Insiders' favorite spots in Honolulu

3 locals show you where to get the best of everything in the city now

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  • Stuart Holmes Coleman at Kahala Beach, east of Diamond Head

    Honolulu Stuart

    Thomas J. Story

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Writer Stuart Holmes Coleman uncovers the treasures of the shore

"Honolulu is where you get Hawaii's past and future clashing on a daily basis."

Sipping a drink, Stuart Holmes Coleman is sitting in the Sunset Lanai Lounge, overlooking Kaimana Beach. Though it's within sight of Waikiki's high-rises, Kaimana feels a world apart. Here, Honolulu's shoreline exhales as it opens to the banyan trees and greensward of Kapiolani Park. Palm trees shimmy in the trade winds, and locals venture out for open ocean swims. For Coleman and many Honolulu residents, the modest beach in Diamond Head's shadow is a place of refuge on an island that's home to nearly three-quarters of the state's population.

Coleman sees Honolulu from two perspectives. As an instructor at the East-West Center, a hub for international research and education, he works with students from the Asia Pacific region ― a reminder of Honolulu's role as bridge between Asia and the United States.

But Coleman's deepest connections to Honolulu come from its ocean. A dedicated surfer, he's written Eddie Would Go: The Story of Eddie Aikau, Hawaiian Hero, a biography of big-wave surfer and Hawaiian cultural icon Eddie Aikau. And as vice chair and board member of Surfrider Foundation Oahu Chapter, Coleman works on water-quality and beach-access issues. He and his fellow Surfriders are also working to prevent over-development of Oahu's coastline.

Even in busy Waikiki, Coleman says, visitors can feel Honolulu's ties to the sea. "The origins of surfing are right there, and you can surf where Hawaiians have been surfing for hundreds of years." But his favorite spot lies a little to the east. "I love surfing off of Diamond Head. When I'm on the opposite side from Waikiki, all I can see are beautiful cliffs and this timeless natural monument that blocks out the whole city. It's definitely a vision of old Hawaii."

See beaches and bistros

Canoes Coleman says the breaks at Queens and Canoes have "perfect waves for learning with easy rentals and good instructors." INFO: Surfing-lesson and board-rental information available at various beach locations; 808/971-2510.

Town The American bistro with changing art exhibitions is a favorite in the city's Kaimuki neighborhood. INFO: $$$; closed Sun; 3435 Waialae Ave.; 808/735-5900.

Waikiki In a grove of palms near Canoes, just off Kalakaua Ave., you can hang a lei on a bronze statue of Duke Kahanamoku, father of modern surfing.

East-West Center The center hosts lectures and performances, and features an art gallery as well as a Japanese garden. Coleman says the annual East-West Fest in April is a highlight, as the center's students perform traditional dances usually not seen outside of villages in Asia. INFO: 1601 East-West Rd.; 808/944-7111.

Kaimana Beach (Sans Souci Beach) A beach escape just east of the heart of Waikiki that nevertheless feels a world away. INFO: In front of the New Otani Kaimana Beach Hotel, on Kalakaua Ave.


Where to sleep in paradise

These are three of our favorite Honolulu hotels; see for other options.

Moana Surfrider Along with its neighbor, the Royal Hawaiian (528 rooms from $465; 808/923-7311), this Victorian landmark is one of the grand dames of Waikiki. Modernization has reinvigorated the hotel while sacrificing none of its historic character. It's a destination unto itself, and one of the classic Waikiki experiences is tea at Afternoon Tea on the Veranda (1 p.m. daily; call for details). Guests can also take part in a variety of Hawaiian cultural activities, including lei making and hula. INFO: 793 rooms from $430; 808/922-3111.

The New Otani Kaimana Beach Hotel

This small hotel is located on one of surfer-author-environmentalist Stuart Holmes Coleman's favorite beaches, Kaimana (aka Sans Souci Beach). The mood here is tranquil and relaxed ? you're about a 10-minute walk from the hubbub of Waikiki, and Sans Souci itself is an excellent beach for swimming and splashing. Overlooking the beach, the Hau Tree Lanai restaurant is great for breakfast. The "moderate" rooms are very reasonable, but small; the junior suites work better for families. INFO: 125 rooms from $180; Hau Tree Lanai breakfast $; 800/356-8264.

The Kahala Hotel & Resort On the opposite side of Diamond Head with views out toward Koko Head, it offers solitude, luxury, and a getaway still within easy reach of Waikiki. A renovation is also giving new vibrancy to this 1960s classic set in an upscale Honolulu neighborhood. Even if you don't stay here, executive chef Wayne Hirabayashi's Hoku's restaurant is a memorable night out ? especially if you order the crisped whole island fish. INFO: 343 rooms from $395; Hoku's $$$$; 800/367-2525.



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