Chocolate, Poi, and Beaches
Honolulu is best known for the gorgeous beach and sparkling water of Waikiki. Beyond the high-rise resorts and tourist-trap shops of Waikiki is the emerging Downtown foodie scene, the exotic delights of Chinatown, the world-class surfing of the North Shore, and hidden spots with nary a tourist in sight.
A Short History
The island of Oahu was created about 3-4 million years ago by volcanic eruptions. It is unknown when the first humans settled on the island, though some historical data suggests Polynesians could have been here as long as 1,800 years ago. Navigators from the Marquesas Islands arrived about 900 years ago. Subsequent settlers arrived from Tahiti and other Pacific Islands.
Captain William Brown of England was the first European to land in Honolulu when he sailed into the harbor in 1794. The next year, King Kamehameha I conquered Oahu and moved the Royal Court to Honolulu.
By the mid-19th century, Honolulu was booming with the dual economic engines of the shipping trade and sugar cane being the main drivers. As foreign agriculture and trade interests gained outsized influence, eventually stripping the monarchy of most of its powers and allowing only Caucasians to vote in elections.
Native Hawaiians grew increasingly unsatisfied with this arrangement and in the late 1880’s demanded that Queen Kamakaeha have their rights restored. Instead, the cabal of businessmen overthrew the monarchy an installed Sandford Dole as president of the new government of the Republic of Hawaii. The Republic lasted five years until the United States annexed Hawaii as a territory in 1898.
Luxury hotels soon followed, and American business interests ran the island with impunity while the American military built up bases on the island including the strategically important Pearl Harbor. In December of 1941, the imperialist Japanese Navy attacked Pearl Harbor, killing 2,335 soldiers and sinking or running aground sixteen ships.
Hawaii became the 50th state of the United States in 1959. And, Hawaii prospered as air travel became more affordable and Honolulu became a destination for tourists worldwide. Today, almost 6 million visitors come to Oahu every year.
Each island in Hawaii has its own personality. Maui is more laid back, while Honolulu is a big city with all the skyscrapers and traffic jams you’d expect in any North American metropolis. Honolulu also has a strong Asian influence with more than 50% of the population having Asian heritage. With that comes a bounty of sushi joints, noodle houses, and Korean BBQ places. But, if you want something more eclectic or upscale, Honolulu offers that as well.
Served all over the islands, poke seems close to the national dish of Hawaii. There are countless poke recipes and the dish’s ingredients can vary widely. In general, poke is raw, cubed tuna (aku) or octopus (he-e), but other kinds of fish like salmon or even shellfish are used as well. The sauce that the fish is marinated in often differentiates one poke from another. Maui onions are often used along with a relish called inamona with limu (seaweed). Soy sauce and seseme oil give the poke a deep umami flavor.
Rather than recommending a restaurant for poke, try several spots and find your favorite. Fresh fish makes all the difference, so choose a busy spot where they’re turning over the fish rapidly. You’ll even find poke in the grocery store, but unless there’s a timestamp I’d be suspicious.
Vegetarians might be excited to occasionally see menus with vegan poke: Don’t do it! Some places try to appease vegetarian diners by offering vegan poke. It’s almost always raw, cubed tofu with some green onions and soy sauce. No flavor, awful texture. Avoid at all costs.
Poi is a traditional Hawaiian staple made by mashing taro root on a pestle made of volcanic rock. Once mashed, the purple-tinged paste is rather thick so water (or milk) is added to thin it out. Poi can be an acquired taste, but for the adventurous, it’s a culinary leap into traditional Hawaiian food.
The Waiahole Poi Factory is one of the few commercial poi manufacturers who still pound poi by hand (most places use industrial food processors). You can watch workers make poi on traditional boards on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. They also have a restaurant that serves Hawaiian food, including sweet treats like Kulolo (sort of like a caramel) and Haupia (coconut pudding).
Paiai, on the other hand, is taro root that is hand-pounded with the least amount of water possible. The thick paiai paste is cut into cubes and wrapped in taro leaves, making it an ideal food for the ancient Hawaiians travelling around Polynesia.
Mana Ai uses locally grown taro and hand-pounds their paiai. You can only buy it through their website but they ship to the Mainland.
Cacao trees (the plant that produces the cacao beans used to make chocolate) can only grow in a narrow band of latitude around the world. Although it is technically possible to grow cacao in southern Florida, occasional cold weather and tropical storms make large scale production impossible.
Hawaii is just within the cacao band and has a growing high quality chocolate industry. While most of the cacao farms are on the Big Island (it’s a bit further south and securely within the cacao belt), Lonohana Estate Chocolate grows their own cacao trees, dried and ferments their beans, and makes their own highly-sought after chocolate.
Their farm is only 14 acres, so supply is limited. They ship their chocolate to members of their chocolate club and sell bars at their store in the Kaka’ako neighborhood of Honolulu.
