Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Best of Oahu ...so far

UPDATED 9/01/2008. As we find new favorites or cool things around the island, I will keep coming back and adding them to this post. There is a link on the upper right corner of my blog to come back to this post for quick reference.

Someone in our housing area asked for our inputs for a "Best of..." thing she wants to put together for new people who move here to the island. I told her I would compose a list of my inputs for her, but I figured it'd do just as well to post it here for anyone else looking for our list of favorite things on Oahu.

So here we go in no particular order. In most cases, I have written a blog post (or two) about it, and I've linked to my previous blog post that described that place. In those cases where I haven't already written a blog post, I wrote a paragraph about it below. Note that this is derived from our vast experience of 15 months on the island.

Restaurants: (Sorted by geographic location)
Pearl Ridge / Kam Hwy area closest to the Naval Station:
- Firehouse Restaurant on Ford Island. Right across the street from the Pacific Aviation Museum and the old air traffic control tower (you know - the one where Ben Affleck valiantly charges up it and tries to single-handedly stop the attacking Japanese planes with a shotgun). Looks can be deceiving. This place is pretty old and not fancy, but it's clean and the food and service are excellent. There are a variety of things on the menu, but there's a heavy Mexican food influence. I had the New Mexico Pork Burrito and it was AWESOME.
- Boston Pizza. Make sure you print out the coupon from the ValPak website (they periodically expire and change the link, so if the link for the coupon is bad, just do a Google Maps search for "Boston Pizza, Aiea, HI" and click on "coupons" and it will come up). For our neighbors - it's just about as fast to walk there as drive. It took me exactly five minutes to walk there, including waiting for the traffic light to change color to cross the street.
- Moe's in the Pearl Ridge Mall. Like a Mexican version of the Subway sandwich assembly line. On Wednesday nights, kids eat free and there's a guy making balloon animals for the kids.
- CPK is also at the Pearl Ridge Mall.
- Bravo's in Aiea (across the parking lot from Circuit City, under Anna Miller's). I wrote about it in my previous post here.
- Diego's Taco Shop on Kam Hwy in Waipahu for REAL carne asada burritos.
- Sam Snead's at the Navy Marine Corps golf course over behind the NEX. I'm surprised to find that I haven't written any actual blog posts about this one. I've mentioned it in passing a couple of times. It's a great place - good service, reasonable prices, and the grapefruit vinaigrette dressing is FABULOUS! (Note, you don't have to show any ID to get into this place, so I think anyone can dine there even if you're not in the military).
- Thursday Mongolian Barbecue at the Hickam AFB O'Club. You scoop up whatever raw ingredients you want into your bowl and pay the cashier by the weight of your bowl. Then hand your bowl to the guy at the grill and he'll grill up your stuff and hand it back to you on a plate. There's as much rice, lo mein noodles, soup, soft drinks, and fortune cookies as you want after you have your stuff grilled. Note: Unlike a lot of commercial Mongolian barbecue places where they provide some recommended sauce recipes (X scoops of olive oil, X scoops of shoyu, X scoops of sugar water... ginger.... garlic... hot pepper oil...), there are no suggested recipes posted here. I recommend googling it or having something in mind the first time you go, and keep notes on the way YOU like it so you remember what to do next time.
- Wright Brothers Cafe on Hickam AFB. Right next to the Hickam AFB O'Club, and right on the water overlooking the channel into Pearl Harbor. Our wives normally go out here to watch the boat pulling in or going out to sea. The cafe serves decent breakfast and lunch stuff for very low prices.
- Sea Breeze restaurant on the beach at Hickam AFB. WARNING: They had a bad kitchen fire at the Sea Breeze in late June 2008, and they had a very limited menu (hot dogs and hamburgers on an outdoor barbecue) at the Sand Bar outside while rebuilding the kitchen.
- Buzz's Steakhouse. We've been there three times now. The salad bar is fantastic - fresh avocado, pineapple, and other fresh and delicious veggies. The food is superb. Two out of three times we've had really good service there, too. It's a little pricey, but certainly good for special occasions. Reservations recommended on the weekends. They have another one over in Kailua. Our Oahu guidebooks said they don't take credit cards, but that isn't true anymore. At least the one here in Waipahu takes credit cards.

Honolulu / Waikiki:
- Ryan's in Ward Center. My first rave review is here. We went back again here. We've been back a couple more times, and always enjoyed the delicious food, the excellent service, and the very reasonable prices.
- Azteca in East Honolulu for mole poblano and the best Mexican food on the island.
- Islands in Ala Moana Shopping Center. Another post here.
- Duke's in Waikiki.
- KoKo's at the Hale Koa in Waikiki. (Military ID card required here).
- Compadres in Ward Center (next door to Ryan's).
- Orchid's in Waikiki is the fanciest place we've been on the island. The sign in front of the place said "appropriate evening resort attire required." I'm not exactly sure what that meant, but I wore khaki pants and an aloha shirt with close-toed shoes. The food and service were extraordinary, but you get what you pay for.
- House without a Key in Waikiki is next door to Orchid's an a little less fancy. I have not eaten there myself, but my wife went there with some other wardroom wives and said it was really good.

