It’s always sunny in Oahu. Whether you’re partying in Waikiki, catching a wave on the North Shore or swimming with the turtles on a 7,000-year-old reef, Hawaii’s busiest island lives up to its paradise rep. The food’s pretty good, too.
Words Ellie Furuya
*Featured in Crave’s Issue 85, June 2017
Home to unspoiled marine glories, breathtaking volcanic landscapes and fresh seafood, the Hawaiian capital, Honolulu, is a gourmet’s paradise destination. Choruses of aloha (a greeting meaning peace, compassion and mercy) and fragrant flower leis set the tone from the moment you arrive. As your lungs fill with the intoxicating scent of the ocean just beyond the palm tree-lined roads, a feeling of tranquillity and happiness descends.
Located on the most urbanised fraction of southern Oahu, one of the eight main islands in the Hawaiian archipelago, Honolulu is one of those rare tourist hotspots that retains the authenticity of its rich cultural heritage through its food, historic landmarks and dialect – an intriguing modern mixture of English, Chinese, Japanese and traditional Hawaiian. Set in the heart of the Pacific Ocean, Hawaii is the furthest you can be from the rest of the United States without leaving it. Yet, in many respects, it embodies the American dream.
Peace and simplicity are key to the Hawaiian lifestyle and a mantra that informs everything from slapdash roadside bowls of simple yet delicious ahi poké to the timeless downtown fashion for joyfully gaudy button-down shirts and sandals. Aloha culture, they call it.
This idyllic way of life becomes even more apparent away from the dense tourist hub of downtown Waikiki. Winding out of town, the Kamehameha Highway – named after Hawaii’s first king, who unified the islands in the early 19th century – passes mile after mile of pineapple fields, all planted in precisely aligned rows, to the surf haven of North Shore. Dubbed the “seven-mile miracle”, Oahu’s northern coastline is a stretch of icing-sugar beaches, iridescent turquoise waters and mammoth waves. Locals abide by a rule of thumb that is emblazoned on bumper stickers and wooden signs posted on the beaches: “Eat, Sleep, Beach, Repeat”.
The breeze is salty, time seems to stand still and almost everyone you encounter sports a year-round golden tan and has either a surfboard or wakeboard tucked under one arm. So it’s no surprise that the area’s food stalls tend towards the health conscious. Poké (pronounced poh-kay) – traditionally a bowl of hot rice topped with cubes of seasoned raw fish – is the top takeaway choice for a leisurely beach picnic.
Abandon all your previous notions of the dish and take a closer look at what the locals are tucking into. As well as the popular bright red ahi tuna, there is a huge variety of seafood toppings available such as salmon, squid, octopus and crab. The seasoning is just as exciting, with various combinations of soy sauce, sesame, nori seaweed and chopped green onion creating the basic foundation of the robust flavours in every bowl. After an intense surfing session, nothing beats a made-to-order poké bowl with friends, serenaded by the gentle crash of waves and the caw of seagulls.
Another revered dish is the acai bowl, a popular grab-and-go smoothie parfait that has been reinterpreted around the world as a tasty and healthy breakfast option. Originating in Brazil, the nutrient-packed, reddish-purple super fruit is commonly referred to as “youthberry” for its antioxidant qualities. Once introduced in Hawaii, there was no doubt who did it best – and now people travel a long way to try Oahu’s famous acai super bowls with fresh fruit.
It’s worth travelling the extra mile to the beloved acai bowl stand in the picturesque town of Haleiwa, in an open-air mall with endless surf shops, cafes and speciality craft stalls.
Back in Honolulu, beyond the surf and shaka life, the city knows how to throw a good party. The famed beachside district Waikiki is a shopping and nightlife mecca for the fashionable hordes with plenty of options for kicking off those sandy flip-flops and dressing up a little. Instead of a man tai cocktail on the beach, enjoy yours with a dazzling rooftop view of the Waikiki sunset at the Sky Bar Waikiki. Incredible live music by talented local performers sets a sultry ambience while keeping the spirit of Hawaii alive.
| First Things First
What to Do
Hawaii is paradise for thrill seekers, with a host of bucket-list boxes to tick. Staking a claim to the world’s most beautiful drop zone, Sky Dive Hawaii promises an exhilarating 12,000-foot to 14,000-foot tandem sky dive. Get strapped in with the best in the biz, and leap from a turboprop plane – and keep your eyes open because that’s a view you won’t be seeing every day.
With 1,050 tall, wide steps to negotiate, the Koko Head Crater hike is not for the faint hearted. But as a reward, the summit offers the ultimate view of Oahu’s translucent waters and 7,000-year-old coral reefs. Get a closer look at the colourful tropical fish, dolphins and turtles galore by snorkelling at Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve, one of the best-kept marine attractions in Hawaii Kai.
If you’re looking to take shelter from the Hawaiian sun, Ala Moana shopping centre is a favourite retail experience in the heart of Oahu, offering an endless range of boutiques and restaurants in a breezy, open-air format.
Where to Stay
Best Location: Sheraton Waikiki
Just a stone’s throw from both Waikiki’s bustling downtown and long white sand beach, the Sheraton’s prime location is just one of a long list of merits that includes an infinity pool and booming beach club. This is the place for travellers who want to be in the heart of the action.
2255 Kalakaua Ave, Honolulu, Oahu, HI 96815
T +1 808 922 4422
Romantic Getaway: The Modern Honolulu
An unexpected oasis in the heart of Honolulu, this chic designer boutique hotel is minimalistic and elegant. The adults-only Sunset Pool is a candle-lit haven in the evenings with a breathtaking view of the ocean and city.
1775 Ala Moana Boulevard, Honolulu,Oahu
T +1 877 574 7925
Surfer’s Paradise: Ke Iki Beach Bungalows
Known as the “seven-mile miracle” in testament to its astounding beauty, North Shore is where surfers flock in winter. Ke Iki’s lovely, unpretentious bungalows are located a stone’s throw from Oahu’s best surfing beaches.
59-579 Ke Iki Road, Haleiwa, Oahu
T +1 844 331 7229
What to Eat and Drink
Located in the heart of the historic town of Haleiwa, Haleiwa Town is the North Shore surfer’s pit stop for a cold, fresh smoothie or banana acai bowl topped with bee pollen. Check out its Instagram account (@haleiwabowls) to get inspiration for your order from its creative list of toppings.
Few true gourmets can drive by Giovanni’s Food Truck on Kamehameha Highway without stopping for some of the island’s best garlic shrimp with rice. The garlic lemon butter sauce recipe is one the Giovanni family holds near and dear – it’s best enjoyed drizzled over fresh shrimp and rice.
Healthy without compromising on taste, the omelettes at Diamond Head Cove Health Bar are prepared with love and meticulous care. This cafe embodies the relaxed pace of Hawaiian life, so be prepared to wait a little to dig into breakfast.
Macadamia Nut Pancakes
Fluffy as a cloud and stacked high for the perfect mouthful, the macadamia nut beauties at Koa are a must-try for pancake lovers. Be warned: it serves American portions, so order the full stack at your own risk.
Fresh Ahi Poké Bowl
Hole-in-the-wall counter Ono Seafood whips up some of the island’s favourite made-to-order poké bowls. While the shop is inconspicuous, its mouthwatering poké is anything but.