20 Best Things to Do in Downtown Honolulu, HI

Downtown Honolulu, HI
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You don't usually find beaches, palaces, and skyscrapers in one place, but they do in Downtown Honolulu, Hawaii.

Its central business district has numerous skyscrapers mingling with history and heritage, including the Iolani Palace and the King Kamehameha I statue.

On a walking tour, you'll also find notable cultural landmarks and architectural wonders.

Downtown Honolulu is a major global tourist destination, home to approximately one million people.

One part you shouldn’t miss is the Waterfront area, where most tours commence.

For example, you'll see the Aloha Tower, a clock tower once considered the state's largest.

Here are the best things to do in Downtown Honolulu, HI:

Visit the Iolani Palace

Night view of Iolani Palace exterior
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King Kalakaua built the Iolani Palace in 1882.

It was the official royal residence and the center of the social and political life of the kingdom of Hawaii.

It is a living representation of the state’s national identity, its physical and spiritual multicultural epicenter.

Interior of Iolani Palace
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In honor of its historical importance, the government declared the Iolani Palace a National Historic Landmark in 1962.

Prepare to be amazed by its grandeur, bringing you back to when the kings and queens walked in its hallways.

Join guided tours or do a self-guided one to explore the place.

Staged royal dinner in Iolani Palace
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Check Out the Aloha Tower

Exterior of the Aloha Tower
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The Aloha Tower is Hawaii's most popular landmark.

For 40 years, it was also the island's tallest structure, and its clock was once the biggest in the country.

The Aloha Tower served as a safe passage for vessels.

Top half of the Aloha Tower
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Today, cruise ships still pass by, including the Star of Honolulu.

It also became the Aloha Tower Marketplace, featuring community event areas, student residences, and meeting spaces.

The Aloha Marketplace also has tons of restaurants, live music at night, and unique shops.

Check Out Fine Art in the Hawaii State Art Museum

Exterior of Hawaii State Art Museum
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The Hawaii State Art Museum shows you the best contemporary art from all over the state.

The museum displays Hawaii’s ethnic and cultural traditions, with three galleries featuring approximately 132 works from 105 artists.

Side view of Hawaii State Art Museum's exterior
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One of its exhibits uses contemporary art to tell Hawaii’s story from before human contact up to the present.

Perhaps you want to let your child join the free hands-on art activities for a day?

You can join Art Lunch, a ‘meet the artist’ lecture series.

Spend the Day at the Foster Botanical Garden

Golden trumpet tree at Foster Botanical Garden
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There's a beautiful garden in the middle of downtown Honolulu.

The Foster Botanical Garden is your much-needed respite from the hectic pace of the city.

This place houses an impressive collection of tropical plants.

Pretty orchids at Foster Botanical Garden
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In the 1850s, Dr. William Hillebrand planted some of the trees in the garden.

Likewise, the garden has memorials and sculptures.

See the replica of the Daibutsu of Kamakura, the ‘Sandwich Isle’ ceramic sculpture, and the Tree sculpture.

Replica of Daibutsu of Kamakura on the grounds of Foster Botanical Garden
Daderot., CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Stop by the King Kamehameha Statue

Daytime view of King Kamehameha Statue
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King Kamehameha united the islands of Hawaii under one banner.

To honor Hawaii's first king, Hawaii put up a statue of King Kamehameha in downtown Honolulu.

Standing in front of the Ali’iolani Hale, or the Hawaii State Supreme Court, it is the most famous statue in the state.

Closeup view of King Kamehameha Statue
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Thomas Gould sculpted the 18-foot bronze statue in Florence.

Today, it's the most photographed landmark in the city.

During Kamehameha Day, the Friday closest to June 11th, Hawaiians ceremoniously drape the statue with lei to honor their greatest king.

The back of King Kamehameha Statue
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Bring Your Kids to the Hawaii Children’s Discovery Center

The Hawaii Children's Discovery Center encourages children to use their senses through its many activities.

Your visit will take about two to three hours to complete, especially since the center is enormous.

It impresses visitors of all ages while allowing the children to learn something new with every visit.

The Hawaii Children’s Discovery Center provides children with an interactive, world-class learning environment.

They inspire both the young and the ‘young once’ to learn and discover more things.

Visit the Hawaii State Capitol

Exterior of Hawaii State Capitol
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The Hawaii State Capitol Building houses state legislators’ offices, the state house and senate, and the lieutenant governor's and governor's offices.

