If you’ve never had the opportunity to experience the Hawaiian Islands, like myself, you will certainly feel like you are in no way, shape or form in the United States.

Upon landing in Honolulu, Hawaii, my entire family and I were graced with fresh leis that smelled just as good as the sweet Hawaiian island air.

Our family does not lean toward the all-expenses included resort kind of vacation. We prefer renting a house or villa where we can essentially “move-in” for a few weeks and experience Oahu, Hawaii like a local.

 

"Lanakai Beach"

Oahu like a local at Lanakai Beach in Hawaii

 
Hawaii’s Lanakai Beach
 
We rented a home that was about a half hour away from downtown Honolulu. Our home was just a short walk away from a secluded bay on Lanakai beach. Because the beach was mostly used by the Oahu locals, there were plenty of friendly dogs and islanders that seemed to “catch up” on the shores of the Pacific Ocean.

Having a family full of older adults, college students and even an energy-filled two-year old there were plenty of requests for different activities. One place we could all attend was the Polynesian Cultural Center in Laie, Oahu.
 
Polynesian Cultural Center
 
Hearing “cultural center” led me to believe that we were going to walk through a museum filled with artifacts and ancient stories, I wasn’t sure how my little nephew would feel about this. I was completely wrong. The Polynesian Cultural Center was like the Hawaiian version of Disneyland, without all of the mascots running around. Our family opted to experience the Cultural Center like a VIP; our package included daily admission, personal private guided tour, prime rib buffet, HA: Breath of Life Show (front row seats), private backstage tour and Kukui Nut Lei greeting upon arrival.

"Polynesian Cultural Center"

Hawaii’s Polynesian Cultural Center

We were taken on a trip into each of the Polynesian Islands (Fiji, Hawaii, New Zealand, Tahiti, Samoa, Tonga, Marquesas). Every island we visited, we learned about the ancient culture and customs accompanied by traditional song and dance. At the end of the day we attended a traditional luau and were privy to front row seats at a Hawaiian cultural show, complete with grass skirts and fire breathers.
 
 
Hawaiian Cuisine

"Honolulu Burger Company"

Honolulu Burger Company

Most of the time spent on the beautiful island of Oahu was hanging out with family and indulging in the classic Hawaiian cuisine. Make sure to check out the hidden treasure of a restaurant, Honolulu Burger. Tucked away in downtown Honolulu, the grass-fed burger joint is a local secret. With burgers such as the Kona Burger, which is rubbed with a coffee spices atop a bed of sautéed onions, beets and chipotle sauce, this place is culinary lovers dream. If the burgers weren’t so filling it’s worth ordering more than one of these unique creations. Besides the local Hawaiian grills and fresh Farmers’ Markets, the fruit on Oahu is something you do not want to miss. We cut up a fresh pineapple almost every day and it was gone by the end of the day. To embrace this cultural fruit, we even visited the Dole Pineapple Plantation, specifically for the Pineapple Whippie Ice Cream.

The Dole Plantation is located on the North end of the Island, where all the real surfers hang out. We ventured up to Kee Beach, secretly called “Turtle Beach” because of the sea turtles that tend to swim right up onto shore in front of you. You might even catch them laying their eggs. But what the North Shore is known for is the 20-80ft waves that happen almost every day. We caught a few surfers toward the end of the day that told us the Nalus (Hawaiian for waves), were supposed to be the best at the end of the week.
 

Whale watching

Whale watching in Oahu

Whale Watching in Oahu

We ended our trip in a possible cliché way by Whale Watching off the West Coast of Oahu. The winds on shore were about 15mph, so out at sea they kicked up to 30mph. This gave us an incredibly bumpy boat ride that felt more like an amusement park ride than a smooth catamaran boat. But the trip was well worth it when we finally saw a female Orca Whale with her calf only a few hundred feet from our boat.

Ocean Joy Cruises was an excellent company that took us safely out in the middle of the ocean. The staff was incredibly accommodating, and cute I might add. Lunch was provided along with some margaritas. While anchored for lunch we also had the opportunity to snorkel atop a large coastal reef. Let’s just say, I have never seen a tropical fish that looked as big as if he could swallow me in one bite.

The small town of Lanakai was a calm and unique part of Hawaii but Honolulu was incredibly busy and even the drive to the north shore was breathtaking.  Filled with local residents and young surfers, the island of Oahu is like taking a break from the hectic world and indulging into the sweet ways of island life.
 
Insider Tip: No matter where you are headed on the island of Oahu and no matter what the forecast says, make sure to always pack a rain jacket. Many of the storm clouds get stuck just above the mountains, which is the pass between Honolulu and the rest of the island.

This is a guest post by Natalie Crandall