From Waikiki’s famed shores to Pearl Harbor’s poignant history, explore Hawaii’s gateway island
Written byJeanne Cooper and Robin RinaldiOctober 31, 2016
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1 of20Erin Kunkel
Cloudburst? Wait it out at Salt at Our Kaka‘ako in the artsy Kaka‘ako neighborhood. The rain will stop long before you’re done browsing this collection of shops and restaurants.
2 of20Erin Kunkel
Grab laid-back Vissla boardshorts at Stoke House (808/369-3388)—it’s one of our favorite shops in the Salt complex.
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3 of20Erin Kunkel
Japanese chef Masaharu Morimoto’s Morimoto Asiagoes full-on with deft Pan-Asian plates. Sit on the lanai overlooking Waikiki Beach and dig into crunchy ahi “pizza” and barbecued black cod.
4 of20Erin Kunkel
Take Piikoi Street north toward the Honolulu Museum of Art, and prepare to be surprised by a world-class contemporary collection.
Courtesy of Hyatt
5 of20Courtesy of Hyatt
Hyatt Centric Waikiki Beach
The Hyatt Centric's eighth-floor rooftop features a circular hanging daybed and sleek white loungers sunk into a wading pool. If you want to head out for an afternoon on Waikiki Beach, located blocks away, you can borrow beach towels, chairs, and umbrellas.
Courtesy of The Surfjack Hotel & Swim Club
6 of20Courtesy of The Surfjack Hotel & Swim Club
The Surfjack Hotel & Swim Club
The Surfjack looks like a groovy mid-rise 1960s hotel updated for the 21st century, wrapped around an oval swimming pool. The hotel more than delivers on laid-back fun: Live music in the evening; craft workshops, salons, and movies at the pool; and yoga sessions on the penthouse lanai.
Courtesy of The Laylow
7 of20Courtesy of The Laylow
The Laylow, Autograph Collection
In The Laylow's lobby, rattan chairs hang from the ceiling; rooms mix bright graphic wallpaper and teak furniture. Hula girl statuettes line the check-in area, and onsite Hideout Coffee brews up Stumptown beans.
The Royal Hawaiian
Officially subtitled “A Luxury Collection Resort,” but better known as “the Pink Palace,” the landmark Royal Hawaiian has seen several additions and renovations since its opening in 1927, but has lost none of its gracious style. Families will appreciate the Helumoa Playground pool shared with neighboring Sheraton Waikiki, while adults will savor the garden Abhasa Spa, cabana-lined Malulani Pool, and the signature drink at the Mai Tai Bar.
Turtle Bay Resort
All of Waikiki could fit inside the 850-acre Turtle Bay Resort on Oahu’s North Shore, but thankfully, it doesn’t. Instead, guests staying in the hotel, condos, or cottages can unwind at a tranquil cove, explore woods and shoreline on horseback, take an aerial view from the renovated “Magnum, P.I.” helicopter, play golf at two championship courses, and pamper themselves in the spa--which, like the seven dining outlets, features an ocean theme and island products.
Lanikai Beach Rentals
The small-town vibe and gorgeous sandy beaches of Kailua that have attracted President Obama on regular vacations also appeal to ordinary travelers wishing to escape Waikiki’s high-rise hustle--somewhat to the dismay of residents, who have pushed for a crackdown on unlicensed rentals. Fortunately, Lanikai Beach Rentals manages two fully permitted homes and five suites, ranging from a garden studio to a two-bedroom “tree house,” either on or a short walk to breathtaking Lanikai Beach.
Mason Rose, courtesy of Arvo
11 of20Mason Rose, courtesy of Arvo
Start your day off right with cold brew and breakfast toasts at the trendy Arvo.
