There's so much more to Oahu than surfing. (Though that's great too.) From the food to the history to the shaved ice (more on that later), there's a ton to do while visiting the state capital (Honolulu) and beyond. Nearly 21 million passengers a year go through the Honolulu Airport, and there are direct flights (now from JFK—thanks, Hawaiian Airlines (opens in new tab)!). Here, a list of things to do, see, eat, and drink when flying into Honolulu.
Where to Stay
There are great options to stay on the island of Oahu, but two that I enjoyed was the Ilikai Hotel & Luxury Suites (opens in new tab) and the Lotus Hotel Honolulu (opens in new tab), both Aqua-Aston properties. (Meaning there's a shuttle between the two, should you desire to break up your stay like I did!) As two eco-friendly hotels, both have reef-safe sunscreens for your use (protect that ocean, please), but are different in nature—the Lotus is on the quiet end of the main stretch, next to Diamond Head—a volcanic tuff cone (AKA crater) with a hiking trail and great views of the Pacific Ocean.
The Ilikai has been recently renovated, and is close to the action (without being too close) and features luxe rooms, balconies, and your own kitchenette. Watch the Friday night fireworks—put on by Hilton Hawaiian Village—from the beach or, you know, your private balcony.
What to Do
There's a main stretch along Waikiki beach, where you can visit shops, galleries, and restaurants for prime beach-view seats. But the real draw is to rent a car (preferably a convertible or Jeep, because, why not?) and head to the other end of the Island—the North Shore.
There, you can head to some incredible food trucks (more on that later), watch pro and amateur surfers, hike for some incredible views, and visit preserved parks—like Waimea Valley. (Pssst...there's a waterfall there. It's a must.)
Where to Eat and Drink
There's such a boon of amazing restaurants in Oahu that it's hard to narrow it down—but I will do so. Because that is my job.
Your first stop should be The Pig & The Lady (opens in new tab) in Chinatown. Period. It's delicious, everything there is amazing, and *please god* save room for dessert and order the peanut butter banana pie. It's life-changing. FYI, they just opened Piggy Smalls (opens in new tab), the "little brother" restaurant that's located in Kaka'ako's Ward Village with a completely different menu that's also A+.
Next door is Senia (opens in new tab), another fantastic restaurant that is the newest kid on the block (and in Oahu). Think: upscale, inspired dining that lends itself well to an Instagram or five. (P.S. It's up for multiple James Beard awards, which are pretty much the Oscars of food.)
For the ultimate have-to-do-it-and-it's-worth-it experience, get *the* shaved ice at Matsumoto's (opens in new tab).
Grabbing pre-dinner drinks or a casual dinner? Moku Kitchen (opens in new tab) strikes the perfect balance of downtown vibes and ambiance. Grab some cocktails or local beers at the long bar, and settle in for some apps—including lobster-topped deviled eggs.
Mahina & Sun's (opens in new tab) is a new restaurant located in the Surfjack Hotel & Swim Club (opens in new tab), and is an awesome spot for dinner and also pre-going-out drinks. Voted Best New Restaurant by Hawaii Magazine, order anything on the menu but if you can, try to order their well-known family feast—a communal order that features fresh seafood. (Plus, the cocktails are delish. Get the Presidential Martini, so named because it was the drink former POTUS Barrack Obama ordered when he visited the restaurant.)
If you're staying at the Ilikai or anywhere near Waikiki beach, make sure you head to Goofy's (opens in new tab), a cute little surfer-inspired spot serving up some of the best brunch in the area. (Order the french toast topped with pineapples and cinnamon.)
Headed to North Shore? You have to go to the myriad of shrimp trucks and other assorted food trucks around—favorites include Giovanni's Shrimp Truck, Fumi's Kahuku Shrimp, and just across the street from the main stretch of beach at the Banzai Pipeline is a bevy of food trucks, including the Aji Limo Truck—a place for Peruvian-Japanese fusion.
1. Banzai Pipeline is known for being a pro-surfer haven, and has many homes along the beach that are brand-owned, including the Volcom Surf House, which you can see from the shore. I visited the surf house while there (pro tip: you have to be invited, so, make some friends on the beach), and hung out with the guys while they got ready for the Volcom Pipe Pro at Pipeline, the biggest surf competition on North Shore. (Thanks for the prime rib and poke, friends!) It's one of those "things I saw" moments, and if you can't hang out, note that you can rent out the property on VRBO (opens in new tab). Truly. (P.S. Can't make it to North Shore to watch the competition? You can watch and see the highlights on Red Bull TV (opens in new tab).)
2. There is now a direct flight from JFK to Honolulu via Hawaiian Airlines (opens in new tab), and it's the airline that offers non-stop service to Hawaii from more U.S. gateway cities than any other airline. If you're heading east on a red-eye back from the islands, here's a pro tip from the flight attendants: fly forward and fly window. Window because (obviously) you'll have somewhere to lay your head besides your headrest, and the farther forward you are on the plane, the smoothest the ride and the quicker you'll get drinks and food. Get cold easily? Stay away from any door or emergency exit window. You'll thank us later.
3. I mentioned it before but it bears repeating—rent. a. car. You'll need it to get around the island, and while there is Uber and other rideshare options available, it's really worth it to drive and see the beautiful scenery. Trust me.
4. Order a Mai Tai. Always. And if you can't order one or head to Hawaii anytime soon, create one at home. Here's how to make the Mai Tai they serve on Hawaiian Airlines (opens in new tab) at home, courtesy of On the Rocks (opens in new tab):
We follow the old Tiki saying: What one rum can't do, three rums can.
.5 oz Cruzan Diamond Estate White
.75 oz Cruzan Diamond Estate Dark
1 oz Cruzan Single Barrel
.5 oz Triple Sec
1 oz orgeat
.75 oz Lime Juice
.5 oz Pineapple Juice
Directions: Combine all ingredients into a Boston Shaker and Shake vigorously. Strain the cocktail out into a coconut shell filled with crushed ice. If serving in standard glassware add shaved coconut across the top for garnish.
Samantha Leal is the Deputy Editor at Well+Good, where she spends most of her day thinking of new ideas across platforms, bringing on new writers, overseeing the day-to-day of the website, and working with the awesome team to produce the best stories and packages. Before W+G, she was the Senior Web Editor for Marie Claire and the Deputy Editor for Latina.com, with bylines all over the internet. Graduating from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University with a minor in African history, she’s written everything from travel guides to political op-eds to wine explainers (currently enrolled in the WSET program) to celebrity profiles. Find her online pretty much everywhere @samanthajoleal.
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