The Ultimate Backpacker Guide To O'ahu, Hawaii (2018 Edition)
If you follow me on social media you will know that I am very, very, very passionate about Hawaii. And if you don’t follow me currently, hello, you can find me on Instagram here. Get ready to delve into the rabbit hole that is my obsession.
Last year I wrote a fairly comprehensive backpacking guide to the island of O’ahu, and I thought, seeing as I’ve just returned from my third trip to my favourite island in the world, I would revisit my tips and tricks and update you all. It turns out that a lot can change on the small island state in ten short months.
My passion for O’ahu stems from the fact that you can have so many different experiences on the island, it all depends on what you’re looking at getting out of your secluded beach getaway. Want luxe resorts and private beaches? Check. Want to climb some mountains and spine-tingling ridges? I gotcha. Want to save a ton of $$ but still see what all the fuss is about? Well, keep on reading, friend.
In this handy little guide, I’m going to go through how to snag some cheap flights, where to stay once you get there, some cheap things (and expensive things) you can do, and where to get drunk for the least amount of cash possible - you’re welcome.
Also, just as a little FYI, I am not affiliated with any of the businesses and websites that are mentioned in this article. Everything I recommend is purely from my own experiences and research.
So you have decided that you want to go to Hawaii, congratulations, what a great life decision you have just made.
Depending on where you’re coming from, you’re either going to be able to get to the islands for little more than a trip interstate, or a small fortune. Next year I’ll be able to provide you with a really good guide on how to get there on a budget from Europe, but for now, I’m going to talk about North America and Australia (sorry to my European friends).
Like any overseas travel, the best way to get the cheapest flights is to have a flexible fly in and fly out date. You have two options when it comes to snagging a bargain:
Stalk airlines that fly to Hawaii
Sure there are a million airfare comparison flights, but I’ve found Skyscanner to be the most comprehensive and reliable thus far. The website also lets you browse by the cheapest month to fly which has literally saved me hundreds over the last few years.
Just a note: If you monitor airline costs all the time, sometimes websites will up the prices, so make sure you delete those cookies and browse on incognito mode to ensure you’re getting the best deal possible.
Flights tend to be cheap several months out, two months before and a week/ a few days before. I tend to book things two months out unless there’s a sale.
My other favourite hobby is stalking airlines. I sign up for a ton of mailing lists and always have money put aside to grab a flight on sale. Keep in mind that it’s always cheaper to fly return but often airlines will allow you to book a flexible return date for a small fee.
If you’re coming from Australia, Jetstar will be your cheapest option. My most recent flight to Hawaii cost me $239AUD one-way from Melbourne to Honolulu. I would never pay more than $300AUD for a one-way flight to Hawaii. Jetstar tends to have sales to the islands every few months but specifically, I’ve noticed sales to travel between January - April, June-July, and September. You can also fly Qantas and Hawaiian (both I would highly recommend if you have the money). All flights to Hawaii are overnight, so make sure you take some sleeping pills or down some red wine on the flight so that you’re ready to rumble for a full day of activities and fun.
From North America, prices vary dramatically but from my research, anything under $800USD for a return flight is really great. You can save a lot of money flying interstate by having stopovers where possible (Skyscanner, of course, will show you ALL the options). For example, my flight from Honolulu to NYC cost me $336USD with a 24-hour stopover in Portland, Oregon. Luckily for me, I had friends in the city, so if you can capitalise on having a short detour somewhere and aren’t pressed for time, I’d highly recommend. I’ve flown Hawaiian and Alaskan airlines in and out of Hawaii and North America and I loved my experiences with both.
Other things I use to monitor flights are I Know The Pilot, travel agents such as Students Flights and Flight Centre (AUS only), and Webjet, which is generally more expensive but it’s important to shop around in case you stumble on a wicked sale.
If you want to save extra $$$, challenge yourself by only bringing carry-on luggage with you. The great thing about Hawaii is that you pretty much live in a bikini and the same 3 outfits for your entire trip - also no one really cares what you look like, so give your skin a well deserved holiday and leave your make up at home. I love using compression sacks to squeeze more things into my luggage - I use these ones from Kathmandu.
