Honolulu, the capital of Hawaii, is also the main entry point for most tourists to the state. It is easily accessible via direct flights from North America and Asia as well as destinations around South Pacific. Hawaii is a popular tourist destination with many visitors from all over the world coming to enjoy its beaches tropical climate and beautiful scenery.
The city of Honolulu is divided into three areas: Downtown, Waikiki, and Pearl Harbor. Waikiki is the main attraction. It’s a peninsula that covers nearly half of a mile and has a beautiful stretch on soft-sand beaches. This tiny area is home to some of the best restaurants, shops, and hotels in America.
The historic area of downtown is home to many sightseeing options, including museums, historical buildings and famous statues. Our list of top attractions and things you can do in Honolulu will help you plan your visit.
Waikiki’s beaches and sights are worth the effort
The area is located on the south shore of Honolulu and is well-known for its luxurious resorts, entertainment, shopping, dining, and fine dining. It is also home to Olympic gold medallist Duke Kahanamoku. He was a swimmer and a surfing instructor, and is known as the “father” of modern surfing. This sport is so revered that the markers along the Waikiki Historical Trail are made from surfboards.
The Royal Hawaiian Center, International Marketplace are both popular gathering spots. Tourists will find most of Waikiki’s boutiques and restaurants along Kuhio Avenues. The Waikiki Boardwalk is home to many cafes and entertainment.
Polynesian Cultural Centre
The Polynesian Cultural Center, a living museum of culture, features six villages each dedicated to the unique culture and history of a Polynesian island. There are also villages that represent the islands of Fiji and Samoa as well as Tahiti, Samoa, Tahiti and Aotearoa Maori.
The Alii Luau is the top attraction in the cultural center. It offers a unique experience for guests and includes live entertainment. Other popular activities include canoeing through Tonga villages, fishing in authentic Tahitian gear and witnessing a Maori warrior dance.
Address: 55-370 Kamehameha Hwy, Laie, Hawaii
Official website: www.polynesia.com
Pearl Harbor, the largest natural harbor in Hawaii is named after the many pearls that were once plucked from its depths. It is an active naval base and a National Historic Landmark. The site houses many attractions that are part the World War II Valor at the Pacific Monument. These include memorials for the USS Arizona and USS Oklahoma and the USS Utah.
The Pearl Harbor Visitor Center is open to the public and is free. Tourists can find out about the 1941 tragedy, as well information on the natural and military history of Pearl Harbor. It is also where you can start your tour to the USS Arizona and the Pacific Aviation Museum located on Ford Island. This museum features a video presentation, historical photographs, two hangars housing various WWII aircraft and flight simulators that allow visitors take off and land on an aircraft carrier.
If you have a tight schedule, the Pearl Harbor Tour departs Honolulu. This tour covers Pearl Harbor’s top attractions in just 4.5 hours. It also includes a driving tour through downtown Honolulu.
Official site: http://www.pearlharborhistoricsites.org/
Diamond Head State Monument
Diamond Head State Monument
Diamond Head is the most well-known natural landmark in Hawaii. It has a unique profile. This historic peak is located on Waikiki’s eastern coast. It was once an important part the island’s coast defense. Visitors can climb the steep trail, which rises 560ft from the floor to the summit in a mere 0.8 mile.
An enormous lighthouse, built in 1917 at the top of Diamond Head Crater, is located there. It also contains bunkers and the Fire Station which controlled artillery at Fort Ruger (and Waikiki). Many tourists find the breathtaking view from the shoreline below rewarding for the difficult uphill climb. You should bring water and sturdy shoes if you plan to make the trek.
Official site: http://dlnr.hawaii.gov/dsp/parks/oahu/diamond-head-state-monument/
Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve
Hanauma Bay was formed in the crater an ancient volcano. It was a popular spot for snorkeling and became polluted from the overuse. The bay is now pristine and the ecosystem flourishes thanks to restoration efforts that started in 1990. Visitors can enjoy the reef’s many inhabitants and the beauty of the bay.
The bay is being protected from future generations by limiting the daily number of visitors. All beachgoers must watch an educational video on how to ensure they do not damage the ecosystem and reef they are enjoying. You can learn more by visiting the Hanauma Bay Education Center. It has interactive displays.
