Since moving to Honolulu in 2015 to play with the Hawaii Symphony Orchestra, I have discovered so many amazing places to eat and adventure! I was born in Brooklyn NY, raised in Boston MA and began playing the cello at age 4. I eventually went to college/ conservatory for cello performance at the Manhattan School of Music, then SMU in Dallas TX, and also the Royal Conservatory in Toronto ON. Therefore, one can only imagine the amount of amazing Boston seafood, NY Pizza, Dallas Tex Mex, and Canadian Poutine I have consumed over the years:) I love Music, Art, Food, and Culture as they bring people together and allow us to enjoy and express our life experiences! The following is a curated (and growing) list of a few unique places I have discovered over the past few years living here that include cuisine, hikes, parks, and dive locations. Whether you are booking Mana Musicians to play for your wedding/ event and are looking for great places to explore during your stay, or are just on Holiday- I’m excited to share these wonderful places with you, and hope that you can enjoy them as much as I have!
Peace Café– A hole in the wall with a clean and peaceful environment! Their Tempe dishes/ sandwiches are awesome. Great smoothies. All of their food is very flavorsome!
Red Ginger Health Cafe– They’ve got fantastic acai bowls! Great smoothies, and salads. It’s more of a barebones health spot, but one of the healthiest! Located on the second level of the Manoa Market place you’ll have a nice time browsing all of the eateries and shops!
Down to Earth- More of a health food grocery than a restaurant but they’ve got a whole food style buffet that offers healthy versions of different ethnic food. It’s a great alternative to whole foods that stocks a larger variety of local health food/ products.
Kokua Market Natural Foods- This is also a health food grocery that offers a large variety of fresh local things! Chances are you can find what you are looking for here or at Down to earth which is just a few blocks down the street!
Kahuku farms- Although advertised on many tourist sites, it’s still a favorite. Take a tour or just walk around their impressively well-kept farm, and then eat at their outdoor restaurant where you can gaze upon their farm where all the food you are consuming came from. With a beautiful mountainous back drop and ocean in the distance you’ll have a very serene and blissful eating experience eating healthy and delicious food.
Diamond Head Cove Health Bar– They’ve got amazing Acai Bowles here (Maybe my favorite)! They have one that uses Poi on an acai bowl which I find works well in balancing the acidity. Also, their wraps and sandwiches are great as well!
Ahi Assassins – Also, arguably the most fresh that I have found on the island… Tucked away in the corner the second level of a small shopping complex, this place is a mega find hole in the wall!
Ono’s Seafood– Has very fresh poke, arguably the most fresh! They also have a miso style poke that I haven’t seen anywhere else!
Tamura’s– This liquor store not only carries almost any liquor, wine, or sake your heart desires but also in the back has some of the freshest poke one can find!
A Fresh Catch– This is a small specialty poke joint that also serves other styles of food (which I must admit I have never tried but looks delicious) The poke is amazing. The one style that I found here that I haven’t seen anywhere else is the coconut poke. And yes, it’s delicious.
Golden Pork Tonkotsu– I like the spicy miso Ramen and Its sesame zesty flavor.
Agu Ramen Bistro– Unique and upscale ramen. Definitely one of the best on the Island!
Tenkaippin Hawaii- This Ramen spot has probably the thickest/creamiest Ramen broth I’ve ever had! You can park behind the Starbucks!
Kyoto Ramen- A basic sit down restaurant located in the left corner on the second level of the McCully Shopping center. It’s got a very pleasant atmosphere and great authentic Ramen!
Other Great Eats:
Roy’s: One bite of their butterfish and then feel your eyes roll back in buttery goodness ecstasy. Service is top notch! Although it’s in a tourist location, it’s still worth the fine dining experience. Everything on the menu is delicious!
Wailana coffee house: Not only do they have a menu that will keep you occupied forever, they are open 24 hours. Even though it’s in a tourist area, it attracts a lot of locals. Also, a secret is that they have parking downstairs that is $3 bucks with validation. So if you have trouble finding a parking spot that isn’t megabucks, you can park there, get a coffee for validation on your way back and be on your way
Waiola Shave Ice: If you have a sweet tooth, and you like cold things this is must. It’s not like a snow cone…You just don’t get it until you try it. I recommend getting a small size cone with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream on the bottom. It turns into a creamsicle after melting for a bit in the sun. It turns out you can buy happiness and it’s under $3 bucks.
Leonards Bakery: Arguably the most well known Malasadas on the Island. From chocolate, Haupia (coconut) Original custard, Mac nut fillings, or original, you can’t go wrong.