Some airlines don’t include food on their flights so make sure you research this before you leave. Pinterest has a great range of travel snacks. Personally, I like protein balls, dried fruit, nuts, and chocolate when I fly long distances. Of course, if you don’t mind paying a little extra for some hot food, you can always buy it in the air.
GETTING TO AND FROM THE AIRPORT
Here’s a short and sweet guide to airport transportation:
Catch the city bus. A single trip will cost you $2.75USD or $5.50USD for a full day pass. You can only pay in cash and will not receive change. Some busses are funny about luggage so I would only recommend this option if you’re traveling light. Buses travel to and from Waikiki to the airport frequently and will take about an hour. The buses depart from the top level of the airport - you can always ask if you get lost!
Catch a shuttle bus for $32 return (or $16 one way). If you don’t plan on booking prior to your arrival, you can line up and purchase a ticket on the spot with Roberts Hawaii. Otherwise, I’d recommend booking ahead with Speedi Shuttle.
Rideshare. Uber and Lyft are both popular ways to get around O’ahu. A trip from the airport to Waikiki will cost between $21 - $35USD depending on the time of day.
Taxi. More expensive than ridesharing but available if needed.
Limousine. For those of you who are a little extra. Don’t have pricing for this because I would NEVER travel like this, but whatever floats your boat.
FINDING A PLACE TO SLEEP
Regardless of how cheap your flights might be, you can guarantee that most of your money is going to go towards accommodation, and depending on what type of holiday you want, the amount you’re spending can vary.
Starting off cheap, the most budget-friendly option is to camp. There are a number of cheap, official camping spots around the island in some beautiful locations (this is my personal favourite area). If you feel like living life on the edge, you can try and get away with camping for free. Whilst this option isn’t entirely legal, if you set up a hammock on O’ahu’s North Shore and ~*happen*~ to fall asleep there, no one is going to question you - just make sure you bring a sweater as it can get cold.
Hostels are a reasonable, and personally, my favourite option. Depending on your travel style you can rent private, semi-private and dorm rooms at fantastic prices in the heart of Waikiki. My favourite hostels are the Polynesian Hostel Beach Club (aka The Poly) with 12-bed dorms starting at $27.16USD/night, The Beach Waikiki Boutique Hostel with 6-bed dorms starting at $36USD/night and the Waikiki Beachside Hostel with 8-bed dorms starting from $36.54USD/night.
All of the hostels above are half a block from Waikiki Beach, have cooking facilities, washing machines, cheap tours, discount scuba lessons, social events and even free pizza. If you’re wanting to make friends, or just wanting a bed for the night, hostels are a great option for the budget-conscious traveler.
Kailua and North Shore are the only other areas of the island that features hostel accommodation. Check out Hostel World to see photos, reviews, and prices for all hostels across O’ahu.
If you want to stay in a hotel, your best bet is to monitor websites like booking.com, trivago.com and hotels.com like CRAZY. Sign up for ALL the emails and get to know what is a cheap price for a hotel. I’ve personally stayed at two hotels in Waikiki, Aqua Palms, and Queen Kapiolani. The latter was by far much better value for money, but both are in a central location in Waikiki. I’ve had friends stay at the Aston Waikiki Circle Hotel, Alohilani Resort, Hilton Hawaiian Village, The Sheraton, the Royal Hawaiian (aka The Pink Palace) and the Marriott and have nothing but great things to say about all places.
The trick with Hawaiian hotels is establishing what kind of experience you want to have. Do you want to stay in a resort where you never have to leave the immediate vicinity? Are you looking for something cheap? Do you want to stay in one of Waikiki’s iconic hotels? Workout what you want before you start looking for places to stay.