With a factory on Windward Oahu and a pop-up tasting room in Honolulu, Manoa Chocolate has some of the most interesting chocolate in Hawaii. They source their beans from all over the world (with an emphasis on Hawaii) and create bars in their factory like the Ali’i Kula made with Maui lavender and the Goat Milk Bar made with, of course, real goat’s milk.
My favorite is the Breakfast Bar. Cacao nibs and crushed Kona coffee beans are added to the 60% cacao dark chocolate to make a crunchy bar. So good!
If you visit the production facility in windward Kialua, they offer a short (and free!) factory tour that is worth your time. But, the highlight is the $5 chocolate tasting. This is an in-depth experience with details on the origins of all the chocolate Manoa offers. The employees are very knowledgeable and the tasting reminds me of a high-end wine tasting.
Madre Chocolate is another excellent local producer of chocolate in Honolulu. Flavors include lilikoi (passionfruit) and spicy aji Amarillo guava pink peppercorn. Madre bars are available in grocery stores and coffee shops all over the island or you can stop by their store in Chinatown for a tasting.
Chinese workers came to the island of Oahu to work the sugar plantations over 150 years ago. Many immigrants settled in what is now Chinatown, adjacent to the Downtown area of Honolulu. A fire burned Chinatown to the ground in 1900, supposedly started in an attempt to burn a building infected with bubonic plague.
With the influx of American military personnel during and after WWII, Chinatown became a red light district known for gambling and prostitution. But, in the last 20 years the area has undergone revitalization with a burgeoning arts district and restaurant scene to compliment the traditional Asian produce markets, noodle shops, flower stands, and Chinese herbalists.
Timid travelers and tourist families with small children may find gritty and sometimes grimy Chinatown overwhelming and off-putting while more sensitive people may find the smells (not all of them appealing) and shady characters reasons to avoid the area. And, while caution must be advised after dark (just like in any big city), the truth is you’re far more likely to be hit by a car (accidents between cars and pedestrians is a real problem all over the islands) than be the victim of a serious crime in Chinatown.
Guests ringing the bells at Izumo Taishakyo Mission of Hawaii
A great way to get to know Chinatown is by taking the walking tour offered at the heritage center. Over the course of a couple hours, the tour visits several restaurants while you learn the history of this fascinating corner of Honolulu. The tour varies based on the day’s particular guide, but in addition to food stops, you can expect lessons on local architecture and a stop at the Izumo Taishakyo Mission of Hawaii, the oldest Shinto Shrine in Hawaii.
If you’re lucky, your tour might include a stop at a Chinese herbalist. Several have storefronts in Chinatown, many nattily outfitted with large wooden chests behind the counter which house the medicine. Fook Sau Tong has one of the best Chinese Medicine shops in Chinatown. Like many of apothecary in Chinatown, Mr. Tong is also an experienced acupuncturist.
One of the delights of Chinatown is wandering around the various produce stands and grocery stores. Chinatown Marketplace has about a dozen shops under one roof. You’ll find fruit and veg, seafood, meat, and spices. Or check out Sun Chong Grocery. This tiny store is stuffed with imported items from China as well as fresh produce. Be adventurous. Look for a helpful employee to tell you how to prepare an item you’ve never tried before. Those stacks of strange looking fruits and vegetables? They’re there because lots of people buy them, cook them, and enjoy them. You should too.
Another joy of Chinatown is the flower shops. You’re sure to see the most beautiful tropical flowers that you can’t find on the Mainland. But, the real entertainment is watching the grandmothers and aunties in the shop creating handmade lei. Of course you can buy a cheap, plastic lei anywhere on the island, but a real lei, made by hand is an Hawaiian treat. It won’t last forever, but that’s what your Instabook and SnapFace newsfeed is for.
After all that walking and shopping, it’s time to eat and Chinatown is bursting with options. The best dim sum might be at Char Hung Sut. They’re also famous for their manapua (pork buns), but they sell out quickly. Bring cash, and get there early, they close at 2 most days.
The Pig Lady is another excellent choice. This Vietnamese restaurant has lots of pork on the menu, obv, but the lunch menu features a surprise; vegan pho, which is hard to come by in the capital city. They also have a vegan banh mi.
The first Friday of the month is a celebration of art in Chinatown. Art galleries, restaurants, and event spaces open their doors for First Friday, showing off art collections, special exhibitions, screening movies, and hosting performances.
Two of the best galleries are the Pegge Hopper Gallery and Louis Pohl Gallery. Part of North Hotel Street becomes pedestrian only for First Friday, allowing people to freely wander between venues. Restaurants and bars like Downbeat Diner and Lounge (some of the best vegetarian in Hawaii), Manifest (great coffee in the AM, drinks at night), and Black Cat Tattoo Studio often host exhibits or events on First Friday as well.
