Oh boy, we’re going to ruffle some feathers with this one. Coffee shop preferences are highly subjective, aren’t they? Sorry, but that’s a cop out. When it comes to finding a place to grab a java on Oahu there are a definitive set of criteria. For one, the coffee, espresso, and accompanying goodies must be prime. That’s a given. Service with “aloha” is also expected. From there, we also look to location along with the size and layout of the establishment. Lastly, and most importantly, it has to feel like a cafe in an island paradise. With all of that out of the way we can now move on with our picks for the most genuine island-style cafes on Oahu.
Top 5 Authentic Hawaiian Coffee Shops and Cafes on Oahu
Surfers Coffee, Wahiawa
63 S Kamehameha Hwy, Wahiawa
With a name like Surfer’s Coffee you may think that it’s a caffeinating hole made solely for those who dare to brave the waves found beyond the Wahiawa hump on the North Shore. Surf paraphernalia on the walls draws you even closer towards this conclusion. While it’s certainly a hot spot for surfers, the coffee shop has become a destination for people from all over the island. It’s where they go when in need of great espresso, belly-filling acai bowls, buttery pastries, and an experience no other cafe has been able to emulate. The floor plan is big and wide open with plenty of room to gather with your crew. It’s also quintessential for sitting solo over a laptop, or good book. There is also a stage in the corner, and throughout the week the cafe stands in as a venue where local musicians come to perform. Everything above has made a visit to this place one of top things to do in Wahiawa and it’s hands down the best coffee shop on the island. View more on Surfers Coffee.
Hawaiian Aroma Caffe, Waikiki
2300 Kalakaua Ave, Waikiki Beach
Contiguous to the lobby of the Waikiki Beachcomber by Outrigger is the best cafe in all of Waikiki. When you consider how many coffee shops there are on this neck of the South Shore, that’s saying a lot. While there are two other Hawaiian Aroma Caffes in Waikiki, this location stands in stark contrast to its siblings in the Ilikai and Ohana East hotels. The island decor is impeccable, and there’s a distinct scent of coffee beans and pineapple, along with plumeria that wafts through the open doors that overlook Kalakaua Avenue below. The staff remains jovial no matter how busy the resort-connected cafe gets, and they don’t let the bustling pace temper the quality of their coffee or any other item on the menu. In the PM the tables are crowed by cocktails in lieu of coffee, yet the space never loses its quaint island cafe appeal. Live music in the evening only complements the intimacy. View more on Hawaiian Aroma Caffe.
Coffee Gallery, Haleiwa
North Shore Marketplace, Haleiwa
The burlap bags that decorate the ceiling of Coffee Gallery infer that a lot of beans have been roasted at this iconic North Shore cafe. With soothing espresso orders like the Coconator (coconut mocha) it’s easy to see why. The pastry case is commensurately impressive, with scones and squares taking the cake. But for all of the magic on the menu, the rustic indoor and outdoor seating areas are what make the Coffee Gallery a wondrous place to gather. A large room connected to the cafe is where local and traveling students set-up to get projects done before a day at the beach. It’s where surfers connect to check wave reports, and where others congregate around tables for spirited discussion. Outside you’ll find an equally idyllic setting, with bamboo fencing and burgundy picnic tables positioned under the shade of tropical flora. Don’t be surprised to find green geckos hovering nearby, ready to slurp fallen crumbs from your morning muffin. View more on Coffee Gallery Haleiwa.
Island Vintage Cafe, Haleiwa
66-111 Kamehameha Highway, Haleiwa
Island Vintage Coffee’s most popular location is on the second level of Royal Hawaiian Center in Waikiki (pictured) but we can’t call it one of the best cafes for one simple fact – it’s too damn busy. Unless you paid for standard drip coffee the average wait time to get your order is approximately 20-minutes. The good news for those who plan on spending the day over on the North Shore, is that there is an IVC in the middle of Haleiwa Town. Its position on Kamehameha Highway could not be more prime. There is indoor and outdoor seating, with the latter offering fantastic people and traffic watching opportunities. Afternoon patrons will get a kick out of the tourists who stand in line at the adjacent Matsumoto’s for an hour, even though there are far better shave ice shops nearby. Beyond the entertaining views, IVC espresso is hard to beat. Their Island Latte and Lava Mocha are standouts, as are their already legendary acai bowls. View directions to Island Vintage Coffee in Haleiwa.
ARS Cafe & Gallery, Honolulu
3116 Monsarrat Ave, Honolulu
On the surface this quaint cafe may not seem to fit the bill as one of our authentic Hawaiian establishments. However, what squeaks them into contention is the fact that it serves double-time as an art galley. The studio hosts exhibits that feature some of Oahu’s established artists along with up and coming local talent. There’s nothing quite like holding a cozy cup of locally roasted brew while you browse the creative works of an island’s vibrant artisan community. View recent exhibits and more on ARS Cafe.
Did we leave out your favorite coffee shop? Make a case for their inclusion on this list in the comment box below. We promise to give it a shot (of espresso) and consider them!