There is no word in the American lexicon that evokes more of a sense of tropical never-land and dreamy paradise than Waikiki. Warm water, endless beaches, guys that look like Elvis and curvy women in coconut bras. Hawaii has long been painted as paradise with all the comforts and amenities of home.
I recently had the opportunity to visit Oahu and experience a more authentic side of the Hawaii. Far from aging tourists in Aloha Shirts, big buses and bad burns, I spent eight days exploring the island and experiencing the island in a distinctly Hawaiian way.
Oahu is an island of contradictions. The destination offers all the bustle of a major hub alongside the quiet intimacy of the countryside; a cosmopolitan city against the backdrop of a culture dating thousands of years. High heels and rubber “slippers.”
The spirit of Aloha transcends all.
During your visit, don’t miss the main attractions—there’s a reason for the hype. Learn to surf on Waikiki Beach, the birthplace of the sport. Pay your respects at Pearl Harbor. Enjoy a Mai Tai at the Royal Hawaiian. But don’t stop there. Venture north to marvel at the courage of big wave surfers. Stomp through taro patches and learn about ancient Hawaiian farming and fishing techniques at a traditional ahupuaʻa. Swim with dolphins at dawn.
Hawaii is as unique and exotic as you make it. In order to truly experience the islands, take a deep breath of fragrant island air, put away your phone, and let Hawaii happen.
What to do:
Oahu is enchanting. Hit the hotspots and explore Waikiki and Pearl Harbor. Take a surf lesson. Pay your respects. Hike to Diamond Head.
Beyond the basics, visit the Bishop Museum. The Bishop Museum was founded in 1889 by Charles Reed Bishop in honor of his late wife, Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, the last descendant of the royal Kamehameha family. The Museum was established to house the extensive collection of Hawaiian objects and royal family heirlooms of the Princess, and has expanded to include millions of objects, documents and photographs about Hawai‘i and other Pacific island cultures.
Next, visit, Kualoa Ranch. A sprawling 4,000 acre, undeveloped piece of privately-owned paradise, Kualoa is the scene for films such as Jurassic Park, LOST, Windtalkers, and more.
Get your hands dirty at Papahana Kuaola, where you can spend the morning learning about ancient Hawaiian farming techniques and get down in the mud at the taro farm.
One the afternoon, visit Naked Cow Dairy, a female-owned and operated dairy farm founded on the idea of bringing back the small family dairy of the past, when cows had names not numbers and before antibiotics and hormones were considered “normal cow treatments.” Don't forget to indulge in a cheese-making class and butter tasting. The truffle butter is to die for!
Where to Eat:
Hawaiian food is complex and creative. Chefs of local and global renown are taking an interest in the farm-to-table bounty available in Hawaii.
For breakfast, be sure to hit the classic bakery, Leonard's. Malasadas are a Hawaii favorite similar to a beignet. Make up for the sugar overload with a delicious lunch at Kahumana Organic Farm and Café. Enjoy lunch in a pleasant farm environment. The menu highlights produce grown just steps away from your table, wild-caught fish brought in by local fishermen, and responsibly farmed local meats.
As you make your way around the island, be sure to stop at Matsumoto's Shave Ice. Matsumoto's is a North Shore legend located in the picturesque Hale'iwa Store Lots. Prepare yourself for a line and keep your eyes peeled for pro surfers!
There is hardly a bad option for dinner. At The Street, A Michael Mina Social House, the International Marketplace plays host to a curated who's who of the food world. A collection of food stalls, The Street is the perfect place to grab dinner after a day in the sun with a family who can't agree! For a more laid-back, farm-to-table experience, visit Moku Kitchen or Ravish at The MODERN.
Where to Stay
Halekulani : Halekulani, which means "House Befitting Heaven", is an enclave of understated elegance and luxury. Service is a hallmark of Halekulani where the staff's attention to detail not only meets, but exceeds guests' expectations.