Adjacent to Chinatown is the Downtown area of Honolulu. The central business district and seat of state government is often bypassed by tourists except to visit the exceptional Iolani Palace (the only royal palace on US soil) and the King Kamehameha I statue. These spots are definitely worth a visit, especially the palace which hosts a free concert on the lawn most Fridays by the Royal Hawaiian Band.
Royal Hawaiian Band performing on the grounds of the Iolani Palace (Photo: Brent Petersen)
But, there is much more to do Downtown for foodie travelers who want to explore more than beaches. Downtown is loaded with office workers crammed into high-rises. At lunchtime they all come flooding into the streets looking for sustenance. Many of the best restaurants Downtown are open to serve this specific clientele. They are open short hours during midday and closed on the weekend. So, if you want to eat at these places, plan accordingly.
My favorite Downtown spot is Water Drop, a vegetarian restaurant operated by the Fo Guang Shan Buddhist Order. If you envision a stereotype of monks sitting silently eating brown rice, put that out of your head. This is a cafeteria-style dining experience. You go down the line and select what you’d like. The veggies are always good, of course, but the tofu with nori on the bottom is out of this world. Lunch is cheap ($8-10) and the atmosphere, while simple, is serene, just like you’d want a vegetarian Buddhist restaurant to be. I think their slogan sums up the experience nicely. “A Bowl of Pickled Vegetables. A Portion of Compassion.
A Drop of Water. A Portion of Gratitude.”
Maybe a pizza and a pint is what you’re looking for. JJ Dolan’s makes a great pie, the mozzarella and ricotta is my favorite, and, of course, they’d be happy to pour you a pint of Guinness.
Baker Dudes also make some good pizza, but I go here for the bread. Their croissants, both sweet and savory, are excellent, and I always get a loaf of focaccia. Get there early, they sell out quick.
One of the many murals in Kaka’ako (photo: Brent Petersen)
Ask any longtime resident of Honolulu and they’ll tell you Kaka’ako used to be a dump. Populated with shabby, industrial buildings and unsavory characters, the area was best avoided. But, a recent building boom has filled Kaka’ako with high-rise condos and cool eateries, even if some shady car repair businesses remain (Queen Street). This is a great area to explore; populated with locals and Chinese tourists taking selfies in front of the many outdoor murals.
Kaka’ako has become Honolulu’s craft beer nexus. Three excellent breweries are within a couple blocks of eachother. Waikiki Brewing brews all their beer on site. The English Brown Ale is my favorite, but the Black Strap Molasses Porter is also very popular. Hawaii is five or six hours earlier than the East Coast, depending on the time of year (no daylight saving time in the Aloha State), so Waikiki opens super early on the weekend during football season to show the games and serve brunch.
Just about a block away on Queen Street is Aloha Beer Co. Absent TVs make this a more laid back atmosphere though the classic rock can get a little loud. The beer is quite good, ranging from the interesting black pilsner to the Ehu amber ale. They have a food trailer on site to keep the munchies at bay and a speakeasy upstairs with craft cocktails as well as their beer selections.
The third participant in the Kaka’ako beer triangle is Honolulu Beerworks. They usually have at least ten of their beers on tap, with an excellent stout and a light malt cream ale. The candied beer nuts ($6.50) are nice to munch on while enjoying a pint.
So-called wine bars often leave me disappointed. Improper storage leads to the wine oxidizing if the bottle has been left open too long. Far too many places don’t understand that white wine shouldn’t be served ice cold and red wine shouldn’t be served at room temperature. And don’t get me started on places that store red and white together! Am I a snob? Probably. But, I feel that if you’re going to pay $10, $15, $20 or more for a single glass of wine, it should taste fresh.
Vino Italian Tapas & Wine Bar
That’s why I recommend Vino. Their wine storage system keeps the wine at the proper temperature and reduces oxidation. Plus, they have an excellent and varied selection. I like to sample three or four 2 ounce pours to get several grape varietals from different regions. The last time I was at Vino, I was blown away by an excellent (and inexpensive) Greek wine. Two ounce pours cost as little as $3. Although I’ve never had dinner at Vino, the dishes coming out the kitchen always look good. I can, however, vouch for their desserts. The chocolate cake and sorbet pairs nicely with several of Vino’s wine selections.
Ward Village, which is technically part of Kaka’ako has become a retail and living space in Honolulu. Several high-rise condos surround gelato shops, fancy ramen places, restaurants, and bars. Merriman’s is an upscale eatery with a new (and busy) location in Ward Village. You’ll need reservations for dinner. I usually pop in and look for a seat at the bar. Their craft cocktails are excellent. I recommend their take on a gin and tonic garnished with juniper berries and fresh sage leaves. Paired with the house-made bread taster ($4) and I’m happy.
