Hit the pavement to explore the action in Kaka‘ako, centrally located minutes from downtown Honolulu and Waikiki along Ala Moana Boulevard. The pedestrian-friendly neighborhood emphasizes art and community-building and boasts plenty of gathering places from “parklets” to hip bars, not to mention a bevy of options to satisfy desires for eating, drinking and fun.
Hungry? Head to Hank’s Haute Dogs for a gourmet hotdog that appeals to the kid inside you—and concurrently satisfies your grown-up tastes (hankshautedogs.com). Think “backyard flavor with a little finesse,” says owner Henry Adaniya. Adaniya’s playful classic-turned-contemporary take on franks include buffalo, alligator and wild boar dogs served with ingenious toppings like caraway sauerkraut, cran-apple relish and Cajun-spiced mustard. There’s even an avocado-rich “no dog” for vegetarians and a juicy HankBurger. 324 Coral St., (808) 532-4265
Also in the area—for 10 years, no less—is Insomnia Espresso Coffee where an amiable husband-and-wife team plates Vietnamese favorites, such as rich pho, based on wife LeThu Hoang’s mother’s recipes and crusty French bread sandwiches loaded with savory meats, like fragrant lemongrass chicken garnished with house-pickled daikon, carrots and leafy cilantro. “Very strong and very tasty,” Hoang assures us Vietnamese coffee will leave you buzzing. 669 Auhai St., (808) 545-4160
The Mexican fare with a twist found at Cocina (cocinahawaii.com), a popup restaurant turned permanent establishment, is another must-try in the neighborhood. Don’t let the signature head cheese carnitas tacos daunt you. The crispy pork head meat, charred poblano and orange relish, pickled jalapeños and cotija cheese is a winning combination piled on corn tortillas, as is another one of the casual eatery’s signatures, fried avocado topped with creamy Valentina slaw, which gives a perfect yin-yang of textures that kick. “It’s not spicy, but it has zip,” shares co-owner Danny Kaaialii. 667 Auahi St., (808) 537-6585
Every last Friday of the month, starting at 4 p.m., is the best time to sample from O‘ahu’s growing fleet of food trucks at Eat the Street Hawaii (eatthestreethawaii.com). Each month mobile chefs riff on a theme or ingredient—i.e., chocolate, garlic or Japanese-style eats—into mix. 555 South St., (808) 772-3020
And when you’ve worked up a thirst, quench it at one of the neighborhood’s superb bars.
Try Bevy’s (bevybar.com) handcrafted cocktails or Honolulu Beerwork’s frothy microbrews (honolulubeerworks. com). Find Bevy at 661 Auahi St., (808) 594-7445. Honolulu Beerworks is located at 328 Cooke St., (808) 589-2337
After filling up on local beverages and eatables, rub shoulders with local creative types at Kaka‘ako Agora (kakaakoagora.org). The innovative indoor pavilion designed by Tokyo-based architect Atelier Bow-Wow is home to free art exhibits and creative and cultural gatherings. Another of the neighborhood’s shared spaces is the cutely named “parklets,” located on Coral Street. Built of repurposed materials, the parklets’ benches and semi-enclosed spaces provide a haven for passersby to relax and take in the surrounds. 441 Cooke St.
Speaking of taking in the sights, from February 7 to 14, visitors to the area will be treated to a spray paint spectacle when over one hundred artists from Poland, Australia, the UK, Canada and elsewhere convene in Kaka‘ako to paint colorful buildingsized murals during the spirited Pow! Wow! Hawai‘i (powwowhawaii.com) event. “This is an open air gallery where the work refreshes every year,” explains 31-year-old founder Jasper Wong.
Last up on the list of things to do will appeal to night owls. Honolulu Night Market (honolulunightmarket. com) takes over Cooke Street every third Saturday of the month (except March) from 6 to 11 p.m. Entry is free, and visitors of all ages event can expect a slew of art, crafts, fashion, grub and music. 449 Cooke St.