Some Hawaiian classics include kalua pig (shredded pork rubbed with sea salt and slow-cooked in an underground pit), lau lau (meat steamed inside taro leaves), and lomi-lomi salmon (fresh tomato and salmon salad, with Maui onions).
The poke trend is finally slowing down in New York, but that’s only because it was never real poke. Poke was invented in Hawaii and is completely different from the glorified salad found at fast-casual poke shops on the mainland. The raw fish (usually tuna, octopus, or salmon) should be marinating in sauce (usually soy sauce, salt, green onions, and seaweed) all day and served in a plastic tub, sold by weight. The most satisfying day you can possibly have in Hawaii is going to Foodland, ordering a tub of poke from the fish counter, and eating it on the beach on a hot day.
Malasadas are originally from Portugal, but when Portuguese immigrants came to Hawaii in the 1870s to work on plantations, they brought these fried balls of dough covered in sugar, and they became an integral part of Hawaiian cuisine. Pipeline Bakeshop is the best place for them.
Shave ice is smoother than the shaved ice you find on the mainland. Waiola is my favorite. You can also add ice cream, azuki beans, and other toppings.
Honolulu has the best Japanese food outside of Japan, so obviously there are too many Japanese restaurants to list, but here are some of my favorites. For sushi, go to Mitch’s Sushi (Obama’s favorite!), Kin Chan, or Imanas Tei. For onigiri (triangular musubis), head over to Mana Bu’s early and bring a few to the beach. Try Izakaya Gazen for tofu, Marukami Udon for udon, Inaba for tempura and soba, and Nisshodo Candy Store for some of the best chi chi dango mochi of your life.
Brunch: Plumeria Beach House at the Kahala Hotel (get the breakfast buffet)
Dim sum: Jade Dynasty (try the snow mountain buns — they’re just like the ones from Tim Ho Wan, but don’t make a fuss about them)
Korean BBQ: Yakiniku Don-Day (sit in the outside section)
Ice cream: Bubbies — best mochi ice cream you’ll ever have!
Coffee: Island Vintage
Cookies: The Cookie Corner (so much better than Levain!)
Late-night dinner: Zippy’s (get a ZipPac at any of the locations around the island, like a local)
Coco puffs: Liliha Bakery is a diner, but everyone comes for the Coco Puffs, made of choux pastry, chocolate pudding, and chantilly with sugar.
North Shore: Where all the famous surfing competitions take place. The North Shore all the way on the other side of the island, so make a day out of it — explore the touristy but charming town of Haleʻiwa, pick up a sandwich at Storto’s and eat it on the beach, and stop by Matsumoto for shave ice after.
Sandy’s: Obama’s favorite beach! If you’re not a strong swimmer, it can be pretty dangerous out here, but of course that’s why people take pride in it.
Makapu’u: Named after the Makapu’u lighthouse on the cliff beside it, this beach is right next to Sandy’s
Lanikai: Best beach for photos! The sand is super soft, the waters are calm, and the two islands out in the ocean were just made for the ‘gram.
Hanauma Bay: This is one of the most touristy beaches in Hawaii (you have to pay and watch a safety video before entering), but there’s a reason why — it’s a protected marine life conservation area, so you can actually snorkel with fish. It’s also gorgeous.
Maunawili Falls: This is a very lush trail, so make sure to wear bug spray, waterproof clothes, and shoes with traction. At the end of the hike is a waterfall, so you can reward yourself by taking a swim and jumping off cliffs if you’re feeling brave. Bring a change of clothes (or water bottle to wash yourself off) before you return to your car; you will get muddy!
Koko Head: This is basically a Stairmaster, but the views of Honolulu are worth it the steep staircase.
Diamond Head: Yes, this is extremely touristy and you actually have to pay to enter, but come before sunrise and you’ll understand why.
Mariner’s Ridge: I forget if this one is still “officially” closed, but you know what? Just hike it. The views of both Honolulu and the Windward Side are worth it. This is a fairly easy hike.
Ala Moana: As someone who hates malls, I love Ala Moana. It’s the largest open-air mall in the world, and, while it does have chains, it also has some specialty shops and restaurants that you can only find in Hawaii, and sometimes there are cultural events and performances that occur here.
Hotel hopping in Waikiki: One of my favorite pastimes. I always make sure to stop by the Moana Surfrider (the oldest hotel in Hawaii), Royal Hawaiian (the pink hotel), and Halekulani (probably the classiest hotel in Waikiki).
ʻIolani Palace: Did you know that Hawaii was once a kingdom? We actually have a fascinating history (I’m surprised movies aren’t constantly made about it), and Hawaii is still the only place in the country with a royal palace. You can tour ʻIolani Palace and understand why many Hawaiians still want sovereignty.
Skydiving: Honestly, skydiving anywhere else seems like a waste. It’s hard to top the views of the coastline.
Sea Life Park: It’s like a toned-down Sea World.
Drive along the eastern coast for some of the most stunning views of your life. Just be careful!