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Lee Anne Wong — owner and exec chef at Honolulu’s Koko Head Cafe, and author of the new cookbook, Dumplings all Day Wong — invites us along for her perfect day in O’ahu.
O’ahu Itinerary From Chef Lee Anne Wong
It’s hard to choose a fave island in Hawai’i, but Chef Lee Anne Wong, makes a strong case for O’ahu. She moved there for love but stayed to open the phenomenal Koko Head Cafe – which has redefined the breakfast scene while respecting local traditions – and now it’s the local foodies who are in love with her.
So, when she says she’s gonna show you her ideal 24 hours on O’ahu, well, you’d better get to taking notes.
5:30 AM: Sunrise At Kahala Beach
I usually wake up at 4:00 AM in order to open my restaurant by 7:00 AM. I know, it sounds unholy but getting up early on O’ahu means getting to watch the sunrise over the ocean, which is more than enough reason for me.
Anywhere on the east side of O’ahu is prime sunrise viewing, but I love the slightly hidden Kahala Beach; I can watch the sky for those first few minutes of the day when it’s like a watercolor painting in motion.
7:00 AM: Breakfast at Koko Head Cafe
Call me biased, but I happen to love my restaurant — both the food and the service. I’d start with an order of the Dumplings All Day Wong (our daily dumpling) and then move on to a giant skillet of Fish and Eggs.
We pride ourselves on serving exceptional and unique brunch fare, all locally sourced, with a hot steaming cup of sunshine. My staff is the reason why my restaurant operates smoothly; everyone is a team player and our customers sense that vibe.
Koko Head Cafe, 1145C 12th Avenue, Honolulu
Photo: Lee Anne Wong
9:00 AM: Drive the East Side to Country
Since we’ve got all day, we’re going “circle island” and driving all the way around O’ahu with a lunch break in “country” aka the North Shore.
First stop is Diamond Head Crater – walk or drive to the top for a photo op – then head east towards Hawai’i Kai. Stop to take in the views at Makapu’u Lighthouse then stop at He’eia Park to grab a quick coffee, juice, or beer, if that’s your style.
Drive north and wind your way past Kailua, Kualoa Ranch, and the “Chinaman’s Hat.”
Stop in Kahuku for a midmorning snack at one the shrimp trucks (Romy’s is my favorite). Then spend your morning on the North Shore beaches, walking, paddle boarding, or surfing; basically, anything that’ll help work up your appetite for lunch.
Romy’s Shrimp Truck, 56-781 Kamehameha Hwy, Kahuku
Photo: Aida Mollenkamp
12:00 PM: Hale’iwa Town
Spend an hour or two walking around the tiny North Shore town of Hale’iwa, taking in the shops (we like 808!) and country atmosphere of the North Shore, braving the line at Matsumoto’s for a shave ice or opting for a juice at The Beet Box.
The Beet Box, Kamehameha Highway, Hale’iwa
3:00 PM: Return to Honolulu
Head back into town via H2 highway. If you’re in the mood for scenery, drive to the top of Tantalus, a crater at the top of the Ko’olau Mountain Range, which overlooks the entire city. Afterwards, it’s time to siesta because you’re gonna need to rest up for the night ahead!
Tantalus Outlook, Pu’u Ualaka’a State Park, 2760 Round Top Drive. Honolulu
5:30 PM: Sunset Cocktails at House Without A Key
It’s not a perfect day without a perfect Mai Tai and House Without A Key knows how to make them. Grab one of their signature cocktails then take in the buzz of Waikīkī and watch the sunset over the water.
7:00 PM: Small plates at Izakaya Naru
Japanese restaurants abound in Honolulu but this Okinawan style gem is one of my favorite places. Sample housemade shochu and awamori as you snack on an eclectic menu of savory small plates, ranging from sashimi to unique creations like their “taco rice”bowl.
Izakaya Naru, 2700 South King Street, Honolulu
9:00 PM: Dessert at Via Gelato Kaimuki
Afterwards, walk over to Via Gelato for Melissa Bow’s superb gelato. The menu reflects local flavors ranging from Li Hing (Salted Sour Plum) and Strawberry, Black Sesame and Green Tea, Guava, and Passion Fruit to classics like Butter Pecan. Just don’t miss the Pistachio because it’s the best on the island.
Via Gelato, 1142 12th Avenue, Honolulu
11:00 PM: Nightcap at Pint and Jigger
Time to reward ourselves with an extra long nightcap so it’s off to Pint and Jigger where we ask barmaster/owner, Dave Newman, to make us a drink.
With a selection of over 50 craft beers and the largest spirit and whisky collection on the island, it’s the place to late night cocktail. If you happen to be having a late-night snack attack (though I doubt it because this perfect day involves eating around the clock), go for the signature barbecue spiced P+J French fries and booze-friendly plates like roasted bone marrow and blue cheeseburger sliders.
Pint and Jigger, 1936 South King Street, Honolulu
1:00 AM: Star Gaze At The Beach
Find a stretch of beach to lay down and check out the stars. Soak in the quiet calm and sound of the waves and toast yourself for making it through the most perfect of perfect days.
Photo: Aleksandra Jankovic
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