I’m one of those people that loves metrics, so when Gallup StrengthsFinder labeled me as “strategic”, and one that anticipates alternatives, it came as no surprise. Like it or not, it means I approach just about everything with a quick, but well-researched plan, and that includes business trips. So when I booked a recent work trip to Honolulu, Hawaii’s most cosmopolitan city, I set out to make the most of every opportunity to stay, eat and play.
Here are my recommendations for the best Honolulu business trip:
The Modern Honolulu
When I’m traveling for work, I don’t want to feel like a tourist, and I definitely don't want to have to deal with their crowds. Time and the space to think and work and hold meeting is very valuable, so the The Modern Honolulu served as the perfect play for me.
Just blocks from the Waikiki corridor of tourism hustle, the new hipster developments and farmers markets at Kakaako and the Ala Moana Center (the world’s largest outdoor shopping center), the Modern is a serene yet contemporary hideaway for business travelers and locals. Hues of white, oatmeal, gray, and wheat pervade the space. They have a staff of storytellers, quick and easy in and out valet, poolside morning yoga, and a kind of fresh contemporary elegance, evidenced by the commissioned graffiti art, and the moving library bookcase walls that open into the live music filled lobby bar.This is a place I would come to even if I lived in Honolulu. And the hip classy locals sure do. I met a handful of them in the Study, that cleverly designed and (of course) understated establishment serving fine wine and craft cocktails just off of the main entrance.The Modern delivered.
Lunch at Lucky Belly
One of my favorite finds was the revitalization happening all over Chinatown, in the heart of Honolulu’s business district. After the third recommendation came my way to check out Lucky Belly, I headed that way in between meetings. Well worth a taxi ride from anywhere, this corner-spot locale is all at once cozy and bustling. Brick walls and polished wood set the backdrop for the umami-fest that was Lucky Belly’s famous Lucky Bowl ramen. If you’re in the mood for something non-noodle based, I recommend the Shrimp and Edamame Dumplings. A lucky find, indeed.
Cocktail Hour at the House Without A Key
While there are many cocktail hotspots in Honolulu to continue your work meetings after hours, there’s one that stands out among the rest. Oahu residents know not to miss the ocean view pau hana (happy hour) experience at the Halekulani Hotel’s House Without a Key, and now I completely understand why. A live hula performance backed up by a skilled team of musicians (and flanked by a gorgeous palm-tree view) had me swaying with the breeze. The signature Mai Tai is on the top of the list, complemented with the warm breeze and a golden sunset, and I instantly sensed why this place is so popular with so many. I call it serendipity. A hui hou, Halekulani.
Dinner at Sushi Sasabune
To quote Wayne Gretzky, “You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.” While this is true in business, it’s also true with sushi. And sure, Oahu is surrounded by water. Yet, just like on the Mainland, you’ll miss the best sushi if you don’t know where to look. A local secret for years and favorite of those in-the-know, Sushi Sasabune is a top-of-the-line hidden gem. Specializing in the tradition of omakase (coursed dinners curated and presented by the chef), “Trust Me” is their slogan.
So I say to you, if you’re interested in the best sushi experience outside of Jiro’s, trust them.
True, $100 per person (or more) is a lot to spend on one night out. And the chef is reputed to be particular about how his creations are consumed. But who wouldn’t be when it’s art? Just don’t forget to make a reservation. You’ll be glad you did.
A Hike Up Koko Head
I’d heard of tourists trekking up Diamond Head, but decided a more off-the-beaten track would be a better choice. Like many, I value that sweet sliver of time where I can clear my head before the work day begins. So, to start the day on the right foot in Honolulu, try a sunrise hike up Koko Head Crater Trail.
Get there early (the heat and sunlight can be punishing in the late afternoon hours) and pace yourself when traversing up this steep terrain for the first time. Huffing and puffing with an elevated heart rate, you’ll step gingerly between the railroad ties that shaped the trail left by allied soldiers in WWII. You may have to check your achiever tendency at the bottom of the hill long enough to let the elite athletes with their headphones and Camelbacks pass you by – and smile with chagrin as frequenters pass with a polite nod, as if to say, “don’t worry, this gets easier.”
Once you reach the top, the view will make all the difference. It is incredible to breathe in sweeping vistas of the entire southeast portion of the island and Windward Oahu – no wonder the Allies used this peak as a vantage point. Phew, hello sense of accomplishment. Although the brave and seasoned take the opportunity to run back down, I’d say walk to savor the views on the descent (and slow your heart rate). A beautiful morning, indeed.
Kitesurfing in a Private Location
I’m always up for a challenge, whether it be in business or the great outdoors, so when I discovered an alternative to surfing in Oahu’s most crowded waters, I was all ears. Kitesurfing isn’t a simple success on the first try, but with the right instructor, it’s definitely an achievable sport that will have you yearning to return to the wind and water. A lesson with Honolulu Kite School allows you to skip the crowds of Kailua Beach, and embark with the best instructor on the island to a secret location only accessible by boat.
A Picnic at China Walls
For a dose of vitamin sea, I suggest grabbing your favorite “ono grindz” to-go and traveling to the eastern tip of Oahu. A lesser-known destination, China Walls is the most recently formed part of the island and features an impressive lava shelf jutting out into the Pacific. Perfect for that crowd-free photo opportunity, the volcanic rock and large breaking waves (which I advise viewing from a distance, not the edge) make for an unrivaled backdrop. Just remember the old saying, “Never turn your back on the ocean.”
All in all, there is always a way to be efficient on your business trip and make the most of places off the beaten path. And who knows, those places might just be where you meet your next strategic partner or dream up your next big business idea. Don’t miss out.