OAHU TRAVEL GUIDE
OAHU! Our second trip to Hawaii took us to this most frequently visited tourist destination of all the Hawaiian Islands, and just about 6 months after our first trip to Maui in October of last year. I had never been to this island, either, and Alex hadn't been since he was about 10 years old, so it was essentially a new experience for us both. We loved Maui so much but knew we wanted to explore other islands before heading beck to Maui again - and next time we'll hit Kauai, still on our list of must see places!
We left LAX early, landed in Honolulu after about a 5.5 hour flight, and immediately picked up our rental car (a jeep - it's a must have on the island for adventuring!) and headed out to find food. We were starving and had a couple hours until check-in at our AirBNB, so we drove to the nearby - and highly recommended - Uncle's Fish Market + Grill. A friend of ours' actual Uncle owns it, and it came highly recommended. They even claim to have the 'freshest fish on the island' and I gotta say - they made the best fish tacos I had all week long. Great quick stop with tons of menu items not far from the airport!
After we ate it was off to the literal other side of the island in Waialua, near the North Shore, to check in to our rental for the week. As always, we found the best deals on AirBNB and love to use the site to find private spaces that feel more like a local, intimate spot rather than a tourist-driven hotel vibe. The space we rented was a private upstairs bungalow style room with bathroom and kitchen on a private house property on the greater private Dole Plantation property. To access our home for the weekend you had to drive through two gated and code-locked entrances. Not overly fancy, more for Plantation land protection. But it was still super cool and SUPER quiet and gorgeously serene! If you're interested in the exact spot we stayed, you can check it out here. We had a great stay, enjoyed the easy communication with the hosts (who weren't on the property at all when we stayed), and enjoyed their extra amenities and island recommendations. In fact, the female host was also a yoga instructor and included mat and yoga DVD for the guests. It was a cute space - I wish I'd taken more photos inside!
After we dropped off our things it was early evening, and we were hoping to grab a snack and maybe catch the sunset so we drove the jeep over to Matsumoto Shave Ice in Haleiwa, not far from where we were staying at our AirBNB. Alex has been telling me about this place for YEARS. Seriously - it's one of the things he remembers best from his first trip years ago and after seeing how much he loved shave ice in Maui, I was super excited to try it. It's been around since the '60s and can easily be considered one of the first, if not the longest lasting shave ice spot on the island. And it was great! But if I'm being honest, I think Ululani's (which I talk a lot about in our Maui Travel Guide) has truly perfected shave ice and especially the mochi topping! I did love it though, and we came back several times throughout the week to try different flavors. My favorite? Passion Fruit, Mango + Guava with mochi on the side!
After we grabbed our shave ice, we parked just off of Pipeline, the famous section of the North Shore known for killer waves and crushing swells, and made our way to the beach for sunset snuggles. I cannot say enough about a North Shore sunset - it's unlike anything else in the world and so gorgeously cotton candy pink and blue every single night. Oh yeah - and on that first night on the beach, Jack Johnson ran by with his dog. I am not fucking kidding. It was like being in the perfect place on earth watching the most beautiful sunset with the love of my life wasn't enough - the universe gave us an extra little gift that night and a fun memory to hold onto for the future. Also his dog was very cute. ☺️
The next day was all about exploring so we started with a trip up the road to The Sunrise Shack in Haleiwa, which quickly become our morning go-to. Started by a few local, famous surfers this spot was like a shining gem of literal bright yellow clapboard buildings and tables with a small but satisfying morning menu. Mostly chia puddings, acai and pitaya bowls, and simple but clever coffee creations that had us coming back morning after morning. We loved the menu and people there so much we purposely searched out their second, bigger location in Waikiki later in the week and grabbed sandwiches. Also delicious, but the location inside a large windowed strip mall opposite the busiest street in Waikiki is slightly less ideal - though probably more lucrative! Either way - we loved it there and highly recommend checking it out!
We headed to the beach overlooking the famous Chinaman's Hat (yes, absolutely feels racist saying that and also that is what it's called so I wish I had a better answer but here we are), named for the way it is shaped but hopefully renamed soon. UPDATE! It's also traditionally called 'Mokolii' which feels better so from here on out, that's how we'll refer to it, too. We heard from some locals who had kayaked/ paddle boarded out to explore the island but it's also a well known shark breeding ground and so fuck that. I've seen enough shark week's on TV to know that is not something I even need to mess with - thank you and goodbye!
Kualoa Ranch was gorgeous and just a short drive from our view of Mokolii Island at Kuala Regional Park. They had tons of beautiful, friendly horses to hand out with which Alex LOVED. The ranch has been used as a film set for a TON of movies, most notably Jurassic Park and more recently, Jurassic World. You can take all sorts of tours around the 4000-acre nature preserve and working ranch, including a bus and ATV version, but we opted out because it was super busy and kind of expensive for an activity that wasn't super interesting to us. Awesome hour spent with the horses and enjoying the views, though. And a great gift shop!