Liliha bakery– If crème puff pastries are your thing then this is your new favorite spot! They have a vast selection of sweet and savory pastries but creme puffs are their specialty. This location also has a 24 hour diner attached!
Kokohead Café– This is an awesome Hawaiian/ Asian fusion brunch spot with Bi Bim Bap breakfast options and breakfast dumplings among other inventions. If that sounds weird, you gotta try it before you knock it, it’s done impressively well! It’s a popular spot among the locals so be prepared to wait in line during peak brunch hours!
The Counter: A burger joint that has literally everything you can think of to construct your own franken-burger.
Don Quijote- This is an Asian style Walmart on steroids. I recommend stopping in here at least once to experience the brain warping visual information overload. They have every gift you want to bring home to your friends at a fraction of the cost whether it be food, chocolate, lotions, clothes, trinkets etc. Also any other food or appliance you can fathom they’ve got… somewhere.. and also at a fraction of the cost. I was pleasantly surprised at how fresh their produce is here. It will bust all myths about Hawaii being expensive.
Thank Q Pocha: Tasty fusion Asian cuisine with a clean atmosphere with beer towers and K pop videos on loop!
Blue Tree Deli– This is a great coffee/ tea/ acai bowl/ gluten free spot! Nice indoor and outdoor seating. The only thing is that it’s on Kapiolani st. which has the most bizarre parking/ traffic situation. (Contraflow) … They do this thing here where at certain hours a lane is coned off to allow a heaver flow of traffic in certain directions. Sometimes this affects parking. If you are trying to visit this location during one of these times, it’s easy enough to find some parking on a nearby parallel street and walk over.
Masubi Café Iyasume: If you’re in Hawaii, you shall at some point question what this is. It’s a snack that is traditionally spam and rice wrapped in seaweed. And snack is an understatement when you see the size of some of them. Well this snack has evolved in ingredients and size. Now there are so many delicious permutations that include a variety of fish, meat, grains, greens, you name it. This place has quite the variety. They have a plum leaf specialty and all their ingredients are fresh! What makes this hole in the wall extra cool is that whatever ingredient they have on the menu, just ask for your own creation and they’ll make it for you! Also, most of them are under $3 bucks!!
Shiriokiya: Although the food here is mediocre, the experience of eating here totally makes up for it. I actually feel like I’m in Japan’s Osaka station when browsing from stand to stand in this expansive food village. Also beer towers.
Sorabol-Upon having Korean friends take me to this eatery, I can say from their word that it’s great and they are open 24 hours! I can tell that this is a very popular eatery since some people travel across the island just to eat here.
This is It Bakery & Deli: The New York bagel is in Hawaii and is definitely at par! The best time to get them is first thing in the morning when they are fresh. The cheese asiago bagel is where it’s at. They also have a variety of cream cheeses that are piled on NY style. They also have local style breakfast bagel sandwiches. This place is a favorite.
Piggy Smalls: Be prepared to have cravings for pastrami after dining here.
Kaka’ako kitchen– This is a local style diner with outdoor seating. You can find things here to satisfy the Hawaiian soul food bug while also not pigging out/ feeling unhealthy! They have all kinds of dishes and their catch of the day ahi sandwich hits the spot.
Moku Kitchen– Located in the up the up and coming hipster Kakaako area you will likely at some point forget that you’re in Honolulu! This place has all styles of food, and it’s all great! Especially the fact that all their burgers are from local beef. Also, I didn’t like Brussel sprouts until eating theirs! It’s also conveniently adjacent to village brew house. While waiting for your buzzer to go off for a table at Moku you can pop over to Village a grab a freshly brewed beer!
Lucky Belly: A fusion Asian cuisine with unique ramen and great bao buns. It can be a nice sit down restaurant before hopping around to the surrounding bars and they also have an awesome late night menu served through a window. $$
Legends Seafood Restaurant: This is thus far THE dim sum spot! Super affordable, tasty and dim sum for daaaays!
Little Village Noodle House- Great noodle dishes and Chinese food selection! Arguably the best Chinese food I have found so far on the island!
Zippy’s – Is this a Hawaiian McDonalds? Yes, it is.
Da Crawfish and Crab Shack– Buttery Garlicy sea food deliciousness for when you’re heading out to the west leeward side!
Uncle Bo’s Bar and Grill– This is one of the better places to eat in Haleiwa. There are not that many places I can say has a huge menu and everything on it is good on it. From larger portions to share as well as smaller fancier dinner portions you’ll find something you like to eat!
