Blake Walsh

16 Best Things to Do in East Honolulu, HI

  • Published 2023/05/12

East Honolulu is a census-designated place (CDP) in Honolulu County, Hawaii.

East Honolulu’s points of interest consist of inland and water-based fun destinations and activities.

Its total area of 3.4 square miles comprises 2.3 square miles of land and 1.2 square miles of water.

This community ranks second in population to the Hawaii capital city of Honolulu, whose neighborhoods are primarily upscale.

East Honolulu is arguably the island’s most coveted side on the windward east side of Oahu Island.

Visiting here unlocks many of Hawaii’s unique attractions, such as panoramic ocean and mountain views, pristine beaches, and laid-back communities.

Learn more about the best things to do in East Honolulu, Hawaii.

Spend a Day at the Polynesian Cultural Center

Welcome sign of Polynesian Cultural Center

Michael Gordon /

Allow a full day to enjoy all the attractions at the Polynesian Cultural Center on Kamehameha Highway.

This center, set on 42 acres along the northeast shore of Oahu, features six island villages to present the Polynesian cultures.

Represented in the villages of the Polynesian Cultural Center are Hawaii, Fiji, Tahiti, Tonga, Samoa, and Aotearoa of New Zealand.

During a visit to the center, you can watch the Ali’i Luau’Onipa’a, a show honoring Hawaii’s last monarch.

Canoe tour at Polynesian Cultural Center

Molly NZ /

The Polynesian Cultural Center, in addition, offers daily canoe tours in its lagoon, as well as a Circle Island Tour around Oahu.

Various Hawaiian and island-themed wares, like clothing, jewelry, and handicraft, are available at the center’s Hukilau Marketplace.

You can wrap up a day tour of the center in its “Ha: Breath of Life,” a traditional song-and-dance show.

Hula dancers at Polynesian Cultural Center

Michael Gordon /

Tour the Kualoa Ranch

Aerial view of Kualoa Ranch

NickCorz /

Various tours are available to visitors of the historic Kualoa Ranch, a private nature preserve off Kamehameha Highway.

Established in 1850, the ranch spreads over 4,000 acres and remains a working ranch.

Each tour in the Kualoa Ranch centers on its ties as a location for some Hollywood films.

One of these tours, the Jurassic Adventure Tour, takes visitors to film sites featuring heavily wooded valleys and epic waterfalls.

Fossils at Kualoa Ranch

frankmlee /

Other Kualoa Ranch tours offer ATV and zipline rides across a well-preserved natural environment.

You can also book a tour package of Secret Island at the ranch just a short distance south.

The recreational activities at this island hideaway nearby include kayaking and a beach cruiser.

The grounds of Kualoa Ranch

frankmlee /

Enjoy the Views at the Nuuanu Pali Lookout

Scenic views from Nuuanu Pali Lookout

E.J.Johnson Photography /

Take a joy ride on Highway 61 to the Nuuanu Pali Lookout, perched on a 1,200-foot-high cliff.

This lookout features several viewing platforms offering an island panorama in different directions.

At the Nuuanu Pali Lookout, you’ll have fantastic views of the blue waters of the Pacific Ocean.

People admiring the view from Nuuanu Pali Lookout

Phillip B. Espinasse /

Seeing the lush peaks of the Koolau Mountain Range stretching for 37 miles is impressive from this lookout point.

The Nuuanu Pali Lookout is also where King Kamehameha won a battle that enabled him to unite Oahu under his rule.

History board at Nuuanu Pali Lookout

Phillip B. Espinasse /

Try the Lanikai Pillbox Hike

Aerial view of Lanikai Pillbox Hike

Gregory Zamell /

Take the Lanikai Pillbox Hike, one of Oahu’s most popular hiking trails.

It’s a 1.5-mile loop where you can have marvelous views of the sun setting behind the Koolau Mountains at dusk.

You can also stroll on the Lanikai Pillbox Hike at dawn to meet the sunrise.

Trail of Lanikai Pillbox Hike

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The hike’s most popular access is the trailhead on Kaelepulu Drive near Lanikai Beach, which lends the trail a cozy coastal ambiance.

Some sections of the Lanikai Pillbox Hike are steep but offer breathtaking views, so a stroll here is worth it.

Fabulous vistas of Lanikai Beach, Kailua Bay, and the Mokulua Islands will keep you company along this trail.

Hikers at Lanikai Pillbox Hike

Gregory Zamell /

Visit the Byodo-In Temple

Exterior of the Byodo-In Temple

Lauren Orr /

The Byodo-In Temple, built in 1968, is at the foothills of the Koolau Mountains in Valley of the Temples Memorial Park.

