Not all of Hawaii’s treasures are as visible as the sparkling beaches. Some of the best gems are tucked away in local neighbourhoods where residents eat, shop and play. For travellers seeking to experience Hawaii “like a local”, pay close attention.
Where to eat
Local families have devoured Hawaii’s homegrown eateries for generations. These iconic food institutions offer a taste of local flavour and are a must-try for holidaymakers.
Zippy’s is as iconic to Hawaii as McDonald’s is to the world. It’s a casual dine-in or take-out restaurant with a multicultural menu reflective of Hawaii’s local people. Feast on interesting dishes like Hawaiian Stew, Portuguese Bean Soup, Korean Fried Chicken or Saimin, a noodle recipe created during Hawaii’s plantation era that was inspired by Japanese ramen, Chinese mein and Filipino pancit. It’s a common place for young locals to gather for a midnight feed after a night out.
L&L Hawaiian BBQ dishes up the quintessentially Hawaiian Plate Lunch often referred to as “the state food of Hawaii”. This popular local meal consists of two scoops of rice, macaroni salad and a generous serve of protein. Choose from a delicious range of plates featuring everything from BBQ chicken, fried shrimp, beef or pork, to fried mahi mahi, hamburger steak and chicken katsu. L&L’s have grown so big they have even expanded into mainland USA.
Peter Merriman and Roy Yamaguchi are two of the twelve founding chefs of Hawaii Regional Cuisine. This particular style of Pacific Rim cooking blends fresh island ingredients with ethnic flavours. Between them, Peter and Roy have opened over ten food establishments in Hawaii. They are highly esteemed “celebrity chefs” with a big restaurant following from Hawaii socialites to local families. See where the movement began at Roy’s first restaurant on Oahu, The Original Roy’s in Hawaii Kai, or Peter’s flagship restaurant on the island of Hawaii, Merriman’s Waimea.
Where to shop
Hawaii residents prefer to shop up a storm in neighbourhood malls rather than battle with major tourist-filled outlets.
Pearlridge Center on Oahu is a retail hotspot home to over 170 stores and eateries, making it the second largest mall in Hawaii after Ala Moana Center. Highlights include a weekly Farmer’s Market, the islands only Toys-R-Us and a small monorail for easy travel between its shopping areas. It also boasts Tropics Mini Golf, Tilt Arcade and a Consolidated Theatre (cinema) onsite.
Maui’s resort areas offer plenty of boutique shopping opportunities, but the locals and clever tourists are heading to the big-box stores like Sears and Macy’s found at Queen Kaahumanu Center in the central business district of Kahului.
Prince Kuhio Plaza is where the community gathers in Hilo on the island of Hawaii. “The Plaza” as Hilo Natives call it, is a mix of small-scale shops and department stores. It’s a great location to try American sweet treats like Dairy Queen, Cinnabon, International House of Pancakes, otherwise known as IHOP, and Hot Dog on a Stick (hotdogs dipped and cooked in a sweet batter).
Kauai residents gravitate to the open-air Kukui Grove Center, the islands largest and only regional mall. Its central position in Lihue makes it the perfect destination for buying any last minute items needed during a Kauai stay. It’s also a favourite for watching live sports games at Kalapaki Joe’s, the Westernmost Sports Bar in the United States.
Where to play
The Hawaiian Islands are home to superb year-round festivals and events, many taking place on a weekly or monthly basis. These ongoing Hawaii events are frequented by a host of local “regulars” and a growing number of in-the-know visitors.
Oahu has the lion share of free regular events in Hawaii. One of the best Oahu events to sink one’s teeth into is Eat The Street, a food truck rally with over 40 street food vendors held on the last Friday of every month at Kakaako Waterfront Park. For significant celebrations including Chinese New Year, St Patrick’s Day, Mardi Gras, Halloween and more, Oahu’s Downtown Honolulu and Chinatown is the place to be. This central business district shuts down to make way for a themed street party with lively crowds taking over the area.
Everyone knows that if its Friday on Maui, there is always a party going on! A series of First Friday Town Parties highlight Maui’s quaint towns and their unique local businesses starting with Wailuku (1st Friday), Lahaina (2nd Friday), Makawao (3rd Friday), Kihei (4th Friday) and Lanai (5th Friday). There’s art on display, plentiful food outlets, free entertainment and lots of friendly faces!
On Kauai, people are invited to come together to enjoy one-of-a-kind performances at Slack Key Guitar and Ukulele Concerts held in Kapaa, Hanalei and Princeville on a weekly basis (admission US$25 pp). Music plays a large part in Hawaii’s culture and wherever there are tunes playing visitors are sure to find the local community celebrating, dancing and singing.
Hawaii Island’s historic Kailua Village morphs into an outdoor marketplace known as Kokua Kailua on a Sunday afternoon once a month. Local families stroll together along a section of Alii Drive where they are encouraged to shop, dine and buy local. Visitors are welcome to attend the festivities and soak up the highlights including free Hawaiian entertainment at Hulihee Palace.