It’s a typically sunny, gently breezy Saturday in Honolulu; surfers, stand-up paddlers and sailboats ply the waters just off the city’s famed Waikiki Beach, which is lined with sleek hotel towers and upscale resorts. The iconic volcanic cone known as Diamond Head looms to the southeast. Gaggles of buffed and tanned gay guys and, to a lesser extent, lesbians congregate along the relatively secluded stretch of sand known as Queen’s Surf. Later in the day, a group of LGBT revellers will head out on the weekly gay catamaran booze cruise hosted by long-running Hula’s Bar and Lei Stand. In the evening, social butterflies will dance and mingle back at Hula’s and at a half-dozen other gay lounges and clubs in central Waikiki.
If you came to Honolulu hoping to meet fellow gay travellers and looking for nightlife — along with slick shopping centres and lively restaurants all within a short walk of the beach and one another — you chose the right place. This vibrant city of nearly 400,000 on the southern tip of Oahu, Hawaii’s third largest island, supports the most pronounced queer scene in the state. Sure, you’ll discover plenty of family on Hawaii’s other major islands, and the state is among the most LGBT-friendly of any tropical destination in the world, but Honolulu has the archipelago’s only gay clubs (except for one little neighbourhood bar, The Mask, on the Big Island) and is home to a 24-hour men’s gym and bathhouse, Max’s Gym. This capital city with the state’s largest airport also hosts Hawaii’s largest Pride event, the Honolulu Pride parade, in June, along with the LGBT Honolulu Rainbow Film Festival the same month.
While Honolulu and its Waikiki district are the hub of Hawaii’s gay scene, visitors seeking a bit more in the way of cultural and arts attractions or rewarding hikes in verdant rainforests and along less-crowded beaches will find plenty to see and do elsewhere on this 567-square-kilometre island.
You can easily divide Oahu’s key sightseeing opportunities into two categories: those in metro Honolulu, which you can reach with short cab and bus rides; and those farther afield, requiring either a rental car or a more extensive effort on the island’s public bus authority. Among the former, don’t miss the poignant monument to one of the 20th-century’s seminal military conflicts, Pearl Harbor, which is part of World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument. Other must-see Honolulu sites include the dazzling residence of Hawaiian royalty, Iolani Palace; the exceptional Honolulu Museum of Art, along with the fabulously ornate former home of Doris Duke, Shangri La, which the museum offers guided tours of; and the bustling Chinatown district, with its growing number of hipster-flavoured, mixed gay/straight lounges and restaurants — Bar 35 and Downbeat Diner & Lounge are favourites and the First Friday arts parties are fun. Outside the city itself, there’s incredible surfing along Oahu’s North Shore, centred near the funky town of Haleiwa, which has some cute galleries, boutiques and inexpensive restaurants. And on the Windward (east) shore, you’ll find a number of stunning areas for hiking and beachcombing, including Lanikai Beach (and the nearby Pillboxes Trail), Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve and Koko Crater.
Waikiki abounds with gay-friendly lodgings in just about every price range (although rates are consistently among the highest of any beach destination in North America). Those seeking pampering and opulence might consider the historic Royal Hawaiian (aka the Pink Palace of the Pacific) or the more secluded Kahala Hotel & Resort, a favourite for its interactive Dolphin Quest encounter program. Stylish, contemporary and centrally located mid-priced lodgings include two fairly new Joie de Vivre properties, the Coconut Waikiki and Shoreline Hotel; the boutique-y Aston Hotel Renew; and the hip new Vive Hotel Waikiki. If you’re trying to save money, Aqua Waikiki Joy and the no-frills Ewa Hotel are good options convenient to gay bar-hopping.
Waikiki is Hawaii’s hub of gay nightlife, with the aforementioned Hula’s Bar & Lei Stand the most celebrated and well-established mixed gay/lesbian venue for dancing, drinking and eating (there’s a great tapas menu). Other fun hangouts in the neighbourhood include Bacchus, a swank little cocktail bar; Fusion, which has dancing and drag shows; LoJax, a gay sports bar; and Tapa’s, which draws plenty of regulars and tourists for karaoke and cheap drink specials. There is one fun gay-owned, mixed restaurant and bar located out on the island’s scenic Windward Coast: Crouching Lion Bar & Grill is an inviting stop for a cocktail after a day of road-tripping around Oahu’s scenic eastern and northern shores. The ocean views from the bar’s patio are sensational.
For more on the Aloha State, check out the Hawaii 101 feature. For the most up-to-date travel information on gay Honolulu, see our City Guide, Listings Guide, Events Guide and Activities Guide.