There has been a Chinatown to the west of Downtown since the 1850s, when the first Asians came to the islands to work on sugar plantations. These days, this compact district is filled with markets selling everything from lei garlands to antique furniture. It is also home to fashionable hangouts such as The Manifest, a combined cafe, gallery, bar and music venue on trendy North Hotel Street. The first Friday of every month is particularly lively in the area, with musicians playing in the streets and special events being held at The ARTS at Marks Garage, an artist community and performance space. Chinatown is also very much a foodie hub, full of hole-in-the-wall noodle bars and hot restaurants such as The Pig and the Lady, which serves modern-Vietnamese.
Dotted around the main business district are reminders of Hawaii’s fascinating history: the stately Iolani Palace, the residence of the Hawaiian Kingdom’s final two monarchs; Kawaiaha’o Church, completed in 1842 and hewn from 14 million pounds of coral rock; and the 184-foot art deco/gothic revival Aloha Tower, built in 1926. The tower overlooks Hawaii Pacific University and Honolulu Harbor, which bustles with commercial ships and pleasure boats. The Aloha Tower Marketplace is full of student-baiting shops and eateries promising authentic Mexican food, non-dairy gelato and cold brew. You can survey all this from the tower’s 10th-floor observation deck, along with the city’s glossy office towers and the looming mountains beyond.
The biggest draws for this east Honolulu neighborhood are the sprawling Hanauma Bay State Park, with its sandy beach and coral reef, and Makapu‘u Point, a scenic hiking spot trail with a stubby lighthouse and views of the neighboring islands. Locals swear Hawaii Kai’s beaches are the island’s best, particularly Sandy Beach, known for bodyboarding and bodysurfing, and secluded Waimanalo Bay Beach Park, where wedding guests sometimes outnumber wave gliders. The cliff-edge Kalanianaole Highway offers some of the best views on the island, including the Halona Blowhole, a saltwater geyser north of the bay at Halona Point, and the cove where scenes from Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdom were shot.
This former industrial neighborhood sandwiched between Ala Moana and Downtown Honolulu, has become hipster central, known for its extravagant street art, juice bars, creative eateries, craft breweries and farmers market. Local life revolves around Kakaʻako Waterfront Park, where international DJs and artists regularly perform, and at Salt, a trendy food and retail complex. Every February, Kaka’ako hosts POW WOW! Hawaii, a huge festival that brings scores of global and local artists together to create murals and other works.
Oahu’s main resort, famous for its powdery sand and calm waters, is at the heart of the island’s vibrant surf culture. Even if surfing’s not your thing, there are catamarans and banana boats to ride, along with world-class paddling opportunities. But Waikiki is not only a playground for beach lovers. As well its crescent of upscale hotels—such as the Royal Hawaiian, famous for its flamingo-pink facade—the area brims with gourmet restaurants, sophisticated bars and swanky boutiques. The fanciest shopping avenues, Kalakaua and Kuhio—shimmering with Tiffany, Gucci and Chanel, as well as local brands such as 88 Tees—even sound like Kardashian siblings. Family attractions away from the beach include the lush 42-acre Honolulu Zoo, known for its Komodo dragons, and the Waikiki Aquarium’s coral reef. The city after sunset is just as colorful, with the waterfront fizzing with food shacks, hula shows and drinks called Endless Summer.