Just Back From... a Family Trip to Oahu & Kauai

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Courtesy Julianna Zingale

Julianna, Guy, and Jessi at the beach

Reader Julianna Zingale, her husband, Guy, and her 21-year-old stepdaughter, Jessi, hiked the Napali Coast, tried out new restaurants, and gaped at surfers tackling 45-foot waves.

We're still laughing about... Newbies on the Napali Coast who gingerly began their hike in new shoes. No chance! Plan on trashing the ones you wear, because the deeper you go into the hike, the muddier it gets. It took us several hours to trek four miles roundtrip on Kauai's Napali Coast. That "path" is rough, rocky, muddy, hot, and straight uphill in places, but the views are worth it. [PHOTO]

Great local meal... Plate lunches under $10 at two spots in Honolulu: Kaka'ako Kitchen, at Ward Center, and Nico's at Pier 38, where we watched the fishermen come in. Five-spice shoyu chicken, ahi with wasabi cream, the freshest Nalo salads, and sides with flavors from the islands' many cultural influences are served in generous portions. When we wanted an upscale, sit-outdoors-with-a-great-view of the beach lunch instead, we went to Ola's, at the Turtle Bay Resort in Kahuku. The North Shore shrimp will spoil you forever. One note: cooling winds blow off the ocean, so bring a light sweater.

What we should have packed... A little flashlight. We learned that 1) lights do go out, and 2) walks at night can be very, very dark.

Fun surprises... The waves in Waimea Bay on Oahu peaked at 45 feet the day after we landed. [PHOTO] It was lucky timing! We got to attend the famed Eddie Aikau invitational surf event, which was held for the first time in five years. [PHOTO] The Triple Crown of Surfing Pipeline Masters began the day after. The waves were (only!) 25 feet, but the surfing was still spectacular and the beaches packed. A few more surprises: all the peacocks at Waimea Valley on Oahu [PHOTO], holiday parades in every town, and handmade treasures for the holidays, like the little Hawaiian angel ornament I couldn't resist. [PHOTO]

Never again... Paying a $7.50 beach-entrance fee—the charge for Hanauma Bay on Oahu. While it's wonderful for snorkeling, you can snorkel for free in places like Shark's Cove on Oahu or Poipu Beach [PHOTO] on Kauai.

Worth every penny... Eating at pricey Roy's or Merriman's. They've mastered the fusion of Hawaiian-grown food with complex flavors. A grand birthday celebration at Roy's had our waiter serving 15 different-flavored dishes to the three of us. I loved Roy's classic four-fish dinner: two ounces each of four different fish prepared four ways. My rule of thumb: Never skip dessert on vacation. At Merriman's, in Poipu, we melted for the handmade phyllo dough brushed with coffee, filled with liquid chocolate, baked, and served with vanilla bean ice cream. Ahhh....

Wish we'd known that... Ordering a Hawaii Entertainment book before leaving the mainland could have saved us lots, even on lodging. A mental note for next time.

Hotel we liked...Waimea Plantation Cottages, in Kauai, made us feel like we lived in Hawaii. [PHOTO] We strolled the beautiful grounds, hung out on the huge porch, and walked into town for snacks at the Big Save—little coconut pies at Yumi's or shave ice at the original Jo-Jo's. A great, almost always vacant swimming beach is a short drive down the road toward Waimea Canyon.

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