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Trip Report Flip-Flopping Around Oahu & Kauai: Snorkeling, Sushi & Puka Dogs

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My husband and I celebrated our anniversary on Oahu and Kauai in winter 2013. ((L)) My personal goal was to relax and regain perspective on my life, in addition to enjoying romantic highlights with my amazing husband.

We found that trying to do 2 islands in 8 nights was a little too busy. Last year's trip was more relaxing, when we spent 8 nights on the Big Island. Next time we will only visit 1 island per trip.

ACCOMMODATIONS:

Diamond Head Bed & Breakfast
Noela Dr., Honolulu, Hawaii
www.diamondheadbnb.com

To escape from the craziness of overbuilt Waikiki area, we chose to stay at Diamond Head b&b in a quiet, upscale neighborhood of Diamond Head. We paid $130 for the makai room, with ensuite bathroom and private lanai with a view of Waikiki in the distance. Our room had a queen bed and also a double bed. We had a car, and I don't recommend you stay here without a car. Waikiki was easily accessible by car.

It was an adventure every minute to stay at Diamond Head b&b, which is a charming older home, and is run as a b&b by 2 kind senior ladies, including the owner, Joanne. It's very quiet, except for the chorus of birds to wake you up early. It's a quirky and interesting place to stay, and is a great value for Oahu.

There are pros and cons to staying at this b&b. For me, the biggest “pro” was the unexpected romance which the spacious lanai offers. There's a sunset view from the Makai room's lanai, and a view of the lights of Waikiki at night. The lanai is furnished with a table & 2 chairs (sunset dinner?), and 2 small sofas, a little bigger than love seats.

Cons? Well, you have to expect the unexpected. For example, there wasn't any way to lock our door when we left our room to go out. No key. But there are only 3 rooms that they rent out. There was only 1 other room on our floor.

Sheraton Kauai Resort
2440 Hoonani road, Poipu Beach, Koloa, Kauai
www.sheraton-kauai.com
Book your room directly with the Sheraton, and NOT through a package or travel agency, if you want the best chance of getting the room you chose. Also, sign up first for the Starwood Preferred Guest program before you book, as there are some rooms you cannot book otherwise.

In my opinion we had one of the best rooms. We had a deluxe ocean front room on the 4th floor (top floor) of the Ocean wing building. This floor is for Starwood Preferred Guests only. This is the building which is further away from the pool & sandy swimming beach, but I chose it because it feels more private, and is very close to the ocean, on the side with a rocky shore. I doubt you can sleep closer to the ocean on Kauai than we slept at the Sheraton! The ocean was loud, romantic & soothing.

The rooms are comfortable, and the grounds & pool are nice, but cannot compare to the fancier, more upscale Grand Hyatt nearby. HOWEVER none of the rooms at the Grand Hyatt are as close to the ocean as our room at the Sheraton.

We were pleased with the Sheraton, and would consider staying there again. Breakfast was just ok, not too impressive. But the location was excellent. We saw whales one morning at breakfast! (We had free breakfast.)

During our stay, it was too windy for the Sheraton's beach to be swimmable. However, it was a close drive to the Poipu Beach Park, which had wonderful protected snorkeling and lots of colorful fish, even on a windy day.

Hawaiian Airlines:
I love Hawaiian airlines! Lots of smiles and aloha spirit from the crew; free meal; and individual entertainment screens on the flight home from Honolulu to San Diego. Hawaiian is my first choice for Hawaii.

OAHU:
Problems: We often found ourselves on congested highways on Oahu, while driving to and from Waikiki/Honolulu areas. It reminded us of the southern california freeway traffic, which we prefer to leave behind on vacations. Yucky.

OAHU HIGHLIGHTS
Oahu has its advantages and charms! I'd like to return to Oahu someday, and might consider staying at the Royal Hawaiian hotel on Waikiki, or else staying somewhere on the north shore of Oahu. Some highlights below:

--USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor:
I would have chosen to skip Pearl Harbor, but my husband wanted to see it. War seemed too depressing for vacation, I had thought. BUT the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor took me by surprise. We rented the headsets for the “audio tour” for around $5 each, which made it very meaningful, as there are voices of survivors telling you their stories. It was a sobering experience, and I actually found it to be life-affirming. Hard to take life and loved ones for granted, once you have visited Pearl harbor. We reserved our space in advance for the USS Arizona, upon our arrival on Oahu. (Rest in peace, all you brave souls, and may your descendants embrace life and love.)

--Haunama Bay Preserve:
Gorgeous Bay! We snorkeled in the morning, and then I sat on the beach and wrote poetry, which I have lost, but it's imprinted on my heart. This is a very scenic spot! The beautiful water & reef of this wide bay is hugged between 2 shoulders of land.

