Hawaii Travel Guide

Travel Back in Time With This Guide to Retro Honolulu

Vintage-design lovers, here’s your next destination! Say aloha to these spots.

Most islands sport a timeless vibe. They’re far enough away from the bustle of the mainland to channel a laissez-faire or “liming” attitude. Honolulu—Hawaii’s largest city, on the island of Oahu—is no exception. Whether you like a curated approach to thrifting and antiquing or you’re in love with the wild, restless hunt for treasures from floral frocks to Tiki mugs, consider this your guide to vintage Honolulu. There’s even a lead on a vintage barber shop, in case you’re in need of a trim or new ‘do.

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The Surfjack Hotel & Swim Club

Check into this retrofitted 112-room motor lodge a few blocks off the main drag (Kalakaua Avenue) on Lewers Street in Honolulu’s bustling Waikiki Beach. Midcentury-era films depicting California’s beaches and Palm Springs’ wistful desert are screened at the pool, and the lounge just behind the check-in desk features built-ins stocked with ‘60s and ‘70s tchotchkes. Each room’s décor features tropical-motif fabrics, soothing aqua, and blue hues, blonde-toned woods and midcentury-design lighting. Beach cruisers help you explore outside the hotel.

INSIDER TIPCasea Collins-Wright, the hotel’s director of experience, adores vintage Hawaii and knows all the cool spots. Ask her for tips.

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Barrio Vintage

While you can find dumplings and bubble tea in Chinatown, this neighborhood is also ground central for vintage-clothing stores. Barrio Vintage features a pop-up shop (recently, it partnered with an Australian boutique) and specializes in women’s apparel: flowing floral dresses, tropical-print shift dresses, and chunky costume jewelry. Men can easily snag a brightly colored Hawaiian shirt from the ‘70s.

INSIDER TIPBarrio Vintage also has an Etsy shop to tide you over until your Honolulu trip.

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Tin Can Mailman

Looking to create a Tiki corner in your pad? Tin Can Mailman, also in Chinatown, can hook you up, especially if it’s a non-cheesy look you’re lusting after. Here, you’ll find more muted-tone artifacts than vibrant décor. Think wood-carved Tikis, vintage postcards and framed black-and-white photos, even clothbound old books about Hawaii. The tiny and crowded shop makes a visit feel that much more intimate.

INSIDER TIPKeep your eye on the shop’s Instagram page as finds are posted there daily.

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Royal Hawaiian Hotel

It’s not a proper mahalo (in Hawaiian this means gratitude and respect) towards Honolulu unless you’ve sipped a Mai Tai cocktail at the bar inside the flamingo-pink Royal Hawaiian, dubbed “the pink palace,” in Waikiki Beach. Untouched since the 1960s, and open since 1927, this hotel appeared in the 2014 “Big Eyes” film starring Amy Adams about the life of painter Margaret Keane. Even if you don’t splurge for a room, you have to get to the Mai Tai Bar, which is right on the sand.

INSIDER TIPLive music is here almost every night after 6:30 p.m., unless there’s a private event, for some tunes with your drink.

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Aloha Stadium Swap Meet & Marketplace

Does your visit fall on a Wednesday, Saturday or Sunday? You’re in luck: that’s when the open-air swap meet is hosted at Aloha Stadium, which is also where the University of Hawaii’s Rainbow Warriors play home football games and the NFL Pro Bowl is held. The swap meet—featuring 400 vendors selling all things Hawaiiana—kicks off at 6:30 a.m. Sunday, and 8 a.m. Wednesday and Saturday; ends at 3 p.m. You just might score a cool uke or handmade clothes for your hula-doll souvenir—not bad for the $1 admission.

INSIDER TIPStaying at a Waikiki Beach hotel? Hop on the Waikiki Trolley’s purple line ($25 one-day pass), which goes right to the stadium.

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Bailey’s Antiques & Hawaiian Shirts

This shop, founded in 1980, has such global appeal that the sign out front is in English and Japanese. Considered the state’s most curated, high-end experience for Hawaiian shirts—for example, gently worn shirts are organized in circular racks by decade—and perhaps even the world’s most extensive collection (there are reportedly 15,000 shirts jammed into Bailey’s), prices start at $3.99 and soar up to nearly $100, depending on the designer and label.

INSIDER TIPWhile on this side of Honolulu (the Kapahulu neighborhood) drop by Leonard’s Bakery—open since 1952—for a warm, Portuguese-style donut (malasadas) and snap pics of its vintage neon sign.

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La Mariana Sailing Club

It’s not a proper Honolulu jaunt without kicking back fruity drinks at La Mariana Sailing Club, a marina with a Tiki bar along Keehi Lagoon that opened for business in 1957. Surrounded by Tiki koa-wood carvings, and seated in a rattan chair, this is the real Hawaii. The bar is open for lunch and dinner, with “pupus and drinks” between (3 p.m. to 5 p.m.).

INSIDER TIPBrowse the gift shop for collectible finds, like a Tiki mug from Oahu’s Gecko’z South Sea Arts.

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Surf’ N Hula

You’ll find Surf’ N Hula snug in the Kaimuki neighborhood, on the mountain side of Diamond Head. Here you can score unique Hawaii collectibles that date back to the middle of last century like a King Kamehameha belt buckle, antique-glass fishing boats or even the metal Snoopy lunch box of your youth.

INSIDER TIPGrab breakfast or lunch at chef Ed Kenney’s Kaimuki Superette, an homage to a vintage Hawaiian spin on the corner store, with items like soda floats and hapa fried rice.

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While Bill’s is actually a three-year-old Aussie import (the first Bill’s opened in Sydney in 1933), fans of the midcentury-modern design movement will immediately recognize key elements, like wood paneling, seafoam-green paint trim and avocado-green seat cushions. Music that fills the Waikiki Beach café—open for breakfast, lunch and dinner—tends to be ’60s surf-rock.

INSIDER TIPOrder a flat white: an espresso drink popular in Australia that’s like a latte but with less microfoam and fewer ounces.

PHOTO: Paul Kema
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Golden Hawaii Barbershop

With its robin’s-egg blue walls, black antique 1950s Koken barber chairs and boomerang side tables, you half expect Don Draper to walk into Golden Hawaii Barbershop which also features framed surfer art on the walls as eye candy while you wait your turn in the chair.

INSIDER TIPProbably the only barber shop to also dabble in custom surfboards, local surfer and regular customer Eric Walden of Golden Hawaii Surf Designs retails his boards here.

PHOTO: Petey Ulatan, eimagin.com @peteulatan
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Ars Cafe

Creatives in the Diamond Head neighborhood hang at Ars Café, where the greatest relic from the ‘70s (hello, turntable!) is on constant rotation and there’s not a computer-generated font in site. Look for gold stenciling on the windows, hand-painted by an artist in Japan. Live music and art-gallery shows take place here often.

INSIDER TIPSkip the avocado toast and try the house-made gelato, with a cup of Kona coffee.