Vacation Highlight Reel: Hawaii


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Where do I even begin with this post? A little over a week ago we returned from a family vacation we won’t forget any time soon: Twelve days in Hawaii. The trip had been something we’d all been fantasizing about for, well, on my end, maybe my whole life. (Or at least ever since I watched the Brady sisters hula-hooping in Waikiki.) Those of you who follow me on instagram probably already know that we spent most of our time in Kauai, but also took two or three-day trips to both Oahu and the Big Island. You probably could also guess that we ate a ridiculous amount of poke and shave ice, hiked enough miles to short-circuit a FitBit, and spent a good portion of the trip asking ourselves Are we taking this for granted? Please let us not be taking this for granted. Out to dinner one night in Poipu Beach, Kauai — over a poke special, natch — a parched and sunburned Phoebe turned to me and said “This island takes a lot out of you.” At first I laughed because I thought she was referring to how psychotic we are about packing things into our vacation days. (Andy’s nickname, if you recall, is My Drill Sergeant of Leisure, with Abby seamlessly slipping right into the role of second in command.) But then I realized what she meant: The natural beauty there was so overwhelming that it demanded our full reverence: Around every turn, a vista of the bluest Pacific (Exhibit A: Kauai’s famous Kalalau Trail, above); on every breakfast plate, tropical fruit that would make our eyes roll back; volcanic landscapes of shiny hardened lava only miles away from lush jungles so green it hurt. It goes without saying, of  course, that we were only too happy to give whatever Hawaii asked of us. Here are our top fifteen -plus (i.e. a not-even-close-to-complete) highlights of the trip.

{Note…This is organized roughly written in chronological order so a quick island itinerary breakdown: Nights 1 & 2: Oahu (we stayed in Waikiki) –> Nights 3-8: Kauai (Poipu Beach) –> Nights 9-12 Big Island (Pahoa)}


The Surfjack Hotel
 In Waikiki, where we spent two nights, we stayed at the Surfjack Hotel and Swim Club, a relatively new California-style hotel, with its renovated mid-century modern style rooms all built around this gorgeous pool. (The pool has the words “Wish You Were Here” tiled into its floor.) The vibe was excellent, as was the service (they offered a “hospitality room” to guests whose check-outs are much earlier than their flights), and the cocktails and…


…The Fruit
. The restaurant Mahina & Suns is in the Surfjack lobby and though we didn’t go for dinner, we ate breakfast there both mornings. Think local coffee, malted waffles, and an insane banana bread that was more like sticky pudding. But it was the fruit bowl (work of art?) above that we will remember above all else. It was my first official meal in Hawaii and all I could think about while eating it was How am I ever going to not eat this kind of fruit again? And this was Day 1 mind you. Shown here are pineapple, mango, guava, star fruit, star apple (the pink chunks) and banana apple (a smaller, more tart banana, not to be confused with my everyday Chiquita banana). As mind-blowing as it was, I learned pretty quickly is that all the local fruits…


…even a regular old mango purchased at the local supermarket, have the power to rearrange your entire worldview with their intensity and sweetness. Here in the Northeast, it’s a miracle when I find the perfect peach, the perfect plum…there, it was just something you came to expect. (But not take for granted. No way. Never take for granted.)


The Light
On our first jet-lagged morning, we walked to Waikiki Beach. Abby jumped right into the water while I experienced my first official marveling moment over the colors and light and lushness of the island. Everything seemed like a painting to me. And this was Honolulu, the city! It was a mere teaser of what was to come.


Lanikai
I should stop here to explain something about our schedules. As soon as we booked this trip, back in January, Abby took it upon herself to research all the parks, beaches, trails, poke and shave ice spots, then draw up a fantasy itinerary for herself. (We were welcome to come along should we choose to.) A few times a week all spring long, she’d open up the laptop, log into Notes, and ask whoever happened to be wandering around, “Do you want to ‘do’ Hawaii?” or “Do you want to hear what beach we are going to on Day 2 in Oahu?” We laughed at her at the time, but ended up following her schedule almost exactly, beginning with Lanikai Beach in Kailua on Day 2 in Oahu, above. (It followed a visit to the Pearl Harbor Museum and preceded a hike to Manoa Falls.) How stunning is that water? I mean, look at that beach.