We parked at the visitor's center, watched the mandatory film, then paid $6 for all-day privileges to ride the tram up and down to the beach. Snack bar and parking is up by the visitor's center. There are showers and toilets down at the beach, and a lifeguard.

Snorkeling was enjoyable at haunama bay preserve. Surprisingly, I personally saw more fish at Poipu Beach Park on Kauai. But maybe that's because I tired of swimming before my husband did. At the end of the day, he found that the most fish were on the right side, as you are facing the water. But I had only snorkeled on the left side.

Bring your own lunch, as selections are very limited and pricey at the snack bar. We bought lunch at the snack bar, but it wasn't worth the price.

--Oahu north shore: Banzai and Pipeline:
We drove up to Oahu's famous north shore beaches to see the surfers. We were fortunate & excited to come upon the famous Banzai Pipeline surfing event! We were in time to watch the surfer who came in 2nd for that day. It was really exciting to watch! You can't tell how big the waves are until you look at your photos, and try to find the tiny surfer in the wave!

We found parking near the Ehukai beach park, and from there it's a short walk to reach Pipeline and Banzai. BEWARE of tourist trap parking!!! There are some no-parking signs hidden behind trees & plants, and there is a booming tow-truck business in that area! We almost got towed away ourselves. We didn't see the hidden no-parking sign, and were about to leave our car, when we noticed some odd lurking men in that area. Then we saw the tow-truck and realized they were waiting to tow our car. We moved it in time.

I go on vacation to be fed, so many of my highlights involve food! Here's more:

--$$$$ Azure Restaurant, Royal Hawaiian Hotel, Honolulu (Waikiki):
www.azurewaikiki.com
Spectacular anniversary dinner!!! How can you top the experience of a gourmet dinner, served outside, with a view of the ocean on Waikiki? How about adding fireworks?! Yep, there was an incredible fireworks display in the skies during our anniversary dinner! WOW! It was a total surprise, as it was part of a private event. My husband told me he ordered them just for me...hee hee. Yep romantic moment.
We splurged for the 5-course price-fix tasting menu, and I had mine with the wine pairing. It was $79 for 5 courses, or $99 if you wanted to include the wine pairings. The Chef is amazing. Here's what we enjoyed:
1st course: Sashimi so tender and fresh that I fell madly in love with sashimi and crave it now!
2nd course: Ocean “cappuccino” or seafood soup. Yummy.
3rd course: Kona lobster tail risotto. Wonderful.
4th course: They let us substitute fish for beef on the 4th course. Our munchong fish was fabulous.
5th course: We had 2 desserts, since 1 comes with the 5 courses, and 1 was complimentary for our anniversary celebration.

I highly recommend Azure, if you are celebrating a special occasion! I'm picky about food, and we were thrilled with the food, and the atmosphere & experience.

--$ Diamond Head Market & Grill, Honolulu (Diamond Head):
www.diamondheadmarket.com
Best inexpensive fish dinner we had on this trip was the Grilled Ahi plate with wasabi ginger sauce, potato/macaroni salad, and brown rice. (You can have green salad in place of potato macaroni salad if you prefer.) Delicious food, great fresh fish! You order at the window, and there are almost no tables, no atmosphere. Great food! Wish we had carried the food to our lanai at the nearby Diamond Head b&b, but we didn't think of that at the time.

TO BE CONTINUED...
(Coming up Next: More Oahu bites....Plus Highlights of Kauai)

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    I'm enjoying your report! Can't wait to read highlights of Kauai! DH & I went to Oahu for our honeymoon then went to Kauai a couple years later. Since then we have been to Kauai 3 more times and have never looked back!

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    Love snorkeling in Haunama Bay. First time I went it wasn't a preserve, just a popular snorkeling spot. The bigger fish come in and out with the Tide.

    We used to stop at the grocery store and buy little cartons of frozen peas - talk about being surrounded by fish. They probably don't let people do that anymore.

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    Great reporting! We are also going to both Oahu and Kauai in five weeks, so this was so much fun to read! Looking forward to the next installment.

    Glad you enjoyed yourselves! :)

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    Jayneann: Enjoy Oahu and Kauai! I'm hoping to finish this trip report & post it tomorrow.

    Publius: At Haunama Bay Preserve, you have to see the film first, which tells you not to feed the fish, nor to step on the coral. Many of the fish seemed used to people, so I don't think you need peas anyway at haunama bay.

    louistraveler5: Easy to see why you love Kauai!

