What’s awesome about Hawaii is that you get a really good mix of beach life, city life and nature. It’s not often that you can get all three on your travels (although funnily Sydney probably comes close). Shopping one day, hiking another day, and a yoga jungle tour the next – I had really a varied and super-fun time in Honolulu. Interestingly, a lot of people said that they didn’t like Honolulu, or maybe they meant Waikiki specifically. But I really, really enjoyed myself. Here’s a guide to mostly eating and some exploring in Honolulu.
What To Eat
My list of food places for us to explore was actually a bit insane (ie. up to 50 were on the list), so naturally we couldn’t get to all of them. But I confess that pretty much everywhere we went was quite good, if not very good. The highlight for me was Morimoto – read my full review here. A few more noteworthy places are below.
Home Bar & Grill is a dingy kinda diner (in a good way) where the tater tot nachos are piled high with sour cream, jalapenos, bacon, olives, nacho cheese sauce and salsa. It’s a seriously huge serving for only a tenner. We also get the kalbi fried noodles which turn out to be kind of like mi goreng but topped with kalbi shortribs. The mac salad is a side serving – the creaminess is ridic. Tip: the servings are huge here. Share everything, and if you can come in a big group. Also, there are apparently long queues to get in, so we went at an awkward time of around 5pm and we didn’t have to wait for a table.
On the pricier side (but worth every penny), MW Restaurant has a spot-on tasting menu, showcasing Hawaiian regional cuisine with a modern twist. The mochi-encrusted opakapaka (a fish native to Hawaii) was seriously awesome, as was the delicious dessert. With a brulee top, passionfruit sorbet, K’au orange custard, orange kanten, and tapioca, it was fruity and perfect.
Roy’s Waikiki, although not excellent, was a good meal. There was a bit of old-school-ness to the food. And it was weird that the chocolate souffle oddly turned out to be more of a lava cake.
Instagrammer @bakerbowie recommended some food trucks in Waikiki, and we promptly made a stop for an afternoon snack. I chose Lani’s Loco Moco and Plate Lunch, but instead of loco moco (which would have made more sense) I got the burger and mac salad. I wasn’t disappointed! In retrospect I also wish I had eaten more loco moco because where else are you gonna eat fried rice smothered with gravy and topped with an egg? In the little enclave there are also a few more trucks, including a ramen truck.
A trip to Hawaii isn’t complete unless you go to Cheesecake Factory. The food isn’t amazing by any means, but it’s huge American servings, hearty American food, and ginormous cheesecakes with a gazillion variations to choose from. I had the red velvet cheesecake, which was one of the largest ones.
IHOP is another must. It’s a bunch of fatty breakfast food, and it’s open 24 hours. Drunken pancakes – yes please. The hash browns are really good here.
Raff was so adamant that I eat Jolibee fried chicken at Ala Moana, he sent me a message while I was in Honolulu to remind me. The chicken skin was insane – so crispy and delicious.
Once you’re feeling like you’ve had enough deep-fried, fatty American food, Marukame Udon will be your savior. Beware there are long queues, but it’s worth going at an atypical time when it’s slightly shorter to get a hot, steaming bowl of udon. While we were staying at The Modern, around the corner Goofy’s was also a welcome veggie-heavy recluse from all the deep-fried food we’d been eating.
We ventured to Chinatown a couple of times because there were so many recommended eateries there. We first tried The Pig & The Lady, a contemporary Vietnamese joint. We shared our dishes, going for the 12-hour brisket banh mi with a side of pho broth and the papaya salad with poached chicken. The cocktails were probably the best I had in Hawaii, and we ended our meal with a refreshing strawberry sorbet soft serve, which had a sprinkling of crushed wafers, cocoa nibs and sugar on top.
On another day we make our way to Chinatown to try the cereal pancakes I had heard so much about at Scratch Kitchen & Bake Shop, only to find out they were sold out. We instead shared a loco moco royale with braised beef short rib patty, seared foie gras and French onion soup gravy. A fancied up version of loco moco, that gravy was a real stand-out.
