There is no shortage of activity guides for visitors to the Hawai’ian isles. Oahu in particular has lots of focus due to extremely popular Waikiki Beach and Pearl Harbor.
I’d like to offer up some options from a local’s perspective. The following suggestions are places and things that have become my favorite destinations on Oahu.
MAKING WAVES IN WAIKIKI
All along Kalakaua Blvd. are shops and restaurants galore. This is where you’ll find Luxury Row – a few blocks of high-end retailers such as Louis Vuitton, Cartier, Rolex and fine Koa wood artisan and jewelers Martin and MacArthur. Then, of course there’s the world-famous Waikiki Beach.
It can be a lot of fun, but locals generally avoid the area for casual hanging out because of the busy sidewalks, parking challenges and tourist-priced shopping. So, let’s start with some tourist alternatives if you’re staying in Waikiki.
By Day – Souvenirs!
For the greatest variety and the lowest prices in the area you’ll want to dip into what looks like an alleyway and check out the Duke’s Marketplace on (really off) Kuhio in Waikiki. It’s a hidden village of local vendors that sell everything from Hawaii- inspired home décor, clothes (including souvenir tees), jewelry, art and so much more. Items are so cheap here that many vendors buy their items here for resale. It’s a fav of mine because it’s a great resource for visitors in Waikiki who often end up in one of the twenty (Yes 20!) ABC stores in the small Waikiki area shopping for gifts to take home.
Side note: I know we’re talking favorites, but I like to offer up a little advice. You’ll probably end up in Chinatown at some point and be tempted to try a little shopping. Make it very little shopping – prices are very inflated for the many island visitors.
By Night – Entertainment
These hot spots are not “on the beach,” but are only a few minutes away by car.
Jazz Minds Art and Cafe – My fav! Great ambience and local jazz, blues, pop and funk bands. Whether you like chicken wings or a good sushi selection, there are lots of food options here. Some nights have a cover charge (Fridays for sure), but its nominal, about $10. Our daughter was a regular featured artist there before moving off-island a few months ago. Here’s a link to her YouTube so that you hear her jamming.
The Blue Note – Jazz fans destination. Dark and sexy dinner option with any intimate concert stage. A more formal venue (no, formal attire is not usually required), with reservations highly suggested. The Blue Note features local favorites and world-renowned performers, like Alexander Zonjic, Earl Klugh and reggae band Third World.
If you’re familiar with the area, you’d probably expect a mention of Rumour’s at Ala Moana Hotel. Sadly for partiers in the 30+ demographic, Rumour’s closed its doors in January of this year. (Sad party face emoji)
Day or Night – Oceanfront Dining
The Hula Grill Waikiki is a beachside eatery serving up small plates like fish tacos and burgers. A good place for people watching while listening to live entertainment and sipping on tropical drinks.
Azure at The Royal Hawaiian is a more upscale experience with open-air dining room overlooking the Pacific. Featuring local seafood and a Spanish-Moorish decor & cabanas. Dress up a little, pull out a credit card and enjoy the service and the view.
OUTSIDE WAIKIKI AND ALL-AROUND OAHU
Maui Mike’s – Fire-roasted premium island chicken in Wahiawa and Kailua. Simple menu and great staff.
Highway Inn – A local favorite serving Hawaiian food since 1947. My favorite: Shrimp and Gravy. Native local favorite seems to be the poke and the lau lau (featured on Food Network).
Liliha Bakery – The original location opened in 1950 offering a hearty meal at its countertop diner. Before leaving it’s a requirement to stop at the bakery counters and grab sweets made by 30-year baking veterans. Grab a Dobash or Chantilly cake to celebrate a birthday with some local flair. A newer location on Nimitz in Honolulu is spacious and great for groups.
Experienced bakers, some who are 20- or 30-year veterans, use the same time-honored baking methods, making everything from scratch with the freshest island ingredients.
Donut King – Best donuts in Honolulu and the United States of America 😊 In a busy strip mall, bring your patience. They’re worth it.
La Mariana Tiki Bar and Restaurant at La Mariana Sailing Club is nestled on the shores of Keehi Lagoon in Honolulu. Founded in 1957 it is considered the original tiki bar. If you want the Hawaiiana atmosphere this is your place. Ocean views, a souvenir shop and a good place to accidently run into cast members of the T.V. show, Hawaii Five-0.
Uncle Bo’s – A cool restaurant bar in Haleiwa (North Shore destination) with a “front porch” where you can eat while people watching. Lots of T.V.s for watching sports while eating Oyster Shooters or Taro Beignets.
Mike’s Kiawe Broiled Huli Huli Chicken – my favorite food truck located at The North Shore. Unlike most food truck options Mike’s is a more permanent fixture with lots of covered seating. Mike’s has been featured on several food-related shows and is a favorite of Food Network’s Guy Fieri.
OTHER COOL PLACES ‘ROUND DA ‘AINA THAT I ENJOY
The Byodo-In Temple is a non-denominational Buddhist temple located in Valley of the Temples Memorial Park. The temple is a replica of a 900-year-old Buddhist temple and houses an 18-foot statue of the Lotus Buddha. It’s a beautiful place to hang out. Even if there are tour buses you can find a quiet place to meditate. You can light incense at the buddha, ring the 3-ton bon-sho (sacred bell) and watch the hundreds of beautiful Koi fish in the many ponds. Spoiling the mood a bit for me is the gift shop. It reminds you that this is a tourist attraction more than a place of contemplation. Oh, and if Memorial Park wasn’t clear, understand that you will be driving through a cemetery to get to the Temple.
Exiting the Tetsuo Harano Tunnel on the H-3 Freeway with an amazing view of Kaneohe Bay. Get your camera ready! When you exit this tunnel focus to the left and be ready for a magical island moment.
The ʻIolani Palace is the royal residence of the rulers of the Kingdom of Hawaii until the monarchy was overthrown in 1893. It is the only royal palace in the U.S. Website bookings are highly suggested. Space is limited to secure the safety of it’s historic contents.
Iconic? IDK, but I love these spots!
There are many spots on Oahu with beautiful ocean views, but my absolute fav is the Lanai Lookout. You can sit atop beautiful rock formations and smoothed shelves while enjoying panoramic ocean views. On a clear day you can see the neighboring islands of Lanai, Molokai and Maui. You may even catch a glimpse of a whale or dolphin. This is where I went to witness last year’s epic solar eclipse.
Want some great exercise and shopping? You should definitely check out the Aloha Stadium Swap Meet. Located around the perimeter of the famous
Aloha Stadium, there are over 400 vendors selling their wares. You can get a personalized painting, fabric, light weaponry, kitschy souvenirs or have a monkey pod carving made while you’re shopping. Bring a $2.00 per car entry fee, comfy shoes, a hat or sunscreen and water! It can get really hot so be prepared. Woefully lacking: comfortable seating and shade to take a break.
Is there a highly anticipated movie premiering while you’re visiting? I suggest the Kapolei Commons Theater in Kapolei on the southwest side of the island. The theatre complex has nice restaurants, luxury reclining seats that can be reserved and alcoholic beverages can even be delivered to your seat. Across the parking lot is a handy Target store if you prefer to bring your own snacks 😊
There are many interesting things to do on Oahu. If you want to get off the beaten path try one my favs – you won’t regret it!
Mahalo for stopping by. Let’s get together again soon,