Oahu Photography Tours: Oh, the Places You’ll Go

With Oahu Photography Tour’s Circle Sunrise Island Tour, the first stop is the sunrise! There are few sites as beautiful as watching the sun come up on the horizon. Learning how to properly photograph it is a bonus. For us, we learned about exposure times while Koko Crater stood behind us. (Pro Tip: Underexposure is better than overexposure because it can be fixed.)

Sunrise shot

Rabbit Island was named because a business man released rabbits to feed his employees, and they bred faster than the employees could eat them. The rabbits are no longer there because of the damage they did to the environment, but the name stuck. Nearby Shark Island was named for the number of sharks found on the island… Okay, not really. It was named for its shark fin shape that comes out of the water. Makapu’u lighthouse sits in the background.

Rabbit And Shark Island
Rabbit And Shark Island

Waimanalo Bay is where we met “Sergio” and his amazing limo. This is also the place for the “portrait tree.” A stop for the great breakfast burrito at Kalapawai Market was accompanied by a local celebrity sighting! The Byodo-In Temple allowed us to feed birds from our hands!

We went through Sunset Beach, where the waves were too dangerous for the professional surf competition being held that week. We also went to the best shrimp place on the island – Fumi’s. We jumped over Chinaman’s Hat, saw where “Gilligan’s Island” was filmed, and finished with the kitsch that is the Dole Plantation. (So many pineapples, so little time.)

Every group will do something a little different depending on weather and the inclinations of the individuals in the group. A smaller tour group has its advantages, especially when they are all friends. If you want to know what places you’ll visit with Oahu Photography Tours, you’ll have to sign up and go!


Waikiki Grand Hotel by Castle

The first thing you need to know about Oahu hotels is that many of them have similar names. “The Waikiki Beach” hotel isn’t descriptive enough. You need to know the whole name. We were almost dropped off at the wrong hotel until I was able to qualify by using the entire name.

The Waikiki Grand Hotel by Castle is located across from the Honolulu Zoo and less than a block from the Kuhio and Queen’s Beaches. If it’s the beach you’ve come to see, there are few better locations and possibly none that offer such a great price. Just put on your flip flops, walk to the light, cross the street, and you’re there.

While the balcony we had faced the city, we used it and enjoyed it a lot. Mornings for breakfast with fresh fruit in the fridge and coffee in the 4-cup maker, the balcony made for a nice place to sit and eat while breathing in the warmth and fresh air. Evenings after the sun went down, it was a nice place for dinner or a snack, and with the buildings lit up, it was pretty to look at.

The view from our hotel room at the Waikiki Grand by Castle
The view from our hotel room at the Waikiki Grand by Castle

For the budget conscious, the combination of cooking amenities, utensils and dishware made it a lot easier to be okay with our food choices. The ABC Store located at the corner of our building offered several tasty items that only needed to be opened and eaten or microwaved.

The staff at the hotel is friendly and fun. They seem to enjoy their jobs and do their best to make sure guests have a good visit. The front desk staff is top notch.

There is a small lending library on site, so if you need a book for your beach trip, you can find one on their shelves for no cost! My wife and I found four books between us! We only read two, though.

For people who are light sleepers, be sure to bring earplugs. The birds in the morning can raise a ruckus and the slat windows do nothing to block out any vehicle noise.

The hotel charges a cleaning fee, so if you’re not booking directly, you may get a surprise at the amount. (It’s not $95 like Hotels.com said.) In fact, it was over $15 a night, and I got a lower price because of the number of nights we were staying. Apparently, this is a common practice in Hawaii. The cleaning staff comes in about once every three days, which is nice because you rarely have to worry about whether or not you can sleep in.

Every hotel has a concierge desk. Use it and avoid scams and bad deals that may be found on the street. At Waikiki Grand Hotel by Castle,Clayton was the most helpful for our budget and our time there. Overall, I was super-happy with the location and service at the hotel.

Waikiki Transportation: It’s All a Matter of Time

Generally speaking, we didn’t think much about taxis or Ubers during our trip to Oahu. The only time it might’ve made sense was for going to Pearl Harbor. We were told a round trip by taxi would be about $80 and take between 25 and 45 minutes. That’s a huge time savings over the Waikiki Trolley with a listed trip time of 70 minutes, and the estimated 90 minutes the city bus would take. The cost of the Trolley for two people would’ve been $50 and the bus was only $11 and included and all-day pass on the city bus.

We opted for the city bus #42, and it only took 70 minutes to get there. We almost missed the stop, but there were others on the bus who helped us out before the bus left. The way back we took the #20; it took 90 minutes and went through the airport. For us, it was worth saving the $39 that the Trolley would’ve cost. Sure, it was 20 minutes longer, but that amount of money was just over what a meal at a restaurant in Oahu cost.

