The Urbanist’s Hong Kong: What to Do

Lamma IslandPhoto: Alamy

The Life Aquatic
Hong Kong comprises more than 250 islands, but few visitors make the rounds. Here, four get-out-of-Dodge day trips.*

Pier 4 to Lamma Island
20-minute trip
No cars are permitted on Hong Kong’s third-largest island—a quick getaway trumpeted for its superior seafood, hippieish residents, and indie businesses, like café–cum–lending library Bookworm (79 Main St., Yung Shue Wan; 852-2982-4838) and neighborly watering hole Island Bar (6 Main St., Yung Shue Wan; 852-2982-1376). One-way tickets from $2;

Pier 6 to Peng Chau
30-to-40-minute trip
At a scant .39 miles, this is one of the region’s tiniest inhabited isles. It takes roughly an hour to circumnavigate its walking trails; common sightings include elderly residents doing t’ai chi or hanging their laundry out to dry. In the sleepy main square is French wine bar Les Copains d’Abord (48 Wing On St.; 852-9432-5070), home to one of the best (and cheapest) charcuterie platters in Hong Kong. From $1.86;

Pier 6 to Mui Wo
40-to-60-minute trip
This verdant enclave on the southern shores of Lantau Island attracts hikers and cyclists; pick up a rental at Friendly Bicycle Shop (13 Mui Wo Ferry Pier Rd.; 852-2984-2278). Deep-fried squid and giant prawns with noodles are available at the Mui Wo Cooked Food Market, adjacent to the ferry pier; alternately, try the juicy lamb skewers at Bahce Turkish Restaurant (19 Mui Wo Centre; 852-2984-0221). From $1.87;

Pier 5 to Cheung Chau
40-to-60-minute trip
Though best known for its annual festival that sees people scaling pyramidal towers of faux steamed buns, this island of 23,000 is also a haven for water sports. Rent kayaks or kite boards from the Cheung Chau Windsurfing Centre ( or head out on foot to explore ornate Pak Thai Temple, one of the oldest in Hong Kong. From $1.60;

* Ferries originate daily from Central Piers.

Hidden City
Some of Hong Kong’s best-kept secrets are kept that way because they have no signs. Here’s how to find them.

Hush-Hush Mexican
Ever since Mr. Taco Truck opened in Quarry Bay in 2010, Latin-themed bars and restaurants have exploded in Hong Kong. Brickhouse (20A D’Aguilar St., Central; no phone), located on an unmarked street in the nightlife district of Lan Kwai Fong (hang a left just before the Italy Station purse shop on D’Aguilar Street, a bit uphill from the Wellington intersection, to find it), is a notable neo-Mexican joint, serving jalapeño-spiked cocktails and made-from-scratch tortillas heaped with rib eye.

Underground Bar
Republican revolutionary Sun Yat-sen is believed to have once holed up in the building that now houses the Central neighborhood’s JaaBar (1 Pak Tse Ln.; 852-2815-8887), located down a tiny alley between A Ce Soir restaurant and the Cling Serviced Apartments building. The members-only cocktail joint is decked out with plush couches, modern art, and chandeliers. Annual membership runs around $115, but co-owner Ann Tsang is happy to waive the fee for out-of-towners.

Private Kitchen
Sichuan mainstay Manchurian Candidate (Unit 5B, Winner Building, 37 D’Aguilar St., Central; 852-2522-0338) is a “private-kitchen restaurant,” meaning it’s housed in an apartment to avoid the regulations put on more traditional establishments. Run by husband-and-wife team Jason Yau and Sophie Lin, with help from sister Jenny Yau and uncle Wu Luhua, Manchurian serves à la carte dishes, but most diners go for the daily-changing six-course set meal ($26). Reservations are suggested.

Secret Boutique
Twelve floors above the Central hordes hides The9thMuse (Unit 1204, One Lyndhurst Tower, 1 Lyndhurst Terr.; 852-2537-7598), a new internationally minded boutique stocking jewelry by Singaporean designer Lynette Ong, sunglasses from Swedish brand Triwa, chunky necklaces by Colombian designer turned Hong Kong transplant Paola Sinisterra, and a whole range of nail polishes, lipsticks, lotions, perfumes, posters, and stationery.

Covert Café
Chai Wan, a rarely touristed but slowly gentrifying neighborhood at the far eastern edge of Hong Kong Island, is awash in nondescript industrial warehouses. But on the thirteenth floor of one such building is Chaiwanese (Unit 1307, Phase 1, Chai Wan Industrial City, 60 Wing Tai Rd.; 852-3698-0935), an eatery offering meticulously brewed single-origin siphon and drip coffee, bulgogi cheesesteaks, and Chinese five-spiced pulled-pork sandwiches.

From left, Blitz, General Store, and Heaven Please.Photo: Courtesy of the vendors

Inconspicuous Consumption
A trio of fashion insiders share their under-the-radar picks for three of Hong Kong’s most popular shopping districts.

