I love Hawaii. I really just love Hawaii. Being from California, it was never super exotic, as it’s pretty much the easiest flight you can get to somewhere tropical – but the more of the world I see, the more I appreciate that it is really just a wonderful, beautiful, lush place, even if it is technically still a part of the US. Honolulu has always felt much too similar to Los Angeles to me but for Oahu, the neighborhood of Kailua, encircling Lanikai Beach feels like home. The day we moved out of New York, Brandon and I hopped on a 6:00AM flight straight to Hawaii, ready to jump in the ocean, hike the mountains, and cleanse ourselves of the chaotic, hellish process that is Leaving New York City. Arriving felt like breathing fresh air for the first time. We had the chance to stay in a perfect little beach bungalow, with stairs from the yard right into the some of the most amazing water. A week living here was just a dream.
The very first thing we did after landing was have Hertz upgrade our standard rental car to a Mustang Convertible – such a win! It seems like almost every car in Hawaii is either a convertible or a jeep, and it’s there is no better way to experience how awesome the roads are. From this moment, we knew our trip was going to be unforgettable.
The Lanikai Loop is the most lush little tropical neighborhood. There’s one main road circling around the entire neighborhood that is constantly full of runners, walkers, cyclists and electric bikes, surfboard-carrying, and people wheeling little boats down the street by hand. Every house on the road is unique, ranging from little shacks to luxurious mansions with giant stone walls surrounding them. But the overall neighborhood just feels like home. Despite how expensive it is to live here, it still feels like a tiny beach, so similar to the one we grew up in.
The first thing we always do when we get to Hawaii is a paddle across the bay out to the The Mokes. I’m pretty sure that’s the first thing that everyone that lives in the neighborhood does always. The Mokulua islands are an institution on this side of the island. The main beach park, on Lanikai rents kayaks and paddle boards to take, and one nice weekend days the trip can be so popular, that the entire beach is filled with them stacked on top of each other. When you first land, there’s a nice sandy beach, and trails leading off both to the North and the South lead to amazing, natural surprises – natural pools that are so warmed by the sun they’re like hot springs, pools so deep you can jump off cliffs in to them, and the wild beauty of a churning sea.
The backside of Mokolua is a crazy, other-wordly place made of lava rock and the clearest water. The pool here is deep enough to jump off the cliffs in to, and on a particularly calm day, you can cross to the next island with a queen’s bath right at the very edge. We have a tendency to travel to Hawaii during high surf times, and if the waves are too rough, you can’t cross the path back to this side. Most of the path is fine – I love lava rock, it’s so easy to grip and hold on to, but there’s a peak that, as my brother puts it “if you fall here, you die.” When we went to Hawaii last year, we were on this backside as the waves crashing into the pools started getting bigger and bigger and starting to get unsafe, so we headed back and tried to time crossings in between crashes. Right at the peak, I hesitated too much and a wave crashed into me as I held on as tight as I possibly could, screaming. I didn’t get sucked out to sea, but my palms were scratched and bloodied from the force of my grip.
I have a bit of an obsession with sunrises, that I drive Brandon crazy with – because it always means waking up at 5AM to see them. I just love the light, I love the quiet and the dew, I love maximizing every bit of sunlight in my day and not missing a moment of it. The sun doesn’t set over the water on this side of the island – but the sunrises are absolutely unbelievable.
I also love sleeping outside every occasion I can. Why would you bother with a bed when you can wake up to this?
On a drive down to the Lighthouse, we spotted this little Mexican place on the side of the highway. Just on a quick drive-by, we could already tell that is was authentic, and that it was going to be awesome. We stopped in to Serg’s after a long, sweaty hike and could barely contain ourselves with excitement for how amazing this meal was about to be – the interior of this place looked exactly like home. This was real Mexican. Serg’s has since become a staple of our Hawaii trips, it’s our In-n-Out of Oahu – no trip is ever complete unless we get to stuff our faces on tacos here.
We made time to check off one of our biggest bucket list items – SKYDIVING! We passed by SkyDive Hawaii, and knew our first jump had to be here – look at the view on the way down!
