Local’s Guide to Visiting Oahu

Local's Guide to Visiting Oahu

My dear friend Sarah Khandjian of Sarah Hearts will be visiting Oahu for the first time in May, so she asked for a few recommendations. Since we just got back from there (where my entire family still lives), everything was fresh in my mind–and I may have gotten a little carried away! If you’re looking for awesome places to eat, play, and shop that both locals and visitors enjoy, this is the post for you.

Honolulu: By Honolulu, I don’t mean Waikiki. I really don’t like to go to Waikiki because it’s such a weird place full of other people’s ideas of what they think Hawaii is supposed to be like. It’s fun for a couple of days and then it gets old. Here are a few places we love that are just outside of Waikiki, in the parts of Honolulu that locals actually go to

Kaimuki: A warning that this neighborhood isn’t very pretty but is chock full of great little gems. My sister lives around here, so we’ve done our fair share of exploring! Most of the things we love are food related. You can have breakfast, lunch, or dinner at Town (so delicious!), coffee at Coffee Talk, or dim sum at Happy Days. I adore the Sugarcane boutique. You can also drive up the road to Kahala Mall where there are more boutiques, a Whole Foods (if you want to stock up for your hotel/condo/cottage), and some good restaurants.

Hawaii Kai: Just past Kaimuki and Kahala is Hawaii Kai, home to beautiful beaches. If you like to snorkel, head to Hanauma Bay. You might even see some turtles there!

Local's Guide to Visiting Oahu

Chinatown: Eat lunch or dinner at The Pig and the Lady, visit the authentic lei stands (that locals actually go to!), and if you can, catch a show at the historic Hawaii Theatre.

Local's Guide to Visiting Oahu

The Windward Side: We always stay in Kailua, even though it’s not really near anyone we know, because it’s so beautiful. The drive in and out of the Windward side always makes us feel like we’re heading into Jurassic Park. If you’re in the market for accommodations, there are lots of good ones out here–usually $150 or less, with a kitchenette and free parking. This one has been our favorite. Here are some other things we love in this laid back area:

Ho’omaluhia Botanical GardensI’ll pause here to say that I’m not really a botanical gardens kind of person, but this place is so magical and breathtaking that we make an effort to go every time we’re in Hawaii. It’s tranquil and lush. There are lots of places to sit and enjoy the atmosphere, so it’s a great place to bring a picnic.

Valley of the TemplesWe like to go here because it’s a little like popping into some gorgeous part of Japan for an hour or so. You can ring the gong, enjoy the koi, visit the big Buddha, and take some incredible photos.

Lanikai Beach

Boots & Kimo’s and Cinnamon’s are both Kailua institutions for breakfast or brunch. You’ll need a nap after eating at either!



North Shore: You can drive from Kailua to the North Shore along Kamehameha Highway, which is very scenic. The route takes you along the perimeter of the island, through some VERY down home country towns. When we did it last week, we saw a bunch of signs that said things like, “Keep the country country!” Which probably sounds really southern, but actually means that they don’t want any strip malls on their beachfront properties.

Waimea Bay: Basically all you could ever hope for in a beach in Hawaii. I like to try to get there on the earlier side or else it can be difficult to find parking.

Hale’iwa Town: This is a little surf town and I just love it! If you only visit one of the places from this email, I think it should be Hale’iwa. It’s just so charming. We like Papoku’s for lunch (a real, Hawaii style plate lunch), Matsumoto’s for shave ice, and all of the little stores that line the streets.

Oh, now I’m homesick all over again!

P.S. Previous Oahu recommendations: Part 1 and Part 2

Burning Out; Burning Bright

Burnt Out; Burning Bright

Contrary to evidence otherwise, I haven’t slipped out the back door of this blog never to appear again. Life just got incredibly full for awhile–the kind of full that results from blizzard after blizzard pushing plans this way and that until they all have to happen in a much more rapid succession than anyone planned. There have been great highs, unexpected lows–but mostly, it’s just been ridiculously busy.

Finally, I’m catching my breath.

As I write this, I’m sitting in a cottage on the east side of Oahu, the island on which I grew up. Trade winds are pushing their way through the Ti leaf plants and then past the curtains. The clouds are threatening rain, which, at this point, is a little like an adorable child trying (unsuccessfully) to be frightening. We love the fat, warm raindrops and the rainbows that come afterward. I love that someone is mowing their grass right now–how many days have passed since the last time I heard that sound?

This is the third year James has come home with me, and for the first time we aren’t skidding across the island, trying to cram in visits with friends and family. After the year of hospital stays, Lyme disease, huge projects, a gigantic office move (for James), and storm after storm, we made the decision to actually do in Hawaii what normal people do: relax.

I have big news to share with you in a few days, but for the time being I’ll be hanging out with my favorite people–my family–eating delicious things, hanging out on the beach, and generally remembering what it’s like to breathe again.

Love, Joy

P.S. Some of my favorite places on Oahu.

Miniature Musubi

Mini Musubi Party Appetizer // Frock Files

It’s taken me awhile to post this recipe because I often receive comments and emails asking for recipes to be vegan. But then I realized: Aha! Top this with avocado or cucumbers (vegan) or egg (vegetarian) or chicken/tuna (everyone who’s scared of Spam), and you’re all set.

