What to do in Honolulu

It's become the destination of choice for New Zealand's with travel to Waikiki hitting an all-time high. Editor Trudi Brewer shares her love of Honolulu.

  Model wears Trelise Cooper and    Gucci    sunglasses on Waikiki Beach, Honolulu.

Model wears Trelise Cooper and Gucci sunglasses on Waikiki Beach, Honolulu.

The beaches and luxury shopping has made Honolulu the destination of choice for New Zealanders. With travel to Waikiki hitting an all-time high, according to Hawaiian Tourism, 90,000 of us are set to visit this year alone - and no wonder, it's the ideal premium island escape at an affordable price. This destination offers everything a girl needs for a holiday in the sun. Editor Trudi Brewer shares her love of Hawaii.

Beaches

Images BeautyEQ of beautiful Waikiki beach

Surrounded by crystal-clear, turquoise water, the island of Oahu is a beach lover’s paradise. If you're staying in Waikiki, you're only a few minutes’ walk from a 3.2km stretch of pearly, shimmering sand. Cast your eyes to the east end of this rolling surf beach, and the famous Diamond Head can be seen sitting proudly in the exquisite oceanfront Kapiolani Park. It's a busy beach, and during peak season, which is July - September, you need to be there early to claim a spot. For a much less crowded day out, head to the North Shore to the town of Haleiwa, home to legendary surf spots such as Banzai Pipeline, Sunset Beach, and Waimea Bay. It’s the place to view jaw-dropping surf, ride (or in our case watch) the most magnificent pounding waves, and celebrity spot some International surfers at the pro competitions in January, where waves can reach as high as 12 feet.

Lanikai Beach, Honolulu

Editor Trudi Brewer at Lanikai beach.

 
Lanikai Beach, the word ‘Lani Kai’ in Hawaiian translates to ‘heavenly ocean’, a title fit for this tropical paradise.
— Trudi Brewer

For a calmer view of the Pacific Ocean, head to the 'heavenly sea' or Lanikai Beach (the word 'Lani Kai' in Hawaiian translates to 'heavenly ocean' a title fit for this tropical paradise). It's only a 35-minute drive from Waikiki, and while the parking is a challenge, there's pedestrian access between alleyways that flank premium, beachfront holiday homes either side (the word 'Lani Kai' in Hawaiian translates to 'heavenly ocean’, a title fit for this tropical paradise). It's only a 35-minute drive from Waikiki, in the small town of Kailua. Situated on the windward coast of Oahu, it's a hidden gem that the locals wish would stay that way. While the parking is a challenge, there's pedestrian access between alleyways that flank premium, beachfront holiday homes either side. Of all the beaches to visit in Oahu for me, this was one of the most memorable.

Lanikai is only 35 minutes drive from Waikiki and a must visit on your trip.

Accomodation

The Surfjack Hotel & Swim Club

There is a retro revival happening in Waikiki right now. Boutique hotels are popping up everywhere - off the beaten track, and on the main street Kalakaua Avenue, where there are dozens overlooking the beach. Hotels like The Surfjack Hotel & Swim Club – a few blocks from the beach, on Lewers Street – offer accommodation in a kitsch 50's apartment block, where each apartment faces a central swimming pool. The moment you step into this breezy lobby of this five-star hotel, a combination of the heavenly tropical plumeria scent and the holiday sounds of live music in the bar drift towards you. But it's the standout turquoise oval plunge pool with postcard text “Wish You Were Here” tiled on the bottom that is the hotel centrepiece, and a place to spend your days and nights.

 The pool at The Surfjack Hotel & Swim Club

The pool at The Surfjack Hotel & Swim Club

The standout turquoise oval plunge pool with postcard text “Wish You Were Here” tiled on the bottom that is the hotel centrepiece.
— Trudi Brewer
 

The Surfjack is also the place to buy an NZ-style flat white, which is hard to find in Waikiki. Olive + Oliver’s lifestyle boutique offers T-shirts, women's fashion, great homeware gifts, and a decent morning coffee. Enjoy delicious locally grown food, best enjoyed poolside from the restaurant Mahina & Sun’s. Breakfast is a must; try the scrambled egg burrito or the malted waffles with a fresh juice mimosa a blend of guava, lilikoi (yellow passionfruit), pineapple and orange. Dine poolside after 6pm and watch an old Elvis movie projected above the pool with a cocktail in hand. Enjoy the Ahi Palaha, white tuna with pistachio and lime salsa verde, followed by the salted mac nut pavlova (this dessert is divine). After a few days of eating and relaxing poolside, you will need to book the hotel’s complimentary sea blue cruiser bikes and ride to Diamond Head to balance what for me was a calorific few days of brilliant R&R.

