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Where to Eat Near Aulani: Oceanfront Dinners, Mai Tai Happy Hours & Local Joints

Most of my life I’ve pretty much been known for loving two things 1) Disney and 2) Hawaii. 

So when Disney built its Aulani Resort and Spa in Hawaii, it’s like they were building it just for ME. And it’s since become my home away from home. I mean really…Disney AND Hawaii. What could be better???

I’ve written quite a few posts about Aulani (read through my archives here), but this particular post is all about…FOOD. The food situation at Aulani and options in the surrounding area. 

“Disney” and “food” go hand in hand nowadays so if you’re the type who plans your park visits around a must try list of snacks, I KNOW you want to know about the food situation at Aulani. 

This post may contain some affiliate links, which means I’ll make a little money on anything you choose to purchase. But of course, I only recommend my absolute favorites to you. Thank you for supporting the brands that make HulaLand possible.

Best Restaurants Near Aulani

Stick around to find out the scoop on what’s worth it at Aulani (and what I would probably skip) plus my favorite spots within walking distance (or a short drive) of the resort. 

The Food Situation at Aulani

Let’s start with the food situation at Aulani. 

I’ll be honest…I vacillate on what I think about the food situation at Aulani. Some of it’s great, some not so great, but here’s basically what you need to know: 

There’s a huge buffet restaurant (Makahiki) similar to what you’d expect from Disney (i.e. Chef Mickey’s, Boma, etc).. For breakfast it includes characters and for dinner SOME nights it includes characters but not all. 

There’s the “signature” restaurant (think California Grill, Napa Rose, etc.) AMA AMA that sits right on the water and serves dinner. 

There’s a quick service spot called Ulu Cafe which has grab and go snacks, poke bowls, acai bowls, flatbreads, and daily specials. 

There’s a food stand at the pool that serves mostly baskets of fried foods (Mama’s) and a shave ice shack. 

There’s a snack stand down by the beach, a coffee kiosk, an evening lounge, and a pool bar (Off Da Hook) which also does pool chair service. 

Besides these options there are three other large resorts within walking distance that all have restaurants plus a shopping center across the street that has a handful of restaurants plus a small market. 

That’s the basic lay of the land…now here’s what I think about all of it: 

Makahiki (Character Dining)

I’ve done it three times now and every time I say I’m not going to do it again haha. But that’s mostly just because character dining kind of stresses me out, and it’s not cheap. 

I will say though that compared to other breakfast buffets at resorts in Hawaii, Makahiki is about the same price PLUS you get to meet characters. And I’ve always found the food to be really good (in terms of selection and quality). 

But after COVID the buffet has yet to return. So in its current form, breakfast is $50/adult (a bit more than the buffet used to be) and includes a drink, malasadas for the table, and a plated entree. That’s…a little steep. You’re really paying a premium for the characters. 

If you have kids, it’s probably worth a one time splurge during your trip (assuming they enjoy character dining), but it’s definitely not something you’ll want to do on a daily basis. 

A quick rundown on how it works: You check in at the podium and then get in line to meet Mickey out on the lanai. Once you’re seated, three more characters will make the rounds to your table (usually Minnie, Pluto & Goofy) plus “Auntie” provides entertainment with a ukulele, acknowledging birthdays and anniversaries, and organizing little games and shenanigans for the kids. 

Check out the breakfast menu.

Makahiki also does a plated three course dinner (check the menu here) that’s $75/person. Again, I don’t find it an appealing option at all given that it used to be an all you can eat seafood buffet for quite a bit less. 


When ‘AMA AMA used to serve a la carte breakfast and lunch (before the pandemic), it was a hidden GEM. 

I never used to be a huge fan of the dinner menu (I didn’t think it was good as other comparable places within walking distance, especially for the money), but it’s all changed since it reopened. 

They invested quite a bit into remodeling the restaurant and the setting is lovely

And they’ve changed the concept too. It’s now $125/person and you select four courses from this menu

I haven’t been able to check it out yet, but I actually like the concept (one of my favorite spots on Maui – the Restaurant at the Hotel Wailea is set up like this), and if you want a nice, sunset/oceanfront dining experience this is definitely the spot. And honestly, comparing it to dinner at Makahiki ($75/person vs $125/person) it’s definitely a better value. 

