It was a toss-up between Sydney and Hawaii and on the last moment my sister asked: “So where do we go?” I guess we were both exasperated already and pre-occupied with work that at the last possible minute, I answered: “Let’s just go to Hawaii.” We had the US Visa already, that meant less work and less preparation.

It’s been a tradition of sorts to pick one major destination every December for our family vacation, the time when everyone can unplug and not think about work. Plus, we were to celebrate my sister’s birthday and last year as a single person, haha. So this had to be special and memorable.

Sunset at Waikiki Beach

Sunset at Waikiki Beach

We booked our tickets 4 days before Christmas Eve, booked the hotel and tours 2-3 days before. We didn’t think much of Hawaii even when tons of people were telling us it was their dream destination. You could say, we all went there with zero expectations which is really the best way to travel — to keep an open-minded and just enjoy the flow.

Of course, the beach bum in me was ecstatic! Give me sun, sea water, and surf any day and I will practically be a happy bunny. What we didn’t expect was how friendly and nice the locals were, the good island vibes, and the ono food. Day one alone and we were already giving ourselves pats on the back for foregoing Auckland and Australia and choosing Hawaii.

Here are some snapshots from our week-long trip in Oahu. As Hawaii is made up of several islands, we would need to stay 2-3 weeks in order to fully immerse ourselves but here’s an initial serving of what we did in Oahu where Honolulu is the state capital. It’s the entry point to everything since the International Airport is located here.

This is blog post 1 of 2, and let’s start with food:

Garlic Prawns

As expected, Hawaii is expensive (when traveling on third world money) compared to the mainland. If we could get away with a $5 diner meal in Cali, Waikiki will set you back at least $6.50 for a bowl of potato salad plus 4.7% tax. So a good hearty meal with rice for us averages $13-15 per person. If you’re going to spend, might as well spend on ahi and [the many variations of] garlic prawns.

We decidedly wanted to spend more on food trucks and small businesses so most of our meals were not in fancy places, save for Tish’s birthday lunch and dinner.

Sam’s Kitchen

Mohammed mans the quaint outdoor seafood joint along Royal Hawaiian Avenue. They offer garlic prawns, ahi bowls, and garlic steak. This avenue also houses a strip of indie surf shops where I got most of my nalu shirts and accessories, a must-visit when in Honolulu. This is just a 10-minute walk from Waikiki. Try their pineapple iced tea, too, and hold the plastic straw.

Ken’s Kitchen

A block away is a food truck that offers garlic, thai basil, spicy variations of prawns. The bento set comes with steamed white rice, salad, and a slice of pineapple. Hawaiians always include a slice of this delectable fruit in order to expedite digestion and make you less full.

Blue Water Shrimp and Seafood

If you enter International Market from Kalakaua and exit on the other side to Kalia Road, you’ll spot an empty parking lot teeming with people in line for the shrimps, burger, calamari steak, and burger steak. We arrived at 8pm from our trolley tour and waited in line for 30 minutes where a girl took our order, gave us our numbers, and we then proceeded to wait another 15 minutes for our food.

Each bento comes with rice, edible flowers, salad greens, plus a slice of pineapple (of course).  Blue Water is also open in Ala Moana food court where the line is equally as long.

Bangga Bangga Seafood

Beef Kalbi + Ahi Poke

Beef Kalbi + Ahi Poke

There is so much ahi (tuna) going around that I had to include it in my next meal. Located in the food court of Ala Moana is Bangga Bangga which offers bentos and poke bowls. I chose the Kalbi and Ahi (with wasabi mayo) meal which they prepared upon order.  The kalbi was sweet and filling, wish I had more space in my tummy for a second serving.

Waikiki Yokochi Gourmet Alley

Craving for Japanese food? Then visit the Yokochi Japanese Food Hall and try Bario Ramen. Be warned though that lines get long especially during lunch time. This hefty bowl with chashu pork is good enough for two. I also ordered chicken karaage and rice on the side.

For dessert, we ordered the Banana Chocolate Cheesecake Sundae ($10) from Marion Crepes which Tish and I shared. Great with coffee or as a nightcap after a long day.

Shirokiya Japan Village Walk

A food court in Ala Moana reminscent of Food Hall in Singapore where you’ll find vendors of different cuisines at relatively affordable prices. I chose Lamb Korma (a welcome break from all the garlic shrimps) with basmati rice. You’ll find Marion Crepes as well as other dessert places like Kulu Kulu Honolulu here.

Dole Whip

Basically a glorified pineapple soft serve ice cream swirled with vanilla. I got mine for $4 at the Polynesian Cultural Center but it’s also available in shops along Kalakaua Avenue, Waikiki.

People have been urging me to try, so try I did and this cup was huge! Tish and I ate this during the drive back to Waikiki from Laie.

Honolulu Cookies

Growing up I remember those chocolate-covered macadamia nuts as gifts from Hawaii. But now it’s been taken over by the shortbread cookie phenomenon called Honolulu Cookie. If you’ve been watching my IG stories, you’d notice that I was hoarding all the free samples every day in Hawaii. The cookie stores are literally everywhere sprawled along Kalakau, in malls, tourist centers, etc. It can even rival ABC stores in sheer number.

The shortbread cookies are worth every penny — $10 for a box of 10 of my choosing. My favorites include the Butter Macadamia, Pineapple Macadamia, Kona Coffee, and the White/Milk Chocolate Dipped. This is the new pasalubong, folks! Bring some home with you.

And THE drink to wash everything down? A tall glass of Mai Tai:

Waikiki is a good commercial place to stay at for your first visit in Hawaii as everything is within reach — the beach, cafes, restaurants, bars, and shopping malls. Prices here (it being the touristy area) are higher than let’s say, if you’d drive further out to Kailua.

Speaking of beaches, I have a part two where I show you the shopping places and the attractions you need to check out.