The building’s architecture is somewhat unusual, containing symbolism that reflects the state’s uniqueness.

The open air atrium of Hawaii State Capitol
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It has vast amounts of open space, conveying the sense of an open government.

If you’re keen enough, you’ll also notice that the number 8 is found almost everywhere in the building, representing the eight islands of Hawaii.

House of representatives chamber in Hawaii State Capitol
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Taste Delicious Hawaiian Chocolates at the Madre Chocolate

Who doesn’t love chocolates?

Hawaii isn’t all just about leis and the beach; it's also about excellent and award-winning chocolates.

Madre Chocolate brings you back to the beginnings of chocolate.

They use traditional methods developed during the heyday of the Mayas, Aztecs, and Olmecs.

Madre Chocolate creates its treats on the island of Oahu, which has won more than 26 US, international, and Hawaiian awards.

If you feel like learning how to make chocolates, join weekly workshops where you can concoct your own chocolate bar using spices, various nuts, and flavors.

You can also join chocolate flight tastings, where you can learn about Madre Chocolate’s chocolate-making process.

Stop by the Aliʻiolani Hale

Exterior of the Aliʻiolani Hale
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Since 1874, the Aliʻiolani Hale has housed the Supreme Court of Hawaii.

The term means ‘House of Heavenly Kings.’

King Kamehameha V commissioned the building, for which he laid the cornerstone in 1872.

Unfortunately, he didn’t live long enough to see its completion.

The Australian Thomas Rowe designed the building, constructed with concrete blocks using a coral foundation to support the concrete blocks.

Find the two open rotundas with lantern roofs in the interior and the exterior walls adorned with windows and arched entrances.

Don’t miss the central clock tower that rises four stories high and dials that look towards the four directions.

Learn Local History at Washington Place

Exterior of the Washington Place
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Washington Place is a registered National Historic Landmark, which is also on the National Register of Historic Places.

The building gets its name from George Washington, the first US President.

However, it was the home of Queen Lili'uokalani, the last monarch of Hawaii.

Side view of Washington Place exterior
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When the Kingdom of Hawaii fell to the Americans, US forces arrested the queen in her home.

Today, it's the governor's official residence, the only one that was once home to royalty.

Cool Down with Boba Milk Tea at Teapresso

Teapresso opened in 2014 to bring a healthier range of drink alternatives to the island.

Since then, it has attracted a loyal consumer base.

Teapresso is also the first to offer organic specialty coffee and brewed-to-order boba milk tea on the island.

Taste the tea's distinct flavors, coming from only the freshest ingredients.

Whether you want boba milk tea, smoothies, frappes, or organic lemonade, quench your thirst the healthy way.

Enter Hawaiian Chinatown

Buildings and shops at Hawaiian Chinatown
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The Hawaiian Chinatown is one of the oldest Chinatown districts in the US.

This district brims with Chinese-American restaurants and eateries, serving Chinese and Vietnamese dim sum and Malaysian dishes.

Visit herbal tea shops, fresh local produce vendors, and traditional Chinese medicine practitioners.

Restaurant sign at Hawaiian Chinatown
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You can find these shops in Chinatowns across the world.

Likewise, you can buy Chinese vegetables, exotic fruits, temples, and shrines around the area.

Find the Hawaii Theater, which reopened in 1996 after restoration.

Fresh produce at Hawaiian Chinatown
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Discover Stunning Art Works at the ARTS at Marks Garage

The ARTS at Marks Garage has operated since 2001 as a non-profit community arts center.

Local artists run the place, which attract more than 45,000 visitors yearly.

It features 12 multi-disciplinary exhibits, with 150 performances, workshops, lectures, and screenings.

ARTS stands for Art Retail Theatre Space, ‘incubating’ performers and groups in the performance and visual arts, offering workshops, classes, and exciting experiences.

Enjoy Retail Therapy at the Maunakea Marketplace

Exterior of Maunakea Marketplace
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Prepare for some retail therapy at the Maunakea Marketplace.

This marketplace boasts an area of 52,500 square feet of markets and food courts, with patrons willing to line up for their favorite food.

On the first floor, you’ll find ethnic food, fresh meat, fish, produce, and spices.

Do you want a simple, no-nonsense plate lunch?

Choose from a wide variety of dishes, including Japanese, Italian, Thai, and Chinese.

