserts.
Last, but not least, the best “hole in the wall” ever is the Seaside Bar & Grill on Seaside and Kuhio where you may want to request Cisco as your waiter. This diner has been around for quite some time and not much has changed. Murals of Hawaiian hotels and of Diamond Head grace the walls, and it offers one of the cheapest breakfasts in town. Their breakfast special brings you scrambled eggs, bacon, and two pancakes for just $4.95. There is also a coupon for two glasses of orange juice for the price of one. Visit soon, though, because rumor has it that due to increasing rents, this restaurant may not be here forever.
After a hearty breakfast, it’s time to hit the beach, relax at your pool, or perhaps to start shopping. For the basics, the ABC Stores are everywhere. In fact, sometimes there are two on one block. There you will find gift items, Aloha clothing, food to go, toiletries, soaps, lotions and, of course, chocolate-covered macadamia nuts. If you keep your receipts and spend a total of $100, you will receive a gift, which is typically a coffee mug. We laugh at the effort we have put into spending $100 just to get a free mug that sells for $3.00 at the store.
The Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center has an extensive list of free classes. I tried the hula one and thought I looked pretty good by the end of the hour lesson. You can learn to weave a mat or make a lei and watch hula shows, and there is a list posted for the week to let you know all the activities that are happening.
We actually enjoyed taking classes at the Apple store on Kalakaua, There are two other locations including the one at the Ala Moana Shopping Center. If you are into shopping malls, you can combine a computer class with a shopping expedition. You should sign up for the classes online and book in advance, although people do just show up, and if there is space, they will let you join the class. We enjoyed the iphone photography class and also learning more about our laptop computers.
A stay in Honolulu would not be complete without listening to beautiful Hawaiian music and watching graceful hula dancers. We have many recommendations, but at the top of the list of “must not miss” is the renowned group Olomana with Jerry Santos, Ryan Tang, and Ku’uipo Kumukahi playing at the Tapa Bar in the Hilton Hawaiian Village on Friday and Saturday evenings starting at 8:00 p.m. Jerry is a gifted story teller who shares with his audience Hawaiian legends and also his personal insights into life in Hawaii. On any given night, Rae Tang and other well-known hula dancers may be there to further entertain. There is no cover or minimum and as you sit outside in a lovely tropical setting, you can enjoy typical drinks, smoothies, and pizza.
You may also want to check out the fireworks before the show starts on Friday at 7:45 p.m. on the beach of the Hilton Hawaiian Village. And if you want to make this a very complete evening, make a reservation at Benihana’s before the show starts and allow about 1.5 hours for dinner. They really don’t serve food at the Tapa Bar, just a pizza that gets delivered from a nearby pizza restaurant.
Other great places to enjoy music include any of the groups that play at Dukes, which is situated at the Outrigger Waikiki, or at the restaurant as you walk into The Reef. The Blue Note which is a jazz club, originally started in New York, now has a location in the Outrigger Waikiki. They have a Sunday gospel brunch and an evening show. Lee Rittenour just performed there and Chaka Khan performed in May. In the evening, you have a choice of having a cocktail with a minimum charge or dinner. I would say that most of the seats are good, so no need to purchase the dinner in order to get priority seating
There are some interesting shows such as Rock a Hula Legends in Concert. We saw a tribute show featuring a tribute to Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson and Celine Dion, intertwined with hula, Tahitian and fire dances. I wouldn’t say it was the greatest show in town, but surely a fun evening. Again, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend having the dinner before when just an entry ticket will suffice. We ate at The Cheesecake Factory in the same area. Do prepare for a wait since it is one of the busiest restaurants in town.
And yes, there is always the beach. Do check online for the jellyfish schedules since you don’t want to be there when they are active. You can rent surfboards and get private lessons if that interests you.
For one of the best hotels in town, stay at the Waikiki Sheraton. Their infinity pool overlooking the ocean will cause you to want to spend the entire day there. That and the fact that they came around with frozen grapes and wet cloths. Of course, if you do that, how will you get around to these other places…….
Aloha and have fun!