Turning 30 seemed daunting for a myriad of reasons. There are all kinds of implications for family and responsibility and 401ks. Retirement savings I have under control, but the other stuff still seems like the black and white fuzzy screen on a tv. I wanted to celebrate this momentous occasion with a dream vacation to NYC, but it didn’t seem the right time to experience the bright lights of the big city. This trip would also be celebrating my husband’s 31st birthday (our birthdays are a day apart), and I wanted something equalling enjoyable for him. We love to hike, go to the beach and explore new areas, which is how we landed on the island of Oahu. A World War II fanatic, my husband was gung-ho about visiting Pearl Harbor and the Arizona Memorial. We researched hiking trails, perfect beaches, food, and even the Kona Brewing Factory. One year later we were off for our most perfect adventure.
Day 1: March 28, 2017
Being in an airport at 6am is made more bearable when you’re traveling some place fun. We tried our first cronut and inhaled coffee while waiting with travel jitters for our plane to arrive. He hates flying. I just couldn’t wait to experience everything. The flight to Dallas was flawless and uneventful, but we were on an older plane that did not include charging outlets for our phones. First world problems for sure, but the battery on my phone was shot to begin with and we had an 8 hour flight to look forward to from Dallas to Honolulu.
Our second flight featured the film Moana. I hadn’t seen it previously, and it was just the perfect choice to get more excited about the beautiful scenery I was traveling towards. I slept a little, not enough, and we landed in Honolulu a full hour before schedule! A quick stop through baggage and a shuttle to the Enterprise car rental later and we were off to the North Shore in our convertible Ford Mustang. Turns out, a convertible is a MUST to site see because pictures are so much easier to take without the limitations of a roof.
The route to Turtle Bay Resort wrapped around the edges of the land, connecting us with breathtaking views of the ocean to our right while mountains loomed over us to the left. Arrival slowed us down a bit as only one person was working the registration desk. It was annoying and a horrible first impression but one quickly forgiven once we opened the sliding glass door of the balcony in our room. The view was too perfect to be real, but the breeze ruffling the fronds of the palms and the waves crashing into the rocks on the shore kept my sense alert and in awe.
We ate dinner at Kula Grill, where we’d eat breakfast each day of our stay, where we ate Hawaiian rolls, which made me giggle, crab cakes with an unbelievable mango salsa, and a traditional Hawaiian pizza. I intended to live up to the Tourist stereotype without qualms or apologies. The sun set as we finished our meal, and with one stroll around the main part of the resort, we were off to our room and asleep by 7:47pm.
Day 2: March 29, 2017- I’m 30!
Waking up at 6:15am is not something I’m used to, nor do I enjoy when it’s a requirement for me to do so, but it’s surprisingly easy to do when I wake up from a fully restful night of sleep in time to see the sunrise on the first full day of our vacation. It’s also easier when 6:15am equates to 12:15pm at home. Our room was in the east wing, so I assumed we’d be able to see the sunrise from the balcony. We were a bit too west, but the light of day slowly livened up our surroundings and energized my hopes for our day.
After breakfast at Kula’s we began exploring the shores of the resort. The rocks were difficult to walk on in flip flops, but with a quick wardrobe change we were able to weather the rocks and continue on to the Pillbox a couple miles from the resort. The terrain of Hawaii is just the most beautiful I have ever seen. We passed vivid green pastures and stables with the ocean just beyond it all. Looping back towards the resort we experienced the Banyan trees and happened upon a Farmer’s Market stand on the side of the highway through the trees. We saw people learning to paddleboard and surf in the chilled waters we would not brave. They looked to be having a blast, and the weather certainly bent people towards wanting to be in touch with nature.
The afternoon was spent lounging poolside drinking Mai Tais and eating fish and chips, soaking up the sun and beginning the base of my new tan. We went to a luau at the Polynesian Cultural Center for dinner where I had a dream come true- drinking out of a pineapple. It was a mango smoothie so sweet that I got a terrible stomach ache. The dancing was beautiful, and the stories of each type of dance was very moving. We were in bed again by 8pm. The 6 hour time difference wasn’t too unfriendly, but warming up to it may have caused some inappropriately timed text messages to friends back home.
Day 3: March 30, 2017- Chad’s 31!
Yep, 6:15 became our standard wakeup call. It certainly afforded us the time to do so very much every single day. We began with the usual for breakfast and headed out in the opposite direction for another hike. We saw Kahuku Point and a bird refuge weirdly connected to a golf course. We certainly made our step goal this day with a total of over 17k steps by noon!
The highlight of the day, and our trip, in my opinion, was the helicopter tour of the island. There was nothing we did not see. Mountains, waterfalls, Hanauma Bay, Blowhole Point, Waikiki Beach, the Dole Plantation, and Pearl Harbor. There were many more affordable rides to select from, but an aerial tour of Pearl Harbor was unimaginable and it did not disappoint. For an hour Chad looked nauseous and miserable, he’s not a good flyer, but the breathtaking sites were incomparable to anything we’ve ever seen.
Since it was my husband’s birthday he picked dinner: sushi. We drove to Haleiwa Town and ate at Banzai. We tried poke bowls and marlin for the first time ever. There were other shops to explore in the same strip as the restaurant including an art studio. We were exposed to Abstract Sensualism as envisioned by Chris DeRebeis. One day we will buy a piece of art from him, the first artwork both of us agreed was phenomenal. Quality comes at a phenomenal price, so that won’t be happening for a while. But #goals! We enjoyed gelato at IL Gelato, a treat we would discover is also served at the restaurants at our resort.
