Honolulu: The Savvy Insider’s Guide
January 29, 2015
Due to its relative proximity and some cultural similarities, Hawaii is a popular destination for those traveling from Japan, but many people stick to the tourist center and never see the more "real" side of this island paradise. It may be difficult to imagine wanting a break from the sun, surf and fun of Waikiki, but if it happens, it is well worthwhile hopping on a local bus and heading out of town to see Honolulu like a local.
Number 62 of the helpfully named local bus carrier The Bus will take you from the Ala Moana Mall past the airport and Pearl Harbor to the suburb of Pearl City. Here you will find not only branches of the familiar department stores Macy’s and Sears, but also a range of shops and restaurants that are the go-to places for locals to shop, eat and play.
Saturdays are a good day to head out this way, as a local farmers’ market convenes in the Sears parking lot. Produce including island fruits and vegetables, crafts and fabulous food are on sale for reasonable prices. The WowWow lemonade stand sells drinks made from fresh lemons and tropical fruits. Two great concoctions to try are the lilikoi (passionfruit and ginger) and lavender and blackberries. The Naked Cow Dairy offers Hawaiian specialties such as fromage blanc with siracha, labneh yogurt cheese, and Hawaiian sea salt butter. Another real surprise at the market is the sea asparagus, which is freshly harvested and sold as salad greens or diced into a tomato and onion salsa.
Other stands have waffles, quiche, and the hometown favorite of locomoco, here deep fried as a ball of rice, sausage, egg and panko crumbs. If that’s too Hawaiian for you, the Baker Dude has freshly baked croissants and artisan breads and cakes.
On other days, usually Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays, the nearby stadium plays host to the Aloha Swap Meet, where over 400 vendors sell everything under sun. This is where the locals come to in order to buy inexpensive clothing, gifts and traditional crafts. You will also find the cheapest souvenirs in Hawaii. There is a one dollar entry fee.
Back at the Sears car park, it is useful to know that the two department stores are linked by a monorail. From here you can see the rest of the shopping complex known as the Pear Ridge Mall. This includes not only toy and interior decor shops but also a great health food store called Down to Earth. It’s a good spot to pick up snacking supplies or a healthy lunch from the salad and homemade pizza and sandwich bar. Of course, it’s all organic.
One thing you will notice is that Hawaiians eat out a lot. Pearl Ridge has some great family dining options, including the famous original Anna Miller’s pie shop. Surprisingly, the pies take second place to the a la carte menu. Extremely popular with families, the food here is good, hearty fare. Don’t be put off by long lines of people waiting for their piece of pie. Pop downstairs to Bravos, an Italian style family restaurant voted the most popular eatery by local residents.
Behind Anna Miller’s in a strip mall are several other restaurant choices, among them the award winning Vietnamese Pho My Lien. Open for both lunch and dinner, the pho, salads and “summer” rolls are inexpensive and delicious.
Hawaiians are also all about family, and you will find some great play destinations in the general vicinity. 808 Bounce is an indoor playground consisting of six large bouncy castles that will keep the kids entertained for hours. It has a $10 entrance fee but no time limit and unlimited same day re-entry. A local branch of Gymboree also offers drop-in play and music sessions for younger children, although it would be a good idea to book ahead. There is also a busy movie theater located in the Pearl Ridge Mall for those days when it’s raining, too hot, or the kids need some down time.
Further down the bus route on the left, not far from Pearl Ridge, is the Neal S. Blaisdel Park. Popular with families and sporty types, it offers cycling and jogging trails, picnic sites, and a children’s playground. There is plenty of shade from large trees and beautiful views over Pearl Harbor. This is a busy park where locals come to train their dogs, do yoga and let their kids run and play. On the weekends there are many families enjoying barbecues and the fresh air. There is access to the sea, but no real beach.