If all the seats are taken at Merriman’s (as they often are) head around the corner to Nobu. Vegetarians will be disappointed in the lack of menu choices, but the cocktails are excellent and the atmosphere is relaxed as they have surrounded the perimeter of the outdoor seating area with potted evergreens to block the traffic from the busy street.
Combo car dealership and Italian cafe at Italica (photo: Brent Petersen)
Have you ever eaten inside a Ferrari dealership? Me neither. At least not until Italica Bar & Café came along. Fashioned after the restaurants in Italy where all the food is gorgeously displayed in glass cases, Italica is a delight for all the senses. Sandwiches and salads, along with desserts temp, but my favorite is the eggplant parm, served in its own ramekin. Have a limoncello or a spritz before a concert at the Blaisdell (it’s right across the street). And yes, the Blaisdell Center is where Elvis performed his concerts (although the facility was called the Honolulu International Center then) which were shown around the world as “Aloha From Hawaii.”
Pow Wow (photo: Brent Petersen)
Each February, artists from around the world descend on Kaka’ako for Pow! Wow!, an art festival unlike any other. Artists paint murals on buildings all over Kaka’ako. Best of all, you don’t have to be in Hawaii to enjoy their work. Most pieces are permanent (at least until they are painted over), making Kaka’ako a great place to take a selfie with a spectacular splash of color.
There are literally dozens of murals all over Kaka’ako, spreading out for several blocks from the intersection of Cooke Street and Pohikaina Street. My favorite is Green Eggs and Spam, but you’ll see so many incredible works, it will be hard to pick a favorite. Some are as tall as 30 feet while others stretch along the street for almost an entire block.
A quick word about Spam. It’s everywhere in Hawaii. You’ll find it on the menu at local McDonald’s and fancier places, too. It seems everyone in Hawaii is crazy for Spam. No one knows for sure why Spam became so popular in the Aloha State, but I (like always) have a theory.
The US military has been a constant and pervasive presence in Honolulu for decades. Their need for high protein food that wouldn’t spoil led the armed forces to buy millions of tons of the stuff. Because of Spam’s appearance on the plates of soldiers, it ultimately also became a regular part of the native population’s diet.
My favorite spot in Kaka’ako is the Waterfront Park. After being a dangerous spot for years, the park was closed at the end of 2017 for a rehab and beautifications project before reopening in January the following year.
Bodysurfer enjoying some waves at Panic Point, Kaka’ako Waterfront Park (photo: Brent Petersen)
Now, the park is a gathering place for locals. Surfers enjoy excellent swells during the summer months at Panic Point (only experienced swimmers should try it, rip tides are dangerous) and the promenade along the water draws kids, adults, and families, especially on the weekends when many bring picnic lunches to the park.
There’s no beach here, just surf and a great view. But because tourists don’t frequent this spot, it makes a nice respite from the crowds in other parts of Honolulu.
A note about homelessness in Honolulu. The city has the largest homeless population per capita in the United States. Homeless people camp in parks and on sidewalks all over the city. Encampments may have dozens and dozens of tents one day, only to be pushed away by the local police the next (which does nothing to address the underlying problem; shifting it somewhere else.) Other homeless camps are more permanent, having been in the same location for years.
For the most part, homeless people are not dangerous. Panhandling is illegal in Honolulu so they are unlikely to approach you. However, you will occasionally hear about someone being verbally abused or physically assaulted. These instances are rare, but you should exercise caution, especially at night, if you are near strangers.
Finally, the city and state are making strides in addressing the problem of chronic homelessness. While it will always be a problem in Honolulu, the rate of homelessness in Honolulu has decreased in the last couple of years.
You’re going to be spending quite a bit of time at the beach. Make the most of it by selecting the beach that suits you best. Know that all beaches are open to the public (sort of) in Hawaii. By law, the public has access to the shoreline from the water to the “upper reaches of the washes of the waves.” That means you can legally walk along the shore between the water and where the waves wash up on the land in all parts of Hawaii, even so-called private beaches.
Probably the most famous beach in the world, Waikiki beach stretches for two miles along the shore. With fame comes tourists. Lots and lots and lots of tourists. Waikiki Beach can be uncomfortably crowded a lot of the time. But, it also has lots of amenities like surfing lessons and board rentals, boat rides, parasailing, and restaurants.
If you want a little quiet (though not much) head to the Fort DeRussy section of the beach where there is some shade and grass. You’ll want to take the kids to the Prince Kuhio section of the beach where a wall has been built to create calm water for them to play in.
Ala Moana Beach
Two children at dusk on Ala Moana Beach (photo: Brent Petersen)
A little west of Waikiki is Ala Moana Beach. While busy (especially on the weekends), Ala Moana is more of a local’s beach where families and friends often hang until late at night enjoying picnicking, barbequing, and maybe a beverage or two.