One of our favorite spots quickly became the Ho'omaluhia Botanical Garden, another Jurassic World filming location and a totally free attraction open every day of the year except Christmas and New Year's Day. We actually went two separate times, once early in the week and again right before we left for a few final photos. It's gorgeous, serenely quiet, and a well known photo location for getting the dreamiest, foggy IG shots. Be respectful of the parking rules - there is PLENTY of parking that won't harm the grass and yet we still saw so many people disobeying the signage. There are tons of tables for picnicking and bathrooms, too. Oh and those fish above? That's in one of the garden's ponds. And we hear (from some local friends) that you can fish on Sundays in the ponds, which seems like a guaranteed success. It's so worth the visit and again - TOTALLY FREE Y'ALL!
While your on the east side of the island, head over to Waimanalo and the beach below the Makai Research Pier. Great for swimming, seeing sea wildlife, and basically your own private beach at the right time of day! Another place we stopped multiple times because it was just so pretty and so empty.
If you're continuing down the south side of the island or find yourself looking to escape Waikiki for the day, doing the famous Diamond Head Crater Hike is a great way to spend a few hours! We loved the ease of the hike with the stairs and hand rails, but if tons of step aren't your thing, there are plenty of layers to this hike that are accessible depending on your needs. If you can get all the way to the top, you'll be treated with gorgeous views of Waikiki and Honolulu along the shore to your right and sweeping open views to your left. A fun hike but one that left us hungry and with plenty of sun - definitely bring extra sunscreen or a hat for this one.
We ate a ton of great food on the island. While the above-pictured tacos were pretty good, I maintain that the BEST tacos were at Uncle's on our first day in town. We loved the food at Nalu Health Bar though, and made it back twice in one week for the fresh salads and hydrating smoothies after long hot days in the sun.
If you're going to eat at all on the island, you have to try the famous Leonard's Bakery, serving up the best Malasadas this side of Portugal (or thats my guess - they're like REALLY good). Get 'em fresh and eat 'em hot - and you will not be disappointed. You can get the deep fried dough balls served up a number of ways (see below for another photo inside the box) but my favorite way is just traditional, coated in a layer of sweet white sugar. YUM. There are other places that serve up Malasadas, but these were the best I've ever had and they have a number of trucks doing the late night thing, too, if you prefer your donuts after a few drinks.
Haleiwa Bowls was another wonderful breakfast + bowl spot, bit was a little more expensive than the Sunrise Shack and honestly lacked some of the flair. Still delicious! But we only went one time.
My striped suit is from Albion Fit, and it fits like a dream. I hadn't tried their swimwear before but had heard lots of good things and I'll definitely be ordering again! I would say fits TTS, but I'm just kind of between sizes and I maybe should've sized down rather than up. The cups were a little too large for my ladies. 🙈
Alex found a great farmers market at in Pupukea at Waimea Valley and we loved strolling through and trying some local goods. My faves were the raw vegan beet brownies and the local honey lilikoi slush, which we noshed before walking into the botanical garden part of Waimea Valley and enjoying the short walk to the waterfall. You can swim at the waterfall, but it was packed and you had to wear a flotation vest to do so, so we just hiked back and enjoyed more time in the gardens. You do have to pay a small fee to walk the gardens, but we thought it was worth it.
No pictures to show from the Makapu'u Point Tide Pools because we left our phones in bags on the beach while we explored, but so fun and deserted when we went. Saw a ton of cool fish and crabs in the tide pools and found a little outcropping of rocks that made a warm, deep pool to swim in, which was a cool find. A short hike off the beaten path - stay right on the rocks rather than going left up the paved walkway to the top to get to the bottom.
We also were lucky enough to have a couple local friends to take us on a short, slightly dangerous, and totally breathtaking Crouching Lion Hike. Technically, this hike is closed. And as people who truly want to respect and conserve the environment, we normally would just respect that and walk away. BUT our friends are locals and we trusted their judgement. Plus, there were lots of other people there so it seemed like something doable. Yes, the hike is a little dangerous - I actually slipped and slid coming down and scraped up my thigh pretty badly - but there plenty of ropes and spots to hang on and stay safe if you're paying attention. It's a steep climb but is so worth it at the top. If you choose to try it, you need to be careful. You are solely responsible for yourself and have a responsibility to respect nature and leave it as unharmed as possible. But you knew that, right? The hike leads you to a summit overlooking Kahana Bay, and has several different routes to different pillboxes along the top.
