How to Pretend You’re in Honolulu at Home

Take it from someone who lived in the Aloha State for years: This is the best way to recreate a trip to Hawai‘i at home.

How to Pretend You’re in Honolulu at Home

Embracing the Hawaiian spirit entails so much more than this iconic view of Diamond Head.

Photo by Shutterstock

A tropical vacation might seem eons away as the world grapples with the COVID-19 outbreak. But your personal reality does not need to feel as dire as the daily news cycle. There are some very easy, very doable ways to mimic a tropical trip, and none of them involves a 14-day quarantine.

As someone who lived in Honolulu for about eight years, I can confidently say that this hour-by-hour itinerary will bring island flavor to your home and inspire ideas for your next trip, whenever that may be. All it takes is a little planning to make any day Aloha Friday.

8 a.m. Ignore your cholesterol levels with an indulgent breakfast

If we were in Honolulu right now, I’d insist on stopping by Leonard’s Bakery for malasadas (doughnuts without the hole, covered in granulated sugar) or Liliha Bakery for poi doughnuts, but since we’re doing this all in spirit, whip up a loco moco.

The loco moco is comfort food, plain and simple. From the bottom up, the dish entails steamed white rice, a ground beef patty, gravy (ideally made with mushrooms and caramelized onions), and a fried egg—sunny side up, of course. If that sounds like a food coma waiting to happen, you’re right; pair this savory breakfast with a cup of Kona coffee to avoid napping the day away.

While you’re in the kitchen, why not knock out some dinner prep? Kalua pork is on the menu tonight, so take a pork butt, pierce it all over with a fork, and massage in some salt and liquid smoke (smoke condensed into a liquid). Place the meat in your slow cooker fat side up, then let heat and time do their thing. There are numerous kalua pork recipes online, including ones that can be adapted for the Instant Pot and oven roasting. Many recipes recommend a 12-hour cook time, but if the one you choose recommends 16 to 20 hours, you may want to start the dish the night before you plan on serving it.


Photo by Allison Herreid/Shutterstock

9 a.m. Get dressed but don’t dress up

Lean into the casual pau hana vibes—meaning, the week is over, so kick back and enjoy. This is not the time for your sharpest suit or little black dress, but rather for shorts and an aloha shirt (either buttoned up or open with a tee underneath). Mainstays such as Sig Zane and Reyn Spooner design prints that never go out of style, and Noa Noa’s dresses would have you blending in with local crowds in real life.

Most importantly: You need “rubbah slippahs,” aka rubber slippers, aka flip-flops. Ideally, you’d buy Locals slippahs from Longs. (Yes, Longs Drugs. Believe it or not, the chain is something of a cultural institution in Hawai‘i, and when CVS acquired Longs, rabble-rousers made sure the 50th state’s stores were not rebranded.) Luckily, Locals has a huge variety of colors, textures, and patterns to choose from online.

The ukulele is a small, four-string instrument that makes an appearance in many Hawaiian songs.

The ukulele is a small, four-string instrument that makes an appearance in many Hawaiian songs.

Photo by Shutterstock

9:30 a.m. Put on some tunes

Think of Hawaiian music as a little falsetto, a little country, a little reggae, and a lot of ukulele and slack-key guitar. Listen for all these styles and then some in a AFAR’s Spotify playlist of 10 songs spanning more than 40 years.

Like what you hear? Shimmy down the rabbit hole by streaming radio station HI93 for more Hawaiian hits.

10 a.m. Catch up on local happenings

The Honolulu Star-Advertiser is the go-to newspaper for the island and a good place to start. (Fun fact: The Honolulu Advertiser and the Honolulu Star-Bulletin were rival publications until a third party acquired and merged the newspapers in 2010.) Check out Honolulu Magazine for deeper dives on food trends, profiles on local movers and shakers, and the latest on how residents are passing time during lockdown.

If you’re more the type to listen to news and updates, stream the Keola Show on 102.7 Da Bomb for lighthearted jabs at pop culture, current events, and daily life on the island.

11 a.m. Expand your Hawaiian vocabulary

Ka Leo Oiwi’s video series offers a casual entry point to conversational Hawaiian. Whether you follow the virtual lessons in earnest or use the time to take in the melodic rhythm of island slang, the videos will bring the authentic voices of Hawai‘i to your home, wherever you are.

If you prefer more hands-on learning, download the Duolingo app to learn basic words such as wahine (woman) and keiki (child) and ladder up to full sentences and grammar.

Although English is the primary language in the islands, residents commonly use Hawaiian words for navigation (mauka meaning “toward the mountain,” makai meaning “toward the ocean”); gratitude (mahalo); praise (ono meaning “delicious”); and other parts of daily life.

12 p.m. See some seriously impressive hula

Every year, the most prestigious halau (hula schools) gather at the Merrie Monarch Festival, a weeklong celebration of traditional Hawaiian arts. For many, the peak of the festival is the three-day hula competition. Tickets to see it in person aren’t expensive, but they’re almost impossible to obtain because of high demand, so most people watch the performances via live TV broadcasts and online, even if they live in Hawai‘i.

The festival usually takes place in April, but like many major events this year, the 2020 Merrie Monarch Festival has been canceled in light of COVID-19 concerns. Buy a DVD of the full 2019 competition on the festival’s official site, or watch highlights on YouTube.

The skill and passion of the dancers in both group and individual performances carry so much more weight than what you’d typically see at a luau, especially when you realize all the music is performed live. Those who embrace ancient styles of hula dance with elegance and strength while chanting in unison and following the beat set by their kumu (teacher) on a percussive gourd.

