Enjoy Waikiki Like a Local

Venture off the tourist track to find the best of Waikiki

Credit: Flickr/Andy

Escape the crowds and enjoy Waikiki like a true local

Waikiki is known for a few things — notably its party scene, upscale shopping and hoards of tourists crawling like ants up Diamond Head Crater or bronzing on its iconic stretch of beach. You can’t arrive on Oahu without spending at least a few hours, or days in Waikiki.

Whether you’re looking for a dose of culture, a civilized stay, a good sweat, some seriously good eats or local craft beer, it’s all there thanks to a fresh crop of hotels, restaurants and well-kept local secrets.

The Modern Honolulu

The address for Waikiki’s cool crowd, The Modern Honolulu is an unexpected oasis a world away from the bustle of the strip. Situated at the west end of Waikiki Beach, the oceanfront suites have sweeping views of the skyline and harbour. It’s only a 15-minute walk to the heart of the city, in case you miss the buzz. Take in brunch alfresco at The Grove, the Kalua pork breakfast burrito is top-notch. With the beach a block away, you’ll likely find yourself drawn to one of the hotel’s two pools. At the adult-only “sunset pool,” cool off with a frozen coconut mojito while floating on a memory foam. At the spa, try the signature Hawaiian Lomi Lomi massage with decadent coconut-limu lotion — ask for Eddie.

1775 Ala Moana Blvd, Honolulu

Credit: Alicia-Rae Olafsson

Koko Head Crater Hike

Skip Diamond Head and try Koko Head, one of Oahu’s extinct volcanic craters in the prestigious Hawaii Kai neighbourhood. Its 1,050 steps are the island’s equivalent of the Grouse Grind. On a clear day, you can see Lanai and Molokai in the distance, Hanauma Bay just below, and if the season’s right, humpback whales breaching in the ocean. At the peak, you’ll find an old military outpost, which once had a tram running up to it carrying supplies. Its train car and mechanism have long been removed, but the tracks remain and are the only way to the top. Come prepared with a hat, sunscreen and water, the (very) steep climb has no cover. Head up right before sunrise or sunset—the views are ineffable.

Aloha Food Tours

Do yourself a favour and venture off the strip to dine. Make your way to Honolulu’s Chinatown, where locals flock. Jump on Aloha Food Tour’s Best of Chinatown walking tour, which feels more like a casual lunch with a knowledgeable Hawaiian friend. Led by self-professed foodie Ryan Conching, you’ll try unconventional, homemade ice cream flavours at Wing and traditional garlic chicken at the unassuming Fort Street Cafe. The Pig and the Lady is by far the coolest stop, with food rich in the culinary heritage of Vietnam. Try the deeply comforting Banh Mi (pictured), made with 12-hour brisket, served with a piping hot bowl of pho to dunk it in.

Credit: Alicia-Rae Olafsson

Manoa Falls

Though quick and relatively easy, this is adventurous trail in Manoa (behind the hills of Waikiki) is one of the most rewarding on the island. The leisurely hike through a lush eucalyptus, guava and bamboo forest ends with a towering 150-foot waterfall cascading into a deep pool. Though there are signs that caution otherwise, you can sneak closer to the waterfall at your own risk, perhaps just for a quick toe dip. Don’t forget some bug spray, and if it’s been raining, some sturdy footwear. Look closely and you might spot a Gold Dust Day gecko hanging out on the wildflowers.

Parking lot after Waakaua Street on Manoa Road, Honolulu

Credit: Alicia-Rae Olafsson

Kapolani Community College (KCC) Farmer’s Market

Set your Saturday morning aside for a taste of Hawaiian culture at the KCC Farmer’s Market between 7:30 and 11:30 a.m. Grab a fresh ahi poke bowl (pronounced: pokay) for lunch from Hibachi, a fish stall serving up the local specialty with a twist. Try the unique marinades like spicy tobiko mayo and ginger shoyu topped with seaweed. There’s something about Hawaiian fruit — it just tastes better and there’s no finer place to buy it than straight from local farmers. Don’t miss the avocados the size of footballs — one should last you a week.

4303 Diamond Head Road, Honolulu

Credit: O'ahu Tourism Bureau

Hans Hedemann Surf School

Test your balance on a stand-up paddleboard with Hans Hedemann Surf School — Waikiki is, after all, the birthplace of surfing. The calm currents off Waikiki Beach are perfect for beginners and your instructor will get right in the water with you, help you find your balance, and give you a little push when the right wave comes along. If you’re feeling like a pro, you can spend a day with Hans Hedemann himself, a former ASP World tour professional surfer. Once you’re out on the waves, you’ll forget you’re on one of America’s most crowded beaches.

Park Shore Hotel, 2586 Kalakaua Avenue, Honolulu

Honolulu BeerWorks

Beer geeks rejoice. Last spring, owner Geoffrey Seideman paired his passion for home brewing with his culinary degree and transformed an old warehouse hidden in Kaka’ako into Oahu’s only independent craft brewery and first outdoor beer garden. A laid-back Hawaiian vibe (and breeze) flow through the open concept, picnic table and barrel-filled joint — the bar’s roll-up garage-style windows stay open almost all the time. Of the eight rotating taps, the Paka Ua is something special; an American wheat ale brewed with local ulu, banana, beet, pineapple, star fruit and guava. The baked mac and cheese is hands-down one of the best you’ll ever taste, swimming in a cheesy Kolsch sauce, topped with panko.

328 Cooke Street, Honolulu