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!

The Crystal Palace Review

So here’s the unfortunate truth about character meals at Disney World — they can be kind of hit or miss. I know you’re at the most magical place on earth, and that you want everything to be perfect, but some of these restaurants tend to rely more on character appeal than good food. Personally, when I’m paying upwards of $30 a person, I want both good food AND characters present at my dining experience. The Crystal Palace is a shining example of what a Disney character meal has the potential to be. The Crystal Palace marries ambiance, characters, and great food in a prime location.

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Disney’s Crystal Palace is modeled after the Crystal Palace that was built in Hyde Park in the 1800s. At the time it was built, it was the most amount of glass ever used in a building — therefor it used mostly natural light to light the inside of the interior. The same concept, on a much smaller scale is true at Disney. WDW’s Crystal Palace is constructed of glass walls, and is full of natural light. It give’s it a light, airy feel, which combined with The Hundred Acre Wood Topiaries they keep maintained at all time, makes for a great ambiance.

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Tigger, Eyeore, Winnie the Pooh, and Piglet are constantly circulating the floor, and the character interaction is good. They also do a ‘friendship parade’ around the restaurant for children (or adults that want to act like children), where they can dance with characters.

The dinner menu changes some, but you can always count on there being a carving station, grilled salmon, garlic mashed potatoes, and an abundance of fresh salads. There’s a dessert bar, and while I try to always remain neutral on matters of sugar, I have a t-shirt and a fan club for their marble cheesecake.

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The Crystal Palace is also prime Disney real estate — smack dab in the middle of the Magic Kingdom, with a view of Cinderella’s Castle. While a lot of character meals are at Disney Resorts, this one is nice, because you don’t have to factor in park commute time to get there.

Overall, we give The Crystal Palace two thumbs up. We endorse it, we love it, we can’t wait to eat there again, and we might hurt you if you take the last piece of marble cheesecake.

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