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A local’s guide to Hawaii

This article originally appeared on www.hotelclub.com/blog. which is now part of hotels.com

Hawaii is a land full of hidden gems and incredible cultural experiences, to help you find the best of the best we spoke to 6 of Hawaii’s local experts for their views on the places not to miss as well as where to get off the beaten track to help you plan your next stay.

Here we highlight our top 10 best places to explore taken from the full interviews with our local experts below:

1. Hottest restaurant at the moment – MW, Honolulu

“Although the sophisticated restaurant has become known for its modern take on Hawaii Regional Cuisine, I always recommend them because of their stellar desserts. Some people even go to MW just to do a multi-course dessert tasting. It’s that good. While you’re there, try the MW Candy bar with a macadamia nut-praline crunch, salted caramel, and Waialua chocolate. ” Coty of Exploration Hawaii

 

A photo posted by nadia ???? (@nadia_blogs) on

2. Best beach bar – Dukes, Waikiki

“The bar is located in the heart of Waikiki and is wildly popular with locals and tourists alike. The drink menu is vast and the atmosphere is like no other.” Jeremy of Beyond Honolulu

 

A photo posted by Duke’s Waikiki (@dukeswaikiki) on

3. Most popular hotel – Grand Wailea Waldorf Astoria, Maui

“The property itself is beautiful from top to bottom, and they have so many amazing water features that people from other hotels try to sneak in just to try them. Their spa, with several salt pools and massage waterfalls, is one of the most unique. I also love that they have many Hawaiian cultural activities on property so that visitors can learn about true Hawaii traditions in an interactive way. Try their signature restaurant, Humuhumunukunukuapua’a, for a delicious sunset dinner.” Melissa from Frolic Hawaii

 

A photo posted by Grand Wailea (@grandwailea) on

4. Best hidden gem beach – Lanikai Beach, windward coast of Oahu

“The water is crystal clear and amazing for snorkelling and kayaking. Two other favourites are Waimea Bay on the North Shore and Cromwells Beach in town — a hidden gem for locals.” Emma from the Aloha Babe.

 

  A photo posted by Wendy Perez-Vergara (@wensiam) on

5. Best surfing beach – Sunset Beach, North Shore of Oahu

“..two most popular places to surf (both locally and worldwide) are Sunset Beach (Pipeline)
on the North Shore of Oahu, and world famous “Jaws” on Maui. Both offer incredible surfing experiences and both are very dangerous and famous, bringing the best surfers from around the world.” Jeremy of Beyond Honolulu.

 

A photo posted by Micah Moniz (@micahmoniz) on

6. Best shopping – Ala Moana Center, Waikiki

“Ala Moana Center is the largest shopping centre in Hawaii, and the world’s largest outdoor shopping centre. They have hundreds of retailers, including department stores and Hawaii-based retailers.” Gem from Hawaii Mom Blog

7. Best hiking – Kuliouou Ridge Trail, Honolulu

“Think that the view from Hawaii’s beaches is great? Imagine the view from a few thousand feet high above.”  Coty from Exploration Hawaii

 

A photo posted by Avery (@greeneenergy) on

8. Best festival – Lantern Floating Festival, Oahu’s South shore 

“The biggest and most popular annual event in Hawaii is the yearly Lantern Floating Festival held every Memorial Day. The event garners 40,000 – 50,000 people yearly and is watched by hundreds of thousands more online from Hawaii and Japan.” Jeremy from Beyond Honolulu

 

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9. Best off the beaten track destination –  Molokai 

“The least developed island in Hawaii, Molokai is the perfect off-the-beaten track destination. There are no upscale resorts, no high-end restaurants, no stoplights, no shopping malls or McDonald’s. But it does offer empty white-sand beaches, hikes through native forests, and complete relaxation.” Catherine from the Cat Dish.

10. Best offbeat attraction – Papakolea Beach (Green Sand Beach), Big Island of Hawaii

“Truth be told, the islands of Hawaii are full of “off the beaten path” destinations that tourists have no idea even exist. Each island has several, but one that stands out is located on the Big Island (Hawaii Island). Papakolea, or Green Sand Beach, is located at the southern tip, just west of south point. The green sand is actually caused by past volcano eruptions.” Jeremy from Beyond Honolulu.

