"Old Hawai'i" Still Exists on the Island of O'ahu

Pros: North Shore is the place to discover (or rediscover) Oahu

Cons: Most budget packages don't send you to North Shore

Many island travelers often believe that in order to enjoy the "old Hawai'i" one must go to any island BUT O'ahu. Not true.

The biggest mistake most first-timers make is remaining in Honolulu and Waikiki during their first visit to the island. When the first-time visitor has pre-conceived visions of swaying palm trees and vistas of sandy beaches, the thriving urban center of Honolulu with its metropolitan air and energy can often be frustrating and disappointing.

However, just a short drive to the northern shores of O'ahu (a.k.a., North Shore), takes you into a different world. You can drive there either through the center of the island or take the long scenic coastal route along the eastern shore and heading north. Either drive is spectacular and breathtaking in its own right and will help you familiarize yourself with the island and get acclimated. Make sure and tune in to a classic Hawaiian music station to set the tone right for the drive and put yourself into the Aloha mindset.

We always recommend staying on the north side of the island even if it's your first time to Hawai'i.

Turtle Bay Resort is a beautiful property boasting over 800 acres of tropical paradise.Staying at the resort is a wonderful and unforgettable experience. Constructed on a point of land that juts out into the Pacific, all rooms have an ocean view. The pool and spa area is gorgeously situated so one can sit in either and look right out to the waves rolling in from the open sea. There are horseback riding, golfing, tennis, surfing lessons, and other spa activites available for an additional cost. For free you can just lounge by the pool, walk along the unspoiled western beaches looking at the tidepools, or use a cheap snorkel to look at brighly colored fish in the calmer eastern cove.

Don't be scared away by the rates posted on the resort's website. Known in the industry as "rack rates", the rates are higher than what you pay if you book through another portal. The best bet for affordable rates is to go with a vacation package through an airline or tour operator.

Another option for accommodations on the North Shore are the Kuilima Estates condos located on the Turtle Bay property which are owned and operated separately from the hotel. Nestled amid the green and fairways of the resort's gorgeous golf courses, the condos are a very reasonably priced option particularly for families or multiple couples that want to split the cost of a two or three bedroom condo to reduce the overall cost of the vacation.

The use of Turtle Bay's beaches and facilities are not exclusive to guests, so even if you choose less grandiose accommodations, you can still enjoy some of the resort's amenities for the price of parking.

Another must for a well-rounded visit to O'ahu is to plan a day at the Polynesian Cultural Center in Laie (on the northeastern side of O'ahu). This fabulous cultural mecca is geared toward adults and children alike. Your day will be filled with learning and discovering the Polynesian cultures that exist throughout the South Pacific. Your evening at the nightly stage show will leave you awestruck. The experience is definitely worth the price of admission.

Finally, take the time to drive along the Kamehameha Highway ("Kam" Highway for short) that runs around the outer edge of the eastern and northern sides of the island and drink in the "real" Hawai'i. Stop at roadside produce stands for locally grown veggies and fruit. Have a shave ice to cool yourself down. Drive along the rim Waimea Bay and then on to the western most side of the island where the road ends. You will go away from the island having a piece of it with you always in your heart and having left a piece of your heart with the island always.

Beautiful Scenery, Good Food, and Great Jazz--Jack London Square After Dark

Pros: No crowds, mostly locals, low-key and unpretentious class
Cons: Parking is sometimes hard to come by unless you know where to look

A well-kept secret treasure lies along the waterfront in Oakland--Jack London Square. In fact, there are lots of secret treasures in Oakland that many overlook in lieu of the enticing lights of the city across the bay. However, Jack London Square, in particular, can offer a complete evening of low-key and unpretentious class all its own.

For me, the highlight of Jack London Square is its waterfront location. Quiet walks along well-lit wooden walkways offer a safe way to enjoy the lights and sounds of the bay. Sheltered from the noise of the street by upscale hotels, this wooden walk can be found as you enter Jack London Square and hang an immediate right at the statue of Jack London. Curving back behind the restaurants and hotels, the walk takes you by docked marine beauties and skirts the very edge of the bay.

You can take in the scenery either before or after a meal at any of the fine restaurants found at Jack London Square. I prefer the Old Spaghetti Factory because of its fun ambiance. Once a turn-of-the-century bank with all its Victorian elegance, the restaurant has retained and restored the fantastic interior and now allows a diner to enjoy it while feasting on fantastic pasta.