Photo: Brent Petersen
Magic Island is really a peninsula, not an island, and is part of Ala Moana and this is the spot to watch the fireworks every Friday night. While the crowds are packing the Hilton Hawaiian Village, Magic Island is much less crowded and gives a nice vantage point to watch the short, weekly display. Traffic, on the other hand, can be a bit of hassle afterwards.
Monk seal lounging on Sandy Beach (photo: Brent Petersen)
Sandy Beach is also one of the nicest beaches on the south shore. This beach might be most famous as the place where President Barack Obama would bodysurf when he visited the islands. There was even a short-lived attempt to rename the beach Barack Obama beach in 2014.
The wide beach is great for relaxing and nearby food trucks will satiate your hunger. Surfers also say there are some of the best (and most treacherous) waves on the island. Check with lifeguards before going in.
Close by is the Halona Blowhole. A natural phenomenon created by surf erosion, water gushes from the blowhole when the surf is right. In fact, if surf is low, the blowhole may sit silent. The best view is at high tide. You may have to wait a while until the waves hit just right, but when the water comes spewing out of the blowhole, you’ll be glad you waited.
There is a viewing point just off the road with a parking lot which can get filled with cars and buses. Expect to wait for a parking spot on busy days. Reaching the Halona Blowhole itself is possible by climbing down the rocks to the Halona Beach Cove. This beach was made famous in the movie From Here to Eternity during the scene when Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr roll around in the surf.
The Halona Beach Cove is quite striking and has some of the best snorkeling and diving on the island. If you continue on the rocks past the cove you will reach the blowhole. However, be careful and do not get too close as tourists have been swept off the rocks by rogue waves or unexpected blowhole blasts.
If Waikiki is driving you batty, head to the North Shore for spectacular beaches with fewer crowds. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of tourists here, but nothing like the crush of humanity in Waikiki.
Sometimes it may seem that the entire northern half of Oahu is a giant beach. You can, if you like just drive along Kamehameha Highway (State Highway 83) and pick any beach you like.
For me, Ehukai Beach Park is the pick of the bunch. Known as the Banzai Pipeline for the reefs that create incredible waves for surfing, the beach is great as well. Even if the beach near the parking lot is crowded, you can often walk just fifty yards to get away from the people. That is, except during the international surfing and bodyboarding competitions that takes place during the winter. Surfers descend on Ehukai to test their skills against some of the most dangerous waves the pipeline has to offer.
Three Tables Beach has some excellent snorkeling, as does Shark’s Cove, due to the reefs just offshore. But, I enjoy going to Laniakea Beach, aka Turtle Beach. Most afternoons Hawaiian turtles (hona) come ashore and hang out of the beach. Volunteers hand out information to tourists and answer questions about the endangered animal. If you don’t see a turtle during your first visit, head to Ted’s Bakery for a slice of pie and come back later, you might see one then.
They don’t call it Turtle Beach for nuthin’ (photo: Brent Petersen)
Note that parking at Laniakea Beach is limited. There is no specific lot as there is at many of the other beaches, so park across the street. There is also no crosswalk, which is quite dangerous. What I do is try to make eye contact with the drive as you stand by the road. Most will slow down and allow you to cross. However, make sure drivers from the other direction follow suit. Like I said, it’s a dangerous street to cross.
Natural Wonders of Oahu
When 19th century British sailors found crystals, which they mistakenly believed were diamonds nearby, they named the great cone Diamond Head. Part of a dormant volcano, Diamond Head dominates the view of much of southern Oahu. Hiking the 175 stair steps to the top provides some of most magnificent views in all of Hawaii (and that’s saying something). Get to the entrance early (the park opens at 6am, cars start lining up around 5:30) and hike to the top in about 20-30 minutes to see the sunrise.
Manoa Falls (photo: Brent Petersen)
One of the great things about Hawaii is the rainforests, hiking trails, and waterfalls. And there’s a nice rainforest with a trail leading to a waterfall right in Honolulu. Because of its location, Manoa Falls is incredibly popular and often crowded, especially on weekends. Because of that, I recommend going as early as possible to beat the crowds (the trail opens at 8).
Here’s what you need to know about the hike. First, if it has been raining, the trail may be closed. In fact, the trail was closed for a few weeks in 2018 due to rock slides. Don’t try to access the trail if it is closed. Not only is this dangerous, but it is also illegal. Tourists have been arrested for going around the gates when the trail is closed.
Prepare for a relatively short but strenuous hike. That means good shoes with traction, like sneakers. I’ve seen people hike this trail in flip flop and flats with smooth soles. Needless to say, they were not happy hiking along a muddy trail with slippery rocks.
Don’t be like this person. Stay out of the marked dangerous areas. (photo: Brent Petersen)
Also, this hike isn’t for everyone. There are steep steps and slippery passages. Baby strollers are not appropriate. Trust me, you’ll be miserable.
