What to do, eat and see! And what places to avoid
Saipan is a U.S. territory and the largest island in the Northern Marianas Islands measuring 14 miles long and 5 miles wide. We hopped over there for 4th of July weekend! It’s only a 28 minute plane ride from Guam so we left our house at 6am and we were in Saipan by 8am. Like Guam, it is a very small rock in the middle of the pacific ocean but it has its own character and things to offer. Saipan has long stretches of white powdery soft sandy beaches that can’t be found on Guam. Saipan’s Ocean Drive is more serene than Marine Corps on Guam, and it’s safer to walk on too! I noticed the beaches on Saipan are not nearly as trashed as the beaches on Guam and we were there for 4th of July so I think that says a lot. On the flip-side, there is a lot of wreckage and closed down businesses from the 2018 Typhoon Wutu. Also, some of the food we had was so bad. But I’ll get into that later.
We were there for 4 days and 3 nights and stayed at two hotels. We landed in Saipan at about 8am and rented a Toyota Tacoma from Island Rental at the airport. They provided us with a car seat for Lionel. It was too early to check into our first hotel, Surfrider, so we crept along Ocean Drive and meandered through the mountainous landscape.
We actually got lost but there’s only a few main roads on the island so we found our way pretty easily. But remember you won’t get cell phone service on Saipan! We totally spaced on this and assumed GTA would service Saipan. When you’re driving around Saipan you won’t be able to miss the Imperial Palace. It is a gargantuan resort under construction but the casino is open so we peeked inside.
While we were waiting to check in we popped into Surf Club Restaurant on the beach a one minute walk from the hotel. It was an inviting and relaxing experience and it quickly became our favorite place in Saipan! They serve really good lumpia but what makes this place special is the ambiance. You can dine with a beautiful view of turquoise ocean waters. Then you can play on the beach and splash in the shallow water! It’s perfect for little ones.
After lunch we went out to the beach and explored around until check in. There’s a playground a short walk down the beach. The beaches were so clean and we didn’t see much algae at all.
Our stay at Surfrider Hotel was amazing. We paid $130 for one night with 2 queen beds and it is steps away from the beach. The room was clean and newly renovated. It came with very cold AC and a mini fridge (perfect for Lionel’s milk). If you are staying for longer you can do your laundry for free! Just bring detergent.
Surfrider is a few miles south from downtown but we actually liked it better that way. In the morning we went to Great Harvest Bread Co right downstairs. They’re blueberry cheesecake scones are famous with the locals and we scarfed them down. The cuban sandwich on sour dough bread was also bomb. The chicken salad sandwich was not overloaded with mayo which is how we like it! After we had already ordered my husband spotted the baker setting out freshly baked cinammon rolls. Omg, I’m still kicking myself for not getting one.
We checked out of Surfrider and went sight seeing at some beaches and overlooks. The first beach we checked out was Ladder beach and we fell in love. It is a quaint little cove with a coral beach and some cool caves that provide much needed shade. It’s also easy to get to. You just walk a few steps down from the parking lot. Swimming is not recommended at this beach but we could sit under an overhang and watch the waves crash all day. Above the beach there is a restaurant that looks nice but we didn’t eat there because we were full from Great Harvest.
After Ladder beach, we followed a dirt road to Obyan beach. This beach is gorgeous! Lionel could spend all day here throwing rocks into the ocean. When we were there we saw an ATV tour with a ton of people. It looks like something fun to do if you don’t have babies or toddlers. I did see bigger kids riding with their parents though!
After the beaches we drove north to see some lookouts. We stopped at the Last Japanese Command Post on the way. It’s located at the turn off for Bonzai Cliff. This site commemorates the three week long battle in which American troops invaded and gained control of Saipan from the Japanese. The main attraction is a bunker partly constructed out of a mushroom rock formation. It was so neat! You can also find old artillery and a tank.
Flame trees adorn this beautiful historical site. There are so many of these gorgeous trees in Saipan. On the far side of the park we found the Korean peace memorial. Of course Lionel had to ride the Lion.
Finally we made it to Bonzai cliff where we captured majestic views of the open ocean. We felt so small standing over the never ending expanse of deep blue water.
By this point we were sticky sweaty messes and the heat was getting to us. We planned on going to Suicide cliff but decided to get to the hotel instead and jump in the pool. At check in we were greeted with a room upgrade compliments of our American Express Platinum perks! If you are active duty military platinum is free and we can’t recommend it enough.
While we loved our accommodations at Fiesta the food there was. so. bad. We were living on chicken nuggets, french fries and pizza because everything else we ordered was inedible. We ate at Terrace restaurant in the hotel where I ordered spaghetti bolognese and it was so sweet. What the heck!? The chicken wings were super dry and chewy. My husband ordered a ceasar salad that came with some sad looking shrimp we didn’t even eat them.
While the food at the hotel was underwhelming the amenities surpassed all of our expectations. Fiesta is located right on Micro Beach where we lounged on soft powdery sand, spotted tiny fish in calm waters, and soaked up orange sherbet sunsets.
The hotel grounds are very clean and well kept. The pools are nice with shaded cabanas and there’s even a kiddie splash pool with some water slides where Lionel had a blast. The beach is only steps beyond the pools which is easy for going back and forth.
Right outside the hotel is downtown Saipan, also known as Garapan. It gets very crowded with tourists at about 7pm. We ate at Bubba Gump Shrimp which was okay but not spectacular. There’s a ton of restaurants to choose from and I wish we had more time to try them all because most of the food we had in Garapan left me wanting for something better. But then again, we are kind of food snobs. One very very important thing to remember: wherever you eat DO NOT go to Country Restaurant. We went for chicken fried steak but they said it’s only available at breakfast. They didn’t even have mashed potatoes. Instead my husband got slimy jambalaya and I got an unpalatable chicken salad. The best thing we had there was the baked potato and that is so sad.
One place we wanted to try but didn’t was a hole in the wall place called Garlic Restaurant Grotto. We read that it has the best Japanese curry on the island but we went for dinner and realized it is only served at lunch time. We planned to go back but that just never happened because we didn’t have enough time. If you have a curry craving at lunch time give it a try and let us know how it was!
On our last day we ventured out of downtown to eat brunch at a cute little hipster place called The Shack. It has 4.7 stars on google reviews and I would agree that the food was tasty and fresh. They specialize in crepes but those aren’t our favorite so my husband had chili loaded with a fried egg cheese and sour cream, I had the feel good salad and Lionel of course had pancakes. We also ordered a smoothie that was perfectly sweet. The menu is small but that doesn’t bother me because everything on the menu is good. The people next to us had the crepes and said they were so good they wanted another order!
If you live on Guam and you need a quick getaway or you’re getting stir crazy I think Saipan would be a great relief! It’s similar to Guam in a lot of ways but it also makes for a fun packed weekend with something for everyone. Plus you can get there in only 28 minutes! It’s like a staycation except you’re actually leaving Guam. I hope you get a chance to check it out!