But I’m still hoping they start serving breakfast and lunch again soon.

Ulu Cafe

If you’re a frequent Disney traveler, you know the Disney quick service food scene. Ulu Cafe is on par with what you’d expect at a deluxe resort like the Grand Floridian or Polynesian and a little better than theme park food. 

It’s fairly small and there’s not an enormous selection (some of it does vary day to day) but what they have is pretty good. There are usually a few different kinds of flatbreads and a daily special or two. 

The poke bowls and acai bowls are both pretty decent here and there’s Dole Whip. And then there’s a grab and go section with treats (so many of them Mickey shaped). 

The Mickey Musubi is a must try. 

There is covered seating at the cafe, but it’s also easy enough to grab your food and take it back to your pool chairs. Ulu Cafe is also where you can get your refillable mugs filled (they’re about $20 and you’ll get unlimited refills on soda, coffee, tea, water, etc. for the length of your stay). 

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Off Da Hook

I really like the pool bar. It’s a nice step up from Ulu Cafe without having to leave the pool.

The food is good, drinks are good, but the main thing you need to know about are about the giant pineapple drinks. This is where you get them. They’re not cheap. But they’re fun! When I got mine, I think it was about $27 including tax and tip. You pick the drink you want and then I believe the pineapple was about $10 extra. 

Olele Lounge

If there is one food and beverage related experience you definitely shouldn’t miss, it’s after dinner drinks at Olele Lounge. The inside is cool and tells the story of the Hawaiian language (there’s often a linguist on hand), but outside there’s live music every night and I’m not going to lie…it’s often the best music I’ve heard ANYWHERE in Hawaii. 

I say “often” because they rotate different acts and they’re all great, but one night it was a duo playing traditional Hawaiian music and it was unbelievably good. The music usually starts around 6:30 and goes until 10 or 11. It’ll be printed in the Daily ‘Iwa.  

Food and Snack Stands

There are a handful of food stands around the property. Mama’s is your best bet if you want to walk up and get something while at the pool. Burgers, chicken tenders, fried shrimp etc. can all be found there. 

The shave ice stand is right next door. I’ll be the first to admit that I am not a major shave ice fan. That being said…I don’t think the shave ice at Aulani is the best I’ve ever had, but it is the cutest! You can add little Mickey ears for $1. 

There’s a small snack stand close to the beach that’s not particularly notable but they do have Dole Whips and usually soft pretzels. 

There’s also a coffee kiosk near Ulu Cafe which is where you’ll find your more high end caffeinated beverages. 

Best Restaurants Near Aulani (Not at the Resort)

In a nutshell, I think Aulani has really good quick options for when you’re hanging around the pool and beach, and their sit down restaurants are honestly what you’d expect from Disney (pretty expensive and generally not as good as what you’ll find other places for the money but decent). 

If you’re only staying at the resort for a couple of days, you may be fine with the on property options, but if you’re staying at Aulani for longer, you’re DEFINITELY going to want to venture “off property.”

And whether you’re looking for a fancy pants oceanfront dinner, the best mai tais at happy hour, or a breakfast dive, Ko Olina has you covered. 

Most restaurants in the Ko Olina area are either located in resorts or the Ko Olina Center (a small shopping center across the street from Aulani). 

Here are some of my favorites: 


I used to live on Maui and we went to the Monkeypod for happy hour sooooo often so when they built the one in Ko Olina I was THRILLED. Here’s the deal…it’s just always good. Food, service, atmosphere…check, check, check. 

It has some haters (I think mostly because so many people rave about it that there’s bound to be some naysayers), but every night it’s where I gravitate towards. 

Monkeypod is a concept by Hawaii famous chef Peter Merriman who pioneered the farm to table movement in Hawaii. He has some pretty highend restaurants, but the Monkeypod is considered the “bar food” version of his other places. It has the BEST food and I would consider it an “upscale casual” restaurant. 

Their mai tais are legendary and the atmosphere is always a party. But like the kind of party it’s ok to bring your kids to. The only downside is that it’s usually pretty crowded. So make a reservation or show up early for happy hour (there’s a late happy hour too) when drinks are $12 and appetizers are half price.