Then we head to Downbeat Diner where we share a Monte Cristo sandwich, a French toast sandwich filled with cheese and ham then served with maple syrup. At least there was a side salad! Cocktails were good too – I had a wickedly spicy Bloody Mary. And we got a peanut butter milkshake for good measure.
Town had been recommended to me by a few people, and even though it was quite good, in that price range I thought MW Restaurant was far better with more refined flavors and better service.
Ono Hawaiian Foods isn’t in Kaimuki, but it’s half-way there. Located on Kapahulu Avenue, it’s a tiny restaurant where the poke is famous. We end up going for the combination plate for 26 bucks and shared it. There’s kalua pig, laulau, pipikaula, lomi salmon, haupia, and rice. We even sample some poi, a Hawaiian taro specialty that’s served either fresh or fermented. It had an interesting flavor, but wasn’t to my taste.
What To Do
One of the highlights in Honolulu for me was the yoga jungle hike I went on. Run by Beach Sunset Yoga, it was such a wonderful day. The drive is only about 20 to 30 minutes away from Waikiki, and then we hiked through a bamboo forest, practiced yoga twice, and even meditated at ruins. While I was on the yoga tour, Eric checked out Pearl Harbor.
A trip to Hanauma Bay was one of the highlights. There’s a mandatory 9-minute video screening about the bay, which is a bit of a nuisance. But that view from the top is crazy. Azure waters, coral, white sand. The snorkeling itself wasn’t the best I’ve encountered, but the bay itself is just so beautiful.
Eric and I aren’t very active people, but we did the Diamond Head Hike on one of the days. And it wasn’t a very difficult “hike” anyway. I put hike in quotation marks because it’s mostly paved. The view at the top is wonderful, but it definitely gets pretty crowded.
In terms of shopping, the shops at Ala Moana and around Waikiki are very good. I was quite taken by Ross, which stocks designer clothes at affordable prices. The only downside is that my sizes were always sold out. It’s also worth checking out Walgreens and Walmart to buy awesome American snacks. The make up section is usually well-stocked too.
I’ll be honest, I only walked by Waikiki Beach. I didn’t actually hang around there, but there are better beaches to be seen anyway. It was on my to-do list to check out other beaches (other than Hanauma Bay) but in the end we sadly didn’t have time.
Where To Stay
When we first arrived in Hawaii, we opted for a cheaper hotel. The Coconut Waikiki was great for a budget-friendly stay. The green theme was slightly grotesque, but it doesn’t really matter because we weren’t in the hotel very much. What mattered was that it was clean, well-located, and the staff were very friendly. Plus there was a free breakfast counter where you could make your own waffles! Win.
After a few nights at the Coconut, we flew to Maui (more on that in another post!). When we returned to Oahu, we splashed out and stayed at The Modern. It was seriously, seriously awesome. I’d come back to Honolulu just to stay there again. And the fact that Morimoto is housed in the hotel makes it even better.
The adults-only pool is super relaxing (albeit kind of hilarious because it’s not so much a pool, but more like a shallow splashy thing of water so that you can float around on a white, inflatable mattress). There’s also fake sand and then a bunch of chaise lounges with feet in the pool. It’s a pretty laid-back affair. We barely had the chance to relax on the entire trip, but one afternoon we chilled there for five hours, drinking cocktails and lazing about – and it was heaven.
Coffee is terrible! We’re so spoiled here in Australia with the amazing coffee we can get everywhere. It’s all watery, bitter filtered coffee with gross creamer in Hawaii. Or when it’s espresso, it’s not very good at all. I pretty much gave up drinking any coffee at all.
Starbucks frappuccinos do not have coffee in them. I learned this at a Starbucks in Hawaii. My mind was literally blown. I remember drinking them in Jakarta when I was a teenager, and thought I was so cool drinking their blended coffee things. Turns out, no coffee in it at all. End rant.
If you’re like us and don’t drive, you can take the bus relatively easily around Honolulu. The best thing about it is that you can get a transfer ticket, so you can keep taking more buses on the same ticket (which costs $2.50 no matter where you go) within a three-hour window.
I definitely recommend Honolulu to anyone who enjoys fusion food, hikes, beach life, and shopping. I found that there’s something for everyone.