If you’re looking for the top things to do in Honolulu, then you’ve come to the right place. Before we get down to listing the main attractions, let’s look at a bit of background. Honolulu is a city the largest city in Hawaii, located in the Pacific Ocean. It also serves as the capital of the island chain. Honolulu is located on the largest island of O’ahu and is the most remote city of its size in the world. Honolulu is famous throughout the world for Waikiki Beach, as well as being the location of the Pearl Harbor bombing in 1941. It also gained even more fame over the past decade as being the birthplace of President Barack Obama. We think this might be why he’s such a chilled out guy as the pace of life in Honolulu is brilliantly relaxed. It was once ranked the second safest city in the United States and has a population of around 360,000 people. More than 9 million tourists visited O’ahu in 2018, so it’s safe to say it’s a pretty popular vacation destination.
So, let’s take you on a quick journey and explore all the great things to do in Honolulu on your visit.
Before the attack in 1941, Pearl Harbor was relatively unknown in the world, outside military circles and Hawaiian residents. That all changed that morning of December 7th, when the naval base was attacked by Japanese bombers. All eight battleships on the base were damaged, with half of them eventually sinking. The attack killed 2,403 people and later the same day, the US formally entered the Second World War. The site of the bombing is now a memorial to those who died and sits in the lagoon bay to the west of Honolulu. The attraction consists of a visitor center, the USS Arizona Memorial (which was sunk in the battle with 1,177 killed), and a museum. At the time of writing (August 2019) the floating dock leading to the still sunken remains of the USS Arizona is currently closed to the public so that essential repairs can be made. A visit to the Pearl Harbor National Memorial is one of the top things to do in Honolulu. What’s more, the site has no admission charge, so it’s also one of the best free things to do in Honolulu.
Diamond Head Crater
Diamond Head Crater is one of the best known landmarks in Hawaii. It makes up part of the Honolulu Volcanic Series of five volcanic craters. Diamond Head is estimated to be around 500,000 years old. It’s a very popular place to hike for the unique sight of the crater itself, as well as the spectacular views it affords across the Pacific Ocean and Honolulu. You can take a car up to the parking lot, or literally take a hike from street level to the top. If you can manage the walk, it the best way to ensure you don’t miss anything. Warning, though – there are quite a few steps, but plenty of space to relax and rest when you get to the top. It’s undoubtedly one of the best things to do in Honolulu.
Admission fee for walking $1, cars $2.50
Waikiki Beach is one of the most iconic areas of Honolulu – and Hawaii as a whole. The golden sandy beaches, waterside bars, and cabanas have earned it a reputation as a paradise on earth. And it is. The beach sits on the south shore of O’ahu and is actually just one of eight beaches in the town. As well as the opportunities to lounge around and relax, Waikiki also offers high-end hotels and even higher-end shopping. Brands like Fendi, Prada, Gucci, and Tiffany have stores along the main street, Kalakaua Avenue. Even if you choose not to stay around Waikiki Beach during your vacation, spending time there is one of the best things to do in Honolulu.
Manoa Falls is a 150-foot-tall waterfall on the Manoa Falls Trails. Getting to the waterfall involves a bit of walking, but you can take your car to the parking lot closest to the attraction. It’s a stunning natural wonder – of which there are many on O’ahu – and is a firm favorite with residents and visitors alike. The trail is well signed and should take around half an hour to complete if you’re reasonably fit. Swimming in the falls tends to be discouraged due to water-borne disease, which should be enough of a deterrent for anyone, we think. The hike itself is not too challenging, so it’s a good thing to do in Honolulu with all the family.
Officially titled The Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum, this history and culture facility is the largest museum in Hawaii. It was built by Charles Bishop, the co-founder of First Hawaiian Bank, as a tribute to his late wife. The Bishop Museum is home to the largest collection of Polynesian artifacts in the world. There are many facets to the museum, including areas for Hawaiian culture and history, Pacific artifacts, a picture gallery, and the Science Adventure Center. Outside in the grounds is the Native Hawaiian Garden. As well as the permanent displays, there’s also a rotating display of traveling exhibitions, pertinent to the theme of the museum. It’s a great thing to do in Honolulu to gain an insight into the culture and people of Hawaii.
Tickets required, available from the entrance, $16.95-$24.95
This stunning palace was the home of many rulers of Hawaii from 1882 until the Kingdom was overthrown in 1893. Iolani has the unique status of being the only Royal Palace in the United States. It was built under the instruction of the last monarch of Hawaii, King Kalakaua, who lived there until he was succeeded by his sister, Queen Liliuokalani.
