Local Color: Urban Art in OAHU

A new generation of local artists, chefs and designers are expressing their vision of modern Hawaiian culture in exciting ways.

Colorful murals abound at POW WOW! Hawaii in Kaka'ako.

Colorful murals abound at POW WOW! Hawaii in Kaka’ako. Credit: Liz Laing

In O‘ahu, you get the best of both worlds: a tropical island rooted in a diverse culture and native Hawaiian traditions, contrasted by the pulsating city of Honolulu with contemporary art, world-class restaurants and the urban amenities of big city living. This is where you can discover a vibrant urban art scene exemplified by world-class graffiti street art on display throughout several blocks in Kaka‘ako, Oahu’s growing arts and culture epicenter. And even if you take a day or two to explore the island’s history, art and culture, you know the beaches will still be waiting for you.

Painted ladies in Kaka'ako. Credit: Liz Laing

Painted ladies in Kaka’ako. Credit: Liz Laing

Each year dozens of local and global artists showcase their work on street murals during POW! WOW! Hawaii, a week-long festival celebrating culture, art and music. Founder Jasper Wong hand picks over one hundred international and local artists to create the eye-catching murals. Visitors can walk around to watch the artists in action with spray cans of paint, producing their unique and colorful visions. The festival takes place in February each year, during Valentine’s week, but the murals stay up year-round, so you can visit anytime.

Our Kaka’ako is a hub of creativity for artists, chefs, designers, musicians and entrepreneurs, who dig this cutting-edge neighborhood of urban-island culture. A strong sense of community, empowerment and innovation attracts these trendsetters, where locals and visitors alike benefit from their creations. For a real taste of this neighborhood, head over to MW Restaurant, where husband and wife team Michelle Karr-Ueoka and WadeUeoka put a modern spin on traditional Hawaiian cuisine. On the menu you’ll find tempting dishes like garlic nairagi poke nachos, “loco moco” meatloaf, kim chee glazed porkchops and a lemongrass jidori chicken sandwich with grilled curry eggplant. Even the purple potato chips are presented beautifully here.


Purple potato chips at MW Restaurant. Credit: Liz Laing.

Purple potato chips at MW Restaurant. Credit: Liz Laing

Once a month throughout the summer, Kaka’ako transforms itself into the Honolulu Night Market, an evening event that combines fashion, live music, art, shopping and local food. You can dance in the street and listen to bands play on multiple stages, shop for clothing and goods in warehouses, visit art vendors in the open air market and grab a bite to eat at any of the numerous food trucks. When you want a really good drink, take a break from the festival and slip into the Bevy Bar, run by one of Hawaii’s top mixologists, Christian Self, known for his “home-made” specialty cocktails. The bar top at Bevy looks like an apothecary with glass carafes filled with colorful syrups, infused spirits and tinctures, all made from scratch and using local ingredients.

Creativity shines through even at night at Honolulu's Night Market.

Creativity shines through even at night at Honolulu’s Night Market. Credit: Liz Laing

Another great bar can be found nearby in Chinatown, where “America’s Best Bartender,” Justin Park, mixes up craft cocktails in a hip industrial setting at The Manifest. Try an Old-Fashioned or Lillokoi Martini and see why Justin is worthy of his title. The bar’s owners also happen to own the bicycle shop next door, Holoholo Bicycles, which offers fun tours of Chinatown and the surrounding area. Learn some historic facts as you ride past Aloha Tower, Iolani Palace and more, and soak up the panoramic views of Waikiki, along the Kaka’ako waterfront.

View of Waikiki from Kaka'ako waterfront. Credit: Liz Laing

View of Waikiki from Kaka’ako waterfront. Credit: Liz Laing

After you’ve worked up an appetite, head to The Pig and the Lady, where Chef Andrew Le showcases items inspired by his Mama Le’s home cooking and the culinary heritage of Vietnam, Asia and the Pacific. The atmosphere is whimsical and industrial with a warm, family vibe. The Farmers Pho tastes phenomenal and is served with pickled shiitake, fried okra, bean sprouts namul, sprouting seed kimchi, black garlic and tamarind tan tan sauce. Afterwards, walk around the historic district of Chinatown and visit the eclectic blend of markets, specialty shops and colorful hip boutiques.

Farmer's Pho at The Pig    and the Lady. Credit: Craig Fujii.

Farmer’s Pho and Crispy Thai Omelette at The Pig and the Lady. Credit: Craig Fujii.

To learn more about the history and art of Hawaii, visit the Art Deco Hawaii exhibit at the Honolulu Museum of Art and see a Hawaiian take on the international Art Deco style, which flourished on the islands from the 1920s – 1940s. (The exhibit is open until January 11, 2015). After touring the museum, head over to the museum’s second location, Spalding House, located on a hill in Makiki Heights, overlooking the city. The museum features art galleries, a café, a pop-up gift shop and sculpture gardens and is the only museum in Hawaii devoted exclusively to contemporary art. A single admission gets you into both museum locations.

Color and light exhibit at the Spalding House museum. Credit: Liz Laing.

Color and light exhibit at the Spalding House museum. Credit: Liz Laing.

Where to Stay in Honolulu:

Get away from the bustling downtown area and enjoy a peaceful stay at the Lotus Honolulu, near Diamond Head on the south end of Waikiki. This upscale boutique hotel has rooms with dark hardwood floors and modern furnishings and offers many complimentary services: yoga in Kapiolani Park, late afternoon wine service in the lobby lounge, and beach cruiser rentals. After a night of blissful sleep, wake up early and hike up Diamond Head, then grab lunch at Tiki’s Bar & Grill, a short walk down Kalākaua Avenue. The menu at Tiki’s goes far beyond typical bar fare with Chef Ronnie Nasuti turning out some of the best food in Honolulu (former Executive Chef at Roy’s Hawaii).

View of Diamond Head from Lotus Honolulu. Credit: Aqua Hospitality

View of Diamond Head from Lotus Honolulu. Credit: Aqua Hospitality

A good budget option for accommodations, closer to the center of Waikiki, is the Park Shore Waikiki, directly across from the zoo and the beach. One of the best things about this hotel is the cute little sandwich shop downstairs, Tucker & Bevvy, with plenty of healthy options for a gourmet picnic on the beach, including fresh pressed juices and smoothies.

Just say aloha to the best of both worlds.

Waikiki Beach across from Park Shore Waikiki. Credit: Liz Laing.

Waikiki Beach across from Park Shore Waikiki. Credit: Liz Laing.

For more information about O‘ahu, go to www.visit‐oahu.com.






Liz Laing

Liz Laing

Liz has been a freelance travel writer for nearly a decade, writing for multiple outlets such as Mothering, US Airways, Alaska Airlines, CBS Los Angeles, MadeMan and wandermelon, to name a few. Growing up in New Mexico, Liz also traveled to Japan and Europe, including touring with a modern dance troupe throughout France. She’s now also added photography and web design to her talents, but her greatest accomplishment has been raising her four wonderful kids, who have already been bitten by the travel bug.
Liz Laing

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