The moment I found out they were allowing domestic travel into Hawaii (and after being cooped up from COVID for so long), I was quick to book my ticket there. Although some of the islands like Maui and Kauai had strict restrictions (like mandatory quarantines), Oahu had the option to bypass the 10 day quarantine mandate with proof of a negative COVID test upon arrival. Here’s what I had to do to make that happen.
I had to get a COVID test 72 hours before my departure to Hawaii. I have Kaiser health insurance, so I made an appointment and got my COVID test 48 hours before my departure time. I then self-quarantined and waited anxiously for the results.
I also had to set up a Safe Travels account with the State of Hawaii. On this account I filled out a mandatory health form and my travel information. This is also where I had to upload my COVID test results.
The day of my departure arrived, and my results came in early that morning (cutting it close!). I knew that I had to have my negative result uploaded to my Safe Travels account before I boarded the plane, so I made sure to get that done right when I got to the airport.
Once I uploaded my negative COVID test result to my Safe Travels account, I was emailed a QR code that I needed to show, along with my boarding pass, as I boarded the plane.
On the plane ride, myself and everyone else had to wear masks the entire time (except when eating/drinking), and were given sanitation wipes to clean our seat and surrounding area.
After arriving in Hawaii, we were told to have our QR codes and identification ready and were sent a special way to have our negative tests confirmed before we were allowed out of the airport. I followed the line of passengers and arrived in a room where there were several airport employees with iPads, checking people’s QR codes.
Those who didn’t have their QR codes showing negative tests were immediately put in a separate area and asked to sign papers for the mandatory 10 day quarantine. This included those with a positive COVID test result (obviously), and those who did not upload their rest results to their Safe Travels account and received a QR code (a photo of your test results was not allowed).
Hawaii takes the mandatory quarantine seriously, and after signing papers to comply, the state put in measures to make sure you were following the guidelines such as random phone calls, check-ins to your accommodation, and other restrictions like not allowing you to rent a car or go get food (you had to have it delivered to your door).
Luckily, I made it through with no problems. If you plan to travel to Hawaii during COVID, remember these things so you can have an easy expereince:
Once I made it out of the airport, I began looking up the most outdoorsy, active things to do in Oahu, Hawaii. Although most businesses and restaurants were open (with the requirement of a mask/social distancing), outdoor activities were a lot more accessible and relaxed. Here are some of the fun, nature-related things that I did.
Whether you’re a first-time diver (like me), or a certified professional, diving in Hawaii is an absolute must! I was pleased with the company Trident Adventures who helped me push past my diving fear and get to explore the deep blue Hawaiian ocean.
After filling out paperwork and paying for the experience (check prices here), we were greeted by our friendly diving instructors (Stephen, Scott, Lorin, and Isaac) at the dock before we got on the diving boat.
As we sailed to our diving destination, we were given the run down on all the things we needed to know about diving from the owner, Navy SEAL Stephen (“Scuba Steve”). The boat captain, Captain David, stopped several times to point out whales or let us soak in the views.
Once we arrived at our first diving location, we all suited up, tanked up, and plunged into the water for our dive. We used a rope tied to an anchor to bring ourselves down to the ocean floor. I had to take my time and pop my ears a few times to relieve the pressure. The instructors constantly checked in with us and remained with us the entire way down.
Diving and being at the bottom of the ocean is an indescribable experience. We got to sit on the ocean floor, swim through reef caves, and interact with sea life like turtles, eel, colorful fish, and octopus. One of the instructors swam up to me and wrapped an octopus around my arm, and I got to swim alongside Crush from Finding Nemo.
After exploring that location, we all headed back up to the boat to head to another spot where we had the choice to dive again, or snorkel. I chose to snorkel around the surface and check out all the coral reef and marine life within it. When I got back to the boat, the staff cut up some fresh pineapple sprinkled with an amazing chamoy-like seasoning that was the perfect snack after our adventure.
There’s a bunch of diving companies in Oahu, Hawaii, but I recommend Trident Adventures if you want a group of friendly instructors who will make you feel comfortable and show you some amazing things on your dive!
If you want an intense hike (and I mean intense) with a sick view, check out the Koko Head Crater Trail. With over 1,000 steps, this stairstepper-like hike will count for two leg days. It is laid out with old railroad tracks that used to carry cargo and supplies to the pillbox bunkers at the top. You can climb directly on the tracks or alongside them on the dirt trails.
