OAHU, HAWAII — Imagine a paradise where pristine beaches meet azure skies and lush rainforests are framed by perfectly arched rainbows. Couple this with world-class dining, a vibrant nightlife and lots of beautiful people. Oahu is the perfect destination, mixing the heat of the tropics with the hipness of an urban metropolis. The spotlight shines on Oahu as the hippest Hawaiian island, where adventure, dining, nightlife, and even sleeping, are done in style.
Adventure — One of the world’s most adrenaline-packed sports is surfing, which originated on Oahu. During winter, the North Shore is home to the world’s championship surfing competitions, which means sexy surfers and bikini-clad islanders abound. Hawaiian Fire Surf School, run by the world’s hottest professionals (firefighters!), offers beginners a chance to catch waves like the pros, and Hans Hedemann Surf School boasts an A-list celebrity clientele.
Those who want to leisurely ride the waves of Waikiki can try the latest trend in water sports, standup paddle boarding. Cruise the tranquil waters surrounding Magic Island as the sun sets in the background, and get a great workout at the same time, with Paddle Core Fitness. Or learn in the safety of the Hilton Hawaiian Village’s private Duke Kahanamoku Lagoon with Hawaii Hot Spot Surf School.
In Honolulu and Kailua, visitors can cruise along the beach while soaking in the sun with Segway Hawaii. The electronic personal transportation device makes discovering spots like Kapiolani Park, Diamond Head, Waikiki, downtown Honolulu, and Kailua Town an exhilarating experience.
Kailua, on Oahu’s Windward coast, also provides the perfect locale for kayaking, snorkeling, windsurfing, and kite surfing. Kailua Sailboards & Kayaks offers rentals and lessons, and will even show visitors how to kayak surf between the picturesque Mokulua Islands. Make sure to bring a camera, as green sea turtles and tropical birds are also readily spotted in Kailua.
For an adventure on the Leeward side of the island, Wild Side Specialty Tours provides catamaran tours that explore the ocean. It’s not uncommon to swim with dolphins, turtles, tropical fish, and manta rays. The eco-conscious tour company is also privy to (almost) year-round whale watch sightings at Penguin Banks, which is part of the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary.
Bike Hawaii offers a variety of heart-pumping hike, bike and snorkel tours. Their adventures include a hike in a lush valley on the North Shore followed by a kayak ride and snorkel experience along Kualoa. They also offer guided mountain biking tours through Kaaawa Valley, which may seem like a familiar jungle for fans of the hit TV series “Lost.”
For a spectacular aerial tour of the island, why not go by seaplane? Island Seaplane offers exhilarating half- and full-hour tours of Oahu that begin and end with a water landing. The pilot even shares celebrity stories and encounters, along with film locations on Oahu.
Dining — Get the morning started amidst bright, tropical orchids at the aptly named Orchids restaurant at the Halekulani, which offers elegant, yet casual dining. For a hearty breakfast, visit Kai Market at the Sheraton Waikiki for its fresh, farm-to-table buffet that uses local ingredients and draws inspiration from the island’s multiethnic, plantation-era past. Or for dining at any hour, MAC 24-7 offers Modern American Cooking for breakfast, lunch and dinner all day long.
Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, Morimoto Waikiki at The Modern Honolulu is Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto’s first Hawaii venture. While the restaurant is terrific for any meal of the day, its lunch menu offers a palate pleasing selection of both contemporary Japanese and Western dishes.
Downtown, the Hawaii State Art Museum’s café opened by Chef Ed Kenney, has given diners a new take on contemporary, fresh cuisine. The menu, which changes daily, offers simply crafted food with extraordinary taste. Considered by many to be a leader in Oahu’s farm-to-table and sustainable dining movement, Kenney is committed to using organic local ingredients and eco-friendly products as much as possible.
For the freshest fish in town, visit Nico’s at Pier 38, where chef and owner Nico Chaisez just has to cross the street to the Honolulu Fish Auction to select his catch of the day. The always-packed eatery has received numerous recognitions and was featured on the Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.”
Waikiki offers an array of distinct dining options. Stop in at Waikiki Beach Walk for delectable Hawaii Regional Cuisine at Roy’s Waikiki or signature macadamia nut pineapple-shaped shortbread cookies at Honolulu Cookie Company. East meets West at Waikiki Beach Walk with Kaiwa, an innovative Japanese teppan-fusion restaurant that uses ancient techniques to create sophisticated, contemporary dishes, and Taormina Sicilian Cuisine, which offers traditional Sicilian cuisine by Japan-born-and-trained chef, Aki Yamamoto.
Royal Hawaiian Center, which underwent a multi-million dollar revitalization in 2007, offers wildly popular restaurants such as The Cheesecake Factory, P.F. Chang’s China Bistro and Senor Frog’s Restaurant and Bar, as well as Doraku Sushi, a chic Japanese-fusion restaurant known for its creative sushi rolls, Wolfgang’s Steakhouse by New York restaurateur Wolfgang Zwiener, and 20 other dining options ranging from Chinese dim sum, Italian specialties and Japanese okonomiyaki to affordable take-out eateries.
Even hot dogs turn hip at Hank’s Haute Dogs, a specialty hot dog joint by acclaimed Oahu-born chef Hank Adaniya who made his mark in Chicago’s culinary scene as one of the city’s best chefs and restaurateurs. Hank’s Haute Dogs features creative Chicago-style dogs, sure to please even the toughest foodie.
