The Civil War and Eastport, ME

Welcome to Eastport, Maine, home of Shackford Head State Park and the easternmost city in the United States! Located on the Bay of Fundy, this quaint coastal town has all the charm you would expect from a small east coast city, but don’t let its size fool you- Eastport has some big time sightseeing destinations that make this city one of the coolest places to visit in Maine.

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The main reason that brought us to Eastport was Shackford Head State Park, because state parks are wonderful and I have a mighty need to see them all.

Shackford Head features an interconnected trail system that leads you through lush woods to a rocky headland, passing by beaches and protected coves along the way. From the overlook at the top of the headland you can see Cobscook Bay and parts of Canada. It is also a great park for wildlife viewing, particularly several species of birds including bald eagles!

You can stop at some of the beaches to swim if you want (and the weather permits); while it was much too cold for swimming when we were there, I was still super excited to get to touch the Atlantic Ocean for the first time.

And to make the park even cooler, it has some pretty awesome ties to history as well (keep reading for more info on that!).

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My first time touching the Atlantic Ocean!! 😀

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The Shackford Head Interconnected Trail System, 2 miles round trip

“The Shackford Head and Overlook Trails (1.2-mile roundtrip) provide fantastic views of Cobscook Bay and surrounding peninsulas. If you enjoy challenging terrain with additional overlooks, continue on the Ship Point Trail (an additional half-mile loop) and return to the parking lot via the Schooner Trail for a total of roughly 2 miles.” (Maine Trail Finder website)

So basically, in just two miles you can hike all of the trails in the park. Win!

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Things to Keep in Mind:

  • Be careful when exploring the beaches – tides fluctuate at more than 20′ and move in quickly.
  • During the spring and summer, keep an eye out for ticks, which carry Lyme disease. Check yourself for bites after your visit.
  • Swimming is permitted at all the beaches, but isn’t recommended at Cony Beach due to being the site of Civil War ship demolition (more info on that coming).
  • This park is not staffed by rangers, so take extra caution while hiking and exploring as there is no help nearby.
  • And definitely be cautious on high bluffs and cliffs. There are a lot of slick surfaces in this park.

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Boardwalks!

For a list of all the trails in Shackford Head State Park, visit the Maine Trail Finder website!


The thing that really sets Shackford Head apart from other state parks though is its ties to the Civil War (ah, the post title finally makes sense hehe).  In the early 1900s, five Civil War battleships were burned here at Cony Beach to salvage any usable brass and iron.

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We had to cross the barrier of squishy old seaweed swarmed by gnats in order to reach the alleged Civil War battleship remains. That is determination, y’all.

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Sea critters!

We had heard that some of the remains of the ships were still left on the beach, so naturally we had to investigate…

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We definitely found some interesting structures, but were they part of the old Civil War ships? I don’t know. It seems odd that any left over pieces would survive over 100 years of tides, weather, and visitors, but you never know…they did look an awful lot like ship pieces…

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But old Civil War ship remains or not, they were still fascinating to look at and formed some cool tide pools, whatever they might be.

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And Cony Beach itself is beautiful and worth seeing even if it may or may not contain a piece of Civil War history. East coast beaches are so different from the beaches back home in LA. And I love them.

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Even if those weird structures on the beach aren’t pieces of old battleships, Shackford Head still has Civil War historical sights to check out.

In the large grassy area across from the parking lot, there is a memorial for all the ships that were burned here at Cony Beach, as well as informational plaques with photographs:

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I mean, based on the photos, the things on the beach very well COULD be pieces of the ships. I like to think that they are. It’s amazing to think of all the things these battleships have seen and experienced over their nearly 200 year old existence, from the day they were built, through the Civil War, to their final resting place on a beach in Maine. A lot can happen in 200 years.

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Location: Off Route 190 in Eastport, close to downtown Eastport, ME. Turn onto Deep Cove Road, and travel 0.8 miles to the entrance of Shackford Head State Park (a gravel drive on your left just before the campus of the Maine State Marine Technology School).

Hours / Season: Open all year; 9:00 a.m. to sunset daily unless otherwise posted at the gate.