Expect to pay from $400 per night. Mahina & Sons is Open 6am until late, dishes start from $14 US.

Inside The Surfjack Hotel & Swim Club

Shoreline

Newly opened, across the road from Waikiki Beach and close to the Ala Wai Golf Course is the Shoreline on Seaside Ave. The theme 'Nature Meets Neon' reflects every inch of this hotel's decor. Offering traditional Hawaiian style with a contemporary twist, the hotel is serene during the day and comes alive at night. Little touches such as the white styrene Monstera leaf installation transform the interior from understated by day to neon and electric after five. The chilled water crammed with fresh tropical fruit at reception, private balconies (request one with an ocean view), and complimentary beach loungers and towels you can take on your day out at the beach, make it a home away from home.

The breezy restaurant at the Shoreline is the place to sample one of the best smoothie bowls in Waikiki from Heavenly Island Lifestyle Restaurant, the second of these organic eateries to open in Honolulu. Enjoy live music, the shave ice cart (so good on those days when the heat hits 30 degrees). And last but by no means least, the stunning brightly coloured purple and pink rooftop pool is the place to party. Expect to pay from $279 per night. Open from 6am until late. Heavenly Island Lifestyle Restaurant dishes start from $15 US.

Halekulani Hotel

For a special occasion, honeymoon or romantic getaway, the five star Halekulani Hotel is one of the most stunning places to stay on the island. It’s where to watch the sun go down while you relax in the infinity pool. You can step onto the white sand of Waikiki Beach from the pool area and, with fabulous views of Diamond Head. Happy hour is a must, enjoy a decadent breakfast or that special dinner for two at La Mer restaurant. A room fit for a romantic stay will cost around $1,200 NZ per night. La Mer is open from 6am until late, bookings are essential.

Restaurants

The International Market Place

The climate in Waikiki lends itself to open-air dining and late night shopping, and both can be found at the International Market Place in Honolulu. Located in the middle of Kalakaua Ave, it's home to fresh, local cuisine, enormous portions and a range of food to suit any budget.
For a steak, try Stripsteak Waikiki, where your meal starts with complimentary gourmet fries (they're so good!), followed by Wagyu beef or a prime beef fillet, or select local sushi, seafood tempura oysters or lobster tacos. Open from 5pm for dinner and cocktails. dishes start from $14 US.
Head upstairs to level three, and at Herringbone, on the Grand Lanai, you’ll dine on excellent local seafood. The fifth Californian coastal-style seafood restaurant to open in the US, if you like oyster you will love their 'oyster happy hour', with 'two buck shucks' from 4-6pm or 9pm until closing in the bar. If fish is not your thing, try the half roasted chicken; it’s delicious. This open-air seafood haven suits Hawaii’s sunny climate; it spans 2,000-square-feet, which includes a giant circular bar made from repurposed wooden barrels surrounded by living wall of plants and herbs. It's pricey, but worth every cent. My pick is the ceviche tostadas and grilled Brussels sprouts with sweet Thai chilli and mac nuts. Open from 4pm. Dishes start from $22 US.
Unforgettable. For Mexican food fans, make a date to visit Mi Almita Cantina. You can't beat the Baja style crispy fish taco smothered in chipotle mayo. Team the heat from the taco with a ‘frosé’ - frozen rosé wine, Puerto Rican rum and fresh lime; it's a great way to end a perfect day on the beach. Or head there first thing for an Indie Girl power smoothie or Açai bowl before you hit the beach. Open from 7am until late. Dishes start from $11 US.