Chef Roy Yamaguchi is famous in Hawaii and he’s brought his signature restaurant chain out to Ko Olina. It’s got a nice location on the golf course. You can expect your typical steak and seafood fare here.

La Hiki

This spot at the Four Seasons does a breakfast buffet every morning followed by American style lunch and dinner, but the real draw here is the weekend brunch buffet. It’s not cheap, but the all you can eat buffet hosted on Saturdays and Sundays may be the most lavish experience of your trip to Hawaii. If you’re staying in the area (and hey, many people drive all the way over from town for it), you’ve definitely got to make a reservation.

Side Note: If you’re looking for a rental car for your trip, I LOVE Discount Hawaii Car Rentals. They’re seriously the only company I ever use. They’ll give you the very best prices, you don’t have to reserve with a credit card or pay until you show up, you can cancel and re-book anytime if you find a better rate, and they usually have a special that adds additional drivers for no fee. It’s a no brainer. Click here to check rates for your trip.

Eggs ‘n Things

This famous Waikiki breakfast joint now has a location on the west side in the Ko Olina Center. It’s a great, low-key spot for breakfast.


Located at the Marriott, Longhi’s has operated a couple of locations on Maui before coming to Oahu. They do a good breakfast/brunch and somewhat high end dinner. It’s not located right on the water, but most of the restaurant does face the ocean.

Mina’s Fish House

This upscale line-to-table seafood restaurant at the Four Seasons is probably the poshest place in Ko Olina. It’s a multi tiered indoor/outdoor restaurant with plenty of couches for lounging and taking in the sunset.


Located at the Four Seasons, this is probably your best bet for upscale Italian food in Ko Olina.

Island Country Market

AKA an ABC Store, which is a local convenience/souvenir shop chain in Hawaii. This one is really big though and has a decent selection of groceries and prepared foods. If you’re staying somewhere with a kitchen (or at least a fridge), you may want to stock up here. It’s located in the Ko Olina Center.

Island Vintage Coffee

In addition to your morning java, you can grab acai bowls and sandwiches here. It’s located in the Ko Olina Center.

Longboard’s Bar & Grill

Located at the Marriott, this is the place to go for a casual beachfront meal.

Ko Olina Hawaiian Bar-B-Que

Nothing much to write home about, but if you’re looking for something quick (for dine in or carry out), you’ll find some local style favorites here. Located in the Ko Olina Center.

Just Tacos Mexican Grill & Cantina

If you’ve got a craving for Mexican food, they can fill it here. They also have over 300 types of tequila. Located in the Ko Olina Center.

Want to read more posts about Oahu (& Aulani)? I’ve got plenty!

My Favorite Things to Do on Oahu // Things to Do in Waikiki // 5 Day Oahu Itinerary // Oahu North Shore Guide // Oahu Windward Coast (Kailua) Guide // Easy Hikes on Oahu

My Favorite Boutique Hotels in Waikiki // Where to Stay on Oahu Besides Waikiki // The Laylow Review

The Best Luaus (and the Worst) on Oahu // Paradise Cove Luau Review // Is the Polynesian Cultural Center Worth It? // Paradise Cove vs Polynesian Cultural Center

Where Locals Eat in Waikiki // Jurassic Park at Kualoa Ranch // Shangri La and the Honolulu Museum of Art // Tips for Visiting Pearl Harbor

Tips for Staying at Aulani // Is Aulani Worth It? // How Many Days to Spend at Aulani // Aulani Character Schedule // Ka Wa’a Luau Review // Things to Do Near Aulani (in Ko Olina) // Where to Eat Near Aulani

Everything You Need to Know BEFORE You Go to Oahu

Here’s one more really important thing you need to know before your Hawaii trip…

Reservations You Need to Make BEFORE Your Hawaii Trip

You’ve got your airfare, hotel, rental car and your big activities booked, so you should be good to go, right? Wrong!

Travel is BOOMING in Hawaii so a lot of state and national parks used the closure and reopening to institute reservation systems at some of the island’s most popular spots to make things a little more sustainable.