Fees (per person at time of publication): Adults 12 and older $4 (non-resident), $3 (Maine residents)

Seniors 65 and older $1 (non-resident), free (Maine residents)

Children 5 – 11 $1, Children under 5 free

For more information on Shackford Head State Park, visit the official website!

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The City of Eastport:

Shackford Head is obviously really cool, what with it’s Civil War history and beautiful views of the coast and all, but it’s not the only reason to visit Eastport. Here are a few more reasons to check out this small coastal town:

  • It’s the easternmost city in the US (the actual easternmost point is in West Quoddy Head State Park, and is just a rock out in the ocean)
  • Awesomely fresh and delicious seafood
  • Old Sow Whirlpool

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First let’s talk about the seafood (priorities). After spending the early part of the afternoon exploring Shackford Head, we went into town to warm up with some clam chowder! We found a great little restaurant right on the bay, and fresh clam chowder and hot tea were the perfect remedy for this cold day. Eating seafood right where it’s caught is the best. Period.

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Now let’s talk Old Sow. Old Sow is the biggest whirlpool in the western hemisphere, and the second largest in the world.

What is a whirlpool, you might ask? Here is a brief description from the Bay of Fundy website:

“This powerful whirlpool is formed when the rising tide passes both sides of Indian Island, takes a sharp right turn around the southern tip of Deer Island to flood the Western Passage.”

Basically, the currents push the water in a way that causes it to move in a circular motion, creating a large funnel leading to the ocean floor. Old Sow has clocked speeds of up to almost 7mph, which is pretty damn fast for ocean water to be spinning in a circle.

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We tried really hard to see this whirlpool. First we tried booking a harbor cruise, but it was cancelled cause the water was too rough. So then we tried to see it from the shore. I think I might have seen it, but it wasn’t very active that day and the photos look like a whole lotta nothing. To see what it looks like on a good day, do a Google search of “Old Sow Whirlpool”…it’s pretty impressive.

How can you view Old Sow?

“Old Sow is reported to be most active about 3 hours before high tide. This activity continues for about two hours and takes the form of a collection of small gyres, troughs, spouts and holes, and on the rare occasion will form one large funnel. This area, which has been reported to be as wide as 250 feet in diameter, can best be described as turbulent water. However, during spring tides (high water tide caused by a full or new moon) combined with high winds or a tidal surge will increase Old Sow’s activity causing more intense funnels and formations.” – Bay of Fundy website

The best views are from a boat (like the harbor cruise we tried to take), or from Deer Point in the Deer Island Campground, near the ferry landing at the south end of the island.

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Add in being the easternmost city in the whole country, and you’ve got one pretty awesome place to visit. For more info about all the great things to see and do in Eastport and to look for hotels, visit the Maine tourism website!


 

 

 

When Trash Becomes Treasure…

In Northern California, near the wine-country city of Mendocino, lies a beach that seems almost too surreal to actually exist. But it is real. The town of Fort Bragg is home to Sea Glass Beach- a beach where instead of sand, there is sea glass.

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When the town of Fort Bragg was destroyed by a massive earthquake in 1906, there was too much rubble and debris to burn, so residents began dumping their garbage into the ocean, expecting it to be carried away by the currents. But it wasn’t. Instead, the trash gathered in the bay and over time, the power of the ocean turned the trash into treasure.

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But in 1967 the North Coast Water Quality Board realized the dangers of dumping trash into the ocean, and put an end to it. Now, what remains of the former ocean dump doesn’t resemble trash at all. Rather, the old tail lights, beer bottles, lotion jars, prescription bottles, and soda bottles have become millions of pieces of sparkling sea glass, shimmering in the sunlight.

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The Northern section of Sea Glass Beach is protected by State Park Services, and therefore, visitors are not permitted to remove any of the sea glass. However, the Southern section is a public beach, and it is OK to take home a couple pieces as a souvenir.

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From Highway 1, turn west on Elm Street (Denny’s is on the corner) and drive a few blocks to Glass Beach Drive. There is a small parking lot, but you might have to find street parking. Follow the path down towards the ocean, and turn left when it forks. Soon you will see a staircase on the right leading down to the cove. This takes you to the public section of the beach, and admission is free.

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This really is one of those places you have to see to believe.

DSCN8897For more information on visiting Mendocino, Fort Bragg, or Sea Glass Beach, visit the Mendocino tourism website.

