July 1, 2013
Down the countless avenues and back streets are modern-meets-island-style finds, ranging from bespoke tailors ready to make you one-off aloha attire to intimate jazz clubs in second floor Chinatown loft spaces, evoking Honolulu’s heyday of the 1940s. An array of art galleries and museums host superb contemporary collections, many of which feature nighttime cocktail events with artist’s talks to lure the young jet set. And of course, the farm-to-table culinary movement that began 20 years ago is in full swing across nearly all genres. (It’s actually hard to find a bowl of authentic Japanese ramen that does not have locally harvested vegetables or pork tonkatsu.)
Indeed, things have come a long way here in “The Gathering Place” of the Pacific. When Captain Cook landed here in the late 1700s, he found relatively peaceful natives who played in the surf, ate what they caught and farmed, and served a king who sat enthroned at the foot of Waikiki Beach. Missionaries followed soon after and built Victorian-style homes in the valleys, and the wealth spread quickly. Pineapple and sugarcane farming brought industrialists and the workers to manage them, which drew populations from China and the Philippines. So began the cultural diversity that personifies Honolulu, which can be seen, tasted and viewed to this day.
Following the World Wars, things went temporarily quiet in the Pacific until imagery of grass-skirted hula girls and surfers was thrust into the limelight by Elvis. Waves of American tourists began to arrive in search of exotic, albeit close-by, fun and the allure of the Aloha lifestyle was cast into the stratosphere.
Today, the vast majority of Honolulu visitors will bunk up in Waikiki, in one of the resorts which skirt the crystalline bay at the foot of Diamond Head Crater. Options include historic hotels like the Moana Surfrider (built by the Matson shipping conglomerate more than 110 years ago) and the Royal Hawaiian, both of which offer unparalleled turn-of-the-century design. More contemporary hotels generally reside a block away from the beach, with some, as in the case of The Modern Honolulu, featuring internationally renowned restaurants like Morimoto and a thumping underground nightclub.
As with neighbouring Hawaiian islands, part of the allure of visiting Honolulu is the opportunity to begin each day with sunrise yoga or a “dawn patrol” surf session on an uncrowded stretch of sand or water. But here in Honolulu, your afternoon might be spent chatting with world-leading Asian art curators at the Honolulu Museum of Art, followed by an 8-course tasting menu at the James Beard-awarded Chef Mavro restaurant. And if you’re still going, have cocktails over jazz at Lewers Lounge followed by late-night karaoke with friends in a private room downtown before hitting an after-hours danceclub.
Indeed, options abound in this urban-meets-tropical-oasis; you just need to get out there and find them.
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Header photo © Waikiki at night © Hawaii Tourism Authority, Joe Solem
Have you spent time on holiday in Honolulu? Where are your favourite city spots? Share your thoughts in the comments below.