Oahu: Favorite Spots at Home
Honolulu is my hometown, having grown up there.
Because of that, I’m asked by a lot of friends and colleagues who plan to visit for recommendations on where to go and what to eat. Like them, I too now have a limited amount of time when I visit home, making me really have to think about where I want to make sure I go.
While the places I recommend vary depending on who's asking, these are the few core places that I find myself making a priority:
Lanikai Pillbox Hike & LANIKAI Beach
I’m not someone who looks for the most challenging hike around. I look for a good balance of view and effort, and Lanikai Pillboxes is a great one.
After the steep incline at the beginning, it's an easy hike and is quite short. For the amount of sweat you break, the view is amazing - from Waimanalo to Kaneohe, all the green and all the blue.
Parking is the biggest problem for both the hike and the beach as the area is purely residential. I’ve usually searched for street stalls around the neighborhood and been lucky enough to find a space.
After hiking, I usually head down to Lanikai Beach, just a short walk away through the neighborhood.
The beach has fine, white sand and calm, light blue waters. It's even been ranked as one of the top 25 beaches in the US on TripAdvisor. Just make sure the weather on this side of the island is good before going.
Haleiwa & The North Shore
The North Shore area is one of the last "Old Hawaii" type of places on the island.
I think one of the things that surprises first-timers to Honolulu is how much more of a city it is than they had thought. I’ve seen the Haleiwa area become a tourist destination in recent years, but it still resembles how things were decades ago.
Haleiwa has a laid back kind of vibe with a bunch of shops and good places to eat. Garlic shrimp at Giovanni's is my favorite (see below for more info). Matsumoto’s Shave Ice is maybe the most popular place in the area, and while I don’t think it’s the best shave ice on Oahu, it’s right there if you’re in the mood.
My friends and I usually make a full day out of a trip to Haleiwa and the North Shore. After a stop in Old Haleiwa Town [MAP], you can drive further and make stops at Waimea Bay [MAP}, Sunset Beach and Banzai Pipeline [MAP] to watch surfers ride some big waves, and even hit up roadside stands in Kahuku (they’re known for their corn) if you go that far.
Food is likely the biggest priority (alongside the beach) for Hawaii-natives who are visiting their home.
With the restaurant boom that has happened in the last few years, there's a lot of good places to choose from and try out. Out of all the options, these are my go-to places to grab a bite when I'm home:
I don’t think you’ll find any local who hasn’t had Zippy’s. It’s the most famous diner in Hawaii, with a bunch of locations around Oahu.
President Barack Obama, a Hawaii-native, is a fan. Bruno Mars, another local, is as well. Even President Bill and Chelsea Clinton are fans. The chili (and rice, yes, white rice) is their most famous dish, but it’s not a chili you’re used to.
It’s far from photogenic food, it’s not trendy and probably not the best deal either, but it truly is a local favorite for anyone who wants to eat what locals eat.
Waiola Shave Ice
There are a lot of great shave ice places on the island but my favorite is Waiola's.
It's original location is centrally located in town, in it's original, authentic form in a residential neighborhood. They serve some really soft, finely shaven shave ice.
There are a lot of Hawaii-only flavors - li hing mui (dried plum) and haupia (coconut pudding) being a couple of my favorites, and topping them off with condensed milk and ice cream at the bottom is amazing on a hot day.
OFF THE HOOK POKE MARKET
Poke has exploded in popularity around the world but nothing is like having some at the origin. Off the Hook Poke Market is one of the more recent poke places, opening in late 2018, but it’s one of, if not the best I’ve had.
They have some really good poke flavors, so I recommend getting a 2-choice bowl. My favorites are their ginger ahi, Kilauea Fire and spicy tuna, but you can’t go wrong with any. Get all of the free toppings on top as well.
Service is great, really friendly and personable. This is a great addition to the Manoa area.
When locals say “shrimp truck,” they’re usually referring to Giovanni’s.
These food trucks have become really popular for tourists and locals doing a Haleiwa and North Shore day trip, and I’ll make sure to stop by when I’m doing one as well. They’re generous with portions and with that buttery garlic sauce that drenches the plate. Yum.
There's a lot of good poke places in Hawaii, but one of my longest go-to spots is Ono Seafood.
It's a really small, unassuming hole-in-the-wall place in the Kapahulu area, and they make some fresh poke bowls that are good for take out for the beach for lunch.
Service is good and a soft drink is included as well.
HOME BAR & GRILL
This is a place that's probably not on a lot of travel sites or blogs, but Home Bar is big for a lot of locals.
A sports bar slash local diner atmosphere, Home Bar makes some absolutely delicious local foods and has really friendly, casual service.
Kim chee fried rice and tater tot nachos are must-eats. It does get crowded and is on the louder side, especially on weekends, but it’s one of my favorite places in Hawaii to hang out with friends.