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OutServe Magazine | June 2, 2014

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Let’s Go! Honolulu

Let’s Go! Honolulu

Story by Jeff Priela /// Photos by David Small

Paul Theroux describes Hawaii as being a “state of grace.” Everywhere you go in the archipelago you will find nothing but stunning beauty, breathtaking scenery and a rich cultural tradition that remains timeless. The legendary sense of aloha is prevalent in Hawaii’s people from the moment you step off the plane. Hawaii stands out uniquely amongst the United States. For those stationed here, it’s as close to paradise as you can get, with a variety of activities not easily available to those at stateside bases.

Discovered by Captain James Cook, he named what we now call Hawaii, “the Sandwich Islands.” Since first contact, Hawaii has undergone a transformation from a tribal island group, to a kingdom, a republic, a territory and, finally, a fully-fledged member of the United States with Honolulu as its capital.

Honolulu, or “sheltered cove,” is split into five distinct areas: Historic Downtown with the harbor; Waikiki, the prime tourist hotspot; Manoa-Makiki with its Jurassic Park-like tropical scenery; Eastern Honolulu and its land-meets-sea splendors; and Western Honolulu, the military’s Pacific hub.



Honolulu4Oahu is the site of a major U.S. military presence and is one of the largest military bases in the Pacific. As the hub of all Pacific operations, it is home to the Pacific Fleet and Pacific Air Forces stationed at Joint Base Pearl Harbor Hickam. The base itself is not open to the general public or tourists, but the USS Arizona Memorial and the USS Missouri exhibit are. The Arizona is accessible through a small museum on the shore, while the memorial itself is located a few dozen feet away from Ford Island. A small boat trip provided by the Navy brings visitors to and from the memorial approximately every half hour. Also nearby are the Pacific Aviation Museum, the Bishop Museum, and Moanalua Gardens. In this quiet neighborhood, you can find one of the homes of a Hawaiian Monarch, King Kamehameha V. The Aloha Stadium Swap Meet is the ideal place to find bargains on a whole host of Hawaiian souvenirs and food items.


Downtown is the financial, government and business center for the entire Hawaiian Islands. Here you can find the famed Aloha Tower, where massive cruise ships park. The Aloha Tower was the tallest structure in Honolulu upon its completion in 1926. A couple of miles down the road is the second largest shopping mall in the United States, the Ala Moana Mall. This commercial behemoth has approximately 240 stores on four levels, and offers everything from restaurants to high-end retail and the more accessible fashion purveyors. Chinatown provides more exotic shopping fare, plus fresh fruits and vegetables as well as numerous leis.

Pipeline is in the heart of Honolulu. Aesthetically, it’s not much to look at since it’s a refurbished warehouse, but once inside, you’ll find the same amenities as any metropolitan club. Featuring live bands, dance music, and large TV screens for sports fans, Pipeline is a raging hotspot for dancers until 4 a.m., every day of the week.
Iolani Palace is the only official royal residence in the United States. Built in 1882, Iolani Palace was the seat of the last two Hawaiian monarchs. This beautiful complex houses the Iolani Barracks and offers a unique tour of the Victorian lifestyle of the Hawaiian monarchy. Across the street from the palace is Ali’iolani Hale, the seat of the Hawaii State Supreme Court. As Iolani Palace was the official royal residence, Ail’iolani Hale represents the transition of the Hawaiian government from monarchy to republic to territory. In front of the Ali’iolani Hale is the black and gold statute of King Kamehameha the Great. Washington Place, a short distance from the state capitol building, is the official residence of the governor. It was also the home of the last Hawaiian monarch, Queen Liliuokalani.


Honolulu3A popular hangout for former Hawaiian royalty, Waikiki is the nerve center of Honolulu and ground zero for tourist activities. Major hotel chains and shopping stores have sprung up over the past century and have created a claustrophobic environment. Yet, Waikiki still maintains a distinct local identity. Here you can enjoy restaurants, bars, hotels and, yes, even the beach, where everyone hangs loose. The strip is what the world imagines when they think of Hawaii, a stereotype well-deserved.

Waikiki Beach is perhaps one of the world’s most famous beaches, and though normally crowded with tourists, its waters still offer a clear blue hue and a warm swimming environment. Surfing, body boarding and other water activities are a must. This is also the beach where Olympic gold medalist Duke Kahanamoku established the religion of surfing. His statue is continually adorned with leis.

The one looming landmark that visually identifies Waikiki is the extinct volcano of Diamond Head. This famous landmark is easily accessible thanks to a pavement that runs up the crater. It’s a mile hike up to the observation deck and its breathtaking view of Waikiki, Honolulu and the Koolua and Waienae Mountain Ranges. Below Diamond Head is Kapiolani Park and its famed Waikiki Shell Amphitheater.