Hiking in Redwood National Park: Coast

While the park may be famous for its towering redwoods, the coastal section has a beauty all its own and definitely should not be missed. In truth, it was probably my favorite part of the park. The trees are incredible, no doubt, but as a Southern CA girl, my heart always lies with the ocean.

We started our visit to the coast with a stop at the Klamath River Overlook, which is supposed to have awesome whale watching. We were not fortunate enough to see any whales, but the views of the coast and the Klamath River sure were beautiful! (This was just a drive up and park overlook- no hiking or walking required. And there were quite a few picnic tables available… Maybe a nice picnic spot?).

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After the whale watching fail, we took a sunset hike to the beach. We did the Yurok Loop Trail, which is a fairly easy, 1-mile loop, and is technically listed as part of the North section of the park (not the Coastal section), but I included it here because it leads to, well, the coast.

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The spur trail to get down to the beach was a little bit challenging to find. It actually may not have even been a real spur trail, but enough people have used it that it sure looks like one. I am glad we found it though, because the beach was AMAZING!

We were super lucky and arrived at low tide (tide charts are available in the ranger stations and visitor centers, in case you want to ensure your arrival at low tide), and the tidepools were super cool! The sea stars were gigantic…bigger than your hand, and a really pretty purple color.

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The colors from the setting sun did beautiful things to the water, and it was one of those moments where nature leaves you in absolute awe. Like Forrest Gump says, “I couldn’t tell where Heaven stopped and the earth began.”

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Towards the end of the loop, when you are almost back at the parking lot, there are more wild berry bushes with tons of blackberries. Now for some reason the park ranger we spoke with did not recommend this trail, and said it wasn’t very good. Maybe my standards are lower, or maybe she is just crazy, but I thought it was the best trail in the whole park.

The Yurok Loop Trail can be found on the park’s hiking guide for the North section, but for a listing of all the official Coastal section trails, click here.

Imperial Beach

Imperial Beach is a fun beach, and has a variety of activities everyone can enjoy. There are shops and restaurants right next to the beach, and there are even more places to eat and buy things right across the street in the city. Imperial Beach is a more commercialized beach, so if you are looking for a tranquil beach stroll, this is not the beach for you. This beach is all about the fun!

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The pier made for a very pleasant evening stroll, with a beautiful California sunset in the background.

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Just a couple words of advice for visiting Imperial Beach: the parking is kind of tough. There is no designated beach lot, so you have to park at meters or pricey lots down the street. In addition, I have been stung by a sting ray at this beach before while surfing early in the morning, so if you go early in the day, exercise caution and shuffle your feet along the ground to kick up the sand and scare off the sting rays. Nothing ruins a beach day faster than having to stick your foot in boiling water to stop the poison from spreading, and then having your foot periodically start gushing blood throughout the rest of the day. Don’t let possible sting rays deter you from visiting this beach though! They are virtually nonexistent by the afternoon, having been scared off by the morning crowd.

Border Field State Park

If you want an experience that is truly like no other, I recommend heading down to Border Field State Park. This is the southernmost beach in CA, right on the border of Mexico. Sure, there are lots of places you can visit throughout the southwest United States that border Mexico, but this one is unique, because it is on the western coast of both countries. And because our charming governments want to make sure everyone stays in their appropriate country, they have constructed an actual fence along the border, extending all the way out into the ocean.

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On the United States side of the fence, the beach is completely desolate, and they recommend not swimming due to unsafe conditions.

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But on the Mexico side, it was party town! Music was blaring, food was grilling, and families were splashing around in the ocean.

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We wandered over to the fence and talked to some of the people on the other side. It’s a pretty cool feeling, talking to someone in another country face-to-face.

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However, the US side of the fence is heavily guarded, and it wasn’t long before the border patrol made us back away from the fence and told us we weren’t allowed to stand that close to it.

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This isn’t a beach to visit if you are looking for a fun, quintessential beach day. This one is better visited as an interesting glimpse into the political/social division of two neighboring countries, and to see how different two sides of the same fence can be.

Want to check it out? Information on visiting Border Field State Park can be found here.

There is Such a Thing as a Bad Day in Hawaii

On our last day in Hawaii, we had a few hours to spend before catching our red eye flight back to LA, so we decided to venture out of the Waikiki/Honolulu area and check out the other side of the island.

