Today’s Honolulu & Oahu City Guide update comes from Kailua resident Hannah Estelle. Hannah blogs at and , and is a healthcare communications manager. Originally from Portland, Oregon, Hannah is now proud to call Hawaii home. She loves living on the windward side of Oahu, and today she shares her top picks for the island. Thanks, Hannah, for this wonderful update! — Stephanie
Read the full guide after the jump . . .
Aloha and welcome to paradise! Many visitors to Oahu don’t venture beyond Waikiki, but there is so much more to see, eat and do just a short drive or bus ride away. Although Waikiki is pretty amazing and has some of the best restaurants and beaches, there is more to experience.
After my first visit to Oahu, I was certain that my future Hawaii trips would be to less populated islands. Now that I live here, I’ve found that there are many sides to the island and that my most memorable experiences have been outside the bubble that is Waikiki. Even if your ideal vacation is spent next to a pool, drink in hand, plan to spend a day or two adventuring and experiencing Oahu. There’s something to be said for the slower side of island life.
Oahu is the most populated Hawaiian island, with nearly 1 million people, and about three-quarters of them live in Honolulu. The island of Oahu is about 600 square miles. For comparison, that’s about twice the land area of New York City, but with only 5 percent of the population!
This guide is split into three areas: Honolulu (beyond Waikiki), the North Shore (Haleiwa) and Kailua (windward Oahu). See the entire guide on this . There is so much to take in, I’ll probably still feel like a visitor years from now. If you have favorite spots you’d like to share, add them in the comments. Enjoy!
HONOLULU — BEYOND WAIKIKI
Venture to Chinatown for a well-curated collection of home decor and accessories and a small selection of furniture and art. One corner of the shop has rustic horizontal paneling that is drool-worthy.
1152 Nuuanu Ave., 808-531-4300
Daydream about what your future beach house will look like as you peruse beachy, modern furniture and home accessories. The shop also carries brands like Heath Ceramics and Dwell Studio. This is my top pick for home decor on Oahu.
420 Ward Ave., Honolulu, 808-596-9338
The perfect place to browse for unique Hawaiian gifts. My favorites are the dried fruits and Molokai sea salt by Kahala Fresh or perfume from Saffron James. This is also one of the only places on the island to get Dean and Deluca if you need a fix.
Ward Center — 1200 Ala Moana Blvd., 808-593-2733
It’s unlikely that you have a shipping container at your disposal to transport your shopping loot back to the mainland, but this shop is worth browsing if you’re nearby. They carry large furniture items including wood bedframes, vintage chests and other intricately carved items from India. Located across from Red Pineapple.
Ward Center — 1200 Ala Moana Blvd., 808-593-9601
Their “INspiration” showroom is full of modern, albeit pricy, furniture and lighting. The center has a restaurant, bar and cafe, and hosts frequent comedy and open mic nights. Not a place for the average tourist, but good for those on an extended stay.
1250 Kapiolani Blvd, Honolulu
Another great choice for island and beachy home decor and gifts. They stock a fun collection of vintage-styled wooden beach signs and wall art and have several shops around the islands. A favorite gift item is the Malie soy candles and tropical cream perfumes.
Ala Moana Mall — 1450 Ala Moana Blvd, Honolulu, 808-955-8883
Small boutique with clothing, swimwear, accessories and jewelry. Go for the dresses and beachy jewelry. Limited hours.
3434 Waialae Ave. #4, 808-284-1177
Save room in your suitcase for at least a few throw pillows from designer Kaypee Soh. Prints are bold, bright and modern, and this independent shop is a fun place to browse for pillows, rugs and artwork. Soh also has a new line of trays and coasters in the same amazing prints.
1016 Kapahulu Ave., #100, 808-593-8780
Satisfy your letterpress cravings at this stationery shop. They carry a variety of cards and notes, and specialize in weddings and events. You are likely to find note cards with messages of “aloha” or “mahalo.” Isn’t it so much more fun to write mahalo notes rather than thank you notes?
1016 Kapahulu Avenue, #190, 808-744-8746
Part consignment shop, part local crafty goods and some furniture. This shop is often hit or miss but worth checking out if you’re in the area.
1137 11th Ave. #101, 808-739-2263
A cute and tiny shop in Kaimuki that sells whimsical gift items, paper goods and party favors. A great place to find handmade and local items. The owners are graphic designers, and they specialize in weddings and other events.
