Honolulu could easily be one of the most livable cities in the world. Hawaii’s capital city is a tropical paradise, where the broad streets and leafy boulevards are continually drenched in year-round sunshine.
Those streets back onto one of the most beautiful and loveliest beaches in the state, where white sands are fringed with swaying palms and where the clear waters of the Pacific Ocean offer a refreshing respite from the Hawaiian heat.
You can spend the morning shopping through the city center, enjoying all the trappings of urban life, before spending the rest of your day lounging on the coastline, paddleboarding, learning to surf, snorkeling, diving or hiking through the jungle.
Honolulu is the gateway to the island of Oahu and to the rest of Hawaii, and there is much waiting to be discovered in and around the city.
To help you to make the most of your trip to Hawaii, here’s our visitor’s guide on the best things to do in Honolulu.
Don’t leave home without: Lonely Planet Honolulu Waikiki & Oahu (Travel Guide)
13 Best Things to do in Honolulu
Table of Contents
Honolulu has a great many excellent things to do, sights to see and activities to keep you entertained during your stay in Hawaii.
From the beautiful shoreline to the somber memorials at Pearl Harbor, we’ll help you figure out what to do in Honolulu for the perfect trip.
1. Waikiki Beach
Waikiki Beach is the most famous beach in Hawaii, and it’s right on the doorstep of Honolulu. This long stretch of sand is found on the eastern edge of the city and is one of the favorite spots for visitors to stay and to enjoy themselves.
The beach itself can get very crowded, but the bustling atmosphere almost adds to the fun-loving vibe that’s found here.
Things are relaxed because everyone is on holiday. You can go out snorkeling, diving, paddle boarding, surfing and any other water-based sports you could imagine.
Or you can simply sit back in a deck chair, stroll along the promenade, or hop in and out of the many cafes, restaurants, and bars that are found along the waterfront.
Explore Diamond Head and the Waikiki area on this 2-hour guided Segway tour. Climb on to your own Segway Personal Transporter, a self-balancing, a two-wheeled electric scooter that allows you to enjoy some of the Honolulu area’s most important sites without all of the walking.
2. Hanauma Bay
Located a little further along the coastline from Waikiki Beach, and away from the city itself, Hanauma Bay is a great place to visit to find a quieter stretch of coastline.
The bay is actually an enormous marine reservation too, protecting the beautiful coral and the abundantly rich and diverse marine life that is found in the waters.
It makes for one of the best snorkel and dive locations close to Honolulu.
3. Diamond Head Crater
Towering over Honolulu is the distinctive form of the Diamond Head Crater. This extinct volcanic crater dominates the skyline, and you can traverse the network of trails that lead to the summit, for absolutely outstanding panoramas of the city below.
The hike takes around 2 hours return, and you want to begin early to avoid both the crowds and the midday heat.
Circle the entire island of Oahu by coach, enjoying ocean views, rugged mountains, and fascinating history during this 8.5-hour day trip. Check out Diamond Head, Hanauma Bay, Nu’uanu Pali, the Halona Blowhole and Oahu’s beautiful North Shore.
Then soak up Hawaiian history and culture with a stop at the Dole Plantation (where you’ll sample some fresh pineapple) and the serene, Japanese-style Byodo-In Temple.
4. Punch Bowl Cemetery
The Punch Bowl is another huge, extinct volcanic crater that’s found on the edge of Honolulu.
This crater is unique because this is the location of the Punch Bowl National Cemetery, where many of the soldiers who fought in the Pacific during World War II are buried.
This is a moving memorial to the war, and to those who never returned home.
5. Visit Pearl Harbor
Pearl Harbor is one of the most infamous places in the world because it was here that Japan attacked the US to drag them into World War II.
Here, you can see where those day’s dark events unfolded and can learn more about the history at the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center.
Explore these sites in Honolulu on this tour from Waikiki. You’ll receive skip-the-line access for a guided tour of the USS Missouri and visit the USS Arizona Memorial and the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center to learn about the Japanese attacks in 1941.
6. Iolani Palace
The Iolani Palace is the last residence of Hawaii’s royal family. This grand piece of architecture is found in central Honolulu and offers visitors a glimpse into what the island was like before it became a state of the US.
7. Bishop Museum
Another great museum in Honolulu is the Bishop Museum. This extensive property is huge, and it will take you a long time to explore all of the exhibits and artifacts held within its walls.
The museum offers an incredibly detailed look at everything Hawaiian, from the history and culture of the islands to the very geology that holds them together.
8. Manoa Falls
Away from the long coastline and sandy beaches of Oahu, you can explore the dense interior of the island by hiking along the rugged trail that leads to Manoa Falls.
The trail is a great way to experience the humid jungle-like landscapes of Hawaii without straying too far from Honolulu.
The trailhead is found around 5 miles outside of the city center, and a short but brisk walk takes visitors for over a mile to the plunge pool of Manoa Falls.
While Manoa Falls is one of the most visited falls on Oahu, near Honolulu, remember to keep in mind that there are literally hundreds of waterfalls worth making a stop at it. If you have a rental car, be sure to stop and explore along the way.
Immerse yourself in the beautiful nature found of Hawaii as you hike 2 miles to Manoa Falls in Oahu on this small-group excursion.