Reveal the Mysteries of the Sky Gate

Daytime view of the Sky Gate
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The Sky Gate is a massive tripod with a curved ring.

When the sun rises directly over the sculpture, it doesn't cast a shadow.

Named the "Lahaina Noon," this phenomenon happens twice a year, giving the sculpture even more significance.

Closeup view of the Sky Gate
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The artist Isamu Noguchi sculpted the Sky Gate.

Likewise, the Lahaina Noon happens only at the Sky Gate, nowhere else in the entire United States.  

Experience Japanese Culture at the Izumo Taishakyo Shrine

Entrance to the Izumo Taishakyo Shrine
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Izumo Taishakyo Shrine is one of the most underrated spots in Downtown Honolulu—it’s a spot in the city that will transport you to Japan because of its atmosphere and aesthetic.

Modeled authentically as a Japanese Shinto shrine, this destination is a place of worship to a certain Japanese deity, making it one of the few ones in the United States.

It was established in the early 1900s when tons of Japanese immigrants went to work and settled in Hawaii.

Exterior of the Izumo Taishakyo Shrine
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Today, it is still active as a Shinto shrine, but you can easily appreciate its aesthetic and solemn atmosphere by paying a visit.

There’s a lot of omamori here as well—Japanese good luck charms that you can use to gain some advice in your life.

A beautiful place for cultural immersion and photo-taking, You can visit Izumo Taishakyo Shrine along North Kukui Street.

Take Scenic Photography at Kaka’ako Waterfront Park

The waters of Kaka’ako Waterfront Park
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Kaka’ako Waterfront Park is a can’t-miss spot in Downtown Honolulu because it’s one of the best places to appreciate the Pacific Ocean.

Sprawling with beaches and huge rocks along the coast, there’s a unique aesthetic at Kaka’ako Waterfront Park compared to other places in Honolulu, especially if you go during sunsets.

If you have a drone, this is the perfect place to launch it as well so you can see the beautiful skyline of Downtown Honolulu along with the pristine waters of the Pacific Ocean.

A trail at Kaka’ako Waterfront Park
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Kaka’ako Waterfront Park also has a lot of amenities to enjoy, such as an amphitheater and sunbathing spots for relaxation.

You can access this nice spot along Ohe Street.

The grounds of Kaka’ako Waterfront Park
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Have Some Drinks at Moku Kitchen

If you’re undecided on where to spend your evening at Downtown Honolulu, look no further than in Moku Kitchen.

A renowned bar, this is the place to be if you want a lively evening destination along with fantastic drinks and food.

They’re popular for their live music and their signature drink that many locals and tourists regard as the best in Honolulu—Moku Kitchen’s Mai Tai.

They’ve got a lot of great seafood dishes here as well that’s light on the stomach, such as their fish sandwiches, clam chowder, and fish tacos.

Chic and cozy, Moku Kitchen is a must-visit if you want an authentic downtown nightlife experience, found along Ala Moana Boulevard.

Catch an Event at Neal S. Blaisdell Center

Exterior of the Neal S. Blaisdell Center
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Neal S. Blaisdell Center is a go-to event venue for the biggest events in Downtown Honolulu.

If you want to add some spice and variety to your trip, be sure to check out their calendar of events and activities that may pique your interest.

They have a wide range of events here, starting from Disney shows, musicals like Hamilton, concerts, and sporting events as well.

They also host smaller events here like comedy shows and some local fairs.

If there’s an event that you fancy, Neal S. Blaisdell Center can be found along Ward Avenue.

Facade of the Neal S. Blaisdell Center
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Do Some Reading at The Bell of Nagasaki

The Bell of Nagasaki is another monument in Downtown Honolulu, located just a stone’s throw away from the Sky Gate by Isamu Noguchi.

It’s a monument that commemorates the tragic atomic bombing of Nagasaki, and is actually gifted by the Japanese to the United States.

A quaint but picturesque bell stands tall here, signifying peace and friendship between the two countries that once waged war in World War II.

There’s a bit of reading you can do here, but overall, the bell and its tranquil surroundings is what makes this a nice addition to any itinerary.

If you’re a World War II history aficionado, don’t miss out on The Bell of Nagasaki.

Final Thoughts

Hawaii has always been an excellent choice for many family holiday destinations.

However, there is so much more to see in the state beyond beaches and volcanoes.

Start planning your Honolulu trip today!

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