Diamond Head
one of the more popular trails in Oahu with spectacular views of the ocean and Waikiki.

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It was crazy hot and dry on our way up to Diamond Head and we had somehow brought only one 20-ounce bottle of water for the four of us to share. At one point during the steepest climb, someone mentioned the pineapple they saw being sold in the parking lot (very common in Hawaii) and that was all we could think about for the rest of the hike. Perhaps not so shockingly, when Andy took his first bite, he said, “It’s like God himself handed me this piece of fruit.”


Poke Bowls
. We ate a lot of poke. A LOT. Abby had compiled a list of recommended places, but it turned out that we found fresh, excellent quality ahi almost everywhere we turned and unlike New York, we didn’t have to be very discriminating about it. Part of the charm was eating our bowls outside on picnic tables straight from the styrofoam containers, like this one at Ono Seafood in Honolulu.

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And this one near Spencer Beach in Waimea (on the Big Island). This is the color palette I’d use to inform my fantasy Hawaii bungalow by the way.

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But just because the poke was good everywhere, doesn’t mean we didn’t have our favorites. Mine, hands-down was this bowl from Makai Sushi in Koloa (Kauai), located inside an unassuming small supermarket. The line was always long, but for good reason. I usually prefer a simple poke bowl — tuna, avocado, light soy and sesame dressing, but this one was topped with spicy mayo, plus a teriyaki drizzle, Maui onions, roe, cukes, fresh and dried seaweed, so you get a little bit of a lot in every bite. Even though we had a kitchen in our condo, we ended up ordering these for takeout three out of the seven nights we were in Kauai.

Road Tripping In Kauai, we stayed on the south shore in Poipu Beach, but knew we were going to spend a lot of time exploring the rest of the island. The great thing about Kauai was that it was small enough so that we’d never be in the car for more than two hours before landing at our destination, but at the same time, it was the actual driving that was part of the fun.  No matter where we were headed, the views out the window were like paintings from fantasy Gauguin worlds. The trees, the lushness of the meadows, rivers and jungles. What shocked me the most was the green-ness of it all. Hawaii green — that neon-y yellow tinted green — is not like any other green I’ve ever seen and nearly impossible to capture in photographs.

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Wailua Falls. You know, just a 175-foot double waterfall. No big deal. (We did not do the hike down to the bottom, by the way, because it looked steep and a little hairy, and we were wearing flip-flops.)

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I could’ve looked at the Wailua river all day. If someone forced me to admit to a Hawaii vacation regret, it would be not exploring this river by way of kayak.

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North Shore.
Our favorite destination was, perhaps not surprisingly, the North Shore. Everyone told me before I left that it was the plentiful, bountiful, obscenely clear-water beaches and dramatic Na Pali coast that most people picture when they picture Hawaii. Plus, there were a lot of things that stayed with me from Huraki Murakami’s book about running, but certainly high up on the list was his description of early morning runs in this exact area. A little research turned up that he tends to rent in Hanalei, the town located on the stretch of the coast that his home to some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Above is Tunnels…

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…this was off the pier in Hanalei Bay. (Or “Hanalei Bae” as we came to write it.) P.S. The fish tacos at Pat’s Tacqueria truck in the parking lot (right near the pier) would’ve been worth the trip alone.

And this is Ke’e beach. The only thing that got more air time in our car than Chance the Rapper was the game “Rank your favorite beaches,” and Ke’e was always my top choice, mostly because it was the one we hit after finishing the famous Kalalau trail along the coast. (Shown in the opening picture; the shot of Ke’e above was taken from the trail.) When I posted a photo of the hike on social media, many people chimed in to say things like “My marriage almost broke up over that trail” or “I had a huge fight with my kids right where you’re standing.” The views of the coast along the 4-mile trail were easily the most spectacular we saw but we really had to earn them. It was a long, windy, very steep climb up and down and the day we went was hot. All this to say, the trail starts and ends at Ke’e beach, and I don’t think I’ll ever forget how good it felt to soak our weary bodies in that water when we finished. (Recalling Phoebe: “This island takes a lot out of you.”) I like to think Murakami would agree with me on that one.


