Aloha! It may be fall, but Hawaii is a great place to visit year round, even in the rainier off season. After all, Hawaii is more than just sunbathing, tiki, and Elvis (5). I visited Oahu (1) this past September, and while the weather was mostly rainy, it didn’t stop me from partaking in activities like hiking, snorkeling, museum-going, and of course, eating!
To work up an appetite, I took a couple hours to hike up Koko Head (11), and the view was well worth the hike (4). I also checked out Laniakea Beach where the turtles like to regularly bask in the sun (10). Mind the turtles’ space whether you’re watching from the sand or in the water! If you’re looking for an indoor activity, I highly recommend the Bishop Museum (14), a history and science museum that documents a comprehensive history of Hawaii and houses the largest collection of Polynesian cultural artifacts – a must-see for any visitor to this island. Don’t worry though if you can’t get to everything on your list. Relax! This ain’t the mainland (16).
Poke: Read to eat? If you’re looking for something light and refreshing, but still substantial, poke, a raw seafood salad typically made with yellowfin tuna (ahi), is a great local option. It’s so common that grocery stores carry them in their fresh prepared food section. I checked out Ono Seafood (7), a small counter restaurant that sells poke and only poke. The Spicy Ahi is one of the more flavorful ones with its creamy mayo sauce, tobiko (flying fish roe), ginger, and green and white onions. However, if you don’t want something so creamy, the Haw’n Style Ahi is more simply dressed, allowing you to fully taste the limu (algae), crushed kukui nuts, green and white onions, and chili pepper.
Dole Whip: If you’re looking for something sweet, the Dole Plantation is a necessary stop if you’re traveling between Waikiki and the North Shore. While you’re there you can take a plantation tour, wander through their expansive gift shop, walk through their maze, or ride their little “Pineapple Express” train. I just enjoyed a cone of pineapple Dole Whip (6), a dairy-free soft serve that is also enjoyed at Disney park locations. Even on a rainy day, it was warm enough to justify a cold treat.
Matsumoto Shave Ice: What maybe was less justified was skipping lunch and going straight to Mastumoto Shave Ice afterwards (#adultdecisions). I ordered the Ichiban (“number one”) Special (2) – shave ice with my choice of lilikoi (passionfruit) flavor, drizzled with sweetened condensed milk, a scoop of vanilla ice cream, azuki beans, and mochi balls. I had never had ice cream with my shave ice before, and I must say it’s a great combination. The ice cream added creaminess without taking away from the shave ice’s lightness. This dish covered at least 3 different food groups, so shouldn’t have felt so guilty!
Poi Malasada: While we’re on the topic of sweet treats, let’s talk malasadas. This classic Portuguese confection is traditionally is composed of deep fried yeast dough sprinkled with white granulated sugar. Popular Hawaiian variations on malasadas are to fill them with custard, chocolate, guava, or haupia. A relatively new twist is the poi malasada. Poi is the purplish gooey food made from the stem of the taro plant. The poi adds a beautiful purple color to the dough and a pleasant chewiness. (3) The one from Kamehameha Bakery was finished off with a sugar glaze.
Rainbow Drive-In: Ok, ok! One can’t live on sweets alone, so let’s get a plate lunch from Rainbow-Drive-In. It’s open late and is a popular spot for surfers after being out on the water all morning because it’s both cheap and filling. If you can’t decide on what to order, try the Mix Plate (13) – BBQ beef, mahi, and boneless chicken with rice and your choice of macaroni or slaw.
McDonalds: As long as we’re talking cheap eats, let’s talk McDonalds. If you’ve ever visited a McDonalds outside the U.S., you’d know that they sometimes offer different menu items to appeal to the local palate. (12) Hawaii is no different where they offer taro pie, Kona-blend coffee, and Portuguese sausage or Spam breakfast combos with rice!
Alan Wong’s Pineapple Room: Lest you think Hawaii doesn’t do sophisticated, don’t forget about great local chefs like Alan Wong. You could check out his namesake restaurant for dinner, but if you want lunch or want somewhere a little more casual, the Pineapple Room in the Ala Moana shopping center is an easy drop-in. Many of his dishes feature local produce and products, like the (15) Ho Farms Tomato and Watermelon Salad featuring local goat cheese and ume dressing. I also highly recommend the hoisin Sriracha glazed short ribs with prawns, mustard cabbage, tobanjan sauce (hot bean sauce), and goat cheese. If you want to try something a little unique, the New Zealand Furikake Crusted Salmon sits on a bed of risotto that may be loosened with hot green tea, ochazuke-style.
Are you full yet? I was! And yet within hours of finishing up at the Pineapple Room, I was on a flight back to the mainland already wishing I had a box of poi malasadas to go. Hmmm… a future recipe post? What I miss most of all though is the relaxed spirit of Aloha. If you ever visit, make sure to leave with a full belly and some of that Aloha spirit to bring back home!