Spam musubi (moo-soo-BEE) is one of those foods from Hawaii that people are leery of until they try them. And then they’re huuuuuuuge fans. I’ve seen the magic happen with my own eyes. James will attest to being a convert, himself!

And in miniature, I think these are the perfect little appetizer for warm weather parties.

Mini Musubi Party Appetizer // Frock Files


3 cups cooked white rice
2 slices Spam
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup sugar
Nori (15 strips cut to approximately 3/4″ x 3 1/2″)


1. Brown the Spam in a frying pan. While it’s browning, mix the soy sauce and sugar in a bowl, then transfer it to a flat, rimmed plate, baking dish, or bowl.

2. Place the browned Spam into the soy sauce/sugar marinade. After five minutes, flip the Spam over. After another five minutes, pan fry the Spam until it reaches the desired doneness. (Some people like it REALLY dark. I like mine golden brown.) Slice each piece into 5 even strips.

3. Form the rice into small, long pieces like nigiri. You can do this by wetting your hands with water, forming a small amount of rice into a ball, and shaping it in the space between your palm and your second knuckle. This video gives a great tutorial on shaping the rice:

4. Wrap each with a strip of nori. Seal the ends with water. Try not to eat them all by yourself!

Frock Files | More Simple Recipes

Lovely Things in Hawaii

Frock Files in Hawaii 2013Frock Files in Hawaii 2013Frock Files in Hawaii 2013Frock Files in Hawaii 2013Frock Files in Hawaii 2013 Frock Files in Hawaii 2013

Now that we’ve been home for a couple of weeks, I finally sat down and pulled together some of the photos of our time there. These are a few of my favorite things, including the chapel outside the Wai’oli Tea Room, dessert with the Professors Dawson at JJ’s, flowers in the gardens at the Spalding House, and breakfast with my family at Town. Of course, my niece Jolie ranks at the top of that list!


More Oahu Treasures

Frock Files: Oahu Recommendations

We’re back! If you’ve been following along on my Instagram feed, you already know that we had a wonderful trip full of time with my family. Going home always gets our wheels turning about how we could spend part of the year (say, January through April?) in Hawaii, if only we could figure out a way. Does anyone have a couple mil to spare? We’ve got our eye on the cute neighborhood where we rent our vacation cottage.

Quite a few people have asked for Oahu recommendations, and I remembered that I listed a bunch of good places to eat in this City Guide when I got back from my annual pilgrimage last year. I have even more places to add this time around. Hawaii just gets better with age!

Frock Files: Oahu RecommendationsHoliday Palms Cottage: We loved staying in this little cottage on the Windward side of the island. The area is the definition of lush, with unbelievably green mountains and to-die-for views of the ocean as you drive in.

The cottage itself is cozy, clean, and bright, with a comfortable bed and, perhaps most importantly, air conditioning! There is also a great little private outdoor patio with a table and a grill. We loved the neighborhood, which is a five minute walk from the beach and just a couple of blocks from lots of restaurants and shops, including the brand new Whole Foods. Not to worry, lots of independent boutiques and eateries are scattered in with the bigger stores.

Frock Files: Oahu RecommendationsHo’omaluhia Botanical Gardens: I feel like I’m letting you in on a secret here, because the gardens are almost always empty when I visit them but they’re one of the best things on the island. These gardens are my idea of Eden. The land is divided by the geographic areas from which the plants hail. There really aren’t any words to describe how beautiful it is there. Camping is allowed, so if you’re adventurous (I’m not), you could even pitch a tent and skip the cost of accommodations all together!

Sugarcane: You may remember that we bought a mirror from Sugarcane last year. Over the course of the year, owner Jill and I became great fans of each other’s Instagram feeds, and I’ve fallen even more in love with her shop. Let me tell you, if I hadn’t already finished most of my Christmas shopping, I could’ve done it all at Jill’s boutique. Vintage teacups, cute t-shirts, and bright pillows line the shelves here. You can even take home a little beach in a jar for your friends who can’t make the trip themselves. My favorite: seeing an array of Ten Things jewelry in real life. I’m such a big fan of Kerri’s! I bought one of her turquoise bracelets and I’m positive it’s good luck.

Frock Files: Oahu RecommendationsThe Spalding House: Up in hills above Honolulu sits this magical piece of land. The 3.5 acre property (almost unheard of in Hawaii) was once owned by the Cookes of Castle and Cooke. Today, it’s owned by the Honolulu Museum of Art. The home was turned into a gallery which houses rotating exhibits of contemporary artwork. But the real treat is the beautifully manicured garden, the sloping lawn, and the view of Diamond Head that is perfectly framed by two Banyan Trees.

We enjoyed all these places and some of the ones from the City Guide before flying out last Tuesday night. On the way home, we stayed in LA for a day to decompress and break up the trip, and most importantly, to have dinner with my oldest friend and his completely lovely girlfriend. Now we’re home and somewhat surprised to find ourselves preparing for Christmas!

And in case you’re wondering, yes, we’re already preparing for the next visit.

P.S. Want more Oahu recommendations? Check out my City Guide for Honolulu.

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