Updated: Aug 8, 2019
Let me start by saying that I have never been to Hawaii. In fact, I like to avoid most warm-climate, tropical places as I tend to overheat easily - I HATE SWEATING - and I have very fair skin. And, being a plus-sized woman with body image issues, I tend to stay away due to my fear of having to show an uncomfortable amount of my natural fluffiness to beat the heat. Learn more about me confront my fears of swimsuit shopping, visit my post here.
My cousin, his wife and their 3 kids moved to Oahu a couple years back. And, during that whole time, I kept promising I would visit them there. But with the news that they would be moving from the islands next year to somewhere even further away, I decided that now was the time to go. I wasn't exactly sure what to expect going to this tropical locale.
I was a bit worried about finding activities I'd enjoy doing that didn't require...
1) Swimming in the ocean (I mean look at me, I'd be a delicious snack... eh erm meal... for any shark!)
2) Spending long hours in the sun (my transparent white skin and susceptibility to sun rash won't let me last more than 10 minutes before getting fried)
3) Have me hiking long trails (hiking is the equivalent to torture in my opinion. I am too clumsy and walking that long on uneven ground, 90% of my attempts have resulted in me with a rolled ankle and scraped up knees)
My ideal relaxing but culturally educating and visually stunning vacation includes:
1) Hopping on a narrated tour bus to get the inside scoop about the city with plenty of views to snap photos of
2) Wandering through the halls of art galleries or museum exhibits soaking up as much historical facts that I can
3) Stepping into the remains of historic sights like castles, monasteries or village and imagining going back in time rebuilding it all in my mind to their former glory
4) Setting up shop in a coffee house at the center of a busy city people watching whilst working away at some of my creative writing taking inspiration of everything in my view
5) Tasting the best of what the city or country has to entice me with
Here are a few highlights from my time on the island. And, guess what!? I only got sunburned the first day (forgot to put sunscreen on a small portion of my leg - whoops). I found plenty of activities even the fluffiest of girls can enjoy, as well as ones that satisfied my list of must-haves above. And, with my strategic packing skills and outfit planning, I roamed the island with confident style while still showing my curves comfortably.
A Place to Retreat
I have come to love booking Airbnb houses everywhere I go. Oahu wouldn't be different. With family living not far from Ewa Beach and to avoid the congestion of Honolulu and Waikiki, I found a perfectly quaint house on the beach in Ewa. For a very reasonable rate, I booked a full week at this adorable beach cottage only steps from the sandy beach. Behind a private gate, this modest home was the perfect get away while also being situated as a hub for venturing to anywhere on the island. Polu and Kawika were great hosts! See the listing here...
Lei Making in Laie
Our first full day on the island brought us to spending quality time with family on the beach watching the kids surf and build sand castles. It was a hot and humid day, but the wind kept us just cool enough to enjoy the sights and sounds of the waves lapping onto the shore. But that afternoon I had something special planned for my travel buddy and myself. Lei po'o (crowns) making up at the North Shore in Laie. I discovered this activity through Airbnb Experiences which is a newer service they provide connecting you to local activities tied to the location you have booked.
The class was led by Laie local, Kiana. She and her mom Patricia own a lei business (@oahuleis on Instagram) making and selling exquisitely beautiful leis for special occasions for clients all over the world. Only about two years ago she started teaching classes to guests visiting the island. The class was held at the Polynesian Cultural Center - very impressed by this place! Many restaurants, shops and the expansive living history museum are at the center as well as the theatre which is home to many luaus and cultural shows. This location is also a family endeavor. Kiana's husband owns the SodaBomb truck (in which he treated us to some yummy drinks) and her mom owns a gift shop around the corner in the center square. They also just live across the road so running home to grab a few more flowers for our class was easy.
The lei po'o making process was actually quite simple once we got started. Using flowers and greens cut from her own yard as well as sourced by local vendors this entirely natural lei smelled fragrant and sweet. Kiana's kindness tied with her rich storytelling and easy to follow instructions made this a very enjoyable experience. The leis kept for the full week we were there with proper care (hydrating them lightly and keeping in the refrigerator). It also made for some wonderful photos and a learned skill that I will always keep with me. Can't wait to make more at home using local Oregon flora.
On our last day on Oahu, we decided to leave our leis behind. In tradition, what once comes from the earth must be returned. Since the leis were only created from natural ingredients, we laid these to rest under the mango tree as we said mahalo for gifting us such beauty and fragrance during our stay.
Find the listing here...
Tastes of the Island
I'm a foodie. There, I said it. Oahu didn't disappoint on delicious flavors. With fresh fruits at the ready and the best seafood freshly caught everyday, the island is popping with local flavors and delights.
My top favorites were:
1) Malasadas from Leonard's Bakery - large and fluffy Portugese donuts (no hole) rolled in sugar or cinnamon/sugar and either filled with your choice of ganache or left unfilled. I opted for the original unfilled donut which is just rolled in sugar. Served hot and melts in your mouth. And, Leonard's is the original home to the Malasadas, so you can't go wrong!
