China Town Honolulu

When in Honolulu, Oahu, don't forget to drop by Chinatown, a unique place that offers plenty of sights to see and places to explore. A traveler's destination that serves as a living testament of the influence of Chinese immigrants to the culture and people of Hawaii, Honolulu's Chinatown should be included in your must-visit list when in Oahu.

A little bit of history

The ships Iphigenia and Felice sailed from Southern China and brought with them Chinese immigrants who landed on Hawaii's shores in 1788. They came to Hawaii to fill the need for sugar plantation workers. As decades passed by, more and more Chinese workers came to Hawaii and worked on its plantation fields. The number of Chinese workers reached thousands by 1884. But because of their enterprising nature, more and more Chinese became self-employed, creating Honolulu's Chinatown wherein they can trade and sell their wares.

In 1886, a fire engulfed Chinatown for 3 days. Around seven thousand Chinese were rendered homeless. A second fire happened in 1900. This is due to the Fire Department of Honolulu's plan to begin a fire, with the intention of burning wooden structures on the inland side to control the spread of the bubonic plague. Calamity struck when the wind's direction changed, and the fire went amok, eating up almost all of Chinatown.

The place was rebuilt after these two big fires, but most of the territories fell into neglect. Chinatown was finally resurrected when more local merchants entered the picture.

Chinatown today as a popular tourist destination

At present, with the presence of new citizens and the infusion of big funds, the 15-block area is buzzing with commerce and action. It serves as a portal to Hawaii for various immigrants, and the locus for so many Koreans, Hawaiians, Filipinos, Thais, Japanese, Chinese, Laotian, and Vietnamese. The following is a list of areas and attractions you should explore.

Oahu Market

One of the main attractions here is the Oahu Market. It is a shopping arena that sells fresh fish, vegetables, and exotic fruits. If it is your first visit to the place, your jaw would drop in awe upon seeing all the fresh produce displayed outside the markets. You would find many vendors offering lomi salmon, poke, eels, jellyfish, crabs, octopus, and other forms of fresh seafood. If you want something Korean, smell the air and you're sure to smell delicious kim chee from one of the food stalls.

Maunakea Marketplace

Very near to the Oahu Market is the Maunakea marketplace. Head to the open market and feast your eyes on chicken feed, pig's head, and other exotic specialties that make Honolulu's Chinatown one-of-a-kind. Fresh fruits and vegetables are also found here, making this the perfect place to visit if you're shopping for Asian food ingredients.

Ramsay Courtyard

Time stands still in the Ramsay Courtyard as you step into a place that's reminiscent of an early Chinese neighborhood wherein the occupants lived in tiny rooms that were linked to other courtyards.

Hawaii Theatre

Known for its eclectic decor, the Hawaii Theatre is a famous hangout among film and culture lovers. Immerse yourself in rich, Hawaiian culture through the Hawaii Theatre's film festivals and performances showcasing both traditional and modern dances.

Chinese Cultural Plaza

Visit the Chinese Cultural Plaza and marvel at the charming hole-in-a-wall shops and restaurants scattered throughout the area. If you're an early bird, the plaza's Moon Gate Stage is the perfect venue for some Chinese exercises. Aside from workout sessions in the morning, the Moon Gate Stage is also witness to some of Chinatown's amazing performances and shows. The plaza is also the perfect spot if you plan to bargain hunt.

Chinatown Gateway Plaza

The Chinatown Gateway Plaza consists of a park, an open plaza, and a building that reaches 26 floors. You'll know you're in the Gateway Plaza if you see a pair of lion-shaped statues made of marble opposite each other. These two lion statues serve as the landmark entrance to Honolulu's charming Chinatown.

Statue of Sun Yat-sen

If you want more of Chinese culture and history, stop by the statue of Sun Yat-sen and have your photo taken with the Father of the Chinese Republic.

Dining places to explore

When spending a day at Chinatown, munch on some noodles. Noodle makers abound in this place. You can check out the Yat Tung chow Noodle factory as they make 9 varying sizes of noodles. There are still other wonderful places to explore, such as the Shun Chung Yein, a store that sells popular pastries and mooncakes. You can also try going to any of the famous dimsum restaurants such as Good Luck Cafe and Mei Sum. The Ruby Restaurant & Bakery also offers delicious dim sum at affordable prices. To prepare you for a day of shopping and sightseeing, order a warm and flavorful bowl of rice soup, also known as "jook."

The whole of Chinatown is teeming with restaurants and eateries that offer a variety of dishes, pastries, refreshments, and snacks. When exploring the streets, make sure to visit food stalls that offer an array of Chinese, Japanese, and other Asian dishes.

Shopping areas

Aside from its delicious produce and dishes, the Chinatown in Honolulu is also known as a shopping mecca because of the variety of products found here, ranging from herbal products to antique furniture. Check out Kim's, a store that sells an assortment of Oriental knick-knacks and souvenirs. If you're looking for a cheong sam dress, head to Imperial Tailors & Gifts. For kitchen utensils made of Chinese porcelain, China Arts Inc. is the place to visit. You can also go to Cindy's Leis, where 3 generations have studied the field of lei-making. Then, there is the Lai Fong Department Store, where you can buy teak or rosewood furniture and antiques.

For a bit of Chinese herbology, check out herbal shops that sell interesting cures for various illnesses, such as the common cold. Look at the windows of Fook Sau Tong and see for yourself jars and jars of bones, snake skins, and other ingredients used in concocting herbal medicines.

Places of worship

As Chinatown is a melting pot of various Asian cultures, places of worships such as temples are found throughout Chinatown. One example is the majestic Kuan Yin Temple, which is famous for its green roof made of ceramic tiles. This place of worship gets multitudes of people during festivals as Buddhist practitioners seek the blessings via incense-burning.

Art galleries

Every first Friday of the month, no less than fifty art galleries are open to the public. You can indulge yourself in an art studio while simultaneously savoring live entertainment. If you are an art aficionado, your one-week vacation might suddenly become a month-long one.


Hank's Cafe should be included in your list of places to explore when in Honolulu's Chinatown. Feast on delicious chili and pita sandwiches as you listen to live entertainment at night. Shows here feature comedy sketches and musical performances that'll give you a glimpse at the unique culture of Chinatown.

Tips when exploring Chinatown

Because Chinatown is a maze of shops, eateries, and other attractions, it's easy to get lost if it's your first time to visit this place. The best thing to do when planning to explore this area is to join a Chinatown tour. For inquiries about tours, drop by the Hawaii Heritage Center for scheduled tours during your stay. During the tour, you'll stop by at some eateries and shops, giving you a chance to rest every now and then. Although Honolulu is generally a safe city, be mindful of your belongings especially when shopping in Chinatown.

Oahu Home