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Thanks to earning miles and points with a few of the top rewards credit cards, I’ve been able to vacation to Maui and Kauai. And earlier this year, I made it to Oahu!
I loved visiting the 3 Hawaiian Islands, but I think Oahu is my favorite. The mountains and beaches are breathtakingly beautiful. And I love that there’s still a bit of “city life” to be explored. The highlights of the trip included ziplining for the first time and taking an ATV tour through Jurassic Park! We brought our 5-month old daughter with us on this trip and learned you can still travel even after kids.
To travel to Hawaii, I used 90,000 American Airlines miles and paid just ~$22 in taxes and fees to book 2 round-trip award flights. It’s a great time to earn lots of American Airlines miles with offers on cards like the CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Mastercard® and American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp℠ Card
Check out some highlights of our trip to Hawaii in this video on our YouTube channel!
Our trip to Hawaii was planned around spring break. It was hard finding the lowest prices possible for our preferred dates, so this is where it pays to be flexible, or book early! We booked this trip about ~7 weeks before departure.
Originally, we were looking for a place for 4 of us to travel (me and Alfy, and our family Jen and Jered), but finding 4 tickets during spring break was difficult. Instead, Alfy and I chose to go to Hawaii ourselves, and booked another trip in late April for the 4 of us!
If you’re not staying on Waikiki, book a rental car. We stayed at an Airbnb with free parking, so be sure to check on the parking status before finalizing your hotel or Airbnb. Parking in Honolulu is hard to find.
We loved driving around the island, but the highlight was ziplining on the west side and visiting legendary Kualoa Farms, which is where Jurassic Park and other blockbusters were filmed.
There are a lot of fantastic restaurants on the island. The mixture of Japanese, Hawaiian, and folks from the mainland keeps up the variety.
Flights to Oahu
It helps to be flexible on the dates you want to travel. If you can’t find available award seats from your home airport, then choose a few different locations on the West Coast. Then, look for flights from your home city and your arrival city to piece together the award flights. I varied the searches I did for the departure and return. We flew through San Diego on the departure trip and through Los Angeles on the return trip.
We booked an early flight out of Austin, then took a ~3 hour flight to San Diego. In San Diego, we had a couple of hours to kill before the next flight, so we escaped into the lounge for a bit. You can get free access to lounges with a few different credit cards. From San Diego, the flight was ~6 hours to Honolulu. We flew to Hawaii on Alaska Airlines and had a very nice experience!
This was also our longest flight with our 6-month-old daughter. When she was 3 months old, we flew to Oakland to visit our family there. We rode with her as a lap child on both flights. For tips on how to travel with a baby, visit these posts:
Consider an Airbnb for Family Trips
There are dozens of hotels in Hawaii where you can book with points. Use Hotel Hustle or Award Mapper to find hotels you can book with points. But since I started traveling with a baby, a kitchen has become a huge added convenience. I can freeze her breast milk, easily wash her bottles, and store my pump parts and her milk in the fridge.
We still stay at hotels for overnight trips, but if it’s 2 nights or more, we tend to prefer an Airbnb. Plus, it’s nice having a microwave to reheat food! I like saving my hotel points for splurge trips without a baby. Or for treating my family & friends to luxury 5-star hotels they’ve never experienced before.
Our Airbnb was located in a standalone small house on the owner’s property. We had our own private entrance. It was a tad small, but space is hard to come by on the island. It was a large studio with a separate bathroom.
There was a queen size bed….
… and a kitchen with a stovetop (no oven or toaster oven). The fridge was full size. There was also a washer and dryer unit. We used the washer and dryer twice and I loved that we could pack less and wash our clothes.
Yay for packing light! While we were packing, I noticed Alfy packed 2 swim trunks, 2 pairs of jeans, and 2 shorts for a 7-day trip. Thankfully, I mentioned it was a 7-day trip and that we’d have a washer, so he left 1 pair of jeans and 1 pair of swim trunks at home. 🙂
The Airbnb had a small dining table and bar stools. This wasn’t the most comfortable setup, and I would have preferred a desk to work at. We didn’t really use the table for eating.
There was a TV and a dresser with lots of bins for “Guest Storage.” We filled these bins during our stay and loved the convenient organization. On the bottom, there were bins with extra guest supplies, such as extra blankets/towels and beach towels.
