On Island Time in Honolulu

Blending bits of city luxury with unspoiled surrounds, the Hawaiian city has never been hotter



While the “Aloha Spirit” still reigns supreme, Honolulu, Hawaii’s capital and most populous city, has in recent years transformed itself into a much more cosmopolitan utopia — complete with glittering high-rises, world-class shopping and restaurants that can hold their own against any on the mainland. Of course, the biggest draw for visitors is still its magnificent coastline, and the south shore is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Spend the day at the pristine Lanikai Beach where crowds are a bit smaller, or head over to Waikiki Beach where the offshore coral reef protects sunbathers from big tides, making it the perfect place to swim, take a surf lesson or partake in any number of water activities.

The south shore is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in the world

Cool off with a luscious serving of Waiola Shave Ice — beloved by visitors and locals alike, thanks to its countless flavor combinations. For a different type of sweet treat, head over to Leonard’s Bakery and join the queue for their famous malasadas (a type of Portuguese doughnut), hot and dusted with sugar.


Make a reservation at Senia, a culinary dining experience located in Chinatown that is the brainchild of chefs and co-owners Chris Kajioka and Anthony Rush, who formerly cooked together at New York’s Per Se. Noi Thai Cuisine, a favorite of President Barack Obama and his family, is a spectacular place for a flavorful, intimate lunch. Devotees know Nobu offers the freshest Japanese dishes and their stylish Honolulu outpost is no exception. For a more casual dinner of modern Vietnamese fare, head to The Pig and The Lady — order their frozen custard and sorbet swirl for dessert. If dining by the water is on your wish list, coastal Italian restaurant Orchids at the Halekulani Hotel beckons.


For early risers wishing to break up those balmy beach days, there are a number of hikes to explore around the island (the Diamond Head Crater hike being the easiest) with unbeatable views of the Pacific and waterfalls. If you’ve ever fantasized about living in Hawaii, a visit to Shangri La, the tropical island home of heiress Doris Duke, complete with bountiful gardens, a private fishpond and turquoise swimming pool, should not be missed. Duke settled there circa 1938 and amassed a collection of Islamic art and objects that is famous the world over. Afterward, take a spin around the Honolulu Museum of Art, whose expansive collection ranges from antiquity to the 20th century and includes sought-after works by celebrated artists such as Alexander Calder.


And if you long for a dose of luxury retail, Hermès has just unveiled a remodel of their Waikiki boutique, complete with an indoor plant wall that would make Frederick Olmsted himself green with envy. Located in the upmarket shopping mecca Royal Hawaiian Center, the 7,900-square-foot flagship spans three floors and is chock-full of silks, perfumes, leather goods, shoes, apparel and home wares — not to mention dazzling window displays featuring beaded sculptures designed by Mexican artist Raúl de Nieves. And while pineapples and jars of macadamia nuts might be the de rigueur souvenirs, perhaps a one-of-a-kind Hermès surfboard, printed with a colorful design by illustrator Filipe Jardim, would be a more inspired choice.


Know Before You Go …

How to get there: From the West Coast, it’s a five-and-a-half-hour flight to Oahu. At LAX, start your vacation on the tarmac by pairing Hawaiian Airlines business class with The Private Suite. Preboard by way of an escort and chauffeur and then fully recline (lie flat even), mai tai in hand, before anyone else has even stepped foot on the plane. HA has daily flights to Honolulu from seven California cities, including Los Angeles and San Francisco.


If you like your seafood really fresh: Twenty miles west of bustling Honolulu, Four Seasons Resort O‘ahu at Ko Olina provides luxury and serenity. Relax in a poolside cabana, or if you are feeling more adventurous, book the “Taste of Oahu” and start your day at 6 a.m. with deep-sea fishing — that same evening, the chef at Mina’s Fish House will prepare your catch.

If you like the ocean at your door: The only resort on Oahu’s North Shore, Turtle Bay Resort takes full advantage of its surrounds, with epic surf breaks, protected snorkeling, oceanside golf, coastal hikes and close proximity to the famous shrimp trucks and shave ice in Haleiwa. Reservation tip: Stay in one of the 42 oceanside Beach Cottages.


Feature image: Paddleboarders navigate the waters of WAIKIKI BEACH. Photo courtesy of Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau.


This story originally appeared in the Summer 2019 issue of C Magazine.

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