Driving around Hawaii Honolulu and Waikiki can be maddening, and no matter how much effort we put into our descriptions, they can’t cover up the fact that our road system was created by… well, morons. (Sorry, but it’s true.) Having a navigator who’s good at reading maps on the fly can help, but you should count on getting lost, irritated and driving in the vicinity of something you’re trying to get to only to curse in rage that you can’t find it or maneuver to it. Hey… it’s O‘ahu. After a week or so you’ll learn some of its tricks and shortcuts, but the learning curve can be steep. Even living here, we get frustrated at the unintuitive layout. And getting on and off the H-1 freeway can be a joke. We still find it incredible that the primary place where visitors stay—Waikiki—doesn’t have a dedicated on-ramp to get back onto H-1 west. From McCully, you’re directed though a neighborhood until you wander onto an on-ramp. It’s embarrassing, but it’s part of our charm, right?
The Kahala Hotel & Resort
Typically this Hawaii Honolulu resort is ranked among the world’s best hotels—for good reasons. This is probably our favorite O‘ahu resort. It has all the trappings of a big, fun destination resort without any of the annoyances, like waiting in line or crowds. The Kahala isn’t in Waikiki; it’s about 15 minutes away on ultra-protected Kahala Beach. The Kahala hotel exudes a relaxed, old world, luxurious feel. There’s afternoon tea on the open-air veranda, mature gardens and grounds, and clean, well-tended surroundings.
This resort is set apart from the rest of Waikiki. Located at the extreme edge of Waikiki where the Ala Wai Canal meets the ocean, odds are that whenever you want to wander around Waikiki, you’ll either take their free shuttle into the main area, the public bus, or drive and battle for a parking place. Same goes for going to the beach. On the other hand, it’s close to the massive Ala Moana Shopping Center—a 10-minute walk—and there are shopping-starved neighbor island residents who like to stay at the Prince Waikiki for this very reason.
Fine dining Honolulu
Here are just two of the many options available for fine dining Honolulu. For a complete list of all of Honolulu’s outstanding restaurants, download our app. We’ve filtered all Honolulu restaurants by location, cuisine, price and more.
Alan Wong’s, Honolulu
This is one of those fine dining Honolulu places about which much hype exists. It’s one of the in places. Sometimes in places are good at nothing but hype. But not in this case. Simply put, the food at this Hawaii Honolulu restaurant is excellent. It’s unclassifiable with a Pacific Rim bent. What does that mean? The menu changes often with items such as ginger-crusted onaga (snapper), steak, an appetizer called da bag (hard to explain but effective), macadamia nut coconut-crusted lamb chops (the best lamb we’ve ever had), and more. Menu changes constantly. The restaurant’s small but fairly loud. When you make reservations (which you’ll need—they even call you back the day before to confirm), ask for a lanai table, if possible, which has nice views of Manoa Valley in the distance. Alan Wong’s is pricey, but the food’s top notch.
Absolutely epic flavors in an ultra chic ambiance. Japanese food with a Peruvian influence. The selection is vast and overwhelming, and it’s not practical to list individual items. But honestly, we haven’t had anything here that wasn’t off the charts. Flavors are not Japanese subtle but rather finely infused. Whether it’s fish or salads or steak, they serve some of the best food in the state. Don’t get us wrong. It’s pricey, even for fine dining Honolulu. And if we have a complaint, it’s that the service might not be attentive enough. But if you’re looking to splurge on wicked food in Hawaii Honolulu, this is the place to do it.
Honolulu – Things to do
The experience is absolutely epic! We found it easier to learn than we expected with water jets attached to your fixed boots. It feels similar to a snowboard. Turning takes some practice, and if you are proficient enough, they might let you do dives like a dolphin. Keep a constant eye on the jet ski. You are pulling it (and the instructor who controls your throttle) around, and if you get too close, they’ll kill your jets to keep you from smacking into it.
Makani Catamaran, Honolulu
If you’re looking to sail in Hawaii Honolulu, Makani Catamaran is a great choice, but snorkelers might want to look elsewhere. Makani literally means wind, which is appropriate for this ultra fast, top-of-the-line 64-foot sailing cat. No expense was spared on this catamaran. They claim that the carbon fiber mast alone cost $400,000. The boat’s sleek design lets it rip through the waves faster and steadier than any other cat we’ve seen.
Honolulu – Chinatown market
This isn’t a manufactured, made-for-tourists Chinatown. This is the real deal. And for me, having once worked in China for a few years, going to the markets here is like going back to the Far East. Stroll through the crowded aisles, and you’ll find raw chicken feet, freshly caught fish (some still swimming in tanks), whole pig heads, more fruits and vegetables than you even knew existed, Asian orange soda (which is ubiquitous in China), salted duck eggs and more—all with the sound of Cantonese in the background and the ever-present haggling: How much? Figh dalla!
