Is Honolulu The Next Hip Holiday Destination?
It's like a tropical Williamsburg.
Forget what you think you know about Honolulu. It’s only too easy to dismiss the capital of Hawaii as cheesy Aloha shirts, coconut cocktails and a packed Waikiki Beach, but there is so much more to this Pacific Island paradise than meets the eye. Honolulu is now home to a growing art scene, hip neighbourhoods and fusion food that almost makes up for it the fact that it’s called ‘fusion food’.
The key to discovering the best of Honolulu is to turn your back on the over-rated and crowded Waikiki Beach, and instead spend your time in Hawaii’s capital, exploring the diverse expanding inner city areas. Chinatown is layered, loud and fun and the developing Downtown area might just be beginning, but it’s got all the gritty hallmarks of an exciting new urban regeneration. Here are our tips of the best of modern Honolulu that’ll impress even the most jaded of hipsters.
Where to eat and drink
The Pig and the Lady
Where: 83 N King St
One of the most interesting and celebrated new ‘fusion’ restaurants in Hawaii, the Pig and the Lady sees chef Andrew Le and his family combine influences from Vietnam, Asia and the Pacific to create a new takes on old food. Concoctions like the phenomenal ‘pho-sta’ combines Vietnamese pho with, um, pasta, to create a frankenfood with unmistakably fresh pho flavour mixed with al-dente pappardelle. The décor is a large pared-back Chinatown warehouse, the wait staff happily explain the menu and the whole experience is a culinary treat that is unmistakably the new face of truly multicultural Hawaii.
Where: 50 N Hotel St
Further down the street from the Pig and the Lady is a smaller, but no less impressive, corner bar and restaurant that’s perfect for a lunchtime snack after browsing local stores like Owens & Co and Roberta Oaks. Finding fame very quickly for its ‘chef-inspired’ ramen (and its late night takeaway window), Lucky Belly‘s menu is packed with mouth watering things like karage chicken sandwiches, pork belly baos, shrimp gyoza and a lot of the other things you never realised your stomach needed ’til now.
Where: 661 Auahi St
Head downtown to the Kakaako area and you’ll quickly notice this industrial area has all the ingredients for a future hipster neighbourhood. Directly across from massive graffiti walls, and surrounded by cranes and developments, is Bevy. Packed with Honolulu locals escaping the crowds, it’s a neat place to pull up a bar stool and taste test cocktails (like the delicious Red Square) in a vintage setting.
Up Roll Cafe
Where: 665 Halekauwila St
This tiny corner cafe is a casual new Japanese joint offering fresh and delicious rolls and bowls. You can customise your choice however you like. The rolls look like a combination between sushi rolls and a burrito and the bowls are packed with both flavour and nutrition. It’s super simple but done just right.
Where: 2955 East Manoa Road
Take a drive towards the mountains and you’ll pass through the town where young Barack Obama grew up. In this suburb you’ll also find a tiny store with just half a dozen small tables and a winding queue out the front door all morning. The breakfast at this gem is worth the wait, with fresh coffee (the best in Hawaii apparently), homemade specials and a smalltown feel nestled in a valley of high, green mountains.
Where to shop
Where: 675 Auahi St
Located right next door to Bevy in Kakaako, this picturesque florist sells hand-crafted and locally sourced pots, stationery, books and lots of beautiful small home pieces. It’s a little oasis in downtown’s concrete jungle, and there’s even Brue Bar café nestled inside the store to keep your coffee high going as you explore the area.
Where: 2013 S King St
A beautifully stylish store stocking “small design goods to improve your home, office and lifestyle”, MONO is hip to its core. Well-curated and visually appealing, MONO (which means ‘things’ in Japanese) is part of a series of small shops that are as anti-tourist as you can find. Neighbours In4mation and Truest are also worth a look as well.
About The Goods
Where: 930 McCully St
Trying to find About The Goods is half of the fun. Around the corner from MONO there’s a nondescript two-storey building. After you locate the buzzer, you need to scale the staircase and move down ancient hallways until you find the right door. Inside, the second floor store is carefully curated, stocked with exclusive items built around an underground hip hop theme: shirts, shoes, bags and more. It’s a cool experience, and certainly not what you’d expect from Honolulu.
Places to stay
The Modern Honolulu
Where: 1775 Ala Moana Blvd
There’s really only one play to stay in Honolulu if you want an utra-modern holiday. Just as the restaurants and shops in Honolulu can easily be divided into the old and the new, the hotel scene can too. Waikiki Beach is dotted with monolith chains that were developed decades ago, but there’s a fresh hotel that’s leading the new charge. The Modern Honolulu is named perfectly, serving as a guide to where Honolulu is going, not just where it has been.
Located in the centre of town but still close enough to explore emerging areas like Chinatown and Kakaako, the Modern is a stunning and sleek homage to the new side of Honolulu. Centred around the beating heart of a Miami-style pool, the touches of fun are so abundant that there’s always something to surprise you. From the signature scent sprayed through the hotel to a secret bar hidden behind a rotating bookshelf opposite the reception desk (for real!), the Modern is the type of hotel where you check in, and then check right out of all of your problems. Grab a sun chair, slap on some complimentary sunscreen and let the whole afternoon whir past you on the main pool deck – or the adults only sunset deck just above.
If you think the common areas are good, it’s actually the rooms at the Modern that will melt even the hardest hipster’s heart.
Located right on the Marina facing Waikiki Beach, it feels like the sun sets just for hotel guests as the evening sky changes colour with you watching directly from your hotel bed. The room décor is all crisp white lines with a modern beach theme that tempts you to lounge in your room all day. But with so many fun restaurants, bar and shops to discover in the ‘new’ Honolulu, you probably won’t be spending nearly as much time in your room as you’d like.
(Lead image: Paiko/Facebook. The writer stayed as a guest of The Modern Honolulu.)