Off Oahu’s Beaten Path
You may live on Oahu or visit it frequently, but do you know all of its great beaches, hole-in-the-wall eateries and unique entertainment spots? Our sister publication, HAWAII Magazine, recently offered this guide to off-the-beaten-path places for fun and food that are worth adding to your to-do list.
♦ China Walls
On your way to or from Hanauma Bay, turn makai on Lunalilo Home Road near the Koko Marina Shopping Center. This will take you to a hidden lookout called China Walls at the Koko Kai Mini Beach Park. The “wall” is actually a rocky cliff where people can sit, watch the waves and surfers, and snap photos. Come before sunset to watch the light change from orange to pink.
♦ Kaneohe Sandbar
In the middle of Kaneohe Bay is a sandbar only visible above the turquoise water during low tide. You’ve probably heard about the wild parties that led to crackdown on alcohol; it’s less rowdy now, but people still visit with friends to lounge, socialize, picnic, wade in its shallow waters and enjoy the breathtaking views of land and sea. Getting there, though, requires a boat or you can rent a kayak and paddle out. Tip: If you like to socialize with a big crowd, go on a weekend; if you prefer quiet, pick a weekday.
♦ Kaniakapupu Ruins
A tiny opening in a bamboo thicket in the Honolulu Watershed Forest Reserve leads to the ethereal, crumbling rock walls of the 170-year-old summer palace of King Kamehameha III. Used to entertain foreign dignitaries and the site of celebrations and feasts in the mid-1800s, the now-overrun palace was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986. Look for the hidden jungle path to the site off Nuuanu Pali Drive, across the street and about 300 yards mauka of Nuuanu Reservoir No. 3. It’s about a 15-minute walk. Many people park on the grass area at the intersection of Nuuanu Pali Drive and the Pali Highway.
♦ Mokulua Islands
Na Mokulua, which literally means “the two islands” in Hawaiian, are beautiful to look at from Lanikai Beach, but why not paddle there instead? Several companies in Kailua rent kayaks and paddleboards; call ahead to find out about kamaaina discounts. On Moku Nui (the bigger of the two), people are allowed to land, picnic and explore the shoreline; the interior is off limits because it’s a nesting site for seabirds. No dogs allowed. Plan a half-day there with friends and family.
♦ Hunakai Beach
Kahala is not just about expensive homes, it also has gorgeous beaches. One great access point is at the end of Hunakai Street. Park on the street, then walk the short path to the beach. You’ll find a long, white-sand beach with palm trees and a beautiful, bright-blue sea. Visit on a weekday and you may even have it all to yourself. Around 4578 Kahala Ave.
♦ Puu o Kaimuki Mini Park
One of our favorite tiny parks on the island is located on a small puu (hill) with views of the Kaimuki business district, East Honolulu and the urban core. Come at night to see the lights. 951 Koko Head Ave.
♦ Hoomaluhia Botanical Garden
Worth the trip to the Windward Side. The picture-perfect drive through its lush greenery to the visitor’s center alone is impressive. And, that’s only a precursor to what you’ll see once you park and start exploring its 400 acres. Plan ahead to camp, hike, fish or just stroll. Reserve a campsite at honolulu.gov. Open daily, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., 45-680 Luluku Rd., Kaneohe.
Along Kamehameha Highway in Laie, you’ll find a powdered-sugar beach called Malaekahana State Recreation Area, named for the mother of the storied princess Laie and one of the best places to camp on the island. Reserve a campsite at camping.ehawaii.gov. On a calm day, at low tide, you can wade to Mokuauia, nicknamed Goat Island, another bird sanctuary with a crescent beach ideal for a fun afternoon with the kids.
♦ Moku O Loe Island (Coconut Island)
This island’s iconic 29-acre palm respite in Kaneohe Bay, made famous by “Gilligan’s Island,” now supports world-class marine laboratories that you can visit. Tours fill up fast at 235-9302, hawaii.edu/himb.
The Hawaiian name for this pristine strip of white sand and sapphire-blue surf is Kaunala. But surfers know this beach and break as Velzyland or V-land for short. It got that moniker in 1958, a mash-up of surfboard manufacturer Dale Velzy and Disneyland. This gorgeous beach is hidden in plain sight behind Sunset Beach Colony, an oceanfront luxury housing development on Kamehameha Highway. Keep in mind, though, there are no public restrooms or showers. 58-169 Napoonala Place, Haleiwa.
Drive to this Kahala beach on a weekday at low tide, and you’ll be treated to a small but beautiful spot that’s perfect for catching sun. Diamond Head and Doris Duke’s Shangri La property are nearby, and the beach is named after her husband, James H. R. Cromwell. Park in the neighborhood around Kulamanu Street and walk down.