Tsim Sha Tsui
“The softest leather jackets can be found at Season 4 (Shop 9A, Rise Commercial Building, 9-11 Granville Circuit; 852-2264-6618). Don’t go for boring black—choose purple, hot pink, or deep blue. At Homeless (8/F, The One, 100 Nathan Rd.; 852-2997-8192), you’ll see unusual household items, such as a mirror that turns your reflection into a Vogue cover. The two-level House of Chapel (75 Granville Rd.; 852-2369-6000) has fun accessories—like acrylic bow-tie necklaces—at affordable prices, while Blitz (3 Canton Rd.; 852-2118-3428), a pop-up shop in department store Lane Crawford, is good for collaborations with edgy designers.” —Virginia Ngai, co-founder of the blog Hong Kong Fashion Geek

Sheung Wan
“Try General Store for vintage furniture (Shop H, 41 Gage St.; 852-2851-8144), particularly mid-century industrial table lamps, and Fungus Workshop (4 Po Hing Fong; 852-2779-9003) for handmade leather wallets and camera cases. Signed By (43 Tung St.; 852-2517-8900), affiliated with the Ilivetomorrow gallery next door, sells clothes and jewelry, hard-to-find publications, and limited-edition art. And I always send people to Squarestreet (15 Square St.; 852-2362-1086). The Swedish owners make everything by hand: watches, glasses, briefcases, shoes, and beautiful cotton scarves in strange geometric patterns.” —Alex Daye, co-founder of men’s shop Moustache

Causeway Bay
“Local style icon Venus Mote’s Heaven Please (Shop B, 2/F, Po Foo Building, 1 Foo Ming St.; 852-2311-9533) carries her own lines, as well as local designers Zo-ee and Daughter K. The men’s boxers at Goods of Desire (Leighton Centre, Sharp St., east entrance; 852-2890-5555) are hilarious: Some have a Chinese crossword pattern; others just say XXXL. Three-floor shopping mall Island Beverley (1 Great George St.; 852-2890-6823) is stacked with cool stalls: Check out Rabbit (UG/F, Shop 862) for leather sandals, Green’s (2/F, Shop 239) for custom perfume, and Uuu … Shooop!!! (2/F, Shop 206-208) for really out-there fantasy fashion.” —Kay Wong, co-founder of the label Daydream Nation

Mah-jongg tiles.Photo: Alamy

Get a (Temporary) Hobby
How to explore the city through some of the natives’ most beloved pastimes.

See a Cantonese Opera
The waning art form of melodramatic hours-long epics with headdress-clad aria singers, which dates to the thirteenth century, was given a new lease on life when the government turned a defunct cinema into the Yau Ma Tei Theater last July. The space is devoted entirely to the genre, and there’s a show, concert, or workshop nearly every day of the week. Tickets rarely exceed $20. 6 Waterloo Rd., Yau Ma Tei; 852-2264-8108.

Play Mah-jongg
The clinking of tiles on a weekend afternoon is ingrained in most Hong Kongers’ memories. The four-player game works a bit like gin rummy, and, unlike in the States, it’s a common pastime even among the non-retirees. See the pros in action at King’s Hotel, a multifloor gamers’ paradise in Wan Chai, or call ahead to book a table. (Taxi and minibus drivers get a discount, which hints at the typical clientele.) The other floors offer pool, snooker, darts, poker, and karaoke. 303 Jaffe Rd.; 852-3188-2277.

Go Biking
Hong Kong’s mountainous landscape and hilly roads deter most leisurely pedalers, but a group of teens from Tin Shui Wai, a down-at-the-heels neighborhood in the Northwest New Territories, is trying to change that. The group leads amateur bikers on tours (from $28; bike, helmet and lunch included) of off-the-beaten-path, ecologically valuable areas like Nam Sheng Wai, Lau Fa Shan, and Bak Nai. Excursions are offered daily and reservations required. Shop 4, Wai Fat Building, 5 Fung Cheung Rd., Yuen Long; 852-2478-3880.

Map by Jason Lee

Gowanus of the East
Once the exclusive domain of auto garages and mechanics, the Hong Kong Island neighborhood of Tai Hang has morphed into a creative hub brimming with trendy restaurants and shops. Architect, blogger, and Tai Hang transplant JJ. Acuna sizes up the current scene.

Lin Fa Kung Temple and GardenPhoto: Courtesy of the vendor

Lin Fa Kung Temple and Garden
Lin Fa Kung St. W. at Lily St.
“Stretch out, exercise, or read a book in the garden; it’s so relaxing you can’t even hear the traffic outside. There’s even a temple fortune teller who speaks English.”

Wabi Sabi
14-16 Lin Fa Kung St. W.; 852-2570-1336.
“I haven’t had sushi this authentic since I went to Japan. They even had Japanese carpenters build the restaurant.”

Happy Fish Bistro
12 Wun Sha St.; 852-2808-4228.
“A mom-and-pop operation with pink flowered tablecloths and hanging lamps like you see in the wet markets. Get the Cantonese steamed fish and prawns.”

Unar Coffee Company
4 Second Ln.; 852-2838-5231.
“Unar serves its goods out of a window counter, and seating is in an adjacent alleyway. Sometimes you see local celebrities like Josie Ho, daughter of Macau casino mogul Stanley Ho, and heartthrob actor Edison Chen hanging out here.”

Volume One
30 Sun Chun St.; 852-2808-0962.
“This design store sells jewelry, scarves, and leather goods from local designers. They even have their own bakery where you can get pastries and cakes.”

The Socialhouse
Shop A, 12-13 Shepherd St.; 852-2808-2638.
“A dim, intimate restaurant serving upscale Western comfort food—like foie gras mac ’n’ cheese.”

Lab Made and Xiao Tian Gu
6 Brown St.; 852-2670-0071; 10-11B School St.; 852-2882-6133.
“My two favorite dessert places are across the street from each other. Lab Made is the city’s first liquid-nitrogen ice-cream parlor. Each day, there’s a different set of four flavors, from vanilla to mooncake. Xiao Tian Gu is a more traditional Chinese dessert place, serving fruit-infused treats frequently made with jelly or custard.”

Buddy Bar & Cafe
22 School St.; 852-2882-9780.
“Everyone goes here after other places close, so it’s a good mix of oldies and expats. Go here if you want to chat up locals till three in the morning.”

The Urbanist’s Hong Kong: What to Do