One evening we made our way to Turtle Bay Resort in Kahuku because I had to see where they filmed one of my favorite movies ever, Forgetting Sarah Marshall. It was pretty rad to see in person and afterward we watched the sunset and ate dinner at one of the oceanside restaurants at the resort. I had some of the best carnitas tacos - with pineapple! - ever, and got to enjoy some musical entertainment while we ate. We don't like staying in resorts; too expensive for people who don't drink and have food allergies and thus can't take advantage of the all-inclusiveness. That said, it was really fun to hang there for a few hours and get a taste of that resort life!
Speaking of resorts...I've got a little secret. Don't judge me guys - but one day I decided we needed to at least go inside and SEE the Aulani Resort, a Disney spot located on the southwest side of the island. I'd heard about it for years and we live so close to Disneyland I knew it would be magical. So - we snuck in! Easy to do, friends. We walked in with confidence, then walked straight to the pool, to the lazy river, grabbed a tube and hopped in. We hung and swam for about 20 minutes before a suspicious looking lazy river pool guard asked about our wristbands (or lack thereof) and we made our way out pretending we'd just left them in our newly checked-into room. It was fun! And naughty! I can't recommend doing it per say (I'd feel terrible if you got caught!) but it was super cool and the resort is next-level. If we have kids, I'd totally take them.
After we snuck back out, we walked across the street to Monkeypod Kitchen where we fell in love with the local kombucha on tap and the coconut corn chowder. I need to learn to re-create the soup - one of the best I've ever had!
The coolest place we went all week was to see the mythical sounding Mermaid Caves, which are a natural rock and coral formation created by the volcanoes that formed the islands so many years ago. At low tide you can hop down into the caves to explore and take photos, but be careful of the tide coming in and deep water inside pulling you out to the deeper ocean. Also highly recommend wearing shoes if you go down inside, but otherwise I loved it! Getting in and out might be tricky for kids, but had a blast and I felt like a literal mermaid for a minute. Dreams do come true.
Right down the street from the caves is a long stretch of beach called Electric Beach, so named for the electric power plant next door that currents warm channels off water due to the electric activity. Great for snorkeling, but I ended up cutting my foot at the beach on a sharp piece of coral so we left soon after arriving and bailed on snorkeling here.
If you're hanging on the leeward side of the island, you should definitely swing by Island Shave Ice and Creamery (pictured below). One of our other fave places to stop, just ignore the Jesus messaging and enjoy the natural lilikoi syrup.
One of our friends also staying on the island while we were there was camping along the Kamehameha Highway at a pay-to-stay beach park, and every time we went to or from his place, we ended up eating at the Kahuku District Park food trucks long the highway. A collection of anywhere from 6-15 trucks and semi-permanent food truck structures along the road, this place brings together some of the best local fare and cheap, easy, on-the-go food on the island. Food trucks are everywhere, but this place always had a bunch of the best ones hanging out and we tried everything from local pork bowls to the famous Giovanni's Shrimp Truck to homemade banana bread to waffles on a stick - and nothing disappointed. Plus nearby is the Polynesian Cultural Center, which was actually kind of cool and worth a stop if you've got time.
Eating is obviously my favorite activity, especially finding and trying new things on vacation, so I loved all the great food on the island. There were farmers markets and fruit stands everywhere where we stocked up on local pineapple, guava, and bananas; there was tons of local, island-brewed kombucha, but our favorite brand is from Maui: Valley Isle Kombucha. We had donuts, malasadas, rice bowls, and two very fancy meals at the Haleiwa Beach House. Highly recommend for a nice night out with fantastic seafood!
The Dole Plantation (not where we stayed; they have a separate, tourist-friendly attraction with a pineapple maze for the kiddos and a huge gift shop) was a fun visit, a great way to see pineapples being grown, and perfect for stocking up on cheap gifts for friends and family. We even saw some new, fancy, totally GMO but totally PINK pineapples production with the introduction of lycopene to the fruit for color. Weird but cool! Should be seeing them in markets in a few years, they said.
On our last day on the island we made our way to the China Walls, a stretch of lava-rock formations and popular jumping and swimming spot past a quiet neighborhood where tons of locals hang out. The formations are gorgeous and super unique, and offer not only sweeping ocean views but some pretty great views of the million dollar mansions along the rocky coast, too. We saw sea turtles, dolphins, and even a whale swimming way out at sea while we were there! Neighborhood parking was tricky but not impossible and there were at least 50 teenagers jumping and swimming when we arrived.
We finished the night in Kailua with one last shave ice - and one of the better ones - at Island Snow. Different than Island Shave Ice, and honestly - better! Its tucked inside a surf shop and super cool. Get it.