♦ Ethel’s Grill
A hole-in-the-wall restaurant in Kalihi, Ethel’s Grill has limited seating and parking, but, once that steaming bowl of oxtail soup you ordered is sitting in front of you, you’ll know it was all worth it. Other crowd favorites include the mochiko chicken, hamburger steak, ahi with garlic butter and, for the adventurous, deep-fried turkey tails. Occasionally, Ethel’s Grill will post specials on Instagram @ethelsgrill_kalihi. 232 Kalihi St., 847-6467.
♦ Kyung’s Seafood
This cozy, neighborhood restaurant and bar has an extensive Korean menu with items such as kalbi beef, meat jun and kimchi pancakes. There’s also a fresh seafood counter. Our favorite: the hot masago ahi poke. 1269 S. King St., 589-1144.
Seek out the dairy-free soft serve at this colorful food truck and you’ll love how refreshing it can be on a long, hot day. The Original, a banana Banan topped with fruit, honey and granola, is a favorite, but don’t be afraid to try other flavors, such as acai, matcha green tea or “roots,” which has beets, ginger, timeric and lemongrass. 3212 Monsarrat Ave., 392-8862, bananbowls.com.
♦ Mission Social Hall and Café
Next time you’re downtown at lunchtime, check out one of the newest offerings from beloved chef Mark “Gooch” Noguchi. Not only is the Hawaiian Mission Houses Historic Site a great place to learn about the history of missionaries in the Islands, but, inside, Noguchi has created a contemporary Hawaiian menu featuring local ingredients in sandwich, antipasti and soup forms. Open Tuesday through Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. 553 S. King St., 447-3910, missionhouses.org.
♦ The Beet Box Café
This organic, vegetarian spot has food so tasty it could turn a meat-eating velociraptor into a gentle brontosaurus. Once tucked behind Celestial Natural Foods, the Beet Box Cafe has been so successful serving fresh, healthy grinds that it had to move into a bigger space; it’s now next to Haleiwa’s post office. This is the best stop for a smoothie, salad or meat-free meal on the North Shore. 66-443 Kamehameha Highway, Haleiwa, 637-3000, thebeetboxcafe.com.
♦ Monsarrat Ave. Shave Ice
You probably already have your favorite shave ice place, but it’s definitely worth sampling this vendor near Kapiolani Park. Hunt for Pioneer restaurant on Monsarrat Avenue, then look down the alleyway along its side. That’s where you’ll find the hidden shave ice stand that makes its own syrups from real fruit. 3046 Monsarrat Ave., 732-4001.
♦ Da Ala Cart
A true pop-up eatery, Da Ala Cart has an inconsistent schedule, but there are two things we can tell you for certain: One, if it’s open, it’s only open after 9 p.m. for the late-night crowd; two, this isn’t a food truck, nor is it a cart. It’s a tent, with a Japanese robata grill sitting on top of a table. Its chef/owner, Chris Quisote, serves items like grilled musubi, pork-belly-stuffed Korean peppers and lamb lollipops. Its usual location is the Launderland parking lot on South Beretania. Grilled meat and desserts, together in one spot – what’s not to love? Follow Da Ala Cart on Instagram @daalacart.
♦ Home Bar and Grill
The darkened interior with booths, dartboards and flat-screen TVs make it feel like your favorite dive bar; the extensive food menu sets it apart. The kimchi fried rice, tater tot nachos and garlic chicken are our favorites, but don’t be afraid to try a few more! 1683 Kalakaua Ave., 942-2235.
♦ Lei Lei’s Bar and Grill
Envisioned as the 19th hole of Turtle Bay’s signature Fazio golf course, Lei Lei’s has grown into one of the North Shore’s favorite hangouts. Residents often come to celebrate special occasions, and professional surfers celebrate victories with a big dinner. The grill is known for its seafood, but you shouldn’t pass up the ribs. 57-049 Kuilima Drive, Kahuku, 293-2662, turtlebayresort.com.
♦ Tanioka’s Seafoods and Catering
If it’s from Tanioka’s, it’s going to be ono, guaranteed. Choose from a wide selection of fresh poke – ahi, shellfish, octopus and more – plus plate lunches and bentos. 94-903 Farrington Hwy., Waipahu, 671-3779, taniokas.com.
♦ Harbor Pub
This little pub is tucked under the Chart House Waikiki restaurant and fronts the Ala Wai Boat Harbor. Upon entering, the place is so salty and fun, you’ll feel as if you’ve hopped aboard a boat filled with skippers chatting about the day’s adventures at sea. As entertaining as that sounds, Harbor Pub’s main attraction is its gourmet pizza – there are 15 options, all freshly made, thin-crust style and piled with toppings. 1765 Ala Moana, 941-0985, harborpubhawaii.com.