On five prime oceanfront acres, Halekulani has been a Waikiki Beach landmark for almost 100 years. Each tropically elegant guest room features a large lanai that opens to views of the gardens, the Pacific Ocean or Diamond Head. Sunbathe or watch the surfing action on famed Waikiki Beach; relax by the dreamy swimming pool, made up of 1.2 million mosaic tiles; or indulge in the Pacific Islands–inspired treatments at SpaHalekulani (I recommend the LomiLomi!). Fun fact, the hotel features two cocktail lounges and three distinctive restaurants. La Mer is the island's only AAA Five Diamond and Forbes Five Star Award–winning restaurant, while L’Aperitif at La Mer is recognized as the most elegant and sophisticated bar/lounge in Honolulu and was launched in partnership with the Ritz Hotel Paris and legendary Ritz Hemingway Bar director, Colin Peter Field.
Book with us and we can offer you complimentary amenities including: upgrade at the time of booking, subject to availability; Daily breakfast for up to two in-room guests, at either House Without a Key (buffet breakfast) or Orchids (full American breakfast); $100 or $200 Hotel Credit, depending on your room type; Early check-in/late check-out, subject to availability; Complimentary Wi-Fi.
The Royal Hawaiian : It's not hard to see why The Royal Hawaiian was Roosevelt's "Western White House." Beckoning luxury travelers to the legendary shores of Waikiki, the “Pink Palace of the Pacific” has defined luxury tourism since 1927. The 528-room garden oasis is guaranteed to charm with the iconic accommodations of the Historic Wing and the contemporary splendor of Mailani Tower. Indulge in award-winning seafood at Azure; sip an original, handmade cocktail at Mai Tai Bar; or feast at Waikiki’s only beachfront luau Aha Aina. Celebrate 90 years of authentic Hawaiian hospitality at its most legendary locale. Our tip? Don't miss out on an afternoon Royal Mai Tai--it's much better than the regular.
Book with us and we can offer you complimentary amenities including: Upgrade on arrival, subject to availability; Full breakfast daily for up to two in-room guests in restaurant; $100 USD equivalent Resort or Hotel credit to be utilized during stay; Early check-in/late check-out, subject to availability; Complimentary Wi-Fi.
The Modern Honolulu : The MODERN exudes elegance and cosmopolitan chic in Honolulu. Thoughtful, sophisticated, and contemporary, every element of the property reflects the character of Honolulu today. Intimate pool settings, culinary pleasures, exhilarating spa treatments, vibrant nightlife and all that Oahu has to offer — including luxury shopping, beaches and nature — blend to create a feeling of progressive luxury, as refined as it is relaxed. Our tip? Visit The Library, the hotel's hidden lounge behind a swiveled bookshelf, and enjoy a signature coconut mojito.
Book with us and receive complimentary amenities including: Upgrade at time of booking, subject to availability; Welcome Amenity on Arrival; MODERN HONOLULU daily breakfast for two at The Grove; A $100 USD Hotel credit to be utilized during stay; 20% off Spa Services; Early check-in and late check-out based on availability; Penthouse bookings receive: Roundtrip Sedan Airport Transfer for two; In room Spa amenity; Personalized pre-arrival mini bar; Breakfast for two daily: Modern Honolulu or Morimoto Breakfast; Welcome Fruit Bowl; Daily use of VIP Daybed at Sunset/Sunrise Pool; Complimentary Wi-Fi.
The Surfjack Hotel & Swim Club : If San Francisco's Phoenix Hotel had a tropical sister, Surfjack would be it. This hotel, located just far enough off Waikiki to avoid the the tourists, is hip, modern, and plugged-in to the local community. The style is all that you would hope a Waikiki bungalow would have: bright, cheery, colors; surfboard decor; overstuffed couches and open-air community spaces. The rooms are quite large and each has a balcony overlooking the city or the "most Instagrammed pool in Hawaii." The hotel hosts regular "Salon" nights and invites local artists, activists, and community leaders into the "living room" styled lobby area to lead workshops and host conversations.
Our tip? Don't miss out on sampling Mahina & Sons' signature cocktail, the Mr. Pink. The delightful mix of uncle val's bontanical gin, lillet, yellow chartreuse, dry curacao, lemon, egg white, rose flower water will keep you feeling the Aloha spirit long into the night.
In Hawaii, the Aloha Spirit is defined as the "coordination of the mind and heart within each person." The people and culture reflect this warmth of spirit with a long history, vibrant culture, and a deep pride of people and place. Hawaii is a destination to discover and explore.
Ready to go? Reach out to Leslie at firstname.lastname@example.org to talk about your dream trip!