Few domestic destinations conjure up smiles like Hawaii, and the island state’s capital, on Oahu, easily tops many a traveler’s wish list. Demand, after all, is what keeps Honolulu hotel prices among the highest in the country. In so many ways, the Honolulu experience can be quintessentially touristy. But history, charm and enchantment still manage to reign supreme here, even in many of the most popular things to do and see. Here are some of our favorites, including a few that are a bit off the beaten path.
Skip the Boat, Take the Sub Honolulu is awash in memorable water adventures. But the folks at Island Water Sports Hawaii feature a unique contraption: an electric submarine scooter, which allows you to wade underwater while your head stays inside a viewing bubble. Tours typically begin with a brief catamaran cruise to a spot teeming with tropical fish, turtles and coral reefs, before you submerge for a colorful underwater show. Kids have to be at least 10 to enjoy this eco-friendly activity, but no previous diving experience is required.
Skip the Charter, Take the Paddle If you prefer staying above water, look for a boat experience that makes you do the work. Paddling a canoe can double as your dose of exercise for the day, and it links you to a traditional Hawaiian sport that goes back thousands of years. The team at Hawaiian Surf Adventures gets high marks for its double-hull canoe tours that begin with 30 minutes of land instruction before you hit the ocean for two hours or more. Picture paddling past striking areas, like affluent Hawaii Kai and beautiful Maunalua Bay, while spotting dolphins and whales. Along the way, instructors talk about local history and geography, and you won’t even notice that you’re breaking a sweat.
Skip the Hotel Buffet, Eat Like a Local “Helena’s has the best Hawaiian food, in my humble opinion,” says Suzannah Polivka, a mother of two who’s married to an Oahu native and who’s lived in Honolulu for the last six years. ‘I’m all about breakfast,” she adds, recommending spots like Cinnamon's for Guava Chiffon Pancakes, Koko Head Café for Cornflake-Battered French Toast, and Jack's – “a little hole in the wall” -- for biscuits and fried rice. When it’s time for dessert, “shave Ice is absolutely necessary,” she says, and “Uncle Clay's is the place to go. He makes his own syrups, all natural – no electric blue vanilla flavor will be found there. The Mango and Strawberry with the organic vanilla bean ice cream is so yum, and Uncle Clay is always there with a very welcoming hug and tons of aloha!”
Skip Waikiki, ‘Nuff Said If you want to be in the heart of all the sandy action, and among many fellow tourists, you can’t go wrong with Waikiki Beach. But don’t forget that wandering other golden sands often yields spectacular beaches that give you more elbow room. Polivka agrees. “Please skip the beaches in Waikiki,” she insists. “So many tourists come to our beautiful island and complain about it because they never leave Waiks. Instead, venture to Kailua, a beautiful sleepy beach town with tons of restaurants and two amazing beaches.”