It didn’t take long in Oahu before I started wondering if this was a place I could live someday. After all, it had the perfect combination of urban energy and tropical beach bliss that I’m always searching for. But as a fun-loving twenty-something, nightlife is a big factor when weighing out the liveability index of a new destination.
So, how did nightlife in Oahu stack up? Honolulu has the biggest nightlife scene in Hawaii, but as one local described it to me, “People are too tired after a day of surfing and hiking to really go wild at night.” According to him, locals are more likely to have a few beers on the beach during the day than swill cocktails on the dancefloor after dark.
Still, I bravely soldiered forward to investigate the options for the night owls among us.
The Waikiki Booze Cruise
Going out in Waikiki is the full tourist circus of tiki torches, hula shows, and fruity drinks with tiny umbrellas in them. The perfect way to start the night is with a Waikiki Booze Cruise. At $30 per person with a 1.5 hour open bar, it’s a fairly cost-efficient way to pregame for a night out.
The route isn’t very far-reaching; the catamaran basically just swings around Waikiki Bay and back. But there is a lot you can see in an hour and a half — a pod of dolphins jumping exuberantly alongside the boat, outrigger teams practicing for races, surfers waiting for the last few breaks of daylight, and the moon rising over Diamond Head.
While our boat didn’t exactly have a rocking party crowd, we saw others that did — it seems to just be the luck of the draw. We made sure to stake out an ideal position on top of the bar, and the staff figured out a pretty hilarious way to get our drink orders to us.
Once we docked, we were ready to hit the town! Our first stop was Duke’s Waikiki, surprisingly one of the few bars on the beach. Wim and Dave, the local friends hosting me in Oahu, listed the lack of beach bars as one of the hardest transitions after living in the Caribbean. I agree — what’s the point of living on an island if you can’t have a drink with your toes in the sand?! Come on, Hawaii!
We also hit up local spots Lulu’s Surf Club, a live-music hotspot, Moose McGillycuddy’s, a wannabe Irish pub, and a random karaoke bar that was victim to our late night serenades. But to be honest, we had the most fun roaming the town, hanging out with street performers and being goofy. A tourist town is a tourist town, but every once in a while it’s a lot of fun to go out in one!
Honolulu Art After Dark
Sadly, my visit didn’t line up with one of Honolulu’s highly acclaimed First Fridays, events which bring together gallery-hopping and bar-hopping on — you guessed it — the first Friday of every month. Lucky for me, there is another event marrying my loves of art, culture and cocktails on the last Friday of every month — Art After Dark.
Put on by the Honolulu Museum of Art, Art After Dark is a monthly art party centered around a different theme every time. While the galleries stay open late, the courtyards and open spaces are filled with bars, DJs and dancing. If you are looking for Honolulu’s young, trendy and beautiful crowd — this is where to find them. Based on the crowd, I felt like I was in a contemporary New York City art gallery rather than an island in the Pacific Ocean.
I can’t say enough about the Honolulu Museum of Art, or encourage you enough to visit even if you can’t make it to an Art After Dark event. The current exhibitions were fascinating and relevant, everything from an exploration of Hawaiian tattoo culture to a visual history of the islands’ most infamous clothing item — the boardshort.
The permanent collection is impressive at well, featuring works by Warhol, Picasso, and all the big names. My favorite piece was a painting by Georgia O’Keeffe entitled “Waterfall — End of Road,” painted in the ‘Iao Valley in Maui in 1939. In a genius marketing move, the Hawaiian Pineapple Company commissioned O’Keeffe to come to Hawaii for two months to paint more than 20 beautiful works of the islands to use in advertisements.
Chinatown Late Night
Chinatown, with its concentrated array of trendy nightclubs, lounges, and live music venues, is where the Honolulu glitterati heads after the sun goes down. The action is centered on Hotel Street, making it easy and fun to bar hop. Still buzzing from Art After Dark, Heather and I set off to explore the area.
My favorite spot of the night was Manifest, featuring yummy drinks, great dance music and the most attractive bartender I’ve ever laid eyes on. Other great picks were Indigo Lounge, an indoor-outdoor space perfect for kicking off the night, Next Door, a hip club with live music and a mural on the open brick walls that I could have stared at for hours, and Downbeat Diner, a booze-serving late night diner in the middle of the action — the perfect place to end the night.
While the nightlife scene is admittedly modest for a capital city, I had to remind myself that Honolulu has a relatively small population of around 375,000. But despite the small size and tame closing times (everything shuts down by 2am), I was very impressed with how diverse the Chinatown scene was. Long haired surfers, hipster Polynesian-Hawaiians, mainland transplants and even a few intrepid tourists like ourselves — everyone was having a great time. I absolutely loved this area and know that it would be my go-to spot if I were an Oahu local. Don’t leave Hawaii without sampling the Chinatown nightlife!
Do you like the sample the local nightlife scene when you travel?