Windward Side:
- Zia's in Kaneohe (there's another one in Kailua that is also excellent).
- Haleiwa Joe's at the Haiku Botanical Gardens in Kaneohe has the best Sunday brunch on the island.
- El Mariachi in Kaneohe
- Sunday brunch at the MCBH O'Club.

North Shore:
- Breakers in Haleiwa. Good food, good service, reasonable prices, no long lines like the other super popular places (Chollo's is NOT worth the wait!).
- Giovanni Shrimp Truck. Legendary. There's at least one in Haleiwa and one way up by Turtle Bay.
- Jameson's in Haleiwa. A little pricey, but excellent food. I LOVE their chicken curry salad served in a papaya.

Snorkeling / Beach:
- Ko Olina. First post. Second Post. We've been back more times than those two, but I didn't see the need to write more of the same.
- Hanauma Bay. We have only been to H-Bay once just to be able to say we did it, but we actually prefer Ko Olina.

Scuba Diving:
- Ocean Concepts has several shops around the island, including one by the ARIZONA memorial / Rainbow Marina and one on Schoffield Barracks. They have two positive recommendations on www.tripadvisor.com. I am going to try them out next and will post what I find here.
- DiveOahu runs a sort of mini-dive shop in the NEX, and they periodically have tent sales on the sidewalk in front of the NEX. I thought their prices were pretty reasonable. I also went on a boat dive with them out to the YO-257 wreck and had a pretty good time.
- Do NOT use Island Divers. They run the shop on Hickam AFB. They are terribly disorganized and unprofessional in both their charter boat operations and their equipment repair. I later found other complaints on tripadvisor about them.

Hikes we've done with our kids: There are a LOT of great hikes around the island. I recommend picking up Stuart Ball's Hiker's Guide to Oahu. You will hear other hikers refer to "Ball Chapter 20" - they're making references to this book.
- Aiea Loop Trail
(leeward side overlooking Pearl Harbor) - Probably the closest place to our housing area. The whole loop is like 4.5 miles, and I hear the last mile or so is pretty tough, steep ups and downs. I took my boys and just went out a mile and a half (clockwise, leave from the upper parking lot) then turned around and came back again, and we had a good time.
- Kaneohe Waterfall (windward side / Kaneohe) - I'm not sure what the real name of this waterfall is. Park in the parking lot for the First Presbyterian Church in Kaneohe. To get there, take H-3 to Exit 11. Turn left off the exit onto Kam Hwy. After going under the freeway, take the next left, follow the road back over the freeway and just keep following the road all the way back to the end. Park in the back left corner of the parking lot where the trailhead starts. At the big water tank, turn left up the hill. Less than a mile up the hill, make a sharp right turn onto a side trail that you have to make about a 2 foot step down to leave the main trail and get onto the side trail. This will lead you to the waterfall. You'll probably see a lot of Hawaii guided tour vans parked in the corner of the parking lot, and you'll see a good number of people on the trail going back and forth to the waterfall, so just ask someone for help if you can't find it / aren't sure where you're going.
- Diamond Head - 1.75 miles round trip, but a lot of stairs. All paved, but the trail is a little bumpy and not conducive to strollers. Great views. Please note! Before you drive out there, have a contingency Plan B ready to implement if you get there and either (a) they're closed for renovations or (b) the parking lot is full and they're turning people away. You COULD park WAY outside Diamond Head and walk all the way in, but that's a LONG walk that I wouldn't want to do. See this post for our aborted attempt, and see this post for our second successful trip to Diamond Head.
- Friendship Garden (windward side / Kaneohe) - The first time we went, we just did the shorter lower loop that doesn't go all the way to the top - see this post. The second time we went, we did the upper loop - see this post. The upper loop trail was only 1 mile, easy trails, great views.
- Makapu'u Ridge (eastern tip of the island, not far from Hanuama Bay) - About 5 miles round trip, but paved pathway most of the way to the top with spectacular views and potential whale sightings. Lots of people on the path with babies in strollers. We went back a second time and then again a third time.
- Waimano Valley (leeward side overlooking Pearl Harbor) - First aborted attempt post here. Poorly planned second attempt post here. It would have been a fun hike if (a) we had started earlier in the day so it wouldn't have gotten dark, and (b) it hadn't started torrentially raining and turning the trail to mud.
- Waimea Falls (North Shore) - About 2 miles round trip, but paved pathway the entire way and very gentle slope. If it hasn't been raining, then you are allowed to swim in the pool below the falls. We went back again, and again.
- Manoa Falls (Honolulu) - About 1.5 miles round trip, expect a muddy trail through a rainforest (i.e. you're gonna get wet, even if it's not really "raining").
- Wiliwilinui Ridge (East Honolulu/Hawaii Kai) - All the way to the end of the trail is 6 miles, but we just went out 1.8 miles to an awesome geocache and came back again for a 3.6 mile round trip. It's on top of a ridge, so the sun and wind tend to dry out the trail.

