Plate lunches, mai tais and Pearl Harbor among where to eat, what to do Honolulu/Waikiki edition for Sony Open in Hawaii

Oahu is known as the “gathering place” for good reason – it’s the home of the state government, the financial and business center and nearly three-quarters of the state population – and it’s where the PGA Tour gathers this week for the Sony Open at Waialae Country Club.

As Hawaii’s capital and largest city, Honolulu is the point of entry for most visits to the islands. The city alternates as a beach resort, urban center, commercial hub, international port and living landmark of Hawaiian history.

Waikiki, the southeastern quarter of the city, is one of the most famous tourist destinations of the world, a magical mile of beachfront hotels, shops, restaurants, and endless entertainment, especially at the modern International Market Place and bustling Kalakaua Avenue. It is also one of the city’s busiest areas.

Waikiki Beach is the general name that refers to any and all of the beaches on the south shore of Oahu, beginning on the Waikiki side of the Hilton Lagoon in the west and stretching all the way to the fringes of Diamond Head Crater. During the day the beaches are awash in aquatic activities as surfers paddle between catamarans, canoes paddle around snorkelers and swimmers jostle into each other. It’s also prime people-watching territory. Here’s some of the places to see, stay and things to eat.

The view from a room at the Royal Hawaiian out to Waikiki Beach. (Adam Schupak/Golfweek)

Local delicacies and where to eat them

Hawaii is a melting pot, home to people from all corners of the planet, and in that pot several unique styles of food synthesize and simmer. The result? A richly diverse plethora of food derived from Japanese, Portuguese, Filipino and Chinese influences. They’ve brought their rich cultural histories and time-honored family recipes to create what’s known as local cuisine.

The poke bowl, finely-diced raw tuna in a bed of lettuce and rice with other fixings, is one of the staples of the Hawaiian culinary tradition. (Adam Schupak/Golfweek)
The poke bowl, finely-diced raw tuna in a bed of lettuce and rice with other fixings, is one of the staples of the Hawaiian culinary tradition. (Adam Schupak/Golfweek)

I could eat my weight in poke, the finely-diced raw tuna, one of the staples of the Hawaiian culinary tradition (pronounced poh-kay, not poh-kee). A meat, two scoops of rice and macaroni salad are the three essential elements of the Plate Lunch, which is sold on almost every street corner in Hawaii. And then there’s the Loco Loco, a heaping plate of sunny-side eggs served over a hamburger patty on a bed of white rice, all doused in brown gravy.

Just a few miles away from where the Sony Open will be held is Rainbow Drive-In, which started serving up this Hawaiian classic to locals and visitors a few decades ago. Chris Iwamura is the third-generation owner of Rainbow Drive-In. His grandfather Seiju Ifuku opened the restaurant after serving in World War II.

Loco Moco and The Plate Lunch are served at most every local resturant. (Adam Schupak/Golfweek)
Loco Moco and The Plate Lunch are served at most every local resturant. (Adam Schupak/Golfweek)

Shaved ice, the island version of a snow cone, only served with shaved instead of crushed ice is a go-to treat. Locals swear that Matsumoto Shave Ice, on Kamehameha Highway in Haleiwa, serves the best.

For a morning treat, although any time of day works too, malasadas are a pastry dough fried until the crust is golden brown while the inside remains fluffy and light. Long ago the descendants of Portuguese laborers brought them to work in Hawaii’s sugarcane fields. For these hole-less doughnuts rolled in sugar, you’ve got to go to Leonard’s Bakery, an institution in Waikiki dating to 1952. Leonard’s is known for its sweet-toasted flavor, both crunchy and chewy. Finding parking can be a chore but totally worth it – I sampled original, cinnamon and Li Hing, which is sweet and sour.

Leonard’s Bakery is famous for its malasadas. (Adam Schupak/Golfweek)
Leonard’s Bakery is famous for its malasadas. (Adam Schupak/Golfweek)

Hear me out but I’m a fan of Spam masubi, Hawaii’s unofficial state snack, a sushi-style combination of a thick slice of Spam, steamed white rice, a sprinkling of furikake, Japanese seaweed-based rice topping, wrapped in a sheet of nori (dried seaweed). Hawaii eats more spam, Hormel’s “spiced ham,” per capita than any other state and I get it. Many golf courses have the hand-held and simply delicious treat available from the beverage cart or at the turn. The first time I tried it I was playing with a local pro who ordered two and didn’t tell me I was eating spam until I was halfway through. I’m not sure I would’ve ever ordered it otherwise and I’m glad I did because it’s an underrated local delicacy.

Where to stay

Sheraton Waikiki from the waves.
Sheraton Waikiki from the waves.

Waikiki Beach covers a 1½-mile-long crescent of sand at the foot of a string of high-rise hotels, shops, restaurants and endless entertainment.

There’s countless places at varying price points to stay but I can speak from personal experience at two Marriott properties.

The Sheraton Waikiki Beach Resort is in the heart of the action. It recently completed a multi-year, $200 million room renovation to all 1,636 rooms and suites. With breathtaking views of Diamond Head and Waikiki from nearly 80 percent of guest rooms and suites at the property, Sheraton Waikiki sets the scene by the sea for travelers visiting Oahu. Our sister publication USA Today, in its 10 Best Readers’ Choice awards, voted it first for Best Pools in the nation and I can see why. At 130 feet, it is the longest oceanfront infinity pool at Sheraton Waikiki. There are restaurants and shops galore and it’s tough to beat its access to the beach.

