Hawaii Is Fantastic, But You Should Never Go to Waikiki

photo waikiki view

Waikiki Beach.

My wife and I recently went to Hawaii for our honeymoon. Overall, it was fantastic. But now that I’ve returned to the northern tundra and single-digit temperatures, I feel compelled to give some very important advice that I wish someone had offered us before we booked out trip: If you go to Oahu, DO NOT visit Waikiki Beach. More on that in a bit.

We spent the first part of our trip on Maui. (Or do I say “in” Maui? I’d never say I spent my vacation “on” California. But the whole island thing complicates matters.) I’ve always heard about Hawaii’s beauty . . . but holy crap. Maui is amazing. The ocean, beaches, mountains, rain forests, plants, flowers, waterfalls, lava flows, extinct volcanoes that look like moonscapes, the Road to Hana, whales breaching only a few hundred yards in front of our hotel. The list goes on. It’s all quite spectacular. I can understand why a person would visit and never leave. Mix in daily happy hours — that for us seemed to start not long after noon — and you have a little slice of heaven.

photo maui beach

A beach at Wailea, Maui


photo maui waterfall

Waterfall on the Road to Hana, on Maui’s northeast coast.

photo seven sacred pools

Seven Sacred Pools in Maui.

Before I get into the particulars of Waikiki, I’d like point out that I don’t mean to be a naysayer, or that everybody should like the types of vacations I do. So please take this for what it’s worth. That said . . . .

When we booked our trip last fall, we decided to spend the second part of our trip on Oahu. And Honolulu seemed like the right place to stay. We both like big cities and thought we’d enjoy a different scene after five days on a much-less-populous island. And of course, we thought, why wouldn’t we stay at a hotel on Waikiki, Hawaii’s most famous beach, as long as we’re there?

Well, as soon as we arrived at our hotel the reasons became painfully obvious and only multiplied during the next couple days. The streets were packed with throngs of tourists (all of whom seem to be taking photos at the same time), and everywhere we went — in our case, even at our own hotel — we had to compete with people to get tables, chairs, spots on the beach, a view of the sunset, you name it. There were just too many people crammed into not enough space.

Waikiki Crowds

Crowds on Waikiki Beach.

Even more disappointing, Waikiki felt like a Disneyfication of Hawaii. Every hotel seemed to have the same Hawaiian musicians and hula dancers, most bar menus featured photos of giant, syrupy-sweet tropical drinks, people lined up for hours waiting to get into restaurants like The Cheesecake Factory and Ruby Tuesday, and the streets were lined with stores selling cheap ukuleles, Hawaiian shirts and every island-themed knickknack you can think of.

The theme-park feeling really hit home when, regrettably, we went on a snorkeling trip to Hanauma Bay nature preserve, which is located outside of Honolulu, not far from Waikiki. It’s gorgeous, to be sure, but tour buses shuttle about 3,000 people each day to what is a relatively small bay where, despite explicit warnings, hordes of people trample over coral reefs and crowded waters that were once teeming with fish. That’s when we knew we had to get out of there.

So, after a couple days, we packed up, cancelled the rest of our stay in Waikiki, and moved our operation to the quiet solitude and rural splendor of Oahu’s north shore. We watched pro surfers catch some of the best waves in the world, ate plate lunches, went hiking, relaxed and explored. It was a stark contrast and welcome relief from Waikiki.

Photo surfers

Surfers at Sunset Beach, Oahu.

To our surprise, we also found some of the best beaches and spectacular mountain views on the east shore of Oahu, between our hotel and Honolulu. It’s an area that seems overlooked, but I highly recommend it if you go. After all of it, the last part of our stay on Oahu ended up being one of the best parts of our trip.

Photo - Plate lunch

Mmmmmmm . . . plate lunch.

photo east beach boat

An isolated state park beach on Oahu’s east shore. I could have spent all day here.