That means that there are now over half a dozen sites (beaches, trailheads, etc.) that require advance reservations. And some sell out well before you arrive on the island so you really need to have some sort of a plan.

I recently saw somebody in a Hawaii travel group post in a panic that they didn’t know they had to make reservations for things in advance…they thought they could just show up and “go with the flow.” I was tempted to say, well, “as long as the flow doesn’t take you somewhere that requires reservations, you can!” ; )

But I don’t want YOU to be that person, so I’ve pulled together a list of all the places you need to reserve entry in advance (plus all the details on booking windows, price, links, etc.) and a handful of popular tourist hotspots that book out really far in advance too.

Haleakala National Park (Maui)

To visit Haleakala National Park for sunrise at the summit, you must make reservations in advance here.

Reservations are required to enter the park gates between 3AM and 7AM (sunrise hours).

Online reservations are $1 per reservation/vehicle PLUS you’ll pay the park entrance fee of $30/vehicle when you arrive (National Park annual passes are also accepted at the gate).

The reservation booking window opens 60 days in advance at 7AM HST. There are also a limited number of tickets released two days before.

You can make one reservation every three days with the same account. So if you want to make reservations for back to back days (in case of weather/conditions), you’ll need to do so with separate accounts (email addresses).

If you can’t get reservations for sunrise, you can enter the park anytime after 7AM without reservations. The summit is spectacular during the day and you don’t need reservations for sunset.

I strongly recommend creating an account before and making sure you’re logged in at 7AM HST because it’s not uncommon for reservations to sell out quickly.

Waianapanapa State Park (Maui)

To visit Maui’s famous black sand beach at Waianapanapa State Park on the Road to Hana, you must make reservations in advance here.

Reservations are required to visit the beach and are distributed in windows from 7AM-10AM, 10AM-12:30PM, 12:30PM-3PM, and 3PM-6PM. And they are pretty strict about exiting by the end of your window time (you can arrive anytime within your window).

It’s $5/person to enter plus $10/vehicle to park and those fees are paid when you book your time slot.

Reservations open up 30 days in advance.

Iao Valley State Park (Maui)

To visit the lush, green mountains and hike at Iao Valley State Park, you must make reservations in advance here.

Reservations are offered for 90 minute time slots beginning at 7AM and ending at 6PM. They ask that you arrive within the first 30 minutes of your time slot.

Entry is $5/person plus $10/vehicle to park.

Reservations open up 30 days in advance.

Diamond Head (Oahu)

To hike to the top of Waikiki’s famous Diamond Head, you must make reservations in advance here.

Reservations are offered in two hour increments beginning at 6AM (6AM-8AM, 8AM-10AM, etc.) and ending at 6PM. If you’re parking onsite, they ask that you arrive within the first 30 minutes of your reservation window.

Entry is $5/person plus $10/vehicle to park.

Reservations open up 30 days in advance.

Tip: I recommend booking one of the first two time slots because there isn’t much shade on this hike and it gets pretty hot.

Hanauma Bay (Oahu)

To snorkel at Oahu’s pristine Hanauma Bay, you must make reservations in advance here.

Entry times are staggered in 10 minute increments from 7AM to 1:20PM with roughly 1000 slots being assigned in advance every day.

Reservations can be made two days in advance and they open at 7AM HST. They’re usually gone in minutes (if not seconds).

If you’re unable to get an advanced reservation, you can try for a day of, walk in ticket. They open at 6:45AM and they only have a limited number available. Everyone in your group needs to be present when you purchase your tickets in person.

There are no reservations for parking and it’s first come, first serve. $3/vehicle.

It’s $25/person to snorkel at Hanauma Bay (12 and under, active military, and locals with HI ID are free).

The Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve is open Wednesday through Sunday (CLOSED MONDAY AND TUESDAY) from 6:45AM-4PM. Last entry is at 1:30PM, the beach is cleared at 3:15PM and you have to leave the facility by 4PM.

Jellyfish patterns can also affect whether or not the bay is open so double check the day before/day of.

USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor (Oahu)

If you want to take the boat tour at Pearl Harbor out to the USS Arizona, it’s recommended to make advance reservations here.