I also have stayed at the Royal Hawaiian, the Pink Palace of the Pacific. The 562-room Royal Hawaiian opened in 1927, and even if you stay elsewhere make sure to hit up the Mai Tai Bar, just feet from the sand.

The Royal Hawaiian is called the Pink Palace of the Pacific. (Adam Schupak/Golfweek)
The Royal Hawaiian is called the Pink Palace of the Pacific. (Adam Schupak/Golfweek)


The 350-acre Diamond Head Crater was created about 300,000 years ago during a single, brief eruption that spewed ash and fine particles into the air. Geologists consider Diamond Head one of the best examples of a tuff cone. The 30-minute hike to the 760-foot summit is strenuous enough to give hikers of all ages a feeling of accomplishment once they’ve reached the top. It is the No. 1 landmark on foot, slightly less than a mile to its top with sweeping views from Koko Head in the east to the curve of the Leeward Coast on the west, and totally worth the energy expended through tunnels and up staircases to the former military observation station at the summit. The roundtrip takes about 90 minutes, beginning at the parking lot and heading uphill along a paved pathway with handrails.

Pearl Harbor is named for the Hawaiian oysters that used to grow here. There are three historic Navy vessels all moored near each other at the WWII Valor in the Pacific National Monument at Pearl Harbor.

Ten miles from Waikiki is Pearl Harbor, where on Sunday morning, just before 8 a.m., December 7, 1941, a wave of 350 Japanese fighter planes began bombing the U.S. Navy’s Pacific fleet and catapulted the U.S. out of its steadfast neutrality and into the thick of World War II. During the two-hour onslaught, over 2,400 military personnel and civilians were killed, 188 planes were demolished and eight battleships were either damaged or destroyed.

A ferry drops you at the bone-white rectangular structure spanning the middle portion of the sunken ship, which lies just below the surface. Solemn and graceful, the U.S.S Arizona memorial’s design has a peak at each end connected by a sag in the center, representing America’s initial defeat and ultimate victory in WWII.

The Visitors Center has a historical museum and leads free tours. The U.S.S. Missouri is the most impressive in its scale and the Bowfin shed light on life in a submerged vessel. The Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum has restored vintage aircraft from the war over the Pacific. Visiting the memorial is a must-do on Oahu, especially as there are fewer WWII vets left to tell their stories.

Golf on Oahu

Golf came to the Hawaiian Islands in the late 1890s; the first course was built by Scottish plantation managers who came to oversee the then-thriving pineapple and sugarcane fields but also needed a little home-style recreation. The first course in the state was built in 1898 – it still operates today as Moanalua CC on Oahu and others soon followed.

Oahu isn’t exactly a mecca for golf. No top-100 list courses to be found here. There’s Turtle Bay Resort, a Robert Trent Jones Jr. design on the North Shore that used to host a PGA Tour Champions event, and Ko Olina Golf Club, a Ted Robinson design that has hosted the LPGA in the past as has another Robinson design, Kapolei Golf Club, which has hosted both the LPGA and Champions Tour in the past. Waialae Country Club is a private Seth Raynor gem that would be worth calling in a favor for a tee time.

Elsewhere, there’s Kahuku Golf Course, a tin-roof pro shop that backs up to a scruffy nine-hole muni. Several holes run hard against the water before heading into the dunes, but it’s your classic unpretentious muni if you just want to get in some whacks. Don’t forget to inquire about Pearl Country Club, which is in the midst of a renovation but should come back better than ever.

Surf's up

Sunset Beach is known for its monster swells and death-defying thrill rides. (Adam Schupak/Golfweek)
Sunset Beach is known for its monster swells and death-defying thrill rides. (Adam Schupak/Golfweek)

Duke Kahanamoku, an Olympic gold medal swimmer and the original Big Kahuna, helped popularize surfing. The six-mile stretch of Oahu’s North Shore from Hale’iwa to Sunset Beach is known for its monster swells and death-defying thrill rides. Cars line up along the road to Waimea Bay, Sunset Beach and the Banzai Pipeline, off Ehukai Beach Park, where a shallow coral reef extending out from the beach fronting Ke Nui Road throws up waves that pack a powerful punch if you’re not too careful. In the surfing world, this is the Holy Grail.

Before I flew home last year, I zig-zagged the scenic drive on Kamehameha Highway along the coast, stopping at Sunset Beach, a surfing mecca, to watch the pipeline’s big waves rush in

The local tradition for a trip to the North Shore – on two-lane roads hugging the shoreline and nary a stop light –   includes stopping at one of the shrimp trucks, located along Hale’iwa or Kahuku on the Kamehameha Highway. The menu offers local shrimp prepared spicy, garlic, Cajun, coconut, buttered, lemon, or just plain, and most trucks have picnic tables alongside. Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck claims to be the original truck to serve the delicious fare but Kahuku Famous Shrimp has a more extensive menu including squid and vegetable stir fry. The trucks generally show up around noon and stay until about sunset when the last surfers head home.

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek