When you have a limited amount of time to explore a new place, it’s crucial to maximize every second to squeeze the most out of your adventure. And adventure is exactly what you’ll get when you’re an airline pilot—flying from cityscapes to countrysides, from smooth coastlines to rocky mountaintops, from South American jungles to the wide open plains of Africa.
Laura, ‘ma wifey, knows what it feels like to travel the world on a time-sensitive schedule. I’ve begged her to write about her experiences (she has really good advice!), and she finally caved. In this series, she takes you behind the scenes of some of her top layovers, offers travel tips and force-selects each layover’s top activities for you. After all, nothing makes you prioritize faster than a tight turnaround—and a requirement to sleep—right?
We touch down on the Big Island, and the adventure begins (it actually began 10 hours ago when we pushed back from the gate, but that was work). The clock has started, and I now have 18 hours to explore, eat and sleep. Here’s my checklist for doing Honolulu in 18 hours.
(Quick Travel Tip: In order to stay on schedule and make sure you see all the sights, always grab an attraction map before you leave the airport or hotel, or download the app CityMaps2Go to your smartphone.)
The Honolulu airport is located 3 miles from the Pearl Harbor Memorial, The USS Arizona. I quickly slip out of my epaulets and fully embrace the tropical location by changing into my fave Hawaiian shirt, complete with navy blue pineapples stitched into white linen. I’m officially on the clock as a tourist.
(Pearl Harbor Memorial via Pearl Harbor Oahu)
Once changed, I call an Uber and in less than seven minutes I’m standing at the USS Arizona memorial entrance with ticket in hand. If you can, make sure you buy your tickets in advance—only 1300 are released daily to visitors. I was lucky to get in last-minute today, but you don’t want to miss out on the historical movie and the US Navy-serviced shuttle ride out to the site.
When I’m in, I pay my respects. It’s hard to imagine that, just decades ago, at this very place, over 1,000 young sleeping men were killed in an unprovoked surprise attack. This memorial will leave you with chills and the hope that history does not repeat itself—a must-see experience.
Dole Plantation: Who doesn’t like chocolate-covered pineapple on a stick?! Visit the farm where Dole pineapples are grown before they are sealed in a can. So delish!
North Shore: A one-hour drive from Waikiki and world renown for its pipeline, the beaches here are gorgeous and boast massive surf—I recommend sitting on a beach blanket and watching the pros carve these waves.
After leaving the USS Arizona, I head back to the Ala Moana hotel just in time to grab a quick shower prior to dinner. The hotel feels like a scene right out of Hawaii five-O, but the view of the Pacific from my 25th floor balcony more than makes up for the 80s décor.
While it’s not beachfront, it is located right next to the Ala Moana Center, one of the most lush outdoor shopping experiences on the planet. It includes every high-end store you can think of—Neiman Marcus, Bloomingdales, Tiffany and Co. and even a Porsche Design store. If your adventure includes getting in some luxe shopping, it’s in a great location to do just that.
Halekulani Hotel: The name says it all… meaning “a house befitting of heaven,” the stunning views of Diamond Head and amazing service have guests coming back again and again.
The Modern Honolulu: For interior design fans like Cara, this clean-lined boutique hotel in Waikiki is a modern-day take on classic Hawaii.
(The Modern Honolulu via Jetsetter)
I take a quick shower to wash off the day, and I’m starving. It’s time for an evening stroll to dinner. I’m craving seafood with some Pacific Rim flare… so I settle on Roy’s. When I arrive, it just happens to still be Aloha Hour, so I knock out a few Lobster Pot stickers before I indulge in some amazing Misoyaki Butterfish. Highly recommended!
But, there’s no time to waste, so once I finish up, it’s time to head back to the hotel and rest up for tomorrow’s early-morning adventure.
The Pig and the Lady: One of Honolulu’s most popular restaurants, the food is fantastic and each dish is Vietnamese-inspired with an innovative twist.
Lucky Belly: This hip spot is in nearby Chinatown and perfect for a late-night ramen craving.
The upside of being on the Hawaii-Aleutian time zone is that my body clock is set to rise right before the sunrise there. So, I wake up in the dark, get dressed and sit in the twilight on my balcony drinking coffee while I wait on my Uber to arrive.
When I hop in my ride, my driver just happens to be a Coast Guard C130 pilot working his second job. On our way to Diamond Head, we strike up a friendly chat… and get to talking about how his wife quit her job as a flight attendant to join him full time on the Island (she hated commuting to the mainland). It’s always fun to talk aviation, and I’m lucky my job is a passionate hobby of mine, too.
When we arrive at Diamond Head, he drops me at the gate, and I am off. I sprint to the top of this dormant volcano cone, and I love every minute of the hike. When I reach the top I am rewarded with breathtaking views of the beautiful island, and I soak up every minute I have alone. Unfortunately, the alone time doesn’t last long (I recommend you do Diamond Head early since it’s at the top of most folks’ lists!), so I make my way back down the cone to get the rest of my morning workout in—the 4.1 mile-hike back to the Ala Moana. But… it’s not without a few stops along the way. A girl’s gotta eat.
(Laura’s snap from the top of Diamond Head)
Koko Crater Railway Trail: It’s a steep 1.8 mile hike, but worth it for the stunning panoramic city and ocean views at the top.
Snorkel Hanauma Bay: This bay is famous for it’s high fish population, calm shallow water and white sand. Who doesn’t want to snorkel in an old volcanic crater, but beware… it’s closed on Tuesdays!
Beach and Sunset Yoga Hawaii: When you need to find your inner zen after a 10-hour flight.
As I stroll back thru the neighborhoods of Honolulu, the weather is absolutely amazing and the ocean breeze is calling. So, I set my sights on refueling with some breakfast overlooking Waikiki while watching surfers/tourists hang 10.
At mile 3, I arrive at the iconic Duke’s Waikiki and fill up on eggs, pancakes, bacon, breakfast potatoes and pineapple. You can’t beat this affordable breakfast buffet in the sand—those views!
(Duke’s Waikiki via Brownie Bites)
Island Vintage Coffee: For a lighter breakfast try the Acai Bowl at this Hawaiian chain. The bowl is full of cold crushed Acai puree, topped with a sliced banana and strawberry, blue berries, granola and honey. Not only is this dish amazing, but it prevents aging, improves digestion, and boosts energy.
Gifts for home:
Post-breakfast, I begin to close the final distance back to the Ala Moana. I choose the route along the water and soak up every ounce of the fresh Hawaiian air.
On the way back, I stop at the previously mentioned Aloha Moana Center and grab Cara a fresh lei and her favorite candy—Hawaiian Host, Maui Caramacs (trust me, its not because her name is in the title… these milk chocolate covered caramel and macadamia nut bites are to die for). I am now guaranteed to not get too much grief for spending the last 18 hours in paradise!
Big Island Candies: These shortbread cookies are the best I’ve ever had. Macadamia Shortbread, Coffee Shortbread, Pineapple Shortbread, Coconut Shortbread, with or without nuts, dipped or not dipped—so much to choose from and a huge hit at home.
Macadamia Nuts: They’re all over the island, so make sure to grab some while you’re out. The honey glazed are my favorite!
For me, it is now time to snap back to reality, take a nap and prep to fly back to the mainland. There is still so much more that I want to do, but that will have to wait. Until next time Honolulu, I have Hanauma Bay on my list and will have my snorkel gear packed. Mahola.