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OAHU - THE GATHERING PLACE
Photos of Oahu at Bottom of Page

Sure it's officially "The Gathering Place" but in our book it's - "Gather Your Luggage and Get Out!"

We've tried to fall in love with Honolulu but it just hasn't worked.  The hotels are just too big and massive.  The immense crowds of people are hard to take.  And for a relatively small city, traffic in Honolulu is awful and the roads are layed out in an extremely confusing manner.

It would be a downright crime to go to Honolulu from the mainland and fail to explore the other lovely surrounding islands.  But if you can only make it to Oahu and no farther, at least rent a car and drive around the entire island.  On the backside of the island, the countryside is just beautiful.  If you didn't know better, you'd swear you were in the true South Pacific.  The mountains are just beautiful.

Most will probably opt to spend a day or two in Honolulu to decompress from the long flight from the mainland and that's a great idea.  You can see quite a bit in a day or two of exploration.

Pearl Harbor is a moving memorial to what happened on December 7, 1941.  The U.S.S. Arizona memorial hosts thousands of visitors each year.  But even sadly there, there's a sign of the times.  When you park in the parking lot, you're greeted by signs that warn that thieves have been known to frequent the area therefore be sure to leave no valuables in the car.

Waikiki beach is world famous but, in our opinion, way overrated.  The sand doesn't feel right as if it had been trucked in from somewhere else.  And the hotels are so tightly packed together that as you drive along the hotel zone, there are no glimpses of the blue ocean that laps at the other side of the concrete.

One nice drive is up the hills behind Diamond Head.  Great views of the city.

I felt like an idiot one time.  As we took off from the reef runway and flew nearly over Diamond Head, I elbowed my wife and remarked with great pride:  "Hey honey, look at Diamond Head.  Did you know it used to be a volcano?  I can see the crater!"  Up until that time, I was unaware that it had been a volcano.

Some people call Honolulu "Honotokyo" because of the huge Japanese presence there. The Japanese are very courteous, nice people and the economic contributions they have made to Hawaii are incredible.  I do, however, wish that there were more restaurants serving more down to earth, true Hawaiian cuisine because many are heavy on Asian flavors.  Then again there are some great ones like Roy's that use Asian fusion touches.  Their sauces may sound exotic but they compliment the fresh fish and don't overpower it.

If you're a shopper then I can't argue against Honolulu.  It's THE place to shop in Hawaii, of course.  However smart shoppers will probably do their shopping on the mainland where prices are likely to be cheaper, even at the upscale stores.  Remember, everything has to be shipped to Hawaii and the Hawaiian Islands are the most isolated on Earth.

There are some lovely beaches on "the other side" of Oahu and that's the place I'd head to get some quality snorkeling in. 

Here are our suggestions.  If you only have one week and this is your first visit to the islands, spend a day or two in Honolulu and then fly to Maui and spend the rest of your vacation there.  Maui has it all.  Beautiful mountains, nice, large but uncrowded resorts, wonderful beaches for snorkeling and surfing, a big volcano, fabulous dining and easy to negotiate driving.  And you'll find resorts at any budget level.  We personally favor Wailea for the great beaches and incredible whale watching during the winter.

If you have two weeks or more and this is your first visit, I'd spend two days in Honolulu and then head for Maui and spend a few days there.  Next I'd fly off to the Big Island of Hawaii and spend a few days there.  I'd finish my vacation with a few days in Kauai.

Hawaii is the biggest of all the islands, twice as big as all the others combined.  It offers the world's most active volcano, two huge mountains, high countryside with cattle ranches, that great Kona coffee and other diversions.

Kauai, in our opinion, may be the most beautiful of the islands because it most resembles a true island like you'd find in French Polynesia or in the Cook Islands.  It has beautiful beaches and a canyon so big (Waimea) that you'd swear it was the Grand Canyon if you didn't know better!

The two inter-island airlines Aloha and Hawaiian used to offer great, inexpensive island hopping fares to let you take it all in.  Aloha is now gone but there's a relatively new one called GO now flies vacationers from island to island.

If you like Honolulu, good for you!  It's just not anything close to our concept of paradise!

SOME RESTAURANT REVIEWS & SUGGESTIONS ON OAHU

Roy's specializes in Asian fusion cuisine.  You'll find them throughout the islands and now on the mainland, too.  They match flavorful, exotic sounding sauces with the freshest fish available.  But the fish remains the star of the show.  The sauce compliments the fish and never overpowers it.  Enjoy fresh tuna, salmon, Mahi Mahi and some prime steaks.  Great cocktails and a very impressive wine list.  Fantastic service always with a smile.  Elegant yet not stuffy.  And the molten chocolate soufflé is mandatory!  One of the best chocolate desserts ever!!

Sam Choy's Diamondhead Restaurant in Honolulu is a good place to dine.  He's billed as the King of poke (pronounced:  pokie) and offers it in every way imaginable.  The accent here is on fresh fish but meat lovers are well represented on the menu, too.  Sam's Honolulu place is a short cab ride away from the madness of Waikiki.  Our personal review is here.

Nick's Fishmarket is a longstanding tradition for fresh fish in Honolulu.  However from the moment you enter the place, you are greeted by extremely stuffy waiters.  They seem to check you out from head to toe.  I'd go so far as to call them snobs.  The fish is good there but on our one visit, nothing to write home about.  If you want tradition, go here. Read our personal review here.

Benihana is located in the massive Hilton Hawaiian Village complex in Waikiki and is part of the worldwide chain.  Sadly, this one seems to have lost some of it's shine.  Going to Benihana used to truly be something special.  Now it's more like going to McDonald's.  At least that was the attitude and atmosphere at this branch on our one visit.  Still, reliable food and kids will enjoy watching the expert chefs show off their skills.

Hard Rock Cafe offers up the usual reliable food with a fun and efficient wait staff.  But just getting into the parking lot is a task due to the one way road system in Honolulu.  If you're like me, you may have to make two or more aggravating passes to find the parking lot entrance.

Photos of Honolulu


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