Some other things to note about hotels:
Remember to read the fine print
Many places will charge a resort fee which is about $35USD/night
Keep some cash on your to tip the staff if they help to take your bags up to your room
Some hotels will charge to store your bags so make sure you ask if you need this option
All hotel properties are actually free to visit as a member of the public, so even if you can't afford staying in some of the more bougie hotels, you can always visit ;)
You can also use Airbnb in Hawaii, although technically it is considered to be illegal by the state. The main reason for this is because many mainland and overseas investors are purchasing property and driving the cost of living up, up, up. So, if you do rent an Airbnb in Hawaii, I’d recommend finding a host that is a local. There are lots of choices and a variety of prices. Airbnb is far cheaper if you’re not solo traveling as you can split the costs.
And of course, Couchsurfing is alive and well in Hawaii. People are genuinely pretty nice and there are plenty of places to stay if you need to. As per usual, always use this website with caution and stay safe :)
O'ahu has fantastic transport that makes it easy to enjoy everything that the island has to offer. There's something to suit everyone's tastes, from hiring a $100+ Mustang to catching the public bus.
The bus will run you back $2.75 one way and you MUST have this in cash (annoying I know). Your ticket will last you a few hours and up to two transfers. You can also purchase a full-day pass for $5.50 which I highly recommend if you’re taking more than two bus rides. You can check out bus routes using Google Maps or they have a great app you can download from the app store called DaBus2 - yes, that's actually what it's called. Original. The bus runs all around the island but it will take you a couple of hours to get from Waikiki up to the North Shore due to all of the stops and the TERRIBLE traffic.
Uber and Lyft are readily available on the island with most cars in the Waikiki, Downtown Honolulu, and Kailua areas. Prices match what we pay in Australia so this option can be really cost effective, especially when you're sharing with a few different people.
There are many car rental companies on the island and picking one comes down to your budget. Weekly rentals can often be cheaper than hiring a car for just a few days. You can use this website to compare car hire prices. My two favourite rentals are Dollar, which is great if you have a super tight budget and Enterprise which is fantastic for customer service and ease of use. If you rent through Enterprise via the Marriott in Waikiki you will often get a free upgrade as they only have a limited fleet available. Book online the night before for sometime after 10 am and enjoy the bigger car. As an extra tip, some weekends Enterprise will have specials where you can hire a car from Friday to Monday for $12 a day. Keep an eye on the website as this deal runs out faster than you'd think.
Car hiring companies make their money by offering you a bunch of shit you don't need. In the US, if you're under 25 you will incur a young driver fee and you might get pestered for all sorts of insurance and roadside assistance options. Make sure you read up on what your travel insurance covers you for and go in armed with knowledge. Also, you'll need a credit card NOT a visa debit to be able to hire - I got caught on this in 2016 when I visited Hawaii and it was super stressful.
You can also download the app Turo which is kind of like an Airbnb but for cars. Local people can post ads on the app and you can hire their car for a cheaper price than if you went through a hire company.
And if you're super lucky, you'll meet someone who has a car and you might be able to ride around with them for a small fee.
CHEAP(ISH) THINGS TO DO
The first thing you will notice when you get to Waikiki is that there are SO MANY tour guides trying to get you to purchase one of their over-priced island tours. DO NOT EVEN BLINK AN EYE IN THEIR DIRECTION. Do your research and book everything yourself.
Fortunately, they can't charge you to swim in the ocean (yet) so one of the best things to do on the island is to enjoy one of the incredibly beautiful beaches. Waikiki beach is a safe place to swim and the sand is from Australia so it's kinda like swimming at home. It's great for families and if you are too lazy to travel further out of Waikiki to swim. Still, in the Waikiki area, Fort De Russy Beach Park is another great spot to swim (just outside the Hilton Hawaiian Village) and paddleboard. Check out Koa Beach Hire for reasonable surfboard and paddle board hires.
Some other great beaches are Kailua and Lanikai for the crystal clear water, Waimea Bay for the cliff jumping, Sunset Beach (go for a sunset swim and you will understand the meaning of its name), Cockroach Cove (way nicer than it sounds), Yokohama Bay, Sandys, Waimanalo Bay, Makapu'u tidal pools (prepare to hike your way to these), Kawela Bay and Kahana Bay. Oh, and there's a trampoline in the ocean at Pounders Beach - you can thank me later for that one.
