Our Favorite North Shore Beaches

There’s nowhere really like the North Shore of Oahu. Worlds away from the busy and crowded Waikiki, the North Shore only has one resort. The lack of people leads to some of the most beautiful beaches on the island being uncrowded. We stayed in a vacation rental on the North Shore, and it quickly became one of our favorite places we’ve ever been. We’ve compiled a list of our favorite beaches to help you plan your time on the North Shore!

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1. Waimea Bay
I’m not going to save the best for last on this list. Waimea Bay is hands down our favorite beach in Oahu. It’s known for its monstrous waves in the winter, but if you visit in the summer-time like we did, the water is smooth and calm. Its a crescent shaped bay that you can see from the high-way, and also features a large rock that people jump from. The small parking lot fills up quickly, with overflow parking on the street. We love Waimea because it never feels overly crowded, even on the weekends. In our opinion, it’s also the most beautiful on the North Shore. Do yourself a huge favor, and make this the number one beach you check out.

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2. Sunset Beach
Arguably the most popular beach on the North Shore, this has one of the longest stretches of sand we saw. Living up to its name, this was our favorite beach to watch the sunset from. We even had the pleasure of seeing a Monk Seal relaxing on the beach that night — something we’ve been told is fairly common.

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3. Sharks Cove
If you want to snorkel while on the North Shore, this is your best bet. It also has a sandy stretch for sun worshippers to lay out, if fish isn’t your thing. One of my favorite things about this beach is that it’s right across the street from some of the North Shores best food trucks.

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4. Turtle Beach
This beach is a little more on the rocky side — but it’s frequent turtle visitors more than makes up for it. We don’t recommend this beach for swimming, but you should definitely check it out and try to see some of its turtle residents up close.

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5. Kealia Beach
This is a bit of a drive, and doesn’t have the best swimming, but if you want to live out your private beach dreams, this is the place to do it.

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Spending time on the North Shore, especially during the calm summers, is a must-do for your Oahu vacation. Honolulu and Waikiki are nice, but these islands gems are a little more removed from the crowds. We encourage you to look outside of the cities resorts, and find a vacation rental that’s a bit more removed from tourists!

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A Review of ‘AMA’AMA at Aulani

When David and I were in Oahu, we knew that being devoted Disney fans required us to spend some time at Aulani, the incredibly beautiful Disney resort on the west side of the island. We made dinner reservations at ‘AMA’AMA, the resort’s flagship restaurant. If you’re thinking of this restaurant in Disney terms, consider is to be like a Yachtsman Steakhouse at The Yacht Club, or a Narcoossees’s at The Grand Floridian. We heard mixed reviews about ‘AMA’AMA before we dined there, with a lot of people complaining about high prices and mediocre food. We had once heard similar complaints about about our all-time favorite Walt Disney World restaurant Monsieur Paul, so we went into ‘AMA’AMA with an open mind. What followed our open minds was one of the best dining experiences we’ve ever had. For starters, ‘AMA’AMA is beautiful. The restaurant is open air, with beautiful views of Aulani’s beach, and a minimalist but modern theme that is very well executed. We were expecting to be floored by the prices, as we had been warned, but we found them to be on-par with other high end restaurants on the island. ‘AMA’AMA even offers a menu for two, for a little over $100. Compared to other pre-fix menus we saw in Oahu, this was a downright bargain for fine dining.

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The menu for two came with an appetizer sampler of four different menu selections, a Chateaubriand that can feed multiple people, and a Mocha Chantilly cake. The appetizers were good, but not overly memorable, with the exception of the poke. Let me preface this by saying that David and I are POKE FANATICS. If poke had a team, we would be the quarterbacks. If poke had fan club, we would be the presidents. We sampled many variations of this popular dish all over the island, but Aulani’s was by and far the best.

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The Chateaubriand that followed the appetizers was beyond words. Covered in a wine sauce, and amazingly tender, this filet could be cut with a butter knife. While it was billed to be for two people, it was plenty of food for more than that. That didn’t stop us from eating the whole thing without any guilt, but it was a very generous serving. The Mocha Chantilly cake that followed was amazing, and David says its one of the only desserts he’s ever truly loved at a signature restaurant. We usually find desserts at signature restaurants to be over-complicated, small, and unmemorable. This cake was the exception to that standard.

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All in all, the ambiance, food, and service made this restaurant a winner for David and I. It’s still a young restaurant, so I think bad reviews should be a thing of the past, or maybe ‘AMA’AMA is just going through some growing pains. We endorse it as one of our favorite restaurants on Oahu, and encourage you to make a reservation for dinner next time you’re on the island!

