Oahu is rightly famous for its postcard shoreline, but devote too much time to sun worshipping and you’ll miss the forest for the palm trees.
Venture beyond the resortland of Waikiki and you’ll find a burgeoning creative scene in downtown Honolulu, plus a sophisticated culinary identity that has nothing to do with piña coladas.
On the island synonymous with big-wave surfing, here’s what to see, eat and do away from the sand.
This progressive watering hole is part of Honolulu’s growing craft cocktail scene, and combines masterful mixology with a focus on seasonal ingredients. Local produce shines in original concoctions and reimagined classics, like a molecular Mai Tai with a candied ginger foam, or a G&T elevated with elderflower, tarragon and citrus. The commitment to sustainability even extends to the decor, from the reclaimed-wood bar paneling to a banquette upholstered in old jeans (locals know to dig around in the pockets). Don’t miss the murals inside and out—some of them were part of the annual Pow Wow street art festival that takes place in the trendy-industrial Kaka’ako district.
This forward-thinking design store is the place to discover local and indie brands mixed in with established mainland and overseas names. Browse home furnishings, accessories and art from MAU-haus and Paiea Millwrights as you sip a coffee from the in-store cafe. Among the vintage typewriters and Jonathan Adler sofas you’ll find plenty of suitcase-friendly items, like P55dle tote bags ($20) and organic Coyuchi linens ($40–$100). The space also hosts regular art shows, fashion shows and pop-up markets (speaking of which, check out the monthly Honolulu Night Market just a few blocks away).
Ink: Old Ironside Tattoo
Serious ink collectors and off-duty servicemen make pilgrimages to this tiny tattoo parlor in Chinatown, opened by Norman “Sailor Jerry” Collins in the early 1960s. The granddaddy of modern American tattooing—and inspiration for Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum—turned out game-changing work here until his death in 1973. Although the shop has changed hands numerous times since then, two things have endured: the porthole in the front door and Jerry’s influence on Western tattoo aesthetics. Check out the wealth of Norman Collins paraphernalia on the walls, such as old business cards, black and white photos, and original flash (tattoo designs on paper) of his signature pin-ups, swallows and nautical motifs.
Eat: KCC Saturday
In recent years Hawaii’s locavore movement has really come into its own, thanks in part to farmers’ markets like this one. The Saturday morning market at Kapiolani Community College is one of the oldest and largest on Oahu, drawing between 5,000 and 10,000 visitors each week. Bring a shopping bag and an appetite to peruse 70 vendors hawking uniquely Hawaiian products like sea asparagus, grilled abalone, island-grown coffee and fresh pineapple juice. Be sure to stop by Vietnamese street food stall the Pig and the Lady for a bowl of breakfast pho. Like several other vendors who got their start at KCC Saturday, The Pig and the Lady has expanded to a brick-and-mortar restaurant in town, with interiors by Fishcake’s in-house design team.
Ride: Kualoa Ranch
A 45-minute drive from Honolulu brings you to this working cattle ranch that boasts some of the most gobsmackingly beautiful scenery on the island. Dozens of films—including Karate Kid 2, Jurassic Park and Hunger Games: Catching Fire—have been shot on the 4,000 acre property, which is best explored via horseback, zipline or ATV. You won’t do any wheelies on the two-hour guided ATV tour ($119), but you’ll see a World War II bunker, several film sites, and a series of vistas that will turn your social media followers green with envy, especially if they watched Lost. Sunglasses are a must since eye protection is mandatory, plus you’ll feel even cooler on your quad.
Swim: Wild Side Specialty Tours
Out past that famous break there are whales to spot and reefs to explore—and plenty of package boat trips willing to take you out there. But this is one activity where you truly get what you pay for, which is why we suggest splurging on a Wild Side charter tour ($175–$195). In addition to whale-watching, each 3-4 hour trip includes snorkeling stops and a chance to swim with wild dolphins; trust us when we say that’s an encounter you won’t forget in a hurry. Tours are capped at 10 people for an intimate experience that’s tailored to the group, just let the captain know when you’re done hanging with turtles and want to go chase some humpbacks.
Zipline: Kualoa Ranch
Fishcake: Tracy Chun
Old Ironside Tattoo: Tracy Chun
KCC Saturday: Sarah Theeboom
Kualoa Ranch: Kualoa Ranch
Wild Side Specialty Tours: Wild Side Specialty Tours