Hikes are also free - as long as they aren't in a national park - so start exploring the island by foot! I've done a shit ton of hiking on O'ahu. You can download the app AllTrails from the App Store to see all the hikes on O'ahu and their intensity level + photos. Some of the super popular touristy hikes include Diamond Head (you need to pay $1 in cash to get in here), Koko Head, Manoa Falls and the infamous Stairway to Heaven (seriously though, this one is WORTH all the hassle), Makapu'u Lighthouse and Lanikai Pillboxes. My personal favourites are Crouching Lion, Koko Head Back Trail, Pali Puka, Ehukai Pillboxes, Kuliou'ou Ridge and Pu’u Manama. Hik3beasthawaii and Unreal Hawaii are two of the best websites for checking out hikes ahead of time. A lot of these trails have conspicuous trailheads and/or are illegal to an extent and these websites have a lot more information about finding trailheads and any hazards.
I would advise not to hike outside of your comfort zone or ability. Some of the hikes on O'ahu can get really sketchy and dangerous. People do die frequently so always hike with caution and avoid the rain and wind if possible.
Snorkeling is a very popular attraction on the island as it is surrounded by many reefs and marine life. The most popular place to do this is at Hanauma Bay but it's littered with families and it also costs $14 + snorkel hire to enter. One of the more low-key and free areas to snorkel on the island is Shark's Cove on the North Shore. Snorkel hire is right across the road and fairly affordable. I took some friends for a day of snorkeling and eating in May 2018 and they all agreed Shark’s Cove was far better for snorkeling than Hanauma Bay. I also very recently discovered that there’s some fantastic snorkeling at Lanikai beach just off the shore from the main beach. In my opinion, there's a greater variety of fish and coral at this location.
One of my favourite days on O'ahu in 2017 was spent Kayaking out to The Mokes with a bunch of people. We hired through Kailua Beach Adventures for $60USD for a tandem kayak and spent half a day paddling around in the ocean. Once we reached The Mokes, we did some snorkeling, saw several sea turtles and had lunch whilst sunbathing on the sand. Book online to save $$.
Swimming with wild dolphins is on the bucket list for a lot of people, so if this is your cup of tea I would HIGHLY recommend booking a tour through EO Waianae Tours it will set you back $120USD but it is totally worth it! When I did this tour in 2016, I was swimming with a pod of 30 wild dolphins underneath me before they glided up and swam within arm's length. It felt like a dream. The tour also includes food and a session of swimming and SUP on the West Side of the Island and bus transfers to and from your accommodation.
Of course, being in Hawaii means that you might just be lucky enough to stumble upon a pod of dolphins whilst you're out swimming in the water - hopefully you have a snorkel and some fins handy! The west side is the best for dolphin pods.
Hawaii is a very religious place as many missionaries sailed out into the Pacific with the intention of converting the Islanders (mostly) to a form of Christianity. Therefore, there are a lot of places of worship on the island. Seriously, it's overwhelming. One of the most tranquil places is the Byodo-In Temple which is about a 20 minute drive from Waikiki. The Buddhist temple is modeled after a 900-year old temple in Kyoto, Japan. There are beautiful gardens to get lost in, a meditation area, and you can light some incense in front of a large bronze statue of Buddha. Entry is $3 per adult and definitely worth the stop.
Waikiki has some GREAT shopping, so if you have space in your suitcase, prepare to come home with a new wardrobe. Most items are cheaper than Australia, but check the exchange rate and the local prices before you go pouring the contents of your wallet out. For the best array of shops, make sure you check out Ala Moana which is the world's largest open-roof shopping mall.
Many people visit Hawaii in order to learn how to surf and whilst this isn't my area of interest, my trusty friends have worded me up with the DL on surf lessons in Waikiki. A lot of companies are expensive AF and can be a major tourist trap. The general advice is to do your research beforehand and try to book something before you arrive on the island. Don't fall for people renting on the beach or through hotels as they will be the most expensive.