For something more romantic, couples can head to The Kahala Hotel and Resort to the award winning Hoku’s, known for its fresh seafood. In Waikiki, celebrity chef Nobuyuki Matsuhisa delights all with eclectic Japanese cuisine at Nobu Waikiki at the Waikiki Parc hotel. And in Chinatown, Du Vin, offers an impressive wine list combined with delectable cuisine guaranteed to satisfy even the most discerning palettes
Nightlife — After a fun-filled shopping trip at Ala Moana Center, put the bags down and head to one of the Center’s hot spots. Mai Tai Bar, the open-air bar features two daily happy hours and contemporary Hawaiian music by popular local bands. For a late night option, multi-million dollar nightclub Pearl offers appetizers, specialty cocktails and dancing until the early morning hours.
Located just outside of Waikiki, Apartment3 is a sleek and sexy nightlife venue that offers a tasty food and drink menu, all-night happy hour specials on Tuesdays, a billiards room, live music several nights a week, and DJs spinning the hottest mixes on Fridays and Saturdays.
Jazz clubs are another hip alternative in Honolulu. Check out Lewers Lounge, the Halekulani’s renowned upscale jazz lounge. Dale DeGroff, formerly of NYC’s Rainbow Room, serves as resident mixologist. Jazz Minds, on the edge of Kapiolani Avenue’s bar scene, features Honolulu’s finest Jazz and Jazz-fusion musicians in a cool New York-style brick bar setting.
On Fridays, it’s best to check the calendar. If it’s the first Friday of the month, make the trek to First Friday in Chinatown. Downtown galleries open their doors to celebrate art, art making and creativity of all kinds. Be sure to grab a drink at Indigo Eurasian Cuisine, where the happy hour martinis are only $3.50 from 4 to 8 p.m., Tuesday through Friday. Glowing lanterns, bamboo décor and a waterfall complete the ambiance. Then head around the corner to Hotel Street’s Bar 35, a sleek bar and lounge complete with cozy, black leather couches and arguably the island’s best beer selection. Close by is thirtyninehotel, a stylish space featuring live music, film screenings, fashion shows, and art exhibitions. Next Door, a multimedia venue that often plays host to live bands and musicians, completes the burgeoning Downtown/Hotel Street scene.
On the last Fridays of the month, the Honolulu Academy of Arts hosts ARTafterDARK, themed parties that cater to young professionals and artsy types. Past themes include Hawaii INK, Bali High, Seven Deadly Sins, …And It Don’t Stop, and Marrakesh Express.
Take it easy on Sundays and stroll off the beach into Duke’s Waikiki at the Outrigger Waikiki Beach where locals and visitors groove to live bands as the sun sets. Weekends are also the time to partake in Sunset on the Beach, a free outdoor movie screening right on Waikiki Beach. The movie starts at sunset and is preceded by live, local entertainment. Just bring a beach chair or towel and you’re good to go!
Hip Hotels — Honolulu’s hippest digs happen to be in Waikiki. The newest hotel is The Modern Honolulu, located at the edge of Waikiki, just minutes from Ala Moana Center. Features include the Private Sunset Beach and Pool Bar, luxury ballroom, full-service spa, Lobby Bar, Morimoto Waikiki restaurant, and interiors by Yabu Pushelberg.
Trump International Hotel Waikiki Beach Walk features luxury accommodations, an oceanview lounge featuring specialty drinks and pupu, and BLT Steak, Chef Laurent Tourondel’s first Hawaii venture. Embassy Suites Waikiki Beach Walk is perfect for a girlfriend getaway. The hotel’s one- and two-bedroom suites are ideally located in the center of Waikiki. Just two blocks off of Waikiki Beach is Hotel Renew, a 70-room boutique property that gives guests a personalized and intimate experience with modern touches. On Thursday evenings, guests are treated to complimentary cocktails in the hotel’s lounge.
Another hip hotel is the Halekulani. The classic hotel attracts celebrities and the elite with its Vera Wang Suite and its Halekulani Living lifestyle series offering specialized cuisine, wellness and arts and culture events. Its sister property, the Waikiki Parc offers a sexy, modern vibe; Lotus car rentals; movie and cocktail events at its rooftop pool; and even has its own wine collection.
On the other side of Diamond Head, The Kahala Hotel & Resort boasts a dolphin lagoon, secluded beach, and spa suites. The five-star hotel regularly plays host to celebrities and dignitaries looking for R&R and the utmost privacy.
The Moana Surfrider, A Westin Resort and Spa, Waikiki’s first resort, was reflagged as a Westin property in 2007. Delighting guests with its Victorian architecture and elegant ambience, the Moana Surfrider, A Westin Resort and Spa received a complete transformation, updating the historical property with Westin’s signature services and amenities, and introducing Moana Lani Spa, A Heavenly Spa by Westin, an 18,000-square foot beachfront spa and fitness center.
With the completion of a multi-million renovation that included a redesign of the reception area and 529 guestrooms, as well as the introduction of two new restaurants, Azure and Surf Lanai, the iconic “Pink Palace of the Pacific” was transformed into The Royal Hawaiian, A Luxury Collection Resort in 2009. Next door, the Sheraton Waikiki also underwent a major renovation, which included a redesigned lobby; the completion of Helumoa Playground, a 12,500-square foot resort activity area, and the Infinity Edge Pool, an adults only infinity pool featuring its own bar; the new Spa Khakara; an expansion to the resort’s popular oceanfront bar, RumFire; a new farm- to-table-focused restaurant, Kai Market; and the opening of the exclusive Leahi Club Lounge.
An island getaway is not what it used to be. With so many adventure, accommodations, dining, and nightlife options, Oahu’s hip offerings promise much more than just sun and sand! (www.vannuysnewspress.com)