3434 Waialae Ave. #3, 808-447-9233
A favorite among locals and tourists, this French-meets-Hawaiian restaurant recently expanded to keep up with demand. It’s a great lunch spot, and the fish sandwiches are delicious. They also have a fresh fish market where you can get to-go items and amazingly fresh poke (raw fish salad) in a variety of seasonings. Poke newbie? Imagine a spicy tuna hand roll without the rice and nori wrap.
Pier 38 — 1129 N Nimitz Hwy., 808-540-1377
Not your typical fast food restaurant, this one has creative gourmet burgers with names like BB&B, Thai-rific, Antidote and King Arthur. They serve Kobe beef burgers and an award-winning veggie burger that has quinoa, macadamia nuts and black beans fried in a panko crust. Delicious. Don’t forget the fries — they have sweet potato and the ever-popular truffle oil with parmesan and parsley.
890 Kapahulu Ave., 808-737-8866
A hip spot to pick up coffee or grab breakfast on the weekend. Menu is limited but includes individual skillet items like an omelet with Hamakua mushrooms, gruyere and caramelized onions. Great Hawaiian and world coffees. As a former Portlander, this is where I come for my Stumptown fix. Be forewarned that Morning Glass can have a bit of a hipster, unfriendly feel to it, but the coffee is worth it.
2955 E. Manoa Rd., 808-673-0065
Shave ice with out-of-the-ordinary flavors like red velvet, peanut butter chocolate, creme brulee or mojito. Servings are huge.
330 N. School St., 808-371-8899
The place everybody loves to love, and rightly so! This restaurant by acclaimed Honolulu chef Ed Kenney operates on the mantra “Local first, organic when possible, with aloha always.” Their menu changes based on what ingredients are fresh and in season, but they usually have good hand-cut pastas, steak, vegetarian entrees and so many sides to choose from. They can get super busy for dinner, so you usually need a reservation, and service can be slow. They also serve breakfast, which is simple and delicious.
3435 Waialae Ave., 808-735-5900
Cuban homestyle cooking with a Hawaiian twist. Come here for great food in a cozy atmosphere. They have so many options for appetizers and entrees. You can also do a prix fixe option dinner for two, and at lunch they serve “bocadillo” sandwiches. Their flan is very popular, but I’d go for the guava or mango empanadas.
1121 Bethel St., 808-545-2822
Alan Wong’s Restaurant, Morimotos, The Pineapple Room by Alan Wong, 3660 On the Rise, Hoku’s, Hiroshi Eurasion Tapas
Interested in eating award-winning food by award-winner chefs and/or have some cash to burn? These are all great options for a classy dinner out. Your guidebook or Yelp will describe, so I won’t attempt to.
- — A gathering of food trucks, music and more. The last Friday of every month, 4–9 p.m.; location varies, but usually held at 555 South St.
- — A self-guided walk of galleries, studios, art exhibits and entertainment. The first Friday of every month, 5–9 p.m.; around downtown and Chinatown.
- — The area’s largest farmers market with exclusively Hawaii-grown and made products. Every Saturday, 7:30–11 a.m.; Kapiolani Community College — 4303 Diamond Head Rd.
NORTH SHORE — HALEIWA
(To know: pronounce the W as a V.)
A cute shop loaded with beach dresses, jewelry and accessories, along with a few gifts and home accessories. They carry jewelry from many local designers. On my last visit, I was coveting some handmade pieces from local shop Pure Joy Adornments.
66-200 Kamehameha Hwy., 808-637-8477
Handmade soaps and bath products. The store also has a selection of gifts, locally crafted jewelry and vintage signs. Look for their small box of historical photo prints dating from the 1880s, including iconic surfing shots and classic Hawaiian scenes.
66-218 Kamehameha Hwy., 808-637-9088
Amazing place to check out ocean and wave photography from Clark Little. Clark is a surfer turned photographer. In just a few short years, he has gone from amateur photographer to having his work exhibited at the Smithsonian and on magazine covers. Clark has a unique perspective, as most of the photos are shot from inside the wave. A must-see.
