A Guide to Oahu

 

I was afraid we might run into Santa coming down our chimney this Christmas just gone. My sister, mom, aunt, and I awoke to 3:50am alarms on the morning of the 25th to make a 5:30 flight to Hawaii. I didn't unwrap any presents this Christmas, but I still got some pretty great gifts – sand and sunshine and a purple lei around my neck at the Honolulu airport.

After meeting up with my cousins and grabbing a Loco Moco at Zippy's, we scooted our tiny white rental cars up the eastern edge of Oahu and would later laugh at the breathtaking views we whizzed by in total ignorance during the late night drive. We stayed in a perfectly simple, newly renovated, neon colored Airbnb house perched right on the tip of Laie Point, a craggy finger of land that reaches into the agitated December Pacific.

Jetlag shook us awake in time to catch the sunrise, which came with a rainbow between bouts of sideways rain. We then met up with cousin Will, whose wedding gave us the excuse to visit Hawaii, and ate breakfast in cute Kailua at the Nalu Heath Bar & Cafe . Each day since I have dreamt of those acai bowls with a wistfulness I've rarely known. They changed my life.

We wandered around hip Hekili Street, which is a fantastically fashionable place to spend time and money. We also saw a girl sharing a table and plate of crepes with a wild chicken which I considered my personal Christmas miracle. At a nearby beach we watched the waves toss wind boarders here and there. Barack Obama was reportedly staying a few miles away, but he didn't answer my texts to hang out.

 
 

Skydiving (spectating, not participating) was next on our agenda. Watching blood relatives jump from an airplane is equal parts entertaining and stressful. We eased our nerves with a stop by the insanely crowded food truck park in Haliwea. Outside of New Orleans, Dat Cajun Guy had the best po'boys and red beans and rice I've ever had. We also visited the Snow Factory truck for "snow" (a shave ice/ice cream hybrid), the wonders of which we discussed in depth almost every day of our trip.

Wild Laie Point didn't exactly show off the famous Hawaiian sunset, but we found it the perfect place to watch the day fall asleep. As the clouds rolled in and the wind whipped up and the waves churned harder, we reflected on the enormous blessing it is to feel small next to a big ocean.

And then we watched Hallmark movies and fell asleep at 8pm, because vacation is still vacation.

 
 

The North Shore becomes the surfer's Mecca in December, so we laid down towels on Banzai Beach to sit and watch the men and women worship the enormous winter waves. You know those big waves that get so tall and curl in over themselves so that a surfer can glide through the inside tube? We saw those!

Shark's Cove, a naturally enclosed pool of ocean, was our afternoon spot for wading and people watching. As we got lunch from the North Shore Shrimp Truck, I pondered if it was acceptable to be receiving 75% of my meals from the window of a vehicle. And then I got a rainbow shave ice. From a truck.

 
 

Will and Carissa's rehearsal dinner was wedged between emerald mountains and turquoise shoreline at the Kalama Beach Club. Under twinkling lights, we ate and drank and laughed and prayed in celebration of this upcoming wedding. 

The next morning took us to Waimea Bay, a gorgeous semicircle of sand and sea dotted with enormous rock formations. Several rapid, intermittent showers brought us a rainbow, which inspired lots of cartwheeling. Just across the street, a gorgeous walk through the lush Waimea Valley, a reserve full of indigenous flora, brought us to Waimea Falls. 

Rain-soaked and mud-splattered, we realized the late hour and rushed home to get six women ready for the long awaited wedding! Of course, we weren't in too much of a rush to miss out on another acai bowl from (you guessed it) a food truck.

The wedding was perhaps the most beautiful celebration I've ever attended. The evening was as lovely, organic, and authentic as the bride and groom. Sparkling lights, long banquet tables, delicious food, warm ocean breezes, LOTS of cake, crowns of greenery,  and a getaway vespa trailed by tin cans. A night can't get more perfect than that.

 
 

Classic Hawaiian Tourism was the theme of the following day. After an unsuccessful visit to the inordinately crowded Diamond Head State Parkwe scooted over to famous Waikiki Beach because it is, of course, required. Ever the entertainers, Natalie and Shannon rented a surfboard and took turns riding some "waves". We grabbed lunch at a nearby foodcourt (SO MANY Asian meal options, which I loved), then headed to Hanauma Bay.

During my last visit to Hanauma Bay, the water was a nearly oversaturated shade of blue, so I was a little disappointed that December had stolen some of the bay's colors. With only 45 minutes left to rent snorkeling gear, we grabbed our equipment and floated out as a little glob over the gorgeous coral reef. That shivery, giggly afternoon was my absolute favorite. I even saw an eel, which was both thrilling and damaging.  

 
 

I was sad that we visited Hukilau Cafe in Laie on our last full day in Hawaii. If we had discovered it sooner, I would have eaten their coconut pancakes for at least ten different meals. Top five pancakes of my life – and I've eaten a lot of pancakes.

We swung by Oahu's incredibly beautiful, jungly Macadamia Nut Farm which offered free samples galore and even allowed visitors to try cracking their own macadamia nuts! 

A breathtaking drive through the misty green mountains brought us to Pearl Harbor, my favorite Oahu destination. A kind of peaceful, quieting veil rests over Pearl Harbor. A mind can't quite reconcile that the glittering Hawaiian harbor is the gravesite of thousands. The pristine USS Arizona memorial powerfully conveys the story of December 7, 1941, and I could have spent hours pacing its length. The wreaths laid by President Obama and Prime Minister Abe the week before still stood at the front of the memorial.  

 

We skidded our Nissan into the Dole Pineapple Plantation just in time to grab a Dole Whip before their early New Year's Eve closing time. We obviously chose the ice cream over the plantation tour because we have our priorities in line. The Whip didn't disappoint.

As our late night return flight loomed near, we made one final stop in downtown Honolulu to see the Hawaiian State Capitol, which is reminiscent of a very stylish volcano.

We stopped by Iolani Palace, the only palace on U.S. soil, and gave a wave to the Queen Liliuokalani statue. After a quick swing from the branches of a banyan tree, we faced the reality that our Hawaiian holiday was coming to a close. 

Our plane was somewhere off the coast of California when the clock struck midnight on New Year's Eve. Shannon tapped me on the shoulder from her seat behind me and we gave a little cheer to 2017.