A Family Guide to Fun on Oahu

Oahu is a great island to choose for your Hawaiian vacation. It is the easiest to fly to and there are so many hikes, beaches, coves, and other attractions to keep you as busy or relaxed as you want to be. Here’s some tips and ideas for your next trip to Oahu!

1. Line up early for Haleiwa Joe’s.

This popular restaurant has two locations, one in Haleiwa on the North Shore and one in Kaneohe on the windward side. We ate at the Kaneohe location. We arrived promptly at 4:25 and the restaurant opens at 4:30. There was already a long line, and we wondered if we would make the first round of seating. Luckily we only had to wait about five minutes to be seated, but that tells you just how popular and crowded the restaurant is! It’s known for it’s massive prime rib, which the hubby ordered. No pictures of it because you know, unruly kids. I had the baked catch of the day and it was topped with crab and amazing. The restaurant is perched above a hidden garden and pond, not visible from the parking lot. After dinner the kids enjoyed running down the big hill, out onto the dock, and looking at the fish. The grownups just tried to keep up and tried to keep them from falling in!

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2. Spend a day at Bellows Beach.

This gorgeous beach was not crowded, and the waves were fairly calm. Part of the beach access is restricted to military, and part is open to the public. Most of us enjoyed a calm day floating in the turquoise water. Our daughter however, was not a fan. She’s never really been a fan of the beach. We were hopeful that the warmer water and weather would crack her, but no such luck. She spent most of the day on the beach blanket. She much preferred swimming in the pool.IMG_7656IMG_7740

3. Have a drink and enjoy the view at Turtle Bay.

The pool bar at Turtle Bay serves up pricey, but delicious drinks and food with a beautiful view of the bay. There is room for kids to roam without going to far. Our daughter quickly made friends with some other kiddos and played in the grass near our table while we relaxed in our seats. IMG_7874

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4. Hike the Lanikai Pillboxes.

I will warn the folks with young children that this isn’t exactly an easy hike, but can be done baby wearing or carrying on shoulders as my husband did. The onset of the hike is a little steep, and the path is rocky, dusty, and can be a little slippery. So exercise caution! The trailhead lies in a neighborhood, we had a local friend with us to show us exactly where to go and where to park-very helpful. Be careful where you park, do NOT park in a bike lane unless you want to spend part of your vacation dealing with a tow company! The view from this hike is well worth it, don’t stop at the first pillbox, keep going to the second. You’ll be happy you did!IMG_7957IMG_7959IMG_8049

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Depending our your kids, be prepared to carry them. It was a little too much for our almost three year old. Our friend’s four year old can do it no problem though.

5. Eat breakfast with Mickey.

Disney has a resort in Ko Olina called Aulani. As you would expect, it is not cheap to stay there. Even if it’s not in the budget to stay, consider visiting for a breakfast with Mickey. These breakfasts are open to the public, but don’t forget to make a reservation! Adults were $35 each, and kids under 3 were free. Before breakfast you get a chance to meet Mickey and have your picture taken with him. Hand your camera to the photographers so you don’t have to buy the picture package. Once you have met Mickey, you will be taken to your table. The breakfast is served buffet style and includes Mickey waffles, fruit, yogurt, an omelet station, a few Hawaiian dishes, Asian dishes, cold cuts, pastries, and a variety of other things. The food was tasty, everyone in our party was fully satisfied. Minnie and Goofy will also make their rounds to your table for pictures. “Aunty” leads the breakfast, walking around playing the ukulele and singing. She invites the kids to interact with her several times, giving them chances to play instruments and dance together. Photo 0022IMG_8201

6. Sample shrimp on the North Shore.

Giovanni’s shrimp truck is the most talked about for shrimp so we did what many other tourists do and drove out to try a plate. We opted for the scampi, the most popular. It was indeed delicious, as everyone says it is. My husband wasn’t overly impressed, thought it was good, but didn’t necessarily agree with all the fuss about it. Bring wet wipes, the shrimp are served shell on, so you will have to get a little dirty! Also be prepared for literally buses full of tourists. When we arrived there was no line, but we saw a tour bus come in with a big group. There is also a shave ice truck at this location in Kahuku, but you may want to hold out for Matsumoto’s in Haleiwa or visit Giovanni’s in Haleiwa then go over to Matsumoto’s after. If you’re not in the mood for shave ice in Haleiwa, I highly recommend Island Vintage Coffee right across the plaza. I had a super delicious, frappucino-like drink, with coconut and macadamia nut there. Yum!!IMG_4948

7. See the show at the Polynesian Cultural Center.

The PCC (for short) is also on the North Shore. We went because we were told it was the best luau on the island. While I can’t quite say it was a luau, we did enjoy the show “Ha: Breath of Life.” I think of a traditional luau as being on the beach, the pig being cooked in the sand, a big buffet of Hawaiian food, and a show on a stage featuring hula and fire dancing.