Restaurants in the International Market Palce

Doraku

Doraku Sushi
 
Happy hour runs from 4 pm until 6 pm; it’s a perfect spot to visit before hitting the shops for some late-night retail therapy.
— Trudi Brewer

For the price and the brilliant selection of sushi platters to share, Doraku is the best. I am a repeat offender at their happy hour. This Japanese restaurant serves melt-in-your-mouth island-fresh sashimi, and for the price it’s hard to beat. The spicy tuna sushi, Karaage chicken and shrimp and eggplant miso are all delicious. Happy hour runs from 4pm until 6pm; it's a perfect spot to visit before hitting the shops for some late-night retail therapy. Open from 4pm there are also takeout Bento boxes available from 11am. Dishes start from $15 US.

Bills Waikiki

Bills Waikiki

Bills ricotta pancakes and a flat white.

 

This is the American home of Australian chef Bill Granger. Don't leave without enjoying a leisurely breakfast on the veranda at Bills Waikiki. Order the ricotta pancakes with banana and honeycomb butter or delicious organic scrambled eggs with roast tomatoes and avocado salsa. If by day two in Waikiki you're hanging out for an NZ-style flat white, you’ll find it here. It will set you back $5.50 US – but it's worth it. Open from 7am until 10pm dishes start from $18 US.

Dukes Waikiki

A tradition for anyone visiting Waikiki is Happy Hour Duke’s Waikiki. It's the place to enjoy a burger and cocktail while you soak up the last of the day's rays and watch the golden sun sink into the Pacific Ocean. You can be seated at the restaurant and enjoy the massive salad bar and a large piece of local grilled fish. Or go for the more casual option and sit with your toes in the sand out front on Waikiki Beach, at the Barefoot Bar. Order a glass of wine and the locals’ favourite, mac nut chicken katsu or the cajun fish tacos. Open from 7am until late. Dishes start from $15 US at the Barefoot Bar on the beach.

Dukes on Waikiki

Koko Head Cafe

 Eggs, fish and greens with homemade pickles for brunch.

Eggs, fish and greens with homemade pickles for brunch.

Koko Head Cafe

 
Eggs with fish, local greens and homemade pickles. Served in a cast-iron skillet, it’s large enough to share.
— Trudi Brewer

Finally, a 10-minute Uber ride east to Kaimukī is where you will find Koko Head Cafe. Mix with the locals and enjoy an east-meets-west style brunch. Once seated (there is always a queue outside), opt for the pancakes with smoked applewood smoked bacon and creamy black pepper maple syrup or the North Shore garden frittata, stuffed with vegetables, and sharp goat’s cheese. Or sample head chef and co-owner Lee Anne Wong’s favourite dish, the Korean-style breakfast bibimbap, my choice eggs with fish, local greens and homemade pickles. Served in a cast-iron skillet, it’s large enough to share. Koko Head Cafe is open from 7am until 2pm. Dishes start from $30 for two.

Shopping

Oahu is the place to shop. From luxury to fast fashion, the range of stores that stretch along Kalakaua Avenue is mind-boggling. The places to start are Gucci, Fendi, Louis Vuitton, and Chanel or, for some slightly more realistic retail therapy, head to Kate Spade or Anthropologie and Armani. Alternatively, stroll around The International Market Place, which has over 100 stores. Make a date to visit the open-air Ala Moana Center mall, which has over 290 shops, including Bloomingdale’s. Head there after a morning swim and stay until late, enjoying lunch and dinner at Ala Moana’s latest al fresco place to eat – The Lanai. This chic dining hall offers everything from noodles to teppanyaki and a hand-crafted cocktail or two. There's no excuse for not staying all day. Ala Moana is open from 9.30 am until 9 pm daily. 10am until 7pm on Sundays.

If you like the idea of outlet shopping, hire a car or take a bus tour to Waikele Premium Outlets in Waipahu. The range on offer includes American greats such as Michael Kors, Calvin Klein, Banana Republic and Kate Spade. For those shopping for sports luxe, Adidas is hard to beat.
Open 9am until 9pm six days, Sundays 10am until 6pm.

