[o'ahu soundtrack. your rocky spine]
We were pretty damn excited when Jetstar invited us to go with them to Hawaii last week. An easy 10ish hour direct flight from Melbourne to Honolulu, we would be there in no time. On a mission to find some beautiful off-the-beaten track places and things, we were pumped. Hawaii had always been high on our travel wishlist (well, Kauai anyway), but we had still never been.
So we were excited, yes, but admittedly a little nervous as well. Didn't Oahu just equal Honolulu which equaled Waikiki which equaled some kind of Disneyland meets Vegas/Cancun-touristy wonderland??? We were worried that there might not be too much to find beyond the ritzy beachfront resorts and a sea of Hawaiian shirts…
How wrong we were.
Not only did we fall madly in love with the North Shore (hello hot surfers, big waves, chilled vibes, and delicious food trucks and farm stands)…but Honolulu stole our heart as well. With so many cool little pockets, there are fun adventures to be had everywhere - culturally, in the arts, in nature, and on the food scene as well. Jogging along the Waikiki beachfront path at sunrise (or sunset) was pretty hard to beat as well.
We love the way the locals use the mountains and the ocean as a point of reference. When asking for directions for example, you might be told something is MAUKI (mountain side) or MAKAI (ocean side). They use Diamond Head (on the east) and Ewa (a town on the west) as well, “its the Diamond Head side of Cook St”. People here are incredibly friendly. They truly appreciate how lucky they are to live in such an idyllic island paradise.
The iconic Royal Hawaiian (where all our pink dreams came true) and the Halekulani (if you’re in the mood for fancy, pop up to the very formal Le Mer for a pre-dinner cocktail) were our pick of the beachfront hotel bunch.
Here are some more of other favourite things (and hopefully enough to get you started)...
ARVO: a brand new, bright and friendly space. We love it here. A super sweet aussie/Hawaiian couple doing really good Aussie-style coffee (serving Sightglass from San Francisco) and toast - they even do avo and vegemite. they share their space with a beautiful flower store, paiko, in kaka’ako - the arts district of honolulu.
Marukame udon: the thread of Japanese culture has been tightly woven into Hawaiian culture, and as a result, the Japanese food here is some of the best you will ever eat. Marukame Udon is a Waikiki institution. Known for its handmade and freshly cooked udon, you’ve got to get here early. The queues become massive and wind all the way down the street. We like going bang on 7am for breakfast (trust me).
For poké (hawaiian raw fish salad - the most common kind is tuna - don't confuse it with sashimi, tartare, or ceviche though!): found a great spot (a recommendation from the young kid at the bike rental shop) called Ono Seafood in Kaimuki. It was a 20min bike ride from Waikiki beach and its a tiny hole-in-the-wall kind of place in a parking lot. No frills, but the ahi is fresh and cheap. Also try 21 Mart - a bit further out - but its renowned as having the freshest of fresh fish. Ask for the Hawaiian style poke. They don't mix it until you order (unlike most of the others). And for those who are not familiar, Ahi poke is an amazing combination of tuna, soy sauce, sea salt, green onions, maui onions and limu.
Peace Cafe: for breakfast, lunch or dinner - friendly, vegan and wholesome. we loved our nori bowl - black rice, sautéed greens, coconut kale, beans, tahini and sprouts. We hear the Kinako (a japanese powder) iced latte and avocado sandwich are both good as well.
Brue bar: before we found arvo, we found Brue bar. With a couple of locations around town, they do a decent coffee as well.
Any of Ed Kenney's restaurants in Kaimuki. We ate at TOWN (the food was amazing - order the gnocchi), but we preferred the feel of Mud Hen Water across the road. It has a cute fairy-lit outdoor courtyard. Kaimuki Superette is next to that, and is daytime only.
Kim Chee 2: for cheap and cheerful, no-frills bibimbap (next to Peace cafe).
Lucky Belly: a relative newie in Chinatown. Go for the ramen. Fun vibe.
