Downtown Walking Tour

Spend the afternoon pounding Downtown Honolulu’s pavement, taking a self-guided tour of this pedestrian-friendly parcel of Oahu. With so much to eat, see and shop – and just between Bethel and Smith Street! -- you can spend anywhere from one to five hours here – digging into a progressive dinner or scooping up a trove of treasures at various boutiques.

Swing into the municipal building off of Beretania (beh-reh-tan-yah), which offers one of the most affordable parking rates in the neighborhood. Other parking garages, including Mark's Garage, offer parking throughout Downtown and street parking here is free on Sundays and holidays, though it can be harder to find than a double rainbow.

Entrée your Downtown experience with a lucky lunch at (1) Lucky Belly. Grab at table and fill your opu (belly) with this O‘ahu restaurant’s edited menu including their popular Belly Bowl (which includes belly, smoked bacon and Kurobuta sausage) and their Pork Belly Bao (pork belly sandwiched between a super soft bao bun with sake hoisin and pickled cucumbers).

Work off lunch and lighten your wallet with some retail therapy checking out the seriously chic island boutiques, all within a few blocks of one another. At (2) Fighting Eel, O‘ahu-based designers, Rona Bennett and Lan Chung have captured Hawai‘i's effortless style with an assortment of island-inspired attire, jewelry and accessories. While at (3) Owens & Co. you can check out their carefully culled selection of home and fashion must-haves.

If you make your way up Maunakea (mow-nah-kay-yah) to Honolulu's Chinatown you're sure to stumble upon at least a dozen mom and pop (4) lei shops, many which have been an island staple for anywhere from two to four decades. Pick up a simple haku (hah-ku) lei (a lei to be worn perched atop the head) or ti leaf lei intertwined with your favorite tropical flower (ginger and pikake are amongst the most fragrant) to wear as you continue your Downtown expedition.

After a long day walking up an appetite decant in Downtown Honolulu's (5) HASR Wine Co. and Bistro, a quaint courtyard eatery and wine shop bubbling over with some of the best wines from around the world and an aromatic French-inspired menu. Arrive early and take advantage of HASR Bistro's pau hana (happy hour) specials from 4:30 p.m. - 6:30 p.m. with live entertainment and open-air seating in the courtyard.
HASR is right across the street from the municipal building -- so you can roll on over to roll back to Waikiki as full as a pufferfish and happier than a clam. As the song goes, Downtown, everything's waiting for you!

1) Lucky Belly

In Hawai‘i ramen isn't something you slurp only when it's pouring rain and 60 degrees out (yes, island natives have a skewed perception on what makes for cold weather). If you're someone who has a deep appreciation for noodles - Lucky Belly is the place to be. Trust us, your belly will thank you.

For those who remember Mini Garden in Chinatown, new owners and Honolulu natives Dusty Grable and Jesse Cruz have transformed the dated space into a hip new place to grab a piping hot bowl of ramen, with a glass of sake or your favorite whiskey. Amongst the most popular items on this O‘ahu restaurant's very edited menu -- right now there are just a little over a dozen options to choose from -- are the Belly Bowl (which includes belly, smoked bacon and Kurobuta sausage) and their Pork Belly Bao (pork belly sandwiched between a super soft bao bun with sake hoisin and pickled cucumbers).

Because the tiny eatery can squeeze in only 50 customers at a time, you might want to put your name in and then take a stroll down the street to Restaurant Epic or JJ Dolans for a drink or two while you wait for a table to free up.

 

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2) Fighting Eel

The flagship store of Fighting Eel, a Hawai‘i-based clothing line, is making waves around the world with its beach-chic jersey tunics, flowing dresses and colorful rompers.

All women know - finding the perfect outfit can be more slippery than, well an eel. But O‘ahu-based designers, Rona Bennett and Lan Chung have hit just that sweet spot with local boutique Fighting Eel, a line of clothing that captures Hawai‘i's effortless style with an assortment of island-inspired attire, jewelry and accessories that can take you from a bikini at the beach to a night on the town.

