The real Honolulu is a thriving city and a true melting pot of eastern and western cultures. With creative cross-cultural food and drinks, a freshly prospering art scene, and bustling farmers marketplaces, Honolulu feels like all the best parts of Tokyo, Portland, Oregon, and Brooklyn, rolled into one.
Below, some of the ways you are able to escape Waikiki and become acquainted with the real Honolulu.
Step away from the tropical tiki drinks.
A carefully crafted mai tai is a wonderful thing, but Hawaii’s cocktail circuit doesn’t stop at tropical. Bevy, in the up-and-coming Kaka’ako neighborhood, and Chinatown’s The Manifest both serve up a mean craft cocktail — no newspaper umbrella included. If you’re more of a brew drinker, head to BREW’d in Kaimuki for a massive, ever-changing selection.
Give local ingredients some love.
Up-and-coming Oahu restaurants espouse Hawaii’s unique ingredients in their food. Beloved brunch spot Koko Head Cafe and Vietnamese-fusion favorite The Pig and the Lady are creating brilliant dishes employing classic Hawaii flavors — dishes like Breakfast Bibimbap and Kiawe Grilled Pork Jowl — and locals are greeting them with open arms( and mouths ).
Keep it fresh at the busy farmers markets.
Not merely do Honolulu’s farmers marketplaces have the freshest local make on the island, they also offer local jams, honeys, and coffee. Head to the KCC farmers marketplace on Saturday mornings for fried green tomatoes and Maui onion, technicolor selections of orchids, and Big Island abalone — a must-try marine mollusk.
Save room for dessert.
There are some things that just define Honolulu for locals, and most of them are sweet. Track down classics like Kamehameha Bakery’s poi malasadas( vibrant purple taro-flavored Portuguese donuts ), Monsarrat Ave shave ice( superfine ice shavings doused in sweet local syrups ), and Liliha Bakery’s famous coco puffs( buttery puffed pastries filled with creamy chocolate pudding ). Trust us, they’re worth it.
Be inspired and challenged by Oahu’s art scene.
Honolulu’s art scene has been picking up steam as of late, with POW! WOW! Hawaii’s street art encompassing the walls of Kaka’ako and art-based events becoming more frequent throughout the city. The Honolulu Museum of Art’s monthly “ARTafterDARK” event and “First Fridays” in Chinatown are great opportunities to meet young locals and experience Honolulu’s innovative art scene firsthand.
Bring home authentic souvenirs.
Put down the spring-loaded hula girl and nobody gets hurt. Bringing home a true savor of Hawaii is no easy task when you’re surrounded by kitsch stores, but it can be done. Pick up a vintage aloha shirt at Bailey’s in Kapahulu, which boasts the world’s largest selection of aloha shirts. In Chinatown, boutique Roberta Oaks offers more modern aloha wear, and adorable stores like Homecoming Honolulu and Barrio Vintage are right nearby. If it’s snacks you want to take home, find a fissure seed store( there’s a great one in Kaimuki) and load up on local candies, dried fruit, and li hing mui.
Watch the sundown from above.
Tantalus lookout, with its panoramic views of Honolulu, makes a great spot to set up a picnic and watch the sundown from above. You’ll ensure the entire city and experience a quieter side of Honolulu. If you want a spot closer to the water, head to China Walls in Hawaii Kai for a different opinion of the city and the sundown. Just keep your distance from the rocky ledge; the waves can be unpredictable and powerful.
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