Hawaii spells sun, sand, and surf and getting a chance to spend Christmas here (so much sun, love!) was a dream come true. My sister and I spent most of our days at the beach or if we were out exploring the entire day, we made sure to be back just in time to see the fiery sunset of Waikiki. I couldn’t be more thankful for the year that was about to pass.

Here are some of our favorite places in Hawaii. For a gastronomic experience, click my first blog post here. There are definitely more to see and experience the next time I swing back, but here are starters for first-time travelers:

BEACH

Waikiki Beach

The only man-made beach in Hawaii, Waikiki Beach was literally just 50 steps from our hotel which was great! I could wake up, skip breakfast, and go straight to the beach. And really, who wouldn’t be so excited to see something as beautiful as this?

When you book a beachfront hotel, you are charged a separate $25 amenity fee per day which (depending on the hotel’s offerings) could mean free unlimited coffee, breakfast, DVDs, plus beach maintenance. Waikiki Beach is in danger of disappearing due to the influx of tourists and erosion that the government has to raise funds in order to keep it running.

Lanikai Beach

Photo by Erick Agarijo

Photo by Erick Agarijo

Considered as one of the best beaches in the world, Lanikai means “heavenly sea” and according to our friend Erick, he remembers coming here to practise out his paddling skills (to that island in the back — whut?!) when he started surfing years ago. Lanikai is in Kailua, less than an hour away from Waikiki.

North Shore

The prime surf spot where we happened to witness surfers enjoying 5-6 ft. waves during our stay. If you’re coming from Pearl Harbor on the way to the Polynesian Cultural Center in Laihe, you’ll pass by scenic North Shore and Turtle Bay.

Tip: The shrimp shacks here are way delish and more popular than the ones in Waikiki!

ATTRACTIONS

Pearl Harbor

Relive the moments in Pearl Harbor, the place where WWII effectively started. Many USS Battleships sunk and thousands of soldiers, families, workers, civilians perished; the Philippines also played a role in this event as most of the fleet that survived the attack were parked in Cavite for repairs.

Many tourists and locals come here to remember, understand and honor the Lonely Sailor, those on Eternal Post. Seventy-five years later the USS Arizona is still resting on the seafloor in Pearl Harbor, a grim reminder of what happened on that fateful day.

Honolulu Museum of Art

We took the Historic Trolley Tour (red line) along Kalakaua Avenuea and got off at the museum 15 minutes later. The trolley tour is a hop on hop off tour that brings you along the historic attractions around the city. A whole day pass is $25 per passenger and entrance to the museum is $20.

Go up the second level to view the Philippine exhibit featuring “Santos” or antique religious statues that were influenced by the Spanish.

Polynesian Cultural Center

An interactive village where you get to experience all things Polynesian: watch and perform with the Tongans, Tahitians, Hawaiians, Samoan culture. Learn how to play the log drums, create accessories, shop (if you are most inclined to), and dine. Make this a whole day affair for your family, it’s about an hour’s drive from Pearl Harbor. Lots to there so don’t rush!

I enjoyed the Tongan presentation most of all, reminds me of the Maori War Dance I witnessed in Auckland in 2016. Don’t be shy when they call you up on stage or ask for volunteers, they are definitely a fun bunch!

Mele Kalikimaka from our family!

Mele Kalikimaka from our family!

“Mele Kalikimaka” means Merry Christmas in Hawaiian.

Byodo-In Temple

Sound the bell and clear your mind of all worries and negative energy at Byodo. Established on June 7, 1968, it was erected to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of the first Japanese immigrants to Hawaii.

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It’s a good place to meditate and collect your thoughts. Feel pure serenity in the temple grounds and spot bullfrogs, black swans, and peacocks that roam the area. You can also buy fish food for the beautiful Koi at the shop.

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Tip: Mr. Miyagi’s tomb is nearby, ask your guide to take you there as you leave the temple grounds.

SHOPPING

Lots of shopping to be done in Waikiki as they have Sephora, Nordstrom, DFS, ABC Stores, but pay close attention to the smaller, beach-inspired, indie shops that have a lot of unique (but expensive) merchandise. They have enough to transform your dreary room into a beach escape. I wanted to weep when I found out shirts cost $36 and bags about $99, so with my limited budget I could only purchase the necessities (which practically meant nalu shirts and Hawaiian-inspired tokens).

To the Sea

I got my wave ring here as I was nonchalantly browsing the aisles and thinking of where to spend my last $100. Lots of very comfy shirts and bags. The thing about merchandise in Hawaii is the shirts are made of soft, cushy cotton fabric that hugs all the right places. I love this place, it’s near Ken’s Kitchen (shrimp shack), too.

Nalu Hawaiian Spirit

Owned by a photographer and designer team, Nalu Hawaiian Spirit houses local surf / beach-inspired brands. They also offer graphic designer and branding services.

This was one of the first shops I encountered on my first day and I happily left with a tote bag and two shirts. It’s a one-stop shop for all things surf. I only wish they had more stickers or decals for surfboards.

When you swing by ask for Erick or Takeshi, two very friendly and quirky individuals who own and manage the shop.

Surfjack

Visit the “most instagrammable boutique hotel” on the island, have a cup of coffee, and shop at the very dreamy Olive and Oliver.

Lovely barista, Antonia, overheard us talking about Tish’s birthday dinner that she gladly offered a free Cappuccino. So nice of her!

Along the Waikiki strip, surf shops, and cute novelty stores abound so feel free to window shop before you make a purchase.

Mahalo Hawaii!

Beyond the striking and flowery aloha shirts, one thing you should know before going to Hawaii is that the experience will stay with you forever. There is a sense of belonging when you visit, tourists and locals are extremely friendly and polite, the laidback island vibe here is unlike any other. If only Hawaii were as affordable as Bali, I’d frequent this country more. 

Trivia: Hawaii is striving to be 100% dependent on renewable energy by 2045 by virtue of the wind turbines that are powered by the active volcanoes. They are slowly reducing their powerplants and only 2 currently remain. By 2025 the University of Hawaii will already be on 100% renewable energy. 85% of local trash is recycled while the rest is bought by China.

I hope to be able to experience more when I return, move past the tourist traps, the fancy surf lifestyle, and see life here as it is. Mahalo Hawaii, and I will see you again very soon.

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Fly direct to Honolulu, Hawaii via Philippine Airlines