There was another small closet by the bathroom with shelves where I put my stuff. There was a small boogie board and an umbrella for the beach. While we didn’t use these things, it was really nice to have them as an option.
The bathroom was fairly large for the small space. The shower had a rain shower unit, but I would have preferred a regular shower head. There was a lot of shelf space along the mirror shelf.
When we arrived, we were greeted by the friendly host who showed us where to park our car. He then showed us our Airbnb and how the lock worked. He left out a welcome basket filled with Hawaiian treats like a pineapple, fresh fruits, and local snacks.
There was also cold water and Hawaiian drinks in the fridge, and a bottle of wine!
We were thrilled that the host went so far out of his way to make our stay enjoyable. I felt like we had Diamond status—no, we felt more like royalty!
The Wi-Fi was a bit spotty, so we let him know, and he had someone come out the next day to look at it. I was impressed at how seriously he took my request.
I also loved the sliding patio doors and the huge patio off our room. The natural light helped the place feel large, bright, and airy. At any time, we could go outside and enjoy some fresh air and the view!
Also for guest use is a large covered outdoor patio with a koi pond and waterfall, sofa, chairs, and game table. There’s a grill and table/chairs for a family meal. We had dinner there the last evening together and had a wonderful time. The weather was just right, and I loved the sound of the running water.
If you use my Airbnb referral link, you can get $40 off your first rental of $75+!
Many Airbnbs provide cribs and baby cots free of charge, so be sure to ask the host. I used cribs from various hotels and Airbnbs and never had an issue with them. But on this trip, the Airbnb did not provide a crib, so I had to bring our own travel crib (I use the Guava Family Lotus). Most airlines don’t cover the baggage fee of baby travel cribs (but most do waive the baggage fees for car seats and strollers). Asking for a crib could save you at least ~$50 in baggage fees (unless of course, you have a credit card that includes free checked bags!)
The hosts were very friendly, and the wife (named Joele), actually babysat our daughter on 2 separate occasions while we had a couple’s outing at the zip line, and a trip to Kualoa Ranch for the ATV tour. (Of course, we paid her for her time).
What to Do in Oahu
There’s so much to do on Oahu and that’s part of the fun of the island. Many of these activities book up weeks or months in advance, so don’t wait to book your activities!
I tried finding discounted prices, but many of the top activities don’t seem to discount much.
- Ziplining at ClimbWorks
- ATV Tour and Jungle Expedition Tour at Kualoa Ranch
- Waimea Falls on the North Shore
- Surfing at White Plains Beach
- Visiting Waikiki Beach
Ziplining May Change Your Life!
Before Oahu, I had never tried ziplining. It always seemed a bit scary to me, dangling so far above the ground by a wire. However on this trip, I wanted to try something fun and adventurous with my partner, Alfy, so I booked us at Climbworks Zipline.
There are many places to zip line on Oahu, but Climbworks had a lot of positive Yelp reviews. There’s a popular zipline on Kualoa Ranch, too. The cost of Climbworks was ~$159 per person.
This is when I’m happy that we saved so much money on the flights so that we can afford splurge activities like this!
Climbworks is really focused on safety, and I felt very safe in their hands. There was an 8-year-old kid in our group of 12, and I thought that if he can do it, so can I. We had 3 guides who helped us during the zips.
They were all very fun and often cracked jokes. I feel like we lucked out with such entertaining guides.
We went through 7 zip lines, including 1 practice one. Each zip line was separated by a short hike or another challenge, such as grappling up to the next perch…
… a suspension bridge…
Along the way, we briefly learned about Hawaiian history and culture. We even got to taste some fruit and nuts local to the area, like macadamia nuts, bananas, and grape tomatoes.
The tour lasted ~3 hours in total. We definitely got our money’s worth (though it is very expensive!!) and I can’t wait to try zip lining wherever I go.
ATV Tour and Jungle Expedition Tour at Kualoa Ranch
One day, we invited our friends Christina and Cody to join us for a Kualoa Ranch tour. Here’s what Christina (who also lives in Hawaii!) had to say about the ranch:
Christina: A lot of people come to Hawaii for surf, sun, and sand, but Hawaii’s non-beach activities are not to be overlooked. There are many great hikes, historical spots, as well as activities such as ziplining and horseback riding. One place where you can do it all is at Kualoa Ranch on Oahu. Located on the windward side of the island in Kaneohe, this 4,000-acre private nature reserve and cattle ranch really does have something for everyone.
