Honolulu is the biggest city between Los Angeles and Tokyo, 2500 miles from the closest land. It is a modern Asian city, nestled on the edge of one of the most romantic landscapes on earth, smack in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. This city has been a tourist destination for over 100 years, but outside of the main beach is where the cool stuff is.
We are urbanites who love the energy, languages, and culture of cities but, like most people, we also need connection with nature. For some people, it may be sleepy Kauai, or the hippie vibe of upcountry Maui, or the wild parts of the big island. They are all wonderful, and they are all very different, but HNL is our spot. Here is some of what we discovered:
HoMA, Honolulu Museum of Art. This is a hidden gem of a museum. Housed in a classic old Hawaiian mansion, this is a small museum that punches above its weight. Great collection of Asian antiquities, and some very respectable European masterworks. I know you came for the beach and nature, but this is worth a visit. Pro tip: The restaurant is awesome.
Coffee. This is actually on Waikiki back from the beach a few blocks. We met some very cool ex-punk-rock filmmaker locals here and thought: if it works for them, it must be cool. It is. It’s part of a hotel, which is ok, but the crew who works the coffee is awesome. Sometimes it is about who is making the latte, not where it is.
SALT. This is a new retail and creative work complex in an industrial section between Waikiki and the airport. Great range of restaurants, cool places to shop, and a modern Asian creative vibe. None of the glitz of Waikiki. Pro tip: Check out the camera shop on the second floor for used film cameras and actual film. Ah, the memories…
Ala Moana Beach Park. This is about a 20-minute walk from Waikiki, and is another world. This is a locals’ beach, and the locals in this part of the world have a deep attachment to all things ocean. No Elvis or Gidget here; it’s local families hanging out, chilling, and getting out into the ocean.
Izakaya Uosan Sushi. This is a very Japan-centric town and we were determined to find the Jiro does Sushi of HNL. This place was recommended to us by a Japanese ex-pat surfer who ran a shop over at SALT. It is about as close to being in a hidden sushi den as you will find this side of Tokyo. Dark, filled with regulars, the sushi is top-notch.
Barnes and Noble. Can one judge a city by its book shops and access to international newspapers? This is perhaps the biggest, most helpful, and most trafficked Barnes and Noble. We were able to get our daily Financial Times and a stack of magazines for poolside reading. This is a proper old-school book store with a staff that somehow seems to know every book there. It is located in the cavernous Ala Moana Mall, an 8-minute drive or 20-minute walk from the beach. The cosmopolitan joy of standing in the checkout line with people speaking other languages.
Since when did the STATE OF HAWAII with Honolulu as its capitol allow Honolulu to become an Asian city? Hanoi is an Asian city…..Honolulu is an American city. Sorry to burst your bubble. It is what it is
Thank you for the interesting thoughts on geography. By Asian, I am referring not to a political entity, as indeed the last I checked Hawaii was an American state, but rather to a cultural reference. The city planning, the food, the contrast of the modern high rises next to pagoda roofed wooden buildings, these are all very Asian. The tourist flow in non-pandemic times is heavily Japanese and Chinese, and in fact, most of the menus in Waikiki are bi-lingual. It makes for the feeling of a bustling Asian city out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean,a wonderfully unique place that is still, as you point out, enjoying all the convenience of being a part of the US. It is one of the reasons I am so fond of Honolulu, not to mention the very best Japanese food this side of Tokyo.
All my best,
Did this guy really visit Honolulu?
I call BS…
Thank you for the thought-provoking comment. I searched my memory, and indeed I was in Honolulu, in fact have been there dozens of times. It is a rather amazing place, one of my favorite cities in the world, and I have many friends there. Let me know if you are thinking of visiting and perhaps I can be helpful with hooking you up.
All my best,
I agree with you. I visited Honolulu last week and its sad that downtown Honolulu and parts of the north east are being taking away from the Hawaiian natives. The top population from what observed was Caucasian, Japanese and Philippines. I met a few Hawaiians but not around the main downtown areas. Beautiful state tho.