For the full details of our  local experts picks for the best places not to miss, please read the detailed interviews below.  

CotyGonzalesCoty of Exploration Hawaii

Coty Gonzales is the founder of ExplorationHawaii.com, a collective of like-minded adventurers, food enthusiasts, and photographers. Born and raised on Oahu, Coty is a trained cognitive psychologist who loves teaching college students the science of psychology. He also enjoys traveling, hamachi nigiri, and spontaneous adventures with good people.

1. What’s Hawaii’s best off the beaten track destination/attraction?

Those looking for an off-the-beaten-path adventure should definitely look mauka (Hawaiian for “toward the mountains”). Hawaii is home to an amazing collection of ridge trails ripe for hiking. Think that the view from Hawaii’s beaches is great? Imagine the view from a few thousand feet high above. My recommendation would be to check out Kuliouou Ridge Trail on Oahu…the views of the Windward Coast are simply stunning. 

2. Where can you find the best hidden gem beaches in Hawaii?

You’ll definitely want to step out of Waikiki for the best beaches in Hawaii. If on Oahu, I’d suggest just driving along the North Shore until you find a spot you like. Of course, iconic Waimea Bay is a popular beach for world class surfers and beachgoers alike. It can also get very crowded, so check out Haleiwa Beach Park to hang loose with locals and for a chance to spot a sunbathing honu (Hawaiian for turtle). Just past Waimea Bay is Shark’s Cove, a wonderful place for snorkelling and a great alternative to the busy Hanauma Bay on the east side. During the winter, the North Shore is a bit too rough to be enjoyable for the casual swimmer. Instead, drive over to Kailua and enjoy the soft sand and clear waters at Kailua Beach Park and Lanikai Beach. I’d also recommend renting a kayak so that you can paddle out to the two small islands (Mokulua Islands) that you can see from both Kailua and Lanikai Beach. 

3. What’s the hottest restaurant in Hawaii at the moment?

Two letters, MW.
Founders and husband and wife duo, Michelle Karr-Ueoka and Wade Ueoka, opened their restaurant a little over two years ago. Although the sophisticated restaurant has become known for its modern take on Hawaii Regional Cuisine, I always recommend them because of their stellar desserts. Some people even go to MW just to do a multi-course dessert tasting. It’s that good. While you’re there, try the MW Candy bar with a macadamia nut-praline crunch, salted caramel, and Waialua chocolate. 

5. What are the most exciting annual events in Hawaii?

The Honolulu Festival has been a signature event in Hawaii for more than twenty years. People from all over the world come to experience the many cultural performances spread throughout this weekend long event. If you enjoy food, then you’ve got to check out the annual Hawaii Food & Wine Festival, the premier epicurean event in the Pacific. Over 100 internationally-renowned master chefs embark on the islands every year to partake in the festival, many of whom are James Beard Award-winning chefs.

6. What’s your favourite hotel/resort in Hawaii and why?

I’d have to go with the Grand Wailea Resort on Maui. The hospitality is amazing, sunsets from the pool are spectacular, and their luxurious Spa Grande is a world class retreat for those looking for pampering and relaxation. The five Hawaiian sea salt baths are a must try for those who decide to stay at the Grand Wailea and indulge at Spa Grande. 

 

EmmaEmma from The Aloha Babe

Emma Wo is the current reigning Miss Hawaii USA who recently placed in the Top 10 at Miss USA 2015 and a former Miss Hawaii Teen USA. She is a fashion blogger and owner of TheAlohaBabe.com and has interned in the fashion closet at Vogue Magazine in New York City. A senior account executive at Bennet Group Public Relations, she represents clients in the areas of travel tourism and real estate.

1. Where can you find Hawaii’s best shopping?

I always love supporting our local boutiques and you can find tons of great things and pieces by Hawaii-based designers, too. Bamboo Sky, The Butik and Fighting Eel are a few that come to mind.