Day 4: March 31, 2017
A trip to Pearl Harbor was a non-negotiable part of going to Oahu. The solemn nature of this landmark was well observed by its visitors as many stared in awe at the exhibits, memorials and tributes to those whose lives were abruptly taken. History was alive in each display marking the events of this “date which will live in infamy.” After a short film we took a ferry to the USS Arizona Memorial, erected over the sunken ship, the American flag proudly waving above. The innermost portion of the memorial pays tribute to the men whose lives were lost, listing their names on the marble wall. Additional tombs guard the wall with those survivors whose lives ended beyond December 7, 1941.
Lunch was an amazing treat at the Kona Brewing Factory. We needed a pick-me-up after the heaviness of the morning, and I was able to enjoy my favorite beer, Lemongrass Luau while Chad stuck to a crown and coke after rejecting the 3 or 4 samples brought to him. We were seated right on the water enjoying the breeze and the delicious food.
Our trip to the Dole Plantation almost didn’t happen. My phone decided to suck at the GPS function, and then the address listed as the Dole Plantation was wrong! Traffic was too intense to turn around so we continued on Kamehameha Highway towards home, feeling slightly defeated, when lo and behold the Dole Plantation presented itself to us on the right side of the road. We did a quick tour of the botanical gardens; the path was poorly laid out and slightly disappointing. Perhaps if we had taken the train ride we would have seen more thrilling things. The best part of the plantation was the maze. A beautiful pineapple formed with exotic flowers in the middle was enclosed by hedges in a nonsensical pattern with hidden objects to find amongst their paths. After an hour we had only done half of the maze, which was enough for me, so we headed into the store to enjoy a Dole Whip float, again in a pineapple. This one was plastic, and I kept the cup.
We didn’t feel very hungry so we looked for something at the resort, settling on Lei Lei’s for pupus- appetizers, but everything sounded so good that we ate enough to qualify a meal. I wish we had time to go back for a real meal. Everything was delicious!
Day 5: April 1, 2017
Without a plan or things to accomplish we got up Saturday morning at- you guessed it- 6:15ish. We hopped in the Mustang, lowered the top and proceeded to drive around the island, following the coast the whole way. I wish I had taken more pictures, but we were singing Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin and getting lost in the moment. We happened upon a small mall, stopped to look around, and got back in the car 20 minutes later.
I never once thought of shopping, but we hadn’t bought many souvenirs, so a mall seemed like a good idea. And that’s how we ended up at the Ala Moana Center. I know many large malls exist, but this was by far the biggest I had ever seen. Three levels of varying stores from average to high end. Valentino, Harry Winston, Prada, Tiffany’s and many designers I had never heard of lined the path before me. We avoided most as I don’t really enjoy looking in places I can’t afford to shop, but we also found some really cool Hawaiian based shops filled with perfect trinkets to bring back home.
Back in the car we tackled the other half of the island. Or so we thought. We actually went back the same way we came, but stopped off on the side of the road for a perfect view of Hanauma Bay. A brave couple stood on a rock in their wedding attire while a photographer captured their love with a breathtaking backdrop.
Our last to-do of the day was dinner at Pa’akai. We ordered a sensational Malbec which paired perfectly with our dinners: filet mignon and scallops for me, rack of lamb for him. The mashed potatoes were a standout side, creamier than we’ve ever tasted. The one thing I wanted for dessert was the Kona coffee cheesecake, but they were out. Everything else was incredible and worth a 5 star rating on Yelp.
Day 6: April 2nd
Our last full day of vacation was spent in a cabana on the beach with an unobstructed view of the surf. Waves reached a height of 25 feet earlier in the week, but they had calmed a bit since then. The water temperatures were freezing. It felt like needles on my feet as I tested it out. I’m bummed we weren’t able to get in, but the ambience afforded by the shade and the sound of waves crashing on the shore made it a serene last day. We made one last trek to Haleiwa for our last dinner. We meant to get an iconic Hawaiian shave ice from Matsumoto’s, but time slipped away from us and they closed. We finished packing while watching a Property Brothers’ marathon, too tired to be more exciting.
Day 7: April 3rd/April4th- Yay time zones!
It came too soon, the end of this trip. After a brief goodbye to the pool we were on our way home. We had one last lunch and one last beer at the Kona Brewing Factory, taking the longest route possible to the airport. The Honolulu airport is an enigma. It’s open concept allowing the natural light and air inside. Not a lot of air conditioning, but there was a plethora of high end designer stores throughout the concourse. Not a lot of charging stations either, but maybe we’re just too obsessed with our devices.
I caught the sunset out the window of the plane, the first window seat I had on this trip. The featured movie was Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and I couldn’t have been happier to watch it. After a complimentary Asian chicken wrap I napped, read, played cards, napped and then we were in Dallas. Our flight to Tampa was loading as we disembarked, making an easy transition for us. The shorter of the flights, we were back home and looking for our bags, excited to get into our bed. No matter how good a vacation there is nothing like sleeping in your own bed.
This was certainly an amazing experience. We did nearly everything we wanted and have no regrets about missing what we missed. Each minute was jam packed and special, and I’m already dreaming of when we can get back. There are more islands to explore and new adventures await!