66-165 Kamehameha Hwy., 808-626-5319
My favorite little North Shore shop carries fun beach clothing, swimwear and accessories from brands like LA Made, Free People, Splendid and Ella Moss. It’s well curated and affordable. A go-to spot for swimwear, beach blankets and leather clutches. They also have home accessories and gifts, including spa items from Maile, a Kauai company. My pick would be an organic soy candle — the coconut scent is heavenly.
66-165 Kamehameha Hwy., 808-637-9670
Everything for your seaside home — browse for art, home decor, mirrors framed in driftwood, home design books, glass floats and vases. They also carry large statement pieces like Koa wood paddles. This shop has some unique furniture, including chairs made in Indonesia with reclaimed wood from painted canoes and boats.
66-145 Kamehameha Hwy., 808-636-2244
Another spot to check out coastal furniture, gifts and art. This shop has more furniture and large items including tables, chairs made of reclaimed wood, rugs and other textiles. They import goods from Southeast Asia, including their namesake island.
66-145 Kamehameha Hwy., 808-637-6666
The third shop in a row that stocks beachy decor and accessories! This one is best for hand-crafted jewelry made from sunrise shells and beach glass. They also have an assortment of beach art, vintage signs, pillows and even ukuleles.
66-079 Kamehameha Hwy., 808-637-1780
Easily the best Thai food on Oahu at this food truck turned restaurant. The owner is super friendly and likes to chat up the customers — he might even order your meal for you. It’s like a short interview to gauge your tastes and spice level, and then the rest is a surprise. But don’t worry, you can order on your own, too. Everything here is delicious — the fried tofu with garlic sauce and crispy fried basil leaves, green curry, pad thai, or anything with eggplant in it. You can’t go wrong here.
66-460 Kamehameha Hwy., 808-381-8091
Stop in for a cookie, dessert bar or bread. Also a great spot for a quick lunch — there are a variety of sandwiches and smoothies, and everything is reasonably priced.
66-200 Kamehameha Hwy., 808-341-2838
Delicious vegetarian and vegan restaurant — perfect for a quick lunch. They also serve breakfast all day. Popular items are the Beirut burger with falafel patty and the burrito babe, which has sauteed veggies and tofu in a Thai peanut sauce. They also carry cookies, smoothies and juices — try the Freddy’s or Pipeline smoothie. Located inside the Celestial Natural Foods store.
66-443 Kamehameha Hwy, 808-637-3000
Nothing too special here, but a fine spot to grab juice, a smoothie or a panini.
66-145 Kamehameha Hwy, 808-228-0491
While Matsumotos has the claim of being older, both shops sell great shave ice. I’d head to the one with a shorter line! In addition to classic shaved ice in a cone topped with syrup, you can get yours with azuki beans, ice cream or condensed milk. My favorite flavor combo is lilikoi, coconut cream and green tea.
66-087 Kamehameha Hwy., 808-637-4827
Best smoothies on the island! Lanikai Juice makes juices, smoothies and acai bowls from locally grown fruit, 100 percent juice and mostly organic products. The menu can be overwhelming, but you really can’t go wrong! My favorites are the pineapple power smoothie, the ginger ono juice and the monkey bowl. So delicious.
66-215 Kamehameha Hwy., 808-637-7774
A good stop for a reasonably priced plate lunch with fresh fish or an ahi burger. Burgers are served on taro buns. The fries here are fairly popular.
66-214 Kamehameha Hwy., 808-637-4852
Convenient for a post-snorkel snack. This is one of my favorite food trucks on the North Shore, but I typically only grab a smoothie and then head to Haleiwa for lunch. They have a decent menu though, including an ahi sandwich, teriyaki chicken skewers and a vegan taro burger.
59-712 Kamehameha Hwy.
Iced coffee and blended coffee drinks for when you tire of shave ice. They brew coffee from all over Hawaii and the world. Don’t forget a pastry or dessert. This is one of the only places on the island to get a French macaron. They are a bit oversized, and come in flavors like lilikoi, pineapple and ling hi mai.
66-250 Kamehameha Hwy., 808-637-5571
- Watch big wave competitions in the winter — Waimea Bay to Sunset Beach
- Snorkel in the summer — Pupukea Beach Park or “Shark’s Cove”
- Hike to Kaena Point nature reserve to see monk seals and albatross
- Go on a tour of the Lost filming sites — Search online for tours. If you choose a self-guided option, know that many filming spots are on private property and others require you to pay a fee to look around. Be courteous.