La Marianna- This sailing club restaurant is one of the coolest Tiki bars/ Restaurants on the island. If you want the Tiki bar experience this is the place to go especially at sunset!! Go and grab a Mai Tai, enjoy the unique décor, location, and beachy atmosphere.
Nico’s Pier 38- This is one of my absolute favorites. It’s by the ocean, with fantastic locally source seafood and great indoor and outdoor seating!
Gyotako– Gyatoko meaning “fish rubbing”, this Japanese restaurant has fish rubbing art on the walls of a two story restaurant. They offer a variety of food combos that incorporate sushi, noodles, rice, fish, and other Japanese cuisine. They also specialize in butterfish. This is a great family restaurant and also a place to get a high quality hearty combo meal.
Village Bottle shop & Tasting Room- This brewery is in a new upcoming part of town Kakaako right next to Moku (as mentioned before). They’ve got lots of fresh beer on tap from stouts, ipa’s, sours etc. What makes this brewery unique is that they also have a giant fridge at the entrance that lines an entire wall. Here you can select any craft beer you want that is categorized by type and you can drink it there for a corking fee or save it for later and take it home!
Kona Brewing Co. Live music, beautiful outdoor seating by the boat harbor, and great food. This restaurant satisfies everything! The only downside is sometimes the music gets loud. But after a few beers, a delicious meal to dive into and a nice ocean breeze you’ll be in your happy place.
Lanikai Brewery– This is hands down my favorite brewery for several reasons. First, it’s down what looks to be a random alley (in a fun section of town), and is just a room about 30’x20’(I don’t know the exact measurements) that is attached to the brewery. How does that work you may ask? I have no idea. They are only open for a brief window of time, so you’ve got to check daily. You walk in and are greeted by two bartenders who explain the brews of the day. They are always coming up with new ones and they are all AMAZING. You can pretty much sample all of them for a whopping $7 and you can bring a growler with you to fill up which ends up being a great deal. It attracts a really cool local crowd, and it’s a super friendly scene. Who isn’t happy when drinking the freshest beer on the planet at $1 or $2 bucks a pop?
Grace in Growlers– Grab a bracelet and go nuts. This place is unique because YOU are the bartender and it’s BYO food! Get some food to go at any of the local eateries around the corner and walk up to the entrance of Grace and Growler where you will be given a bracelet that you hold up to the taps and pour away! At the end, you return your bracelet which stores all the info about your pours and they ring you up.
Favorite Beaches on Oahu:
Waimanalo The sand under your feet in the water is smooth with no rocks, coral, or boulders in the way. Perfect body surfing waves that aren’t too big, but not small enough to be boring. Also it’s not touristy.
Waimea Super fun to jump off the rock in the summer time! Also you can watch/ perhaps join? rock climbers free-climing the cliff on the beach. It’s got a local family vibe!
Lankai– The sand on this beach is different. It’s like walking on marshmallows. Though it can get a bit touristy, it might have the most beautiful views! You can also kayak/ swim out to the Mokes, or flat island from here (though it is far).
Surfline App and My Radar.
When planning what to do day by day, these apps are a huge help, here’s why:
Surfline: The free version of the surfline app tells you how big the swells are on each part of the island 3 days in advance. It’s extremely accurate, and for the best diving experience with the most visibility I recommend only going when there will be a 0-1 or 1-2 ft swell. You can input Makaha for the leeward shore, Wakiki for the south shore, Halewa for the north shore, and Kailua for the Winward shore. Now you’re all covered. Of course, it’s still always a gamble guessing how the conditions will be due to many other variables, however this will certainly put the odds in your favor!
My Radar: My radar will show you where there is/ isn’t/ will/ will not be rainfall. If it is raining on one part of the island, it often won’t be on another. I recommend planning your adventure where the sun is shining!
Hanauma Bay– This is THE tourist place to snorkel. However, I mention it because it’s still worth checking out for two reasons. One, it’s a breathtakingly gorgeous view. Two, if you want to see the most variety of fish all in one place guaranteed, you will see at ton of them here! As soon as you stick your face in the water there are fish everywhere. However, it is in the shallowest of shallow water. Which may be helpful to someone who has never snorkeled before, but cumbersome to those more experienced. It’s so shallow that you might scrape your knees up in some areas. The fish are also healthy and plump since it’s all protected so you’ll see some sizeable parrot fish and humumunukukuapua’a fish. You’ll have to sit through a video at first which at some points is actually interesting. More experienced freedivers like to head out of the shallow area and go as far as just before the mouth opens into the open water to hit depths 30-100ft. If you do this you’ll find mysterious looking treasure chests about every 40ft along the way out… what are those things!? Anyway, I highly recommend going as early as 7am because there is a constant trickle of people and by noon it gets PACKED and is a tourist nightmare!