Kualoa Ranch offers many types of tour packages. Some of the fun tours offered are the eBike Adventure Tour, Jurassic Valley Zipline Tour, Movie Sites Tour, Ocean Voyage Catamaran Tour, and Single Passenger ATV Tour. The tours vary in price, length, and requirements (such as age, height, and weight), so be sure to read the descriptions thoroughly before choosing one. We decided on the Adventure Package/Single Passenger ATV Tour. This tour included a 1-hour guided ATV tour, two 90-minute Hawaiian Experience tours, and an all-you-can-eat buffet lunch.
Kualoa Ranch Arrival Information
We arrived to Kualoa Ranch at 7:30 am, which is when they open. The email confirmation requested a 7:45 am check-in time. You walk up the stairs and into the visitor center, which is a large gift shop and café where you can buy food and drinks, and use the restroom.
The ticket booth is behind the visitor center, where you collect your wristbands and arrival sheet. You then take your arrival sheet to the dining hall area, where they tell you what time your tour starts and where to go. Our first tour, the ATV tour, started at 8:45 am and is located on the opposite side of the ranch. There are plenty of fun spots for taking pictures, like next to horses and dinosaur skeletons.
We first wanted just a 2-hour ATV tour through Kualoa Ranch, but it was booked out for ~2 weeks. Thankfully, there was a combination ATV tour available on the day we wanted. The combo package came with a 1-hour ATV tour and 2 “experiences” or tours of our choice, plus a buffet lunch for ~$145. We chose the Jungle Expedition, which was a ~1-hour ride in a large jeep that fit ~20 people. There are military discounts if you are in the military or go with someone from the military. My friend is in the military, so this saved us ~$83. No one asked to see our IDs.
Christina: This was our first time riding an ATV and we were expecting it to go fast. The vehicles top out at about 12 mph, which is good for those who want a leisurely ride, but bad for those who feel the need for speed. Being a first-timer, it was probably a good thing that it wasn’t very fast. We all followed each other in a line and our leader lead the way into “Jurassic Valley.”
The ranch, also referred to as the “backlot of Oahu,” is an active filming location for many television shows and films such as Hawaii 5-0, Jurassic World, and Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. Our ride through the valley drove us past many filming locations. We had a photo op with giant paw prints at the Godzilla filming spot.
Emily: We watched a brief safety video, and then climbed on top of the ATVs. We then followed the tour guide around the ranch and into the valley where several blockbuster movies were filmed.
It was a gorgeous, unspoiled view that was spectacular. We got out and spent about 5 minutes taking pictures before we had to turn around and go back. The tour was probably ~10 minutes for the safety video and boarding, 20 minutes on the ATV, 5 to 10 minutes for pictures, and a 20-minute ride back. To me, it was a very short ride and I felt like I wanted to have a few more stops to get out, enjoy the view at a relaxed pace, and take pictures. So the 2-hour package might be preferable.
Christina: Next was our first Hawaiian Experience choice that came with our package. Some of the choices you can choose from are Ocean Voyaging, Secret Island, Jungle Expedition, and Movie Sites and Ranch Tour. We did the Jungle Expedition and it was awesome!
We hopped on the 6-wheel jungle vehicle and took a bumpy ride through the jungles of Hakapu’u. Throughout the expedition, our guide explained the history of the valley and sites that we passed along the way.
We had a slow ride down into the jungle and saw many famous sites, including the Jurassic Park wall…
… and we learned about everything from kukui nuts to Hawaiian gods, to taro root, to materials used for movie props that were on the route. The scenery was beautiful.
Along the way, we learned a little bit about the ranch and Hawaiian history.
We got out twice to take pictures.
The ride back to the ranch was the most fun. We were warned to strap our seat belts, and I’m glad I did because we had a fun, fast ride back! It was exhilarating going so fast over the bumps and around the corners.
Kualoa Ranch Buffet
The buffet included with our combination ticket was actually very good. It came with 3 protein options – ribs, chicken, and chili.
Christina: Lunch was next and it was surprisingly good. The items offered were limited, but it had just enough variety for even the pickiest eaters. You can eat as long as you want until roll call for the next activity.
There was rice, salad, and fresh pineapple. Cake was served for dessert, and you could get water or a fruit punch drink.
