Layover: Honolulu

So, you’ve landed in the middle of the Pacific ocean on a tiny paradise island called Oahu. You’ve got a few hours to kill before catching the next plane across the other half of the Pacific (too bad you can’t stay longer!). What do you do?

Well, if you’re smart, you’ll head to the ticket counter and find a way to stay longer — maybe even forever. If you don’t have that luxury, and you really must board that future plane, here are some possibilities.

Short layovers of 2 hours or less:

The Honolulu International Airport (HNL) is situated on the western edge of the city, bordering Honolulu and Pearl City. Aside from Pearl Harbor, one of the island’s most popular sights, everything worth seeing is unfortunately over 15 minutes away by car. Add the city’s almost constant highway traffic, and you’ll likely be sitting in a cab to get to your destination only to turn back around.

If you’re stopping through HNL for 2 hours or less, you should stay in the airport. There are plenty of gift shops worth browsing for Hawaii-made knick-knacks and souvenirs. I would grab a bit to eat at one of the airports finer restaurants. I say finer with great hesitation, as there is a major shortage of decent food at the Honolulu airport. However, here’s the short list of restaurants that are worth checking out.

  • Stinger Ray’s: The only place with a restaurant-like feel to it, Stinger Ray’s served affordable and edible food from sun up to sun down. An review suggests the chili ‘n cheese fries and clam chowder were actually quite good, while Claire Walter over at CulinaryColorado says the caeser salad is salty, but the nachos are tolerable. Prices are reasonable and food is served on plates with little umbrella tents, not platters, for a little island touch.
  • City Deli: Another sit-down place that is a healthy option is City Deli. Sandwiches and salads made to order, so you know you’re getting something fresh, if not a bit standard.
  • Chow Mein Express: It may be the only Chinese food served at the restaurant and, while it’s not the most authentic, the food at Chow Mein is tolerable. The fried rice, orange chicken, or beef and broccoli are good bets.

None of these places have the best atmosphere, but there is a very pleasant, green courtyard with benches on the ground floor of the airport near the central concourse that would be worth taking your meal in, reading a book or just having some down time before your next flight.

Longer layovers of 4 hours or more:

If you have a healthy chunk of time before your next flight, get outta HNL and hit the road! Put on some shorts and “slippers” (we don’t call them “flip-flops”!) and flag a cab. Here are a few cool options that are close enough to Honolulu that will renew your energy and give you a taste of island life.

  • The Arizona Memorial or the Battleship Missouri: The famous floating memorial that is situated over the sunken U.S.S. Arizona is a really stellar sight, and just a 10 minute jaunt from the airport. On December 7, 1941, the Arizona sank in battle, taking 1,100 sailors with it. In 1961, a solemn white monument was erected above the midsection of the ship. The deck of the Arizona lies now six feet below the surface of Pearl Harbor and is clearly visible from the monument. The shuttle launch from the shore to the monument takes about 20 minutes round trip. Free guided tours are offered 8am-3pm daily. There are often very long lines to visit the floating memorial, so if you don’t have time to wait, head across the parking lot and visit the Battleship Missouri Memorial, which will give you a good taste of the events that took place in Pearl Harbor over 60 years ago.
  • La Mariana Sailing Club: Just over 10 minutes from the airport is a unique sailing club where you can be merry and enjoy a mai tai as you admire the sailing boats moored in the Ke’ehi Lagoon. A South Seas fantasy island in an almost impossible to find location (50 Sand Island Access Road; #808.848.2800), this local watering hole is a throwback to the Trader Vic’s days. The food is standard: salads, burgers, Chicken Parmigiana and the like, but the decor is the draw: a tacky mishmash of fishnet, glass floats and shell chandeliers adorns the sprawling room. A reed fence is all that separates you from the ocean, and a huge live tree grows in the middle of it all.

Other tips:
If you’re dying for some fresh air and to escape the sound of airplane engines, head outside the security gates and to the Starbucks that is situated in a nice courtyard by the United Airlines check-in. There are also plenty of hard but airy benches to sit on and take in the tropical sun and air.

Plan your next layover with Gadling’s Layover Guides.