Honestly, everything about this day turned out to be a complete disaster. With my parents trying to navigate us using a map, and my sister and I navigating with GPS, we ended up getting so lost and turned around that we spent most of our last day in Hawaii inside a car.

Moral of the story: choose one form of navigation and stick with it.

Eventually, we did make it to a beach though. It took us twice as long as it should’ve to get there, but we found Kailua Beach Park, on the windward coast of Oahu. This is more of a locals beach, and looked completely desolate compared to Waikiki.

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It was a pretty beach, but worth driving all day to get there? Definitely not. We only stayed a few minutes and then left, unimpressed and in bad moods (getting lost in an unknown place will do that to you). From there, we continued around the southern edge of the island and headed for Hanauma Bay, which is where I had wanted to go from the beginning.

We got there fairly late in the day, after they stopped charging admission to get inside because it was almost closed. Hanauma Bay is a nature preserve and costs around $8 per person to get in, but the snorkeling here is supposed to be really awesome. Not that I would know though, because we got there too late to do it. However my sister had snorkeled there before, and said it was just alright. Too many people, she said, causing poor visibility. It’s still on my list of things to do next time I’m in Oahu though.

So we were only able to walk around the grounds for a few minutes, but even with only being allowed partial access, the bay still looked beautiful. It provided a moment of peace and serenity in the midst of a travel day from Hell.

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By the end of the day, my sisters and I made the unanimous decision to pretend this day never happened. After leaving Hanauma Bay, we got lost trying to find a place for dinner, and then lost again on the way to the airport. It just goes to show that even the most seasoned travelers aren’t immune to encountering problems abroad.

Lessons I gained from this day: don’t simultaneously use maps and GPS, have a game plan laid out before you start driving, and if you have time constraints, don’t choose a destination that is far away.

Hanauma Bay…I will return for you!!

Kalapaki Beach and Shopping in Nawiliwili

No more than maybe 10-15 minutes on foot from the port of Nawiliwili you can find lots of fun shops, bars, and restaurants. They aren’t all cute and touristy like some of the other port cities, but look more like where the locals would go to spend an evening or run their errands. So is it the best shopping destination? No. But it is pretty much the only thing you can do in Kauai from the cruise ship port without renting a car or taking a cab.

If you are in the market for silly souvenirs or inexpensive Hawaiian print clothing, then these shops are definitely worth checking out! Even these chickens went out dress shopping…

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And my sister and I bought matching sarongs!

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A little farther down the street (away from the cruise ship) you will find Kalapaki Beach, in front of the Marriott Hotel. So after we finished our shopping we continued our journey until we reached the beach. We didn’t have time for a full beach experience, but we at least wanted to step foot on a beach in Kauai, and this was the closest one to the cruise ship.

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The beach! I loved the sand here… it was so soft and fine!

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There are many facilities available at Kalapaki Beach, and the calm waters, separated from the open ocean by a large break wall, make it a perfect beach for swimming and learning water sports. Additional information about Kalapaki Beach can be found here.

Snorkeling in Kona

Our second day on the big island brought us to the port of Kona. We didn’t have any specific plans for this day; all we knew was that we needed Kona coffee, shave ice, and snorkeling time, in no particular order. And our parents had booked a tour for Kona, so we were going to have a sisters day! So we took the tender from the ship to the shore, and hit Kona on foot.

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Kona! I was instantly in love with this port. This one reminded me of being in the Caribbean.

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Kona coffee! First item crossed off the Kona checklist. My review: it was definitely tasty coffee, but I don’t see what all the fuss is about. But still, you can’t go to Kona and not drink Kona coffee.

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The second you step off the boat you are met with a swarm of vendors trying to sell you various tours and excursions. Which is normally kind of irritating, but since we actually did need to find a way to get snorkeling, it proved most useful. We found a shuttle operator that would take us from the port to Turtle Beach, and we could take the shuttle back to port whenever we were ready. Then we found a shop that rented snorkel gear, and we were all set!

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This was a great beach for snorkeling! The water was calm near the shore and had awesome visibility. My youngest sister had never snorkeled before, and is definitely not a strong swimmer, but she was able to learn how to snorkel well enough to see lots of cool fish and feel comfortable in the water. So, this is a good beach choice for first timers!

