Salt & Wind Travel

Salt & Wind Travel

Oahu Travel Guide: Where To Eat, Shop, and Stay In Honolulu

We’ll admit it: we full-on stalk the #LuckyWeLiveHawaii feed when we’re craving some beach time.

Just the waterfalls and sunsets are enough to make the most serene of us jealous. Between the hospitality, the vibes, and the people, we’re all about the Aloha state and make every effort to head there as often as possible (heck, we even plan trips there)! And, of all the islands, we spend the most time on Oahu because there’s a bit of everything for everyone. Here is our travel guide with all of our best Oahu travel tips.

Why Honolulu?

Honolulu is a bit of a dark horse — because, well, you think Hawaii and you think palm trees and Mai Tais, not highways and high rises, right? But that’s why we like Honolulu: it has the culture, conveniences, and shopping of a big city, but you’re always just minutes from dipping your toe in teal blue waters. And Honolulu has totally come into her own in the past few years as a new generation of chefs are redefining local cuisine, creative artisans are crafting local goods, boutiques are opening that rival the best of resort shopping, and a top-notch cocktail scene that’ll make you rethink your impression of an umbrella-clad drink.

Before You Go

Overtourism

We’d be remiss were we not to mention that Hawaii has had a tough time since the pandemic. The state is economically reliant on tourism, but irresponsible travel has lead to environmental and economic inequities. If you plan to travel anywhere in Hawaii, we encourage you to do so responsibly by traveling in the lower season, choosing sustainable and green lodging, and supporting small businesses.

Where to Stay

If you’re staying longer than a few days, we highly recommend renting a home because there are all sorts of gems, and it will allow you to live like a local in Hawaii. For a long weekend or the first trip to Oahu, it’s typical to stay in the middle of Waikiki, and these are hands-down our favorite hotels in that area:

Classic Luxe: Royal Hawaiian

As classic as it gets, walking the halls of the Royal gives you a glimpse of what Hawaii was like during its golden era of the 1960s.

Contemporary Vibes: The Modern Hotel

Honestly, we’ve loved this place since the day it opened, if not for its registration desk (hello, surfboard collage), then for its awesome bars, contemporary design, and overall chic feel. The only drawback is that it’s on the harbor, meaning there’s no beachfront. Luckily, Waikiki beach and Ala Moana beach park are just a few steps away.

Chic Boutique: The Surfjack Hotel

This boutique hotel represents everything we love about Oahu right now: innovative food (at Mahina & Suns), local artisans, and creative design. It’s the smallest of the hotels here, but what it lacks in size, they more than make up for in hospitality.

What To Cook

How do you get in the spirit before you take off? By cooking up some local food!

Once You’re There

Where to Breakfast and Brunch

Serious Kanak Attack: Koko Head Cafe

Our friend, chef Lee Anne Wong, upped the breakfast game in Kaimuki when she opened this cafe a few years ago. The place is so popular, there’s a wait pretty much every day, all day but it’s worth it. She makes twists on local comfort food that are sure to bring on a kanak attack (aka food coma) but we dream about the breakfast bruschetta, the daily dumplings, and the cast iron skillet dishes.

Toast + Such: Mahina & Suns

Speaking of spot-on breakfast, Mahina & Suns totally brings it with local fresh fruit, ricotta toasts, and coffee from one of our favorite LA-based roasters, Caffe Luxxe. This place is also among our favorite spots in Waikiki for drinks and dinner.

Where to Lunch

Noodles & Noodles: Marukame Udon or Agu Ramen

If you like noodles like we like noodles, then Honolulu is gonna make you a very happy camper. For Sanuki-style made right before you udon, it’s all about Marukame. Yes, its cafeteria-style layout isn’t fancy but the food more than makes up for that. If it’s ramen you’re after, our go-to spot is Agu Ramen because their broth is everything.

Lighter Plate Lunch: Diamond Head Market & Grill

If you’re after a full-on real deal, kanak attack (food coma)-inducing plate lunch, you should head to Rainbow Drive-In. But we just can’t handle food that heavy. Instead, we head to Diamond Head Grill where they have a slightly healthier take on plate lunch (salmon with brown rice) and some of the best Plantation Iced Tea you’ll find. Save room for dessert because they have lots of local faves like Coconut Cream Pie, Sweet Potato Pie, Butter Mochi, and Pumpkin Crunch.

Not-To-Miss Meal: Pig and The Lady

If you have one restaurant to give you an idea of how good Hawaii’s food scene is these days, our pick is The Pig and The Lady. Chef Andrew Le (and fam) opened this place just a few years ago, but it has totally helped put Honolulu on the foodie map. The contemporary take on Vietnamese (among other Asian) classics is thoughtfully executed with just over-the-top enough to please even the biggest eaters. Stop by their booth at the Kapiolani Community College Farmers Market if you can’t snag a table at their Chinatown location. Of, for something a little bit quirkier, lighter, head to their new sister restaurant, Piggy Smalls.

