Honolulu is the biggest city between Los Angeles and Tokyo, 2500 miles from the closest land. It is a modern Asian city, nestled on the edge of one of the most romantic landscapes on earth, smack in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. This city has been a tourist destination for over 100 years, but outside of the main beach is where the cool stuff is.
We are urbanites who love the energy, languages, and culture of cities but, like most people, we also need connection with nature. For some people, it may be sleepy Kauai, or the hippie vibe of upcountry Maui, or the wild parts of the big island. They are all wonderful, and they are all very different, but HNL is our spot. Here is some of what we discovered:
HoMA, Honolulu Museum of Art. This is a hidden gem of a museum. Housed in a classic old Hawaiian mansion, this is a small museum that punches above its weight. Great collection of Asian antiquities, and some very respectable European masterworks. I know you came for the beach and nature, but this is worth a visit. Pro tip: The restaurant is awesome.
Coffee. This is actually on Waikiki back from the beach a few blocks. We met some very cool ex-punk-rock filmmaker locals here and thought: if it works for them, it must be cool. It is. It’s part of a hotel, which is ok, but the crew who works the coffee is awesome. Sometimes it is about who is making the latte, not where it is.
SALT. This is a new retail and creative work complex in an industrial section between Waikiki and the airport. Great range of restaurants, cool places to shop, and a modern Asian creative vibe. None of the glitz of Waikiki. Pro tip: Check out the camera shop on the second floor for used film cameras and actual film. Ah, the memories…
Ala Moana Beach Park. This is about a 20-minute walk from Waikiki, and is another world. This is a locals’ beach, and the locals in this part of the world have a deep attachment to all things ocean. No Elvis or Gidget here; it’s local families hanging out, chilling, and getting out into the ocean.
Izakaya Uosan Sushi. This is a very Japan-centric town and we were determined to find the Jiro does Sushi of HNL. This place was recommended to us by a Japanese ex-pat surfer who ran a shop over at SALT. It is about as close to being in a hidden sushi den as you will find this side of Tokyo. Dark, filled with regulars, the sushi is top-notch.
Barnes and Noble. Can one judge a city by its book shops and access to international newspapers? This is perhaps the biggest, most helpful, and most trafficked Barnes and Noble. We were able to get our daily Financial Times and a stack of magazines for poolside reading. This is a proper old-school book store with a staff that somehow seems to know every book there. It is located in the cavernous Ala Moana Mall, an 8-minute drive or 20-minute walk from the beach. The cosmopolitan joy of standing in the checkout line with people speaking other languages.