Electric Reef/ Kahe point– Scuba/ snorkel shore dive. This is called electric reef because there is a power plant that shoots out an exhaust through pipes that run out into the water. About 50 yards out from shore, you’ll see a flat eddy current. This is where the pipes are shooting out hot exhaust. Tons of fish gather here for the warm water and hang out in front of these vents for what looks to be a spa like treatment. It is also a turtle cleaning station so you’ll often see a Honu (turtle) come by with some fish giving it a scrub down. The structure also has lots of reef life growing on it which is beautiful. I’ve seen a variety of fish here as well as sting rays, spotted eagle rays, and mini white tipped sharks. Sometimes dolphins will come by here as well, but it’s not the dolphin spot.. I’ll get to that in a bit. This is a good place to go whether you are a comfortable beginner snorkeler or an experienced freediver. Sometimes the sets coming into where you first launch beach can be intimidating, and you’ll have to time it right to get out, but not to worry, it’s just like that in the beginning. They are actually quite nice coming in as you just float and let them carry you back to the small shore.
Sharks Cove- Scuba/ snorkel shore dive. This is one of my favorite places to dive on the island. It’s called sharks cove because there are rock formations that look sharky, one big one in particular toward the center of the cove. I have not once seen a shark at this location. This location has a ton of cool swim throughs!! The further you go around the bend westward the more you find and the deeper they get! One cool one to get you started is on the outer right ledge of the cove. You’ll have to dive to the bottom to find it at about 20ft.
Makua beach- snorkel shore dive. This is where the spinner dolphins hang. It seems like they generally start here and then work their way along the leeward coast. They will normally be here any time between sunrise and 10am. (Usually around 8:30am-9:30am) They are very close to shore, so you can just lay out some towels, look out (usually just to your right) and spot the dorsal fins. Then jump in and play! They are wild dolphins, so even though they are pretty chill, you don’t want to go chasing after them and definitely not feed them! It is recommended that you get yourself in the vicinity, and they’ll often head your way. I’ve seen several pods here up to about 200 dolphins at a time! If they are sleeping they will swim in a box like formation and you won’t hear much, and if they are awake you will hear them chattering away! If there are no dolphins that day, it’s still nice to get in and look around! Also don’t forget to look up. The sun shining on the mountainside in the morning is breathtaking, and there is also commonly a solid rainbow that forms out over the vast sea in this spot. It’s moments like these when you realize you’ve made it and are in paradise.
Out of respect for the island, it’s locals, and dive companies, I will leave other dive sites, tunnels and swim throughs off this site.
Cue Jurassic Park Theme Music
Pillbox- A beautiful hike that lasts as long as you want since there are multiple “pillbox’s” you can hike to on the same trail. The first one takes less than an hour and overlooks Lanikai beach with a fantastic view of the Mokes! This is a great hike for everyone and is not dangerous.
Kokohead– These are preserved railway tracks that go straight up to the top. You can bang this out in a few hours or less and then hang out on the beach to rest those jelly legs. (I know a guy with a 12 min record) It’s riddled with tourists, but the view is sensational and worth it!
Ola Mana (three peaks) – This is one of the coolest hikes on the island, and not for those afraid of heights. The end of the first peak requires some vertical rope climbing. (not serious rock climbing and the ropes are there, for you to grab onto) But it definitely requires some upper body strength. There are sheer drop offs when approaching the peak. You can do the first peak in a few hours, but the whole things is an all day experience and you’ve got to come down the same way you go up. The next two peaks are ridgeline and have sheer drop offs and lots of ropes. They are awesome.
Crouching Lion- This hike is one of my favorites. A bit muddy at the start and you’ve got to find the trailhead but once you get up there, what a view! It only takes an hour or so to get to the crouching lion peak and there are sheer drop offs. This climb can get windy, and is also very dangerous when wet, so I wouldn’t recommend going if it had just rained or will rain. You can continue up to higher peaks with more challenging ridges and drop offs!
Trail Head: https://goo.gl/maps/A9eE33WqXfS2
Lanipo- If you want a hike away from all the tourism with all the reward (breathtaking views) with no work (you start at the top and hike the ridge) while eating wild guava berries all the way through.. .this is the one!
Ala Moana/ Magic Island beach park- A great 5k run!
Lanikai Loop-This is also conveniently a very great 5K run!
Waimea Beach Park