    Songdoc: Thanks for your reply. I'm looking forward to finishing this trip report tomorrow...it's fun to relive the highlights. Sometimes they are the small moments, like getting a shave ice.

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    OAHU Highlights: (continued):

    WAIKIKI:

    We enjoyed strolling around Waikiki in the evening. We found parking near the zoo, as you can park there when the zoo is closed. Waikiki is great for beach walking, people watching, and checking out all those famous hotels that you decided NOT to stay at. My favorite hotel in Waikiki, which I would consider staying at in the future, is the Royal Hawaiian Hotel Waikiki. (Honolulu). She's an elegant, classy pink lady, on a beautiful section of Waikiki beach. It feels a little more peaceful than some of the other hotels in the area.

    Our goal was to savor the “atmosphere” of Waikiki, without blowing a huge wad of money there. Yes we did splurge on our anniversary dinner at the pricey Azure restaurant at the Royal Hawaiian, but otherwise, we didn't spent too much money in Waikiki/Honolulu.

    Walking on the beach, watching the sunset, and people watching is free!

    $$Arancino di Mare, Honolulu (Waikiki):
    www.arancino.com
    We enjoyed the delicious cuisine of Naples, Italy at the casual & romantic Arancino di Mare in Waikiki. It's close to the beach, although there isn't any view of the beach from inside the restaurant. Prices are moderate, by Waikiki standards. We parked at the zoo and walked to the restaurant at 2552 Kalakaua Ave. in Waikiki. (Note that this restaurant has 2 locations.)

    We shared a fresh mista salad. I enjoyed the Spaghetti alla pescatora with olive oil, garlic, and wine sauce. I sampled my husband's entree, which was also tasty. He had the Linguini gamberetti with black tiger shrimp and spicy tomato sauce and arugula. Dinner came with complimentary warm soft bread with herbs, and olive oil & balsamic dip.

    They had a nice wine menu, and I have warm memories of a romantic Italian dinner and then a walk on Waikiki. (-:

    $$Olive Tree Cafe, Honolulu (Kahala)
    4614 Kilauea Ave, Honolulu (Kahala)
    Olive Tree Cafe is a tasty local's spot which is BYOB. It makes a good dinner stop after a day at the Haunama Bay Preserve. Since it's popular, we arrived early to get a table. We bought a bottle of wine right next door (same owners) at the liquor store, and then ordered tasty Greek food at the counter at Olive Tree Cafe.

    Prices are moderate, by Oahu standards. My fresh fish souvlaki entree was $13.99, and it was served on pita bread. The fish & the sauce were excellent. We also enjoyed hummus, and our own bottle of wine from next door.

    $Matsumoto's Grocery Store
    Haleiwa (north shore, Oahu)

    No journey to the famous north shore of Oahu can be complete without a pilgrimage to Matsumoto's for a shave ice! The customers are as interesting as the variety of exotic flavors. I prefer my shave ice with ice cream and beans added. Sweet sweet coma!

    Baldwin's Shaved Ice & Snack Shop
    Waimalu Shopping Center, 98-040 Kamehameha Highway, Ste 10, Aiea, Oahu

    I'm fond of Baldwin's because I had my first shave ice at Baldwin's! I enjoyed the mango passion fruit lhing mui with mochi and ice cream. It was so tasty that I made the huge mistake of eating the whole thing... Yikes! My blood sugar spiked so high that I felt like I was turning diabetic! I learned that for me, a little shave ice goes a long way.

    Few pleasures recall the lazy summers of childhood better than flip-flopping along in the balmy Hawaiian weather, nursing a shave ice, without a care in the world, oblivious of the passion fruit that is dripping onto your flip-flop.

    SUMMARY OF OAHU:
    I enjoyed Oahu more than I thought I would. I knew I wouldn't like the big-city feel & traffic jams of the Honolulu area, but I did enjoy exploring Waikiki, and snorkeling at Haunama Bay Preserve, and visiting the USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor, and I LOVED the north shore of Oahu, which I'd like to explore in greater depth on a future trip. If we return to Oahu, I would spend the whole vacation on Oahu, and split our stay between Waikiki and the north shore.

    KAUAI HIGHLIGHTS:

    We also enjoyed 4 nights on beautiful Kauai. I enjoy the more tranquil pace of Kauai, which doesn't have the high-rises nor the big city traffic jams that we found on Oahu. Next time we return to Kauai, I would spend the whole vacation on Kauai, and split our stay between the north shore of Kauai, and the Poipu area. I wouldn't want to do 2 islands in one trip again, because it wasn't as relaxing as doing 1 island at a time.

