Hawaii is a place firmly in my heart, having been lucky enough to grow up there. Returning as an adult, I’m one part tourist, one part local and love sharing its unique beauty and Aloha spirit with my family.
When we visited Oahu and Kauai recently, I wanted my kids to experience it all: Doing a screaming u-turn for ‘huli-huli chicken’ and shave ice, finding secret rockpools…and people waving us into gridlock traffic with a shaka.
We were there to capture some beautiful images of the new summer range, catch up with my old school buddies (holla to the high school reunion), and of course, squeeze in some family time.
First stop, Oahu was all about reconnecting with old friends, old haunts and soaking up the Honolulu city vibes: Friday night Waikiki fireworks, potluck picnics at Kaimana Beach, and the daily poke hunt. So if you’re a tourist or regular visitor – here’s how we do Oahu!
Mornings Around Diamond Head
Coming from Australia we’re awake early, so I like to capitalise on the jetlag and head to the KCC Farmers Market in Kapiolani on a Saturday morning to enjoy some local food. I make a beeline to get some fresh pineapple at Hawaiian Crown Pineapple, the kids score natural icy poles by Ono Pops, and I stock up on bottles of amazing salad dressing from the sea asparagus stand and a bento box for later. I also like Hibachi – it sells out early for a reason. My pick is the ahi poke and cucumber kimchee. And if you like Abalone, Big Island Abalone is pretty special too.
Acai bowl lovers get plenty of love in the islands. My favourite is down the road from the markets, on Monserrat. There’s a little strip of shops which are all excellent, but Diamond Head Cove Health Bar is my go to for a mean acai bowl, smoothies and all kinds of yum.
Bogarts next door does a great cooked breakfast, as does Sunny Days. The sushi shop is top shelf and you can get a wicked shave ice over the road!
Leonards around the corner on Kapahulu is a must-visit for Malasadas (a kind of portugese cronut). I like the traditional, but for a local twist, try the sweet/sour ‘lee hing mui’
My favourite local supermarket is Don Quijote, (or Don-Ke as my Japanese friends say). It embodies all that is great about the islands, selling everything from touristy tatt, to Japanese, Korean and mainline groceries, fresh leis and local bananas…not to mention a fresh daily selection of all kinds of local food to grab & go. Warning: you may lose a day in here!
Stretch your legs
Before you head for the hills or the beach, art and interior design lovers – make sure you stop at tobacco heiress Doris Duke’s amazing house, Shangri-La, on the edge of Diamond Head.
Rent surfboards and find a quiet break (it is possible). I also like the end near Magic Island and Ala Moana Beach Park – some nice rolling waves and a bit less hectic. In Ala Moana Beach Park you can also rent SUP’s and go for a paddle, or in Waikiki proper you can also get some quieter spots down the Kaimana end.
Ride bikes everywhere! It’s the perfect way to soak up the vibe of the place. Oahu is super bike friendly and its drivers are courteous. You can ride on the footpath everywhere except for within Waikiki so we try to bike whenever and wherever we can. Waikiki Bike Rental even deliver to where you’re staying – win!
There are some magical hikes to help you soak up the Hawaii vibes. I love the Pillbox hike in Lanikai (it’s not for small children so we didn’t tackle it this time). Manoa Falls, and Ka’ena Point over near Makaha both reward hikers with great rockpools.
Or, just stroll. My favourite end of Waikiki is the Kaimana end (Diamond Head). Meander along the retaining walls, peek into backyards and snorkel in little coves along the way.
The windward side: Lanikai/Kailua Beach Park is just heavenly, though its not called the windward side for nothing – the wind comes up so get out onto the water early while it’s glassy and soak it up.
When you want to give the beach a break, I love heading downtown to Chinatown to scope out some great vintage shops, art galleries and more unique spaces. Nu’uanu Ave is a good place to start, and be sure to walk down Maunakea St to see the amazing lei’s being crafted.
The Halekulani is my favourite hotel. As a kid it felt magical to me, and not much has changed. Pick a new holiday dress, go for cocktails and some ‘pupus’, complete with sunset hula. I always order a Mai Tai. So should you.
There’s some great foodie stuff happening and fabulous places to eat all over the island. Though travelling with two, never-sit-still children meant we were a lot more relaxed and casual about where, how and when we ate. That said, we had a great meal at Kaimuki Superette and next door at Mud Hen Water. Both are all about local ingredients and flavours, full of warmth and most welcoming to our scallywag mini humans.
Whenever you go, Honolulu Magazine is a great resource. I pick up a copy when I land and scope out events, new restaurants and bars. To get you started, check out the magazine’s list of cool tiki bars.
Not-so-top secret: there’s a GREAT local (Italian) gelato maker in the backstreets behind Ala Moana, where you can buy from the factory, La Gelateria. It’s not fancy, but it’s epic. Maurice supplies all the top hotels and restaurants on the island, and as well as the classics you’ll find local flavours like guava, lilikoi and kona coffee. The guava is the prettiest, soft pink and the flavour sophisticated, delicate and luscious. I dream about it.