By Blaine Ashley.
As a Hawaii native, and now a New Yorker…. I consistently get asked the question just how expensive Hawaii is. It’s true, Hawaii isn’t cheap but if you’ve been dreaming of vacationing there your entire life and have abated the idea because of the perception that you can’t do it inexpensively, second guess yourself.
Oahu, Hawaii (Photo: Flickr)
Here are a few tips to doing Hawaii in high style while on a budget:
First, visit the islands during the off-season. Last year, I curbed the idea of hitting home for holidays and instead booked a flight for after the New Year when ticket prices typically plummet. Even better, my personal favorite airline, Hawaiian Air just started flying non-stop between JFK and HNL, so I was able to score a flight for just under $500. Just so happens, I had to go back again in February for work and scored another cheap seat for a mere $460!
And, don’t let the idea of off-season scare you. The weather in Hawaii is perpetually paradise-esque with the exception of a little more rain in the winter. On the hotel side of the spectrum, there are two, stylish boutique hotels I absolutely love on Oahu. The Waikiki Parc and The New Otani. Both should never estimate more than $250 a night in peak season. The Waikiki Parc is the sister hotel to the elegant Halekulani Hotel which sits just across the street. A chic bang for your buck, The Parc boasts a hip rooftop pool, race car rentals and is home to Nobu Waikiki restaurant, a regular noshing spot for the Hawaii 5-0 cast and crew among other haute celebs.The New Otani on the other hand is a little more understated than The Parc but sits on one of the best beaches in South, Oahu, Kaimana Beach. A local favorite, this stretch of sand and sea is situated away from the tourist trap of Waikiki, perched perfectly at the base of scenic Diamond Head. Always offering a cool scene and perfect swimming water, The New Otani also houses waterfront restaurant Hau Tree Lanai which serves up brunch til 2 pm. And, the neighboring bar happens to serve up one of my favorite mai tais for just $10 a pop.
Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck (Photo: Blaine Ashley)
Now that you’re squared away on the budget flight and hotel front, let’s talk about entertainment. The great thing about Hawaii is that the beaches are totally free! And, all beaches boast different landscape for various different water lovers to enjoy. For a first-ever surfing lesson, rent a long board from a beach boy at Waikiki Beach. An hour lesson will run you around $35. Back at Kaimana, try out a Stand Up Paddle rental and enjoy paddling through the calm sea for just $25 an hour. Hit Sandy Beach on the East Side for body surfing and a little sight seeing as the infamous Blow Hole is just next-door. Around the bend, you’ll find famous snorkeling bay, Hanauma Bay which does run you a buck but only around $35, a modest amount to enjoy this popular visitors destination. If you’re a big wave surfer or simply an intrigued spectator, taking the road trip to North Shore is a great idea. While there, make sure to stop at Giovanni’s shrimp truck for a garlic shrimp plate and cap off the trip with a shave ice from Matsumotos. And, Kailua Beach is regularly nominated as one of the best beaches in the world. Nearby, you’ll spot canoe and kayak rentals, which are a great idea for paddling to the Mokuleia islands with a crew of friends and a packed picnic.If you prefer land to water sports, fantastic hikes can be found everywhere on Oahu. Manoa Falls is one of my personal favorites as is the Lighthouse Hike on East Oahu that has a stellar view at the peak and also offers detour path down to the tide pools. Koko crater is a very popular hike among locals looking for a serious quad workout with an A-list view to boot. The steep, uphill hike is paved through with railroad tracks while the pill boxes in Lanikai also offers amazing scenery and two pillboxes at the top that make a great place for panoramic photos and/or a snack.
All of this physical activity must be making you hungry. Rather than indulging in pricey restaurants, consider sampling local favorite foods instead. Take out sushi joints in Hawaii are about as popular as McDonalds in the mainland. You can never go wrong with an ahi roll at Kozu. Speaking of ahi, absolutely, enjoy a half-pound of ahi poke that you can buy at any Foodland and make sure to snag a case of local beer while you’re at it. Manapuas (steamed or baked buns with char siu pork) are a favorite among locals and you can find them for around $2. And, plate lunches (typically a protein like Kahlua Pork, 2 scoops of rice and mac salad) will run you just under $10 (Rainbow Drive-in and Keneke’s are most popular). Shave ice is a favorite post-beach treat. Try it local style with icecream and azuki beans on the bottom. And, indulge in local fruits during your stay. You’ve never tasting papaya or pineapple like those grown in Hawaii.
First Friday (Photo: Blainey Ashley)
For a little on land culture, time your trip to a first Friday of the month and hit China Town’s monthly First Friday event. This free street festival is always jam packed with a scene reveling in art galleries opening their doors promoting their latest exhibits and often serving up complimentary food and drink. And, on most Friday nights you can delight in a fireworks show for free hosted by the Hilton Hawaiian Village in Waikiki. Grab a blanket and a spot on the beach and you’re set for a fun and free date night.Here’s to your Hawaii on the cheap dreams!