Join a local hiking expert, and a group of no more than 12 guests, as you journey via the Manoa Trail on a moderate hike to the tallest accessible waterfall on the island, a location made famous as a film location for Steven Spielberg’s ‘The Lost World.’
9. Doors off Helicopter Flight
One of the most impressive and adventurous ways to experience Honolulu and the rest of the beautiful coastline and jungle that surrounds the city is to take on a Doors off Helicopter Flight.
These increasingly popular aerial adventures will take visitors over the landscapes, while the doors off the helicopter, are off.
That leaves you open to the wind and elements, but it also ensures that there is no glass between you and the vistas around you.
For photographers, this is an incredible way to get those clear pictures from the air. For the most breathtaking views, head out over the sunset.
10. Makapuu Point Lighthouse
Makapuu Point Lighthouse is one of Oahu’s most iconic coastal locations. This is, in fact, the most easterly point on the island, and it makes for a great day trip from Honolulu.
A short, paved trail leads along the coast to a spectacular viewing area, where you can stare out across the seemingly endless ocean arrayed before you.
Head here early, to avoid the crowds and to avoid the worst of the midday day heat.
Great Day Trips from Honolulu, Oahu
Honolulu, as well as being a great destination in itself, is also the perfect base from which to explore the rest of Oahu, and even further afield to the surrounding Hawaiian Islands too.
Here are the best day trips from Honolulu.
11. North Shore Oahu
The North Shore of Oahu is a spectacularly breathtaking place to visit. The coastline is raw and rugged, and in comparison to Waikiki Beach in Honolulu, you will find these northern beaches to be almost empty.
There is great surfing, great snorkeling, and excellent scenery wherever you look.
12. Waimea Canyon
Located on the neighboring island of Kauai, the Waimea Canyon is a beautiful wilderness, known to visitors as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific.
It’s a really unique landscape, where the high stone cliffs are covered in lush vegetation, where waterfalls crash down powerfully into the river below and where the hiking and outdoor activities and opportunities are endless.
13. Volcanoes National Park
Found on the big island of Hawaii, the Volcanoes National Park surrounds some of the most active volcanoes in the Pacific.
Here you can experience not only the stunning landscapes of Hawaii, but you can see firsthand the seismic, volcanic forces that have shaped the islands’ history.
Honolulu Travel Planning Tips
Where is Honolulu, Hawaii?
Honolulu is the largest city, and the state capital, of Hawaii. It’s found on the island of Oahu, on the beautiful southeastern shores, offering visitors easy access to the long Oahu coastline, as well as the rest of the Hawaiian Islands too.
The city sprawls for several miles along the coast, with the tourist hub of Waikiki Beach located at the eastern end of the city.
The infamous Pearl Harbor is on the western edge of Honolulu, while along the northern flank, rise the volcanoes and rugged mountains that frame the city.
How to Travel to Honolulu
Honolulu is, by all accounts, a remote destination. Hawaii, although part of the United States, is located thousands of miles away from the west coast, in the middle of the vast Pacific Ocean.
Most travelers will arrive through the Honolulu International Airport, which acts as the major gateway to Hawaii. There are regular direct flights from many cities in the US, with most major US Airlines serving this popular route. Even from the west coast, flights average at least 5 hours in duration.
There are also many regular connections not just to the US, but to the east, with scheduled flights from Australia, New Zealand, and several Asian destinations too.
It is possible to arrive in Honolulu via ship, and many cruise liners operate routes from the west coast to Hawaii, but given the relative isolation of the islands, these cruises will spend a lot of time on the open ocean.
Many companies also offer cruises between Honolulu and the neighboring Hawaiian islands, which can be a great way to experience the rest of the state from the city.
Getting around Honolulu itself is easy, with the streets being simple to navigate. Downtown and the coastline along to Waikiki Beach are all compact enough to walk around, while there are regular public buses running set routes in the city.
From the airport, there are frequent shuttle services to popular tourist hotels and areas, while taxis, of course, can be found almost anywhere.
Best Time to Visit Honolulu
Honolulu can be visited any time of year, as the tropical climate means that you can expect warm, sunny temperatures no matter what month you choose to travel.
September to December can see the odd tropical storm, however, rain can fall at any time of the year.
Honolulu is an incredibly popular holiday destination, particularly during US vacation periods.
Over Christmas and New Year’s, and other prominent public holidays, then flights and hotels can be much more likely to be booked out and will be much more expensive too.
You can avoid the worst of the crowds and lower your travel expenses by traveling in the shoulder seasons, particularly between September and December.
Where to Stay in Honolulu
Being such a popular holiday destination, Honolulu has a huge array of accommodation catering to tourists.
The city center itself is sparse on hotels and resorts, as the vast majority of options are located around the endearingly popular Waikiki Beach on the eastern shore of Honolulu.
Here are a few great Honolulu hotels for your trip, which you can find on Expedia.ca.
Waikiki Beachside Hostel: This great beachside hostel offers inexpensive dormitories, as well as fantastic common areas, a kitchen and even live music performances. The best part is the location of the hostel, which as the name suggests, is right on Waikiki Beach.
Hokulani Waikiki by Hilton: The Hokulani by Hilton provides great mid-range value to visitors, in a central location, meaning you are never too far from all the sights and attractions. The rooms are modern and stylish while the rooftop bar and the views are marvelous.
This post is written in collaboration with Expedia.ca.
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