When you dream of a Hawaiian vacation, is it a quiet, remote location or a bustling city that you see in your mind? Many people may want to get away from the big city, but there are plenty of reasons to plant yourself in Honolulu, despite the crowds. Here’s our pick of Honolulu highlights that will allow you to avoid the standard tourist scene.
Doris Duke’s Shangri La
Heiress and philanthropist Doris Duke visited Hawaii on her honeymoon, and fell so in love with the location and the culture that she scrapped plans to add a wing to her husband’s parents’ home in Florida in favor of building a home here. (Who would pick living with their in-laws over staying in Hawaii, anyway?) Her love of traditional Mughal designs and Islamic art influenced the building’s architecture. A great way to see her vast collection of art that she collected from her travels here is with the Honolulu Museum of Art's Tours of Shangri La.
Diamond Head Cove Health Bar
The açai bowl, a beloved Hawaiian breakfast treat, features pureed açai berries garnished with sliced bananas, strawberries, and granola. They're everywhere in Honolulu, but the açai bowl at Diamond Head Cove Health Bar is one of the best. Not into açai? No matter. Choose from other local organic grindz like fresh poke, fish wraps, veggie omlets, salads, and smoothies. Here, you can even try a smoothie with kava.
Resort hotels that line the waterfront at Waikiki are a dime a dozen. Towering behemoths provide great views, but there are often few details about the properties that make them distinctly different. Originally built in 1883 as a two-story house on the site of what's now the hotel’s main building, the Halekulani (“house befitting heaven”) was named by local fisherman who came to rest their canoes on the beach. The home morphed into a residential hotel in 1907 and, despite the development of the resort area, retains an old-school Hawaiian relaxed style. At $520+ a night, this is a special occasion splurge. But even if you don't stay, drop by the hotel's House Without a Key -- which just might serve up the best Mai Tai in the world.
Looking for a classic Hawaiian plate lunch without the price tag that comes with a beach view? Stop by Rainbow Drive-In for hearty, simple food -- with two scoops of rice and a side of mac salad at a reasonable price. The founder, Seiji Ifuku, learned to cook in the army in World War II. His family’s drive-in restaurants have long been known to appeal to both working folks and the Waikiki beach crowd. It’s easy to go overboard when ordering, so take it easy on the portions and remember that you can always come back for the next meal.
Waiola Shave Ice
Your Hawaiian vacation doesn’t count unless you’ve had some shave ice. Waiola Shave Ice is a family business with two locations in Honolulu -- one of them the original store where the business began in the 1940s. It’s nearly impossible to go wrong when ordering: Choose the bowl size, flavors (local tropical one are highly recommended), toppings, and goodies. Eat slow, to avoid brain freeze.
Young’s Fish Market
Duck into this Hawaiian/Chinese restaurant and fish specialty store for some great local-style food without busting your budget. Choose from Hawaiian plate lunches like laulau, kalua pig, beef stew, or a combo. But that’s not all. You can also pick main dishes -- from seafood to kalua pig and other meats to stews -- and what seems like a million side order options. Young’s Fish Market is a favorite among locals and the line can be long, but the time you spend waiting will be well worth the trouble.