Online reservations are guaranteed a specific boarding time to go out to the USS Arizona. If you’re unable to get an advance reservation, you can wait standby when you arrive. The line could be short (15 minutes or so) or long (hours) and it just depends on the day (if they’re having problems with the loading dock sometimes they don’t take many from the standby line) and the time of day.

Reservations are supposed to open up 60 days in advance, but keep an eye on your exact dates, because lately they’ve actually been opening up about 57ish days in advance???

They also release a small batch of tickets the day before.

The boat ride out to the USS Arizona is free, but it’s $1 to make the reservations online.

They recently started charging $7/vehicle for parking at Pearl Harbor.

Haena State Park / Kalalau Trail (Kauai)

If you want to hike Kauai’s famous Kalalau Trail, you must make advance reservations here.
You’ve got three options here:

1) Parking & Entry: This is the most flexible option and also the most limited. THESE RESERVATIONS SELL OUT IN LESS THAN A MINUTE. There are three time slots available: 6:30AM-12:30PM, 12:30PM-5:30PM and 4:30PM to sunset. You can purchase multiple time slots if you want to stay longer. It’s $10/timeslot (parking) plus $5/person and you have to reserve every person when you initially book. Everybody has to arrive in the same car and your ID needs to match the reservation.

2) Shuttle & Entry: If you can’t get parking at the trailhead, there’s also a shuttle option. Shuttle reservations are $35/person (16+), $25/person (ages 4-15), 3 and under can ride free. The shuttle runs every 20 minutes 6:20AM to 6:40PM.

3) Entry Only: If you’re a Hawaiian resident (with HI ID) or someone WITH a Hawaiian resident, you can purchase entry only for $5/person with no advance reservations. Also, if you’re walking or biking to the trailhead you can do this option. But there is NOWHERE to park in the area to walk in. So this really only works for those with bikes or who are staying close enough to walk. They will tow your car if you park outside the designated areas.

The reservation window opens 30 days in advance at 12AM HST. The parking & entry option usually sells out in a minute, but the shuttle availability will last longer.

There are a TON of FAQs here including the possibility of snagging a canceled reservation.

Other Things to Book in Advance

Hawaii is a busy place these days! Besides the state and national parks above, here’s a handful of miscellaneous things you should make reservations for in advance (if they’re on your radar):

Mama’s Fish House (Maui): The iconic spot is the most popular restaurant in Hawaii and dinner reservations usually start filling up about 6 months in advance (they open up bookings 18 months in advance). Make reservations through their website and if the dates you want are already booked, you can join a waitlist. Most people have pretty good success getting in on the waitlist (even if it’s for lunch).

Old Lahaina Luau (Maui): Honestly, any luau you’re planning to attend you should book early, but most people are usually shocked how far out the Old Lahaina Luau books out. Book it as soon as you know your dates (I think they open at the six month window). They also have a waitlist.

Kualoa Ranch UTV Tour (Oahu): Everybody loves Jurassic Park so getting to ride UTVs where they filmed the movies is very popular. The ranch offers a lot of different tours but the UTV tours usually book out a couple of months in advance.

Spa Reservations: If you’re staying at a resort with a spa (or planning on visiting one), don’t wait until you arrive to make your reservations. I’d make them at least a month in advance.

Tee Times: Same for golf, reserve your tee times well in advance.

Dining Reservations: Any “fancy” or resort restaurant is likely to be booked up these days so if you like having a nice dinner every night, make your plans in advance.



P.S. Thanks for sticking around and reading this whole post! If you have ANY questions about planning your trip to Hawaii, you can join my free Facebook group here. I’m there answering questions every day and there are 7500+ other friends who have a ton of Hawaii information to share!

Also, if you want to follow along on my travel adventures in real time, you can follow me on Instagram (@caitylincoln). My post captions are full of travel tips and I have a ton of story highlights and videos with great info. And please share my account with your friends that are headed to Hawaii! Your support really helps me keep this blog running!

P.S. If you want to follow along on my travel adventures in real time, you can follow me on Instagram (@caitylincoln). My post captions are full of travel tips and I have a ton of story highlights and videos with great info. And share my account with your travel loving friends! Your support really helps me keep this blog running!