Honolulu, on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, is the capital of Hawaii and a beloved vacation destination for many. The city itself is known for its vibrant nightlife, beaches, and historical attractions.
But while this modern city is great to discover in itself, it also has the added bonus of being surrounded of beautiful nature perfect for hiking, exploring, or just escaping the busy city life.
Not to mention the surrounding ocean ideal for watersports, diving, boating, and surfing. If you are headed to Oahu and looking for some ideas, here are the best things to do in Honolulu.
1. Waikiki Beach
World-famous Waikiki beach is an absolute must when in Honolulu. The sandy beach is two miles long and lined with resorts, beach bars, shops, and restaurants. It’s busy, sometimes very busy, but a great Hawaiian beach for swimming, snorkeling, and surfing.
2. Pearl Harbor
Another must do when in Honolulu is visit Pearl Harbor. The infamous attack here in 1941 took the lives of more than 2400 people and prompted the USA to go to war. It’s both an active military base and National Historic Landmark that can be explored by organized tours. Tours will take you to several sites including a battleship, memorial, submarine, and more.
3. USS Missouri Memorial
History buffs should also be sure to check out the Battleship Missouri Memorial. It was the last battleship to be commissioned in the USA and also the last to be decommissioned. It was on the deck of this ship that the Japanese surrendered, putting an end to WWII.
4. US Army Museum of Hawaii
An unusual museum, the US Army Museum tells the story of Hawaii’s military not just through the guns, tanks, bunkers, and helicopters, but also through the building itself. This museum is housed in a bastion that was built to protect Hawaii from invading forces.
5. Honolulu Museum of Art
The Honolulu Museum of Art is Hawaii’s largest private visual art institution. It opened its doors in 1927 and is recognized for having the one of the largest collections of Pan-Pacific and Asian art in the USA. There are more than 50, 000 works of art spanning over 5000 years.
6. Honolulu Zoo
This 42-acre zoo is home to over 1230 animals living in specially designed habitats suited to each species needs. One of the things that makes the Honolulu Zoo interesting is that it is the only zoo in the United States to be created thanks to grants made by a sovereign landmark.
7. USS Bowfin Submarine Museum
Nicknamed as the Pearl Harbor Avenger, the USS Bowfin is a submarine that sunk 44 enemy ships during WWII. Today it is a national landmark that visitors can come onboard to see what life would be like on a submarine.
8. Waikiki Aquarium
Founded in 1904, Waikiki Aquarium is one of the oldest aquariums in the country. There are over 500 live marine species and about 3000 marine specimens.
Also read: 80 Awesome Things to do in Hawaii
9. Pacific Aviation Museum
This internationally recognized museum was founded in 1999 and honors pilots and aviators who defended freedom in the Pacific Region.
10. Iolani Palace
Did you know that Hawaii has a monarchy? Iolani Palace, a four story Renaissance style building, is the official residence of King Kalakaua and his sister (and successor) Queen Lili’uokalani. The palace dates back to 1882 and is open to visitors who are interested in learning about Hawaii’s royal heritage and history.
11. The Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum
Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop was the last descendent of the Kamehameha royal family. She passed away in 1889 and her husband built this building to display a collection of her heirlooms along with important Hawaiian artefacts. The collection has expanded over time to include photos, documents, and more.
12. Makapuu Lighthouse Trail
Take a break from the beaches of Honolulu and spend a couple of house hiking up to Makapuu Point. It’s part of the Kaiwi State Scenic Shoreline and boasts some pretty spectacular views of Koko Head, Koko Crater, and Oahu’s coastline. If you visit from November to May, you may even see some humpback whales in the distance.
13. Koko Crater Trail
At 1208m tall, Koko Crater is one of Oahu’s most recognizable landmarks. It’s also a popular hiking destination, though getting to the lookout involves climbing 1048 very steep stairs make of railroad ties. It can be a bit scary at times, but the views are worth it.
14. Diamond Head State Monument
Diamond Head, a 300,000-year-old volcanic crater, is one of the most popular hikes near Honolulu. The hike from the trail isn’t long, only 0.8 miles, but it is very steep and difficult. However, the effort is worth it when you are rewarded with the views.
15. Tantalus Lookout Puu Ualakaa State Park
One of the best views in Honolulu can be found at Tantalus Lookout Point in Puu Ualakaa State Park. Tourists and locals alike climb the 1048-foot hilltop to take in the panoramic views.
16. Manoa Falls
In Manoa Valley you can take a short 45-minute hike up the mountain to the beautiful Manoa Falls. This waterfall is 150 feet high and especially impressive after heavy rains. Please note it is not safe to swim in the pool due to bacteria and the risk of falling rocks.
17. Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve
Hanuma Bay, which was likely formed by a volcano, is one of the prettiest areas of coastal Hawaii and popular for both snorkeling and swimming. It is a natural preserve so visitors are encouraged to visit the Marine Education Centre to watch a short presentation about the fragile marine system and how to enjoy it without damaging it.
18. Magic Island Beach
Located between downtown Honolulu and Waikiki Beach, Magic Island beach is at the end of Magic Island Peninsula and is a picturesque crescent shaped beach. The water is calm here making is a popular swimming spot. It’s rockier than Waikiki Beach, but less crowded.