Bring bug spray and water. Thank me later.
Finally, when you get to the top, pay attention to the signs and chains instructing you where you can and cannot go. It is for your safety. Not only that, but people who climb over the chain to get a selfie next to the waterfall make it harder for everyone else to enjoy the falls. Don’t be that person.
Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail
View from the top of the Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail (photo: Brent Petersen)
Past Sandy Beach at the easternmost edge of Oahu is the Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail. A moderate hike takes you to the top where a 360 degree panoramic view awaits. The Makapu’u Lighthouse is also visible from here. The hike itself is about 1 ½ miles roundtrip, and while note easy, due to the change in elevation, I have seen children and senior citizens make this hike with little trouble. Very much worth it on a clear day.
The Ha’iku Stairs, aka the Stairway to Heaven, is a hike of almost 4,000 stairs to a peak on the Ko’olau mountain. The stairway was built by the navy in 1942 to reach the top of the mountain and as access to a communication station. Currently, the stairway is restricted and it is illegal to climb the stairway, although people regularly ignore this law and climb anyway. Local residents have become more and more angry about trespassers accessing the stairway through their property and there have even been reports of violence. Trespassers caught on the stairway are regularly ticketed and some have even been arrested, yet people continue to climb the stairs for the famous views they reveal.
When booking a trip to Honolulu, your first thought isn’t about which museums to visit. But, there are several excellent ones in the city that are worth your time.
On December 7th, 1941, the Imperial Japanese Air Force staged a surprise attack on the American base at Pearl Harbor. Over two thousand soldiers were killed and sixteen battleships were sunk or ran aground. This even plunged the United States into WWII.
The most popular site at Pearl Harbor is the USS Arizona Memorial, one of the ships sunk in the attack. The ship sits where it sank, at the bottom of the harbor. Sailors’ bodies are still on the ship, preserved in a watery grave as a memorial to those who died. Unfortunately, as of this writing, the memorial itself is closed to foot traffic due to structural damage. You can, however, take a boat trip out to the memorial and circle it.
Other attractions at Pearl Harbor include the Memorial Theater near the visitor center, the Pacific Aviation Museum, Battleship Missouri Memorial, and the USS Bowfin Submarine. All these sites except the Memorial Theater require an additional admission charge.
For most Americans, Hawaii’s history begins with the attack on Pearl Harbor. But Polynesian people have been in Hawaii for 1,200 years. The Bishop Museum has the largest collection of Polynesian artifacts in the world. In addition to pieces belonging to the Hawaiian Royal Family (the museum was founded by the widower of the last member of the royal family), there is a comprehensive history of Polynesian peoples around the world and am unflinching look at Hawaiians first contact with Europeans.
Some of the tilework at Sharngri-La (photo: Brent Petersen)
Heiress Doris Duke visited Hawaii in 1935 as part of an around the world honeymoon. Two years later she built one of her winter homes, Shangri-La, in Honolulu. Ms. Duke decorated the home with art pieces from her extensive travels in Africa and the Middle East. Ms. Duke died in 1993 and Shangri-La opened as a museum in 2002.
You can visit Shangri-La via a guided tour scheduled through the Honolulu Museum of Art. A visit is required not only because of the stunning waterfront location, but to see the magnificent collection of Islamic art throughout the home. Priceless pieces featuring tilework, furniture, and textiles occupy each room and the tour guide adds perspective to the collection.
Barack Obama Walking Tour
Washington Middle School basketball courts. Where future President Barack Obama found his love for the game. Part of the Barack Obama self-guided walking tour. (photo: Brent Petersen)
Not technically a museum, but unless one dedicated to our 44th President and native-born Hawaiian is built, this walking tour might be as close as we come.
Barack Obama was born at the Kapiolani Medical Center in the Makiki section of Honolulu. This working-class area of the city has remained relatively unchanged since young Barack lived here. His school, the apartment where he lived with his grandparents, and even the Baskin-Robbins where he scooped ice cream as a teenager are still there. The good folks at On Walkabout have put together a self-guided walking tour that stitches together several Obama sites in Makiki.
Daniel K. Inouye International Airport aka Honolulu International Airport (HNL)
International airport with numerous flights to the Mainland, international cities, and other Hawaiian Islands.
300 Rodgers Blvd, Honolulu, HI
“The Bus” is a well-organized and efficient way to see Honolulu. The system also covers the rest of the island, including The North Shore, if you don’t want to rent a car.
Bike shops rent bikes, but Biki kiosks are located all over the city. It’s a cheap and convenient way to get around town.
Taxis and Uber are widely available. Rental cars might be desirable for more convenience or remote locations.
Index of Things to Do in Honolulu
The world’s most famous beach. Extremely popular and crowded.