…and before you know it, you’re flying toward the earth at 120 mph. But the view was absolutely breathtaking, you could see all of Oahu from up there, and it was all surprisingly so peaceful. If you do the math, you drop about 5,000 feet in around 30 seconds, which was at around the time that my dive instructor pulled the chute and we were floating down in a spiral toward the earth. It was a little dizzying to see your feet dangling below you with nothing but the world below. But hell, this was the best ride of my life! The details of the earth below slowly started to come back – the waves, palm trees, people, then the grass on the airstrip and before you know it you’re gracefully touching down on the earth.
In terms of what makes me really happy, my favorite things in life are being outside, being somewhere beautiful, doing activities, and getting physical exercise – so it should not be a surprise that I am obsessed with hiking. My dad was a huge hiker and insane backpacker when I was a kid – I remember him going off on trips for 10 days covering a hundred miles, and coming back with no toenails. Every summer we would go camping in upstate California or the Sequoia Forest – and as a kid I hated hikes. I didn’t play sports (exact words from baby Amy “sports are stupid!” ((Not much has changed))) so keeping up was always a struggle. My dad’s trick was to pack gummy bears, and bribe me with them every few minutes. As I grew up, I discovered the satisfaction in hiking – and after so many years of living in the city, I craved it. When I would go home to California, going up a hike was always one of the first things I would do. Now in our travels, I’m always looking for mountains to climb, waterfalls to find, crests to tip-toe towards, sometimes on my hands and knees because I am far from fearless. Oahu is just made for this – the mountains, the views, the lava rock that is perfect for gripping, I don’t think I have ever been anywhere better.
Halona Beach Cove aka Cockroach Bay - A simple hike down, over the fence from a lookout point parking lot, leads to the most incredible not-so-secret beach. I just wanted to soak this place in and live on this beach and in these blue water forever.
Koko Head Stairs - Holy hell, these stairs are still haunting me. Reading about the stairs, it seemed easy enough – a quick 2 miles up a mountainside staircase. I can spend 45 minutes on a stairmaster, super easy.
No. Never. Just no.
We were dripping with sweat. We stopped on the way up so many times. There’s a part where the stairs bridges over a crag in the mountain side and there’s nothing below you for about 10 feet – I crawled up that on my hands and knees. I never thought it was going to end. But then finally we made it to the top! 360 degree views, and a precarious ridge line you could traverse all the way across. This hike gets huge points for just being such a killer workout, I will definitely do this one again. And definitely swear my way through it again.
SERIOUSLY! Nothing can beat the insanity of the viewing points at the top of this hike.
So technically, this one is illegal, but we weren’t the only people we passed, on the trail, and the internet shows daily posts of people ascending the top.I think this one is also supposed to be somewhat of a “secret” trail, but the trailhead is marked on Google Maps so there’s not really much argument left for not sharing this one. The trailhead starts with a drive through a fancy suburban neighborhood that reminded us a lot of the hills in our hometown. At the very end of the road, there’s a simple gate with a few “do not enter” signs. I was worried that maybe there would be a guard or someone telling us not to go (there was one really great hike back home in Ventura that is technically on private property. In the last year, they’ve had a guard standing at the entrance shooing people away, it’s kind of tragic as it’s really the best hike in town.) but no one here seemed to care. There’s a paved road the circles the mountain all the way up to the top.
The name came from an old cement platform jutting out of the mountain with “Dead Man’s Catwalk” spray-painted across it. The island had the platform removed because they thought the Instagram photos everyone posted of them hanging off of it, and jumping in the air were too dangerous. (I mean…. they weren’t wrong.) While the famous platform is gone, the views are still unbelievable amazing.
However, the best part of this hike is going beyond the top of the Catwalk, and up the ridgeline to the nearby peak – for a true top-of-the-world experience. The greenery, the aqua ocean,and the bright orange moss that grows on the rocks creates the most amazing colors – as you can see, we couldn’t stop taking photos. This was also the most fun part of the hike – you’re finally off of a road and into the dirt and grass, rock-hopping up to the crest.
But the most important part, the best part, the most glorious feeling, is the water here. Lanikai water just has a special neon glow. It’s always warm. It’s clear, and it never ends. Everything else on Hawaii may be beautiful and lush and full of adventure – but the water is why I keep coming back.