Honolulu – one of the most remote cities in the world – has lured the intrepid to its glorious sandy shores for centuries. But peel back the picture-postcard images of hula girls, tiki cups and floral garlands and you’ll find a dynamic urban centre nestled in one of the most beautiful landscapes on Earth. Its contemporary-art galleries, fine examples of mid-century architecture and vibrant farm-to-table dining scene is waiting to be discovered.

Need to know

Get to grips with the basics

  1. Sign of the times: The Shaka hand gesture is made by extending the thumb and pinky, curling the fingers in between and turning the back of the hand towards the recipient. It can mean “hello”, “goodbye”, “thank you” or any number of feel-good expressions.
  2. Standing guard: The Aloha Ambassadors patrol the streets of Waikiki and help anyone in need.This cheery band will take your photo or even point you in the direction of the best fresh-fruit smoothie.
  3. Talk the talk: You will probably hear “aloha” and “mahalo” more than “hello” and “thank you”. It’s common for kama‘aina (Hawaii-born) to sprinkle their speech with words from Hawaiian.
  4. So to speak: Da kine? Howzit? Shoots? It takes a trained ear to follow the islands’ creole: Hawaiian Pidgin English, which is spoken by about half of Hawaii’s population of 1.4 million.
  5. New leaf: Honolulu is a city of enormous trees. With their giant canopies, monkeypod and banyan varieties offer protection from pelting rain or the heat of the sun.

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Hospitality at its finest

  1. The Royal Hawaiian, Waikiki

    Pink palace

    Book an oceanfront room in the Mailani Tower. Higher rooms are more peaceful and have the grandest views.

  2. Surfjack Hotel & Swim Club, Waikiki

    Arty retreat

    The Surfjack has a director of experience who can connect visitors to artists, musicians and makers on O‘ahu, or arrange a tour of the island.

  3. Halekulani, Waikiki

    Step back in time

    Guests staying at Halekulani get complimentary entry to a number of cultural venues, including ‘Iolani Palace and the Honolulu Museum of Art.


Local lingo

  1. A hui hou: Until we meet again
  2. Aloha: Hello, love, regards
  3. Choke: A lot of something
  4. Da kine: A thing, a whatchamacallit
  5. Grinds: Food
  6. Hana hou: Do it again!
  7. Mahalo: Thank you

Food and drink

Smart bites and top stops

  1. Livestock Tavern, Downtown

    Meat-centric meals

    Co-owners Dusty Grable and Jesse Cruz opened Livestock Tavern in 2014, turning a former dive bar into one of the city’s most acclaimed dining spots. Mains include osso buco, pork cheeks and a stuffed herb-roasted chicken.

  2. Kaimuki Superette

    Market values

    The name of this small deli diner implies a mini-mart, which is ideal because many of the ingredients in the dishes can be purchased to take home. Try the chia-seed pudding and the sausage sandwich with choi sum.

  3. Pioneer Saloon, Diamond Head

    Japanese twist

    Owner-chef Nori Sakamoto’s creations are a Japanese take on
the Hawaiian plate-lunch and the product of unusual cooking methods: ahi (tuna) or scallops breaded and fried, and chicken cooked in shio-koji, an umami-rich seasoning.

  4. Bar Leather Apron, Downtown

    Elite squad

    Tom and Justin Park have recreated the service and cocktails they enjoyed on trips to Japan with this intimate space. The best seats are at the bar facing the bartenders, led by Justin. Reservations are vital.

  5. Shaka Pressed Juice, Diamond Head

    Juice on the loose

    Co-owners Juri and Keegan Edwards opened their takeaway cold-pressed juice shop in 2015 on a popular running route. They turn organic produce from Hawaii and the mainland into more than a dozen drinks and use no artificial additives.


Shop talk

  1. Bailey’s Antiques and Aloha Shirts, Kapahulu

    Get shirty

    For anyone even remotely interested in the state’s famed attire, David Bailey’s shop is the holy grail. He
has amassed a collection of more than 15,000 aloha shirts – some dating back to the 1930s – in every hue and pattern imaginable.

  2. James After Beach Club, Diamond Head

    Japanese style

    The first US shop for Kamakura-based James & Co designer Masayoshi Shioya sells wardrobe basics with universal appeal: unisex chambray, plaid and Oxford shirts, linen shorts and ultra-soft T-shirts, all made in Japan. You will also find handmade surfboards.

  3. Leather Soul, Downtown

    If the shoe fits

    Selling high-class shoe brands such as Alden and John Lobb in the tropics can’t be easy.
But regulars at Leather Soul’s shops (there is a second in Waikiki) are thankful for owner Tom Park’s dedication to raising Hawaii’s sartorial standards.

  4. Kamaka Hawaii, Kaka‘ako

    First family of ukuleles

    Hawaii’s oldest ukulele manufacturer was founded by Sam Kamaka in 1916 and is now owned by his sons, and managed by his grandsons. The company is known for its bulbous four-string pineapple-shaped ukulele (patented in 1928).


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  • The Urbanist