Hipster hangouts in Hawaii
Don’t hate on Hawaii because it’s beautiful - there’s gritty amid the pretty where the bearded can happily co-exist with the board-shorted. While there’s no shortage of fancy hotels, stunning beaches, jaw-dropping scenic sights and massive sales to hit up on your holiday, there’s more to Hawaii than package tours and drinks packages. Our insiders have let us know about heaps of lo-fi hotspots frequented by locals and those-in-the-know on the main island of Oahu, away from the tourist crowds. So, for the lowdown on Oahu on the down-low, here’s our guide to hipster hangouts in Hawaii.
Honolulu’s most famous and popular beach is where most travellers to Hawaii base themselves after landing at Honolulu International Airport. This sandy stretch is home to the majority of the capital’s hotels and the main drag, Kalakaua Avenue, bordered by Diamond Head crater. Here’s where to go...
For a feed: The multihued facade of Rainbow Drive-In is the place to go for the famous Hawaiian plate lunch of an entree of fried chicken, mahi mahi, shrimp or pork cutlet; rice and macaroni salad or coleslaw – all for under $US8. Add a fried egg on top to make it a loco moco plate. Much loved by the US prez.
On the go? Look for heaps of hole-in-the-wall ramen and sushi joints around Waikiki or stop in to a 7-11 to try spam musabi – slabs of spam atop sushi rice and wrapped in nori seaweed. Ridiculously tasty and totally portable.
For a drink: Don’t let the luxe look of Hawaii’s ultimate 5-star experience put you off, inside Halekulani is House Without A Key, named for a Charlie Chan novel set in 1920s Honolulu. It’s an alfresco bar on the oceanfront with live music, hula and signature mai tais.
For kitschy cool (think tiki-themed decor), check out the oldest bar in Honolulu - Smith’s Union Bar - in Chinatown. Go for cheap beer, ukulele jams, jello shots, karaoke and an authentic Hawaiian shirt-wearing dive bar ambience.
Must-do: Want that puka shell necklace or vintage Hawaiian shirt? The Aloha Stadium Swap Meet & Marketplace is the place to go for authentic wares and crafts direct from the artisans and without the tourist markup. Over 400 vendors have stalls at this outdoor market, located at Aloha Stadium and around an hour from Waikiki. It’s open on Wednesdays and the weekend.
Around a two-hour drive north of Waikiki is the surfer’s paradise of North Shore with world-famous spots like Waimea Bay, Pipeline and Sunset Beach. Even if you’re not a serious surfer, snorkellers and sunbakers can stake their claim on the North Shore of Oahu in summer for calmer conditions and the year-round laidback vibe. Here’s where to go...
For a feed: You have to try shave ice in Hawaii. Locals love Matsumoto’s Shave Ice, a tin-roofed general store that’s been running since 1951. For the authentic island flavour, go for lilikoi (passionfruit), li hing mui (a sour Chinese powder) and melona (a South Korean melon ice-block) or choose your own combo from 40 homemade syrups.
Another North Shore staple is the food truck. None of that gentrified organic fusion stuff here, hit up the shrimp trucks for fresh, locally caught shrimp (prawns) done in garlic and butter or hot and spicy style in a plate lunch. You’ll find the shrimp trucks along the Kamehameha Highway and near Kahuku.
For a drink: There’s plenty of spots in Haleiwa town for a green juice or acai smoothie, but the pickings are slim for an alcoholic bevvy on the laidback North Shore. For $US6 happy hour cocktails or small-batch local brews, head to the eco-friendly Turtle Bay Resort where you can sink a Longboarder Lemonade, Diamond Head Lychee-tini or Waimea’s Bay Appletini at Surfer, The Bar (yep, a collab with the surfing mag and global bible of surfing culture called - Surfer) while listening to live music, checking out a doco or even panel discussions.
Must-do: Monster waves in winter, perfect swimming and snorkelling conditions in summer; Waimea Bay, the Pipeline at Ehukai Beach and Sunset Beach, where the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing, Reef Hawaiian Pro and Billabong Pipe Masters are set, are a must-do on Oahu. If you’re a novice surfer, hit the gentler waves at Turtle Bay and leave the big swells to the pros.