By Nancy Brown, Marine Spouse
Ah, things to do in Hawaii! Where do I start?
Your family has orders to the Fiftieth State! Congratulations! Welcome to your life in Paradise. Hawaii is unique in its history, people, and culture. Many people dream of visiting the island state, so make the most of your time on station by checking off these bucket list items.
10 AMAZING THINGS TO DO IN HAWAII
#1 Iolani Palace
Most new residents have never studied Hawaiian history. This building is the only official royal residence in America. The complicated history of how Hawaii went from a sovereign monarchy to U.S. territory, and eventually became the fiftieth state, can be best understood through one of the audio walking tours of this mansion.
Many PCS to Hawaii only knowing the military history of Pearl Harbor, but it is important to learn that Hawaii stood as a beacon of culture and technology all on its own. You will also gain an appreciation for the complicated feelings native Hawaiians feel towards American citizenship after touring Iolani. And the best part, the Museum offers free tickets to military families from Memorial Day through Labor Day. Café Julia, located just across the street in the historic YWCA Laniakea Building, is a perfect place to have lunch and enjoy downtown Honolulu.
#2 Enjoy Hawaiian Entertainment
If you have a chance to visit Iolani Palace on a Friday at noon, the Royal Hawaiian Band and Hula on the lawn will serenade you. Free music and performances just happen like this in Hawaii. Soak it in!
#3 Pearl Harbor
This National Park and Monument is among the most visited in the world. You will find that the Arizona Memorial is a somber place. Set aside the day and prepare young children for the appropriate mood and manners required. The storytellers on site are fascinating. If you are lucky, you may have an eye witness survivor as a host. Tickets for all aspects of the park are free, but the ticket process is complex, depending on your needs.
It is best to check www.nps.gov and decide which option you would like to use. Once you have completed the tour, head to the end of the parking lot to Restaurant 604. It has outdoor seating with a stunning view of the harbor and great Bloody Mary’s!
#4 White Plains Beach
PCSing to Hawaii? Time to learn to surf! Try White Plains Beach for easy waves and lessons. Located away from the tourists in Waikiki, the beach is clean and the lessons are affordable. Check out www.greatlifehawaii.com for the latest rates and information. There are also cabins available to rent if you should want a staycation on the water! Additionally, this beach is close to Kapolei and Ewa Beach which have a variety of restaurants to choose from after your day in the sun and surf.
#5 Hawaiian Railway Society
If you are on the Leeward Side of Oahu, plan to spend a Saturday or Sunday afternoon riding the rails. The historic Hawaiian Railway runs 90-minute tours on the weekends. The 3:00pm ride is the one to take! This train stops at the Two Scoops Ice Cream shop so you can enjoy a treat on the ride back to the station. As you ride, the host provides a plethora of knowledge and anecdotes about Oahu, the railway, and the culture. This ride is one of the most interesting and unique tours available on the island.
#6 Waimea Valley
This hike is the one! Waimea Valley and Cultural Center is not to be missed. It’s a sacred place in Hawaiian history that has been carefully curated and tended by many Hawaiian generations, some of which can trace their roots to the valley itself.
Plan for the whole day at this remarkable location. The hike is paved and gentle. If you have need, there is a golf cart that runs the route as well.
Swimming is allowed in the falls at the top. Along the way to the sacred waterfall, observe native and non-native plants that are clearly labeled. There are also several heritage sites on the trail that teach customs and history of the native islanders. The center offers two restaurants, a weekly farmers market, summer moonlight tours, and movie nights. This is hands-down the best way to spend a day on the North Shore.
Do not fool with one-time tickets! Buy the membership. You will want to return. When you have guests visit, there are a few free passes included for the year. Everyone will be able to enjoy some part of this hike and members receive monthly discounts on events. Check out details at www.waimeavalley.net.
#7 Byodo-In Temple
Located in the Valley of the Temples Memorial Park, this temple will inspire reverence, no matter what your faith. Admission of $5 is cash only. The Temple, built to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the first Japanese Immigrants to Hawaii, is nestled against the Ko’olau Mountains and surrounded by a quiet pond. Black swans and Koi swim quietly around the shrine.
Do not miss the chance to light incense, observe the Buddha, and perhaps meditate. A large four-chambered bell is located on the grounds. Guests are invited to ring it and reflect on the fleeting nature of life and trouble. This vista does not disappoint. It takes only an hour or two to truly enjoy this site so include it on your Hawaii Bucket List.
#8 He’eia State Park
This park, located on the windward side, offers kayak, catamaran, paddleboard, and snorkel rentals. Guests may choose guided or self-paced options and there are great military rates. Enjoy a day on Kaneohe Bay, with views of the island Mokolii and an ancient fish pond. This park is home to one of the three known landing sites of the ancient Polynesians.
After a day on the water, go next door to He’eia Kea Pier. There is a small diner located on the end of the pier where guests can sit by windows that look out on the water.
While this is a great family adventure, it also makes for a nice date outing. For more Date Night ideas, click here.
#9 KoKo Crater Botanical Gardens
A hidden gem between Hawaii Kai and Waimanalo, KoKo Crater Botanical Gardens is a good option for avoiding crowded tourist sites. Many opt for the hike up the stairs on the outside of the crater, but few frequent the gardens located inside the ancient volcano.
The gardens are located near the Hawaii Kai golf course and KoKo Stables. It is a free hike and often there is a guard at the gate so that cars are kept safe. The whole hike is more of a nature walk than a true uphill endeavor.
The landscape features native and non-native species, and plants are labeled so you will pick up some knowledge on the walk. The whole trail is no longer than two and half miles and easy to complete in an hour or so. It is NEVER crowded and always peaceful.
#10 Seek out the simple pleasures
Finally, leave room for simple pleasures as you make your way through your new island life. For military living in Hawaii, the pace of life need not match the mainland. For the love of Aloha, leave the base! Never miss a chance to stop by the roadside for a cold coconut. Adventure and simple pleasures await you at your new MCBH home!
Click here to read why one Army spouse loves being stationed on Oahu.
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Nancy Brown lives on Windward Oahu where she raises three boys by the sea. She writes, reads, eats, laughs, gardens, drinks, naps, sings, creates, and dreams on the Lanai. Sometimes she runs. All the time she loves her family.