Once the kitsch capital of the Pacific, Honolulu has grown into an urban paradise with a singular style-- a mélange of East, West, and Polynesia that is loosely defined as "local." But local need not be provincial. The city's restaurants are on the cutting edge of Pacific cuisine, and the arts scene has blossomed in the past two years, thanks to a burgeoning revival of Hawaiian culture. With a population of close to 900,000-- plus more than 35,000 tourists daily-- Honolulu has the critical mass for big-city moves, but retains a small-town feel. Insiders' tastes favor less-known places, with a few classics thrown in for good measure.
Linguists call it Hawaiian creole; islanders call it pidgin. Either way, Hawaii has a language all its own that mixes and matches Hawaiian, Chinese, and Japanese words with an English base. The cadence is a staccato singsong.
bambucha: very big
broke da mout': super-tasty
cockaroach: to steal or confiscate
geevum: go for it!
grinds: food, meal (to grind is to eat)
high mucka mucka: arrogant, elite
howzit: standard local greeting, meaning "How are you?"
make house: make yourself at home
manini: very small
nah: just kidding
sleepahs or zoris: thongs, Hawaii's number-one footwear
shahkbait: white-skinned or pale person
shaka: great, well done
Contemporary Museum 2411 Makiki Heights Dr., 808/526-1322; and 999 Bishop St. Artwork from Hawaii and the mainland in two locations: a mountaintop gallery on terraced lawns overlooking the city, and a sleek marble building downtown.
Hawaii Theater Center 1130 Bethel St.; 808/528-5535. A gilded Neoclassical palace, staging performances by everything from the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra to Chinese acrobats.
Honolulu Academy of Arts 900 S. Beretania St.; 808/532-8700. This 1920's-era Spanish-style villa has Hawaii's biggest collection of Asian and Polynesian artifacts.
Sisu Gallery 1160A Nuuanu Ave.; 808/537-5880. Hip Asian art and wooden sculptures.
Waikiki Shell 2805 Monsarrat Ave.; 808/527-5424. An open-air amphitheater for big-ticket concerts.
A watery oasis amid ferns and ti leaves, Manoa Falls is an easy hike through a spectacular green valley rimmed by jagged peaks. For a more challenging outing, climb Olomana, a mystical peak rising above Kailua Bay, or go to the summit of Nuuanu Judd Trail for an unreal view of Honolulu.
Alan Wong's Restaurant 1857 S. King St.; 808/949-2526; dinner for two $80. Innovative dishes such as Kona lobster-mousse nori rolls. Try the opihi (limpet) shooters.
David Paul's Diamond Head Grill 2885 Kalakaua Ave.; 808/922-3734; dinner for two $80. Glitzy. New American menu like that of David Paul's Maui joint. Standby: Kona coffee rack of lamb.
Hoku's 5000 Kahala Ave.; 808/739-8777; dinner for two $80. By consensus, Honolulu's best, set in the Kahala Mandarin Oriental Hotel. Try the five preparations of ahi.
Prince Court Restaurant Hawaii Prince Hotel, 100 Holomauna St.; 808/956-1111; chef's dinner for two $116. Tuesday and Wednesday nights, chef Gary Strehl cooks your scrumptious regional meal table-side, then offers a tour (and dessert) in the kitchen.
Rainbow Drive In 3308 Kanaina Ave.; 808/737-0177; dinner for two $12. Surfer hangout for after-session grinds. Known for their plate lunches (big and cheap, with an entrée of beef, fish, or pork, plus macaroni salad and rice).
Roy's 6600 Kalanianaole Hwy., Hawaii Kai; 808/396-7697; dinner for two $75. Chef-owner Roy Yamaguchi put Euro-Asian cuisine on the Hawaiian map. The steamed Hawaiian whitefish is great.
Singha Thai Cuisine 1910 Ala Moana Blvd., Waikiki; 808/941-2898; dinner for two $50. Thai with a Hawaiian twist. Be sure to order the Alaskan king crab cakes with island salsa.