All of us loved our food. I really liked the ribs, Alfy liked the chicken, and Christina and her husband loved the chili.
The cake was a little dry, so I might skip that. But we thought the buffet was a good value and wouldn’t mind eating there again.
It started raining after lunch, and it was pretty cold and windy by the coast. We decided to ditch our last tour, which was a boat tour.
Christina: We ended our tour after lunch and did not do our third activity. It was a wet day and visibility wasn’t the best. Even with skipping the last activity, we felt that we got our money’s worth with everything else. If you are planning a trip to Oahu and are looking for something different to do, check out Kualoa Ranch!
Waimea Falls is located on the north side of the island, so another day we ventured up there with our friends Christina and Cody. The entrance fee to the park is ~$16, and it’s a gorgeous stroll to the waterfalls. Again, there are military discounts, but they are very strict and you have to show your ID.
You don’t have to be fit to hike to the falls. Along the way, you will see many pretty sights.
This is a real family-friendly activity. We wore our daughter in a carrier, but you can also take a stroller on the paths.
Once you reach the falls, you can go swimming. You have to wear a life vest, and there’s a place to change your clothes. It wasn’t too busy when we went, but I can see it getting overly busy in the summer. The weather was a bit chilly when we went in March.
Surfing at White Plains Beach
The day after we arrived, Cody took us to White Plains Beach. This is a great beach for surfing because the water is shallow and the waves are smaller. The beach is kind of hidden, so it’s not as crowded as other beaches.
They started the surfing lesson over cold beers (while I drank some wine). There’s a surfboard rental station at this beach, so Alfy rented a board. It’s helpful to wear a surf shirt (otherwise Cody said your nipples get burned off) and coral shoes (Alfy cut his feet up pretty bad).
Cody went over the paddling position with Alfy.
Surfing requires a lot of upper body strength, and it’s tough to actually get up on a wave. It’s about balance and timing. While Cody and Alfy surfed, the baby and I hung out on the beach. She loved the sand and started practicing her own surfboard paddle.
We went to Waikiki on our last day. It was much prettier than I thought, and it wasn’t too busy either! I thought it’d be fun to return and spend more time. We took a few pics on the beach.
It wasn’t overly crowded. We found free parking just a few minutes walk from the beach, but I can imagine it is very crowded during the summer and on weekends.
Arya was a little too small (and the water was a bit too cold) to wade in the water, but she loved exploring the sand and beach.
I love Hawaii because there are beautiful beaches, mountains, great food, and friendly people. And our ~$11 round-trip flights make it even more attractive!
Where to Eat in Oahu
1. Moku Kitchen
In Honolulu, one of my favorite restaurants was Moku Kitchen for “New American” tapas-style food.
It’s located in the trendy neighborhood of Kakaako.
Their menu can get expensive.
But everything tends to be expensive in Hawaii.
We ordered the bulgogi tacos and duck tacos…
… and preferred the bulgogi ones. They were a lot more flavorful!
We also tried a BBQ chicken pizza, which was a little too greasy/heavy and bland.
We ordered the kalua pork pizza after that, and it was much better!
Alfy invited his old school friend Miles, and I got to meet his wife and their young son.
2. Liliha Bakery
One of my favorite places turned out to be Liliha Bakery, down the street from our Airbnb. I bought a cake there and brought it to my friend’s dinner at home, and was anxious to try their food. I waited a few minutes to have a seat at the bar. Their menu wasn’t overly expensive.
Alfy ordered the country style omelette, I got 2 eggs, and we shared hot cakes.
I got my favorite – eggs, sausage, and this time, a side of brown rice. I much prefer rice over white/wheat bread!
Another day, we went to Egghead for brunch. There was a ~20-minute wait because this restaurant is located in a trendy part of town.
There are some interesting spins on traditional favorites, including s’mores pancakes and crab meat eggs benedict.
I got the pancake trio.
Alfy and Christina got eggs benedict and an omelette.
The benedict sandwich was delicious.
I also really liked the furikake sweet potato fries. Furikake is a seasoning that adds complex flavor to the food!
I liked Egghead, but Liliha Bakery was better. Sometimes the neighborhood diners are better than the trendy brunch places, and this was no exception!
4. Green World Coffee
Green World Coffee is on the north side of the island. It’s a great stop if you are on your way to Waimea Falls.
They have many free samples you can try. The coffee is strong and they roast/grind it on site.