To-do list

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Swim with green turtles

Cruise on the crystal-clear turquoise waters of Waikiki and swim with these beautiful creatures. Ten minutes from shore you can look back at the hustle and bustle of Waikiki Beach and be at one with nature. Take the family on the most beautiful aquatic experience, to an ocean cleaning spot for turtles. It's on this finger of reef that you’ll spot a wide array of fish and the honu, the Hawaiian green sea turtle that symbolises good luck, endurance and long life. The turtles come to preen their shells, and the local fish benefit as well; while the turtles float in the water, the tropical fish feast on the accumulated residue from their shells. Captain Rich of the Holokai Catamaran puts it much more matter-of-factly, “It’s like a car wash for the turtles and a buffet for the fish.”
Holokai Catamarans Turtle Canyon Adventure Sail tours cost $60 and depart daily at 9am and 12 noon sharp from the Outrigger Reef Waikiki Beach Resort.

Doris Duke’s Shangri-La

Doris Duke’s Shangri-La in Oahu, Honolulu
 
I could never tire of this magnificent property and the elegant design touches that make it truly unique and quite simply unforgettable.
— Trudi Brewer.

Before you arrive in Waikiki, you must book a tour at Doris Duke’s Shangri-La museum, and the Honolulu Museum of Art. It was my second visit and hopefully not my last. I could never tire of this magnificent property and the elegant design touches that make it truly unique and quite simply unforgettable. Doris Duke was the only daughter of a tobacco tycoon, James Duke. On his death in 1925 he left Doris $50 billion US. Her passion for art is seen in every room of the Shangri-La, each themed around different Middle Eastern art. An art collector, philanthropist, writer, and brilliant surfer, Duke spent 60 years travelling and collecting art from all over the world, including Iran, Syria, Egypt, Morocco, Turkey, and Spain. Her mansion sits beneath Leahi (Diamond Head). With uninterrupted views of the Pacific Ocean, it's truly magnificent. From the immaculate gardens to Duke's white mirror tiled bathroom and bedroom, this home is her labour of love, one she gifted to the people of Oahu after her death. Today it continues to support up-and-coming young American artists through The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. Bookings are essential to visit The Shangri-La. A guided tour (Wednesday to Saturday) takes 90-minutes; there are four sessions per day.

Inside The Shangri-La, Diamond Head

Diamond Head Waikiki

 The view from Diamond Head looking over Waikiki Beach

The view from Diamond Head looking over Waikiki Beach

 
Every step you climb of the 760-foot crater is worth it. It’s one of Hawaii’s most famous landmarks and well worth the hike once you reach the top and soak up the 360-degree ocean and island view.
— Trudi Brewer.

Get fit and soak up the view at the same time by walking up Diamond Head. Every step you climb of the 760-foot crater is worth it. It's one of Hawaii's most famous landmarks and well worth the hike once you reach the top and soak up the 360-degree ocean and island view. Depending on your fitness level, it should only take 30 minutes. Once you get to the top of the trail, there’s a shortcut to get to the very summit that includes 175 steps through dimly lit underground tunnels and old military bunkers. Or you can keep walking along the trail. The stunning turquoise ocean that awaits you after your climb is one of the most Instagram-worthy spots in Waikiki. One tip - start early, otherwise the heat makes the walk up challenging.

Learn to surf

  Lonely Label  Connie Swimsuit in Chartreuse on location at Waikiki beach.

Lonely Label Connie Swimsuit in Chartreuse on location at Waikiki beach.

 
Forget pipeline; on Oahu’s North Shore consider a gentle ocean experience and learn to surf. For wave heights of between 1 to 3 feet, try Diamond Head Beach Park.
— Trudi Brewer.

Forget pipeline; on Oahu's North Shore consider a gentle ocean experience and learn to surf. For wave heights of between 1 to 3 feet, try Diamond Head Beach Park. Paddle out to a break known as Cliffs, located straight out from the beach. Head east, to Chun’s Reef, identified by the locals as Chun’s, near Laniakea Beach. It's a popular spot for a surf lesson and ideal for beginners. Another spot popular with the locals is White Plains, on the west side of Oahu, with a sandy bottom. It's perfect for falling off your board and avoiding injury or humiliation while learning. Finally, you don't have to go far; you can catch a wave on Waikiki Beach. The surf is brilliant from July to November; merely rent a board from the beach and paddle out, or take a surf lesson at one of the many surf schools in and around Waikiki, Try Gurney Surf School or Moku Surf Shop.

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Trelise Cooper kaftan.
Thanks to Go Hawaii for assistance with this shoot.