While Honolulu is world famous for its gorgeous tropical beaches and expensive shopping, I discovered during a recent media trip with a group of travel writers, it’s also possible to spend time in this city without once hitting the sand or entering a DFS Galleria. Of course there was a lot of really great food involved — lots and lots of really great food. Turns out Honolulu is rich in culture and has a vibrant urban scene including ironic coffee shops, museums, music (everywhere), culinary crusaders and craft beer. So next time you have a lengthy layover in Honolulu or are looking for a change of scenery while on vacation, leave your beach towel in your hotel room, grab your shorts with the elastic waist and get ready to explore.
7 a.m. — Breakfast at Wailana Coffee House: 1860 Ala Moana Blvd.
Whether it’s their macadamia nut pancakes or one of the best loco mocos in Waikiki, the Wailana Coffee House has been a favourite breakfast spot of tourists and locals alike for decades. It also doesn’t hurt that the food is affordable, which means there can be a bit of a lineup at times — but the food is worth the wait. Breakfast is served 24-7 and karaoke starts at 9 p.m. nightly.
8:30 a.m. — Historic Downtown Honolulu Segway Tour
To say I was skeptical about spending three hours on a Segway, would be an understatement, but I ended up having a blast. This tour took us along Waikiki’s famed Kalakaua Avenue to the Duke Kahanamoku Beach in Waikiki and then past the famous Ilikai Hotel. We also cruised past multimillion-dollar yachts lining Ala Wai Yacht Harbor, crossed over the Ala Wai Canal and into Ala Moana Beach Park and Kaka’ako Waterfront Park where we visited some famous landmarks, including the Ehime Maru Memorial, and scared pedestrians as we cruised through Chinatown.
1 p.m. — Lunch at Downbeat Diner & Lounge: 42 North Hotel St.
Downbeat Diner & Lounge serves American diner fare with vegan and vegetarian options on almost every menu item, while the bar serves tasty signature cocktails, bottled and canned beers and rotating craft brews. Next door, the Lounge boasts a top-of-the-line sound system and acoustically-tuned room, making it an ideal venue for live music most nights of the week.
3 p.m. — Check into Outrigger Reef on the Beach: 2169 Kalia Rd.
We really love this end of Waikiki — and the Outrigger Reef Waikiki Beach Resort, where Hawaiian music legends perform nightly at the Kani Ka Pila Grille. Guests can also immerse themselves in traditional Hawaiian arts and crafts, guided by local experts, renew their vows — Hawaiian style — right on the beach, and take in radiant Pacific sunsets.
6:30 p.m. — Live music at Blue Note Hawaii at the Outrigger Waikiki Beach Resort: 2335 Kalakaua Ave.
The night we hit the Blue Note we were lucky enough to see the Wailers perform and I couldn’t help but sing along (badly) as they played all of my Bob Marley favourites, including pretty much everything from the album Legend. But if reggae’s not your style, just check the Blue Note’s schedule to take in world-renowned artists performing everything from jazz and blues to Hawaiian favorites.
10 p.m. — Nightcap at Duke’s Barefoot Bar at the Outrigger Waikiki Beach Resort: 2335 Kalakaua Ave.
Duke’s is where the world comes to play when visiting Waikiki. Located right on the beach, Duke’s is famous for its tropical libations, including a wicked rum punch I can personally attest will help get the party started. The restaurant/bar is an homage to surfing legend Duke Paoa Kahanamoku, born in Honolulu in 1890, who at the age of 21 won his first Olympic gold medal, then went on to represent the United States in the Olympics for 20 years.
8 a.m. — Breakfast at the Shorebird at the Outrigger Reef on the Beach: 2169 Kalia Rd.
The buffet at the Shorebird is one of our favourite breakfast spots in Waikiki. Diners can enjoy fresh fruit, house-made baked goods and hot items while taking in a view of Diamond Head in one direction and Waikiki Beach in another. For almost four decades, the Shorebird has remained one of Waikiki’s most popular restaurants and at night offers visitors spectacular views of the sunset while listening to local musicians or belting out Bon Jovi’s “Dead or Alive” during karaoke. Tip: Look for Shorebird coupons inside the activity guides available everywhere from the airport to newspaper stands on most corners.
9 a.m. — Depart for Kualoa Ranch
10 a.m. — Arrive at Kualoa Ranch: 49560 Kamehameha Highway
The movie set tour we did of the Kualoa Ranch was a real highlight of a recent media visit to Oahu. Often referred to as, “Hollywood’s Hawaii backlot,” we were able to get up close and personal with iconic sets used in numerous movies, including Jurassic Park, 50 First Dates, You, Me and Dupree, Windtalkers, Mighty Joe Young and Godzilla. I got a kick out of seeing grazing cattle hanging out in huge footprints left behind by the mythical monster. We also spotted props left behind from a very recent film shoot, but were told the name of said movie was top secret. (My guess is it’s a new addition to the Jurassic Park series.) I’m also a huge Hawaii Five-0 fan so was thrilled to recognize some locations from the modern-day version of the TV series. Well worth the visit, I really enjoyed this tour. Movies aren’t your thing? The ranch offers many tours, including horseback riding, jungle expeditions, a visit to an ancient fishpond, ATV, treetop canopy ziplining and more.
12:30 p.m. — Lunch at Aunty Pat’s Paniolo Cafe at Kualoa Ranch
Choose from the hearty ranch-style buffet or order a Kalua pork plate or daily fresh fish special. Aunty Pat’s is also famous for its special chocolate chip cookies, homemade banana bread and signature warm banana-taro bread pudding with a warm haupia sauce.
1:30 p.m. — Scenic road trip along Kamehameha Highway
3:30 p.m. — Check into Surfjack Hotel & Swim Club: 421 Lewers St.
There’s been a movement in recent years in Waikiki to transform older three and four-storey walk-up apartment buildings into vintage-inspired hotels celebrating mid-century Hawaii — and I couldn’t be happier. Check out the Swim Club at Surfjack where the perfect cocktail meets epic cannonballs and where open-air movie nights are a great way to unwind after a day in the sun. The Surfjack is made up of 112 vintage-inspired rooms providing great value for your buck.
4 p.m. — Cocktail time at Mahina & Sun’s at Surfjack.
Honolulu-born chef Ed Kenney features his delicious and innovative take on island cuisine in a hip, casual atmosphere. Kenney’s commitment to offering “elevated home cooking with a Hawaiian sense of place” and utilizing local, organic ingredients is evident in each of his dishes. Over the past decade, Kenney has become a pivotal figure in the rapidly growing food culture in Honolulu starting with his sister restaurants, Town, Kaimuki Superette and Mud Hen Water.
5:30 p.m. — ‘Aha’aina beachfront luau on the lawn of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel: 2259 Kalakaua Ave.
‘Aha’aina: A Royal Luau takes visitors on a journey through time. The Royal Hawaiian was built on sacred grounds and to honour that privilege, the hotel has created a modern, yet timeless luau, to celebrate the land’s history through food, song, stories, hula, and culture — and mai tais. ‘Aha’aina is Waikiki’s only oceanfront dinner show.
9 p.m. — Nightcap at RumFire at Sheraton Waikiki: 2255 Kalakaua Ave.
With a food menu designed to encourage sharing and cocktails created to inspire your tropical side, RumFire is described as a great place to live “liquid aloha,” and I’m all for that.