For single trips from point to point, you can hop on the Waikiki Trolley’s Pink Line for $2 exact change. The same trip for the city bus is $2.75, but for an all-day ticket, it’s $5.50. If you know you’re going to take two trips, getting the all-day pass allows you greater flexibility if plans change. The city bus may also have a denser schedule of stops both at the place you want to go and during the duration of your trip.

Is the 3-Day Go Oahu Card Worth It?

Yes, and it depends. As with any discount card, you have to take into account what type of vacation you want to have and how much time you have. If you choose to just sit at the beach and relax in the sun. Don’t get the Go Oahu Card. It’s not for that type of vacation. Relaxing in the sun on the beach is free, still. That’s about the best discount you can get.

However, if you know that you want to experience some of the culture of Hawaii, a Go Oahu Card can help you do that. For example, we knew that we wanted to do a luau. They run north of $100 per person, and the best-rated Luau is at the Polynesian Cultural Center, which is about $120. We also knew that we wanted to visit Pearl Harbor. Its place in history makes it an important spot to visit for anyone who wants to think about warfare and understand human nature better. The activities there run about $40, but the Arizona Memorial and its related movie is free. The two combined activities add up to $160, which meant we would need to find an activity or two that would add up to about $40.

Not knowing that Pearl Harbor was a full day tour, I was still concerned that we wouldn’t be able to do enough activities to make the Go Oahu Card worthwhile. A lot of the activities take place in the morning because it gets too hot in the afternoon to do anything. We decided to do the 8 am Diamond Head Hike ($18) and the afternoon tour with Makani Catamaran (about $100). We didn’t have a car, so I wasn’t sure that we could make the catamaran, but we signed up for it anyway. There was plenty of time, so we got our money’s worth.

The Honolulu Cookie Company Experience

The Honolulu Cookie Company is almost as ubiquitous as the ABC Stores. While not quite on every block, the stores are spaced out just far enough from each other to provide a nice place to duck inside and grab a sample of their delicious cookies. And they are delicious. The stores are clean and the employees are friendly.

The shortbread cookies with the distinctive pineapple shape come in a variety of flavors that change with the season. Inspired by the islands, pineapple macadamia, white chocolate dipped coconut, and dark chocolate dipped Kona coffee are just a few of the flavors available. At Christmas time, you’ll find white chocolate dipped ginger spice, and peppermint. My favorites were the Kona coffee, and the chocolate dipped triple chocolate macadamia.

So, put your walking shoes on, and head down Waikiki’s main street. Make a game out of collecting cookie samples on the way. Because if you’re looking for a taste of the islands, the Honolulu Cookie Company has you covered.

Oahu’s Cheeseburger in Paradise

If you’re not familiar with the Jimmy Buffet song, a Cheeseburger in Paradise can still be tempting. Not affiliated with the singer,the signature cheeseburger is billed as a juicy, messy burger that you’ll need five napkins to clean up after.

When it arrived in front of me, I was not a believer. A patty with cheese on one half and tomatoes, lettuce and onion on the other. The juice was nowhere to be found. There was no drippiness. It was a burger, and those thoughts were my mistake. I assembled the burger, squished it a little so it would fit in my mouth and bit down.

Hamburger juices went squirting out everywhere. They ended up on my plate, on the table and on my pants. I can’t say I wasn’t warned. I have no idea how they seared so much juiciness into the patty, but I definitely needed two napkins, two wet wipes and a sink to clean up afterwards. Worth every bit of sacrifice? Cheeseburger in Paradise indeed.

ABC Stores: Go Local, Go Less Expensive

If you’re on a budget in Oahu, then the ABC Stores should be your best friend. Some say that “ABC” stands for “All Blocks Covered,” and like Starbuck’s in Seattle, ABC Stores are everywhere. Not only are they conveniently located, they are reasonably priced for Hawaiian tourists. Stores carry many of the same items though selection depends on the store’s size. From ready-to-eat hot meals to fresh cut fruit and from flip flops to ukuleles, ABC Stores are ready to help you with almost every need. “ABC” may stand for the store delivering everything in the alphabet.

The staff is friendly and happy to see you. They greet with “Aloha!” and end the interaction with “Mahalo.” The fruit in the refrigerator section is sweet and local (and better than what we got at Safeway on the island). You can eat relatively well for between $3 and $6 depending on your needs. Breakfast burritos, musubi, wraps, sushi… If you see the Mac-Nut Pesto Pasta, I recommend that as one of the best offerings. You don’t have to compromise on culture or taste because of your budget.

ABC Stores are locally owned. They promote from within and attempt to keep their employees through retirement with exceptional benefits according to an article in “This Week Oahu” (Nov. – Dec. 3, p. 28). Before choosing a national chain, shop local. Save your receipts and, if they total to $100 or more, you get a gift! Maybe “ABC” stands for “Aloha Brings Customers…”

Oahu Photography Tours: Oh, the People You’ll Meet

With Oahu Photography Tours, you can book a private tour and get all of the attention of the professional photographer who leads the tour. It’s a great way to learn about the island, see the best scenery and get the best one-on-one instruction available.

