We recently returned from the loveliest five-day anniversary trip which may as well have been the honeymoon part two. We agonized (like in the most fun way possible) over which island to visit, where to stay, how best to spend our time, and it ended up being more amazing than I imagined. We aimed for a mix of relaxation and adventure and hit the nail on the head, though I did end up with a cold-turned ear infection. Womp.
As with any good vacation, it was all about that food. We ate sooo much seafood, and drank lots of Mai Tai’s. Though I noticed halfway into it that we weren’t day drinking like usual on beach trips. (In Mexico a few years ago, we’d have morning coffee and mix pineapple juice and rum like an hour later. Ha!) Does this mean we’re getting old? Not only was day drinking not a thing, but neither was sleeping in — or staying up late. I woke up the first morning at 5:45. !!! I hid under the covers for a few minutes, gave up, and nudged Joshua. We got up and padded outside onto the patio to watch the sunrise.
Obviously worth it! And such a good thing we did it the first morning because Kailua was covered in clouds after that. We were unsurprisingly hungry, and hopped in the car to find breakfast. We ended up at Cinnamon’s in the 7am hour before it was crazy-busy and ordered way too much food: a red velvet pancake, a guava pancake, and eggs benedict over shredded kalua pork.
That red velvet pancake was outrageous! Fluffy yet cake-like with a spot-on red velvet flavor. The Benedict was also delicious and really unique. As we were sipping on coffee, I noticed that Cinnamon’s had Harry Potter-themed goodies all over the restaurant, down to an Ollivander’s wand shop at the checkout station. Best breakfast spot ever.
After breakfast, we made our way across the island to Honolulu where I had an 11am surfing lesson with Kimo, the Hawaii Surf Guru. I’ve tried surfing a couple of times here in LA but wasn’t having any luck, so I was excited to try it out in Hawaii with a highly recommended teacher (thanks, Lindzee!). Kimo took me out in the water on a badass board, and helped me get in the right mindset to catch a wave and stand up. Not only did I stand up, I even rode a few waves! It was one of my favorite experiences in Hawaii.
A couple hours in the water made us so hungry, so we set off to find lunch armed with a list of suggestions from Kimo. We drove a few miles to Fresh Catch, a casual little spot with a counter full of poke and a menu of seafood options. We sampled a few varieties of poke and ultimately chose a shoyu ahi poke that was served with two scoops of warm and sticky rice. We also ordered the ahi katsu, which came with even more rice and a cool and creamy sauce.
The poke craze hit LA this year, so it was a treat to have the original thing in Hawaii. Poke in LA is pretty damn good, but it lacks the delicious simplicity of Hawaiian poke — it doesn’t take more than really fresh fish, a balanced sauce, and fluffy rice to make the best poke. After lunch, we headed home to Kailua and spent the afternoon lazing on Lanikai beach.
Dinner was at The Original Roy’s in Hawaii Kai where we enjoyed a very nice tasting menu with the largest portion of short rib I’ve ever witnessed! We woke up the next morning craving something a little lighter, and these acai bowls from Jewel or Juice were just the thing.
We spent the morning driving up the windward side of Oahu, past Kualoa ranch and through the famed north shore where the surf gets crazy in the winter. We used a great app, GyPSy Guide (again, thank you, Lindzee!), that uses your location to offer contextually relevant and fascinating details about history and culture.
We stopped in Haleiwa to have lunch at Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck and grabbed a pineapple cup with li hing powder (strange yet wonderful) to snack on while we waited in line.
We ordered the scampi shrimp and a side of hot and spicy shrimp. The GyPSy app told us that the shrimp are grown and harvested locally in a field beyond another spot with a bunch of shrimp trucks, so they’re super fresh and tasty. The scampi-style shrimp, a dozen shrimp doused in a legitimately garlicky sauce over rice, were well worth the wait.
We drove back through the middle of the island and make a quick stop at the Dole Plantation for no other reason than to get some ultra-dreamy Dole Whip. And to ogle these adorable and weirdly colored baby pineapples.
We made it back down to the south side of the island and decided it was time to shake out our legs and explore, so we checked out the Makapuu Lighthouse Trail. It’s supposed to have side trails that lead to tide pools, but we didn’t have any luck with that discovery. Instead, we hiked up the trail to the top and enjoyed the nonstop coastline views.
This is definitely a family-friendly, relatively easy hike — it seems that they are in the process of paving most of the trail, and the rest is gravel. The journey to the peak only takes about 30 minutes, and the views are just beautiful.