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The farther you got from shore, the rougher the water became. Waves threatened to go inside your snorkel, and currents felt stronger. If you don’t pay attention, you will find yourself far away from where you started without even noticing it happening.

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However, snorkeling away from the shore has one huge advantage: SEA TURTLES!!!

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After snorkeling we were able to enjoy the beach for a bit before heading back into town. There are lots of facilities available at this beach, including lockers, restrooms, and a food truck selling fun snacks.

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It was almost time to get back on the cruise ship, but before we did, we had one more thing to do: eat shave ice!!

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And of course we had to get it legit Hawaiian style, with ice cream in the middle. It was soooo good!

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All in all, Kona was my favorite port in Hawaii. There was so much to do here, and it was all easy to get to. You can just walk right off the boat and be on beaches surrounded by awesome restaurants and shops. No rental cars or tours needed here- there is plenty to do that is easily accessible on foot. Though of course there is even more to do if you want to travel farther from the port.

Snorkeling, shave ice, and coffee. What more do you need for a perfect day in Hawaii?

Beach Time in Maui!

It would be wrong to visit a place known for having some of the best beaches in the world and not step foot on even one of them, so when we had a little extra time after our day in Haleakala National Park, we knew exactly how to spend it.

Since Maui is an island (obviously), there are beaches literally everywhere, but we didn’t have a ton of time to work with so we thought it best to find one close to the cruise ship port. And so we found Kanaha Beach Park, located near Kahului Airport. We were only there for less than an hour, so I don’t have very much to say about our experience and don’t have any tips or fun facts about this one. However, I can say that it was a very pretty beach, easy to get to from the cruise ship, and had some windsurfers who were fun to watch (though I didn’t get any photos of them).

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There was a lot of interesting coral and debris on the beach…

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I don’t know that I would go out of my way to visit Kanaha Beach, but if you find yourself near Kahului and have some time to kill, it is definitely worth checking out. Additional information about visiting this beach can be obtained here.

Waikiki!

No trip to Oahu is complete without a visit to one of the most famous beaches in the world: Waikiki!

Hotels right on the beach are crazy expensive, but luckily there are plenty of more affordable options a few blocks inland, all within walking distance of the legendary beach. On the walk to the beach there are many shops and restaurants, where you can buy anything from cheap souvenirs to designer duds. We made a pit stop at Island Vintage Coffee, which served the most tasty coffee beverages, as well as lots of delicious and natural food offerings. We grabbed some stuff to go, and headed to the beach!

My coconut mocha latte…yummy!

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One of the entrances to the beach off of Kalakaua Ave (the main drag of Waikiki):

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Yay! Coffee on the beach = perfection!

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We bought this delicious papaya filled with Greek yogurt and fruit at Island Vintage Coffee… it was one of the best breakfasts I’ve ever had!

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My pedicure matched my lei hehe

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Enjoying the warm Hawaiian sun…

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Even in December, the water was still warm enough to enjoy swimming in, especially since the sun was so hot. Definitely not “bath water” warm though.

After the beach, we did some shopping!

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I know I can shop at these places back in LA anytime I want, but there is something fun about doing it on vacation. And now the purchases double as souvenirs.

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Our second day spent at Waikiki started off with a journey to find spam musubi for lunch…

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This place was easy to find and had awesome reviews. And the reviews were right…this spam musubi was delicious!!!

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When visiting Hawaii, you kinda just have to try some sort of food with SPAM in it. Personally, I love SPAM, and don’t care what it is made of. That stuff is tasty! Especially when made into spam musubi.

Such a beautiful sight… and at less than $2 per spam musubi, we bought a whole bag full of them!

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And then took it to the beach for a little picnic.

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Another one of the iconic images of Waikiki- a statue of Duke Kahanamoku, the man known as “the father of modern surfing”.

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Waikiki is a beautiful beach. However, it is also a very crowded and commercialized beach, crawling with tourists. For a more serene and relaxing experience, perhaps consider trying a different beach. Waikiki is best visited basically for bragging rights, and being able to say you have been to Waikiki. But still definitely a must-see on Oahu, so don’t head home before setting foot on the famed shores of Waikiki!