19. Kuhio Beach Park
Kuhio Beach Park is part of Waikiki Beach and home to some popular landmarks and statues include Duke Kahanamoku, the Stones of Kapaemahu, and the Prine Kuhio Statue.
20. Lyon Arboretum
The Lyon Arboretum is a preservation for rare and endangered Hawaiian plants, palms, gingers, and heliconias. It’s a pretty place to visit but more than the aesthetics, people like to come to escape the busy and noisy streets and beaches of Honolulu for some peace and quiet here.
21. Kapiolani Regional Park
Kapiolani Regional Park is the oldest public park in Hawaii. Within the park you can find quiet areas to relax and enjoy nature along with the Honolulu Zoo, the Waikiki Shell, and the oldest sporting club in the Hawaiian Islands which is also the state’s only cricket club.
22. Ala Moana Center
If you love to shop then this is the place to go. There are over 290 shopping stores here carrying anything and everything you could possibly need. There are also 70 dining and restaurant options. It’s considered to be the largest outdoor shopping mall in the USA.
23. Farmers Market KCC
A Honolulu tradition, this farmers market is located at the Kapi’olani Community College and is open on Tuesday evenings and Saturday mornings. Souvenirs, crafts, baked goods, fruits, produce, and more can be found and purchased here. Many of the vendors are local farmers, which is great for supporting Hawaii’s agribusiness. It’s also a great place to meet and talk to locals.
24. Honolulu’s Chinatown
It’s always fun to visit smaller communities and neighbourhoods within big cities, and Honolulu’s Chinatown is no exception. It’s small, but the bustling streets filled with food vendors and Asian restaurants are definitely worth a visit. You can even find Filipino and Thai food here.
25. Take a Surf Lesson
Surfers tend to head to Oahu’s North Shore for the waves, but if you’d like to give it a try, or are short on time, you can grab a lesson at Waikiki beach. There are lessons for all skill levels and boards for rent as well.
26. Stand Up Paddle Boarding (SUP)
While you can surf in Honolulu, most people save that for the famous north shore and grab a different style of board instead; a stand up paddleboard. It’s a fun way to spend a couple of hours or even a day on the water.
27. Try Local Hawaiian Foods
You can’t visit somewhere new without trying the local cuisine, and trust us; you will want to try the local foods here. Make sure to try poke, loco moko, laulau, poi, and kalua pig to name a few.
28. Go Scuba Diving
Whether you are an experienced diver looking for some fun dives, or someone who wants to get certified, Hawaii is a great place for scuba diving. There are plenty of dive centers in Honolulu to help you with all of your scuba diving needs. If you are feeling particularly adventurous, you can also go cage diving with sharks.
Check out our guide to Scuba Diving Hawaii
29. Go to a Luau
When you think of Hawaii, you probably picture flower crowns, grass skirts, and a Luau. So go to one! One of the best Luaus in the area is at Paradise Cove in the Ko Olina Resort in Kapolei. Play games, eat plenty of traditional foods, and watch cultural performances.
30. Take a Day Trip to another Town
Honolulu is a ton of fun with plenty to see and do, but we recommend you take at least one-day trip to see more of Oahu. Head to the North Shore for its beaches and surf culture, or Kailua Town- vacation spot to former American president Obama.
31. Spend a Day at the Polynesia Cultural Centre
Another great day trip idea is to visit the Polynesian Cultural Center. It’s 42 acres of interactive villages with traditionally dressed employees ready to show and teach you about culture and tradition. This is also a great place to experience a luau.
32. Experience the Nightlife
Oahu may be known as a dreamy island vacation destination but Honolulu is a big, modern city with a great night scene. Whether you want to dance, sing karaoke, or just find a cool rooftop bar for a few drinks, there is plenty to choose from. Lots of bars and restaurants also have happy hour specials, so be sure to take advantage of that!
33. Take A Helicopter Ride
If you are looking for a truly memorable experience while in Honolulu, then you should take a helicopter ride. See the island of Oahu from above. Choose from a variety of routes; over the city, a sunset ride, and evening ride to see Honolulu all lit up, or go off the beaten track to see some of the island’s hidden treasures.
34. Relax on a Boat Cruise
Skip the crowded beaches and board a boat for a day or even just a few hours to enjoy the ocean surrounding Hawaii. Scenic cruising is an enjoyable and relaxing way to escape the bustle of Honolulu. Opt for a day trip out or a romantic sunset cruise.
35. Go Searching for Whales and Dolphins
Part of what makes the Hawaiian Islands to attractive to travellers is the abundance of marine life, especially whales and dolphins. While we don’t recommend swimming with captured dolphins, we are a big fan of getting to see them in the wild. There are a few tour companies in Oahu who offer wild dolphin tours and, depending on the season, whale watching tours as well.
Honolulu is an awesome vacation destination. It’s a perfect mix of big, modern city attributes paired with stunning natural beauty in the surrounding areas. With so many things to do in Honolulu, we bet you will want to keep coming back.