However, if you’re travelling with just one or two other people, booking a regular tour may be your best bet. You still get a great amount of attention, but you also get to meet other people from all over the world who are interested in photography and taking better pictures.

Our group was an amazing part of our tour, and it all started with our guide, De-Jay. He pulled the group together and made everyone feel comfortable. Within minutes of sitting in the van, we were all old friends ready to talk about anything and everything while focusing on the subjects we were there for – Oahu and photography.

Of course, De-Jay is also the guy who knows the locals. When the 1935 Lincoln Royale Limo pulled into a parking lot we were leaving, De-Jay knew the driver, talked to him, and it wasn’t long until we were all photographing this stretch limo that once belong to Howard Hughes and chauffeured his lawyer around. (You can rent it if you want!( 808)699-0699) At Kalapawai Market, we saw the guy who made the salsa and has it bottled all over the island. We wouldn’t have known about the local celebrity because his baby photo is on the bottle!

Exotic - 1935 Lincoln Royale Limousine
NOT the tour vehicle!

Even normal interactions have a flare all their own in Hawaii. De-Jay knew many of the Hawaiians and was able to introduce the culture to us without giving us a lecture. We saw what happened, and he explained what it was afterwards. From Talk-Story to surfing, De-Jay covered it all throughout the course of the day.

When you spend 10 hours with seven or fewer other people,you get to learn more about then and their cultures. We had two Canadians, an Australian, our guide, my wife and me on our tour, and a great time was had by all!

Check out our other articles about Oahu Photography Tours and Oahu!

King’s Pizza Cafe: You’re Budget and Taste Buds’ll say “Thank You, Thank You Very Much!”

If you head down Kapahulu away from the beach, past President Thomas Jefferson Elementary School, and just a little farther beyond, you’ll find a tiny restaurant called King’s Pizza Cafe. Voted as the community’s best pizza, it serves them up by the slice and always freshly made. By Oahu’s food standards, it’s a bargain. In a place where two burgers, a side of fries and one drink is regularly $30, getting two large slices of pizza and two drinks for around $10 is a bargain. The slices we had were cut in half, so it was more like getting two slices of pizza rather than one giant slice.

The Queen’s Pizza was by far the best of the two varieties we tried. Stacked full of correctly crisped pepperoni, olives and other great pizza ingredients, it played the best in our mouths. The Chicken Ginger Pizza was a little less successful. It provided a clean ginger flavor, which is what it’s supposed to do, but I wasn’t as fond of it as I was my wife’s choice. Both pizzas featured a sauce that was the right amount of sweet and tangy, and the crust was edible on its own without reservation.

The atmosphere is eclectic 1950s through the 1980s. Tables are topped with 45s or LPs from the 1980s. DJ cats playing pizza on the turntable are on the throw pillowcases, and a variety of other pizza related items are available for sale.

King’s Pizza Café is a nice-priced oasis with great food in a desert of high-priced mediocrity. Come for the break from the hub bub and high prices along the beach and enjoy a slice of goodness. When you’re done,you can head up the street a little more and get to Leonard’s Bakery for dessert (and even getting six Malasadas, you’ll still be ahead of most dinner options that aren’t fast food in the area).

Interior shot of King's Pizza Cafe counter in Oahu

Oahu Photography Tours: Oh, the Things You’ll Know

I’ve had my Canon IXUS for over two years. It’s the point and shoot that I use for all of my website and YouTube needs, which is basically photos and videos. The only thing I don’t always use it for is penguins because my wife is in charge of most of those photos. I have never messed with any of the settings. I didn’t know what they were for or what to do with them.

At our first stop, De-Jay, our guide, showed me the different options available, even though I was using a point and shoot! I had expected that maybe I would be treated differently because I was the only one without a DSLR, which would’ve been okay because the tour was for my wife. However, no one cared that I was using a point and shoot. It was an equally viable photo taking apparatus for all concerned.

I learned how to use the multi-shoot, how to manipulate the f-stop and what that means, how to find the monochrome and live features, and most importantly, how to be more comfortable with my camera. Because everyone was encouraged to experiment, even those things that De-Jay didn’t show me, I learned because of the safe space I was allowed to practice. If I messed up, I could get the shot again, and De-Jay would be there for guidance if I needed it. The safety nets of time and expertise are amazingly freeing, especially when that expertise is backed with kindness and a willingness to say that he doesn’t know.

Taking the Oahu Photography Tours’ Circle Sunrise Tour has given me the ability to choose how I use my camera. That alone would be worth the price. However, we also learned about Snapseed, an app to edit photos. De-Jay told us about local hot spots and here to get the best fish tacos on the island (Ono’s Steak and Shrimp Shack). We also learned about the history of the island, local surf competitions, and where the turtles would be on calmer days. If you want to have a good time exploring the island with friends, even some you haven’t made yet, Oahu Photography Tours is the way to go.