2. Where can you find the best beaches in Hawaii?

My favorite beach on Oahu is definitely Lanikai Beach. The water is crystal clear and amazing for snorkeling and kayaking. Two other favorites are Waimea Bay on the North Shore and Cromwells Beach in town — a hidden gem for locals.

3. What’s the best restaurant in Hawaii at the moment?

For fine dining, Alan Wong’s can’t be beat. They specialize in asian fusion cuisine and I highly recommend the ginger crusted onaga if you’re a fish lover like me. Other hot spots to try are The Pig & the Lady, Lucky Belly and MW Restaurant — don’t leave without trying their desserts!

4. Where can you find the best nighlife in Hawaii?

If you’re looking for great nightlife, I would recommend heading into Waikiki. The Modern Honolulu hotel has a great bar in the lobby called The Study, and a nightclub called Addiction that are popular on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. Rumfire in The Sheraton Waikiki is another fun beachside bar to stop by.

5. What’s your favourite hotel/resort in Hawaii and why?

I recently stayed at The Modern Honolulu and had a fantastic time. It’s chic and perfect for it you want to stay just outside the hustle and bustle of central Waikiki.

6. Anything you would like to add?

Whenever anyone is visiting Hawaii for the first time, I always tell them to try authentic Hawaiian food. Some of the absolute best Hawaiian food can be found at Helena’s Hawaiian Food and Ono Hawaiian Foods.

 

IMG_2943Jeremy from Beyond Honolulu

Beach, coffee and Aloha Spirit. Jeremy was raised in Hawaii and loves island life.  Jeremy loves everything about Hawaii and enjoys sharing aspects of the islands with others. Jeremy started Beyond Honolulu in 2010 and has been writing it ever since.

1. What’s Hawaii’s best off the beaten track destination/attraction?

Truth be told, the islands of Hawaii are full of “off the beaten path” destinations that tourists have no idea even exist. Each island has several, but one that stands out is located on the Big Island (Hawaii Island). Papakolea, or Green Sand Beach, is located at the southern tip, just west of south point. The green sand is actually caused by past volcano eruptions. It is off the beaten path for sure. To get to the area you have to either have a 4 wheel drive or you have to hike for 2.5 miles.

2. Where can you find the best surfing in Hawaii?

Hawaii is littered full of some of the world’s best surfing, but it is hard to argue that the two most popular places to surf (both locally and worldwide) are Sunset Beach (Pipeline) on the North Shore of Oahu, and world famous “Jaws” on Maui. Both offer incredible surfing experiences and both are very dangerous and famous, bringing the best surfers from around the world.

3. What’s the hottest restaurant in Hawaii at the moment?

Much like anywhere else restaurants come and go fairly quickly in Hawaii. However, one that has actually caught on and stuck around is called 12th Ave Grill. The restaurant has become so popular that it was awarded the Hale Aina Award for “Restaurant of the Year” in Hawaii.

 

A photo posted by @12thavegrill on

4. What’s your pick of the best bar in Hawaii and why?

There are three that stand out… Duke’s on the Beach,Mai Tai Bar and Murphy’s Bar and Grill. They all bring a unique experience but of the three Duke’s on the Beach takes the prize. The bar is located in the heart of Waikiki and is wildly popular with locals and tourists alike. The drink menu is vast and the atmosphere is like no other.

5. What is Hawaii’s hottest annual event?

When you look at hot annual events in Hawai’i you have to look at it from a different perspective. It isn’t a concert or a party, it is more a culturally based event that is hugely popular in Hawaii. While Hawaii does host the Sony Open Golf Tourney which is very popular, as well as the Honolulu Festival…. The biggest and most popular annual event in Hawaii is the yearly Lantern Floating Festival held every Memorial Day. The event garners 40,000 – 50,000 people yearly and is watched by hundreds of thousands more online from Hawaii and Japan.

6. What’s your favourite hotel/resort in Hawaii and why?

The Grand Wailea on Maui. The Grand Wailea is a Waldorf Astoria Resort and provides the best of everything for its customers. It has 780 rooms, has the best pool in all of Hawaii, one of the best spas in the entire nation, and is located next to one of the most beautiful beaches in the United States. Combine all that with golf, a huge gym and modern luxury around every corner and the Grand Walilea on Maui is definitely my favorite.