- Take a surfing or stand-up paddle boarding lesson — Haleiwa
KAILUA — WINDWARD OAHU
Follow an old quarry road for a few miles and you’ll stumble upon a warehouse with three floors of Indonesian and Hawaiian furniture. The trip is worth the chance to ogle furniture made from koa, mango, coconut and lychee wood. On the first floor, you’ll find smaller items like coconut trays and glass floats.
905 Kalanianaole Hwy., 808-263-8400.
The newest edition for this 20-year-old chain of stores selling coastal and nautical decor. This location seems to carry a little more clothing and accessories than the ones in Honolulu, but it still has a great selection of beachy home decor and gift items.
600 Kailua Rd., 808-261-8878
Almost like a local Lululemon, but exclusively for yogis. In addition to comfy yoga wear and accessories, you’ll find jewelry and small art pieces from local designers.
609 Kailua Rd. #102, 808-888-3564
This is a classic beachy shop with clothing and accessories. It’s worth a stop if you’re shopping your way through Kailua.
602 Kailua Rd., #102, 808-263-1082
A very girly-girl boutique with clothing, accessories and spa items. Go for their cute dresses and jewelry.
332 Uluniu St., 808-261-0202
A fun, small shop with a well-curated selection of clothing, accessories and hand-crafted jewelry. I end up wanting everything here! One of the only spots on the windward side of the island where you’ll find high-design items like sheets of wrapping paper, note cards, candles and handmade wooden picture frames.
43 Kihapai St., 808-263-9919
A fun new store with coastal home decor and accessories. Along with the typical carved wood items and vintage signs, you’ll find brightly colored pillows, wall art, dishes, lanterns and books. This is a great spot to pick up gifts.
602 Kailua Rd., #101, 808-263-3174
A bright, cheery food truck with fish tacos to die for. You can’t miss Camille’s aqua food truck parked in Kailua. She also visits Honolulu a couple days each week. She keeps her fans updated on her location and hours via Twitter, or you can follow her GPS location on FoodTrucksHawaii.com. She received some much-deserved press by the Food Network and Honolulu Monthly magazine. Don’t miss the homemade pie — it’s amazing.
Location/days vary — latest spot is on Uluniu Street, behind Walgreens
This is a great choice for lunch or dinner. The Grove has traditional dishes with a global twist. Popular items include the grilled hamakua mushroom or warm Brussels sprouts salads, grilled flatbreads, paella and steak. They have fantastic desserts. It’s upscale but relaxed.
33 Aulike St., 808-262-2898
Grab a casual bite at this reinvented general store turned upscale deli. It’s traditional plate lunch with an organic and local twist. Popular items are fish, burgers and guava chicken. Order inside the tiny shop next to bait and supplies, then pick up your food at the window outside and find a spot on the pier. Don’t forget to try the ice cake.
46-499 Kamehameha Hwy., 808-235-2192
A convenient spot to grab lunch or coffee, and in the evening they serve a great dinner. My favorite menu items are the Kahuku corn pizza and the eggplant bruschetta. They also have creative sides highlighting local ingredients, and you can’t go wrong with their fish of the day or other daily specials.
750 Kailua Rd., 808-262-3354
Best smoothies on the island! Lanikai Juice makes juices, smoothies and acai bowls from locally grown fruit, 100 percent juice and mostly organic products. The menu can be overwhelming, but you really can’t go wrong! My favorites are the pineapple power smoothie, the ginger ono juice and the monkey bowl. So delicious. This is the original location.
572 Kailua Rd., 808-262-2383
Prima is a new, trendy addition to Kailua from seasoned Oahu chefs. They have a frequently changing menu of pastas and “share plates” that make for a great family-style meal. The highlight for me is always a wood-fired pizza. Save room for dessert — they are incredible.
108 Hekili St. #107, 808-888-8933
This place is all about organic, local ingredients, so much so that they have a garden on the roof! They have amazing barbecue plate lunches — choose ribs, chicken or tofu — and the guava chipotle sauce is delicious. Side dishes are great, especially the bok choy slaw and the purple Okinawan sweet potatoes. The honey ginger lemonade and hibiscus tea are also yummy.
41-1025 Kalanianaole Hwy., 808-259-5737
A great place for lunch or dinner after a day-trip to Kailua. With sandwiches, you can’t go wrong with either the furikake tofu, smoked fish or tamarind beef. My absolute favorite item is their seared ahi salad with ponzu dressing. They also have great dinner entrees, including an amazing fried fresh fish in a red curry sauce.
