Sitting pretty on Oahu's south shore, the capital of Hawaii—and gateway to the island chain—is a suitably laid-back Polynesian mash-up of influences and experiences.
Modern surfing may have been invented along the crescent beach of Waikiki long before the glossy high-rise hotels arrived to dominate the shoreline, but the vibe is still mellow and it's still the go-to neighborhood. These days, the city adds dining, shopping and cocktails to its repertoire, all done with a view of the iconic Diamond Head in the distance.
But away from the Waikiki crowds, you get the scoop on the "real" Hawaii: brick Victorian buildings, including America's only royal palace; thriving Chinatown nightlife; sacred temple remains on distant bluffs; and the wartime memories of the attack on Pearl Harbor, including the USS Arizona Memorial.
Of course, the real Hawaii can't be quantified so easily. It's everywhere—in the volcanic nature of the soil, in its lush bounteous flora, and in the positive spirit of the people, who know there's real raw magic in their gentle islands.