Actually Cool Things You Can (Still) Do in Honolulu Right Now
Even locals love this stuff.
While stricter quarantine measures closed Hawaii to visitors and locals for most of the summer, things are slowly starting to look different for islanders as fall sets in and restrictions begin to ease. According to Mayor Caldwell’s latest stay-at-home order, visits to beaches, parks, trails, and botanical gardens in groups of five people are now permitted beginning September 24. This includes outdoor activities such as walking, running, sunbathing, fishing, biking, and picnics -- what the city terms as “lawful activity” can now occur in public spaces.
The new order also allows the re-opening of non-essential businesses like museums, attractions, movie theaters, and bowling alleys, which can operate at a 50% capacity and groups of no more than five people. Bars, concerts, nightclubs, helicopter tours, and short-term rentals, however, remain closed.
Overseas and mainland visitors can expect to travel to Hawaii beginning October 15 and avoid the mandatory 14-day quarantine, provided that they have proof of a negative COVID-19 test -- taken within 72 hours of departure -- from a state-approved testing facility, and complete a State Department of Agriculture form before arrival on the islands. Travelers with no approved negative test, however, will still have to quarantine for 14 days.
Figuring out what’s opened or closed while staying current with the changes in restrictions can be confusing. But don’t worry, we got you covered. As Oahu continues to ease up on its restrictions, here’s everything islanders can still do in Honolulu right now while maintaining adequate social distancing.
Located in Hawaii Kai, Sandy Beach is not only a great place to hang out, but it’s also one of the prime locations on the island to fly kites. A steady breeze, large field of grass, and orange markers to indicate wind direction all make it ideal for novices and expert kite fliers. Just remember that there’s no shade, so wear a hat, and if you’re going to make a day of it, don’t forget an ice-cold cooler full of your favorite beverages.
Hawai‘i Heritage Center offers a two-hour walking tour through Chinatown’s historic district. Run by volunteer docents since the 1980s, the tours visit herbalists, vegetable and fruit stalls, as well as an array of Chinese restaurants that reflect the area’s unique culture. This culture and food tour comes with tons of recommendations on where to get the best dim sum.
Put them hiking boots on, find a cool walking stick, and explore the mammoth-sized trees and vines up at Manoa Falls. A relatively easy hike with amazing views, the waterfall at the end is beautiful and worth the trek. Be careful on the damp, muddy rocks as they can get very slick, especially after a day of rain.
Conveniently located on the road from Honolulu to historic Haleiwa Town, the Dole Pineapple Plantation is the perfect stop on the way to or from Oahu’s scenic North Shore. Spend the morning racing through the world's largest outdoor maze -- it's over three acres in size -- made from 14,000 colorful Hawaiian plants before climbing up on the Pineapple express train that takes you through two miles of land, where you learn all about the history of growing pineapple in Hawaii. No trip is complete without a serving of their world-famous signature Dole Whip.
Situated in Wahiawa, Ali'i Agriculture Fishing Farm is a recreational fishing farm that’s perfect for a socially distanced day of fun. One of the few recreational fishing farms on the island, Ali’i is the ideal spot for teaching the keiki all about the art of fishing. The pond is teeming with catfish, grass carp, and tilapia, so catching one is always guaranteed. The price of admission includes a fishing pole and bag of bait, with the option to cook your fresh catch on site.
Photograph the scenic Ko’olau Mountains on the Pali Lookout
Take a scenic drive over the Pali Highway (Highway 61), stopping at the Nu’uanu Pali Lookout. Offering panoramic views of the lush valley down below, this historic site is the site of the 1795 Battle of Nuuanu in which King Kamehameha I won and united the island of Oahu under his rule. While at the Lookout, you'll also have the chance to stare down the 985- foot cliff face that makes up the Ko'olau Mountain Range.