7. Anything you would like to add? 

Hawaii is one of those places that stays the same, yet changes. The vibe and laid back Aloha that the islands provide is always there, yet the types of places that are popular in Hawaii are ever changing (with a few exceptions). The amount of hidden gems scattered throughout the Hawaiian Islands are almost endless, but if you have time and are willing to travel outside of Waikiki you will make incredible memories that will last a lifetime.

 

Catherine Toth FoxCatherine of The Cat Dish

Born and raised on Oahu, Catherine Toth Fox has been chronicling her adventures in her blog for nearly a decade. She worked as a newspaper reporter in Hawaii for 10 years and continues to freelance — in between teaching journalism, hitting the surf and eating everything in sight — for national and local print and online publications.

1. What’s Hawaii’s best off-the-beaten track destination/attraction?

The least developed island in Hawaii, Molokai is the perfect off-the-beaten track destination. There are no upscale resorts, no high-end restaurants, no stoplights, no shopping malls or McDonald’s. But it does offer empty white-sand beaches, hikes through native forests, and complete relaxation.

2. Where can you find the best hiking in Hawaii?

As Stuart Ball wrote in “The Hiker’s Guide to Oahu,” a must-read for anyone visiting the Islands with plans to hike, “Oahu is truly a paradise for hikers.” There are more than 80 vastly different and accessible trails on this island — along windswept ridges, through lush valleys and native forests, to cascading waterfalls. The island boasts a variety of day hikes for every level, from the paved path along the rugged southeastern coastline to the Makapu‘u Lighthouse to the steep, difficult climb to the tallest summit on O‘ahu, Mount Ka‘ala, at 4,026 feet on the island’s west side.

3. What’s the hottest restaurant in Hawaii at the moment?

The buzz around The Pig and the Lady, a critically acclaimed family-run restaurant in the gentrified Chinatown district in Honolulu, has only grown since it opened in late 2013. The Le family serves up a contemporary, street-style spin on traditional Vietnamese fare that has evolved from a farmer’s market stand to a bricks-and-mortar restaurant, with a chef recently nominated for a James Beard Award. You can’t go wrong with any of the noodle dishes and the Laotian fried chicken with pickled chiles is a must-not-miss.

4. What’s your favourite beach in Hawaii?

While nearby Lanikai Beach gets most of the attention, Kailua Beach offers that same Instagram-worthy white-sand beach with half the crowd. Stretching two miles, this beach offers surfing, swimming, diving, parasailing and kiteboarding. You can kayak to a couple of offshore islets or just lounge on the powdery soft sand and read.

 

A photo posted by ooyuikooo (@ooyuikooo) on

5. What’s your favourite hotel/resort in Hawaii and why?

There are so many great resorts in Hawaii, from the secluded Kahala Hotel & Resort that’s just minutes from bustling Waikiki to the all-inclusive Travaasa Hana in the remote town on the eastern coastline of Maui. But I really love the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai at Historic Ka‘apulehu on Hawaii Island. It boast intimate two-story bungalows — with an outdoor shower on the lower levels — open-air living spaces and luxurious amenities including an incredible spa. It’s a splurge, for sure!

6. Anything you would like to add? 

Most people don’t realise Hawaii has a winery — and a good one at that! MauiWine is Maui’s only winery and the state’s oldest, in business for 40 years. It recently hired an up-and-coming winemaker, Brett Miller, from Oregon who’s taken the vints to the next level. The winery, located at ‘Ulupalakua Ranch in Upcountry Maui offers tours and tastings near its vineyards. Worth visiting!

 

MelissaMelissa from Frolic Hawaii

Melissa has more than 25+ years’ experience in marketing and public relations and is is currently a freelance writer and independent marketing consultant. Melissa writes for FrolicHawaii.com, Gayot.com, Fodors, Honolulu Magazine (real estate), and Edible Hawaiian Islands.