One of the pioneers of Hawaii Regional Cuisine, Roy Yamaguchi still packs them in for fine Euro-Asian dining at his original Roy’s in Hawaii Kai, opened in 1988, along with branches in Ko Olina and Waikiki. You can also experience his mastery of fresh seafood at the more casual Roy’s Beach House facing Kuilima Cove at the Turtle Bay Resort, or explore the islands’ multi-ethnic roots at his Eating House 1849 in Waikiki’s International Market Place; both restaurants debuted in 2016.
Courtesy of Mahina & Sun’s
13 of20Courtesy of Mahina & Sun’s
Since 2005, “local boy” Ed Kenney has cut a swath through Oahu’s culinary scene by focusing on locally sourced (and typically organic) produce and meats, fresh seafood, and artisan everything else. His mini-empire began in Kaimuki, with the Italian-inspired Town, Hawaiian-infused Mud Hen Water (a great brunch option, with cava bar), and deli-style Kaimuki Superette. His realm now includes the Waikiki outpost of Mahina & Sun’s (pictured), which also reflects his Native Hawaiian and Chinese roots. There, alongside executive chef Erik Leong, Kenney has created a delicious ode to the “family feast” with whole snapper served with seaweed, roasted kakui nuts, fiddlehead fern salad, and buttered breadfruit at Mahina & Sun’s. mahinaandsuns.com
Courtesy of Senia
14 of20Courtesy of Senia
Beloved Senia, opened by three alums of NYC’s ritzy Per Se, is a coveted reservation. There, you’ll find dishes like croquettes made with kalua pork, a fancy take on a plate lunch staple. restaurantsenia.com
Oahu is famous for its sweet treats, but shave ice is the most colorful, cooling, and customizable. A far cry from the mainland’s coarse snow cones, shave ice combines powdery flakes of frozen water with colorful fruit syrups and optional toppings/bases such as ice cream, sweetened condensed milk, coconut cream, mochi balls, azuki beans, and tangy li hing mui powder; iconic outposts include Matsumoto Shave Ice in Haleiwa, on the North Shore; Waiola Shave Ice in Honolulu, a short drive from Waikiki; and Island Snow in Kailua. (Island Snow, incidentally, is the only shave-ice shop we know of that counts a former U.S. president among its fans.)
What better place to learn to surf than Duke Kahanamoku’s former playground of Waikiki Beach? The dazzling views of Diamond Head (Leahi in Hawaiian, or “brow of a tuna”), paired with steady but not overwhelming waves, are ideal for beginning surfers; stand-up paddling and outrigger canoe rides are additional ocean options offered by Waikiki Beach Services, Waikiki Beachboys, and other providers at various sites along the sand.
The haunting USS Arizona Memorial, built over a ship sunk by Japanese forces on Dec. 7, 1941, and the massive Battleship Missouri Memorial, where Japan surrendered on Sept. 2, 1945, commemorate the start and end of war in the Pacific. After lining up for free tickets for the boat ride to the Arizona memorial (also available through tour companies), visitors can explore the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument’s free galleries, or head to the Pacific Aviation Museum, USS Bowfin Submarine Museum, and Missouri memorial, which charge fees for entrance and guided tours.
Lush mountain forest reserves, the quaint shops of Haleiwa and Waialua, and miles of beaches—some home to spectacular winter surf contests that draw thousands of spectators—make Oahu’s North Shore a world apart from Waikiki. A day trip can be a delight, but staying a couple nights will allow more time to discover turtle-dotted snorkel sites; the botanical gardens, waterfall, and Hawaiian cultural exhibits of Waimea Valley; and the delicious shrimp trucks of nearby Kahuku.
A 30-minute drive from Waikiki leads to Oahu’s verdant Windward Side, where shallow turquoise waters connect white-sand beaches with distinctive islets such as Mokolii (nicknamed “Chinaman’s Hat”) and the twin Mokulua (“the Mokes”). Besides enjoying beach time, rent a kayak in Kailua, visit a free botanical garden in Kaneohe, or take a tour of sprawling Kualoa Ranch, backdrop of Jurassic World, Lost, and more.