Satisfy your food truck cravings in Haleiwa
Haleiwa, North Shore
Famous for its enormous swells and world-renowned surf competitions, the North Shore is also home to a thriving food truck scene that attracts both locals and visitors alike. Not only will you see a variety of food trucks parked along the side of the highway as you head into town, but the food truck court in Haleiwa offers a smorgasbord of fare. Whatever you are craving, they probably have it. There’s tacos from Surf n Salsa, pizza from Jax, Korean food from Hono’s, vegetarian from The Beet Box, Thai food from Malai Thai, and Hawaiian food from Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck. There’s even a coffee cart, frozen yogurt, acai bowls, shave ice, and funnel cake.
Catch da bus around the island
Mask up, get your $2.50 ready, and experience the adventure of a true local bus ride. Da Bus, as it’s commonly referred to by locals, is a reliable source to travel around the island of Oahu. You can pretty much spend the whole day getting off and on the bus and explore the island. Most Oahu buses arrive at the bus stops every 10 to 30 minutes and go to Waikiki, downtown Honolulu, Wahiawa, and the North Shore. Popular stops include Diamond Head State Park, the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial, Laniakea Beach, and Kailua Beach Park. A one-day pass for adults costs $5.50 and gives users unlimited rides for up to 27 hours.
Visit a Hawaiian pumpkin patch
Although Hawaii doesn’t experience the delightful changing of the leaves, we still have a soft spot for pumpkins. And what better way to welcome fall than by taking a stroll through Hawaii's very own pumpkin patches? Making their debut every weekend in October, these pumpkin patches offer you the option to pick your pumpkins, which can then be carved for Halloween or proudly displayed on your front porch. Waimanalo Country Farms is one of the locations open this fall.
Local bike-share program Biki offers over 1,300 bikes and 130 docking stations in Honolulu, allowing you and the entire family to exercise your way around the city. With the new socially distanced measures extended to include biking in public spaces, there's never been a better way to enjoy the outdoors than a bike ride. And, according to its website, high-touch areas, bikes and kiosks are all routinely disinfected.
Known by the locals as Walls, this popular hotspot is where many locals first learn how to boogie board. With its amazing 360-degree view of Waikiki Bay, the Walls is also the ideal location for watching an iconic Hawaiian sunset or capturing epic photos of Waikiki’s surf and rugged coastline. On most days, expect to find locals and tourists hanging out, playing music, or wading in the water in oversized floaties. Free street parking is available by the Honolulu Zoo and Kapiolani Park. Some spaces, near the Waikiki Bandstand and Aquarium, are also free but they may be difficult to come by -- especially during peak sunset or weekend times.
Wade in the cool waters at Jackass Ginger
Named after a donkey that lived there over 100 years ago and for the plentiful ginger plants that align the walking trail, the Jackass Ginger Pool is more of a swimming hole than a waterfall attraction. Just a short drive from downtown Honolulu, you’ll find many hikers that came from the Judd Trail cooling off with a refreshing dip in the pool. On fair-weather weekends, it's best to start early to avoid the crowds.
Get your workout in with a spectacular view of Ala Moana
Visiting for a few days and looking for a "different" workout experience? Since gyms are still not able to reopen for another few weeks, why not sign up for an outdoor sunset workout with Team Move. With small class sizes due to current social distancing guidelines (no more than five people), workouts that target muscles you never knew existed, and incredible sunset views, working out has never been more worth it.
Stuff yourself with Poi donuts
Made from boiled and pounded taro root, Poi is Hawaii's version of the Portuguese malasada donut is one big, purple puffy ball of deep-fried heaven. Covered in a sweet glaze, this melt-in-your-mouth dessert has been making the rounds on Instagram. The best poi donuts can be found at Kamehameha Bakery, Uncle Lani’s Poi Mochi, Holey Grail Donuts, and Liliha Bakery.
Seek out authentic Hawaiian food
From the first Japanese immigrants almost a hundred years ago to the Filipino, Chinese, and Puerto Rican sugarcane workers, Hawaii has long been a melting pot of cultures. Today, rich food traditions make up the islands’ diverse eateries where spam musubi, poke, and macaroni salad reign supreme. For a true taste of Authentic Native Hawaiian food -- lau lau, kalua pig, and poi -- head to Helena’s Hawaiian Food, Da Ono Hawaiian Food, Highway Inn Kaka’ako, Oahu Grill, or Haili’s Hawaiian Foods.