Na Pali Boat Tour
. I did not take this picture. On a boat tour of the Na Pali coast — probably the highlight of the trip — our phones and cameras were bundled up in waterproof bags. (It got rocky and it got wet out there.) All the better to be present and properly reverent in the face of beauty this majestic.


Shave Ice
. You didn’t think you’d get through a post about Hawaii without seeing this shot, did you? I think for the girls, it was as much about the colors as it was about the flavors. Shown here: Hawaiian Sunset.

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Our local shave ice joint in Koloa, right near Poipu Beach.


As long as we’re talking Koloa, this is was where we got our coffee. (Also loved nearby Aloha Roastery.)


Cocktail Hour
This was the view off our balcony in Kauai and was the only place I wanted to be come cocktail hour. If we strained our necks a little to the West, we could make out hints of the famous Hawaiian sunsets, but I’d say the basic Palm-tree framed ocean view also sufficed. (It actually hurts me to look at this picture right now I miss it so much.) Note: We rented our condo in Poipu Beach through the Parrish Collection, which offers a massive range of options.


Vacation Pantry
 What? Just because we are in Hawaii doesn’t mean the core components of the Official DALS Vacation Pantry is any different. (Not shown: Tons and tons of Gatorade.)

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On The Big Island, we flew into Hilo and stayed in an airbnb in the Puna district, about 45 minutes south of the airport. Let me tell you, this was not Kauai, which was a big part of the reason we chose it. The coolest thing about the Big Island was how varied the landscapes were — one minute we’d be driving across the desert-like center of the island that felt like the moon itself, the next through a lush, Kauai-like jungle, and the next on a black sand beach like Kahena above. (BTW Kahena was also nude, much to the horror of our children.)

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The most dramatic landscape was what you are looking at above, hardened lava flow that made up much of the coast on our side of the island and nearby Volcano National Park. On our first full day there, we rented bikes (there are several bike concession stands in the Kalapana entrance to the park) so we could ride down to watch the lava flowing into the ocean. What they don’t tell you at the bike rental place, by the way, is that the eight-mile round-trip ride is entirely uphill on the way back and against the very strong wind. It was maybe the most rigorous bike ride of my life and definitely not something for young kids. (Are you picking up a theme here?) Two days later, we drove the striking, if sometimes harrowing Chain of Craters road through Volcanoes National Park from the main entrance in Volcano, which was about a 45-minute drive from Pahoa.


Ahalunai State Park
 This was my favorite spot on the Big Island and if it weren’t for my peripatetic family, I would’ve floated on my back here for the full three days we spent on the island. It’s an ocean-side man-made, walled-in pool that is volcanically heated. Like 80 degrees heated. Waves from the ocean periodically spill over the wall meaning you are treated to schools of tropical fish, a random refreshing cold current, and, of course, crystal clear brackish water.


Naturally, in the parking lot at Ahalanui, you could find an array of just-picked fruit being sold from the back of a pick-up truck. Phoebe bought a mango even though we didn’t have a knife, and ended up peeling it with her teeth and eating it like an apple.


Rainbows
On one of our morning runs (pre-season for the girls starts in just over a month :)) THIS ACTUALLY HAPPENED. Not posed, not filtered, not fake news. And the thing is, it happened more than once, and even though we came to expect it, we were sure to give the proper reverence. Always.

Thank you Hawaii, we miss you so much!

P.S. If you are traveling to Hawaii and would like a more detailed day-to-day itinerary — there were several hikes, drives, food trucks, and markets not included in this round-up believe it or not — please get in touch: jenny AT dinneralovestory.com.

