For most visitors, Waikiki will be home base. Spend the first day getting acclimated to the weather and acquainted with the surroundings right outside your hotel. Follow the Historic Waikiki Trail around town, a self-guided tour describing the history of the area.
Walk the beach path, stop at Waikiki Beach for a swim, stroll down Kalakaua Avenue and enjoy pau hana (happy hour) at The Shorebird, The Beach Bar at the Moana Surfrider, or on the upstairs deck at Tiki’s.
After freshening up back at the hotel, head out for dinner at the Hau Tree Lanai, Sansei Seafood, or Top of Waikiki.
Have breakfast in Waikiki at Kai Market while rush hour traffic subsides, then head to Honolulu’s historic district. Start at the Hawai‘i State Capitol then go next door and tour ‘Iolani Palace. Visit the Kamehameha I Statue, Kawaika‘o Church, and the Mission Houses Museum.
Next, head to Ala Moana Center or Aloha Tower Marketplace for lunch and shopping. Finish up the day in Chinatown. Stroll through fine art galleries like The ARTS at Marks Garage and the Pegge Hopper gallery. For Chinatown’s premier Chinese restaurant, visit Little Village Noodle House. If you’re looking for a sampling of Pacific Rim cuisine, stop by the Maunakea Marketplace Food Court. For upscale Eurasian dining try Indigo.
If you want to keep the party rolling, head into an Irish pub like J.J. Dolan’s or Murphy’s. If your vacation coincides with the first Friday of the month, save Honolulu for that day and be a part of Chinatown’s lively First Friday celebration.
Head to the southeast and windward shores, where there are a lot of ocean-related activities to consider. Start out by snorkeling Hanauma Bay. You’ll need to get there before 9am to find a parking spot. If you prefer adventure sports, dive, Jet Ski, wakeboard, parasail, or deep-sea fish in Maunalua Bay.
If you prefer hiking, spend the morning on the 1,000-plus steps of the Koko Crater Trail, walking through the Koko Crater Botanical Garden, or making your way to the lighthouse at Makapu‘u Point, a great vantage point for whale-watching.
Next, check out the pounding shore break at Sandy Beach, then drive up to Kailua for a relaxing afternoon. Have lunch at Kalapawai Market or Buzz’s, then retreat to the beach. Bask on the fine white sand or rent a kayak and paddle out to Flat Island or all the way to the Mokulua Islands. Alternatively, you can head north to paddle in Kahana Bay and visit the ancient fishponds.
If you have any steam left, take the meandering drive up Kamehameha Highway to La‘ie town. You can grab dinner and a show at the Polynesian Cultural Center or choose one of the small local eateries along the coast. For the brave of heart, beeline for the La‘ie Point State Wayside for cliff-jumping and magnificent views of the windward coast.
Strike out early and be at the front of the line to see the Pearl Harbor Historic Sites. There are several memorials, museums, and sites to visit, so you can tailor your experience to your liking.
Golfers should head to the ‘Ewa Plain or up the central plateau and play one of several challenging courses. Or continue past ‘Ewa out to Ko Olina, where you can play golf, relax in the seaside lagoons, and eat at one of the fine dining restaurants like Roy’s or Ushio-Tei.
If hiking is more your style, get up early and drive out to Yokohama Bay on the leeward side. Known as the Ka‘ena Point State Recreation Area, the natural reserve at the western tip of the island can’t be missed for its rugged beauty and wildlife. On your way back, surf or relax at Makaha Beach, have dinner in Ko Olina, and watch the sunset from Paradise Cove.
After being out and about for a few days, recalibrate by staying near home and take in the sights around Waikiki. Go up Diamond Head first thing in the morning and then have lunch at Bogart’s or Diamond Head Cove Health Bar. Check out the Diamond Head beaches or head back across Kapi‘olani Park to the Honolulu Zoo or the Waikiki Aquarium.
For live music during happy hour, head to Duke’s Waikiki and hang out in the Barefoot Bar. Put in your reservation for dinner and enjoy a beachside meal watching the sunset over Waikiki Beach. If you’re there on a Sunday, be a part of the festivities of Duke’s on Sunday on the lanai.
It’s time to be North Shore-bound. For shopping, sightseeing, and dining, stop in historic Hale‘iwa Town. Visit the art galleries and get a treat at Matsumoto Shave Ice. Kayak or stand-up paddle the ‘Anahulu River, then head north and explore Waimea Bay, Pipeline, and Sunset Beach for snorkeling in the summertime and wave-watching in the winter. During summer, snorkeling and diving at Three Tables and Sharks Cove are a must.
Continue north to Turtle Bay Resort for sunset drinks at the outdoor, oceanside Hang Ten Bar & Grill, then venture over to Lei Lei’s for dinner on one of Turtle Bay’s famous greens. If you’re operating on a budget, skip Turtle Bay and drive to Kahuku Superette for some of the best poke on the island.
To add some adventure, shark dive from Hale‘iwa Harbor, or take a glider ride or skydive in Mokule‘ia. Catch a seaside polo match at Hawai‘i Polo on Sunday afternoons during the summer. If your plans allow for dinner in Hale‘iwa, don’t miss Hale‘iwa Joes.
Soak up the sun and take advantage of all the ocean activities Waikiki has to offer. Stop by and chat with one of the beachboys about surfing or stand-up paddle lessons and surf iconic Waikiki surf breaks Queen’s and Canoes. Take a ride and surf an outrigger canoe, snorkel in the Waikiki Marine Life Conservation District, hydrate under an umbrella on the beach and take a catamaran cruise off the Waikiki coast for a fresh perspective. If there’s still daylight left, paddle back out for a second session.
Excerpted from the Seventh Edition of Moon O’ahu.