1. Where can you find the best hidden gem beaches in Hawaii?

Some of my favorites are on the North Shore of Oahu. They aren’t as crowded as the ones in town or Kailua, despite being very popular. The only time you need to be careful is in the winter, when the waves are huge and can be dangerous!

2. What’s the hottest restaurant in Hawaii at the moment?

There are a few. One is Migrant Maui in Wailea, since Sheldon Simeon is the chef there. He was a finalist and a fan favorite in Top Chef a couple of years ago, and people want to see what his style of cooking — elevated Filipino — is all about. Another is MW Restaurant on Oahu, named after owner/chefs Michelle and Wade Ueoka. They have a young, fresh approach to their food, but they’ve been at it for almost 20 years. Their desserts are to die for.

 

A photo posted by Migrant Maui (@migrantmaui) on

3. What’s your pick of the best bar in Hawaii and why?

Many people will steer you to hotel bars, which have nice cocktails, but you’ll find some of the best cocktails in Wang Chung’s, a karaoke bar hidden in a back street in Waikiki. Aside from a regular full bar, owner Danny Chang has spirits that he’s infused himself with local fruits, herbs and spices. The cocktails made with those spirits have cheeky names to poke at Chang’s Asian heritage, like my favorite Ho-Chi-tini, or more raunchy names like the popular whore-chata. He also makes homemade ginger beer.

4. What’s your favourite hotel/resort in Hawaii and why?

You have to see the Grand Wailea on Maui. The property itself is beautiful from top to bottom, and they have so many amazing water features that people from other hotels try to sneak in just to try them. Their spa, with several salt pools and massage waterfalls, is one of the most unique. I also love that they have many Hawaiian cultural activities on property so that visitors can learn about true Hawaii traditions in an interactive way. Try their signature restaurant, Humuhumunukunukuapua’a, for a delicious sunset dinner.

5. Anything you would like to add?  Everyone knows that Kona coffee is the best in the world. But did you know about Ka’u coffee, Kona’s sexier younger sister? The Ka’u Coffee Festival happens every year at the southernmost part of the Big Island at the end of April/beginning of May and at this writing, is still very much a hidden gem. You can taste some of the world’s best coffee brewed different ways, buy local food, watch local entertainment and experience a slice of a different kind of life in Hawaii.

 

Gem from Hawaii Mom Blog

Gem is the founder of Hawaii Mom Blog, and has been blogging since 2008.  She is a mom of 3 boys, and she loves to bake, dine out, and travel. She is a dessertaholic and reality show addict.  You can find her on Instagram @808gem and on Twitter @saGEMom.

1. What’s Hawaii’s best family friendly

destination/attraction?

Kualoa (Oahu). Located on the Windward side of Oahu, Kualoa offers a variety of tours to choose from that are in line with their mission of preserving the area while being able to share the history and natural beauty with visitors. Tours include the Ocean Voyage Tour, Jungle Expedition Tour, ATV Tours, Horseback Tours, and more!

 

A photo posted by DAZ (@chileflacko) on

2. Where can you find the best hidden gem beaches in Hawaii?

I haven’t discovered any true “hidden gem” beaches, but Kokololio Beach (Oahu) is a gem in the sense that it is an absolutely beautiful beach, but it doesn’t get as crowded as the more popular beaches around the island.

3. What’s the best restaurant in Hawaii at the moment?

On Oahu, one of the best restaurants is MW Restaurant. A husband and wife team runs this fairly new restaurant, which offers delectable dishes and creative desserts that keep guests coming back for more.

4. Where can you find the best shopping in Hawaii?

Ala Moana Center (Oahu). Ala Moana Center is the largest shopping center in Hawaii, and the world’s largest outdoor shopping center. They have hundreds of retailers, including department stores and Hawaii-based retailers.

5. What’s your favourite family friendly hotel/resort in Hawaii and why?

The Four Seasons Resort Hualalai at Ka`upulehu. They have an awesome keiki pool which my middle son declared “the best pool ever,” an Ohana Suite complete with bean bag chairs, Xbox, and a telescope, a Kids for All Seasons program, and Hale Kula – a room offering video games, toys, and more!