If you're after a traditional Hawaiian experience, you can catch a Hula show on Waikiki beach every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday at 6:30pm. Watch the sun set behind the horizon whilst listening to some traditional Hawaiian music. Luaus are hit and miss when it comes to value for money, do your research.
Also, keep an eye on Couchsurfing events. If you aren't familiar with this website, sign up now! There are heaps of free/cheap events around Waikiki each week. You can also use the app to meet up with fellow couchsurfers for hikes, beers or whatever takes your fancy really. One of the best experiences I had on O'ahu was taking a sunset sailing trip with a whole bunch of fellow couch surfers. It was donation-based and we all piled on board with scores of alcohol and watched fireworks from the deck!
EATING & DRINKING
Buying groceries in Hawaii is depressingly expensive as practically everything gets imported from the mainland. With this in mind, learning to be a savvy shopper will save you a lot of $$ when it comes to feeding yourself on the island.
If you don't want to eat out all the time, shopping at farmers markets is your cheapest option for fruit and veg. There are a number of great weekly markets but my favourite in Waikiki was the one at Thomas Jefferson Elementary School every Saturday. Get the lychees if you go to that market, they're amazing! This website is a great resource to see where all of the markets take place.
In Waikiki, there is really only one fully-serviced supermarket, Food Pantry. This supermarket is competitive with other stores that are situated in more local areas as long as you don't purchase any fruit and veg. However, the store is small and doesn't have a lot of options. Safeway is a hop, skip and a jump down Kapahulu Ave. from Waikiki beach (approx. one mile). If you're after specialty products or a wide range of things to choose from, this is the place you want to go. It's also just fascinating walking around the store as it's SO BIG (srsly, there's a Starbucks in there) and there's a lot of weird American food that is fun to marvel at.
When you arrive in Waikiki, you'll notice a magical chain of stores called ABC Stores. These stores have everything you could ever need in life. From cheesy tourist knick-knacks to cheap alcohol, be prepared to become best friends with the store assistants in your closest ABC store because you'll be there every day.
Some other places to shop are:
Foodland, my favourite. This is mostly fuelled by the fact that they have AMAZING sushi and some pretty decent Poke (kind of like a traditional Hawaiian raw fish salad).
There are also two Wholefoods on the island one in Kahala Mall (you can bus here easily from Waikiki) and Kailua if that's your thing.
You can shop at Costco if you have a membership. There are stores in Hawaii Kai, Downtown Honolulu, Kapolei, and Waipahu.
If eating out is your thing there are HEAPS of great places in Waikiki to eat. The cheapest meal you can get (aside from good old McDonalds) is from Marukame Udon. For as little as $5USD you can get a giant bowl of handmade Japanese noodle soup. Bonus points if you dare to try some of the more random deep fried sides. There's always a line to get in, but it moves quickly and is totally worth it.
If you have the hangover from hell Wailana Coffee Lounge is open 24/7 and do a deliciously greasy bacon, eggs and hashbrowns.
On Tuesday nights you can have $3 tacos at Moose's. They're huge and delicious. Also, make sure you grab some of the waffle fries while you're there. After you feed, head upstairs with a cover of $5 to enjoy $1 drinks and tunes all night long.
Teddy's Bigger Burgers is the best burger joint on the island. So much so, by the time I left, they knew my name and gave me discounts (literally when I returned this year, I got free fries, so they’re pretty much my favourite place to eat). They have a number of specialty burgers that are all delicious. Get their fries smothered in garlic butter and parmesan, you won't be disappointed.
If you have a craving for eggs, check out Eggs n' Things. They have a couple of locations around Waikiki and although there's always a long and time-consuming line, it's always worth the wait. From omelets to a stack of pancakes, everything here is big and super filling.
Bills Hawaii is my favourite place to go whenever I'm feeling a little homesick. This is because they have arguably the best flat white on the island AND you can even get Vegemite on toast for $5. It's a little pricey overall but a great place to go for a date night.
It wouldn't be a holiday to Hawaii without going to the Cheesecake Factory. Someone asked me once why Australians loved the restaurant so much and I had to conclude that it has something to do with the ridiculous meal sizes and good prices. The service here is always on point and there's a live band. You can share the main meals to save on $$ and be prepared to wait for a table.