To top off the evening, I enjoy catching a jazz set at Yoshi's. In fact, if you go on the right evening, you may be able to chat with the owner herself. A Japanese restaurant of the same name (with great Japanese food) fronts the jazz club where big names can be seen in a relatively intimate setting. Servers quietly shuttle drinks and appetizers to the tables while the best jazz musicians in the country enthrall you with their musical prowess. And you can enjoy it all in a smoke-free environment. It's the smokey nightclub without the smoke!

And if you're parked in one of the parking garages close by, don't forget to have your parking ticket validated at Yoshi's before you head back to your vehicle. Who can beat that?

Why I'm Tempted To Become A Canadian Citizen

For the price of an extended weekend in just about any major U.S. city, you can enjoy a taste of European charm, British elegance, and breathtaking natural beauty. British Columbia's city of Victoria (located on Vancouver Island) has something to offer just about any taste and personality and is certain to win a special place in your heart if you visit.

I have had the privilege of visiting Victoria during two times of the year--autumn and early spring. Both seasons proved to be magnificent, and I am told that summer and the winter holidays are just as wonderful. In autumn, I found the glorious colors of the season (reds so brilliant it took my breath away) contrasted against lush dark green deciduous foliage. In spring, I was dazzled by the crisp pastel colors of tulips and daffodils and found myself heady from spring breezes saturated with the scent of hyacinths of all imaginable shades and hues.

Victoria's crowning glory as far as lodging is without a doubt the Empress Hotel. An historic landmark and exquisite place to lay one's head, it is located along the waterfront kitty-corner from another historic edifice, the Parliament Building. In the Empress, guests travel fantastic antique corridors to retreat to their rooms where they will find the accommodations quite warm and inviting. If you want a bargain, look for special off-season deals (particularly in autumn, late winter, and early spring). For Americans, the exchange rate makes these deals even more attractive.

Speaking of exchange rates, when traveling to Victoria, don't forget to keep some U.S. cash on hand. Most shops are eager to accept U.S. currency and will give you an even better exchange rate than any bank. Taxi drivers and waiters also are quite pleased when given a tip in U.S. currency. You will, however, want to exchange some money into Canadian currency for vending machines and such.

Victoria is an easily "walkable" town with small city blocks and easily navigated streets. Make use of the tourist information center across from the Empress Hotel. Located in a large kiosk, you can find free brochures and tourist maps for everything imaginable. Victoria and Vancouver Island have a lot to discover for the curious traveler including the Parliament Building, Crystal Garden (an indoor tropical paradise), Butchart Gardens, lovely city parks great for picnics, Craigdarroch Castle, and much more.

Eating is a real treat in Victoria. Inexpensive yet succulent meals can be found at many of the eateries about town. Much of the produce served in restaurants has been grown on Vancouver Island with its mild climate. Repeatedly, we have found the food in Victoria to taste better than its equivalent in the states. Even pre-packaged foods and sodas taste better (try the Cadbury chocolate or a can of Canadian Diet Coke).

The Empress Hotel houses a tea room serving a daily British-style tea with all the trimmings as well as Kipling's which serves the most elaborate and vast breakfast buffet I have ever encountered. Often, off-season packages will include the Kipling's breakfast buffet for every morning of your stay at the Empress.

Getting to Victoria can be an adventure as well. I have taken two options, both of which I recommend. You can take a high speed ferry like the Victoria Clipper from Seattle, WA into Victoria or from the north an auto-carrying ferry from Vancouver. [We also found exceptional values utilizing the vacation packages on their website.] You can also catch a connection out of Seattle into Victoria's smallish airport (I flew Horizon Air, a commuter airline of Alaska Airlines). The ferry ride can be quite exhilarating and the views of the Puget Sound are unparalleled. However, flying in is quicker and gives one a bird's eye view of the Sound. It's fun to experience each of them.

How much time should you allot for your visit? That's up to you. I've done an extended 3-day weekend as well as a full-blown 10-day stay. It is close enough to Seattle to even make a day-trip of it, although an overnighter at the Empress is something not to be missed. Victoria is a romantic city for couples (my husband and I honeymooned there), however, singles can enjoy it immensely as well (I went first as a single gal). Traveling families seem to have just as enjoyable a time as visiting college students. What can I say? It's got something for everyone!