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Scenes of Oahu

I first visited the Island of Oahu when I was 17 years old. My parents took me to the North Shore for a little over a week to stay at the only resort down there, Turtle Bay. They had taken me to Maui before, a couple of years earlier, but something about Oahu just seemed different to me. The North Shore felt like this magical place, not always filled with tourists, but of locals actually enjoying their ‘Hawaiian country lifestyle’. The whole island seemed like it could effortlessly blend big city, beautiful beaches, country living, and adventure into a vacationer’s dream destination. This past week, I had the opportunity to share this beautiful place with David for the first time, who had never visited Hawaii. He quickly joined me in my Oahu-infatuation (we’re starting a fan club and making t-shirts), and explored as many corners of the island as we could. In the coming weeks, we will be sharing a lot of the information and insight we gained (we’re basically Oahu-sensais now). Today though, we wanted to share some of our favorite photos from the trip.

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Surfboards for rent on Waikiki Beach

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Diamond Head from a distance

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Golden hour at Turtle Bay

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Tide pools on the trails around Turtle Bay

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Sunset Beach Fisherman

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Wearing leis and watching the sunset!

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Local floral

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Polynesian dance performance at Turtle Bay

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Waimea Bay

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Aerial shot of Oahu coral reefs 

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Pali Lookout 

We have so much to write about Oahu in coming weeks! We will have reviews, best-ofs, more photography, and an explanation of how we made the islands more affordable! As they say in Hawaii – Mahalo for reading.

The Hollywood Brown Derby Review

I have a strong bias towards The Hollywood Brown Derby — it’s the first Disney restaurant I can remember eating at when I was a child, and it has my father’s favorite filet, so we went there every trip on our yearly Disney pilgrimage. I remember feeling like I was actually dropping back in time to the golden age of Hollywood. Some people might find the decor of the Brown Derby plain, but for me, it was pure Disney Magic. I loved the sunken floor plan, the brass lighting, the deep booths, the famous caricatures on the walls, and the atmosphere of glamor that seemed to encase the restaurant. I still do, as The Brown Derby has remained high on my list of WDW’s must-eats.

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The original Hollywood Brown Derby, which was around in the 1920s, played a prominent part in Hollywood history. It’s allegedly where Clark Gable proposed to Carole Lombard, and episodes of ‘I Love Lucy’ were filmed there.

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Far more importantly though, the original Hollywood Brown Derby is where the Cobb Salad was invented — a masterpiece that I shall forever be grateful for. Disney’s version of The Brown Derby still serves the Cobb Salad chopped fine, just like the original. You can order an entree portion or an appetizer portion, but regardless of the size, it’s a must-do for any meal at the Brown Derby to be complete.

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We’ve never had a bad meal at The Brown Derby, but we do recommend some items more than others. The Cobb Salad we’ve already mentioned is always a winner (unless you try to share it). The pork tenderloin with goat cheese grits gets two thumbs up, and they do filet better than almost anywhere else at WDW. Right now they’re doing a choice of three mini desserts, which we are always happy with.

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Spend the night pretending to be Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant in the Golden Years of Hollywood, dining at The Hollywood Brown Derby. The impeccable ambiance, great food, and Disney magic that helps recall yesteryear will be the perfect ending to your day at Hollywood Studios.

Scenes of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

I have a confession to make – I nerd out over Harry Potter. You can keep your Lord of the Rings, and Star Wars, and I’ll be over here trying to make my own Butterbeer and still crying over Sirius Black. I have a deep wish that that Disney company had bought the theme park rights instead of Universal. It took me several years to get off my WDW high horse and see what Universal has done with the Wizarding Parks, and when I did, I was blown away. They are detailed, intricate, immersive, and everything I love about theme parks. With the exception of the fact that all the rides are in 3D (oh, the headaches!), I rank these parks among Disney’s best efforts. I ran around all day, trying to capture the details with my camera and take it all in at the same time. Today, I thought I would share some of that with you.

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Wizarding Items in the Window

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The Littlest Wizard

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Elaborate Stores in Diagon Alley

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Diagon Alley 

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Early morning hours

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Night at Hogsmeade 

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Hogwarts!

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Please Respect the Spell Limits

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The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is a magical place! Put on your robes, and enjoy it!

Downtown Disney’s Food Truck Park

I love food that comes out of a truck. While I enjoy a high end dinner at a five star restaurant and an overpriced glass of pino noir as much as the next girl, I have a legitimate weakness for creative street food. For starters, you get to eat it outdoors, which makes my allergies mad, but the rest of me happy. You also get innovative flavor combinations at reasonable prices. There’s really nothing to not like about the food truck trend. Disney World has jumped on the food truck band wagon, and if you’re going to spend some time at Downtown Disney on your next WDW vacation, it should be high on your list of priorities.

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Downtown Disney is in the middle of a major remake and rebranding, as the powers that be shift it into ‘Disney Springs’. This is a good and much needed change, as Downtown Disney has been lackluster as of recent years. When I find its biggest selling point an Earl of Sandwich, its time for a reboot. [Disclaimer, this is in no way an insult to Earl of Sandwich. I love the Earl, and will line up for a Holiday sandwich with the best of them] The changes have been coming in stages, and the opening of the Food Truck Park was one of the first that was seen. There are four food trucks, and they, like everything else at WDW, are elaborately themed. Each one represents a different Disney Park and showcases the food found in each. There’s Namaste Cafe, which is representative of Animal Kingdom, Superstar Catering to showcase Hollywood Studios, World Showcase of Flavors batting for Epcot, and my favorite, Fantasy Fare for ‘Magic Kingdoms Around the World’.

