Sunset over Waikiki
Honolulu: Must Sees and Eats

Hawaii is an island paradise with a diverse range of landscapes and attractions and a food scene that's unrivalled in many parts of the world. Most travellers' introduction to Hawaii is Honolulu. I've compiled a list of our favourite haunts over 8 years of regular visits:


1) Shangri-La: Visitors will wax lyrical about Waikiki’s nightlife and unforgettable sunsets but few know about the jewel that sits on Black Point, a residential neighborhood near Diamond Head called Shangri La. This is the estate of the late tobacco heiress and philanthropist, Doris Duke (1912 - 1993). It is an architectural and artistic wonder and houses one of the most priceless collection of Islamic Art in the world. Open to the public as a museum since 2001, tours to Shangri La are conducted by the Honolulu Museum of Art. It is booked months in advance and group numbers are very limited. It is also very difficult to book online. What I did was Skyped them directly and paid by credit card while on the call. On the day, just catch a taxi to the Honolulu Museum of Art and you will be taken to Shangri-la in a mini bus, then taken back to town when your group is finished. 

2) Bailey’s Aloha Shirts: If you’ve ever wondered where Anthony Bourdain, Charlie Sheen and Tom Selleck buy their Hawaiian shirts, it’s right here at Bailey’s. The N.Y. Times listed Bailey's as the only "must see" shop for visitors with 36 hours in Honolulu. Why? Because it is quintessentially Hawaiian. Jam packed with rack after rack of new, vintage, and used Aloha shirts, all in excellent condition, vintage shirts from the 40s, 50s and 60s dangle enticingly from the ceiling with prices accordingly out of reach, selling for thousands of dollars. When you are finished, you can check out the Rainbow Drive-In down the road for a bite to eat (see info on restaurants below). Bailey’s is on 517 Kapahulu Ave, Honolulu, HI 96815.

3) Catamaran Sunset Cruises: A great way to watch a spectacular Waikiki sunset is from the water on a catamaran cruise. Don’t bother booking online. Just talk to one of the guys that you see on Waikiki beach. That's what we did. We found our crew just outside Duke’s Restaurant on Waikiki Beach. 

4) Shopping:  Shopping is seriously good in Honolulu and the Ala Moana a shopping institution. For starters, it's not only the largest shopping mall in Hawaii, it is the seventh largest shopping mall in the US and and the largest open-air shopping center in the world. Allocate an entire day here alone. Located at 1450 Ala Moana Boulevard, Honolulu.

The Waikele Premium Outlet Stores are located about 45 minutes drive from Honolulu and well worth a visit for bagging some serious designer bargains. Either take a bus there (and back) from your hotel (ask at Reception for times) or take a taxi there and back (the most flexible and comfortable, but expensive, option). Allocate an entire day here (3-4 hours at least). You will come back exhausted and with a serious dent in your credit card. 

Hawaiian sunsets are legendary and go hand-in-hand with cocktails and nibbles. Below are Peter’s and my favourite Honolulu sunset watering-and-nibble holes:

1) Moana Surfrider (the hotel), in their courtyard which fronts on to Waikiki beach. They always have a live singer (with guitar) positioned on a small stage under the huge Banyan tree and the music is always good. It gets filled up pretty quickly so arrive early.

2) Duke’s Waikiki’s Barefoot Bar: Easy beachside access, casual beach dress code, and panoramic views of the Pacific. You can walk up to the bar in your bikini and board shorts sans rubber slippers and cool down with a frozen or icy cocktail before jumping back into the ocean. Peter and I love to have breakfast at Duke’s and it’s where you’ll find us every morning when we’re in Honolulu.

3) 'House Without a Key' at the Halekulani Hotel: Coconut Shrimp, Beef sate, ribs. Open courtyard area with pristine view of the beach. Live (good) music, hula dancing, complementary potato chips. Peter and I have spent many a night here.

This is the kind of food that's not exactly great for the arteries but nevertheless does the zumba on your taste buds. You can always cleanse and detox when you get back home.

Rainbow Drive-In is a local institution that’s just down the road from Bailey’s (Hawaiian Shirts) and away from the tourist traps of Waikiki. Serving up Hawaiian comfort food that is so bad but sooo good, most dishes on the menu are guaranteed to quadruple your caloric intake and blow away any hangover. You’ll find an endless array of gobsmackingly delicious, artery clogging delicacies as Chilli Dog Plate, Corned Beef Hash & Egg, Mix Plate Gravy All Over or Pork Cutlets Gravy All Over. If you’re after something lighter (and, dare I say, healthier) the Mahi Mahi (fish) and chicken dishes are tasty and cooked to perfection. Go the whole hog by washing it all down with a Strawberry Slush. If you really want to live dangerously, try an ice cream cake in one of their float flavours. Rainbow Drive-In is fast, cheap, tasty and commands a huge local and military following. The lines are long but try to be patient. Losing your cool in Hawaii is considered a serious faux pas. 3308 Kanaina Ave, Honolulu, HI 96815. 

Victoria and Peter with Australian Chef Tetsuya Wakuda (right) and Executive Chef Nobu Matsuhisa (left)

1) The Cheesecake Factory  is a great option when you're dining on a budget. With large portions of good quality food, served up in a relaxed and laid back atmosphere by gracious and efficient servers, this is a popular restaurant for the whole family.  The Cheesecake Factory offers an enormous menu selection, from salads and pizzas to pasta, steaks, burgers, cocktails and desserts. Go very early, very late, or be prepared to line up. 2301 Kalakaua Avenue, next to the  Royal Hawaiian Centre. 

2) Hula Grill, Kaanapali Beach is located at the top of the Oceanfront (at the Outrigger Waikiki) and has a  relaxed island vibe. The cuisine is Hawaii Regional with a reverence given to fresh ingredients. Part of the T’s restaurant chain, Hula Grill does not have a chain restaurant feel, although the economies of scale keeps the menu prices moderate. A “must have” is Hula Grill’s Macadamia Encrusted Mahi-Mahi. Casual dress and bring a smile.  

3) Sansei Seafood Restaurant & Sushi Bar was voted one of America's eight best sushi restaurants by Travel & Leisure in '01. It also won the Hale'Aina Gold Award in 2006. Owned and operated by Executive Chef Dave Kodama, a third generation Japanese American, you will always find Sansei "jumping" and after dining here you will understood why. The dishes are innovative, full of flavor, and their presentation and execution impeccable. There's no need to panic as you cast your eyes over the incredibly extensive menu, wondering where to start either. The staff know each and every one of the dishes on offer as they would have sampled them all as part of their training. Book ahead to avoid disappointment.  

4) Nobu is the brain child of celebrated Chef Nobu Matsuhisa. Offering "New Style" Japanese cuisine, it is pricey but you only live once. One of our favourite restaurants in the world. Book ahead. Don’t go without trying the Black Cod Miso. 

5) Roy’s Waikiki is named after owner/ operator Roy Yamaguchi and features Hawaiian fusion fare in a contemporary setting. The steaks are particularly good. Book ahead and request outside seating if you can. 

6) Taormina features upscale Sicilian cuisine cooked to perfection with fresh, local ingredients. Their wine selection is excellent and extensive. One of our favourites. 

Have you got an Honolulu gems that we haven't heard about? You're welcome to drop us a line and share your little secret with us!

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