I recently visited Honolulu for the first time and had a blast! I didn’t have too much time to really research all the must-sees/eats/dos of the city before it was ultimately time to board the plane, but on the other hand sometimes I like to just show up and wing it, enjoying what’s available and not worrying about a schedule.
So here are some of my top suggestions for those visiting Honolulu! Of course the number one obvious activity is visiting Pearl Harbor, but I realized there’s so much more to Honolulu than that.
Stroll up Kalakaua Ave
This is the main happenin’ spot in downtown Honolulu for shopping and restaurants, right on Waikiki beach. It’s pretty likely the resort you’re staying at is steps from here if not directly on the street. Check out parades, stop at the Honolulu Cookie Company (amazing shortbread cookies of all kinds), and shop for all the high-end items you could imagine (Prada, Fendi, and so much more are all on the strip).
Had to pose with the awesome Banyan tree on Kalakaua Ave
Taste something with Li Hing Mui
We took a food tour in the city through Tinggly and tasted Li Hing Mui, which is dried plum powder with a bright red coloring. I didn’t realize I had it the previous evening in a special lemonade cocktail with the rim coated in the powder, but I was pretty excited when our food tourguides brought out pineapple chunks covered in the Li Hing Mui. It’s got a sweetish/salty/slight tart flavor that goes so well in drinks or with fruits, and you really can’t find it anywhere in the mainland unless you order it on Amazon. We liked it so much we bought a packet to bring back home and recreate our own recipes (hint: make a simple syrup, put a teaspoon into a cocktail shaker with orange, pineapple, and guava juices and a touch of sprite, and serve over ice).
Li Hing Mui lemonade!
The most popular way to eat Li Hing Mui – on pineapple!
Stop at Duke’s for Hula Pie
Macadamia nut ice cream, oreo cookie crust, fudge topping and a load of whipped cream and more macadamia nuts… if two people can get through one slice of Hula Pie that in itself will be an accomplishment.
Eat at Royal Kitchen for their Manapuas
A manapua is a Chinese-bao bun filled with different Hawaiian-fusion foods – some kahlua pork (my favorite), coconut, taro… you name it. Royal Kitchen is the expert on all things manapua so make sure to get over here – perfect for a quick breakfast!
You might get little red dots on yours – this is how they can distinguish which is which when people order many different kinds.
Play around in Chinatown
I don’t like that it’s called Chinatown when in reality it’s a lot more than just China represented here in the people, but whatever. Make sure to stop at various restaurants, pretty much all little hole-in-the-walls and walk through each of the markets. For someone coming from small-town Wisconsin it’s a totally different world.
Chow funn noodles from the Ying Leong Look Funn Factory.
Chomp on some Malasadas at Leonard’s.
This is one of those things that everyone visiting Oahu has to do. Basically, malasadas are Portuguese-style doughnuts with various fillings and often coated with cinnamon/sugar on the outside. Naturally I had the chocolate cream filled malasada! Yum.
Hike Manoa Falls Trail
This one seems to be a little lesser-known to tourists. Just simply Uber/Lyft over there, having them take you to the parking lot. Stop at the TreeTop restaurant where there’s a little convenience shop to buy ponchos, which you’ll definitely need if it’s rainy. We went on a whim, didn’t think of ponchos, and got drenched the entire time as we climbed higher and higher.
On the hike, however, the landscape and greenery is so beautiful that I felt like I was on Pandora from Avatar. It was just that amazing, like it didn’t seem real and pictures couldn’t do it justice.
It does not cost anything to go hiking, but please make sure to plan ahead and wear non-slip shoes as it gets wet and muddy, and you’ll be climbing very rocky areas.
Shop at Na Mea Hawaii
Na Mea Hawaii is just a cute little space to check out due to its books on Hawaiian culture as well as the rest of the store selling Hawaiian and Polynesian dried foods, crafts, clothes, and more. You might even catch a class on the Hawaiian language while you’re there. It won’t take much time to peruse, but I do recommend checking it out.
Take a break at Honolulu Beerworks
After we hiked Manoa Falls we enjoyed a couple hours at Honolulu Beerworks, located a bit away from Waikiki beach. It’s got a relaxed and younger crowd with open-air bar space. I’m literally just beginning to learn to like beer (I never really had before) but I ordered a couple different samples and enjoyed all of them. Highly recommend a stop here!
I just want to end with discussing how wonderful the Hawaiian people are. You’ve possibly heard of that Aloha Spirit, but we truly felt what that meant in every local we encountered. Our tour guides, of course being the main ones, were just all such fantastic and generous people who truly seemed to enjoy what they were doing. As an example, we were going to take the Paradise Pedals tour but it ended up being canceled twice. So instead of leaving us hanging at the marina where it begins, our guide actually drove us in his car to one of the bars that we would have visited on the tour. Would someone in a bustling city in the mainland do that? Not so sure!
Thank you, Oahu!