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Honolulu, Hawaii:  Love It or Leave It?
4 Feb. 2018
Honolulu, Hawaii: Love It or Leave It?

Freezer Burn

The winter months in the Midwest can drag on, and during the cold stretches I like to hop on a plane and go somewhere warm.  Fortunately about six weeks ago I found a nice flight deal on my website for $374 from Minneapolis to Hawaii on American Airlines.  I’m currently in Honolulu, Hawaii on a week long trip, all on the island of Oahu.  It’s my  first time in Hawaii.

Hanauma-Bay-snorkeling

Hanauma Bay, beautiful snorkeling spot just 10 miles from Honolulu.

Flight and Lodging

The outbound flight was routed from Minneapolis through Phoenix and then 7 hours to Honolulu from there.  I used 24,934 Flexperks (redeemed at 1.5 cents per point) for the flight which covered all costs including checked bags.  For accommodation, I’m fortunate in that I enough points to stay at the best hotels in Waikiki for months, but I like to mix it up my stays by staying at different places.  Also, staying at a high end hotel by myself with a great room does very little for me.  If I was traveling with someone else, was married, or had a family that’s entirely different, but if it’s just me, I can stay just about anywhere and be fine.

For my trip, I booked 2 nights at a hostel (The Beach Waikiki Boutique), 2 at a hotel (Choice Hotel Equus), and an Airbnb (at the North Shore) for the last 2 nights.  The hostel wasn’t that great on many levels, as the quality of the bedrooms, bathrooms, and general infrastructure wasn’t very good at all. However the hostel was literally a block from the beach, and it did have 2 exceptional aspects – they booked events each day for those staying there and the rooftop area was the best that I’ve ever seen (for a hostel).

Each morning the hostel took guests (that signed up) to various parts of the island for no or little charge.  Generally just a tip for the driver was suggested.  The rooftop area was really big, covered the entire roof, and had tons of seating.  On any given night you could expect to see a dozen to a hundred people depending on the night and event schedule.  Friday nights feature free pizza, so that is a pretty big draw for guests.  Alcohol wasn’t served, but the ABC market is just around the corner.  Last night there was a party there and one of the guys at our table was Michael Therriault, actor from Canada that’s actually been in some major films and productions.  He was in his mid 40’s, and his stories were great.

The Equus Hotel is a Choice Hotel property, and is rated highly.  It has a good location, just a couple of blocks from the Ala Moana shopping mall, and on two blocks the other way from Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort and Hyatt Regency Waikiki Beach Resort, and the beach.   The rooms are fine, but nothing exceptional.  The reception area is tiny and the bar area isn’t much bigger, but everything you need is within walking distance.  Breakfast isn’t included in the stay and parking is $25 a night.  But using points makes the stay free, and since my Barclays account shutdown several months ago, I wanted to use up my Choice points before they expire later this year.

Waikiki (Honolulu)  

Waikiki is the most popular place in Honolulu.  It’s a relatively small area, around 3.5 square miles, but it feels much smaller driving through it.  I’d guess that the main road that fronts the major hotels and the beach is only around a mile or so long.  Here’s a quick breakdown of my take on Waikiki.

Pros

Weather is amazing just about every month (similar temps all year around)
Short distance to major attractions (Hanauma Bay, Pearl Harbor)
Easy walking access to beaches
Kids areas and pools at many hotels
Surfing available for beginners and those with experience
Swimming at any level is available.  (rip tide danger is minimal)
Abundance of shops all around Waikiki
Views from the beach are nice, and pretty scenic.
Opportunity to stay at hotels using points is

USS-Bowfine-submariine-missiles

Missiles and launching tubes on the USS Bowfin submarine at Pearl Harbor, a short drive from Waikiki

Cons

People everywhere
Small beach (especially for the amount of people in the area)
Some hotels literally on the beach
Large homeless population
Some shady/crime elements
Drugs
Prostitution (I got hit up by a girl one evening walking back to my hotel)
Parking isn’t good in and around the area
Most hotels charge per day for parked cars (generally $20 and up per day)
Just about everything on Oahu is expensive (except visiting some of the natural hiking and beach areas)
Trash laying around in many spots (just blocks outside Waikiki)
Car rentals need to be done at the airport, not in the Waikiki area
Architecture of much of Waikiki is 60’s and 70’s (the area needs a massive remodel)
Too many shops and tourist traps near the beach area and hotels (can you just walk in peace?)
The views on the beach are nice, but similar spots like Rio and Australia are much better

I don’t really get the hype around Waikiki.  It’s crowded, busy, and the beach is small and not that amazing.  Iv’e brought those opinions up to a number of locals and almost all of those people have said “if you have a car, get out of Waikiki”.  Waikiki is basically the opposite of the rest of the island.  Most of Oahu is very laid back, but Waikiki is very busy.  Parts of Waikiki remind me of Las Vegas.  There are newer high rise hotels with people everywhere.  Palm trees dot the side walks, as do many varied spoken languages, looks, homeless, and noise.

waikiki-ocean-rise-tide

Hotels are too close to the ocean in Waikiki. This guy has to build a wall of sand to protect this hotel.

It’s really frustrating to see the hotels literally feet from the ocean.  One location (shown above) actually had a guy shoveling sand to block ocean tide hitting the base of the hotel.  One great thing about cities like Rio de Janeiro is that the beaches and hotels are separated by a road, large sidewalk, and tons of beach sand.  There’s room for large crowds, sporting activities, events, and even concerts.  But places like Waikiki are confined, and illustrate poor and over crowded design and land management.

Conclusion

Honolulu is fine, but it’s definitely not great.  I think the city isn’t doing enough to clean up the drugs and riff-raff around the area.  There’s much more about Waikiki that I don’t care for than I like.  The locals advice about getting outside of Waikiki was right on the money.  I was able to drive around much of the island, getting to nearly every major highway and interstate in Oahu.  My favorite drive was the mountain range on the Pali Hwy (Hwy 61) that twists up against the peaks of the Koʻolau mountain range.  The mountains there are massive and nearly completely vertical.  The mountains remind me of something out of the movie King Kong.  They are just incredible.  The mountain ranges in Kauai were used in Jurassic Park, but I didn’t realize that Oahu also had something similarly spectacular.

You might like Waikiki and Oahu.  I don’t not like them, but I think Maui and Kauai are probably much better, lower key, less busy, more scenic, safer, and better for relaxing vacations.  If you can, book trips out to the outer islands and skip Oahu, especially if you’re using points and traveling with other people.  But if you like he city feel on your trips, then Honolulu will be a spot that you’ll like.

I’m off to the North Shore now to check out the scene there.  I like to surf, but the waves there are probably too much for me to handle.  We’ll see!

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