- Chinaman's Hat (Windward side) - Not sure whether to list this one as a hike or a snorkel or a beach or a scuba dive, but you could do them all here. There were several scuba divers and snorkelers in the water around Chinaman's Hat when we kayaked out there and hiked around the island.
- Pearl Harbor from the Rainbow Marina.

Other favorite places or things to see:
- Sea Life Park.
- Hale Koa pool.
- Paradise Cove Luau.
- COMPACFLT Remembrance Tour.
- Atlantis Submarine Tour. If you're military, then be sure to buy discounted tickets at ITT by the NEX (link to the price list is down lower on this page). We've done this twice now and really enjoyed it both times.
- Dolphins at the Kahala Resort. Parking costs $4, but otherwise it's free to stand by the pool and watch the dolphins jumping and splashing and swimming with the people who pay extraordinary amounts of money to get IN the water with the dolphins.
- Hawaiian Adventures Water Park. Second post about it here.
- Swap Meet at the Aloha Stadium. Every Saturday, Sunday, and Wednesday in the Aloha Stadium parking lot. Want Hawaiian souvenirs or gifts, this is where you need to go.
- Box Car Racing in Kunia. This would be a great place for a birthday party or any other large group activity.
- Tropical Farms - Macadamia Nut Farm tour on the windward side. For directions, look up directions to the Polynesian Cultural Center. As you're driving north on the windward side headed toward the Polynesian Cultural Center, Tropical Farms will be on the right side. The tour is great - a short bus ride through the farm with explanations of all sorts of local plants and their useful purposes. A show in a small amphitheater by the water where you'll learn how to shuck a coconut and try some fresh coconut, then watch some cool twirling fire stick stunts. This farm is where they have filmed a lot of movies and TV shows like Lost, Fantasy Island, Giligan's Island, 50 First Dates, Tears of the Sun... In the store they have tons of free samples of different flavors and varieties of macadamia nuts plus samples of Kona coffee. You could make a meal just eating all the free samples.
- Round Top Scenic Drive. If you don't do the whole drive up Round Top and down Tantalus, then at least go up to Puu Ualakaa State Park and admire the view.

Local Services:

- Aloha attire.

- Movies: Sharkey Theater is the base theater on the sub base. Active duty get in for FREE. I paid $1.50 for the boys to get in, and spent $6 on two popcorns, two bottles of water, and one medium soda. Can't beat those prices at any other big screen movie theater!

Sharkey Theater occasionally has sneak previews, too. Be alert and check the schedule. For more logistical details of how they orchestrate the sneak preview, see this post.

- Tickets: You can find military discounts on tickets to a lot of local attractions at Information Tickets and Tours (ITT). Here's the price list.

- Outdoor Recreation Rentals: At Bloch Arena (just inside the Nimitz Gate) there is an outdoor equipment rental place (bicycles, camping gear, kayaks, etc). Here's their price list. For kayaks, I find that Go Bananas has very similar prices, but much better service.

- Children's Dentist: LW got this recommendation from other people here in our housing area, so someone else probably already put this on the list.

- Birthday Cake: Commissary.

- Birthday Ideas for Kids: Box Car Racing. Magic show. Hawaiian Adventures Water Park. Jungle River Miniature Golf.

- Commissary Note: The Commissary over at MCB Kaneohe and the one on Hickam AFB are not as big as the Commissary here on the NAVSTA Pearl Harbor side, but they're significantly less crowded. The lines at the Commissary on this side can be outrageously long and wrapped all the way around the back of the store past the meat section. Since we go to church in Kaneohe, we will often go to the commissary while we're on that side of the island. Othewise, LW will frequently opt to go to Hickam instead of the Pearl Harbor NEX / Commissary.