This trail can be easily found by searching “Koko Head” in Google Maps, and there is a (free) parking lot with plenty of spaces. Follow the path along the baseball fields and you will find the entry to the summit.
Make sure to bring a lot of water, and stop for breaks every 100 steps or so to catch your breath and enjoy the panoramic views. I did the hike right at sunset, which I recommend to watch the sun go down over the Hawaiian ocean. Getting back down in the dark was challenging though, so make sure to bring some headlamps if you do (you will need all arms and legs available to scale back down the railroad steps, literally on your butt for most of the way down).
If you’re looking to find one of Hawaii’s majestic waterfalls while trekking through a bamboo forest, check out Lulumahu Falls. This moderate hike has several trails that all lead to the same destination. Some of the trails run through muddy paths, while others take you over large rocks and through the stream. Be prepared for your feet to get wet either way (I always wear my Tevas for hikes like this).
Most of this hike is shaded by the tall bamboo trees, which makes it nice for a hot day or a rainy day since the trees act as a natural umbrella. Once you get to the end of the trail, you will run into a three-level, 50 ft waterfall with a small swimming hole at the bottom.
As mentioned before, the hike has several trails and you can choose to veer off into the different paths through the bamboo trees, or take an exit that will bring you above the forest with a view of the entire valley from the top. If you want to stay on the main trail, look for the ribbons tied on the trees, and always stay close to the stream.
Lulumahu Falls is located off of Pali Highway and has a (free) roadside parking lot. To enter the hike, go around the gate to the right of the parking lot and follow a trail!
Another strenuous hike with stunning panoramic views, the Maili Pillbox hike in Waianae is worth the trek. You can find the trail by searching “Maili Pillbox” in Google Maps, and park for free alongside the street. The hike has one entryway between two poles, and two trails. One is easier, good for families and children. The other one (the one I did), is steep and invigorating.
You’ll want to make sure your hands are free if you’re doing the challenging trail, because you will need them to hoist yourself up the rocks with a metal rope that trails all the way to the summit. You will find yourself climbing up a lot of big rocks along this trail, and be careful for small rockslides (especially if there are people in front of you).
Once you get to the top, you will see the bright, colorful pillboxes perched on top of the mountain. You can go inside the pillboxes to rest out and catch some shade. Outside the boxes, you will get an incredible view of the ocean on your right and left, and the luscious green mountains of the valley behind you.
The way down (especially if you take the challenging trail), is strenuous. You have to hold the metal rope the entire way down and will be presented with a lot of loose rocks. It’s a thrilling adventure if you’re down for the rock-climbing, but if you want an easier path, take the trail to the right while heading down.
Hawaii is known for it’s seafood (obviously with the fact that it’s surrounded by the ocean), and hearty local dishes. Therefore, being a vegetarian in Hawaii was challenging, but I was able to find several delectable treats that satisfied my cravings and dietary preferences. Here’s some of the best vegetarian bites I found in Oahu, Hawaii.
Ube pancakes (I could end this paragraph here). No but seriously, if you’ve never had Ube pancakes (or anything Ube), read on.
Ube is a Japanese sweet potato that is used in many breakfast treats, snacks, and desserts. YogurStory in Honolulu is popular for their scrumptious purple Ube pancakes and Ube waffles. They also serve up a number of breakfast and lunch dishes ranging from local Hawaiian to Japanese cuisine.
Due to it’s popularity, the place is always packed…so be prepared for a wait (but it’s absolutely worth it!).
COVID update: YogurStory allowed indoor/outdoor dining, with the requirement of a mask to get to your table, then you could take it off once you were there.
The Cosmic Kitchen is a tiny shack, tucked away in an alley beside the Celestial Natural Foods Store. Don’t let the small location fool you, the food packs a big punch.
One of the few places in North Shore that you can find vegan food, I ordered the Kalua Jack Bowl that came with smoky Hawaiian style “Kalua” jackfruit, house slaw, pickled red onions, local lettuce & sprouts, all over brown rice. The smokiness of the jackfruit made it taste just like a pulled-pork dish, and the tanginess of the pickled red onions added the perfect bite.
The Cosmic Kitchen has breakfast and lunch items, as well as healthy drinks and smoothies. There are a few tables and chairs to enjoy your food outside the shack, or the North Shore beaches are a few hundred yards away to have a shore-side picnic.