Dinner was really special — we decided on Alan Wong’s to celebrate our first anniversary! It was a five-star experience from the inventive food to the attentive service. I especially loved the beautifully presented lobster miso soup, ginger-crusted onaga, and the ahi avocado stack.
Jet lag hit us both about halfway through our entrees, and we almost left our sweet personalized menu. Our server followed us down the elevator to bring it to us! I had a big surprise planned for the next day, and seriously had the hardest time not ruining it by blurting it out in conversation.
I found Wild Side Specialty Tours online after looking for a really special and intimate boating experience (aka not the packed-like-sardines boat tours out of Honolulu). After a few messages back and forth with their coordinator, she suggested the Best of the West tour and arranged for another couple to join us on the adventure.
We set off early to arrive at the boat harbor by 8am. As we walked down the dock to the boat, I finally told Joshua what we were about to get into: swimming with wild dolphins and sea turtles! We hopped on the boat, met our fellow passengers, and set off into the sea.
We donned our snorkel gear and got the rundown on how to behave in the water so as to not frighten the dolphins. We scooted onto the back of the boat all geared up with flippers and masks, and waited for the cue to plunge into the cool water. What awaited beneath the surface was simply magical: a majestic pod of spinner dolphins swimming and playing in the water.
As instructed, we stayed calm and swam diagonally along their trajectory as they swam beneath us and out into the water. We were lucky to have a marine biologist as our guide, and she shared such fascinating information about the dolphins’ habits and behaviors. It turns out these spinner dolphins get their name from a behavior where they breach out of the water and spin super fast before plunging back in. As they flip around, you can sometimes see their pink bellies, which is akin to us humans blushing in the cheeks!
We returned to the boat to move on to the coral reef area near the shore to find the turtle “cleaning station”, which is a spot where the sea turtles swim in and wait for the fish to munch the algae and sea stuff off their shells. The turtles were spectacular — they look so prehistoric! I unknowingly almost bumped into one before I finally noticed him swimming just a couple feet past me.
After snorkeling around the reef and watching the sweet turtles, we hopped back on the boat to return to the harbor. We were starving by the time we returned, and decided to forego hunting down the secret Mermaid Cave in favor of finding lunch. The west side of the island is very much unlike Honolulu and Kailua — it’s almost all residential and a bit rundown. There’s a really lovely Thai restaurant, Spicy House, tucked away behind the main road that we found thanks to Yelp. While I didn’t snap any photos, I’ll probably never have better Tom Yum soup than we did there!
The next morning began with literally the best acai bowl EVER at Leahi Health. The acai part was so dense and creamy yet very frozen, like the texture of soft serve. I asked the sweet girl at the register for the secret, and she said they use frozen bananas and acai as the base — that’s it! I’ve tried it at home since, and she was totally right. Like Leahi, I simply topped with sliced fresh fruit, goji berries, hemp seeds, chia, and granola for the perfect bowl.
My ear infection kept me out of the water on our last day, but Joshua took his turn getting a surfing lesson with Kimo at Wakiki beach. It rained a little bit but I lounged in the sand by the beach anyway while he surfed with our new favorite Hawaiian. 😉
In need of a quick mid-afternoon lunch before happy hour, we stopped into Aloha Cones for poke bowls and shave ice. It’s truly a hole-in-the-wall spot with just a single bench inside for sitting, but the fish was so fresh and I loved how they create a simple bowl with crab salad, fresh cucumbers, and tomatoes. The shave ice made with natural fruit syrups in mango and passionfruit was so fluffy!
I’d been wanting to watch the sunset at House Without a Key and we finally did it on our last night in Oahu. We arrived super early and nabbed a prime seat for sunset views. We were surprised to find there would also be live music and a former Miss Hawaii dancing traditional hula!
These were actually the best Mai Tai’s I’ve ever had. Super boozy! They also serve really tasty chips that are just the salty contrast you need for a sweet drink.
There was a really beautiful view of Diamond Head behind us.
As the sun dipped below the horizon the band came on stage…
We didn’t make it to a Luau but I suspect this was actually way better.
We rose early the day we left to squeeze in a final hike on the Pillboxes Trail, located along the ridge line a couple hundred feet above the house where we stayed. This is a view of the house from up above!
The pillboxes are concrete structures that were once used as military lookout points. Sadly, they’ve been thoroughly marked with graffiti, but still very cool to see and climb on.
Joshua did all the climbing while I stayed behind the camera!
Self-timer: the original and significantly less obnoxious version of the selfie stick. :p
After cruising around in this baby (that we found via Relay Rides) for five days, we really didn’t want to leave! Hawaii, we will be back for more hopefully very soon.