Address: Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve, 7455 Kalanianaole Hwy, Honolulu, Hawaii
Official site: www.hanaumabaystatepark.com
Discover Coral Reefs: Snorkeling, Scuba Diving
Honolulu offers the perfect place to dive with miles and miles worth of coral reef off its coast. There are also plenty of instructors who can provide equipment and lessons. One of the easiest ways to explore Honolulu’s beaches is by going to one of them .
Hanauma bay Nature Preserve offers a great option for anyone who wants to learn how to snorkel while not disturbing the fragile ecosystem.
Divers who want to explore new depths will find a variety of excellent scuba diving guides and outfitters. Shark’s Cove is a popular spot for snorkeling and diving. It was named after its shape, and not its inhabitants.
Visitors who wish to see the incredible marine life of this area without having to swim in it have a variety of options, including glass-bottomed boat and submarine tours. The Corsair wreck is a WWII aircraft that lies 115 feet below sea level. It is best to visit with an experienced guide because of strong currents.
The complete collection of the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art is featured in the Shangri-La Museum. It was a result the benefactor’s love for Islamic art and design. Ceramic art is the largest part of the collection, with tile-work and medieval Persian examples being among its most prominent. The most notable examples are however the large architectural pieces that were commissioned by the museum’s founders in the 1930s. They were created by artists from Iran, India and Morocco.
The collection includes textiles, wood and glass as well as decorative objects from Asia, India, Spain and the Middle East. It contains approximately 2,500 pieces.
Address: 4055 Papu Circle, Honolulu, Hawaii
Official site: http://www.shangrilahawaii.org/
USS Arizona Memorial
The USS Arizona Memorial, Hawaii’s most popular tourist attraction, is also one of Pearl Harbor’s five locations that make up the World War II Valor at the Pacific National Monument. The memorial is located above the sunken remains USS Arizona that was destroyed along with 1,177 crewmembers on December 7, 1941.
The memorial is open to all visitors. After viewing a documentary about the attack and its historical context and then boarding a U.S. Navy boat, they are taken to the memorial. You can see the huge marble wall that is engraved with names of all those who died when the ship was attacked. Due to the popularity of this tour, it is recommended that visitors arrive early or reserve a spot in advance.
Iolani Palace, a Neoclassical building of impressive proportions, was built in 1882 by King Kalakaua. It is now the official residence for Hawaii’s monarchy. This is an excellent place to learn about Hawaiian history. It was home to Hawaii’s royal family until 1893 when they were overthrown by American settlers. The palace then served as the capitol of the state until 1969.
In 1978, the palace was opened as a museum. It was renovated in 1970s. The interior features intricately carved wood paneling from native woods like Koa, as well as several imported species. The original carved chandelier and throne are still in place. The facade is decorated with stained glass and intricate decorations. It resembles medieval battlements, with embrasures. This makes it look a little odd in this setting. The National Register of Historic Places lists the palace.
The Queen Emma Summer Palace is another royal residence. It was the summer home of King Kamehameha IV, and Queen Emma. Since 1913, the Daughters of Hawaii have operated the house as a museum.
Address: 364 South King Street, Honolulu, Hawaii
Official site: www.iolanipalace.org
Manoa Falls, Lyon Arboretum
The Lyon Arboretum, a botanical garden on 194 acres in a rain forest, houses a collection more than 5,000 tropical plants. It boasts one of the most extensive collections of palms in a botanical gardens and has many themed gardens. These include a bromeliad garden and a herb-spice garden.
The arboretum also serves as a research center, helping to preserve the state’s tropical forests. From the Lyon Arboretum’s entrance, tourists can follow a path to the Manoa Falls at 150 feet. This beautiful natural location is where bathing may be permitted. Foster Botanical Garden is another beautiful garden that features an Orchid Conservatory and butterfly Garden as well as other noteworthy fauna.
Address: 3860 Manoa Road, Honolulu, Hawaii
Official site: www.manoa.hawaii.edu/lyonarboretum
Take the Koko Crater Railway Trail
The 1,050 steps on the Koko Crater Railroad Trail can be conquered and the reward is stunning views of Honolulu’s shoreline. Actually, the “stairs” are railroad ties that were once used to transport supplies and personnel from the lookout and bunkers in World War II. Many of the steps are steep and high. The only section of the path that is not as steep is the bridge, which spans a 40-foot drop. A local guide is a good option for first-time visitors. They can provide useful tips and a history of the area.