For all my meat and non-meat lovers, The Other Side Diner is a restaurant that satisfies the cravings of both parties. Their menu is full of vegetarian, vegan, and carnivorous comfort food. Almost everything on the menu can be made vegetarian/vegan, including their thick shakes!
I ordered the tradiotnal Hawaiian Loco Moco dish (“Faux Moco”) with the house-made patty, “Just Egg” vegan eggs, and smothered in house gravy all over white rice. Bomb.com. I would go back here just to get this dish again.
The service was great, the menu was huge, and the location is right in the heart of downtown Honolulu.
COVID update: The Other Side Diner allowed indoor/outdoor dining, with the requirement of a mask to get to your table, then you could take it off once you were there.
Haleiwa Bowls is a small smoothie-bowl shack in North Shore, right along the beaches. This place is popular for locals and tourists alike, and you can tell by the line that is always trailing from the order window.
I ordered a Blue Majik Bowl with a blended base of pineapple, banana, & blue majik spirulina and topped with granola, fresh strawberries, blueberries, kiwi, Maui bee pollen, and raw honey. I also added some plant based protein to the mix.
The spirulina gave it a vibrant, ocean-like color and the Maui bee pollen gave it a sweet, unique twist. Grab one of these bowls and head to the beach to watch the surfers riding the powerful North Shore waves.
Featured on Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations“, Hula Dog gained some popularity for it’s Hawaiian-style hot dogs…and it gained some popularity with me because of their veggie dog option I spotted on the menu.
At this build-your-own-hotdog stand, I chose the veggie dog with the jalapeño roasted garlic lemon sauce, mango relish, and Lilikoi mustard, all nestled in a soft white bun. A quick snack with childhood nostalgia attached to it.
Simple menu, small shack, big freaking flavor. Make sure to swing by and grab one to-go or sit at their picnic benches at their downtown Honolulu location.
Best.Coffee.Ever. Sorry Starbucks.
Island Vintage Coffee is a must-try for anyone visiting Oahu, Hawaii (I went 4 times on my 7 day trip). Not only do they have robust, flavorful coffee, but they have a large food menu as well (with tons of vegetarian/vegan options).
My favorite drink is the Vintage Kona Mocha. This frozen drink is made with Macadamia nut and coconut and mixed with what I think is the best part: frozen peaberry chips. This is more of a sweet drink than it is coffee, but I asked them to sub the water with cold brew to give it the caffeinated punch I needed. If you go to Island Vintage, you HAVE to get this! If you’re looking for something more iced-coffee-like, the Kona Coffee with Vegan Coconut Cream is another tasty drink.
One of the things I was really craving (but couldn’t have) was a poke bowl, and Island Vintage came through to satisfy my desire. The Vegan Poke Bowl with Molokai purple sweet potato, Japanese cucumbers, North Shore sea asparagus, Maui sweet onions, Hawaiian chili pepper, jalapeños, kukui buts, avocado, and low sodium shoyu all over a bed of rice was the perfect meal to bring on my flight back to the States. I swapped the organic beets for the shoyu spicy tofu to add a little texture and protein to the bowl.
COVID update: Island Vintage Coffee allowed indoor/outdoor dining, with the requirement of a mask to get to your table, then you could take it off once you were there.
Yes it’s true, COVID has brought about a bunch of restrictions on our freedom, travel, and overall well-being…but adaptability is what it’s all about in situations like these!
Yes, I had to jump through some hoops to get there. Yes I had to wear my mask during the flight, in restaurants, etc. But aside those minor differences, my trip to Oahu, Hawaii was just as enjoyable as the last time.
Nature is one of the main reasons I visit this beautiful island (beside my family living there, of course), and there is plenty to be seen that also complies with COVID/social distancing orders. Restaurants and businesses are open, and the beaches are packed with locals and tourists trying to make the most out of the pandemic situation.
Hawaii still remains strong with its “Aloha/Hang Loose” vibes, and it is something we can all embrace as we get back to traveling post-pandemic.
Don’t sit around and wait for things to get back to “normal” while your travel dreams fade away. Don’t let fear take away your freedom and dictate the decisions you make with your life. Don’t wait for tomorrow, because tomorrow never comes.
Follow the rules, wear your mask, and enjoy the hell out of this life, to the best of your abilities, today.
Safe travels friends,