Chinatown is a bustling area on the western side of Honolulu’s financial district in Downtown Honolulu.
Located in the vicinity of North Beretania and Nu’uanu Streets and extending towards Honolulu Harbor, it is known for its Chinese American community. The area, which is one of the oldest Chinatowns in the United States, is filled with fabulous restaurants and eateries, ranging from incredible Chinese Dim Sum, to Vietnamese, Malaysian and an array of international fare. Fresh local produce vendors, herbal and tea shops, as well as Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners, can be found in this area.
The open-air Oahu Market is a central part of Chinatown. The Maunakea, Oahu and Aloha marketplaces boast exotic fruits, seafood and all kinds of Chinese vegetables. Shrines and temples abound and will transport you back in time to historic Japan and China. The area became populated with people of Chinese descent as a result of laborers coming from China to work on Hawaii’s sugar plantations in the 19th century. After their contracts expired, many of them moved to the area that is now called Chinatown and became merchants. Many buildings date from 1901 due to two devastating fires in 1886 and 1900 that destroyed many of the original buildings. The area was enduring a terrible plague and the second fire was deliberately lit with the goal of burning buildings that had housed people with the disease. Unfortunately that fire blazed out of control and devoured almost all of Chinatown. Still, the area was rebuilt again, although eventually large parts of it fell into a state of disrepair. Crime became a serious problem. Many areas are still considered unsafe after dark.
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However – life has been brought back to the area in recent years, and Chinatown is now also known for its eclectic arts scene. On the eastern edge of Chinatown you will find the Hawaii Theatre, which was restored and re-opened in 1996 for shows and live music. The area surrounding the theatre is the Honolulu Arts District, which is situated around Nu’uanu Avenue. The first Friday of each month is an excellent time to visit the Arts District, with the Chinatown Art Walk along Nu’uanu and Bethel Street. The walk will reveal galleries boasting substantial collections of original paintings as well as affordable prints. Contemporary Hawaiian art features a lot in the galleries. Often the artists themselves are present on these vibrant evenings, and they may provide open houses with special exhibits, as well as free live entertainment and refreshments. The nearby restaurants and bars also become lively on the Art Walk evenings, as the event turns the streets into one huge party. Some of Oahu’s best bars and nightlife spots can be discovered in this area.
Several walking tours of Chinatown are available, including one presented by the Chinese Chamber of Commerce Hawaii. This is a 2.5 hour tour offered every Tuesday, which includes stops at gift shops, temples and restaurants. The CCCH can be contacted on (808) 533 3181 ansd is located at 8 South King St, Honolulu, 96813.
2023 Oahu Visitor Guides
If you're visiting Oahu soon, be sure to download your copy of one of our updated 2023 Oahu Visitor Guides. We've updated both travel guides with a lot of new great information for potential visitors (and those who've been a time or two as well).