Dawn on Waikiki Beach resembles an image torn from a surf mag as a couple of bronzed locals stand, surfboards under their arms, staring at a four-foot wave breaking a few 100 metres out to sea off the island of Oahu.
Beyond the white crest of the wave, known as Queen's, sits a lone surfer, back-lit by the rising sun, staring out toward the thin black line of the horizon. Waikiki Beach – which means "spouting waters" in Hawaiian – is well-known around the world as a top spot for its sandy beaches, sunshine, shopping and surf.
But in the past decade or so Waikiki Beach has become even more of a destination thanks to its blossoming food and drink scene. Here's our pick of some of the best spots to eat and drink in Waikiki Beach and beyond.
Attack your jetlag by walking barefoot on Waikiki Beach to the Reef Bar & Market Grill, where you can enjoy dinner while watching the waves crash onto the sand. The dish to order here is poke, a version of the traditional Hawaiian fish salad that delivers layers of bright flavours when assembled alongside crispy wontons, jicama radish slaw, avocado and mango mojo. After conquering the poke, prop yourself up at the bar for pau hana (the celebration of the end of the work day) with a few Kiawe wood-smoked Manhattans served on the rocks. Check into a beachfront suite at the Outrigger Reef Waikiki Beach Resort so you can be right in position for another barefoot walk along the beach at dawn.
After getting slapped awake with a few sharp blows of water to the face during an outrigger canoe adventure with Faith Surf School, head to bills Hawaii for a plate of poached Waimanalo eggs with tea-smoked salmon and a Big Island Ka'u cold brew. Catch the Outrigger Waikiki Connection Trolley to Kapiolani Community College farmers' markets where you can sample street food such as spam musubi – yes, it's a thing – sushi sliders and pineapple ice blocks. The KCC Farmers Market is near to the base of Diamond Head, so do fuel up on fresh tropical fruit such as guava and lychee ahead of a half-hour huff and puff to the top.
"Hawaiian time" refers to the fact the US State's time zone is behind the rest of the world, which keeps the pace of life in Waikiki pretty mellow in comparison to most urban centres.
Head to the Maui Brewing Co., a popular spot to throw off the shackles of the rat race alongside locals who enjoy craft beer and pub grub with a bit of punch. Say ke aloha (cheers) to a smooth-bodied Bikini Blonde and a plate of cheesy mashed potato balls and holy kale salad. The Maui Brewing Co. is located on Kalakaua Avenue, the Rodeo Drive of Hawaii. Those interested in giving the credit card a workout in Waikiki should do so after a hit of Hua Nani Shave Ice at the Pauhana Market. The dense milk drink has the consistency of powdered snow and is regarded as the signature sweet staple of a Hawaiian holiday.
After setting sail at sunset with Holokai Catamaran, join the conga line of camera-toting tourists taking selfies at the Barefoot Bar with rounds of mai tais before heading upstairs to the Hula Grill Restaurant, which overlooks the beach where the father of modern surfing, Duke Kahanamoku, perfected the art of standing up on waves. The vibe here is as warm as the seas and you should do as the waiter suggests and order fresh opakapaka (a popular local white-fleshed fish) and a salad featuring Kahuku sea asparagus followed by a wedge of hula pie (a dessert so popular it has its own hashtag).
After the sun has quietly faded in the sky, head downstairs from the Hula Grill Restaurant to Duke's, one of the most well-known tiki bars in the world. If Duke's gets too hectic, drift into the back streets to Arnold's Bar, a two-tiered rectangular space with retro signs and tiki totems and locals clustered around tiny tables. The Koa Oasis is also worth a visit: the blink-and-you-might-miss-it booze shack sits right on the sand and the place thumps with a grizzled long-haired surfer crowd. Okole maluna (bottoms up).
The sand on Waikiki Beach is as coarse as a schnitzel crumb, so dust it off your feet before sauntering down Waikiki Beach Walk to the Hawaiian Aroma Caffe. The café is a top spot for blueberry bagels and a caramel macchiato brekkie. Staff at the Hawaiian Aroma Caffe are either hippies, hipsters or emos or an amalgam of all three, making the café one of the best places to soak up the aloha vibe in Oahu. Island Vintage Coffee is another well-known Waikiki haunt as famed for its supersized taro bagel maple bacon sangas as its coffee. Sweet tooths will also love Leonard's Bakery for the malasadas (Portuguese doughnuts) filled with custard with li-hing and haupia (coconut); the just-opened Sunrise Shack is where you will find surfers, six-deep, ordering bullet coffees and papaya bowls and feeling pono (smug).
Surfers keen to make the pilgrimage to Oahu's Sunset Beach should detour off the highway during their day trip and visit the Dole Plantation, a historic pineapple farm that also features the world's largest maze. The centre serves as a shrine to the large juicy tropical fruit with the tuft of stiff leaves, turning it into an array of products from preserves to soaps, spirits and chocolate. A scoop of pineapple ice cream should also be on the itinerary. If you're pining for fresh seafood, pull off the Kamehameha Highway again when you see the signs for Giovanni's Shrimp Truck, which has a shady dining area with a pimped-up picnic feel. When you're done slurping down a plate of garlicky shrimps, ask to borrow a Sharpie and add to the graffiti art inked all over the truck.
Sunday arvo session
The dress code at Kani Ka Pila Grille seems to be Hawaiian shirts for men and flowery kaftans for women, both of which hide a multitude of sins. For a sense of place, Kani Ka Pila Grille is where it's at for happy hour, where you will often find hula dancers and acoustic ukulele sessions underway. Order pupus (bar snacks) such as ahi katsu, which is all crunch and spice and so good you will want to hide it from your dinner date. Stay in position until the tiki torches are lit at sunset and say mahalo to the waiter for recommending the tropical banana split dusted with macadamia to go with that mai tai.
Reef Bar & Market Grill Outrigger Reef Waikiki Beach Resort, 2169 Kalia Rd, Honolulu
bills Hawaii 280 Beachwalk Avenue, Honolulu
KCC Farmers Market Kapi'olani Community College, 4303 Diamond Head Rd, Honolulu
Maui Brewing Co 2300 Kalakaua Avenue, Honolulu
Hua Nani Shave Ice 234 Beach Walk, Honolulu
Barefoot Bar 193 Paoa Place, Honolulu
Hula Grill Restaurant 2435 Kaanapali Parkway, Honolulu
Hawaiian Aroma Caffe 1777 Ala Moana Avenue, Honolulu
Island Vintage Coffee 2301 Kalakaua Avenue, Honolulu
Leonard's Bakery 933 Kapahulu Avenue, HonoluluSunrise Shack 2335 Kalakaua Avenue, Honolulu
Kani Ka Pila Grille 2169 Kalia Rd, Honolulu
Dole Plantation 64-1550 Kamehameha Highway, WahiawaGiovanni's Shrimp Truck 66-472 Kamehameha Highway, Haleiwa
Hawaiian Airlines flies daily from Sydney and three times weekly from Brisbane to Honolulu.
Outrigger Reef Waikiki Beach Resort is right in Waikiki and its restaurant Reef Bar and Market Grill overlooks the beach.
Carla Grossetti travelled courtesy Outrigger Resorts.