    KAUAI Highlights:

    --Snorkeling at Poipu Beach Park, Kauai:
    I love the weightless feeling of paddling gently on the water, sometimes just floating, motionless, til the beautiful, colorful fish are calm enough to trust me and come closer to me. We snorkeled at the protected Poipu Beach Park on a day when it was too windy to swim or snorkel at the Sheraton's Beach. The lifeguard at Poipu Beach park was very helpful in explaining where it was safe to snorkel that day. We couldn't lay comfortably on the beach, because the wind was blowing sand in our faces, but the water was protected enough for snorkeling.

    I snorkel without any fins, and I rent a flotation device. I'm a good swimmer, but the flotation device is reassuring if I have to swim against the current to get back in to shore. I bought a prescription mask from Snorkel Bob's, which works great!

    For me, swimming is a chance to exercise til I'm exhausted, which is wonderfully relaxing and exhilarating, without any foot pain! I've been having issues with my feet for several years, so I can't hike too far now without pain. But swimming is pain-free!

    --Songdoc's Perfect Day on Kauai's North Shore:
    We did our own day-tour from the Sheraton at Poipu up to the north shore of Kauai. Thanks to a famous fodorite named Songdoc, it was a relaxing day, full of beautiful sites! We followed the directions that Songdoc posted here on the fodors talk forums, in his thread “Songdoc's Perfect Day on Kaui's North Shore”. Thanks a million, Songdoc! You are a gem!

    We enjoyed Anahola Beach, a tree tunnel, the lighthouse & wildlife refuge at Kilauea, the Hanalei lookout, views over Hanalei Bay, one-lane bridges, and the lovely Hanalei Bay. We made it all the way to Kee Beach before sunset.

    Songdoc, we also enjoyed Hamura's Saimin in Lihue! It was actually our first meal upon arrival in Kauai, as it's not far from the airport.

    $Hamura's Saimin, Lihue, Kauai
    We love to find local eateries, and we took Songdoc's advice and stopped in Hamura's Saimin in Lihue to eat Hawaiian/Japanese food with the locals. We really enjoyed this inexpensive meal! We had a very tasty bowl of the special saimin (noodle soup with yummy ingredients), and a mouth-watering slice of lilikoi pie for dessert. You might want to order 2 slices of lilikoi pie if you are dining with a loved one...otherwise, you may be tempted to fork him for eating more than half!

    $$Kauai Pasta, Kapaa, Kauai
    I'm in love with the pesto pasta at Kauai Pasta in Kapaa! They make the pesto sauce fresh, and they use macadamia nuts. It's the best pesto pasta I've ever eaten, anywhere. Prices are moderate. This was a convenient dinner stop after we completed our visit to the north shore, and we were driving back from the north shore to our hotel in Poipu area. Kapaa was convenient for dinner.

    SPOUTING HORN, Kauai
    at the end of Lawai Rd., Kauai

    Spouting Horn is a short drive if you are staying in Poipu. It was scenic and romantic just before sunset, and just after a rain, because we saw the spouting water, a rainbow, and then the sunset, all at the same time! I'm glad we didn't miss this opportunity.

    $$THE DOLPHIN SUSHI BAR, Koloa, Kauai
    2829 Ala Kalanikaumaka St., Koloa

    We had a fantastic experience at The Dolphin sushi bar in Koloa (near Poipu). We've had sushi before, but this was our first time actually sitting at a sushi bar. AMAZING! Andrew was our sushi chef, and we loved watching a sushi artist at work, creating edible art forms!

    I'm usually picky about what kind of sushi I will eat. But I was feeling adventurous, and we placed ourselves entirely in chef Andrew's hands. We told him to just do it! Just create us some sushi/sashimi magic. It was the freshest and best sushi and sashimi we have ever had. We told him we enjoy some spice, and we like to taste the seafood, and we prefer that it not be overpowered with sauces. He knew exactly how to delight us.

    My husband was nervous about the bill, since we didn't know how much chef Andrew's creations would cost us. But we were very pleased when the bill came...it was very fair. Chef Andrew made us creative, fresh, and delicious seafood, and all for a very reasonable price. When the waitress brought our bill, the total, including our wine, our dessert and our sushi was around $70 for 2 people.

    My favorite was the last morsel of fish, which I believe was albacore (sorry I didn't write this down), and Andrew used a torch to heat up some hot oil, so the morsel of wonderfully fresh fish was accented with ginger and hot oil. It was marvelous.

    We highly recommend the sushi bar at The Dolphin in Koloa (Poipu) area.

