Maybe you’ve been to the Islands before. Or maybe it’s your first time.
Either way, Honolulu, the state’s largest city, is a great place to start your Hawaiʻi vacation.
It’s as diverse as a city can get: golden beaches next to expansive shopping malls, ethnic neighborhoods juxtaposed against urban sprawl, hole-in-the-wall eateries doors down from nationally acclaimed restaurants. You’ll find hiking trails, art galleries, historic places, snorkeling spots, bakeries and hip brewpubs in the city’s 68.4 square miles.
It’s a great time to travel to Oʻahu, which recently allowed visitors to bypass the state’s mandatory 14-quarantine with a proper negative COVID-19 test. (See here for details.)
But if you only have a day to spend in Honolulu, here’s what we recommend:
Don’t waste your only day in Honolulu! Get up early and hit the Makapuʻu Point Lighthouse Trail in East Honolulu. The parking lot may not be open at this time, but you can park along Kalanianaʻole Highway and walk through the gate. The 1-mile (one way) trail, which is paved and easy for all skill levels, meanders along the Kaiwi Coast and ends at a summit with panoramic views of Makapuʻu Beach, offshore islets and the historic red-roofed lighthouse, which was built in 1909. On a clear day during from November through May, you can see humpback whales frolicking in Hawaiʻi’s warm waters. It’s a great way to start your day.
Time to eat! The popular Kailua breakfast spot Moke’s Bread and Breakfast (1127 11th Ave., Suite 201, closed Tuesdsays) opened a second location in Kaimukī, a sleepy residental town just outside of Waikīkī. Due to COVID-19, the eatery—like many on Oʻahu—isn’t offering dine-in service, but you can order your brekkie to go. We love the Loco Moke (a twist on the classic loco moco using house-cut rib eye instead of hamburger patties), stuffed hash browns (everything in an omelet but stuffed into fried potatoes instead) and the restaurant’s signature lilikoʻi (passion fruit) pancakes (above) topped with a passion fruit sauce. Order takeout and sit at the surf lookout fronting Lēʻahi (aka Diamond Head) along Diamond Head Road. Best place to watch surfers on the entire south shore.
Inspired to surf? Sign up for surfing lessons with Faith Surf School, run by the Moniz family of surfers. The company offers small-group, 2-hour sessions in Waikīkī, where you’ll learn the basics of surfing and catch your own waves—in the place where legendary Duke Kahanamoku surfed. The stoke is real!
Surfing definitely burns calories—and you can eat them all back at Merriman’s Honolulu in Ward Village. The award-winning restaurant pivoted during COVID-19 to offer a grill-centril pop-up and beer garden on its spacious lānai (patio). (Yes to social distancing!) Get house-ground burgers (above), Kobe beef hot dogs, fresh fish sandwiches, Mexican street corn, oysters on the half shell and a slew of local beers and other libations. Starting Oct. 28, the restaurant will be offering dine-in service, with a menu that boasts macadamia nut-crusted fresh fish, prime rib eye steak and lamb, in addition to starters, salads and desserts. If there’s no line, pop across the street to Holey Grail Donuts, a popular food truck from Hanalei on Kauaʻi that serves taro-based doughnuts fried in coconut oil. Vegan and oh-so delicious. The truck closes at 2 p.m.
Explore Waikīkī on a Biki, the city’s bikeshare program with 130 stops all over urban Honolulu. You can bike along Kūhiō and Kalākaua avenues (on the street, not the sidewalks), stopping at charming shops like 88 Tees along the way. Or, if you feel ambitious, bike the extra three miles Ala Moana Regional Beach Park, where you can stretch your legs or jump in the ocean for a quick swim.
Check out Honolulu’s growing craft beer scene at Aloha Beer Co., (700 Queen St., Kakaʻako). Get a pint (or two) of one of the dozen local, craft beers on tap—all brewed on site. (Yes, it’s open for dine-in service.) This 7,200-square-foot, two-story space is in an area of Kakaʻako that was once home to Hawai‘i’s burgeoning beer industry from 1900 to the late 1960s. Aloha Beer Co.’s brewery is down the street from the Historic Honolulu Brewing and Malting Co. building at 553 Queen St., and blocks from the former Primo Cooke Street brewery.
You’re on vacation! Splurge a little! Reserve a window seat at Hōkū’s at the Kāhala (5000 Kāhala Ave., Honolulu, open Tuesdays through Saturdays) at The Kāhala Hotel & Resort, a few miles east of Waikīkī. Here, you can gaze at the Pacific Ocean with a Kōhana Daiquiri (Kōhana agricole rum, El Dorada 3-year rum, fresh lime juice and homemade simple syrup) or glass of wine and relax. Opt for a 4- or 8-course menu, with dishes like ʻahi poke carppaccio with Maui onions, smoked kampachi with grilled hearts of palm (above), shellfish ravioli with locally grown mushrooms, grilled Keāhole lobster and 24-hour red wine-braised short rib with hand-cut tagliatelle. Save room for dessert: the warm chocolate coulant with raspberry coulis and vanilla ice cream is a must.