2) Breakfast from My Cafe - a hot spot for locals on the yummy breakfast they serve. I went with the classic scrambled eggs and potatoes with the super delicious chicken apple sausage with buttermilk pancakes on the side. Comforting and filling! The restaurant had over an hour wait for a table, so we took it to go (only 10 minutes to wait for food) and took it back to the house to enjoy.
3) Pan seared mahi mahi plate style at Cinnamon's at the Ilikai Resort. Buttery and flakey seared fish next to rice and Hawaiian mac salad. Can't beat the seafood. I lived off of the fresh shrimp and fish for that week. Yummy!!
4) The Thai Shrimp Fried Rice at the Elephant Shack in Laie was so good! Moist and flavorful, packed full of fresh veggies and giant shrimp. Inexpensive and perfectly located at the Polynesian Cultural Center.
5) Acai Bowls from Lanikai Juice in Kapolei. Plenty of options for juices, smoothies and bowls. The bowls are amazing - packed full of nutritious fresh fruits, honey, coconut shavings and granola. A great break from all the indulgent treats we had along the trip.
6) Shave Ice from Wili Wili's - classic shave ice with a variety of syrups, condensed milk, ice cream and other toppings. I stuck to something simple with three flavors of syrups over ice no toppings. I know, I am boring. But it was delicious and refreshing on such a hot day.
7) Kalapawai Market - yummy, simple and satisfying menu options for breakfast and lunch. A full bar and delicious aromatic coffee blends. We went to this place 5 times in our 7 days on the island. So, that tells you...
Best View in Town
The top highlight of my trip aside from spending quality time with my lovely family was going to Kualoa Ranch. Known as Jurassic Valley, this gem of the island is best known for filming locations for Jurassic Park, Lost, King Kong Skull Island and many many many more. Aside from the opportunity to tour some of the filming locations, there is a plethora of adventures for everyone to enjoy - zip lining, horseback riding, kayaking, ATV quad tours, culinary experiences and more!
I opted for the jungle expedition tour - 90 minutes deep in the jungle exploring some filming locations but mostly enjoying the incredible views, cultural history and close encounters with the natural vegetation. Our tour guide was the awesome Moana. Great storytelling and information, playful attitude and drove like a champ!
My travel buddy opted for horseback riding and had a truly touching experience.
If you make it to Oahu, put a day's visit to Kualoa Ranch on your itinerary. It's worth every penny and every minute of your time.
Here are some of my shots from the jungle tour... Photos don't do any of it justice but hopefully this gives you a taste of what you will experience.
We also had fun shopping at various places throughout the island. Surprisingly, true plus size apparel stores are extremely limited at best. Outside of finding plus sizes at Target or Torrid, I didn't find much. Even the Nordstrom's didn't have but a few items in plus, and Anthropology Oahu doesn't carry the newly launched plus line at all. I suppose most locals buy online at second-hand stores or know of some off-beat places harder for tourists to find. If you have any suggestions for plus-size clothing stores on the island, comment below!
Top shopping experiences are:
1) Ala Moana Shopping Center near Waikiki - great variety of shops at many price points $$-$$$$$ (from Target to Louis Vuitton) with many of places to find snacks or meals.
2) Ka makana Ali'i Shopping Center in Kapolei - smaller quantity of shops but a good variety of price points and boutiques
3) Manuheali'i - traditional Hawaiian silhouettes with fun patterns. Moderately priced. They aren't as size inclusive on the women's side as they are on men's, but I was able to find an open front kimono-styled top.
4) Iolani - traditional Hawaiian silhouettes with a variety of patterns. Not size inclusive (max is XXS-XL and can fit slim depending on the silhouette). But more sizing options on the men's side (XXS-2XL). I didn't find anything for me, but my friend found a couple of cute things in L/XL that worked well for her body shape. Moderate to moderately-high price point ($$-$$$$).
5) Because plus size apparel is extremely hard to find on the island, I stumbled on my tried-and-true Torrid but island style. Assortment was a little different and it gave me a comfortable place to try on clothing while my friend was shopping at other stores. I did a pretty big haul (required me to buy another bag for the journey home).
Coffee Coffee Coffee
Hawaiians take their coffee seriously. There are several coffee and cocoa farms throughout the island especially while working your way up to the North Shore.
Two of my favorite stops was at...
1) Green World Coffee Farm - walk through the aisles of coffee trees and see the beans in their blooming stage. Shop their unique gift store. Enjoy a cup of joe while kicking back and watching the chickens run about you.
2) Waialua People's Market - 3 nice shops all within steps from each other in this hidden gem on the North Shore. Coffee & Chocolate Shop - lots of trinkets, souvenirs, local art, and of course coffee and chocolate. Waialua Surf Shop - cute apparel, stickers, surfboards, and more! And, the Waialua Soap Factory - pick out your soap bar and emboss them with their stamp tools. Fun!
That's it folks! Aside from the above, I spent a lot of time with family and friends sitting on the beach and listening to the waves crash as I meditated. A true form of relaxation for this much needed get-away. Back to work I go!
Have any favorite places to visit on Oahu? Comment below.