Whenever I’m about to leave for vacation, I suffer quite a bit of angst answering this very question: Should I eat out or eat at the hotel? Or both? Since I’ve been known to plan my day around my meals, you can only imagine how I wax and wane when considering how to eat while on a trip.

I’ve come up with a few questions I ask myself when deciding where and how to eat when on vacation, and here they are. Let them help you decide where to eat in Hawaii:

  • What’s the quality of the hotel/resort restaurants? This one is pretty straightforward: If the restaurants at your hotel are just as good OR better than the local eateries around the corner, why WOULDN’T you eat there? In Hawaii, some of the very best restaurants are located in Hawaii hotels, such as Orchid at the Halekulani or Michel’s at the Colony Surf. If you’re staying at a hotel that houses an amazing restaurant, count yourself lucky and eat in!
the sign for rainbow drive in

Photo: Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Tor Johnson

Rainbow Drive In is a local eatery that's popular among locals and visitors. It's a great place to sample a plate lunch.
  • What price-point are you considering? In general, restaurants at some of Hawaii’s nicer hotels will be pricey… really pricey. Because these restaurants have a “captive” audience, they can charge above-average prices, even if the food is average. So, if you want or need to save money, consider eating away from the hotel and at a local eatery that may charge lower prices for the same caliber of food.
  • How “local” do you want to eat? Sometimes, eating something familiar is just what the doctor ordered. So, if your hotel is home to a “chain” restaurant, and you know what to expect, dining at your hotel may be the right option. On the other hand, exploring the local cuisine is part of the fun of traveling, and taking part in a gastronomical adventure can be fun and enlightening.
  • Do you have children? I have three — which means I have to make sure we dine-out at places that accomodate children. When we’re at the end of a long day, there are times I don’t much feel like hauling the family out for a meal. In that case, finding a casual dining restaurant in our hotel is often our best bet. But, if the hotel restaurants offer only fine-dining, you’ll find us at the nearest local restaurant that looks like it’s family-friendly!
a dessert on a plate

Photo: Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Dana Edmunds

If you truly want to experience the local cuisine in Hawaii, ask someone who lives here where to find the best local food. It just may be at your hotel.
  • Who do you know? Typically, you have a finite number of meals you’re able to eat when on vacation. So, why waste them at restaurants that don’t deliver on taste? When you’re out-and-about, ask some locals where you can find meals worth your vacation dollar. If they mention a restaurant that’s in a hotel, don’t immediately balk at the idea — I’ve already mentioned that many high-quality restaurants are located in Hawaii hotels. But, probe them for the names of reputable local eateries outside the hotels, so you can immerse yourself in the local culture.

When I go on vacation, I typically do a little dining-in AND a little dining-out. But, there are certainly times when one is preferable over the other. So, before you decide where to eat when in Hawaii, ask yourself these questions, and let your answers be your guide!


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