Mahalo (thanks) to everyone for the great suggestions. We’re back and we had an awesome time.
In the interest of giving back, I thought I could provide some notes from our trip in case anyone else is traveling that direction in the near future.
Where we stayed
We spent the two weeks in an Airbnb in Laie (North Shore area) as home base. We really liked the pace of things on the North Shore - slow and peaceful, plus we got a place with a backyard that had a trampoline and toys so it was great for the kids when we had down time. Being at the Airbnb also helped us save some money as we could cook meals (when we had the time and energy) instead of eating out.
Where we went
Here were the things we did/places we visited (in no particular order) with comments on each:
- Hanauma Bay
It costs a bit for admission ($1 for parking and $7.50 per adult per day) and the parking lot gets full early (like 7:30 AM). Nice beach with great snorkeling, but you should definitely bring reef socks. Before you can go in, you’ll need to watch an informational video (to teach you about how to protect the reef) but once you’ve watched the video once you can come back additional days without having to watch it again.
- Laie Point
This happened to be at the end of the street that our Airbnb was on and it’s just an amazing place to take in the view - there are a few small islands off the point so you can watch the waves. This is also an incredible place to catch a sunrise if you can get there early enough on a clear day.
- Waimea Valley/Waimea Falls
This is a botanical garden with a fun paved walking path that ends at a waterfall. Bring your swimsuits as you can swim in the pool by the waterfall - it’s a really fun experience. They provide lifejackets (mandatory) for anyone going in the water. There’s also a section here with a replica Hawaiian village which was fun to see. Admission is expensive - $16 per adult and $12 per child if I remember correctly. We went two times and ended up buying a family annual pass as it was cheaper to do that than pay for admission twice.
- Clissold’s Beach (AKA Bikini Beach)
This beach was a few steps from our Airbnb. The sand was coarser than most places but the beach was incredibly private (and we could walk there which was amazing). If you do go, keep an eye out for broken glass on the beach - I found a fair amount.
There’s a cool area on the north end of the beach where you can walk out quite far and explore some reef rocks and maybe even catch some crabs and other creatures crawling around.
- Waikiki (Kuhio Beach)
We spent one day in Waikiki - bought Hawaiian dresses for the girls and spent an afternoon at Kuhio beach. There’s a nice area that’s got a wall to protect from the waves - keeping things nice and calm. If you’re up for a bit rougher waves, there’s an exposed area right next to it.
If you go on Tuesday, Thursday, or Saturday, there’s a free Hula and Torch-lighting show in the evening. We went and it was a lot of fun - good music, talented dancers: http://www.waikikiimprovement.com/waikiki-calendar-of-events/kuhio-beach-hula-show
If you’re not staying in Waikiki and are driving in for the day, parking can be pricey. We found free parking at the Kapiolani Regional Park, which is a short walk (1/4 mile) from the beach. It was a bit of a pain to carry our beach stuff that distance, but parking elsewhere ranged from $20-$60 for the day.
- Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail
I definitely recommend this one - it’s a hiking trail that takes you by an old lighthouse and you get amazing views of the ocean. This time of year, it’s great for whale watching - we got to see quite a few come to the surface during the hike. It’s a paved trail but steep on the way out to the lighthouse - our kids complained quite a bit but it was still worth it
- Laniakea Beach and Papa’iloa Beach
We didn’t get to Laniakea Beach (AKA Turtle Beach) but did get to it’s immediate neighbor, Papa’iloa Beach. It was beautiful with really soft sand. This time of year, the waves can be a bit unpredictable, so you may think you’re in a safe, dry spot only to find water up to your knees
- The Polynesian Cultural Center
We spent two days (or afternoons rather, since they don’t open until noon) here and loved it. The staff was friendly and helpful. The presentations were informative and entertaining - some of the presenters could make it as comedians.
We learned a ton about other cultures and got to do lots of fun activities (trying to start a fire with sticks, weaving a toy fish out of coconut tree leaves, and having the kids dress up in Tongan clothing).
We opted for just general admission, so I can’t speak to the luau experience here or the evening show.
Notable places we ate
- Food trucks around Giovanni’s Aloha Shrimp
We’re not seafood eaters, but still found some great food trucks around Giovanni’s Aloha Shrimp near Laie . Also, some good souvenir stands here where you can get stuff without emptying your wallet.
- Papa Ole’s Kitchen
The food was good and not too expensive - definitely not health food though! I got a double cheeseburger and could hardly figure out how to take a bite. Seems like a local favorite and it was fun to eat somewhere a bit different than back home.
Traffic on the North Shore can be incredibly unpredictable as surfing tournaments completely change the scene at the beaches. Be prepared for delays.
That’s about the best brain dump I can do while still recovering from jet lag