Maui Brewing Co recently opened a swanky new restaurant in Waikiki and is another one of my favourites. More on the pricey side but if you go for a beer and their Sriracha fries, you'll head out fed and watered for under $20. Also, their beer is really, really good.
If you're in search of poke you need to check out Ono Seafood. Ono in Hawaiian means really good/delicious and they definitely didn't lie when they decided to name this place. Just a short walk up off the main strip of Waikiki, it is hands down, the best poke on O'ahu.
While you're up that way, go and get some malasadas from Leonard's Bakery. One malasada is never enough, just an FYI. Get a box and bring it back to your hostel and EVERYONE will want to be your friend.
Hawaii has a huge Japanese cultural influence, so the sushi is really, really good! If you want to hinder your cravings, Doraku is delicious and kinda expensive. It's also apparently owned by Steve Aoki's brother, so there's that too.
Lastly, if you have some good $$ to spare, try and have dinner at Duke's which is under Outrigger. The restaurant is literally right on the beach and they have fantastic burgers! Just be prepared to spend a cool $50AUD on your meal.
Bonus tip: There are a bunch of hole-in-the-wall places in Waikiki that do some delicious street food. From poke to Korean street food, vegan sandwiches and smoothies there's something for everyone. Have fun trying to spy these places, they're honestly the best.
On O'ahu's North Shore is a food truck park that has literally everything to tickle your fancy. From fish tacos at North Shore Tacos, to some of the most delicious poke and ceviche at the Peruvian truck, there's something for everyone.
Speaking of North Shore, Hale'iwa town has some great food spots. Hale'iwa Bows has the best acai bowls on the island, if not the entirety of Hawaii. Freshly made granola mixed with Sambazon acai and topped with more fruit than you can imagine? YES PLEASE. You should also check out Matsumoto's Shave Ice. It's a little touristy but they have so many delicious flavours to choose from - and don't go knocking condensed milk on ice until you try it, it's delicious! If you're into vegan/vegetarian food, make sure you check out Beatbox Cafe. Everything on their menu is vegetarian at the very least and they have delicious smoothies and kombucha. The Elephant Shack started off as a food truck in Shark's Cove (in 2017 I was a regular) and they do an AMAZING vegan pad thai. At their new location, they now have an alcohol license and live bands/DJs every weekend.
Giovanni's Shrimp Truck is famous for garlic shrimp and if you're around Kahuku you should definitely give it a try. 1 serving will feed two and just be aware that they only take cash.
If you like smoothies, Kahuku Farms has the best! Choose from a variety of items on their menu or mix your own. Everything is grown on their farm or in the local area!
And lastly, if you're at Sunset Beach, check out Ted's Bakery for the best dessert pie you will ever taste. Chocolate and Haupia is a treat.
There are so many other great eating locations around the island, check out Yelp reviews ahead of time and try some traditional Hawaiian food if you get the opportunity!
Ah the US, where spirits are cheaper than a box of 20 McNuggets. You can pick up cheap alcohol from pretty much everywhere but for convenience, your closest ABC store has prices that are competitive with the larger supermarkets. The price of spirits will BLOW YOUR MIND. Beer is also really affordable. Stay away from wine, it's fairly overpriced compared to most Australian counterparts when you factor in exchange rates.
My advice is to pre-drink as much as you possibly can and then head out to one of the bars/clubs that offer cheap drink nights, or else you're going to end up spending all of your money on drinks - and don't forget the tip.
Luckily for you, my liver and I did all the ground work for you...
MONDAY: INDUSTRY NIGHTS AT LULU'S
Cover: $10 / Drinks: Between $6 - $10 (1/2 price if you get a local to buy you drinks) / Other notes: AWESOME pop & RnB music. Monday nights at Lulu's goes off.
Cover: $10 for general entry or $5 if you eat downstairs first and show your receipt! As mentioned above they have really good tacos for $3 on Tuesday nights! / Drinks: All basics are $1. Yes. $1 / Other notes: Good music, generally more RnB. Dance floor with lots of lights. It gets busy every night of the week here.