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21 Comments

Ruth

We spent 12 glorious days on the same islands as you 4 years ago (this week!) for our honeymoon and I have to say that it was my absolute favorite trip (obviously, being our honeymoon, one kind of expects that but for REAL!). Hawaii is magical and I actually get a physical reaction to reading about your trip — it’s such a fantastic and beautiful place that we often find our selves half-jokingly talking about moving there (I live in Upstate NY). Could we do it? Would we appreciate it if we lived there as much? (And why is it so freakin’ far away?!) We are aiming to go back for our 10 year anniversary and I feel like I already can’t wait. Thanks for sharing your trip!

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Kayce

I was born and raised on the Big Island and live now on O‘ahu. Itʻs always a treat to see my home through someone elseʻs eyes. Great write up.

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Elizabeth N.

Something we learned about while living in Hawaii: https://www.verywell.com/mango-allergic-reactions-and-treatments-82924 My husband ate some mango one night and had an allergic reaction to it, something that hadn’t ever happened to him before, despite eating mango many times. He was told by a local that he most likely ingested a piece of the skin.

Your post makes me want to go back to the Big Island and Kauai and do some of the things we missed but with little kids, it’s not as easy to take advantage of everything. Guess I gotta go back when my kids are grown.

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Sherri Hulcher

Beautiful photos and it looks like an awesome adventure! My favorite photo is the Vacation Pantry because when the “island takes a lot out of you” it’s great to come back to “center”….those traditional snacks and drinks that bring comfort and a sense of home.

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Oakland Mom

I visited Hawaii almost each summer as a kid, as my mom’s side of the family is there and we would stay with my grandparents. I didn’t realize that I was taking it all for granted until I was in my early 20s, when I looked out over the beach park I had stared at for hours at a kid and realized that the view was absolutely beautiful. I haven’t taken it for granted since! Glad you and your family had a wonderful time. If you didn’t get Leonard’s malasadas in this round, plan to do so next time and eat them in the parking lot before you leave. Sooo good!

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Rosie

Loved reading your Hawaii recap. Living in Northern California, Hawaii is a (relatively) easy trip for us and as such are fortunate to visit every couple of years. We’ve been to all of the islands but our favorite is the Big Island (#bigislandisthebestisland) for all of the reasons you espoused above. One can never eat enough poke or fresh fruit while on the islands and it sounds like you four did the same. So fun!

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Lilly

I’m so jealous of all the Poke Bowls! They’re so delicious, light, and healthy! I bet they were super fresh there, too.

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Karen

This is so wonderful and rich in detail – from the condo to the coffee shops. Looks like a memorable trip for all. If any readers have similar hotel/condo recommendations for Maui along these same lines, I’d love to know.

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candice peck

wow! I’ve been looking forward to update (the instagram posts were kind of a tease…) Thanks! this final photo of running daughter and rainbow is fantastic!! : )

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nic

I was born and raised on Oahu–so of all the homes in my life, that place is the most home to me–but the Big Island is my favorite. Right now I’m in the pretty much exact opposite spot on the planet (Uganda), but I’m ever thankful for the mangoes, coffee, and apple bananas that make me feel right at home. If only these Kampala folks could figure out bentos and shave ice (and, ok, the Pacific Ocean), I’d be golden.

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Shannon

I grew up in the islands! But I only visit it once a year. Maui is where I call Home, Philadelphia, where my house is. 🙂 I love the beauty and the tasty poke!! (Ono grinds!!) Makes me homesick, an emotion usually reserved for the cold winter months here in the East. Kauai and the Big Island are awesome places. Perhaps next time, Maui?

thank you

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Ronda

I always say that Hawaii was my favorite vacation as I agree with the differing landscapes and the good food it was one that left me smiling just remembering all the good times. And I have never had banana bread as good before or since and would go back just for that. Time to start planning again.

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Jennifer

Jenny, I know that physical ache you speak of. It has only been a year since my husband and I took our three boys to Oahu (7 days on the North Shore and 6 in Waikiki), and every time I see pictures of Hawaii, it actually hurts to know I am not there. The fruit blows your mind; the seafood is consistently excellent; the ocean can break your heart, it’s so beautiful above and below. Thanks for the recap of your trip–it was like visiting an old friend.

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