L’aperitif: the fancy cocktail in La Mer, upstairs at the Halekulani hotel. Its quite formal, so leave your flip flops and t-shirts behind.
Wing ice cream: for delicious handmade ice cream (We like the vegan flavors best) with not-so friendly vibes!
Musubi & Bento Iyasume: for a quick bite on the run. This was our favourite hole-in-the-wall find. Super fresh (the rice is still warm) japanese rice balls - pick your filling (we like salmon) and then wrap in nori. They do a few bowls as well. Cute and friendly.
Pig and the Lady: try the pho french dip sandwich, and the sprouting seed salad.
Livestock Tavern: american plates and classic cocktails in chinatown.
Beerworks: a microbrewery in kakaako. Plenty of beer and good vibes.
Pioneer Saloon: a really cute Japanese spot (think big windows and lots of potted plants) in Diamond Head that does great ramen burgers.
Diamond Head Cove Health Bar: for great salads, smoothies and big cups of acai.
Sunny Days (next to the Diamond Head Cove Health bar): for an absolutely gorgeous and sunny cafe doing great breakfast and lunch food.
MONO: a well-curated design store with books, bags (fallraven), and japanese notebooks and stationary.
Paiko Flowers: a beautiful flower shop (which shares its space with ARVO coffee).
Chinatown: a fun place to wander. There are a bunch of cute stores. We like Owens and Co.
Creative Nails: if you need a mani/pedi…this no-frills nail bar in Diamond Head did a great job, and waxing as well.
Diamond head crater hike: this is a steep, but simple hike that is less about nature and more about the views (back over Waikiki). It gets pretty hot, so take a hat and water.
Likeke Falls hike: for a beautiful waterfall hike hidden deep in the rainforest (its 4miles return).
Rent a surfboard, paddle board or bikes.
Check out Lana Lane Studios: an artist collective in Kakaako full of designers, fine artists, photographers, videographers and more. Amazing street art in the nearby laneways as well.
Elephant truck: for thai. This was our favourite food truck on the North Shore. Some of the best thai we have had.
Haleiwa Acai Bowl: for awesome acai bowls out of a cute little beach shack hut.
Pukukea Grill food truck: for their ahi tuna poke bowl.
Acai from the Brazilian food truck opposite Pipeline beach.
Giovanni's Shrimp Truck for their shrimp scampi plate (add a side of hot sauce).
Bonzai Sushi: for really fresh and delicious sushi in a little Haleiwa strip mall.
Celestial Natural Foods (a gorgeous and cosy health food store), and the beet box cafe: for healthy lunches, juices and smoothies.
Surf (if you’re really good, or brave). Or just watch instead. Mind-blowing stuff.
Check out the local farmers markets and farm stands. They’re everywhere.
Hit up the food trucks.
Hang on Sunset Beach - our favorite.
Watch the gun surfers at Pipeline.
Swim at waimea beach, quieter and more calm.
Yoga (a few different options around Haleiwa).
We headed east to Kailua to hike the Lanikai Pillbox trail. We only had half a day there, but found a few cute things.
Oliver: this tiny little men’s store is perfect. Jam-packed full of some of our favourite brands, its a must-stop when passing through Kailua.
Olive: the little sister to Oliver. This is their women’s version.
Aloha Beach Club: great street wear, and a little coffee counter as well.
Nalu Bowls in Kailua (funnily the same name as our favorite acai bowl spot in bali) -same kind of deal. Acai bowls, smoothies, salads and other healthy stuff.
Wholefoods: one of our favourite places in the world, haha. This is a small one, but perfect if you need to grab some snacks, a smoothie, or a lunch on the run.
Hike pillbox trail: the trailhead starts in the backstreets of Kailua and takes you up a steep rocky climb to some amazing views over Lanikai Beach. Dont stop at the first pillbox. Dont even stop at the second. Keep hiking up. The trail goes on for miles.