The International Market Place offers more than a hundred different unique stores in the midst of bayan trees. The Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center has high-end boutique stores as well as galleries and even more lei stands.

Waikiki has an abundant supply of watering holes, including six LGBT bars near the corner of Kuhio Avenue and Seaside. Hula’s Bar and Lei Stand is easy to find due to the rainbow flag flying proudly on the lanai. Situated on the 2nd floor of the Waikiki Grand, it has an open-air lanai with a wonderful view of Diamond Head and the street below. Great nightlife activity at Hula’s includes drag shows, live music and DJs, not to mention the theme nights held every night. Tapas, Fusions and Lojax on the same block offer the same amenities as Hula’s. A couple of smaller and more crowded LGBT karaoke bars are Wang Chungs and the Inbetween. Wang Chungs sits on Koa Avenue right next to King’s Court, and the Inbetween is literally a hole in wall, stuck in an alley on Kalakaua.

Other popular bars are Kelly O’Neils, which offers live music every night, and Moose McGillycuddy’s, which offers a great selection of “pupus,” reasonably priced drinks and friendly staff. Along with Hula’s, it is one of the oldest establishments in Waikiki. Nashville is Honolulu’s only country bar. It is a bit surprising at first to see country-clad guys in this Pacific paradise, but, truth be known, Hawaii has its own indigenous cowboys.

Hotels are plentiful up and down the strip. Prices vary due to location, type of hotel and beach access. The Hilton Hawaiian Village is a monstrous encampment filled with everything you can find in a Las Vegas Hotel chain. The Sheraton Hotel faces the ocean and offers excellent meeting space for conventions and events. The Royal Hawaiian is the preeminent hotel in Waikiki. A remnant of the roaring ’20s, this “pink palace of the Pacific” sports a distinctive color that can be seen from miles off shore. Legend has it, that same hue was used to paint Tripler Army Medical Center.


Honolulu2Further past Wakiki, Manoa-Makiki is a residential and education center for Honolulu, set against the Koolua Mountains. The Univeristy of Hawaii and the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at the Punchbowl are found here. The Pali Highway is one of three crossover highways cutting through the Koolua Mountain to access Kaneohe Bay and Kailua or the Windward side of Oahu. Tantalus Drive overlooks all of Manoa-Makiki and Wakiki, offering one of many unique views of Honolulu.

Lyon Arboretum, with the Manoa Falls at the entrance, is a lush representative of the rainforest that covers the mountain range of Oahu. Maintained by the University of Hawaii, the botanical garden grows a wide variety of tropical flora and fauna. Incidentally, Hawaii offers 23 of the 26 earth environments, from desert to snow-capped mountain, across the entire archipelago.

The Contemporary Museum and the Honolulu Academy of the Arts have collections ranging from contemporary to more traditional paintings. The Contemporary Museum’s Cooke-Spalding House on Makiki Heights Drive contains works by Frank Stella, Masami Teraoka, Mark Tobey, Jasper Johns, and Vito Acconci.

Makiki is the birthplace of President Barack Obama, and a walking tour of President Obama’s neighborhood takes visitors to his grandmother’s former apartment, Kapiolani Hospital where he was born, Punahou School and the Baskin Robbins where he worked.


Eastern Honolulu is the final stretch of Honolulu proper. Koko Head’s steep incline challenges even those physically fit enough to climb it, but the reward is a spectacular view of the Hawaii Kai and valley below. Makapu’u Point State Wayside at the southeastern corner of the island also offers a panoramic view up the windward coast. Here you can see evidence of volcanic activity as molten lava met the ocean and cooled millions of years ago. The Halona Blow Hole is a geologic curiosity that mimics the blowhole of a whale as the tide crashes into the rocks. Below the blowhole is Halona Beach Cove where the famous kiss on the beach scene in From Here to Eternity was filmed.

The beaches of East Honolulu may not be as famous or romantic as those of the North Shore, but they still provide a great time for water sports enthusiasts. Haunama Bay Nature Preserve, a perfect cove formed from an extinct volcano, contains a variety of sea life that even novice snorkelers can experience.

Those who really want to see Hawaii should hop on one of the affordable flights offered by Hawaiian Airlines for short trips to Kauai, Maui, Lanai, Molokai, Niihau and the Big Island.

For those who have never been, Hawaii concocts visions of paradise, Mai-Tais, hula girls and exotic beaches. That fantasy is not far from the truth; meanwhile, Oahu still provides the amenities of a modern major city. But why worry about the comforts of home when the peaceful sounds of Israel “IZ” Kamakawiwo’ole floats in the air? There is so much to do on just this island that an entire holiday can be spent here and the visitor can fully experience that aloha spirit.