The prices are similar to what you’d pay on the mainland.
I thought this was a good place to buy some coffee gifts for my caffeine-addicted friends.
5. Papa Ole’s
If you’re on the west side of the island near Climbworks, don’t miss the peanut butter rolls at Papa Ole’s! I would LOVE to go back here and have these for a delicious snack. YUM! I’m not even sure if they are on the menu, but do me a favor. Don’t miss this place! I’m still brainstorming ways I can replicate their peanut butter sauce at home (peanut butter, sweetened condensed milk, cream?).
We also had a loco moco and garlic chicken, but to me, the peanut butter rolls stole the show!
6. Teddy’s Bigger Burgers
Teddy’s actually has several restaurant locations around the US and even internationally. I had never heard of the chain until I went to Hawaii! Everything is very filling, so plan on sharing a burger and fries. Their milkshakes were very good, too! I think the mini would have suited me just fine!
Alfy got the Volcano, I got the Spudtado, and we shared the garlic fries.
I wasn’t too impressed with the garlic fries and would try the umami-style fries next time!
7. Village Bottle Shop & Tasting Room
One day after exploring Kakaako, we went to the Village Bottle Shop & Tasting Room. They have a ton of beers to choose from. I tried one of their ciders, which was light and refreshing!
There’s plenty of room to sit at the bar. We went during the day, but I know this place picks up a lot at night.
8. Uncle Clay’s House of Pure Aloha
Those of you have read my Japan trip reports know that I have a soft spot for Japanese shave ice. I love the light, sweet flavor combinations. If you also like shave ice, be sure to visit Uncle Clay’s House of Pure Aloha. This was a reader recommendation for where to eat in Oahu! Their desserts are made from all-natural fruit and from local Hawaii suppliers.
You Can Travel to Hawaii Using Miles & Points, Too!
1. American Airlines Miles
We paid ~45,000 American Airlines miles and ~$11 in taxes and fees each to book a round-trip award flight to Hawaii. That’s 90,000 miles and ~$22 for 2 round-trip tickets!
Need more American Airlines miles? The best American Airlines credit cards for cheap flights to Hawaii include:
- American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp℠ Card – Here’s our review of the Citi MileUp card – it has no annual fee!
- Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard® – Check out our review of the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select
- CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Mastercard® – Folks who qualify for small business cards can crush it with the CitiBusiness American Airlines 70,000-mile offer!
2. Using Chase Ultimate Rewards Points
Chase Ultimate Rewards points are extremely useful if you’re looking to save money on flights to Hawaii. You can transfer points directly to British Airways, Singapore Airlines, and other great airlines to book award flights.
You can earn enough Chase Ultimate Rewards points to book 2 round-trip award flights to Hawaii with just a single sign-up bonus! For example, folks on the West Coast could transfer just 25,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points to British Airways and book a round-trip flight on American Airlines or Alaska Airlines. So consider lucrative offers on cards like Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Sapphire Reserve, or Chase Ink Business Preferred cards!
|Card||Sign-Up Bonus & Minimum Spending Requirements||Our Review|
|Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card||80,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after spending $5,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of opening your account||Read why this is the top card pick for small business owners|
|Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card||50,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of opening your account||The #1 card for beginners|
|Chase Sapphire Reserve®||50,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of opening your account||Lots of folks love this premium credit card because of the ongoing perks!|
3. Using AMEX Membership Rewards Points
Check out this post on all the ways to use AMEX Membership Rewards points to get to Hawaii.
Don’t forget that Southwest will be adding Hawaii to their flight route later in 2018 or early 2019, so if you have Chase Ultimate Rewards or Southwest points, it should be another good way to redeem them!
We paid 45,000 American Airlines miles and ~$11 in taxes and fees each to travel to Hawaii. That’s 90,000 miles and ~$22 for 2 round-trip tickets! I recommend applying for cards like the CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Mastercard® and American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp℠ Card if you want to boost your balance of American Airlines miles!
There are dozens of hotels in Hawaii you can book with points. Use Hotel Hustle or Award Mapper to find hotel award night rates. We decided to stay in an Airbnb because we like having extra space for the baby!
It’s a good idea to rent a car to travel around Oahu. A couple of highlights from our trip included ziplining on the west side and visiting legendary Kualoa Farms, which is where Jurassic Park and other blockbusters were filmed!