At the PCC we showed up and entered a huge food hall for a buffet dinner. The type of ticket we bought was for the American style food, there was also a more expensive option for Hawaiian style food. The dinner was OK, but nothing particularly special. If we were to do it again, I would just eat dinner somewhere else and show up for the show. If you’ve been at the PCC all day, it probably is just more convenient to eat there or at one of the other restaurants located on the grounds. The dinner just lacked a little of the ambiance that you would have eating on the beach at sunset, surrounded by tiki torches.

After dinner we wandered the marketplace where you can buy any type of tropical souvenir imaginable. You could even get a tribal tattoo airbrushed on, I saw many people walking around with them on their faces! The show is in a large amphitheater with a volcano as the backdrop. The show is lengthy at two hours, with an intermission. We weren’t sure that our kids would make it through the whole thing, but they did! We were impressed with the effects, live music, and variety of dancing. The show was highly entertaining and had a moving storyline. It showcased dances from the different island nations represented in the PCC villages.  I imagine it would be easy to spend an entire day here. We felt it might be a little much for our young children, but I think older kids would definitely be entertained. My impression was the PCC seems like Disneyland of the Polynesian islands.

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She’s trying to do the “shaka” with the Shaka statue.

Last Stops in Barcelona

Our time in Barcelona ended with a walking tour of the old city and Gothic Quarter.  I wish we would’ve been able to do it at the beginning of our time there.  I always like doing a tour toward the beginning because you can find things you’d like to go back to and it gives you a good overview of the history and feel of the city.

Another beautiful church,  the Barcelona Cathedral.
Art by Picasso on a public building.  It actually has 3 large murals by the artist.
Gorgeous fountain in the park.
Arc du Triomphe, Spanish Style.
Cathedral at Night.
Ending with tapas and sangria.

We loved Barcelona!  The city is beautiful, easy to get around, right on the water, and has tons to do and see.  This really sparked my interest in wanting to see more of Spain.  I’m hoping to get to southern Spain before our time in Europe is over.  For now though I’m so happy we were able to visit Barcelona, I would highly recommend it to anyone!  Another city to add to our list of favorites over here!

Barcelona & Gaudi

After our long morning at the Sagrada Familia, we decided to try and squeeze in one more major sight.  We jumped on the metro and made our way to Parc Guell.  It was designed by Gaudi and intended to be an exclusive living community.  It was never fully realized and now is an interesting and unique park for visitors and locals alike.

Curvy mosaic benches.
Hubby and I are making our best “try to act normal” faces, as by this point we have amassed a large group of Asian tourists laughing and cooing at Baby Girl.

View of the Sagrada Familia in the distance.

This mosaic lizard is famous in Barcelona.  You can find many variations of him being sold in every tourist shop.
This building was not designed by Gaudi, but he did live in it for a time.

 This park has very iconic features in it.  It is really interesting to think about what it could’ve been like had it really been turned into a residential neighborhood.  It would have been a very colorful and vivacious place to live!  Gaudi has 2 other very well known buildings back in the central area of Barcelona.  You can buy tickets to go inside both but we chose to just take a look from the outside.

This is Casa Batllo.  Our photography doesn’t do it any justice, but you can see that the balconies are designed to look like skulls.  Also on the top of the building, it looks like a dragon or lizard’s back.  Casa Batllo is on what’s know as “the block of discord” because there are 2 other buildings designed in very elaborate, but very different styles.

The final one is La Pedrera or Casa Mila.  If you were to Google it, you would be able to see some images of the strange decorations on this building.  The roof is supposed to be the highlight.  It undulates up and down and has many intriguing sculptures.  It is very surprising to come upon these buildings that stand out so much from their surroundings.  They are right in the middle of the city, on main streets, surrounded by shops and restaurants.

Those are the Gaudi highlights of Barcelona.  You can see why he was so important to the city.  He had such a distinctive style and is thought to be very ahead of his time.  If you have any kind of interest in architecture and design, you would love to go around the city admiring his work!

Sagrada Familia

Barcelona is the city of Antoni Gaudi, a spanish architect responsible for numerous iconic buildings in the city.  The most grand of which is the Basilica de la Sagrada Familia.  Construction on it began in the 1880’s and continues to this day.  At first we were a little disappointed to think we were going to go see an incomplete cathedral covered in scaffolding and cranes.  Then we thought about it and realized there aren’t many other churches like this still being built today.  So it’s a very special opportunity to see something of this scale and this type of design while it’s still under construction.  I know there are new sky scrapers being built all the time but this is different.  This was designed over 100 years ago, is a mix of different aesthetic styles, and the building itself is a work of art.  I hope to return one day when it is complete to see the final masterpiece.

Nativity Facade-first completed facade.