131 Hekili St., 808-266-4646
- Kailua Beach Park — A good option for an afternoon of activity. Walk the two-mile stretch of sand, try boogie boarding, watch kite surfers, or rent a kayak and head out to Flat Island or the Mokulua Islands. Other great beach options are Waimanalo Beach or Bellows Beach — check a map or guidebook.
- Kailua Farmer’s Market — A fun mix of produce, artisanal goods, food and flowers. Stop by the OnoPop stand for a delicious paletas-style popsicle made from local ingredients. My favorite flavors are lilikoi cheesecake and kalamansi-coriander. Every Thursday, 5–7:30 p.m.; Kailua Town Center parking garage between Longs Drugs and Macys.
- Take a hike — There are some amazing hikes on the windward side. Short favorites are the Makapuu Lighthouse trail and the Lanikai “Pill Boxes.” Check out your guidebook or Yelp.
A modern 70-room boutique hotel close to Waikiki Beach. It was totally renovated and reopened in 2008. You can usually find deals, and some upper floor units have an ocean view. This hotel seems to fly under the radar of good places to stay. It is set back just one block from the beach — the location can’t be beat.
129 Paoakalani Ave., Honolulu. 808-687-7700.
True to its name, this hotel is very modern and cool. The wall behind the reception desk is an art piece made up of broken surfboards from pro surfers. The hotel has 353 rooms, many with ocean views. The hotel launched in 2010 as a partnership between boutique-hotel founder Ian Schrager and Marriott, but changed hands to the Aqua Hotels chain in 2011. The hotel houses Iron Chef Morimoto’s restaurant — Morimoto Waikiki, a bar and a nightclub. Standard rooms seem really big here — about 400 square feet. The hotel has two pools: the sunrise pool and the sunset pool. In case you forget your iPad, they will lend you one (a weird but memorable perk). The Modern Honolulu is in a great location at the north end of Waikiki near the yacht clubs. It’s a 5–10 minute walk from both Waikiki Beach and Ala Moana Beach Park.
1775 Ala Moana Boulevard, Honolulu, 808-943-5800
A boutique hotel at the base of Diamond Head on the far end of Waikiki Beach. It has views of Diamond Head and Waikiki. Rooms are small and most could use an update, but the location and price are great. A great choice if you want to be near Diamond Head, Kaimuki or Kahala.
2863 Kalakaua Ave., Honolulu, 808-923-1555
Often called the “Pink Palace of the Pacific,” it was built in 1927, making it one of the first hotels on Waikiki. History lesson: part of the property was once used by King Kamehameha I. The Royal Hawaiian is an icon and a top luxury resort. The hotel has 528 rooms and sits on 14 acres. Of note, the hotel has a relaxation pool, and it shares a new “super pool” with the Sheraton that has a water slide. If you aren’t staying here, you should at least tour the grounds. Design lovers will enjoy the amazing lighting, historical details and outdoor spaces. You can usually catch live Hawaiian music at the Mai Tai Bar.
2259 Kalakaua Ave, Honolulu. 808-923-7311
Turtle Bay is the only hotel or resort on the North Shore. It’s expensive, but the location is worth it, especially if you’re wary of the hustle and bustle of Waikiki. The hotel is on a secluded bay near Kahuku at the north tip of the island. Rooms are modern, but with more of a traditional Hawaiian feel. Anyone can visit their popular beachfront restaurant, Ola. They focus on local ingredients like Hamakua mushrooms, fresh fish and North Shore Cattle Co. beef. If happy hour is more your style, check out Surfer, the bar (yes, just like Surfer the magazine). Check the website for music and “talk story” or spoken word events.
57-091 Kamehameha Highway, Kahuku. 808-293-6000
Famous people with ties to Oahu
- AOL founder Steve Case
- Actor Henry Ian Cusick
- Actor Matthew Fox
- Musician and surfer Jack Johnson
- Actress Nicole Kidman
- Actor Jason Scott Lee
- Actress and singer Bette Midler
- Actor Jim Nabors
- President Barack Obama
- Actress Kelly Preston
- Singer and actor Nicole Scherzinger
- Musician Jake Shimabukuro
- Golfer Michelle Wie