Kalakaua Ave, Honolulu, HI
Hammocks at Ala Moana Beach Park (photo: Brent Petersen)
Ala Moana Beach
Beautiful beach used mostly by locals.
Ala Moana Beach Park Drive, Honolulu, HI
Sandy Beach Park
Great beach and surf. Waves and rips can be dangerous
Kalanaianaole Highway, Honolulu, HI
Halona Blowhole and Cove Park
Natural phenomenon where water erupts from a hole in the rock.
Kalanaianaole Highway, Honolulu, HI
Hike to the top rewards with the best views in Hawaii
Diamond Head Road, Honlulu, HI
Surfer taking on the Banzai Pipeline (photo: Brent Petersen)
Beautiful beach with world class surfing. International surfing competitions each winter.
59-337 Ke Nui Rd, Haleiwa, HI
Laniakea aka Turtle Beach
Hawaiian turtles (hona) often come ashore here to rest.
574, 61-574 Pohaku Loa Way, Haleiwa, HI
Three Tables & Sharks Cove
Excellent spots for snorkeling
59-776 Kamehameha Hwy, Haleiwa, HI
Kaka’ako Waterfront Park
Beautiful promenade leads to Panic Point, a popular surfing spot in summer
102 Ohe St, Honolulu, HI
Chinatown Walking Tour
2 hour tour Wednesdays and Fridays at 9:30am. $30pp, walk-ins welcome
Heritage Center, 1040 Smith Street, Honolulu, HI
Izumo Taishakyo Mission of Hawaii
Izumo Taishakyo Mission of Hawaii (photo: Brent Petersen)
Oldest Shinto Shrine in Hawaii. Please be respectful in this holy place.
215 North Kukui Street, Honolulu, HI
Fook Sau Tong
Chinese medicine shop and experienced acupuncturist.
112 North King Street, Honolulu, HI
Ong King Arts Center
Event space in the Fort Street Mall featuring open mic on Monday and lots of music on First Friday. Vegan food also available.
1154 Fort Street Mall, Honolulu, HI
Art galleries, restaurants, and performance spaces open up for special events the first Friday of each month.
Iolani Palace (photo: Brent Petersen)
The only royal palace on American soil. Royal Hawaiian Band plays a free concert outdoors on the palace grounds most Fridays.
364 South King Street, Honolulu, HI
Kaka’ako Pow! Wow!
Pow! Wow! mural in Kaka’ako (photo: Brent Petersen
Street art festival held each February in Kaka’ako
Exciting hike through a rainforest to a waterfall.
Manoa Road, Honolulu, HI
Moderate hike leads to panoramic views of eastern Oahu.
Kalanianaole Highway (Hwy. 72), Oahu, HI
Almost 4,000 stairs leading to fantastic views of Oahu. Currently closed and off limits.
1849 Ala Aolani St, Honolulu, HI
Sitting room at Shangri-La (photo: Brent Petersen)
One of Doris Duke’s homes is now a museum with the most extensive collection of Islamic art in the western world.
4055 Pāpū Cir, Honolulu, HI
Barack Obama Walking Tour
Self-guided walking tour of the Makiki neighborhood where our 44th President was born and raised.
World’s largest collection of Polynesian artifacts. Well worth a visit.
1525 Bernice St, Honolulu, HI
Pearl Harbor Memorial
The single most popular site in Hawaii memorializes the soldiers lost in the Pearl Harbor attack. USS Arizona site is currently closed, but other sites at Pearl Harbor are open.
Index of Food & Drink in Honolulu
Waiahole Poi Factory
Waiahole Poi Factory
Poi is hand-pounded on site. Also has a restaurant with traditional Hawaiian food.
48-140 Kamehameha Hwy, Kaneohe, HI
Hand-pounded paiai only available on their website.
Lonohana Estate Chocolate
Actual bean to bar chocolate; they grow their own cacao trees! Farm tours available by request.
344 Coral Street, #104A, Honolulu, HI
Excellent chocolate sourced worldwide with emphasis on Hawaiian beans. $5 tasting is a great experience
Factory and tasting room: 315 Uluniu Street, Suite 203, Kailua, HI
Pop-up tasting room: Waikiki Beach Hotel – Hyatt Regency, 2424 Kalakaua Avenue, Honolulu, HI
Award winning chocolatier.
8 North Pauahi St., Honolulu, HI
20-A Kainehe St, Kailua, HI
Super cool booths at Downbeat Diner (photo: Brent Petersen)
Excellent food, especially for vegetarians. Lounge next door has live music and First Friday events.
42 North Hotel Street, Honolulu, HI
The Dragon Upstairs
Chill bar often featuring live jazz.
1038 Nu’uanu Ave., Honolulu, HI
Part of the Chinatown renaissance on North Hotel. Tues.-Fri. Happy Hour, 4-9pm.
