Layover in Honolulu: How to maximize a short visit

Sometimes, with the way you bought that unbelievably cheap ticket off Kayak or Skyscanner, the route isn’t the most direct.

Suddenly, you’re left with a 23-hour layover in Manila … and you just figured out that Manila isn’t a wafer-like cookie.

The lovely little city by the sea. And surf. And sun. And, yeah...just go. Photo: Christian Joudrey
The lovely little city by the sea. And surf. And sun. And … yeah, just go. Photo: Courtesy of Christian Joudrey

But no need to hate the layover. Rather, embrace it — especially when it’s in Honolulu. Indeed, even in eight hours, you could check off at least one of the things mentioned below on a layover.

And these are things you don’t find in the tourist pamphlets in baggage claim. This is a layover suitable for an Oahu local.

Where to play

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Mostly in the water, or near it. As in “the beach.” Surfing off the shores of Waikiki, Ala Moana and Diamond Head are definite go-to’s, and most surf shops rent boards.

For an even more local experience, drive east to Sandy Beach or around the corner to Makapuu for amazing beaches and bodysurfing.

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If it’s a hike you’ve got in mind, Diamond Head Lookout is an easy one, but 8 miles farther east is the Koko Head Trail — a leg burner, but worth the view. Kaimana Beach on the Diamond Head end of Waikiki is also a nice breather from the hustle and bustle.

Where to party

Waikiki? Not really — that’s for tourists. If you want a more local experience and you’ve got a night to kill, go to Chinatown next to downtown.

It’s a little seedy and rough around the edges, but next to dollar-karaoke dive bars are hip and trendy craft whiskey bars, nightclubs and music venues.

The Kakaako area (halfway between downtown and Ala Moana) is also coming up these days, with cool bars and cafes.

Where to eat

The Kaimuki neighborhood’s got a bunch of options, from French to Nepalese to Jamaican to Korean BBQ and way beyond.

RELATED: What to do on a rainy Oahu vacation

New to the Ala Moana shopping center is the huge Shirokiya Japan Village Walk food court, which, with a million options and $3 draft beers, resembles an authentic Japanese eating experience.

Kapahulu Avenue has some great Japanese and even authentic Hawaiian stops, and, again, Chinatown has The Pig and the Lady, arguably the best restaurant in the state.

Where to drink

Chinatown for a well-mixed craft cocktail, your choice of the seaside high-rises at Waikiki for a view of the sunset, and, if you’re feeling eccentric, near the airport is La Mariana Sailing Club, the most authentically awesome of tiki bars in Hawaii.

Secluded much?

Not too far from the Honolulu hustle and bustle is this gem on the Eastside. Photo: Flemister
Not too far from the Honolulu hustle and bustle is this gem on the Eastside. Photo: Beau Flemister
If you’ve got a rental (which we strongly recommend for maximum mobility), up on the North Shore (and west of Haleiwa) are miles and miles of secluded beaches.

If it’s summer, most beaches north of Haleiwa on the North Shore are also pretty barren. Waimanalo Beach, on the southern eastside, is also quite empty.

RELATED: A complete guide to a Honolulu summer surf trip

Just don’t leave valuables in the car or glove box while you’re enjoying the seclusion. Trust us.

Don’t waste your time with …

A Pearl Harbor tour. Unless you really want to see the sparse remains of a rusty ship with a few hundred other tourists.

Also, Hanauma Bay. I know every guidebook tells you to, but seriously, there are way better beaches across the island and you could snorkel somewhere else.

And, a luau. The Paradise Cove luau is another tourist trap, and you’re better off offering real locals a beer at a random beach park; they’ll probably bring you into a better BBQ.

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