A half-day jaunt starting in Our Kak’ako yields everything from savory ramen to a salty swim.
Text by Kelli Gratz | Images by Jonas Maon and John Hook
The key to a walkable city is not just the pedestrian experience, but the way in which the urban fabric sharply and ceaselessly flows with the human tide. Cars do not entirely need to be discarded, but they do need to make way for transit. Spaces need to not only allow for safe and comfortable travel, but also to be entertaining. Taking cues from walkable cities like Manhattan and San Francisco, Kaka‘ako is quickly showing that there is much to gain by planning for the pedestrian. Besides helping improve health, finances, the environment, and overall sustainability, it is said that walkable cities simply make you happier. With this thought in mind, I decided to ditch my car and experience the city as a true pedestrian, diving into local comfort cuisine, swimming in the ocean, scouting a healthy dinner spot, finding an amazing cocktail, and marveling at an architectural wonder.
Start at Our Kaka‘ako
Under the direction of my tastebuds, I head for Our Kaka‘ako’s 65,000-square-foot epicenter, SALT, its grand opening slated for the end of this year. While it’s still in construction, the bones are all there—Cocina, Insomnia, Paiko, and Brue Bar, to name a few. For lunch, I walk over to Hank’s Haute Dogs, a small mobile space reminiscent of a ’60s drive-thru, for some local comfort food. Locals dine on communal tables at an outdoor parklet, Instagramming their dogs dressed in a variety of colors. I opt for a Hawaiian Dog with Portuguese sausage, mango mustard, and pineapple relish, and wash it all down with a refreshing Pineapple Ice (the restaurant’s equivalent to a 7-Eleven Icee) as people talk brightly about the upcoming weekend.
Kaka‘ako to Ala Moana Beach Park
There’s something about the middle of the afternoon; the ocean practically beckons my name. I respond with a resounding, “On my way!” I head to Bikefactory, and minutes later walk out with a bike rental. If you’re feeling the heat of the day, biking is a great way to see all of Kaka‘ako and the surrounding areas. No sweat. Across the street, Kaka‘ako Waterfront Park offers a year-round chance to swim in the Pacific Ocean or enjoy a picnic on its expansive grassy hill while checking out the waves of popular surf spot Point Panic. After a quick dip in the salty water by way of concrete stairs leading down to a protected swimming spot, I decide it’s time for some serious sunbathing. I bike a few blocks east on Ala Moana Boulevard to a sandy beach that yields avid swimmers, runners, and laughing children.
Ala Moana to Chinatown
In just a matter of hours, I’ve knocked two things off my list, leaving healthy dinner, drink, and architectural wonder remaining. Sunbaked, I pedal west on Queen Street. Considered a “back street,” this safe and uncrowded route takes you straight to Downtown Honolulu, where buildings hold the weight of history. I pass by Kawaiaha‘o Church Cemetery, then the unoccupied red brick Honolulu Brewing and Malting Co., which brewed Primo Beer from 1901 to Prohibition. I even ride along Honolulu’s first concrete sidewalk. Hanging a right onto Bishop Street will bring you past the Stangenwald Building, Honolulu’s first ever high-rise, completed in 1901 and designed by one of Hawai‘i’s prominent architects, C.W. Dickey.
All this architectural feasting calls for a terrific meal. In my opinion, Lucky Belly on Hotel Street is the place to go any day or night. The polished concrete interior and clean lines complement their fresh Asian-fusion menu options like pork belly bao, oxtail dumplings, and shrimp gyoza. If you’re really hungry, opt for the Beast Bowl, a savory ramen with brisket, short ribs, and oxtail won tons.
Chinatown to Salt
The fish might be asleep, but the city is just getting started. Heading back east, I join some friends at Bevy, the neighborhood’s go-to place for bespoke cocktails and gastronomic delights. A snug locale that feels like it’s been here forever, it features bold graphic art on the walls, denim-covered seating, and splashes of metal that capture the essence of Our Kaka‘ako’s industrial forgings. The highlight of the hip bar is the Moscow mule, made with vodka, lime, and house ginger beer. Or, try the exquisite Italian Geisha, which layers flavors of Campari and Hakushu 12 with the spicy, citrusy warmth of Créole Shrubb and bubbly lightness of sparkling sake.
When Bevy opened in 2013, we felt so good after a few Moscow Mules that we accidentally tried to walk out with the copper mugs that held them. Not much has changed since then. On this breezy night, it seems everyone is here: young hipsters, middle-aged couples, swanky elite. The walk-friendly reorientation of Kaka‘ako entices a broad range of people. Reassembling a neighborhood whose history is deeply embedded in cultural encounters is no easy feat, but it seems it won’t be long until we see just how appealing walking can get.