We LOVED Oahu, and we cannot wait toe get back to Hawaii. If you're looking to go, ticket prices right now are pretty affordable since SouthWest just started flying there. We're hoping to get back in April of next year again - that and October are always are favorite months to travel and seem to give us the best travel deals consistently. If you're going to be headed to Maui, make sure you check out my Maui Travel Guide as well!
Things that didn't make the list but are still worth check ing out? The Beetbox Cafe, Lani Kai Beach for swimming, Kokohead Crater Hike, Sharks Cove, Sunset Beach, Ala Moana Park, and Kahuku Farms. Aloha, friends!
MAUI TRAVEL GUIDE
We made our first trip together to Hawaii last month! It was a trip we had talked about taking for years together, and after a lucrative first part of the year I was able to buy tickets and surprise Alex for our 1 year wedding anniversary. The trip coincided with our 9 year dating anniversary, so it felt like the perfect place to celebrate and make some new memories together! Alex had been to Maui once as a kid, at around ten, but had few memories of what to do or see and mostly remembered sea turtles and black sand beaches from his first visit.
The first and hardest decision was simply what ISLAND to go to! There are 8 major islands, though obviously a few are far more frequently traveled than others. It had come down to choosing between Maui and Kauai for us, as we'd heard they both offered a very "Hawaiian" experience. Oahu and Hawaii seemed a little too 'city-like' for a vacation, and Kauai only lost out because I heard its better AFTER you've experienced Maui. Kauai is a much more 'rustic' and jungle-y island, more for the hikers and campers in your group than those who prefer to lounge pool- or oceanside. While we didn't stay in a resort (not our style!), we definitely felt the in-between on Maui of having everything you needed but also being a reasonable drive from anything you wanted. We loved it!
We flew out from LAX and took a direct flight to Maui. Five and a half hours later we were flying over Molokini, the horseshoe shaped crater off the southwest coast of Maui that we'd be snorkeling in just a few days later. It was incredibly gorgeous from above!
We stayed in an AirBNB and LOVED it (check out the house here), but we'll get there in a moment. After landing we scooped up our rental car, a basically requisite red open air Jeep to tour around the island in. Perfect for taking in that salty ocean air and traversing the sometimes sketchy roadways along the Road to (and from!) Hana.
On the way to our AirBNB we drove through our first real little beach town and the one that easily become our favorite throughout the week, Paia. Paia is a tiny, adorable little stop on the north side of the island. Since we were staying in Makawao, just south and toward the center of the island, Paia became a frequent stop for us going in and out of town. The first little spot we fell in love with was Choice Health Bar. Located directly downtown, this clean and bright spot offers fresh, often locally-sourced dishes with specials that change daily. Our first stop I just grabbed Lilikoi (local type of passion fruit) Acai Bowl, but we ended up back there often for their warmer lunches and dinners, too. Below you'll see their Kale Caesar Salad and Ulu Breadfruit soup. We kept coming back for these dishes after long days at the beach, and they satisfied every time. For the record, breadfruit grows like a fruit on a tree but tastes like a potato or squash and is a cousin of the Mulberry. It is super nutritious and we were told than a single breadfruit tree can produce a ton of fruit and feed a TON of people! (Not like a LITERAL ton. But a lot!) There's a picture of an actual breadfruit tree down by the blue smoothie below. It kind of looks like a jackfruit while growing!
When we arrived at our AirBNB, a Plantation Style Tiny Home, we totally fell in love! Pictured below, it was a super cute guest cottage or 'hale' on a young, local family's small, private farm and orchard. It overlooked the orchard and banana trees, and had a screened in kitchen porch that made cooking up leftovers and farmers markets finds a truly unique experience! It was also super enchanting to hear the rain showers gently pound against the tin roof at night and had my husband asleep even before I was! Inside the place was small but perfect for us for the week. A single room with a large, comfy bed and a small futon, plus some gorgeous vintage furniture inside, and a completely renovated bathroom with some really cool features. Plus, a shower for two!
On our first full day of exploring we made our way across the island to Valley Isle Kombucha. We're not big drinkers but we'll go almost anywhere for good kombucha, and it was really amazing how much of it was on the island. We went to two different kombucha bars (Valley Isle was the best!) and even the general stores in the area had locally-made kombucha on tap. Valley Isle had at least 16 taps of different, fresh kombucha on tap, as well as a case full of bottles and a full lunch menu, too. They also partner with a company called Alchemy Maui that bakes fresh loaves of bread and baguettes right in their kitchen, so you can grab a loaf for the road or take it with you to the beach afterward!
We also fell in love with Coralynn, the server at Valley Isle and a local artist. She gave us so many tips - things to check out and places to go, and we ended up buying one of her gorgeous hand-drawn stickers to take home with us! The locals on the island were all incredibly helpful and friendly, which lent itself even more to the idyllic perception of island life. Nowhere to go fast and time to chat with everyone along the way!