35 North Hotel Street, Honolulu, HI
The Tchin! Tchin! Bar
Cool tapas spot in Chinatown.
39 North Hotel Street
A dozen produce and meat vendors under one roof.
City Square Shopping Center 1199 Dillingham Blvd., Honolulu, HI
Ethiopian restaurant on the edge of Chinatown
1112 Smith Street, Honolulu, HI
Char Hung Sut
Dim Sum in Chinatown
64 N. Pauahi Street, Honolulu, HI
The Pig Lady
Lots of pork on the menu at this Vietnamese restaurant.
83 North King Street, Honolulu, HI
Mural on the back wall at Manifest
Excellent coffee in the morning, becomes a bar at night. Supports local artists and takes part in First Friday.
32 North Hotel Street, Honolulu, HI
Vegetarian restaurant run by a Buddhist monastic sect. Lunch only.
801 Alakea Street, Honolulu, HI
Some of the best pizza in Honolulu. Great place for a pint, too.
1147 Bethel Street, Honolulu, HI
Terrific bread and croissants. Pizza, too.
923 Alakea St, Honolulu, HI
Excellent beer brewed on site. Open early for brunch on the weekend during football season.
Kaka’ako location: 831 Queen Street, Honolulu, HI
Waikiki location: 1945 Kalakaua Avenue, Honolulu, HI
Aloha Beer Co.
Excellent beer, open evenings only.
700 Queen Street, Honolulu, HI
Several beers brewed on site, food menu, too.
328 Cooke Street, Honolulu, HI
Best wine bar in Honolulu
500 Ala Moana Blvd., #6f, Honolulu, HI
Upscale eatery in Ward Village with an excellent bar
1108 Auahi St, Honolulu, HI
Lacking vegetarian options, but excellent cocktails
1118 Ala Moana Blvd, Honolulu, HI
1962 Fiat on display at Italica (photo: Brent Petersen)
Italica Bar Café
Italian café inside a car dealership? Yes, and it’s delicious.
888 Kapiolani Blvd, Honolulu, HI
Best vegetarian restaurant in Honolulu
3585 Waialae Ave, Honolulu, HI
Donut shop. Try the malasadas (Portuguese donuts)
933 Kapahulu Avenue, Honolulu, HI
La Mariana (photo: Brent Petersen)
True throwback tiki bar on Sand Island.
50 Sand Island Access Rd, Honolulu, HI
Excellent vegan food.
2239 S King St, Honolulu, HI
Honolulu Coffee Experience Center
Top-notch coffee shop with roaster in-house. Very good desserts as well.
1800 Kalakaua Avenue, Honolulu, HI
Shirokiya Japan Village Walk
Food hall with dozens of bistros and food kiosks.
1450 Ala Moana Blvd., Suite 1360, Honolulu, HI
Index of Shopping in Honolulu
Convenience store with dozens of locations on the island. Everything from snacks to wine to sushi to aloha shirts.
Vintage clothing store in Chinatown
1160 Nuuanu Ave., Honolulu, HI
The Art at Mark’s Garage
Artist owned co-op
1159 Nuuanu Ave., Honolulu, HI
Sun Chong Grocery
Half Chinese grocery store, half apothecary.
127 North Hotel Street, Honolulu, HI
Lin’s Lei Shop
Lin’s Lei Shop
Handmade lei in Chinatown.
1017 Maunakea St., # A, Honolulu, HI
Pegge Hopper Art Gallery
Exciting Chinatown art gallery with events on First Friday
1164 Nuuanu Ave., Honolulu, HI
Louis Pohl Gallery
Art gallery features the works of American artist Louis Pohl as well as other artists.
1142 Bethel Street, Honolulu, HI
Black Cat Tattoo
Tattoo shop often hosts events on First Friday
1111 Nuuanu Ave., Honolulu, HI
Index of Places to Stay in Honolulu
Surfjack Hotel and Swim Club
Boutique hotel in the middle of Waikiki.
412 Lewers Street, Honolulu, HI
Boutique hotel with views of Diamond Head
2885 Kalakaua Avenue Honolulu, HI
The Modern Honolulu
Cool hotel with good restaurants and bars including a hidden speakeasy called The Study.
1775 Ala Moana Boulevard Honolulu, HI
Garden at Manoa Valley Inn
Manoa Valley Inn
Away from the hustle and bustle of Waikiki, this hotel is an historic 1912 mansion with a tropical garden.
2001 Vancouver Drive, Honolulu, HI
Coconut Waikiki Hotel
Family friendly boutique hotel.
450 Lewers St, Honolulu, HI
Paniolo at the Equis
Budget option for Waikiki
1696 Ala Moana Boulevard, Honolulu, HI
Two blocks from the beach
Ocean View Studio
Near the zoo and Diamond Head