It has taken us twenty five years to return to Honolulu, the tropical Hawaiian capital located on the island of Oahu. There have been some big changes, but it is surprisingly familiar and the welcoming ‘Aloha’ charm never changes.
Here are some of our impressions for the second time round.
For starters Waikiki beachfront is now super clean and sparkling with new wide paving. New fountains are dotted around, plenty of landscaping using colourful tropical flowers, masses of tall shady palm trees and fragrant frangipanis line the beach. Of course there are the gorgeous views of world famous Waikiki Beach and Diamond Head.
Many of the shops opposite the beach in Kalakaua Avenue have been ripped down and replaced by upmarket designer stores. The Royal Hawaiian Centre has been fully renovated along with a total redevelopment of the recently opened and very chic International Market Place. Its level three Grand Lanai Restaurants, hip bars and seventy five retail shops, including Hawaii’s first Saks Fifth Avenue, are all a big step up from the tacky tourist souvenir outlet area we remember from twenty five years ago.
Last time we stayed in Lewers Street which was lined with cheap tourist class hotels. These have been replaced with magnificent high-end condominiums and retail boardwalks which were built at enormous cost to totally transform this popular part of the strip. A place to shop and dine and really let that holiday vibe soak in.
Queens Beach opposite Honolulu Zoo did not seem nearly as gay as we remembered but the beach is still perfect for swimming. There are plenty of places on the beach where you can have surf lessons or hire a board.
Sadly there are also fewer gay bars than twenty five yenars ago. Hulas Bar and Lei Stand has stood the test of time and is in its new home on the second storey of the Waikiki Grand Hotel. Hulas is a gay icon of Honolulu and is famous for its drag shows, male dancers and of course fabulous sunset drinks. Besides the ever popular Sunday tea dance, one of its best events is a 90 minute sail along Waikiki Beach in Hula’s catamaran, where you can take a swim and throw back a few Mai Tais.
This time we also found Bacchus Bar a small friendly neighbourhood gay bar. It is very welcoming and relaxing, with an ambiance reminiscent of being in a friend’s home. The bar is busy on weekends and has a DJ. During the week Bacchus is quieter with mainly a local crowd. Fusion Waikiki, Honolulu’s late night dance bar, sadly closed in May 2017, after 28 years of operation.
A visit to Honolulu is not complete without a shopping excursion to Ala Moana Centre. All the big name brands are there including Apple, Armani-Exchange, Bloomingdales, Gucci, Macy’s and several hundred other top shops. We arrived at lunchtime and headed straight for the food mall where there was a huge number of fast food outlets to choose from. After lunch, and a lot of browsing, we crossed the road to Ala Moana Beach Park, a favourite of the locals.
As the sun was shining so brilliantly we decided to take the beachfront walk back to the International Market Place. The walk takes about two hours but worth it. This walk takes you past many of the best known five star hotels like the Hilton Hawaiian with its huge lagoon, the uber-stylish Halekulani Hotel and the famous Le Mer Restaurant. Don’t forget to take a rest at Fort Derussy Beach Park to watch the shirtless local boys playing volleyball. The walk hugs the beach with beautiful views all the way to Diamond Head.
The next day we planned a full day excursion to Hanauma Bay Nature Reserve. It was our first time here and we were totally impressed with this stunning Beach Park which is located inside the rim of an extinct volcano. There is a park entry fee and luckily we decided not to go on a Tuesday as Hanauma Bay is closed every Tuesday so the fish and bay have one day of undisturbed rest.
Once in the park you are escorted to the compulsory information video and then you can either walk or take the trolley bus down the hill to the beach. We hired snorkels, masks and flippers to best experience seeing thousands of brilliantly coloured tropical fish and some exotic corals.
The size and variety of fish were certainly the highlight of the day. Voted USA’s best beach in 2016, Hanauma Bay Nature Reserve is a full, fun day. Make sure you take an umbrella and maybe even some beach chairs and don’t forget to pack a delicious ABC store salad and water as there are no shops down at beach level.
Another must do in Honolulu is Pearl Harbour and a visit to the USS Missouri and Pacific Aviation Museum. We visited Pearl Harbour on our first visit to Honolulu but then it was simply a cruise on the Harbour with a sole commentary about Japan’s attack on the US fleet in Pearl Harbour. The USS Missouri and Pacific Aviation Museum are extremely popular tourist attractions so try to get there early to avoid the crowds.
Feeling hungry then a traditional Hawaiian Luau might do the trick. Some of the best recommended Luau’s are the Polynesian Cultural Center, the Paradise Cove Luau in the Ko Olina and the Royal Luau at The Royal Hawaiian. All are tourist traps, but hey, how often are you in Hawaii?
There are of course many other great things to do in Honolulu from climbing Diamond Head, a day at the Polynesian Cultural Centre, a drive around the island and hanging out at world famous Sunset Beach, a visit to the historic Iolani Palace, maybe the Dole pineapple cannery or simply having sunset drinks at a Waikiki beachfront bar.
Whatever you choose to do, Honolulu is a safe holiday destination with plenty of beaches, a couple of excellent gay bars, great eating and shopping. Whether you’re a first timer or there’s been twenty five years in between visits, surfs up!
Know Before You Go
- Accommodation can be expensive in Honolulu. A midrange recommendation is the Courtyard Waikiki Beach
- Or look at agoda.com for other options
- Have a hire car? Make sure your hotel has parking and check one way streets on your Honolulu map.
- Returning from other islands before a flight home? The Airport Honolulu Hotel is reasonably priced, very close to the terminal and offers a regular shuttle service for all flights.