Our second full day we decided to do The Road to Hana, basically an all-day adventure around the outer eastern edge of the island. We downloaded the GyPSy Guide, which is an app that adds historical and locational notes to your drive. It'll tell you where to stop for the best sights along the way the entire way there, and will give you history of the island on the drive back. I'd highly recommend spending the few dollars to download it, it was really fun and useful on the trip, and since most rental car companies don't insure you to drive all FULL Road to Hana all the way around the island, it gives you something fun to listen to on the drive back in the dark.
We started in Paia, heading East. Our first real stop was at The Garden of Eden Arboretum. In the bottom left picture, you can see the pointy rock to the right of the V - that's the rock shown in the opening scene of Jurassic Park! We loved getting out and walking around the lush gardens, enjoying the tropical flora and fauna, and checking out the waterfalls and 100-year old mango tree inside the park! Worth the visit for sure. Especially if you like birds - tons of them, including peacocks everywhere! A small admission fee, very much worth the stop if you take the trip - though I don't recommend wearing nice shoes. I forgot my extra flip flops the first day and totally destroyed my favorite fancy sandals. Whoops!
I won't tell you about every stop we made on the Road to Hana - we'd be here all day! But I recommend stopping often and eating often, too. There was SO much good food, but THE BEST BANANA BREAD ON THE DRIVE (this part is important - can you tell?) is at Aunt Sandy's along the Keanae Peninsula. Trust me. Buy at least 3 mini loaves for the day, you will not regret it! We saw painted eucalyptus trees, black sand beaches, and a million farmstands. We bought and ate local lilikoi and sugarcane, banana bread, and local kombucha and took selfies in front of waterfalls and fell even more in love.
We stopped at Coconut Glen's on the way up after many suggestions and had the BEST vegan ice cream I've ever eaten. We tried the coconut and lemongrass ginger flavors, which both had chunks of real coconut meat mashed inside. Literally could eat it for every meal ever - the perfect blend of sweet and fat and creamy. It was a perfect day.
We ended up checking out a ton of beaches, but the best for snorkeling and beach hanging while we were there seemed to be on the south side of the island, toward Wailea-Makena. We ended up returning here a couple times to hang and swim in calmer waters away from the resorts. At Big Beach there were waves so high and so powerful - shore pounders - that lifeguards weren't allowing people to swim, and one beach over at Little Beach we stumbled upon a nude beach! It was a fun, if unplanned, surprise and definitely a memorable one. At first I was intrigued, but after realizing the beaches occupants were almost entirely men, I was less enthused. This ended up being one of the places we also saw a TON of sea turtles swimming one afternoon in the rock outcroppings off the beach. Super cool!
We visited Lahaina and spent a morning and early afternoon walking around checking out the beach city, but if I'm being honest, this was one place I definitely only needed to see once. It was super touristy and felt kind of fabricated - I prefer to hang like a local when I travel and all of Lahaina felt like a tourist trap. Also, it was just down the street was a ton of huge resorts and the contrast of seeing how locals are forced to live in poverty next door to these huge tourist draws was more sad and reflection of the financial struggles really facing the island. BUT, we did meet a really cute little hippie kid selling vegan, gluten-free, marijuana-infused banana bread...and we definitely bought some and enjoyed a hazy afternoon on the beach.
Some of the best things we ate, besides all the fresh local lilikoi, mango, starfruit, dragonfruit, guava and papaya - were macadamia nut chocolate chip pancakes (pictured above!), fresh mahi mahi, and basically any combo from Ululani's Shaved Ice, but especially the Paia location which ALSO carried Coconut Glen's vegan ice cream. My go-to order (we got it 5 times in 4 days - no joke) was CG's original coconut ice cream covered in lilikoi, strawberry, and guava shaved ice and topped with house made mochi. I am literally drooling just thinking about it! We also fell in love with a local coconut kefir that we found at the local health food store, Mana Foods (also pictured below), that we would come home each night and top with local lilikoi and take to munch in bed.
Since we were in Maui celebrating our 9 year dating anniversary and 1 year wedding anniversary, we decided to treat ourselves to a reservation at the fanciest restaurant on the island - Mama's Fish House! We got all gussied up and and headed to the loveliest dinner. Did it cost us a couple hundred dollars? Maybe yes. Was it worth every penny as we looked over the over eating some of the best food ever, more in love than ever? YOU BETCHA! An expensive dinner out, but VERY worth it if you can make room for it on your itinerary. Heads up - reservations go fast! We made ours 6 months in advance.
We loved finding tiny, locally owned places like Brekkie Bowls to eat at all week long. We like supporting local economy whenever possible, and frankly - the locals have the best recs for snorkeling, finding sea turtles, and sharing secret sunset spots! I also loved how accessible fruit, smoothies, acai bowls, and juice was on the island. My digestion was high functioning and I felt great all week long - which is NOT always the case when I'm traveling!
