Having written about O’ahu in a previous post, I figured I should go back to Hawai’i and its perfect shore to give you an idea of what there is to do there beyond the beach and the cocktails.
Whilst most visitors never stray from Waikiki and its big concrete hotels, its loud clubs and overpriced restaurants, anyone wanting to get away from all the tourists squashed on the ocean front of Waikiki and get out of the traps and anaesthetic banality of “modern” vacation needs not go further than Honolulu Downtown and CBD.
Honolulu is the state capital and most populous city in Hawai’i and Waikiki is actually one of its neighbourhoods. Yes, I know, Waikiki is fun and it’s got everything you need within walking distance. But if you really loved your countrymen (wherever you’re from) and wanted to spend time with them, you wouldn’t have flown all the way to a speck on the map in the middle of the Pacific. Therefore, stay away from throngs of selfie happy tourists and the safety of an area that could have been developed anywhere in the world and still look the same, and go explore.
When I told people I was going to Hawai’i, everyone exclaimed: “you’re so lucky”. Then, the usual reactions were to give me tips (for those who had gone before) or to rave about the endless beaches and the cocktails I was going to sip, sat on my arse on those endless beaches. One thing you need to know about me: I don’t do beach bumming. It gets on my nerves after about 5 minutes to be sat somewhere with sand getting in all the wrong places, doing nothing and waiting for my skin to blister. Plus, I don’t drink cocktails; they gross me out in a way I can’t explain.
So what was I to do in O’ahu for TWO weeks? I explored. I did enjoy the beach, mind you, but as a highway to go from one place to the other, or a walkway from the asphalt to the ocean. And this is how I found out what nobody had told me: that Honolulu was an interesting city with museums, cool bars and cafes, restaurants and street art, skyscrapers and running businessmen in suits (how they cope in the heat, I do not know). It also has the only royal palace in all of the US! Take that, sandy cocktail of Waikiki!
WHAT TO SEE?
The only royal palace in the US, Iolani Palace was home to the Kalākaua Dynasty. The monarchy was overthrown in 1893, and the palace has been restored and opened to the public as a museum since 1978. Now, don’t expect Buckingham, but this is an amazing place to get a sense of the history of Hawai’i and get acquainted with King David Kalākaua, the last reigning king of Hawai’i and Queen Liliʻuokalani, the last monarch, from 1891 to 1893, of the Kingdom of Hawai’i.
Hawai’i State Supreme Court. Designed as a royal palace for King Kamehameha V, the building has been restored and is opened to the public. But even if you don’t go in, it’s worth checking out its distinctive architecture and there are always good photos to take of the statue at the front.
King Kamehameha Statue
Standing in front of Aliʻiolani Hale, King Kamehameha Statue has a fascinating history on multiple fronts. Firstly, of course, is King Kamehameha, who united the islands of Hawai’i and founded the Kamehameha Dynasty. Secondly, the statue in front of the Supreme Court is a replica, because the first one was lost, then recovered… There is a bit of a story there too. All in all, there are FOUR King Kamehameha statues. And one of them is right there, in Downtown Honolulu.
This is a personal favorite of mine. The museum exhibits Hawaiian art, predominantly from the 60’s to now, in four galleries. It’s free to go and check out, they have a nice sculpture garden, an amazing lawn out front, a sweet little shop and a café (that was opened on neither of my 3 visits, so I am not sure what is going on there). Every time I went it was nearly empty, which is really a shame as it presents super interesting works by Hawaiian artists in a range of medium and scales.
It has to be mentioned. A museum that looks like it can be explored pretty quickly but really surprised me by the depths of its collections and the superb curation. Funnily enough, I learnt stuff about Japanese art there I never got when I was in Japan. Would highly recommend, but you should probably set aside an afternoon if you want to see everything. It has collections of Asian, European and American arts, textiles… and they also run temporary exhibitions.
I sometimes feel like there is a Chinatown everywhere I go. This one is one of the oldest in the US, where the Chinese community could congregate and feel at home. It is now a bustling district with an array of bars, restaurants, shops and the like. There is also the Hawai’i Theatre and the Arts district just around the corner, with galleries and events aplenty. If you are into architecture, check out the Merchant Street Historic District with its cool historical buildings.
The Punchbowl Crater was formed about 100,000 years ago. But this is not, really, why you’d go. If you feel like paying your respects to sailors and soldiers who died during World War II, or if you only want to admire the view from the crater’s rim, you should get yourself to Punchbowl.
Ala Moana Beach Park
A bit less crowded than Waikiki beach, Ala Moana is a sandy beach with calm waters. Perfect for a spot of swimming, a barbeque and a rest, this is a favorite with Honolulu residents.
The things to remember
Honolulu Downtown and CBD
HOW TO GET THERE
You can get the bus 20 from Waikiki to Downtown. Mighty handy!
OTHER STUFF TO DO IN O’AHU
There are a LOT of things to do around O’ahu. This is a quick list to get you started:
- Pearl Harbour: no need to introduce
- Koko Head: I dare you to climb all those steps!
- Hanauma Bay: don’t forget your snorkelling goggles
- Diamond Head: volcanic tuff cone. Highly recommend hiking up to the top
- Makapuu Point Light: lighthouse with a hike leading to it
- Polynesian Cultural Centre
- Manoa Falls: waterfall
- Kailua and Lanikai Beach: One of the best beach in the world
- Mission Houses Museum: A complex of 3 restored houses, 2 of which are the oldest in Hawai’i