Though the company has since expanded to open stores in Kailua and Waikiki, its original flagship shop remains tucked in Downtown Honolulu, making it a convenient detour to pick up a gift for your girlfriends or sister back home. And of course, you can't leave without grabbing something to complement your new tan - we personally dig their maxi dresses and handmade shell jewelry, pieces as cool as the island's breezes.

 

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3) Owens and Co.

Relative Chinatown newbies Owens & Co. has cooked up a carefully culled selection of home and fashion must-haves - the perfect complement to any home from Laguna to Lahaina.

Painting the town - or at least Honolulu's art district - blue and yellow, Owens & Co. owner Missy Owens Mull has transformed Downtown's The Stack Building into an enviable space chock-full of colorful silverware from France, bright beach bags, fresh fragrances, and the perfect-for-your-windowsill potted plants. In fact, Owens & Co. is Waikiki Parc's Aki O.'s fave boutique for cute stationary and locally designed jewelry.

For your favorite niece and nephew (or all nine of them) let loose at the O‘ahu shop's new keiki section, overflowing with unique children's toys and accessories from designers across Hawai‘i and the world, including cuddlely cute stuffed toys and hand-appliquéd onesies and tees. Now when you get home you just need to think of an excuse to set up a play date.

 

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4) Lei Shops

The practice of sharing lei is a tradition that has spread around the world and endures as an accessory synonymous with the Hawaiian islands. For the freshest, most aromatic flower lei there isn't any place better than Honolulu's Chinatown for its selection of mom and pop lei shops, many which have been an island staple for anywhere from two to four decades.

Strolling through Chinatown you're sure to spot a table full of proprietors deftly stringing flowers into long strands. Here, the bright pops of colors are sure to stop you dead in your tracks - if you aren't seduced first by the soft, sweet scents of orchid, plumeria, ginger, and pikake. Lined up side by side (some as many as three deep) there are as many lei shops to choose from as there are types of Hawaiian lei. Many local favorites are third-generation, family-run Chinatown institutions such as Lin's Lei Shop and Cindy's Lei Shoppe, both on Maunakea Street, and Lita's Leis on North Beretania Street.

Pick up a simple haku lei (a lei strung to be worn perched atop the head) or ti leaf lei intertwined with your favorite tropical flower (ginger and pikake are amongst the most fragrant) to wear as you stroll through Downtown. If you're in the islands for a special occasion or visiting friends or family, a nice Hawaiian lei also makes for a perfect gift.

A tip for travelers: because lei are considered a symbol of affection and aloha, you should never refuse lei. If you must remove lei for whatever reason (such as allergies) do so discreetly.

 

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5) HASR Wine Co. and Bistro

After a long day exploring O‘ahu, decant in Downtown Honolulu at HASR Wine Co. and Bistro, a quaint courtyard eatery and wine shop bubbling over with some of the best wines from around the world and an aromatic French-inspired menu.

Run by Terry and Mike Kakazu, HASR stands for Highly Allocated (difficult-to-find wines) Spoiled Rotten (referring to Kakazu being able to acquire the wines). From 5 p.m. - 7 p.m. Tuesday through Friday HASR Wine Co. pours over with complimentary wine tastings, providing the perfect opportunity to sample their vast selection of California wines before grabbing a bottle (or two) to enjoy over dinner.

And it's not a zin - err, sin - to sip and save! If you buy a bottle from HASR Wine Co. the restaurant will uncork it without their typical $15 bottle charge. That way you'll be able to pair your favorite Napa chardonnay with executive chef Rodney Uyehara's salmon tartar appetizer or ciopinno (our mouths are watering just thinking about it). And because you're on vacation, make it a point to take advantage of HASR Bistro's pau hana (happy hour) specials from 4:30 p.m. - 6:30 p.m. with live entertainment and open-air seating in the courtyard.

 

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