Growing up in Alaska for most means learning to love outdoor activities – snow or shine. It also often times means vacationing to Hawaii to break up the nine months of cold and darkness for some sunshine and beach time. Hawaii is a convenient, nonstop flight from Anchorage and Honolulu has become like a second home after spending every Christmas I can remember there with my family while growing up. I love revisiting places on the island that bring back childhood nostalgia as well as explore many new places that make it feel like a totally different vacation every time. This past year my husband and I traveled there together (sans the rest of the fam) and it was truly one for the books!
Honolulu is the capital of Hawaii and is ‘technically’ the largest city in the world in terms of area (Google it). The city is a major hub to international business, military, pacific culture, cuisine and traditions, which is quickly obvious upon arrival. I have found Honolulu to be the perfect vacationing hot spot (literally) for all people no matter your personality or preferences. My top 5 must-see/do/eat’s include devouring fresh poke, starting the day with an acai bowl from a local shop or food truck, local coffee (fun fact: Hawaii is the only state that grows coffee), hiking to get a different view of the island, and of course the beach!
Fueling up is key when the Hawaiian sunshine naturally wakes you up at 6am and for that, I can’t recommend a local shop like Café Kaila enough. There’s a reason this place has won best breakfast place multiple years in a row. It’s simple yet delicious and you really can’t go wrong with anything on the menu. It’s a small and cozy spot but don’t be deterred if there’s a line when you arrive. It moves quickly and the friendly staff and amazing food makes up for any wait. Café Moena is another hoppin’ spot known for their cinnamon roll pancake (bigger than my body and my personal favorite) and their short rib loco moco. The service was impeccable and it was the perfect place to refuel after hiking Koko Head (more on this below).
Lastly, Goofy Café & Dine is a solid option if you’re staying on or near Waikiki Beach. They source locally (who doesn’t love that) and they offer great veggie-based breakfasts if you or your travel partner(s) are vegetarian or just trying to get in those greens! Between the Maui coffee, benedict options, and acai bowls, you really can’t go wrong. The taste is just as exquisite as the way the food is presented on the plate! A few of my other favorites include Lanakai Juice – great smoothies, juices, and always fresh (perfect for a beach side bevy). Morning Glass as well as Boots & Kimos are also worth checking out!
Coffee & Juice Shops
As I previously mentioned, Hawaii is the only state that grows coffee and has some of the best in my opinion. I’m not typically one to go for the sugary syrups but when in Hawaii I can’t say no to adding in a little coconut or macadamia nut flavoring. Island Brew is a cozy little spot right on the water and has amazing specialty drinks if you’re into that. I went with the biscotti latte with an acai bowl. Both were on point and paired perfectly with the sunrise. Olive & Oliver is a small botique shop located inside the Surfjack Hotel (hashtag s’cute) offering on-the go, delicious coffee while you shop. From the cups to the pineapple wallpaper, it doesn’t get much more #instagrammable than this. If you’re looking for the most perfect golden latte, look no further than HI Brew. This coffee shop turns into a bar after hours (double whammy), and is a tucked away for a more relaxed vibe. It’s a great intimate experience with yummy drinks.
Lunch & Dinner Options
If there’s one thing you don’t do in Hawaii it’s miss out on the chance to overload on Poke. It’s always fresh, never frozen and bound to be good just about anywhere on the island(s) but my top spots in Honolulu (in no particular order) goes as follows:
Pa’ina Poke Bowl – we stopped here our first night for something easy and semi-quick. They had tons of different poke options as well as several add-ons to to complete your bowl. I put mine over salad (because veggies) and a small scoop of rice but everything is customizable and made to order.
The Grocery/Market near the Waimea Bakery located in Haleiwa had an enormous selection of poke and other seafood to purchase by the pound. This is definitely the most reasonably priced option but know that in going this route you will likely overeat because of it like I did! The cookies at the bakery are incredible but heads up, they only take cash!
Shirokiya Japan Village Walk is hidden in the Ala Moana mall and has everything you can imagine when it comes to authentic Asian food options. I recommend…everything. I had ramen, a bento box, soft serve ice cream, and poke (not all at once, just for the record) and I can honestly say it was all fantastic.
Nico’s offers a selection of fresh fish and is a nice sit-down restaurant on the pier. Every fish dish I’ve ordered from here has been cooked to perfection. Nico’s is total date night vibes.
Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck because have you ever met a food truck you didn’t like? Okay don’t answer that but I can attest that Giovanni’s local shrimp is BOMB.com 10/10.
Honorable mentions: Helena’s Hawaiian Food, Gomaichi, The Pig and the Lady, Ono Seafood, Zippy’s, Marukame, Sweet Home Café
Treats (the most important part)-
Leonard’s Bakery- these Portuguese donuts are the perfect way to satisfy a that sweet tooth. You can’t go wrong with the original sugary, doughy delight.
Via Gelato- the cutest gelato shop with unique flavors and is a perfect post dinner treat.
Haleiwa Acai Bowls- SO GOOD. A must stop if you are in Haleiwa. They have fresh fruity blends of every color with toppings for the win.
Diamond Head is a classic tourist hike with amazing views. It’s usually pretty crowded so I recommend getting there pretty early. Koko Head Stairs is another great spot but not for the faint of heart or amateur hiker as some parts are a little trippy as the stairs offer little traction and don’t have much underneath them. The view however, is worth the climb.
Kuliouou Ridge is an easy to moderate trail about 4 miles in distance and once again, the top view was picture perfect!
Hawaii is one of the best places for snorkeling and a great spot to try it is Hanama Bay. It is often times pretty crowded so I reccommend arriving early. Also note, it’s closed one day per week in order to conserve fish so make sure to check the schedule before adding this state park to your itinerary.
This was one thing I had never done before and Skydiving Pacific provided an unforgettable experience. If you’re not afraid of heights or have always considered skydiving, Hawaii is the place to do it! My tandem jumper was funny, kind and did amazing job considered I was so scared I could barely respond.
Things I brought on my trip to Honolulu: