Top things to do and see in Honolulu

Surf’s up in Waikiki

It would be rude not to surf in Waikiki. Make your way to the beach in the morning before the wind and crowds pick up, then take a lesson with one of the local beach boys or rent a $20 (£15) long board for a better chance at balancing. Beginners should head for ‘Canoes’, the easiest break within swimming distance. If you manage to stand up, you’ll catch a sparkling view of the condo-crammed skyline.

Chill in Chinatown

This is where Second World War sailors were inked with the motto ‘stewed, screwed and tattooed’; plantation-era immigrants made new starts; and Sailor Jerry set up shop. Today’s Chinatown is a sausage grinder of a city quarter, squeezing out a fascinating mix of history and the here-and-now. Stroll through Oahu Market, browse garlands chilling in fridges at Cindy’s Lei & Flower Shoppe, wander the galleries, drink at one of the many dive bars and get your ‘grinds’ (eats) at a cutting-edge restaurant like Senia, a collaboration between chefs Chris Kajioka and Anthony Rush. 

Bishop Museum

Hawaii’s state museum is the place to get your cultural and historical bearings. A planetarium shows the stars that guided epic Pacific canoe voyages, while a large hall explores creation stories, the wao (realms) of Hawaiian life and historical chapters such as the grisly fate of Captain Cook. Small treasures like tiny pearl shell hooks make big impressions, too. 

Hike Diamond Head

Oahu is threaded with great hiking trails. If you try only one, make it this short, spectacular path, zigzagging its way from the heart of an extinct volcano crater just south of Waikiki. Follow the 0.8-mile hike from the trailhead to the summit, passing old military tunnels and bunkers, to reach views that stretch as far as the islands of Lanai and Maui. Afterwards, treat yourself to an acai bowl at Da Cove in nearby Monsarrat.

Street smarts at Kaka’ako

This old warehouse district is a rapidly changing neighbourhood buzzing with street art, independent shops and an art deco atmosphere. Mosey around the 100 or so murals radiating out from Lana Lane (artists include Shepard Fairey and Kevin Lyons) before hitting the stores and restaurants of SALT at Our Kaka‘ako. The city’s POW! WOW! Hawaii festival, a week-long series of art events, takes place every February.  

Hula at Kuhio Beach

It could be cheesy, but it isn’t. Held under an old banyan tree at sunset, this hour-long cultural session uses Hawaiian music and dance to educate visitors and keep island traditions alive. It’s a genuine and gentle fix of Aloha, with the twirling hula dancers and their surprisingly subtle feet and hand movements the star turns. 

Skip the city

Oahu is a relatively small island, but it boasts some big day trip options. Don’t come this far without planning a day at Pearl Harbor (book ahead, especially to see the USS Arizona Memorial) or a snorkelling and sailing trip on the Leeward Coast to spot wild spinner dolphins and green sea turtles with Wild Side Specialty Tours.

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