Remembering Pearl Harbor

While not glamorous like Waikiki, or awe-inspiring like North Shore, I feel it is the duty of every American visiting Oahu to spend a few hours at Pearl Harbor in honor of those who lost their lives there that fateful day in December of 1941. The unexpected air raid on the US Navy base at Pearl Harbor was a major turning point in WWII, and forever changed the course of United States history. Seeing the sunken USS Arizona is a very somber experience, and there are no words to explain the feeling you get from seeing the site where over 1000 American crewmen died and are still trapped inside this watery grave.

So, I will not attempt to describe the experience, but rather, I will tell you useful tips that will help your visit go smoothly.

First, reserve your tickets in advance online. There are a limited number of first come, first serve tickets available every day at the memorial, but it is an extremely popular tourist destination, and hoping to get lucky is too much of a gamble and adds unnecessary stress to your relaxing Hawaiian vacation. Tickets, as well as additional information, can be obtained here.

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Second, the signs in the parking lot telling you to leave your bags in your car aren’t lying. They do not allow bags of any size, not even purses, into the memorial. You can only take wallets and small camera cases in with you. If you do not feel safe leaving your bag in your car, they do offer bag storage on site for $5 a bag. Yikes. We didn’t think they would actually make us leave our purses behind, but they did. That was an unpleasant discovery and dumb waste of money.

We were running late and had to rush to make it to our tour on time. The tour starts with an informational video, which I recommend actually paying attention to, because it helps you better appreciate what happened here. After the video, you board a boat which takes you out to the memorial.

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Third, you only get 15 minutes at the memorial, and they definitely stay on schedule. This was the only thing I really didn’t like about the visit. It was hard to be able to fully reflect upon what you are experiencing and pay your respects to these fallen heroes when you are being herded through like cattle. So make sure you see whatever is most important to you first, because chances are, you won’t get to see it all due to time constraints and big crowds.

Once again, I cannot even begin to explain how it feels seeing this in person, knowing there are hundreds of people still inside this ship…

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Memorial wall for those who died that day at Pearl Harbor in the service of our country.

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Fourth, please keep in mind you are visiting not only a memorial, but also a grave site, so dress and behave respectfully. For how many people were there, it was surprisingly quiet. I think everyone understood the solemnity of what they were looking at. Photography is allowed, and almost everyone was taking pictures, but maybe refrain from the selfie. You don’t want to have a picture of you smiling next to the site of one of the greatest tragedies in the history of America.

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Fifth, there are a couple museums that, in addition to the memorial, make up the Pearl Harbor National Monument. These museums are definitely worth checking out. They provide additional perspective on what life was like during that era, and go into greater detail of what happened in the days leading up to, the day of, and the days after the attack. We walked through the museums after our tour, and honestly, I’m not sure if it matters what you do first, the tour or the museum. But definitely do both.

An aerial photograph of Pearl Harbor in 1941

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A model of what the Arizona looks like beneath the surface of the water.

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And so, I will wrap up by saying I most definitely recommend visiting Pearl Harbor, not because it is a “must-see tourist destination,” but because it is a huge part of who we are as a country, and because these American soldiers died so we can have all the freedoms we have today. And they deserve our respect, gratitude, and appreciation.

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!

Hiking Diamond Head

When looking at the skyline of Oahu, there is no sight more iconic than that of Diamond Head. Visible from the shores of Waikiki, the volcanic crater rises up among the skyscrapers, creating an image as quintessentially Hawaiian as luaus or SPAM. Upon further research, we learned there is a hiking trail leading to the top of Diamond Head, and so it became the first stop on our Oahu must-see list.

All ready to set out on our hike-

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The hike is 0.8 miles to the summit, so we didn’t feel the need to bring full daypacks with us. However, it is a strenuous (sort of…details later) ascent, and completely exposed, so water is a must! I would also recommend hats and sunscreen.

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A good deal of the hike is made up of unpaved, steadily inclining trail, as pictured below:

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All 0.8 miles of the ascent provide breathtaking panoramic views of Oahu’s coastline.