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You can find all different types of food at each truck. Most notably are the famed Butter Chicken (that you can also get at Sanna), a sample platter from Superstar Catering, and the Hand Dipped Corn Dog, reminiscent of those at Disneyland, from Fantasyfare. We’ve noticed that not all four trucks are always at the yard, but there will usually be at least three.

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The Food Truck Park is a hit for Downtown Disney, and one of our favorite places for a quick dinner when we don’t have an ADR. It has views of the lake, Old Key West, and those famous Florida sunsets to enjoy while you eat. It’s the perfect place to sample different foods before doing some shopping in at Downtown Disney. So grab a corn dog, or some meatball sliders, and let us know what you think!

Our Favorite Las Vegas Eats

Las Vegas is easily known as a land flowing with King Crab Legs and cocktails, but in recent years, the home of the ridiculously cheap surf and turf special has become a culinary mecca in its own right. Yes, there are still buffets, and several of them are worth eating at — but Vegas has more than that. If you’re willing to do a little research before your trip, eating in Vegas can be as much as experience as some of the shows (Cough, Britney Spears, cough) you see. We wanted to take a little of the guess work out of planning your trip for you, so we took it upon ourselves to start eating our way through Sin City. Choosing favorite foods is always like choosing a favorite child, but we’ve compiled a list anyway.

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1) Fried Chicken Benedict at Hash Hash A Go Go
We had breakfast at Hash Hash A Go Go on our first morning, and made the mistake of ordering two entrees. One sat completely untouched, because the two of us couldn’t even finish off one order of their famed Benedict. We highly recommend the fried chicken and chipotle cream benedict — and unless you have the appetite of a young elephant, its enough for two. If you need any more of an incentive to check this place out for breakfast, or a late night snack, Neil Patrick Harris has eaten here before. This might not be a huge selling point for most people, but Barney Stinson has a golden stamp of approval in my book.

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2) Goat Cheese Queso at Mundo
We’ve already sung the praises of Mundo, a gem that we discovered outside the Strip. For starters, it has impeccable ambiance, with mixed seating, and ornamental lamps hung from the ceiling. The look is complete with a bounty of softly lit candles in wall sconces. Seriously — this place is romantic and beautiful. The food is some of the best we had in Vegas. Mundo does a fantastic job putting a creative twist on traditional Mexican dishes. Our favorite was the goat cheese queso, served with tortillas instead of chips. They also have the best elote we’ve ever eaten.

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3) The Turkey Pastrami at Culinary Dropout
We loved having brunch at Culinary Dropout in the Hard Rock Hotel. For starters, their coffee cups are the size of soup bowls. I don’t know if anyone else is as inflicted with caffeine addiction as I am, but tiny coffee cups at brunch places is a major turn off. Culinary Dropout has their breakfast and lunch menu available on weekend brunches, and at the recommendation of our great waitress, I got the Turkey Pastrami. It came on a pretzel bun, and was one of the best sandwiches I’ve had. Plus, the chic, eclectic decor of Culinary Dropout is a great compliment to their food.

4) Champagne at the Chandelier Bar
While this is not technically a food related item, it’s such a cool experience that it had to make our list. There are plenty of bars in Vegas, but only one of them is inside a multi-story chandelier. The chandelier is actually the centerpiece of the Cosmopolitan Hotel, and is stunning. This whole experience is great — and makes you want to sing ‘Glamorous’ by Fergie.

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5) Espresso and Pastries at Sambalatte
We will passionately argue with anyone that doesn’t think Sambalatte has the best coffee in Las Vegas. They do everything well — drip coffee, lattes, cortados. Whatever your poison, its safe in their talented baristas hands. We also had some of the best pastries here since we left Paris, and have been dreaming of their croissants.

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6) Dark Chocolate Cupcakes from Sprinkles
Yes, I realize that there are Sprinkles cupcakes in cities besides Vegas, but none with quite as late of hours. Also, there’s something incredibly comforting about picking up the most delicious box of a sugar after being out late.

7) Anything from The Wicked Spoon
Most people will try to tell you that Bacchanal is the one Vegas buffet you can’t miss, but we whole heartedly disagree. The Wicked Spoon, inside the Cosmopolitan, might have a little less variety, but makes up for it in presentation and flavor. Personally, I would rather have few options that are well executed, than an abundance that’s poorly done.

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There are plenty of restaurants and dishes for you to try on your trip to Vegas — more than you could sample over a lifetime of trips. We hope that our personal favorites, as fellow food-lovers, will help make your trip planning a little easier.

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