Hawaii: Twelve Honolulu must dos

By Frank Liew

There's more to do in Honolulu than lie on Waikiki beach. Frank Liew heads off the beaten track.

If you're tired of Waikiki's crowds, Kaimana Beach is a great alternative. Photo / Supplied
If you're tired of Waikiki's crowds, Kaimana Beach is a great alternative. Photo / Supplied

1. Grab a Portugese donut from Leonard's
933 Kapahulu Avenue

Hawaii may be the last place you'd think to find a Portugese bakery, but Leonard's has been a Honolulu institution for 60 years. Today, the bakery is famous for its Portugese donuts, or malasadas, which are essentially cinnamon sugar-coated donuts without the hole. There's always a queue going out the door for these crunchy chewy treats, with special flavours every month. Be warned, the last time I was there, I ordered one, and then returned an hour later to order a dozen. Just waiting in line and listening to the staff speak Hawaii's unofficial "pidgin" dialect is worth the visit.

2. Experience the hybrid food at Kaka'ako Kitchen
1200 Ala Moana Blvd

There's no shortage of plate lunch places all across the island, but if you're looking for a convenient place to try some of Hawaii's best and are staying in the Waikiki area, hop across to Kaka'ako Kitchen. Due to Hawaii's huge migrant population of Japanese, Korean, Filipino, Chinese and other assorted nationalities over the generations, and coupled with inter-marriage, they've managed to concoct some rather interesting hybrid food combinations. Imagine tempura fried catfish, served with macaroni salad and Japanese short grain rice. Or Chinese style five-spices chicken thigh with Korean short ribs. Strange thing is, it all works together.

3. Have a shave ice float from Rainbow Drive-in
3308 Kanaina Ave

Another fast food institution in Honolulu, Rainbow Drive-in has been a part of the city's urban foodscape for over 50 years. Known for its affordable working-class and beach-dweller meals, one of its signature items is a strawberry slush float - a slushy drink with a big scoop of vanilla icecream on the top. Perfect for that lazy, hot Honolulu day.

4. Get a haircut from Kanye's barber at Mojo BarberShop
1157 Bethel St

So getting a haircut may not be the top of your priority list when you're headed to a tropical paradise, but if you've got an afternoon free and find yourself wandering around the downtown area, book yourself in for a tidy-up (and a cold brewski) at Mojo Barbershop, a pretty cool vintage style men's barber. Ask for master barber Khaliq, who is more than happy to either tidy up your fade or carve your favourite logo into your hair. After all, if Kanye West considers himself one of Khaliq's regulars and flies the barber out to tour with him, the cutter must be pretty good.

5. Have an Acai Bowl
Diamond Head Cove Health Bar, 3045 Monsarrat Ave, Diamond Head or Haleiwa Bowls, 66 Kamehameha Highway, Haleiwa

Sure, the Acai berry isn't a native plant of Hawaii, but that doesn't stop them from making some of the best Acai bowls on the planet. Essentially, it's a blended or frozen acai smoothie mix, topped with bananas, granola, strawberries, blueberries, then drizzled with honey and shaved coconut - a healthy alternative meal and a great source of antioxidants (not to mention a great hangover food). There's a couple of suggestions for where to find the best; if you're at the Honolulu end of Oahu try the Diamond Head Cove Health Bar (where you just might meet the dog that played Vincent in Lost) or if you're out on the North Shore, look out for Haleiwa Bowls, across the street from Matsumoto's shaved ice and grocery store.

6. Buy a T-shirt or souvenir at In4mation Hawaii
1154 Nuuanu Ave

There's nothing cooler than the non-ironic way Hawaiians wear ironic Hawaii T-shirts and shirts in Hawaii. If you'd like a souvenir shirt that won't seem as corny when you get home, head over to The Human Imagination in the downtown area, where you'll find the flagship store of local design house In4mation, founded and operated by a bunch of great local creatives. They inject the unmistakable Hawaiian style into some great T-shirt and shirt designs that leave out the corn factor; a perfect souvenir for the style conscious.