Seek out hidden street art in Kaka'ako
Still the hippest place in Honolulu, the district of Kakaako was once known for its rundown warehouses until a group of internationally known street artists bombed the neighborhood with colorful graffiti a few years back. The art scene includes Pow! Wow! Hawaii -- a collective group of artists that gather for a weeklong event every February to paint new murals over the older ones. There are hidden artworks all over Kaka’ako so spend the day looking for them. After your walk through the area, stay for coffee, or dine at the many of the restaurants and cafes at SALT Kaka’ako.
Take a guided tour at Shangri La, an oceanside home owned by the globetrotting heiress Doris Duke. Built in 1937, the home was heavily inspired by the heiress's travels through the Islamic world and the Middle East. There are over 4,500 artifacts in the present-day collection, including works of art from India, central Asia, Iran, Syria, Egypt, Spain, and Morocco. The home has a central courtyard, gilded ceilings, wooden paneled walls, mosaic tile work, and Persian carpets. You can also check out the Hawaiian fishpond and tropical garden on the estate. Duke was a trendsetter and lived the life of luxury at her slice of heaven in Hawaii. The Honolulu Museum of Arts offers guided tours Wednesday through Saturday and takes about three hours.
Visit the Palace of Hawaii's last reigning Monarchs
The controversial history of the Hawaiian monarchy starts here. Built in 1879, Iolani Palace served as the official residence of the Hawaiian monarchy until 1893, when a group of businessmen, supported by the U.S. military, led a coup d’état to overthrow Queen Liliuokalani and imprison her inside the stately premises. The palace remains a somber reminder of Hawaii’s controversial past, but the building is still a stunning testament to history. Take a tour to see the golden throne room and its majestic chairs, as well as the music room on the second floor that displays items given to King Kalakaua during his reign. The room in which Queen Liliuokalani was held displays the quilt she made during her imprisonment.
Season two of Pop-Up Mākeke begins as a virtual pop-up October 1, showcasing over 400 small business vendors from all over Oahu and the neighboring islands. With worldwide shipping -- free if you’re in Hawaii -- and over a thousand products to choose from, shopping for unique gifts this holiday season has never been easier. Created in partnership with the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement (CNHA), the online pop-up market aims to uplift the islands' local artists and small business owners, who have been most affected by the effects of the pandemic.
Also known as Electric Beach, Kahe Point Beach Park is a public beach on the Westside is beloved by free-divers, scuba divers, and snorkelers due to its clear, warm water from a nearby power plant that brings with it a diversity of marine life. It’s one of the most kid-friendly snorkeling spots on the island where you can spot not only dolphins and monk seals playing in the waters, but Hawaiian green sea turtles casually basking in the sand. Remember to stay 10 feet away from turtles and monk seals -- they're both endangered species of wildlife that are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, State of Hawaii law, and Endangered Species Act.
Impressive ocean and mountain views make this intermediate hike through a gated community worth the effort. Make sure to bring your state ID with you as the guard station checks IDs and makes you sign a waiver before proceeding through. Multi-million dollar homes line either side of the drive up to the trailhead. The trail is best hiked in the late afternoon on full moon nights as the reflection shimmers in the ocean waters down below. There’s even a great view of Diamond Head from the parking lot -- arrive early as only ten parking passes are given out each day.
Wander and get lost in Hawaii’s beautiful gardens
Showcasing everything from endemic fauna and flora to thousands of tropical and subtropical plants, Oahu’s botanical gardens make for the perfect setting for an afternoon lunch or relaxing stroll. The towering trees, tropical flowers, and lush landscapes of the Lyon Arboretum, Foster Botanical Gardens, and Koko Crater Botanical Gardens are just what the doctor ordered for your pandemic stress relief.
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