1. Where to Stay
Chill out at the revamped, beach-house-inspired Shoreline (from $159), which reopened last May after a multi-million-dollar renovation overseen by architect Anthony Laurino. Though it’s just a five-minute walk from Waikiki’s iconic stretch of white sand, it’s tempting to skip the beach for the calm rooftop pool, ideal for soaking up some rays and doing a few laps in peace. Inside, the 134 airy rooms are outfitted with ’70s modernist furniture, all-white bathrooms with fresh flowers, and mini lanai balconies with city views. Check out the lobby chalkboard for the young staff’s picks on events and must-try foods in the area, and spend an afternoon siesta in the light-flooded lobby, with its cathedral-high ceilings, expansive windows, and comfy, retro-chic leather couches.
Stay above the fray of the bustling Kuhio drag at the year-old Vive Hotel (from $152). Start each day in the lobby’s convivial “living room,” where guests mingle amidst clusters of mahogany leather couches and dig into a fresh (and free) island breakfast, including local fruit and cheese pastries and slabs of cantaloupe, watermelon, and pineapple. Global statement pieces throughout the space, from porcelain vases and woven pillows to black-and-white photographs, are all sourced from local design shops, and that eye toward relaxed, contemporary style spills over into the rooms, with vivid graphic art on the walls, roomy walk-in showers, and clever touches like captain’s-bed-style drawers. Splurge on one of the three 22nd-floor penthouse suites for panoramic views of the city and beach.
Escape to the edge of Waikiki Beach at the Modern (from $320), designed with an eye toward organic luxury by architects George Yabu and Glenn Pushelberg. Start the day lazing in a custom teak chaise by the Sunrise Pool, then stroll through the lush grounds planted with pink bougainvillea, jasmine, and autograph trees (named for the practice of etching messages into the leaves). Be sure to take in brunch alfresco at the Grove, where in-house chef Scott Toner drums up locally sourced dishes like a Kalua pork burrito ($22) and Molokai sweet bread French toast with toasted coconut ($17). In the evening, head up to the serene, adults-only Sunset Pool: The central lagoon is laid with custom tiles by Yves Klein, and the 180-degree Pacific Ocean views go perfectly with a microbrew like Kona Brewing Co.’s Big Wave Golden Ale ($7).
2. Where to Eat
Dig into banh mi and Vietnamese noodle soups at the Pig & the Lady. Originally a pop-up noodle bar, Andrew Le’s French-meets-Southeast-Asian spot became a brick-and-mortar restaurant in November. The space channels the feel of an outdoor Vietnamese market (think blond-wood picnic tables and exposed brick), and the dishes are inventive takes on street fare, like slowly roasted, 12-hour brisket served either in a savory pho French dip banh mi stuffed with sautéed bean sprouts and Thai basil chimichurri ($12), or sliced-on-site pho with smoked bacon, marinated soft egg, and braised green onion ($13).
Skip the perennial line at the original Marukame Udon on Kuhio Avenue and join locals looking to sidestep the tourists at the new location, which opened downtown in the outdoor Fort Street Mall area in November, complete with a takeaway lunch window on Hotel Street. Breaking with the original space’s cafeteria feel, this satellite has gleaming steel accents and a refined ordering system: Pick up a bowl, choose your noodles and broth, then pile high with unlimited vegetable and seafood tempura toppings ($1 to $2 per piece), and add on small plates, such as a typical Hawaiian Spam musubi ($1.75) with a house-made sweet sauce. For a hot lunch, try the curry udon base with shredded beef and onion ($5.25) or chill out with the cold, spicy shabu pork ($4.75).
Carb-load on upgraded comfort food staples at the black-and-white-tiled Downbeat Diner and Lounge in Chinatown. Grab a seat in a pleather red booth and groove to a soundtrack of electro-pop and indie-folk bands of the moment while you wait for a Big Island beef burger (from $8) and volcano fries topped with garlic, Cajun spices, cheese, and gravy ($7). Leave room for the decadent apple or banana fritters with caramel sauce ($7) or an English-toffee milkshake ($5) from the soda fountain (with a Sailor Jerry float for an extra three bucks).
3. What to Do
Paddle and pose with at a stand-up paddle yoga class (a.k.a. S.U.P. yoga) on the beach ($45) at the Kahala Hotel & Resort. The 45-minute hybrid class is a great core workout, and newbies need not worry about their balance: Classes are held about 15 feet from the shore in shoulder-deep water, and your board will be anchored in place as you move through sun salutations. Wake up early or close out the day with a group session, or arrange a private lesson by appointment.