The first part of the basilica we came upon was the Nativity facade.  It was the first one completed and is the only facade reflecting Gaudi’s true style.  As you can see it’s extremely busy, ornate, and strange looking.  It does not look like your typical European church!  This facade has several scenes depicting the birth of Jesus and  his early life.  There are also the Passion facade depicting the crucifixion of Jesus, and the Glory facade which will represent his resurrection.  Each facade looks extremely different from the other.  The Sagrada Familia has towers upon towers and even has mosaic fruit sculptures adorning it.

Right now the entrance is through the Passion Facade.  When you round the corner and see this compared to the Nativity Facade, it is extremely different.  This side is much more stark and austere.  The figures are sculpted in a very geometric style, it lends itself very well to the feelings of despair that accompany the death of Christ.  These sculptures were not designed by Gaudi but by Josep Maria  Subriachs.  Though Gaudi did leave detailed plans for future architects since he knew he would not live to see the cathedral completed.

Passion Facade.

Walking through the doors to enter the building.

When you enter the Sagrada Familia, the interior can really take your breath away.  It was designed to look like a forest.  The columns branch out like trees and the ceiling is covered in what is designed to look like palm fronds. Gaudi was a lover of nature and this is another way you can see his love reflected in his work.  The other really striking part of the interior is the array of colors reflecting through all the stained glass.

Even little girl was amazed the beautiful ceiling and surroundings!

View of the elaborate and gorgeous ceiling.
Light reflecting from the stained glass.
View of three windows, one of which is still incomplete.
View down the nave from what will become the main entrance when the Glory facade is completed.
Loving our time wandering the cathedral.
Forrest of columns.
Another view of the ceiling.

After spending easily over an hour just in the nave the audio guide led us back out to the Nativity facade.  You could spend hours staring at it and examining all the intricate details.  There is a mosaic “tree of life” in the center covered in doves.  Many say this facade looks as if it is melting.

Model of what the completed cathedral will look like.

Turtle carved into the base of a column.
Somebody had a great time on the tour!

The final area we toured was the museum underneath the cathedral.  There were original drawings by Gaudi, views into the workshop, videos about the construction, photos of the cathedral through various stages of construction, etc.  We throughly enjoyed our day at the basilica.  We spent much longer there than we had planned for.  It really is an amazing sight to see and probably my favorite church that I have visited.  Pictures can not do it justice, and it is so different than any other church you will see in Europe.  If you ever go to Barcelona this is definitely a “must!”

Barcelona

On a long weekend in November 2013 we were able to take a trip to sunny Barcelona. We loved the city, and the warm weather didn’t hurt either!  We flew in early in the morning so by the time we had arrived and checked into our hotel, we still had plenty of day left.  We stayed in the Eixample neighborhood just north of Placa Catalunya.  Barcelona has a great public transportation system but it was very walkable.  Most of the time we walked everywhere.  There was nothing particular on the agenda for the day except to explore.

We made it to Barcelona!

From wandering down through Placa Catalunya and Las Ramblas, we found La Boqueria-a large public market place similar to Pike’s Place Market in Seattle or Borough Market in London.  These markets are fun to visit because you can get a glimpse into the local cuisine and see some things that you aren’t used to seeing in your typical grocery store.  My favorite thing from this market was all the different juices.  There were several fruit stands also selling fresh fruit juices in countless combinations.  I had a strawberry-coconut juice and it was delicious!  Definitely go to the market hungry because there will be plenty of things catching your eye!

Entrance to La Boqueria
So many fruits and vegetables
Tons of candy
Sea urchins for sale.
She also enjoyed the market and the many people inside who stopped to tell her, “Que ojos! Muy guapa, muy bonita!”
Seafood including lots of octopi, gambas rojas or big prawns, and live lobsters and crabs on ice.

We continued down Las Ramblas eyeing all the shops and stands, keeping our eye out for pick-pocketers.  Supposedly if you are going to get pick-pocketed in Europe, that’s where it would happen.  But I’m happy to say we did not have any trouble at all.  We made it all the way down to the harbor and to the Columbus Monument.  It was put up to commemorate Columbus’ first trip to the Americas.  He reported back to Barcelona to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella after his journey.

We had been walking a while at this point so we decided to sit down on a bench to relax and figure out our next move.  Then this adorableness happened:

I took about a million more, but I will keep it to a minimum for now.  We decided to explore the Gothic Quarter and find a place to eat.  On the way we found this happy little guy…

The Gothic Quarter is a really interesting and charming area of town.  It is full of character with hidden plazas and churches, most of which we didn’t even find until we were lead through on a walking tour a couple days later.  We wandered a while then made our way to “happy hour” while we waited for some restaurants to open up for dinner.  We ended up having tapas and sangria, both of which were wonderful!

Walking the Gothic Quarter.

Finally it was off to bed to rest up for our next big day touring the Basilica de la Sagrada Familia, one of Europe’s most famous churches.