If you’ve been to Honolulu before, chances are you’ve already been to the royal ‘Iolani Palace and Pearl Harbor. So for something different, take the 45-minute drive up to the North Shore and explore another side of the island. Here’s where you’ll find the Waimea Valley with its unique ecosystems. The changes in the landscape and weather patterns here create a lush environment with world class botanical gardens and historical sites, waterfalls and one of the richest farming communities in all of Polynesia. It’s an entirely different side to Oahu – both figuratively and geographically – where its natural beauty and waterfront landscape seem a world away from the capital city.
North Shore EcoTours
For a deeper dive into Hawaiian culture, stop by North Shore EcoTours. Time doesn’t permit taking one of the hiking adventures through untouched tropical trails or off-roading to discover ancient rivers and World War II outposts. But there’s always time to absorb the ancestral wisdom of the nā Kānaka Maoli (Native Hawaiians). These unique perspectives are based in traditional Hawaiian ‘ike (knowledge) and are passed along in such forms as mo’olelo (stories), kāʻao (legends) and oli (chant). One of the most familiar, and intriguing, is hula (dance). The hula workshop teaches the rich history of this important cultural dance.
Motor back south toward the city and along the way, keep an eye out for the Aloha Tower. Completed in 1926, the lighthouse was for many years the tallest building in Hawaii. It’s open to the public for panoramic views of the harbor and overlooks Honolulu’s Chinatown. Here you’ll find plenty of open markets, dim sum eateries, traditional herb shops, and trendy cafes and bistros. Historic sites in Chinatown include the Sun Yat-sen Statue next to the Chinese Cultural Plaza, and the Kuan Yin Temple dedicated to the Chinese deity of compassion at the entrance to Foster Gardens. The First Friday of the month is when you’ll find Chinatown in full party mode. Chinatown is bordered by King, Smith, Beretania and River streets.
After the bustle of Chinatown, make for the majestic Diamond Head and nearby Waikiki. A nice place to hub here, whether for a few hours or a few days, is the Moana Surfrider, Waikiki Beach. A tour of this Westin property offers the history of Waikiki’s oldest hotel (it just turned 118 by the way). You can admire the large Indian banyan tree in its courtyard and if there is time, you can enjoy a seafood dinner on the Victorian verandah dining room of Beachhouse at the Moana restaurant. The hotel also offers a walking tour, “Journey Through Historic Waikiki,” pointing out historic surfboard markers and statues that trace the history of the coastline.
Shangri La Museum
Honolulu’s many museums offer plenty of entertainment including the Honolulu Museum of Art, the Hawai‘i State Art Museum, and the Honolulu Museum of Art Spalding House known for its exotic outdoor exhibits of modern art. One delightful showpiece tucked away east of Diamond Head is more formally known as the Shangri La Museum of Islamic Art, Culture & Design. The museum is the former home of the American heiress Doris Duke and houses her extensive collection of Islamic art from North Africa, the Middle East and South Asia. The home reflects architectural influences from India, Iran, Morocco and Syria. It is now operated as a public museum by the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art. Admission by reservation only; tickets are $25. Tour vans leave from the Honolulu Museum of Art.
End your adventure at Ward Village, a blossoming neighborhood developed by The Howard Hughes Corporation with modern architecture, new retail and dining options and public art in the form of large murals and sculptures. Whether you’re in town on the first Friday of the month or any Friday, be sure to visit the New Wave Friday in Ward Village. This popular street festival is great for families with live music and interactive games. South Shore Market is a fantastic place to check out local retailers and boutiques that you won’t find anywhere else.