I spent my first 6 months on Oahu in Waikiki and have mixed feelings. While it was a great transition place for somebody moving from Washington D.C., the amount of oblivious Japanese tourists combined with the general assholery of people on vacation quickly soured me on the place.
However, underneath the commercial bullshit lies some real gems that can make the place enjoyable, to visit. If you happen to find yourself in Waikiki, here are some places that aren’t terrible.
Sansei Sushi Happy Hour is Cheap and Delicious
Sansei Sushi is located in the Waikiki Beach Marriot hotel and shares a restaurant with DK Steak House. I was lucky enough to literally stumble into this place with my girlfriend at 10 PM one night looking for shitty cheap sushi. What I got was much better. At 9 PM, Sansei “Happy Hour” starts where you get 50% off every item on the menu. As far as happy hours (sorry, Pau Hanas) go, that’s a hell of a deal.
The perfect pregame before a night out at one of the places below. Get there early to avoid the line and stick with the DK Crab Ramen, Seared Ahi Wrap, or any of the sushi rolls. You can do no wrong with their menu. Plus you’ll probably be drunk and won’t care anyway.
House Without a Key will Take you from Zero to Drunk with one Mai Tai
“House Without a Key” has a name so douchey that it took me a while to give it a chance. Dumb reason, I know, I don’t care. Don’t run away when they hand you a menu because the prices are fucking insane. $14 is the cheapest Mai Tai but believe me when I tell you it’s worth it. There’s probably 5 shots of liquor per Mai Tai and the vibe is stereotypical but nice.
Best time to go is for sunset on weekdays to avoid the (larger) crowds. Like Sansei, and literally everything even semi-good in Waikiki, get there early before the tourist invasion and get your seat for sunset. They also provide free live music which would be nice if my ears weren’t so drunk and useless.
Arnolds is Dive Bar Heaven
Arnolds Beach Bar & Grill, or ‘Arnolds’ as it’s known to most, is a hole in the wall dive bar off a seedy side street at the edge of Waikiki. The bar opens at 8:30 AM, which gives you a good idea of the clientele they attract along with their general attitude towards alcoholism. Cheap(ish) drinks, shitty tables and chairs, weird bathrooms, and 0 effort towards cleaning makes this place a hidden gem.
If you’re sick of Cheesecake Factory or every single other beachfront bar with semi-edible hamburgers and watered down drinks, get hammered at Arnolds. The people are equally drunk and will welcome you with open arms. Maybe. If you’re not an asshole.
Irish Rose is a Smoke Filled Dance Off
Irish Rose is what happens when a large group of people open a bar and refuse to believe the 90s have passed us by. Thank God for these people. The infamous Honolulu band “Elephant” is probably the most crowd pleasing, hard working cover band I’ve ever seen. They are the last true bastion of what a cover band should be. Getting the crowd involved, singing songs every white person knows, being very drunk performing, and pleasing the crowd as much as possible.
And more importantly, you can smoke as much as you want as you dance, play darts, or watch people dance/play darts. Elephant plays on Saturdays and no, you don’t have to get there early. This is a place to end your night, not start it.
Rumfire is the Best of the Worst
Honestly, all the “clubs” in Waikiki kind of mesh together into one big place in my head. They all try really hard to be trendy and “Lit” but without the trendy crowd they’re just opulent places with weird collections of people. Sky and Addiction are the two other major clubs but Rumfire squeaks slightly past because the layout and crowd are better. Located in the Sheraton hotel at the intersection of “Nothing else to do” and “Fuck it”, Rumfire is a good first stop to the night. Plenty of room outside and a less douchey vibe are the two major selling points.
The other is, if you request Hall & Oates from the DJ, they will sometimes play it. That may seem insignificant to you, but to me it earns them a place on this list.
HEAVENLY will Cure your Hellacious Hangover
HEAVENLY (all caps) located off of Seaside was literally the first place I went in Waikiki and painted a very inaccurate picture of food in the area. Everything is locally sourced and cooked to perfection, a mile ahead of every other brunch place in Waikiki. Try the Kailua Pork Benedict, the Loco Moco, or the French Toast and have your poor decisions immediately cured. They also serve alcohol but the waiters are the bartender so it takes fucking forever, I would stick to the food.
They also have the strongest coffee in the area and some delicious smoothies using fresh local fruit, which, now that I type it, makes me sound like a local fruit. Whatever, go eat there, it’s good.
Wailana Coffee House is a Solid Old School Diner
I had given up on finding any sort of “Diner” in Hawaii by the time I discovered this place. Diners are an east coast staple, but like most things east coast, Hawaii hates it. This place is actually a solid spot food wise, even though initially the vibe doesn’t exactly scream “Tasty Food”. The menu also has like 1,000 things on it so no matter what drunk you is in the mood for they will make it.
They also have a salad bar that reminds me of Ruby Tuesdays, disgusting in all the right ways. Wailana Coffee House is open 24/7 and a great way to soak up some alcohol at the end of the night and load up a massive shit for the following morning.
Good Luck and Godspeed
If you happen to find yourself in Waikiki, take a deep breath, read this blog post, and stick to the good stuff. If you don’t you might have a slightly worse time, and in the day and age of maximizing happiness through technology, that’s unacceptable.