A visit to the Palace allows you to view both ground and first floors, as well as the beautifully manicured grounds. It’s a good thing to do in Honolulu with kids and an interesting visit for all the family. You can choose to lead yourself around the Royal home, or take a guided tour. Prices noted below are for self-guided tours.
Tickets required, available from the Iolani Barracks in the grounds, or online. $6-$22
Off-beat things to do in Honolulu
This is our favorite part of any article as we like finding unusual things to do in Honolulu – as we do with every city we visit. If you have a penchant for weird, then head out to Shangri-La and have a look at the eclectic collection of art. Doris Duke, who was a billionaire heiress, lived in Shangri-La estate in Honolulu and was an avid collector; particularly of Islamic Art. When she died, her home was preserved and now operates as a museum of sorts.
If you’re in the vicinity of the Honolulu Municipal Building, you might want to check out the Sky Gate sculpture. This super bendy structure has far more purpose than you might initially think. On two dates each calendar year, when the sub-solar point (the point at where the sun is perpendicular to the ground) falls on this exact spot, the shadows usually created by the Sky Gate form a perfect circle. This solar phenomenon only occurs between the Tropic of Cancer and Capricorn. The Sky Gate is located on the exact sub-solar spot that allows the magic to be seen. If you’re looking for unique things to do in Honolulu – this is it. However, it only happens on May 26th and July 15th each year.
FAQs About Honolulu
We’ve compiled answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about the city and things to do in Honolulu. These will help your research, planning, and general education about all this gorgeous island city has to offer.
Is it safe in Honolulu?
Yep. Statistically, Honolulu is one of the safest cities in the United States and has a very low crime rate. However, like other major cities, it pays to be vigilant. Keep your wits about you, your valuables safe, and always take care after dark.
What can you do in Waikiki for a day?
Sunbathe? Swim in the beautiful Pacific Ocean? Climb Diamond Head Crater? Basically, what you do on a day in Waikiki depends on whether you want to chill out on the beach and take it easy, or whether you’re up for some more active pursuits. We think a mixture of both is probably the best bet. After all, lying on the beach, sipping cocktails always feels better after you’ve slogged it out doing something adventurous, no? Exactly. There’s also the Waikiki Aquarium if you don’t like swimming and prefer looking at your sea creatures from behind the safety of some glass. They have sea turtles, so it’s well worth checking out because they’re wonderful to see close up.
What is the best area to stay in Honolulu?
The most popular area for tourists to stay in Honolulu is around Waikiki as it’s set up for visitors as everything you need is closely. It’s also close to Pearl Harbor, Diamond Head, and the Aquarium, for those who are interested in day trips and local attractions. If you’d prefer to be a little more remote, then North Shore might be the place for you. This area attracts surfers from all over the world who come for the waves and laid-back atmosphere. Accommodation isn’t wide-ranging on North Shore, with Turtle Bay being the main choice.
Is there Uber in Honolulu?
Indeed, there is. The city also has Lyft and regular taxi services, so you should never be stuck without a ride at the end of a night of enjoying a Mai Tai (or three) at a local bar. Score!
What is the best way to get around Oahu?
If you want to do a lot of traveling around the island, then hiring a car is your best bet. If this isn’t an option then many of the resorts have shuttle buses, which will transport you back and forth from local towns. Honolulu also has a public bus system. It’s a cheap and cheerful way to get around.
Are there snakes in Hawaii?
Nope. Snakes are not native to the islands, and it’s illegal to take them in. In fact, there are no animals in Hawaii that can kill you, so if that’s not a reason to visit, we don’t know what is. There are, however, around 40 species of shark that swim around the warm waters off-shore, but that’s not what you asked, is it?
Honolulu is a beautiful city and a wonderful mixture of business and city living with the relaxed pace often associated with island life. We love the balance of old and new and the scenery is spectacular from every angle. Although vacations to Honolulu can be on the expensive side due to the price of accommodation and food, the upside is that it’s unlike anywhere else in the United States. The Polynesian island chain, although part of the US, has a strong culture and identity of its own. The city name translates to ‘protected harbor’ in Hawaiian, although it was initially called ‘fair heaven’ by the English explorer who happened upon it.
The temperature in Honolulu – as with the rest of Hawaii – tends to be on the hot side. It rarely drops below 65 degrees, even during the rainy season. In other words; take your shorts and don’t forget your Hawaiian shirt, obviously. The city is served by Honolulu International Airport and accommodation can be expensive – particularly in the Summer months. However, staying outside the city, or visiting off-season means that prices are lower and the weather is still great. We hope we’ve convinced you of all the brilliant things to do in Honolulu and hope to see you chilling on Waikiki Beach real soon.