- TV: Dish Network. We hated the Time Warner Cable and really missed our Dish Network service. We submitted the form with Forest City to get permission to put in a satellite dish and got approval within a week. There is a booth set up right in the foyer of the NEX, and they offer a pretty good deal on the installation.
Note that FCC rules say a HOA cannot prohibit you from putting up a satellite dish (as long as it's less than 1 meter in diameter). Here's an excerpt from the FCC website:
The rule prohibits restrictions that impair a person's ability to install, maintain, or use an antenna covered by the rule. The rule applies to state or local laws or regulations, including zoning, land-use or building regulations, private covenants, homeowners' association rules, condominium or cooperative association restrictions, lease restrictions, or similar restrictions on property within the exclusive use or control of the antenna user where the user has an ownership or leasehold interest in the property. A restriction impairs if it: (1)unreasonably delays or prevents use of; (2) unreasonably increases the cost of; or (3) precludes a person from receiving or transmitting an acceptable quality signal from an antenna covered under the rule. The rule does not prohibit legitimate safety restrictions or restrictions designed to preserve designated or eligible historic or prehistoric properties, provided the restriction is no more burdensome than necessary to accomplish the safety or preservation purpose. [Emphasis added is mine.]
Note that they are allowed to impose certain restrictions. For example, Forest City says you can't mount it to the house. What the local satellite dish installers do is put a cinder block base down in your yard and mount the satellite dish to the cinder block base. Reception is great.

Revision 9/8/2008: Okay, we have had occasional minor interference on the screen that we never experienced while we had Dish Network on the mainland, but it hasn't been bad. I started keeping a log of the outages in March 2008, and I only logged one outage in April and one in May. So it happened less than once per month.

Note the satellite is over the continental U.S., so the dish will need to aim to the EAST-southeast. Functionality is ten times better than Time Warner Cable.

I have anecdotal evidence from one of the other officers in my wardroom that DirectTV requires a larger satellite dish than what is allowed, and he was forced to take down his DirectTV satellite dish.

Visiting Other Islands:

I highly recommend hopping over to visit at least one of the other islands while you're stationed in Hawaii. On our first inter-island vacation, we went to Maui (blog posts part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4 wrap-up). On our second trip, we went to the Big Island (blog posts part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5 wrap-up). Next on our list was Kauai, but we ran out of time.

If I had the opportunity to make one more inter-island trip, and I could only choose between Maui and the Big Island, then I would go back to Maui (see the end of Big Island Part 5 Wrap-Up for a side-by-side summary of Maui versus the Big Island).


RM1(SS) (ret) said...

So does this mean that you didn't like Waimea Bay or the Polynesian Cultural Centre, or just that you haven't been there yet?

Best places I went in Hawai`i (note that I never did get over to the Big Island) were on Maui - Haleakala and the Iao Valley.

blunoz said...

Waimea Bay was okay. Just extremely crowded. The beach there is a very steep slope, and YS got swept underwater by an undertow within about 15 seconds of our arrival on the beach. No sooner had he run up to the wet sand and the alarm bells started going off in the back of my mind to tell him to step back than the outsurge pulled him under. I ran over and thrust my hands into the tumultuous chaos of salt water foam and sand and pulled out one very scared 3 year old. As a result, I prefer Ko Olina where there is a very gentle slope and the kids can run in and out with very little concern about surf.

Polynesian Cultural Center: We haven't been there yet. We've heard it's nice, but we've also heard it's a major all-day type of affair, and we didn't think our boys would last. The Paradise Cove Luau was long enough for them.

E.P. said...

Sam Sneads.....Hmmm, it would have made my list except for one bad incident. I ate there a lot when I was out there a few summers ago. I think it was partially my own fault, you see, I ordered pork at a restaurant. It was a pork chop, and a good looking one at that...right up until I cut into it. As the LW would say "A good vet could get it back on it's feet in 5 minutes." That's okay if it's a steak, but pork......?
So, three send backs to the kitchen later I had one very dry, very over-cooked pork chop.

M.L.E said...

Hope you don't mind my input...I came here by way of Sam and C.

Best breakfast place EVER...Boots and Kimos in Kailua. Can we say macadamia nut pancakes with macadamia nut sauce? It doesn't get much better than that.

blunoz said...

MLE, your input is most certainly welcome! Yes, we have read rave reviews about Boots and Kimos in Kailua. Since we go to church over in Kaneohe, we frequently look for someplace to eat on that side of the island. We've driven past Boots and Kimos to try it, but the line is always wrapped around the block. Surely that's a good sign of a nice restaurant, but with our two small boys we didn't want to wait in line.

Jay said...


Thanks for the great blog! My wife and I are coming to Honolulu in about 4 weeks (before all the rates go up, apparently) and we're only going to be there Fri-Weds, so we really only have 4 full days, the evening Friday (after 16 hours of flying) and the day Wednesday (when we plan to go to Pearl and visit the Arizona and maybe the Missouri and tour the base before our evening flight back).

So, while we're not staying at the Hale Koa (booked) we are staying at one of their referral hotels and will use their facilities.

What do you know of the luau at the Hale? It's priced right, and I read it's good. Also, with really only 3 other days, what would you do if all you had was 3 full days in Honolulu?

Student said...

While the drive to Kaneohe is beautiful, there is an El Mariachi in Aiea. The food just as delicious, and somehow the prices are cheaper there than at the original location.

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