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Honolulu, Oahu: 5 Urban Adventures

Hawaii's capital will lure you from the beach with enticing restaurants, hopping neighborhoods, and a journey into the past.

View of Honolulu with a rainbow from Diamond Head, image
Photo credit
Photo courtesy of Cristo Vlahos/Wikipedia
Photo caption
A rainbow arcs across Honolulu where the cityscape meets the blue Pacific.

When people think of a Hawaiian vacation, the image that comes to mind involves a new bathing suit and frolicking in the water. In Honolulu, if you can pull yourself away from the beach, you’ll also discover the impressive restaurants and lively urban scene that the locals frequent. For a glimpse into Oahu’s past, visit Pearl Harbor, the island’s top destination, as fascinating as it is moving. Here are five places to experience the other side of Honolulu.

1 The Kaka‘ako District, a commercial area filled with warehouses, provides the perfect environment for artists. Pow! Wow! Hawaii—a festival of alternative art and music in early February—welcomes world-class muralists to cover the sides of those warehouses with giant, eye-popping creations. Can’t make that party? Once a month you can peruse the murals, which remain up until the next year, and join a jamming scene along Cooke Street at the Honolulu Night Market. This hip street festival includes local bands, a fashion show by current designers, and eclectic food and art booths. Step into Bevy where mixologist Christian Self makes both signature and classic cocktails using his homemade syrups and tonics. Order the smooth Cider House Rule, made with Domaine de Canton, brandy, lemon, hard apple cider, egg white, and chocolate bitters, and say aloha to the end of the day. 661 Auahi St.

2 Say aloha to the day with breakfast at Goofy Cafe & Dine, a surfers’ café that’s open all day. In an airy lanai setting, you can order eggs Benedict served with kalua pig, or get serious with the hefty Big Island Beef Loco Moco—a beef patty and two eggs served with brown rice and a rich, brown gravy. 1831 Ala Moana Blvd., Ste. 201,

3 An occasional pagoda-style roof gives a nod to the Southeast Asian cultures in Oahu’s historic Chinatown. Join the locals at Kekaulike Market, a bustling outdoor shopping scene between N. Hotel and N. Kings Streets. If the stacks of colorful produce get you thinking about food, head to the Pig and the Lady for bowls of pho loaded with house-made noodles swimming in a can’t-get-enough broth made by the owner’s Vietnamese mother. 83 N. King St., On a hot day, cool off with a creamy passion-fruit smoothie from the closet-size Mai (1120 Maunakea St., #187). Want more of that sweetness? Then order a slice of passion-fruit cheesecake at Cake Envy, where owner Amy Brookes offers a rotating menu of some 60 kinds of cheesecake, including Death by Chocolate, mango, and piña colada. 1129 Bethel St.

4 For the United States, Pearl Harbor is where World War II began. Even if you think you know the history, plan extra time for the Road to War and the Attack exhibit galleries, both of which revisit the past through films and interactive exhibits. Then ride out to the USS Arizona Memorial, climb aboard the USS Missouri, descend into a submariner’s confined world on the USS Bowfin, and catch a shuttle to view Hawaii’s largest collection of planes at the Pacific Aviation Museum Pearl Harbor. Tip: Make reservations ahead of time.

5 Saturdays from 8 a.m. to noon, the Kaka‘ako Farmers’ Market along Auahi Street (between Ward Avenue and Kamakee Street) offers a fun place for booth-hopping and brunch. Want to shop for island goods? Load up on pickled onions, smoked marlin, local honey, organic fruit, and unusual treats such as salted caramel marshmallows and coconut peanut butter. Breakfast choices abound: a plate of pasta with Alfredo sauce; a croissant filled with mushrooms, asparagus, and artichokes; crêpes with butter, cane sugar, and lemon. Take your delicious finds to the covered eating area, and listen to tunes by a live band while you chow down.

This article was first published in October 2014. Some facts my have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.