7. Enjoy local produce at Fresh Cafe, Kaka'ako
831 Queen St

You'd think that being on a tropical paradise known for its agriculture, almost all restaurants and cafes would be serving the local produce. Sadly this isn't the case, with most preferring cheaper, imported ingredients. If you're a fan of good eating without breaking the bank, head to Fresh Cafe, where they serve only dishes made from local Hawaiian organic produce - salads, smoothies, sandwiches, or their wide selection of teas and snacks. With a relaxed atmosphere and a contemporary art gallery attached to the back of the premises, it's a great place to wind down, or get some pesky work done without being shut away in a stuffy hotel room.

8. Find some mochi icecream at Bubbie's
1010 University Ave

If there ever was a way of thinking that food might equate to drugs, then Bubbie's could be it. A local favourite, it's a tiny shop that sells homemade icecream and desserts; their signature menu item is the mochi icecream - small balls of ice cream wrapped in chewy Japanese mochi (glutinous rice). It sounds weird in writing, but trust me, you can't get enough of it. Buy a tub ... or three.

9. Jump in the water at Kaimana Beach

If you're tired of the Waikiki crowds and can't be bothered driving out to the East Coast of Oahu or up to the North Shore, Kaimana Beach is a great alternative to find a little more space, but with equally clear water and beautiful sand. Just walk down Waikiki in the direction of Diamond Head, past the beach, past Kapiolani Park until you hit the New Otani Hotel, and there you are. Along the way, you'll also see some old historic buildings, including an outdoor saltwater pool. If you've got a car, you could head over Diamond Head and hit Black Point in the Kahala area for even more privacy, without being too far away from your hotel.

10. Learn Pidgin

Ho, brah! This grinds so ono, broke da mouth! If you spend any time with locals in Hawaii, you'll start to notice strange inflections in the way they speak English. Welcome to Pidgin, Hawaii's unofficial dialect - a mixture of bizarre slang words, influenced by the various nationalities that came to work on the sugar cane and pineapple plantations over the years. If you can't find a local who won't stop laughing long enough to teach you, try and find a copy of Ken Sakata's Pidgin to da Max. Be warned though, it's addictive, and your friends might think you're a weirdo when you get home.

11. Have some Poke
747 Kapahulu Ave

Poke (Po-keh) must be one of the staple dishes of Hawaiian cuisine. If you've been to the Cook Islands or Fiji, just think of it as a Japanese influenced form of Ika Mata, again, the hybrid legacy of Hawaii's migrant population. Fresh raw ahi (tuna) cubes marinated in a variety of sauces, and served on short grain rice make for a perfect light meal. Locals will argue where the best in town is, but I like the one at Ono Seafood on Kapahulu. Coincidentally, it's also just down the road from Leonard's Portugese bakery, so you can kill two birds with one stone.

12. Read a book at R&D bookstore
691 Auahi St

For the literary-inclined, be sure to head to R&D books in the Kaka'ako area of Honolulu - it's a non-profit bookstore that houses an amazing selection of books and printed material. This is where you'll find some of Hawaii's best local creatives hanging out, enjoying some fine local barista coffee, a rarity in the US (if you're as averse to Starbucks as I am). There's also a screening room for contemporary films, and regular workshops where local creatives gather to talk and share their latest work. A must stop for the design-curious and cine-junkies.

IF YOU GO

Hawaiian Airlines announced this month that it will start direct flights between Auckland and Hawaii three times weekly from March next year, adding to Air New Zealand's direct flights.

Hawaiian Airlines will also provide same carrier connections from Oahu to neighbouring islands Maui, Kauai and Hawaii Island, and services to 11 destinations on the US mainland, including Los Angeles, Las Vegas and New York.

- Herald on Sunday

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