Local restaurants in Oahu
Very popular Oahu restaurant with locals. A huge menu of local items, such as Chinese five-spice shoyu chicken, tempura fish, sandwiches, ‘ahi wraps, salads and a lot more. Reasonable prices for the quality. Order at the counter, and they’ll bring it to your table in a take-out container. Their coconut mochi is a wonderful, dense-as-lead dessert, and their pumpkin bread is outrageously pumpkin-y. (Is that a word? It ain’t in my spell checker. Then again, neither is Kaka‘ako…) Avoid the eggplant Parmesan. Even if you don’t eat your meal here, the desserts (to go) are great.
Mud Hen Water
This restaurant takes local classics and elevates them to a whole new level. With dishes like Buttered ulu and chicken long rice croquettes, there’s no comparing these elevated local staples to your average Hawaiian-style fare. They pride themselves on using hyper-local, sustainable ingredients, even down to their liquor. (The bartender made sure to explain that their vodka is extracted from leftover pineapple bits.) Speaking of booze, the drinks here are not to be missed. Handcrafted cocktails such as Vishnu’s Vice—an awesome gin libation made with juiced turmeric—is not something you see every day. Casual upscale, with a communal, yet romantic vibe.
Frequently asked questions about Honolulu
Is it safe in Honolulu?
It is safe in Honolulu, but as with any place in Hawaii, theft can be a problem when visiting beaches. Visitors like to lock their cars at all beaches, but piles of glass on the ground usually dissuade island residents from doing that at secluded beaches. We usually remove anything we can’t bear to have stolen and leave the car with the windows rolled up but unlocked. (Though that may negate your rental car insurance.) That way, we’re less likely to get our windows broken by a curious thief. Regardless, don’t leave anything of value in your car. (Well… maybe the seats can stay.) While in the water, we use a waterproof pouch or box (which you can buy online) for our wallet and keys, and leave everything else on the beach. We don’t take a camera to the beach unless we are willing to stay there on the sand and babysit it. This way, when we swim, snorkel or just walk, we don’t have to constantly watch our things.
What is Honolulu known for?
Honolulu is known for being overrepresented when it comes to attractions to visit. It’s got so many, in fact, that we have dedicated Adventures & Attractions sections you should check out. Look at places like ‘Iolani Palace, Punchbowl Cemetery, Chinatown, Bishop Museum, Doris Duke’s Shangri La and Garden Tours.
On which island is Honolulu?
Honolulu is on Oahu Island. It is on Oahu’s south shore.
Are Honolulu and Waikiki the same?
Honolulu and Waikiki are not the same. Honolulu is the central hub of the Hawaiian Islands, and Waikiki is the center of tourism. Lots of people work, live and play in this part of the state, and odds are overwhelming that this is where you’ll be staying. That’s because there are around 90 resorts on the island of O‘ahu, and all but less than a dozen of them are in Waikiki. At any one time, 44 percent of visitors in the entire state of Hawai‘i are spending the night in Waikiki.
What can you do for free in Honolulu?
- Waikiki is a great place to get rid of all that pesky money you’ve been earning throughout the year. Everywhere you turn, there are plenty of people and companies that will gladly take your hard-earned cash. If you need a breather, here are a few things you can do for free in Honolulu.
- Off Monsarrat Avenue, where the zoo meets Kapiolani Park, hanging on the chain link of Honolulu Zoo you’ll see the weekly Art on the Zoo Fence, a local display of prints and canvases featuring photographs and paintings of the islands.
- Sunset on the Beach is that scaffolding you see at Queen’s Beach (aka Queen’s Surf Beach). Picture a 30-foot screen on the beach, food concessionaires selling the expected junk food, and movies equivalent to recent DVD releases being shown for free.
- Nightly sunset Torch Lighting Ceremony at Kuhio Beach.
- Also in Kapiolani Park, the Royal Hawaiian Band plays free concerts from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. at the Kapiolani Park Bandstand every Sunday.
- The Hilton Hawaiian Village has a Polynesian show near the pool at 7 p.m. every Friday. Afterward they have Fireworks Over the Ocean.
- Street Performers
- Sunday Showcase at the Waikiki Beach Walk displays the talents of local entertainers from hula dancers to well-known ‘ukulele player Jake Shimabukuro.
- U.S. Army Museum is often overlooked, located right next to the beach in Waikiki. The building itself is the largest artifact.
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