Honolulu is a wonderful mixture of a pure beach town (it’s where Waikiki is) and Rodeo Drive with a completely international vibe to it. Unlike most of the other less-urban-feeling Hawaiian islands, Honolulu is not necessarily a place to go to get away from it all. But don’t let that dissuade you from picking it as a vacation spot. The water is some of the bluest you’ve ever seen, the dining options are unique and delicious, and there are wonderful shops and goods you won’t find anywhere else in the US.
Shop for American-Made Products
Hawaii is a popular destination for Japanese tourists who take their designer shopping very seriously. And Honolulu has met this demand with more stores than you’ll know what to do with. Sprinkled among outposts of every designer you can think of are some great boutiques with souvenirs that don’t involve hula skirts or shirts with the phrase “I got lei’d in Hawaii.”
- James After Beach Club | 3045 Monsarrat Ave #8
This cute shop is on your way out of Waikiki on Monsarrat (stop off after grabbing tacos at South Shore Grill and a Banan Bowl). James & Co. is a Japanese brand and their small selection of cotton and linen basics are well-made and timeless. They also offer some locally made goods–we picked up a silk-screened dish towel in a pineapple pattern made in Maui.
- Tory Richard | Multiple locations in downtown Honolulu
This Hawaiian label provides the most tasteful, well-made Hawaiian clothes we’ve ever seen. You’ll find dresses, tops, and rompers in great patterns that will still be completely fashionable when you return to the mainland. Some of their items are even made right in Hawaii!
- Unibazar | 345 Royal Hawaiian Ave
This boutique has a great selection of locally made, on-trend goods mixed with well-made cotton separates. We found clothing made in California and Korea and Aloha sandals that are responsibly produced in Spain. They have a nice selection of locally made jewelry and their home items have tasteful island personality.
- To The Sea | 345 Royal Hawaiian Ave #102
Next door to Unibazar is this great little shop that carries beach-inspired tees and bags and Hawaiian-made soaps and candles. We loved the silk-screened clutches and their stylish jewelry selection.
- Royal Hawaiian Cookie | 339 Royal Hawaiian Ave #2
The cookies at Honolulu Cookie Company are a delightful treat, but the Royal Hawaiian Cookie is worth searching out. Right down from Unibazaar and To The Sea, you’ll find this shop that sells a caramel-nut-crisp cookie as well as nut clusters and a delicious rice crisp. They also sell other Hawaiian artisanal foods like local honey and Rusty’s organic coffee.
- Waikiki Beachwalk | 226 Lewers St
There are several boutiques here worth checking out. Mahina offers fashion separates that are very reasonably priced, many of which are made in the USA. Canyon Beachwear is a great stop to find a suit that doesn’t look like you need to be on a surfboard or just graduated from high school. They feature American-made swimsuit brands Vitamin A and Helen Jon. Truffaux specializes in Panama hats handmade in Ecuador. No that’s not the USA, but these hats are some of the most well-made, comfortable straw hats we’ve seen. If you’re over in this area, skip the generic Yard House and walk over a block to Bills for a cocktail or bite to eat.
Honolulu provides the opportunity to eat some really unique food. There’s local Hawaiian food (grilled meat and rice), Japanese restaurants galore, fresh seafood options, and every other type of cuisine a tourist would want to nosh on. The resort area of Honolulu has so many options it’s overwhelming. Please don’t take the easy way out by going with a familiar Cheesecake Factory or P.F. Changs. There is so much good food here worth seeking out!
- Honolulu Coffee Company | 2365 Kalakaua Ave
If you’re anything like us, the best way to start a day on vacation is with a good cup of coffee. Hawaii is the only place in America that produces coffee, which is why finding a good cup isn’t hard. We’re partial to the Honolulu Coffee Company that’s right in front of the Moana Surfrider hotel. If you love coffee, treat yourself to a 100 percent Kona French press or buy a bag of any of their blends for a souvenir.
- Tucker & Bevvy Picnic Foods | 449 Kapahulu Ave #203
Breakfast is one of the more difficult meals to find if you don’t want to spring for the $25 option at your hotel. Enter Tucker & Bevvy. Located towards the end of Waikiki and attached to a hotel, it’s a quick-serve sandwich, salad, and smoothie place. They make a variety of breakfast and lunch paninis as well as smoothies and juices made from whole fruits. They also have a nice selection of prepackaged foods, which are a good option for grabbing a meal to take to the beach.
- Banan | 3212 Monsarrat Ave
This food truck is located about a mile out of Waikiki on Monsarrat Ave and we had the good fortune to stumble upon it after a hot hike up Diamond Head. They take local fruits like banana and mango and morph them into frozen soft-serve that they top with granola, coconut, and fresh-cut fruit. They even have some soft-serves made with vegetables (yes we tried their green-hued kale/mint soft-serve and it was delicious). We loved this place so much we came back for lunch the next day!
- South Shore Grill | 3114 Monsarrat Ave
Located on Monsarrat Ave near Banan is this grill, which serves an out-of-this-world fish taco. The chargrilled burgers are also delicious, although how you can pass up the fish taco is beyond us.
- Marukame Udon | 2310 Kuhio Ave #124
Sometimes you just want fresh-made udon noodles in a flavorful broth alongside a tempura buffet, which is why this inexpensive restaurant is so popular. There will probably be a line out the door, but the cafeteria-style service ensures it moves fast.
- Helena’s Hawaiian Food | 1240 N School St
Do you like your meat served with a side of meat? Then this busy Hawaiian food spot is for you. Be prepared to wait for Hawaiian-style pulled pork and grilled short ribs, but they won’t disappoint.
- Bills | 1240 N School St
This outpost of an Australian restaurant served the best cocktails we had the entire trip. The watermelon spritzer was frozen watermelon mixed with mint, citrus vodka, and prosecco. And the food was just as good! The dinner menu showed Italian and Asian influences as well as basics like chicken schnitzel and a burger. We enjoyed the corn fritters, prawn linguine, and brownie sundae dessert.Our only regret? Not being hungrier so we could have tried more things.
- Alan Wong’s | 1857 S King St #208
Hawaii also has some fine dining options, if you want to get dressed up for dinner. Our suggestion is to get away from the resorts and go to this treasure, which is located in an office building off the beaten path. It often wins awards for best service and best restaurant, so you won’t care that you can’t see the ocean from your table. The menu features regional Hawaiian cuisine made with locally sourced ingredients.
Photos by The Stated Home: Sunrise over Waikiki, looking up at a tree in Kapioloani regional park, mid-century architecture of the Queen Kapiolani Hotel
Things To Do
If you’ve ever wanted to try your hand at surfing, Waikiki is the place to do it. The waves aren’t too crazy and the water temperature is just about perfect. You can barely walk a block near the beach without coming across an offer for surfing lessons. And don’t write off seeing Pearl Harbor or hiking Diamond Head just because they’re touristy things to do. On your hike, please prepare better than the 50 percent of tourists who wear flip-flops and put on proper sneakers. It’s not a long hike, but it is steep and uneven. Also, get away from the crowds of Waikiki by taking a day trip to the other side of the mountains. You can head to Kailua Bay to try some stand-up paddleboarding or just lay on a beach that’s a bit quieter than Waikiki. For a truly Hawaiian experience, take a boat trip out to snorkel and swim with the sea turtles – there are several different tour companies that will take you on a trip.
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