First-Timers Guide to Honolulu, Hawaii
Updated: Mar 18
What a trying time it’s been and with everything going on, Hawaii hasn’t been the strictest when it came to visitors coming to the island. As the vaccine has been slowly rolled out and COVID-19 cases going down, Hawaii has been a little more lenient on its COVID-19 restrictions so my friend and I booked a flight to experience Honolulu for the first time!
Getting to Hawaii:
First things first, I was a little worried about how simple it would be to get to Hawaii. On their tourism site, you can find all the information you need and multiple airlines help you understand the requirement it takes to land on the island. Alaska Airlines provides a program called “Hawaii Pre-Clear.”
Guests can pre-clear at the departure gate, and bypass airport screening upon arrival in Hawaii. To get this wristband you must upload into Hawaii’s Safe Travel Portal a negative COVID-19 test results and complete a travel health questionnaire before you arrive at the departure gate. The gate agent verifies that your profile is updated and gives you a pre-clear wristband. The pre-clear wristband allows you to skip airport arrival screening in Hawaii. If you don’t provide a negative COVID-19 test YOU WILL have to quarantine for 10 days upon landing.
Please note you can only get tested at their trusted partner sites. Lastly, I recommend downloading the free HNL Info app. It gives you updates on things like closures, traffic delays, weather emergencies, etc. in Honolulu.
The best place we ate the whole trip was Marugame Udon in Waikiki. The line when we first showed up was sooooo long but it moves pretty fast because the setup is like cafeteria lunch line style. When you get inside you grab a tray and then tell them what kind of udon you want. Once you get your udon you can choose what type of tempura dish you want and then you slide your tray down to the cashier and pay.
I ordered a Nikutama Udon which is “ made to order Udon noodles served with sweet and savory beef, hot spring egg, and Kake sauce.” The flavor of the broth and the meat were so good. I almost couldn’t finish it. The tempura was so-so and seemed a little bland to me but the udon had flavor.
Another great place to mention was Sweet E’s Cafe for breakfast.
We stayed at an Airbnb/hotel hybrid. What is that you ask? It’s a room in a hotel that is advertised on Airbnb. The hotel, Aqua Palms Waikiki, was located about 20 minutes away from the popular Waikiki beach. Our Airbnb was in a great location. We could walk to the Kahanamoku beach and watch the sunset from the boat harbor. The place came with beach towels, extra linens, extra cloth and body towels, lawn chairs, things for snorkeling and was designed really cute.
It was plenty of space for two people and the bed was so comfortable. I loved that the space had a couch to sit on to watch TV and we also had a balcony to go out on. Hawaii lodging is expensive and I will say it probably wasn’t fully worth the price but it was good nonetheless.
The best way we saved money on experiences was through Groupon! The first thing we knew we had to do was go to a Luau! We went to Ka Moana Lu'au which is 30 minutes from downtown Honolulu located at Sea Life Park Hawaii. The park was closed due to COVID but, in other circumstances, each luau guest gets up to several days to redeem free general admission to the park. This company was also voted Hawaii’s #1 luau for young travelers.
The luau was great! The location is right off of the highway but at that time of night you don’t hear cars and you’re looking out at the ocean. We had a clear night so there were a ton of stars out. They perform island dances and get people to participate. The show is funny as well. I learned a little more about Hawaii, New Zealand, and Samoan culture. You get dinner at the luau but don’t expect too much. The food was decent. NOTE: It can be hard to get a Uber or Lyft from here back to your hotel because there isn't great phone service. I'd suggest scheduling a ride ahead of time.
We then did a two-hour snorkeling tour with Pink Sails Waikiki. We had a great time with them! The boat was clean and they explained all the rules as we went out to where we would see fish and sea turtles. The crew was friendly and they made me feel more relaxed about swimming as I’m not the strongest swimmer.
The water and the view of the Honolulu skyline were amazing! That alone made the boat trip worth it. When we got to the location we all got to go out and swim around. We saw at least 5 sea turtles and a bunch of fish swimming around us. Sea turtles are considered endangered species so it’s illegal to harass them or touch them.
You’re supposed to get a good distance away from them. After the snorkeling time, we got back on the boat and they offered beverages (alcohol and non-alcohol) as we rode further out and then made a loop back to the boat dock. I highly recommend and you can get a cheaper price through Groupon.
The last Groupon we bought was through Grand Tours Around Islands which provided a full day 16 location tour of Oahu. Yup! You heard correctly, 16 stops! We got to go to Diamond Head Lookout, Halona blowhole, Sandy beach, Makapuu beach (known as the eastmost point of Oahu), Waimanalo, a macadamia nut farm, Chinaman heat, enjoy shrimp trucks, fruit stands, Sunset Beach, Banzai pipeline (a famous surf spot), Waimea bay, Laniakea (known as Turtle Beach), Haleiwa town, Oahu’s famous Dole plantation farm, and Oahu’s first Coffee Visitor Farm.
Granted each stop was about 15 to 30 minutes long so you can’t leisurely enjoy it but it’s a great tour to take to get a lay of the island and decide where you want to come back to! We were in a small van which wasn’t the greatest and that day for us it was pretty rainy. However, being able to see the whole island was nice and showed us what Oahu is like.
Fun fact: Did you know there is a fireworks show every Friday night? Every Friday night since 1988, the Hilton Hawaiian Village puts on a free 10-minute fireworks show at the beach. Best place to watch them? Kahanamoku Beach! I didn’t get to see them but let me know in the comments if you’re going to make it.
On our last day, we got lucky with sun and decided to go to Makalei Beach Park right by Diamond Head. The park has a very small beach and nowhere for cars to park so keep that in mind. It was perfect! Not crowded and the water was so blue and waves were just crashing up against the sand. I'd watch out for the water though as it comes out far onto the sand at some points.
All in all, I'm excited to go back and experience Oahu again and visit the many islands of Hawaii!