Oahu on $250 per Day

Destinations, Hawaii, North America, United States — By on June 8, 2010 at 6:00 am

By Molly Fergus
Deputy Editor, Travel News

Hawaii’s always been sort of low on my must-visit list. Not because I didn’t want to see the islands’ lush volcanoes and pristine surf, but because the 10-hour flight and fat price tag to visit the country’s 50th state just never seemed doable on my entry-level salary.

But, shame on me, I never actually priced a getaway to the islands, arguably the most foreign destination within the U.S. So when the Oahu Visitors Bureau invited me to check out the most populated isle in the state, I was delighted to discover that jetting across the Pacific doesn’t take that many greenbacks. In fact, I’ve figured out a way for two people to plan a seven-day trip on less than $250 a person per day (on average, including the flight). After all, once you’re there, watching surfers catch Waikiki waves is always free.

Sleep at Aqua Bamboo and Spa
Name brand mega-resorts and ritzy luxury hotels line the crowded Waikiki beachfront – the first in the country built specifically to attract tourists – but it’s the small boutique hotels that score big in terms of value and personality. Tucked just two blocks away from Waikiki, this just-renovated, 93-room property boasts all the fixings for a relaxing stay: walking distance to most major Honolulu attractions; private balconies, or lanais, in most rooms; a small saltwater swimming pool and hot tub onsite; a day spa with signature Hawaiian treatments (the Lomi Lomi is on my list for any repeat visits); free breakfast; a complimentary cocktail reception midweek; and a younger, hipper clientele than some of the family-dominated resorts nearby.
; guestrooms starting at $55 per person each night, based on double occupancy

Splurge on Hawaiian Fire Surf School Lessons
Let’s be real: If there’s one activity worth spending money on in Hawaii, it’s learning to surf. And that investment is doubly justified when said instructors are hunky island firemen (and women).

Which is exactly why I was, well, stoked to check out the school. Founded 10 years ago as a way for these Hawaiian heroes to earn a little extra cash and fill the gaps between their firehouse shifts (in Oahu, firefighters typically work three 24-hour shifts in a nine-day period, which leaves plenty of time to hang ten), the school now tows two groups of newbie surfers to the southwest side of Oahu for lessons each morning.

For landlubbers (like me!), the learning environment is practically perfect: The package includes all transportation and equipment; the teacher-student ratio hovers at about one to three; Kalaeloa beach is blissfully free from jellyfish and sharks; and in the water, the firefighters tell all the students exactly when to hop on the board – until you’re ready to tackle that very first wave on your own, of course.
; half day surf class $109.

Save on Plate Lunches
As ubiquitous as a New York slice, Hawaii’s plate lunches are a budget traveler’s best lunchtime solution. Almost all supermarkets, convenience stores, and mom-and-pop restaurants dish out these three-course picnic platters during lunch hours for somewhere between $5 and $7. Entrée choices vary, but count on a cold macaroni side salad  — if you’re really lucky (or ina  touristy spot), you might score the occasional slice of fresh pineapple.

Sway those Hips during Free Hula Lessons
It’s easy to write off modern-day hula stereotypes as too touristy, but the Royal Hawaiian Center’s free lessons are about as legit as they come in Waikiki (no grass skirts in sight). The beachside shopping and dining center offers free hula lessons Monday through Thursday to infuse the scene with some authenticity — but don’t get too cocky before trying, the moves are way harder than they look.

Indulge at Doraku Sushi
With a large population of Japanese immigrants and an almost embarrassing glut of fresh seafood, it’s no surprise that Hawaii’s sushi selections are top notch. Still, I’ve never dined on sushi that truly floored me until I dug into the sashimi selections, tempura creations, and even beef (yes, beef!) rolls at Doraku Sushi. Executive Chef Hide Yoshimoto took over at this sleek South Beach, FL import and promptly stocked the menu with vibrant and sometimes unexpected flavors. One of my favorites rolled a staggering amount of seafood – tuna, salmon, scallop, ika shrimp, and crab meat – with garlic aioli into something called the “Double Happiness” (it definitely lived up to its name). Rolls cost between $11 and $17, so Doraku isn’t cheap, but it’s certainly a worthy vacation splurge.
Average dinner: $60

Imbibe off the Beach
It’s tough to cut the cocktail budget on any vacation, but you shouldn’t have to sip overpriced Mai Tais all trip long. I found tons of affordable – and some downright cheap – watering holes just one block away from the beach on Kuhio Avenue. One pick: Mad Dog Saloon, a bare-bones bar with $2.75 well drinks from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day, not to mention a great D.J. and hopping crowd on the Sunday I hit the dance floor.

Find a Flight
Considering that Hawaii sits in the middle of the Pacific, exactly 3,612 miles from California and 4,051 miles from Japan, flights from the mainland to Honolulu are remarkably wallet-friendly. This August, New York flights hover around $700; itineraries from Chicago cost about $600; and trips from the West Coast dip as low as $400. Average flight: $566

Do the Math
Flight (on average): $566
Six nights’ accommodations (per person): $330
Food, at $50 per day: $350
Miscellaneous expenses, at $25 per day: $175
Fire Surf School: $109
Dinner at Doraku: $60
Grand total: $1,590 for seven days
Per day cost, including flight: $227.14

Thumbnail courtesy of Aqua Bamboo and Spa


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  • Melia Alliman says:

    Eric, Excellent. Grandma’s father Jose Maria Alvarado is buried at an unmark grave at 6000 Santa Monica Boulevard in Hollywood. Great grandmother Jessie is buried at San Fernando Mission Cemetery. My mid 1970s family history project went to Aunt Dolly Tate in late 1991 before I moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico. Anything on Aunt Jovita who moved to New Zealand ? I met her once when she and Grandma visited our 3500 Prospect Avenue home in La Crescenta. You certainly did your homework.

  • Giuseppe Thornbury says:

    You decidedly put a new spin on a topic that’s been written about for years. Remarkable stuff, just great! I enjoy reading a post that will make people think, thanks and we want more! Added to FeedBurner as well.