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Ok, so here’s why the hike is classified as strenuous: as you approach the top there are stairs…lots of stairs. And a tunnel. And a ladder with a narrow opening you have to squeeze through. On top of Diamond Head there is an old military fort, and the remains of the fort were incorporated into the trail. While this certainly adds to the difficulty of the hike, it also makes it more interesting, combining a journey through history with a hike through nature.

Stairs…

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Tunnel…

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More stairs…

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Even more stairs…

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Ladder with narrow opening…

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Finally! The view from the summit area:

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The short distance of this hike makes it easy for people to underestimate possible dangers associated with it. It is nearly a mile, completely uphill, and in direct sunlight. During our time there, we saw a man get airlifted off of the summit due to medical problems brought on by heat and exhaustion. So hike smart! Always bring enough water, and know your own abilities. This trail is not for those with medical issues or who experience difficulty with climbing stairs.

Additional information can be found here.

The hike left us famished, so we stopped for a quick and easy lunch at what we soon discovered was the oldest Taco Bell in Hawaii. We don’t have Taco Bells that look like this in LA anymore, so I thought it was interesting…

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And it had cute Hawaii cups!

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On to the next adventure!

Honolulu!

For as long as I can remember, taking our family to Hawaii was my dad’s dream vacation. But let’s face it- Hawaii is a freaking expensive place to visit, especially for a middle class family of five. So years went by with this trip being nothing more than a dream…until this past December (2014). All of us children are grown up now, and were able to help make this trip a reality for our dad. And so bright and early one December morning, we left Los Angeles and flew to Honolulu!!

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We decided to take this trip in December because it was just after the peak season, so prices were lower. Here was our itinerary: spend two nights in Honolulu, and then board a cruise ship that would spend the next week taking us to Maui, Hawaii (the big island), and Kauai, and then have another half day on Oahu before taking a red eye flight home. Several cruise lines offer Hawaiian cruises, but Norwegian Cruise Line is the only one that takes you to more than one island like that. And seriously, for first-time visitors to Hawaii, I absolutely recommend taking this cruise! It gives you a nice sampler of the most popular islands and ports, so you can see very diverse areas of this beautiful state. And then, you can always go back sometime in the future to spend more time on whichever island you liked best! It might surprise you… I was certain I would like Maui best, but it turns out, I liked the Big Island better. Go figure.

On with the trip! Upon landing in Honolulu, we were greeted with leis (this isn’t free anymore…we had to pay extra for that), picked up the rental car, and headed to find food! Of course, I had to drag us to the Hard Rock Cafe Honolulu!!

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And ordered the local burger.

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In fact, my whole family did.

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No joke- BEST BURGER OF MY ENTIRE LIFE!! And my whole family agreed. We spent the rest of the trip talking about these burgers, and months later, we are still talking about them. My sister and I even have framed photos of these burgers hanging up in our homes. We take our food seriously, haha.

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Lest anyone think Honolulu is the tropical paradise classic Elvis movies lead you to believe it is, let me be the first to break it to you: it isn’t. The whole area of Honolulu near Waikiki is as commercialized and developed as Los Angeles. Here is the magical view from our hotel:

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Nevertheless, Honolulu is still definitely worth experiencing. My dad, one of my sisters, and I (my other sister felt sick from the flight still, so our mom kept her company back in the room) set out to see the city on foot!

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Waikiki!! This was a private stretch of the beach… a little closer to the Waikiki of “Blue Hawaii” days.

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Yay! We were lucky enough to be exploring on the night of a local farmer’s market and craft fair.

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And we found this delightful booth selling natural popsicles ❤

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They were soooo good!! They are made in Hawaii, but apparently can be purchased back in LA at stores like Whole Foods. If you can find them anywhere, buy some!!! They were crazy delicious.

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Us southern Californians are babies when it comes to the temperature. I was glad to have a lightweight sweater cause I thought it was chilly from time to time, but most other people seemed fine in shorts and tank tops.

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I loved all the Hawaiian Christmas decor… festive lights in Palm trees!

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With our first day in Honolulu coming to an end, we returned to the hotel to prepare for a very full day ahead of us!