Cover: $10 / Drinks: All basics $1 / Other notes: Kinda dank but a lot of fun when you're very, very drunk which is easy when there are $1 drinks. Also, if you're under 21 you can come and party in here with your friends, you just can't drink.
Cover: None / Drinks: Between $6 - $12 / Other notes: Live band, older crowd but always a good time.
SUNDAY: PLAYBAR ROUND 2
Cover: $10 / Drinks: All basics $1
THURSDAY - SATURDAY
There aren't a lot of bars that have specials. If you feel like drinking and you're a lady, Sky Bar has free entry on Friday's but you might want to try and get someone else to buy you a drink because a simple gin and tonic cost me $13.50USD + tip!
Otherwise, getting a whole case of beers and sitting on the beach drinking with a large group of pals never went astray. Just be aware that it is technically illegal to drink on the beach in Waikiki and you will get fined if you are caught/disrespectful/loud. Police patrol the area so either cover your drinks or put them away when you see the blue lights. The beaches close at different times (yes, the fact that beaches close in Waikiki is a weird notion for me too) and there are signs displayed at the entrances that have the opening hours listed. Try not to go outside of these times.
Some other great places to drink in Waikiki/Oahu are:
TIKIS: classic balcony bar at The Aston. Great for sunset. Live band. If your server is Kimmy, please say hi to her from me!
HULAS: The best gay bar in Waikiki! Free pool on Monday nights. Chill, safe, relaxed vibe. They have lots of social events and drag shows. Cover entry on weekends.
WANG CHUNGS: The best spot for karaoke on the island. $1/song request.
TURTLE BAY RESORT: Speaking of karaoke, if you're on the North Shore head to the bar at Turtle Bay for karaoke on Wednesday nights.
ARNOLDS: Casual tiki bar. Local vibes. Free popcorn and cheap mai tai cocktails.
It goes without saying, don't forget to slip, slop and slap. You're in a tropical environment and you will get burnt. Hawaiian Tropics is my favourite sunscreen brand over in Hawaii. They're also reef friendly! Just make sure you read the SPF ratings as for some reason, selling sunscreen with an SPF of 4 is legal in Hawaii?
Other little bits to note...
Yes. It's busy. Waikiki is the major tourist area in Hawaii so at times you will have to wait in lines, deal with families and crying children, and share the beach with one hundred of your closest friends. That being said, Waikiki has nothing on a summer day at Bondi Beach.
Peak season on the North Shore is during the Hawaiian winter. If you visit during this time expect a ton of traffic jams and tourists.
Speaking of traffic, the traffic on the island is literally the worst. One of my friends told me that there were more cars than people just on Oahu, which is weird to think about. Avoid peak times where possible and thank me later.
Always keep cash on you in Hawaii to avoid getting caught our when a shop or restaurant is cash only. It's also easier to keep some cash on you in case you need to tip anyone.
Tipping is, unfortunately, a bit of a hassle when you visit the states. Sometimes your not sure if you should tip or not, and sometimes it seems really unnecessary, especially when the service is bad. Most restaurants now print the expected gratuity rates on the bottom of their receipts. 5% for average service, 10% for good service, 18% for excellent service and 20% if you're over the moon! You can tip via cash or with a card. When tipping via cash, just leave a few extra dollar bills on the tab. When tipping via card, your server will take your card to swipe it and then bring it back with a pen and a receipt for you to sign and state your tip. Confusing, but you'll get used to it. If you're ever in doubt, just ask! Hawaii is a tourist area with a lot of Australians so most servers know that we struggle with the whole idea of it.
Don't forget that for some odd reason, the tax on an item is never included in the price that it is listed as being in the supermarket or in restaurants. There are apps you can get to calculate the tax for you.
Like every holiday destination, it's about what you make of it. There are many different experiences to be had on O'ahu that are just outside of the main tourist strip. Go for an adventure and see where you end up, you might just be surprised.