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Word Of Mouth: Honolulu

Exploring Hawai’i’s tropical metropolis through its blooming creative community

While many of O’ahu’s beaches top “best of” lists year after year, that’s no reason to stay shorebound. Venturing beyond the coast and outside the typical tourist traps reveals a myriad of young businesses brimming with energy—and no shortage of creativity. With one eye peeking out toward the future and the other locked-on to Hawai’i’s rich history and traditions, this new generation of local makers, designers, artists and chefs is reshaping the way visitors experience the 50th state. From modern aloha shirts to an international arts fair to a contemporary take on Hawaiian cuisine, fast-track your trip through the new Honolulu at these six spots.

Paiko Hawai’i/Arvo Cafe

Part cafe, part botanical boutique, this duo merges Australian and Hawaiian culture under one roof. Paiko specializes in native plants, floral arrangements, locally made ceramics and other green needs, while Arvo Cafe offers an Aussie-inspired brunch—including long blacks, flat whites and Vegemite toast topped with heaps of avocado. The sunny shop, located on a recently revitalized block of Kaka’ako, also hosts weekly workshops where guests can learn to build their own haku lei (flower crowns). Important note: classes are BYOB.

Mud Hen Water

Helmed by renowned local chef Ed Kenney, Mud Hen Water puts an international twist on classic Hawaiian cuisine. Traditional staples like squid lu’au and kalua pork and cabbage (their version adds clams) are polished to fine-dining excellence while remaining casual and comforting. If you can’t snag a seat at MHW, two other Kenney restaurants are right next door and easily worth a visit: Kaimuki Superette and Town.

POW! WOW! Hawai’i

Each February since 2009, the world’s street art elite flock to downtown Honolulu for POW! WOW! Hawai’i—an annual arts event championing all things creative. Banding together with local artists, they transform the streets of Kaka’ako into a maze of jaw-dropping murals and gallery-worthy artworks rising high upon the walls of old warehouses and auto-body repair shops. No ticket necessary for this visual journey.

Square Barrels

This downtown gastropub is a one-stop-shop for sampling the islands’ growing selection of craft brews. Its ever-changing beer list runs about 50 deep (half of which are on tap) and features local breweries statewide—from Lanikai to Waikiki, Maui and the Big Island. For the non-beer drinkers, Square Barrels also serves up an exceptional selection of burgers, but pairing the two is recommended.

Roberta Oaks

More than just a summertime get-up, aloha shirts (aka Hawaiian shirts) are the year-round attire of choice for Hawai’i’s businessmen, school kids and beach bums—and no one’s doing aloha wear quite like Roberta Oaks. The Missouri-born designer’s eponymous clothing line and downtown boutique merges the spirit of the ‘60s with modern fits, offering aloha shirts and dresses in slim cuts and vibrant prints. Retro florals and motifs of historic Hawaiiana add unmistakable island vibes while steering clear of kitsch.

Tin Can Mailman

Skip the touristy souvenir stores and head to Tin Can Mailman for an authentic piece of old Hawai’i. The tiny, unassuming shop is stocked with tons of vintage post cards, posters, jewelry, mid-century hula girl sculptures and all kinds of other knick knacks related to the Aloha State. Check their Instagram page for a daily update on new finds or, if you’re in search of something special, give them a call and they’ll track it down.

Images by Kevin Serai


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