    PUKA DOG, Koloa (near Poipu), Kauai
    2360 Kiahuna Plantation Dr., Koloa
    www.pukadog.com

    Puka Dogs are delightfully fun Hawaiian style hot dogs! I ordered the veggie dog (soy & wheat), but they also have regular hot dogs. The dog comes in a tasty bun, which is toasty and soft in just the right places. And you choose your sauces, Hawaiian style! My favorite was a veggie puka dog with lilikoi mustard and spicy garlic lemon secret sauce and papaya relish.

    I enjoyed strolling from the Sheraton hotel in Poipu, down the street, through the gorgeous gardens of Kiahuna plantation, to reach Puka Dog in the Poipu Shopping Village. In fact, I took this pleasant stroll twice!

    The staff of the cute little Puka Dog joint is very friendly and helpful. They offer tastes of the different sauces if you can't decide.

    Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort and Spa, Koloa (near Poipu):
    Since we stayed at the Sheraton in Poipu, we decided to check out the nearby Grand Hyatt. We had a lovely and romantic stroll around the beautiful grounds of the Grand Hyatt. We also had dinner at the Grand Hyatt, at Donderos. (Donderos has pricey Italian food in the $$$ price range. Food was just fine, although not our favorite meal.)

    This is a gracious and elegant hotel. We enjoyed visiting and dining at the Grand Hyatt, but we didn't feel the need to stay there. We were happy with our room at the Sheraton nearby, since our room at the Sheraton was actually closer to the ocean than any of the rooms at the Grand Hyatt.

    $$$The Beach House, Kauai:
    Lawai Rd., Koloa, Kauai

    We enjoyed a romantic dinner at The Beach House on Lawai Rd., Koloa (Poipu area). My fish entree was amazing. It was very Hawaiian, sitting outside so close to the sea. I definitely recommend a reservation for dinner at The Beach House, especially if it's your anniversary trip.

    Overall, while The Beach House was wonderful, I have to say that our #1 most INCREDIBLE dinner on this trip was at Azure in the Royal Hawaiian Hotel on Waikiki (Honolulo), on Oahu.

    I would also say that Mama's Fish House on Maui has a more romantic location, although The Beach House on Kauai is still outstanding as well. (We visited Maui on a previous trip.)

    BEST ICE CREAM IN HAWAII:
    KOLOA MILL ICE CREAM & COFFEE, Koloa, Kauai


    I sample ice cream, gelato, and frozen yogurt wherever I can. My vote for the very best ice cream treat on this trip goes to Koloa Mill Ice Cream & Coffee on Koloa Rd., for their outstanding Kona coffee ice cream! They also have friendly service. Kona coffee ice cream is good by itself, or add it to your favorite iced coffee drink!

    ALOHA KAUAI & OAHU!

    We enjoyed our winter trip to Oahu & Kauai. But next time we will only do 1 island at a time. Reading over my trip report, it sounds like all we had time to do was eat! I wish I was back in Hawaii now, flip-flopping around, having warm feet all the time, snorkeling with the colorful fish, walking on scenic beaches, and eating puka dogs, fresh sashimi & seafood, shave ice, bowls of saimin, and anything made with macadamia nuts or kona coffee.

    Last year, we went to the Big Island of Hawaii. If I had to pick just one favorite Hawaiian Island, I think I might choose the Big Island. But...that's a tough call!

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    I love Diamondhead market! Their scones are to die for. Thanks for the tip on getting dinner take out there, have not tried their foods from the window yet but will do so next time.

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    tifa2276: I think you will be pleased with the fish dinners from the take-out window at Diamond Head Market & Grill. Ask them which fish is freshest that day. The dinners come with green salad, but we substituted the macaroni/potato salad. It was by far the best mac/potato salad that we had on either Oahu or Kauai! The fish was very fresh and cooked just right. Enjoy! (-:

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    Melissa,
    Thanks so much for finishing up your report! Love all your tips and details. You always do such a thorough job writing and I for one, really appreciate it!

    The countdown is on! Only 23 more days and we'll be flip-flopping around with our shave ice in hand!

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    Jayneann: Thanks for the compliments! I'm happy if I can help another traveler, since our trips depend so much on the advice of other travelers. Have a wonderful, relaxing time flip-flopping around with your shave ice in hand! (-:

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    Great report - we will be enjoying shaved ice very soon now so your report just added to our excitement! What good fortune to hit the North Shore during a surfing competition - somethings are hard to plan and so enjoyable when they happen spontaneously.

    Publius: I have similar memories of Haunama Bay, frozen peas and tons of fish...glad to hear they have turned it into a preserve and added a tram (as I recall a very long walk down a steep hill in flip flops).

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