Update your beachwear with a spree through the city’s coterie of new and established local designer boutiques. Visit the newly renovated Reyn Spooner stores in Kahala Mall and open-air Ala Moana Center; the Modern Collection, which debuted in late 2012, offers slimmer-cut takes on the classic printed Aloha shirt, now a hipster-preppy staple. Pick up chic printed rompers and jumpsuits at local designers Rona Bennett and Lan Chung’s Fighting Eel boutiques with locations in Downtown, Waikiki, and Kailua, which also stock the brand’s boho sister line Ava Sky. In the Chinatown area, hunt for retro finds like a ‘60s tropical sundress ($32) or polka-dotted ‘80s shirtdress ($24) at Barrio Vintage; get refreshingly frank style advice from the resident fashionistas at House of Aria, and find one-of-a-kind shoes and accessories at Homecoming Boutique.
Hit up the monthly Honolulu Night Market. On the third Saturday of every month from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m., artists and designers set up their wares on Cooke Street between Pohukaina and Auahi streets in the Kaka’ako district — a tropical-island version of Williamsburg, once known for its graffiti-covered walls and now for its flashy real estate development projects. Peruse rolling racks of up-and-coming labels, such swimwear line Issa de’ Mar and Puffer Hawaii, offering island threads with an urban edge. Pick up an original piece from emerging local artists like Hawaii-based artist and graphic designer Lauren Roth of Yellow Bird Bohemia, who creates whimsical watercolors, illustrations, and prints, and stay sated as you shop with a snack from the bevy of food stalls, like local pasta-makers Onda Pasta and artisanal Kiawe Pizza.
4. Insider’s Tip
Shangri La, the eclectic Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, is an unexpected gem amidst Honolulu’s urban sprawl. Part gallery, part Ca’ d’Zan, the museum does not admit visitors who come unaccompanied, but you can still gain access to its expansive collection of intricate Middle Eastern tile work, Qajar artwork from Iran, and commissioned pieces from workshops in India, Morocco, and Iran. Reserve a tour through the Honolulu Museum of Art online or by phone for $25 and board the provided shuttle bus to the property to view pieces collected over nearly six decades — including entire actual rooms, such as the elaborate Damascus Room, which Duke acquired in 1952 with the help of an antiquities firm.
5. Oddball Day
You’ve enjoyed the stylish new offerings in the city; now head out to explore Oahu’s epic outdoors. Start early and rent a car to loop around to the North Shore (without the notoriously bad traffic of the winter season). Head out of Waikiki toward the Koko Head Crater, and stop off at the Spitting Caves, named for the way waves spray when they hit the rocks. Located at the bottom of a winding path behind the ultraposh Koko Kai neighborhood, the caves are tough to find (put “7 Lumahai Street” into your GPS, then follow the unmarked path to the caves), but offer a well-worth-it photo op of the crashing waves and craggy rock formations (avoid the temptation to cliff-jump; it’s extremely dangerous here). Continue on to Moke’s Bread & Breakfast in Kailua for a late breakfast of homemade pancakes ($7.50 to $9.50) drenched in a creamy syrup made from the sweet-and-tart lilikoi passion fruit. Continue north on Route 83 to the legendary Kualoa Ranch, one of the most popular film locations in Hawaii for its imposing natural backdrop (as seen in movies like Jurassic Park) and saddle up for a one- or two-hour horseback-riding tour into the depths of the untouched Kaʻaʻawa Valley (from $69). Recharge with ultralocal Hawaiian lunch plates like the Big J short ribs seasoned with Hawaiian sea salt and served with shrimp cooked in garlic butter and a cream sauce ($16) at Papa Ole’s in Hau’ula, but leave room: The mini, mobile restaurant row of shrimp trucks in Kahuku on the Kamehameha Highway is a must stop, where different variations of freshly hauled shrimp, from coconut crusted to scampi, are served on paper plates (around $12). Stop off for a lesson at North Shore Surf Girls (from $75 for a two-hour group lesson; from $129 for semi-private lessons; from $139 for private lessons; schedule ahead of time), held at either Pua’ena Point or Chun’s Reef; you’ll learn the basics at the ideal time (waves are calmer and surfing hours longer in the spring). Head back to Waikiki via the H2 and H1 highways with a stop at Matsumoto’s for shave ice, an icy local treat doused in sweet syrup in flavors like guava, pineapple, coconut cream, and mango. Before completing your loop back to town, stop off for dinner at the old Hawaii bastion Haleiwa Joe’s — minus the peak-season wait. Even weathered locals will direct you to this kitsch-strewn spot, with its walls covered in surf photos and giant koa wood flip-flops. You’ve worked up an appetite, so order the hearty prime rib ($32.50) and savor the sunset view of Koʻolau Mountain.
Get tips on artisan products (like Hawaii sea salts), artist happenings, and up-and-coming fashion labels with the Honolulu Night Market’s blog posts.
Stay current on new bar and restaurant openings with Oahu-born and -raised journalist Catherine E. Toth’s blog at the Cat Dish.
Get the scoop on what’s going on in local nightlife with Nonstop.
Find out what’s hot in the Hawaii fashion scene and among young designers at Hawaii Red.