Where to Dinner

Contemporary Hawaiian: Mud Hen Water

We’ve long been fans of chef Ed Kenney from back when he started Town to his newest place, Mahina & Suns (see above). But if we had to pick a favorite, it’d be his spot in Kaimuki called Mud Hen Water. Here he combines his passion for local produce with his love for local food and makes contemporary takes on classic Hawaiian dishes. We’re fans of the beet poke, the fried chicken, the squid luau, and pretty much anything the bar is mixing.

Modern Chinatown: Fete

There are so many places worth checking out in Chinatown (from shops to dive bars to restaurants), that you could spend an afternoon there. And while joints like The Pig And The Lady (see above) made the neighborhood mainstream, one of our favorites is Fete. Started by a couple who lived in New York, they brought a little of Brooklyn with them back to Hawaii. We like to sit at the chef’s table/bar and sip cocktails while eating their fried chicken.

Where to Snack and Street Food

Malasadas: Leonard’s

It’s not a visit to Oahu for us until we’ve had one (or three!) Portuguese donuts (aka malasadas) from Leonard’s Bakery. Yes, the lines are worth it — just be sure to eat what you buy immediately because they’re the best hot!

Saimin: Palace Saimin

Saimin is one of the lesser-known local dishes but so worth trying because it’s an only-in-Hawaii dish. Palace Saimin is a total hole-in-the-wall in a random part of town, but it doesn’t get more legit. Order a wonton min with a BBQ stick on the side!

Boiled Peanuts: Tamura’s

Okay, the truth is one of my first finds in Kaimuki was Tamura’s, and I’ve been an evangelist for it ever since. This wine shop has multiple locations, but this one, with a serious wine collection, tons of craft beer, artisanal liquor, and some of the best pokes, is my favorite. Oh, and don’t forget to get some of their boiled peanuts!

Hawaiian Food: Helena’s

Two things you should know about Helena’s: 1) it’s cash only 2) it has such a historical place in local food history that the James Beard Foundation has given it a nod. Head here for a crash course in how good Hawaiian food— classics like pipikaula (like Hawaiian beef jerky), poi (fermented taro root), kalua pig (slow cooked smoked pork), and laulau (fish and pork wrapped in taro leaf) — should taste.

Poke: Ono Seafood

Ask five people in Hawaii where to get poke, and everyone will give you a different answer. We can tell you that Ono is a great place to start.

Where to Drink

Classic Sunset Spot: House Without a Key

Yes, you can find a fancier Mai Tai (see Bar Leather Apron below) in Oahu but it’s hard to get more classic Waikiki than House Without A Key. With a view looking out on Diamond Head and live local music, it’s the spot on Waikiki to sip a Mai Tai during sunset.

Kaka’Ako Craft: Bevy

Bevy is hands-down one of the best craft cocktail bars in Hawaii and made a name because of their on-point Mai Tai. We also like their Mojitos and Negronis and, well, anything they make. They recently added a food menu so you can eat some locally sourced food at lunch or dinner and they have a cute little East Coast-style diner that just opened next door.

Modern Mixology: Bar Leather Apron

If you have any questions about whether Honolulu’s bar scene is serious, head to Bar Leather Apron and you’ll get set straight. Bartender Justin Park is an award-winning bartender, and they take their craft very seriously. The building the bar is in is a little too corporate for our tastes but you’ll totally forget about that once you’re sipping on one of their drinks. Oh, and FYI this is a pretty perfect spot to head before or after hanging in Chinatown.

Where to Coffee

Local Style: The Curb Coffee

What started out in 2009 as a coffee truck that you could get curbside (get it??), has evolved into three cafes across Honolulu. These guys take coffee very seriously so they make everything from espresso to a pour-over coffee well but look out for their flavored syrups that will change the way you think about sweetened coffee.

Coffee In Waikiki: Gorilla In The Cafe

Like so many great things in Hawaii, Gorilla In The Cafe pretty much opened because Japanese tourists wanted good coffee in the middle of Waikiki. As such, it is very much for Japanese clientele, but it’s a total gem with 100% local beans, decent pour overs, and a clean aesthetic if you want something more like a flavored latte, head over to Dean & Deluca.

Aussie Vibes: Arvo

We’re not sure what’s more Instagrammable: the adorable Aussie coffee shop Arvo or the succulent and flower shop, Paiko, that shares the space. Head here for a real deal flat white (and some vegemite or avo toast if that’s your thing) and don’t be surprised if you end up making a Haku lei (Hawaiian floral crown) with the ladies of Paiko.

Where to Shop

Resort Wear: Rebecca Beach

Hawaii chic at its best, Rebecca Beach now has three locations, each carrying cheerful island-appropriate outfits.

Eclectic Finds: Owens & Company

In the heart of Chinatown, this eclectic boutique specializes in handmade creations from independent designers, many based in Hawaii.

Vintage Vibes: Roberta Oaks

If you need to bring something home for your man to thank him for putting up with you taking off for a girls’ weekend, then head over to Roberta Oaks where you’ll find updated versions of vintage aloha (read: Hawaiian shirts).

Have Us Plan Your Trip

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After discussing your preferences during a short consultation, we’ll plan your perfect itinerary. Whether you’re looking for custom travel planning or a small group trip, the Salt & Wind team is here to help. Contact us today to learn more.

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