♦ Paalaa Kai Mini-Mart and Paalaa Kai Bakery
The mini-mart is a typical liquor store, but those in the know go for its fried chicken. Stop by before watching the sunset on the North Shore and buy a fried chicken/musubi combo and a beer so you can properly enjoy “The Country” at dusk. 66-945 Kaukonahua Rd., Waialua, 637-9182.
For dessert, drop by the bakery next door and buy a Snow Puffy. It’s one of the signature pastries of Paalaa Kai Bakery, the only place on Earth that makes this delicious hybrid of a Long John doughnut and a turnover. The Snow Puffy is so popular there’s a whole case dedicated to it. 637-9795, pkbsweets.com.
♦ Tacos Zarate
Hawaii is not known for its Mexican food, but you may change your mind if you try one of Zarate’s tacos or burritos. Its owner and chef, Paul Zarate, grew up in East L.A. and learned to cook from his family, making Tacos Zarate one of the most authentic places to get Mexican food on Oahu. 1273 S. King St., 348-0715, tacoszarate.com.
♦ The Dragon Upstairs
In Chinatown, and up a long set of stairs, you’ll find this ornately decorated, hole-in-the-wall bar known for its live jazz. Sophisticated music-lovers visit regularly, donning fedoras and ordering glasses of whisky. Check their website for nightly and impromptu performances spanning the genres: disco, soul, funk, hip hop and several varieties of jazz. 1038 Nuuanu Ave., 526-1411, thedragonupstairs.com.
♦ Kani Ka Pila Grille
A place where you can listen to live, award-winning Hawaiian music is hard to find, even in Waikiki, unless you know where to go. Stop by the Outrigger Reef’s pool bar for after-dinner drinks and listen to Hawaii’s best musicians every night of the week. Kawika Kahiapo, Sean Naauao and Hookena are some of the regulars, with an impressive lineup of special guests. Nightly entertainment 6 to 9 p.m., Outrigger Reef Waikiki Beach Resort, 2169 Kalia Rd., 924-4990, outriggerreef-onthebeach.com.
You may already know about Oahu’s nightlife, but until you experience Chinatown on a First Friday in the darkened, brick-walled Nextdoor nightclub, you’ve missed something special. House DJs pump music through a laserlight-filled fun room. Ask the person at the door about the upstairs lounge when you arrive and, if it’s open, you’ll have the best view, and service, of the night. 43 N. Hotel St., 200-4470, nextdoorhi.com.
♦ Doris Duke Theatre Concerts
Check out the performance schedule at the Doris Duke Theatre, inside the Honolulu Museum of Art. It hosts a variety of musical performances by local and international musicians, dancers and even lecturers on art. 900 S. Beretania St., 532-6097, honolulumuseum.org.
♦ Kuhio Beach Hula Show
We asked kumu hula where the best place was to see authentic Hawaiian hula regularly and we were directed to this show. You can catch it Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays in Waikiki. The performers are all hula students from various halau around the island, and they’ll dance auana (modern) and kahiko (ancient) styles of hula in their hourlong performance. 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. (6 to 7 p.m. November through January), weather permitting, across from the Hyatt Regency Waikiki at Uluniu Ave., 843-8002, waikikiimprovement.com.
♦ Spalding House
The drive to this contemporary art museum is part of the fun of this excursion, up the mountain on roads with hairpin turns. When you arrive, you’ll find gardens filled with sculptures, unique pieces of art on walls with price tags for purchasing and a delightful cafe. Order a picnic lunch and sit on the lawn while enjoying the beautiful tree-framed view of Diamond Head. Open Tuesday through Sunday, 2411 Makiki Heights Drive, 526-1322, honolulumuseum.org.
♦ The Big Kahuna Luau at Honolulu Ridge
Drive up past the Tantalus lookout and you’ll find a secluded estate, which offers a luau experience and expansive view different from any other. Expect to find top-notch entertainment and mai tais, but the best part? Award-winning chef Chai Chaowasaree produces its menu. Luaus open to the public Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays only. 3280 Round Top Dr., 690-9047, bigkahunaluau.com.
♦ Royal Hawaiian Band at Iolani Palace
On Fridays at noon, downtown workers and tourists alike gather at Iolani Palace for the weekly Royal Hawaiian Band performance on the lawn. Bring a lunch, a towel to sit on and be entertained by the King’s Band – founded in 1836 – as it performs songs from Hawaii’s past and present. 364 S. King St. Check performance schedules at rhb-music.com.