Overachievers may upgrade their poke bowls with avocado, dried seaweed, sesame seeds, and other accents.

Overachievers may upgrade their poke bowls with avocado, dried seaweed, sesame seeds, and other accents.

Photo by Shutterstock

1 p.m. Make poke and haupia from scratch

Since that loco moco breakfast was a bit of a gut bomb, go light at lunch with another island favorite: poke (pronounced PO-kay). The following recipe from the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa demonstrates just how simple the trendy dish is to make:

Ahi poke ingredients

  • Yellow-fin tuna, cubed – 8 pounds
  • White onions, diced ½ inch – 2 ½ cups
  • Chopped seaweed – 2 cups
  • Coarse salt (Hawaiian if you can find it, pink Himalayan if you can’t) – ¼ cup
  • Red chili pepper flakes – ¼ cup
  • Soy sauce – ¾ cup
  • Sesame oil – 1 cup
  • Green onions – ½ cup

Combine all ingredients and mix well, then garnish with green onions on top. You’re done! Eight pounds may be a lot of fish, depending on how many people you’re feeding, so feel free to scale the recipe to your appetite.
Since that was so straightforward, we’ll do one more thing in the kitchen: Prep the haupia so it can set by dinnertime. Haupia resembles coconut milk Jell-O and is also easy to make. (Do you see a theme here?) The short of it is that you combine coconut milk, sugar, cornstarch, and water over medium heat, then pour into a pan and let it chill. Tasting Table has a much more precise recipe.

Banzai Pipeline beach is home to some of the world’s most unforgiving waves, tempting surfers from all over the globe.

Banzai Pipeline beach is home to some of the world’s most unforgiving waves, tempting surfers from all over the globe.

Photo by Shutterstock

2 p.m. Watch surfers take on gnarly waves

After all that knife work and stirring, you deserve a break. While you nosh on homemade poke, watch surfers attempt to ride some of the most intimidating waves on the island as they paddle in at Banzai Pipeline. The raw footage is a treat—rather than viewing carefully edited competition reels, the unedited look at surfers’ triumphs and wipeouts mirrors the feeling you’d get from sitting on the beach at Pipeline.

People fall. A lot. Those perfect rides are few and far between but that much sweeter when you see just how difficult they are to attain. If you crave even more awe-inspiring surf videos, stream the feature-length documentaries Riding Giants and Step Into Liquid on Amazon.

3 p.m. Switch on a flick

Keep the mood light with a comedy like Forgetting Sarah Marshall or 50 First Dates—even though the cast members aren’t exactly local, the settings are spot-on.

If you have Disney+ and kids in tiny Locals slippahs bouncing off the walls, stream Lilo and Stitch or Moana. The former is set in Kauai, not Oahu, but the island vibes are strong nonetheless.


Photo by Shyripa Alexandr/Shutterstock

5 p.m. Eh brah, it’s happy hour!

You can’t take a spiritual trip to Hawai‘i without a mai tai. At the Hyatt Regency Maui, the classic drink is composed of:

  • Light rum – 2 ounces
  • Dark rum – 1 ounce
  • Pineapple juice – 3 ounces
  • Orange curaçao – 1 ounce
  • Orgeat syrup – 2 teaspoons
  • Sweet and sour mix – 2 ounces
  • A piece of pineapple as a garnish

If you’re short a few ingredients in the middle of a pandemic, no one will blame you for pouring a bunch of rum into pineapple juice and calling it a day.
Another cocktail you’d see on a lot of menus in Honolulu is the lava flow, a piña colada variation with bursts of strawberry “lava.” The Delish recipe yields two servings—oh look, more rum! This blended beverage is on the sweet side, and if you skip the rum, it’s a great treat for kids.

6 p.m. Learn some modern Hawaiian history

A trip to Iolani Palace is a must for any first-time visitor because it helps ground newcomers in Hawai‘i’s past. The virtual tour allows you to explore the National Historic Landmark crowd-free and at your own pace, peering into meticulously restored rooms and zooming into portraits for close-up peeks that you’d be lucky to get in person.

The palace’s Facebook page also has several videos about royalty whose portraits hang in the landmark. After learning about the Hawaiian monarchy and colonization of the islands, you might be inspired to make an in-person visit next time you’re in Honolulu.

8 p.m. Throw a mini luau dinner party for yourself

The kalua pork you started this morning just needs to be shredded and served over rice (it can be the same rice you made for the loco moco at breakfast), and the haupia should be firmed up for dessert. The last component is lomi salmon, a light dish that will balance out the richness of the pork.

Lomi salmon only requires four ingredients: salted salmon, tomato, white onion, and green onion. The process is similar to that of poke: Dice the ingredients and mix them all together. The Onolicious Hawai‘i recipe expounds on the dish’s origins and describes how to make salted salmon in case you can’t find any at the grocery store. If you can get your hands on a Maui onion, perfect; otherwise, a white onion will do just fine.

Plate the lomi salmon alongside your kalua pork and rice and maybe replay the Hawaiian songs from this morning as the flavors transport you to the islands.

Plumeria flowers are often strung together to create a lei, which is similar to a long necklace made of flowers.

Plumeria flowers are often strung together to create a lei, which is similar to a long necklace made of flowers.

Photo by Shutterstock

10 p.m. Light a lei-scented candle

After a full day of “visiting” Honolulu, it’s time to unwind and give your full tummy a rest. Let a plumeria-scented candle calm your mind as you reflect on all the things you watched, learned, and made today. Maybe even draw a bath and turn on some wave sounds while the candle burns. Close your eyes and, for a moment, believe you’re in Hawai‘i.

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>>Next: Best Hawaiian Islands for Different Kinds of Travelers

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