One of the definite highlights of out trip was snorkeling at Molokini, the horseshoe shaped crater off the coast that boats calm water, tons of beautiful fish, and sometimes even seat turtles! We didn't see any turtles but we had a blast boating out, snorkeling together, and filming underwater with the GoPro. We saw tons of beautiful, brightly colored fish and coral reef, and had a great time with the crew on the boat. We were out from about 7 am to 2 pm and chose to sail with The Four Winds. Highly recommend their outing, they let us hang out way longer than all of the other tourist-filled boats and they prepped a great lunch with a veggie burger option! We saw tons of dolphins on the way back too, some even swimming alongside out boat for over 20 minutes. Super cool!
I loved that we were able to hit the island's big Saturday Upcountry Farmers Market. It was full of local vendors selling unique and delicious specialties, and we feasted on a local eggs, probiotic coconut yogurt, tons of tropical fruit and of course - fresh coconuts! The market had something for everyone, and there was no shortage of vegan and vegetarian options, which was pretty cool to see in such a small place. We made friends with some locals and ended up bringing some local raw honey and bread back on the plane home a few days later!
We searched high and low for turtles while we were there and I don't know if was the time of year or just our luck but we barely found any. We FINALLY stumbled - literally I thought it was a rock until we got pretty close - upon a giant sea turtle at Tavares Bay, and hung out watching him for awhile. Like I mentioned earlier we also saw some near Makena Bay, but other than that - not a one!
Also if you have time, get over to Bamboo Forest Hike that leads to Pipiwai Waterfall - it was easy and a fun way to spend a couple hours after a heavy lunch and was super photograph-friendly.
One day ended up being SUPER rainy (it's Hawaii so daily rain is expected but this day was SUPER wet) so we decided to ditch our hiking plans and booked an afternoon at North Shore Zipline, which happened to be literally a half mile from our AirBNB. We had a damn blast! I expected it to be a little cheesy or lame but honestly the guys that worked there went above and beyond to make sure everyone had fun, and I would go again if I had the chance. Also - the photos at the end didn't suck like most places that try to sell you photos, so we actually bought them. Worth it! They gave us like 30 pictures for $30. Again - not normally a sucker for that stuff, but it was SUCH a fun outing and they really made it worth every penny. Check them out if you're in the area - we had a kid as young as 6 in our group so it's definitely family friendly!
The next day ended up being FAR nicer outside, so we packed a day bag and drove to Kula, basically where all the lush farmland lives at the center of the island. We found a super cute pumpkin patch flooded wit families and overlooking the ocean and stopped to take pictures and enjoy literally the most beautiful and scenic pumpkin patch maybe ever. It was incredibly gorgeous, and after we continued into Kula to the Ulapalakua Ranch Store, full of fun kitsch and really great locally raised, grass-fed burgers. Driving through Kula and all of the pasture and free roaming cows (literally no fences - drive carefully through here as they sometimes travel through the roadway to get to another pasture!) was a little bit like being home in Maine - if Maine started suddenly taking on a jungle climate.
That last afternoon we made the loooong (2-3 hours) drive from Kula to Haleakala National Park to see the sun set over the Haleakala Crater. It was SO incredibly worth it. It was a super cool, winding, beautiful drive up to the top, and then we parked and hiked the last mile or so to the very top. The place was crowded, but there was plenty of room to hunker down and watch the sun go down. We were ill-prepared clothing wise, both in shorts after a long day at the beach, but it was worth every shivering second to see what looked like literal heaven play out in front of us. Make the trip, but bundle up first. The drive down will take a little longer than you'd expect because of all the other people also departing as soon as the sun drops, so reward yourself with an extra trip to Ululani's on your way home!
We loved Maui SO much and can't wait to go back and take advantage of the chill vibes, beautiful views, and delicious food! If you're considering going, check out my rec's below as well as all the one's mentioned above, they're an easy copy and paste into your phone before you go so you can reference place as you drive around. And when you go - LET ME KNOW so I can live vicariously through you and your vacation. 😉
Food places we tried and loved: Choice Health Bar, Valley Isle Kombucha, Tin Roof for super traditional Hawaiian cuisine, A'a Roots, Paia Bowls, Brekkie Bowls, Mana Foods, Flatbread Company, Paia Fish House, Joy's Cafe in Kihei, Maui Kombucha Bar, Choice Health Bar, Aunt Sandy's along the Keanae Peninsula, Mama's Fish House, Farmacy, Paia Inn Brunch, Mokuroots, Ululani's Shaved Ice, Coconut Glen's, Ulapalakua Ranch Store, and the Upcountry Farmer's Market.
