Honolulu Chinatown is a cultural treasure for the capital city of Hawaii. Chinatown is an exciting blend of the old and new, with amazing food, shopping, and the best neighborhood for leis in the city.
People from China came to Hawaii to work on the sugar plantations. Many became merchants as they moved on from sugar work. Honolulu Chinatown became a center for these merchants since the 1850s. Most of the buildings date back to 1901, built after a devastating fire.
Recently we spent a lovely afternoon in Honolulu Chinatown. First, we made a stop at Cindy’s Lei Shoppe on Maunakea Street. You can look through the refrigerated cases to see what is available. Orchid leis will last a long time. Fragrance comes from tuberose, ginger, plumeria, pikake (jasmine) or kenikeni. Hawaiian leis that I enjoy include crown flower and ilima. The Gardener’s favorite leis are hala (made from the fruit of the lauhala tree), cigar flower, and he’e with kukuna’o’kala. We like to wear leis the whole time we are in Hawaii. People ask us, “oh, what is the special occasion?” And we just say, “We are here visiting!” http://www.cindysleishoppe.com/
Now it’s time for lunch at Lucky Belly. Jesse Cruz and Dusty Grable opened this Asian fusion restaurant on the corner of Smith and Hotel Streets in 2012. With interior design by Elise Grable, the cool interior with communal tables and bar are an unexpected surprise in Chinatown. There are so many things to try and share on the menu! http://www.luckybelly.com/
Shopping in Chinatown is a wildly sensory experience. There are shops with jade jewelry and lots of Chinese home goods. There are wonderful markets with amazing fruits, vegetables, dried spices, and noodles. Bakeries, fish markets, acupuncture, and dim sum are also there. Along with Chinese markets, you can also find Vietnamese, Filipino, Korean, and Thai. The Maunakea Marketplace has vendors, food court, and open marketplace.
We wanted to check out some of the boutique shops that have added to the Chinatown experience. Roberta Oaks is a boutique with clothes for men and women designed by Roberta Oaks and made in Hawaii. The boutique also has fun lifestyle goods that emphasize local Hawaii talent, such as Pineapple Palaka and Nick Kuchar. The shop also sponsors fun events such as book signings. https://www.robertaoaks.com/
Ginger13 on Pauahi Street has unique jewelry and a peaceful vibe. Filled with large plants, I enjoyed shopping for stones by energy. Shawls, wrapping paper, and more make a great gift shop for your friends or for others. https://www.ginger13.com/
Owens & Co. features the work of independent designers. I found books, jewelry, and notecards to take home. Tea towels, kids’ stuff, soaps and spa stuff are all in a modern space with fresh colors. http://owensandcompany.com/
The Hawaii Theatre on Bethel Street was opened in 1922. It was used for shows and movies and today has an active event schedule. The building architects were Walter Emory and Marshall Webb. The theater was added to the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 2006. http://www.hawaiitheatre.com/
Some dramatic scenes in the movies have taken place in Chinatown. The famous fire of 1900, started to stop a bubonic plague infestation, is a major part of The Hawaiians (1970) (stars Charlton Heston and Tina Chen). Much of the story in From Here to Eternity (1953) takes place in Chinatown (stars Burt Lancaster, Deborah Kerr, Donna Reed, and Montgomery Clift).
Next time I’d like to try The Pig and the Lady for some pho and Vietnamese food! http://thepigandthelady.com/
Chinatown stretches between River Street and Bethel Street. Beretania Street passes through it. We always use the parking deck on Maunakea Street near Cindy’s Lei Shop, though there are many other choices. Buses 2 and 13 also go to Chinatown Cultural Plaza Shopping Center.
Resource links for Honolulu Chinatown
- Chinese immigration to Hawaii from Aloha Valley
- Hawaii’s Chinese roots run deep through isle history
- Call Hawaii Heritage Center for Chinatown tour
- First Friday Hawaii is in Chinatown
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