The Koko Crater Botanical Garden offers a wonderful alternative. It is accessible via a two-mile trail that winds through sixty acres of rare and endangered plants. The gate provides a printed map and a tour. It is free to wander among the garden’s desert landscape, which includes plants that are native to Madagascar, Africa, Hawaii, and Hawaii.
Address: 7604 Koko Head Park Road, Honolulu, Hawaii
Enjoy traditional Hawaiian food
Most people picture Hawaii as a place where there is food. They think of sandcastles with pineapples and roast pork. While tourists can find traditional luaus at the Polynesian Cultural Center , there are many other traditional foods that they can explore.
Leonard’s Bakery is a popular gastronomic institution in Honolulu, despite its humble appearance. Tourists will find the best malasadas in Honolulu, a sweet Portuguese doughnut that can be filled with any filling and is usually rolled in sugar.
If you prefer a cold dessert, Wailua Shave Ice is the place for you. The creative presentation will impress and delight patrons who can choose from more than a thousand toppings.
Honolulu Museum of Art
Nearly half of all the 50,000 pieces in the Honolulu Museum of Art’s Asian Art Collection are there. This demonstrates the influence of Asian culture on Hawaii. This collection contains more than 23,000 items and is most well-known for its representations of Japanese, Chinese, Korean Art. The museum also has a large collection of Hawaiian art, which includes a variety of media that represent Hawaiian artists from the 1700s to today.
It also houses around 18,000 pieces of American and European art, including sculptures and decorative arts. It also houses a large collection of paintings from influential 19th-century European artists such as Van Gogh and Cezanne, Rodin, or Monet. Although the museum’s antiquity collections are small, they contain remarkable examples of ancient Greek and Roman artifacts, as well as Egyptian artifacts, that date back more than 5,000 year.
Address: 900 South Beretania, Honolulu, Hawaii
Official site: https://honolulumuseum.org/
This tower, which stands at 184 feet tall, was originally built as a lighthouse in 1926. It has been a landmark since then, and was so valuable to the locals that it was disguised during World War II to keep it from being a target.
It still welcomes cruise ship passengers today. The observation deck offers panoramic views of the harbor and surrounding area. Access is free.
Aloha Tower Marketplace is also located in the building. Here you can shop, eat, and have fun.
Address: 1 Aloha Tower Drive, Honolulu, Hawaii
Official website: www.alohatower.com
Shop till you drop at the Ala Moana Center
Shopping at the Ala Moana Center is a new way to shop – it has four levels! It is the largest open-air shopping mall in the world. There are more than 350 shops that offer a variety of products including souvenirs, clothing, and specialty products. There are many food vendors and live music making it possible to spend the entire day there.
Visit the KCC Farmer’s Market every Saturday to get a true local shopping experience. It is hosted by Kapiolani Community College, near Diamond Head State Monument. Shoppers will also find local produce and fresh flowers.
Address: 1450 Ala Moana Blvd, Honolulu, Hawaii
Bishop Museum and Planetarium
The state museum of Hawaii, Bishop Museum, houses one of the finest collections of Polynesian artifacts and arts. The permanent exhibits of the museum include Kahilis which is a collection containing feathered royal standards, used as flags by past royalty, and Hawaiian feathered capses, helmets, and capes. The museum’s first floor focuses on Kai Akea the world of Hawaiian legend where the ancient gods are found.
The museum also has an area that focuses on the region’s natural and traditional occupations, such as whaling. A large collection of artifacts from South Pacific and objects brought in by the Japanese Chinese, Filipino, Portuguese, German and other early settlers is also worth mentioning. The J. Watumull Planetarium is also located in the museum. It presents shows about the Hawaiian night sky, other celestial topics and films about dinosaurs, Polynesian culture, and more.
Address: 1525 Bernice Street, Honolulu, Hawaii
Official site: http://www.bishopmuseum.org
Mission Houses Museum
The museum preserves three historic properties dating back to the beginning of the 19th century. These homes are listed on the National Register of Historic Places and document the lives of early missionaries. These buildings are among the oldest in western style. They include the Mission House (1821), 1841 printing works, and the Chamberlain House (1831). These properties were built by Levi Chamberlain to house his eight-member family when they arrived in Honolulu in 1823 from Vermont. It was here that the first books in Hawaiian language were printed. They were used as a written language by missionaries.
Address: 553 South King Street, Honolulu, Hawaii
Official site: https://www.missionhouses.org/