Places to See + Things to Check out: EVERYTHING! But specifically - Sea Turtles at Tavares Bay, Turtle Beach, Makawao Forest Hike, Bamboo Forest Hike to Pipiwai Waterfall, Lao Valley, Waihee Ridge Trail Hike, Paia, Poli Poli, Haleakala Crater + National Park for sunrise or sunset (sunrise requires a planned ahead permit), Kaupo Drive (the long way back from Road to Hana - only if you've got a jeep), Red + Black Sand Beaches, Maleaka Beach, Ulua Beach, Ahihi Kinau Natural Reserve, North Shore Zipline, Kula Country Farms, Little Beach (NUDE beach!), Upcountry Farmer's Market, snorkeling Molokini, Lahaina, Road to Hana (download the GyPSy App!).
Amsterdam Travel Diary
Okay guys, it took me 4 1/2 months BUT our Amsterdam Travel Diary is finally here! After our wedding, we spent the weekend recovering and packing and then left bright and early Tuesday morning for LAX where we boarded our the first leg of our flight to Reykjavic, Iceland and then over to Amsterdam for the first 5 days (technically 4 - we didn't get to our AirBNB until like 10 pm on the first night) of our 14 day honeymoon. When we first stepped off the train we were right downtown, just outside the Amsterdam Centraal Station. The sun was just beginning to set low in the sky - they're on about 20 hours of daylight over there in late June. We found our way to our AirBNB, not far from downtown but worth jumping on the metro. We checked in - our host was awesome and even had warm beer waiting for us - which apparently is how they prefer to drink beer in Europe. I had no idea...and my Dad is a US beer company executive! 😝
Since the sun wasn't due to set until around midnight, we were wide awake when we hit the AirBNB. Plus, we were just SUPER excited to be in Amsterdam! We used the HappyCow app a couple times during our trip to find vegan food, but mostly just used the incredible lost of recommendations you guys sent us on social media. I collected them all on a list and then starred all the places on Google Maps, so that as we were walking around cities I could see how close we were to our recommended places at all time! PRO TIP: You can download maps for offline use on Google Maps, so before our trip I downloaded maps for all of the cities we were visiting (Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris, and London) and then used them offline and without burning up data overseas while we walked and traveled through the cities. Since your GPS works without needing data, you'll even see where YOU are on the maps. Very convenient!
Anyway, after we arrived we went to a HappyCow recommended, vegan restaurant near us called Mezebar Bodrum that served a sort of Greek-inspired tapas that was truly phenomenal. The first real food we'd had in hours, sure, but we went back again and I can confirm that is truly wonderful. The owners were sweet and accommodating and gave us awesome recommendations of stuff to see all over the city, plus they literally served us dinner at like midnight. The best introduction to this super friendly city! After we ate we found a 'coffee shop' and tried our first joint in Amsterdam. We didn't really understand why it made us feel SO weird until later, when we figured out that spliffs in Europe are usually rolled with tobacco. For a California girl used to a regular old joint, it was an unpleasant surprise and a serious head rush. Ick. We walked it off around the general area of our 'home' for the week before calling it a night. We were staying in a cute 1 bedroom overlooking the East side of Rembrandt Park. It was a huge, beautiful green space not far from the more famous Vondelpark. The parks and green spaces like the Bos quickly became our favorite part of being in the Netherlands. That and all of the friendly, off-leash dog culture! So many chill dogs, it was truly amazing.
Day two we started early, grabbing bagel sandwiches at the Bagels & Beans nearest us. I got hummus and veggies - a welcome meal after all the traveling. They are a chain, so we were able to find them all over the city. Perfect in a pinch! (I did bring probiotics with me while traveling to help with my crazy wonky digestion - more on how I pack for trips in an upcoming post!) After food we walked the city - over 17 miles the first day we were there! I came back with THE best, strongest booty I've ever had. It was awesome. We perused the canals and hit up the Van Gogh Museum area, including the Park Museumplein where the I Am Amsterdam sign is. There were also a bunch of small eateries, touristy shops, and plenty of people tripping on mushrooms in the park. We also stumbled upon some super cool Banksy and Salvador Dali exhibits at the Moco Museum, just across the park. We even found some kombucha at a small grocery store! It wasn't quite the 'booch we're used to, but it was cool to try different flavors and brands. We tried to get one or two different brands in each country and definitely ended up finding our favorite brand, Jarr, while we were in London. The whole 'I Amsterdam' area was super cool and busy with locals and tourists, and we stopped for lunch after seeing a big sign advertising vegan hemp burgers. It was delicious, and awesome to see so many plant-based options in Amsterdam. I totally fell in love with that area, and we ended up walking through it again on day 3, too!
