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Honolulu's once-decrepit low-rise downtown is now bursting with hip lounges, clubs, and live music venues; its monstrous '60s and '70s cement hotels are morphing into glass luxury condos; and its cookie-cutter lodging scene is being made over thanks to upscale boutique properties. In summer 2007 the ?berchic Hotel Renew by acclaimed designer Jiun Ho will open in Waikiki; meanwhile, the Trump International Hotel and Tower, a 464-room luxury hotel-condo property, has already broken ground for a 2009 opening.
Locals lament her stagnant and somewhat closeted gay scene, but compared to other U.S. metro areas of its size (Oahu's population is 900,000), Honolulu's queer infrastructure is hefty--with several busy bars and nightclubs, a spiffy all-gay-and-lesbian hotel (The Cabana at Waikiki), queer beaches, a gay surf club, gay sporting events, and even a big transgender beauty contest, the Universal Show Queen. The city puts on a fine Rainbow Film Festival, slated this year for May 24-27. Queer icons Jim Nabors and Richard Chamberlain both call Honolulu home--and in early 2007 not one but three separate bills on civil unions were introduced in the state legislature. So now's the time to start planning that fabulous Hawaii same-sex wedding!
Grab a Speedo and sunscreen, then head to Queen's Surf Beach, the gay-popular layout area in front of the gorgeously lush Kapi'olani Park. With a perfect set of slow rollers Waikiki is, justifiably, one of the best places in the world to learn to surf, so check into the gay-friendly Hans Hedemann Surf School (2586 Kalakaua Ave.; 808-924-7778), which is a little further west at the Park Shores Hotel; on the tip of Diamond Head, far from the maddening crowds of Waikiki, hunky surf pros give you private lessons. Then chow down on unreal garlic ahi at the nearby, very local Irifune (563 Kapahulu Ave.; 808-737-1141), a funky Japanese eatery full of fishing nets, glow-in-the-dark stars, Kabuki masks, and snapshots of friends adorning the walls. Then tour Shangri La (4055 Papu Circle; 808-734-1941), also on Diamond Head. The former cliffside estate of tobacco heiress Doris Duke, this stunning mansion is filled with Islamic art--one of the world's finest collections--amassed during Duke's travels. End the day with a sunset mai tai while listening to live Hawaiian music at the Mai Tai Bar at the Royal Hawaiian (2259 Kalakaua Ave.; 866-716-8109), the historic stucco "Pink Palace of the Pacific" that hosted many a celebrity in its time. The sand in front is known as "Dig Me Beach," reputedly featuring the most beautiful sunbathers in Waikiki. Don't forget to pick up a classic handwoven panama hat and tropical sportswear at the gay-owned Newt at the Royal (2259 Kalakaua Ave.; 800-630-4287). Then take the glass elevator up to the 30th floor of the Sheraton Waikiki to dine on fresh seafood and enjoy the most panoramic views in Honolulu at the Hanohano Room (2255 Kalakaua Ave.; 866-716-8109). Broadway alumna Rocky Brown (Miss Saigon) sings her heart out here on Friday and Saturday nights.
Forfeit one day at the beach to explore Honolulu's fascinating and historic downtown, which includes Chinatown. First head to Maunakea Street, where "aunties" string fresh lei garlands at the numerous flower shops. Then dive into the burgeoning art scene in the no-longer-downtrodden downtown district. If you're here the first Friday of any month, you'll find that businesses fling open their doors to present exhibitions, musicians, poets, arts demonstrations, and celebrations. Have lunch at one of the best restaurants in Hawaii, gay-popular Indigo (1121 Nu'uanu Ave.; 808-521-2900), where chef Glenn Chu serves up incredible dishes like "wokked Buddhist vegetables" and grilled Mongolian rib eye beef in an historic brick building with a back patio that looks out on to the Hawaii Theatre (1130 Bethel St.; 808-528-0506), a 1922 landmark that hosts gay films and LGBT cultural events. Then explore the nearby castle-like 'Iolani Palace (364 S. King St.; 808-522-0822), the only official state residence of royalty in the United States, where Hawaii's last two monarchs lived in the 1800s. If you are still hungry for great art, delve into more than 50,000 Asian, Western, and Pacific works at downtown's Honolulu Academy of Art (900 S. Beretania St.; 808-532-8700). Galleries include the James Michener Collection of stunning Japanese prints, and royal feather capes and tapa hangings from Polynesia. Hang out downtown after dark to check out its new artsy lounge scene at hot spots like thirtyninehotel (39 N. Hotel St.; 808-599-2552) or The rRed Elephant (1144 Bethel St.; 808-545-2468). Or, if you're itching to get back outdoors, take a quick hike to the Manoa Falls at the Lyon Arboretum (3860 Manoa Rd.; 808-988-0456), tucked back in the moist, verdant Manoa Valley, just 10 minutes' drive from Waikiki. Wind down with a sunset drink overlooking Kapi'olani Park at the best gay bar in Honolulu, Hula's Bar & Lei Stand (134 Kapahulu Ave.; 808-923-0669)-locals love meeting tourists (a.k.a. fresh meat) here. Next, dig into the best Thai food in town at the upscale, gay-owned Keo's (2028 Kuhio Ave.; 808-951-9355).
Renowned local gay artist Douglas Simonson (808-737-6275) gives private showings in his studio for those interested in his dazzling and diverse homoerotic paintings of island men. Then cool down by hitting the waves again with Hula's all-gay catamaran cruise (808-923-0669), offered every Saturday at 2 p.m. Chill the sunburn with a traditional Hawaiian lomi lomi massage at one of the best spas in town, the SpaHalekulani (2199 Kalia Rd.; 800-367-2343). Complete your Zen day with an authentic Japanese tea ceremony-with geishas, rice-paper walls, and pomp and circumstance-at the Urasenke Teahouse (245 Saratoga Rd.; 808-923-3059). Then kitsch out in true Hawaiian style with a drink at La Mariana Sailing Club (50 Sand Island Access Rd.; 808-848-2800). This hidden, retro oceanside bar-restaurant is decked out in vintage '50s and '60s Hawaiiana salvaged from old Waikiki hotels, like puffer fish lamps, glass sea balls, movie posters, and anything gloriously gaudy and tiki. Cap off the night at Angles (2256 Kuhio Ave., second floor; 808-926-9766), an upstairs gay bar with a live DJ and a New Orleans-style veranda brimming with tanned men, both locals and tourists.
One of the best addresses to check into is the beachfront Hyatt Waikiki (2424 Kalakaua Ave.; 808-923-1234), with special Regency Club rooms that are a spacious 385 to 483 square feet and VIP services like courtesy car service, access to lounge and rooftop deck, breakfast, evening cocktails, and hors d'oeuvres. The ResortQuest Waikiki Beach Hotel (2570 Kalakaua Ave.; 877-997-6667) is like the W meets Don Ho, with a fun Technicolor yet upscale feel and recently renovated island-style rooms. The W Honolulu (2885 Kalakaua Ave.; 808-922-1700), despite almost being sold last year, is still going strong. Hidden away in a posh area of Diamond Head, this 50-room boutique gem is close to the gay crowd on Queen's Surf Beach.