Because of my soy and dairy allergy and dietary restrictions, we ended up eating a LOT of bread. This was no problem since I LOVE bread, but I did start craving fresh veggies at every meal pretty hard early on into our trip. Luckily for Alex, a baguette a day is literally what he wishes he could eat everyday. Luckily for me, we walked 11 more miles on day two, so I could deal with the bread intake. And of course the freshly baked bread from real neighborhood bakeries was SO much more satisfying than the grocery store crap we have here in the States. That said, we were super excited to find Maoz Vegetarian (last picture in this post), basically the Chipotle of falafel in Europe. It was so convenient and easy to make your own pita pocket stuffed with things you actually liked, and nearly everything was soy-free. Score!
The 2nd night in town we ventured over to the famed Red Light District, or De Wallen. We found it near the Hash, Marijuana + Hemp Museum, among other coffee shops, boutiques, cheese counters and tourist trinket shops. It sure was something! The dark, thin alleyways were lit up so that you could see them before you arrived. After turning down the alley you are immediately greeted on both sides by matching glass doors, spanning the length of the alleyways. Each has a woman in the window, usually wearing a small amount of lingerie or waggling her finger at you as you pass by. It's kind of crazy to see, but in a country with legal prostitution and brothels, its certainly not out of the ordinary. Rumor has it that the woman are actually generally quite respected and have close relationships with city police. We saw that in action, with friendly ladies chatting up the local police patrolling the area, offering them a drink or letting them in to chat. It was a very professional way of doing things, really, and was wonderful to see the women so in charge of their space and presumably their bodies. As a couple we were smiled at a lot but I think they generally knew we were tourists just talking a look; we did see a few people enter the rooms and quickly shut the door behind them, but for the most part, everyone around were curious tourists, too. We even found a few tobacco-free joints in that area, and enjoyed those for the rest of our stay in the area.
Day three we decided to trek like locals and rent bicycles! That's how most of the population gets around in Amsterdam, and it felt only right that we participate while we were in town. We started early in the morning, trekking nearly 6 miles over to the Amsterdam Bos, a huge green space of over 2,500 acres with a full forest, rowing lake, and even a few small restaurant snuggled inside. It's over three times the size of Central Park!
That was probably my favorite part of Amsterdam - the incredible swaths of bright green space. Not overly manicured, but full of people enjoying it. I wish we had more spaces like that here! We spent hours biking around, watching a rowing race, stopping at small cafes for rolls and fresh fruit, and just straight up loving being on our Honeymoon. For a late lunch we headed from the Bos back toward a place I'd been recommended on instagram called De FoodHallen, which was basically this amazingly designed old warehouse that has been converted into a community space for restaurants. There were at least 12 small cafes and restaurants in the space, and a bunch of long, community style tables in the center. Alex ordered a veggie temaki roll from Meneer Temaki and LOVED it, and I found and fell in love with a small Mexican place call Fento. They made killer jackfruit nachos and homemade iced teas, and I was really impressed that there was such good Mexican food in the middle of Amsterdam! Turns out Fento is owned by someone from LA who moved to Amsterdam and opened up this place - which is probably why it tasted to authentic and good to us. I totally LOVED it and highly recommend stopping by! After lunch we headed back to the AirBNB for a nap - those long days were killing us! - and then back out to a small, local hole-in-the-wall Indian spot for some chickpea curry for dinner. We returned our bikes and headed home. Renting bikes are enjoying the city really is a must-do while you're in the area, but know that the bike traffic moves fast and waits for no-one. Know where you're going before you start biking so you stay out of the locals way!
On day four we walked all over the city one last time, hitting up all of the favorite spots we'd accrued over the previous 3 days. We went all the way across town on foot to get to Dophert, a restaurant we'd heard literally rave reviews about. It was pretty good, and a super cute spot - plus the staff was incredibly friendly. That said, like most of the places we visited on our trip, the soy-free options were abysmal, and the portions were pretty small. But Alex really liked his Fried Seitan Sandwich, and we ended up loving walking around that part of the city, so it was totally worth the visit. I even found and made Alex take my picture in front of 'St. Peterhalsteeg' street sign! We finished off our last day walking the canals and stopping by the Vegabond vegan grocer. They didn't have a ton of options for on-the-go eating, but had some great groceries to take back to the AirBNB and a quality selection of kombucha, too. That night we hit up Mezebar Bodrum one more time and crashed hard, and were up early the next day for our train trip to Brussels! Hopefully I'll get it together and have THAT travel diary up next week! 😝 Until then, check out the resources below to help plan your trip, and check out our IG posts from the trip for more on what we ate + saw, and make sure to visit our youtube channel to watch the video recaps of our Amsterdam trip here. Vaarwel!
IG Photo Links:
Ask the locals! Seriously - they know.