Accessible via Kahekili Highway, this Buddhist temple marked the centennial anniversary of the first Japanese immigrants’ arrival in Hawaii.

It’s a non-practicing Buddhist temple, and folks of all faiths are welcome here.

Many people visit the Byodo-In Temple for sheer appreciation of its beautiful construction atop a cliff.

Koi pond at the Byodo-In Temple

alexroch /

It was constructed as a miniature replica of a vintage temple in Japan listed as a UN World Heritage Site.

The Oahu replica is as striking as its Japanese counterpart, with its lush landscaping and exquisite design.

The temple’s grounds feature meditation niches and small waterfalls.

It also boasts a large reflecting pond with colorful Japanese koi carp schools.

A bell at the Byodo-In Temple

Wirestock Creators /

Line up Shots at the Royal Hawaiian Golf Club

The Royal Hawaiian Golf Club offers golfers an awe-inspiring par 72, 18-hole course off Auloa Road.

Games on this 6,595-yard layout take golfers to the foothills of the Koolau Mountain Range.

The three peaks of Mt. Olomana also loom in the background of this course which opened in 1993.

The rugged, mountainous terrain of the Royal Hawaiian Golf Club thus presents an exciting fusion of beauty and challenge.

Besides the thrills of its course, the Royal Hawaiian Golf Club offers a 45,000-square-foot clubhouse where the food and beverage options are equally outstanding.

Shop at the Royal Hawaiian Center

Exterior of the Royal Hawaiian Center

Theodore Trimmer /

The Royal Hawaiian Center is a large shopping mall on Kalakaua Avenue in the center of Waikiki.

This shopping center provides commercial space of over 310,000 square feet to more than 110 stores.

The shops in the Royal Hawaiian Center include luxury brand retailers of Gucci, Chanel, Tiffany & Co., and Hawaiian souvenir stores.

Interior of the Royal Hawaiian Center

Felix Mizioznikov /

Various events are held in this center throughout the year, including rooftop stargazing on Level 4 of Building 4.

The center offers free live entertainment at The Royal Grove for cultural performances.

The grounds of Royal Hawaiian Center

EQRoy /

Tackle the Makapuu Point Lighthouse Trail

View of the lighthouse from Makapuu Point Lighthouse Trail

Lu Yang /

The Makapuu Point Lighthouse Trail is a scenic two-mile loop path accessible from Kalanianaole Highway.

The trail’s namesake Makapuu Point Lighthouse, built in 1909, remains in operation today.

Visitors are not allowed inside the impressive red-roofed lighthouse but can enjoy the beautiful views around it.

A hike on the Makapuu Point Lighthouse Trail traverses some steep sections but is relatively easy overall.

The trail’s highest point, at a 600-foot cliff, overlooks the inviting Makapuu Beach and other exciting destinations in East Honolulu.

Hikers along Makapuu Point Lighthouse Trail

Steve Heap /

During the whale-watching season from December to May, onsite telescopes are available at the lighthouse trail’s overlook points.

With this equipment and informative signage on the trail, visitors can spot whales passing the Molokai Channel off the Makapuu Lighthouse.

Hawaiian seabirds can be spotted on the Molokai and Lanai islets off the lighthouse.

The trail to the lighthouse likewise opens access to the famous Makapuu Tide Pools, including a small blowhole.

Daytime view of Makapuu Point Lighthouse Trail

Phillip B. Espinasse /

Bond with Dolphins at Sea Life Park Hawaii

A cute dolphin at Sea Life Park Hawaii

RAW-films /

The family-friendly Sea Life Park Hawaii is located off Kalanianaole Highway.

This marine mammal park offers an aquarium where visitors enjoy interactive experiences like bonding with dolphins.

Other up-close encounters with marine creatures at Sea Life Park Hawaii include feeding sea turtles.

The park also features educational exhibits and expert narratives about marine animals like sea lions and reef sharks.

Entertaining cultural shows at the park’s dolphin lagoon are also among the highlights of the activities here.

Try Bodysurfing at Makapuu Beach Park

Bodysurfing at Makapuu Beach Park

Phillip B. Espinasse /

The waters of Makapuu Beach Park, located off Kalanianaole Highway (Route 72), are touted as one of the best spots for bodysurfing in Oahu.

Besides its clear turquoise waters, this beach flaunts pristine white sand and stunning ocean views.

The beach is about 500 feet wide, with dunes seemingly cascading to the ocean.

Makapuu Beach Park faces a cove-like bay with the Makapuu Point Lighthouse as its backdrop.

This beach is open free to the public from dawn to dusk.

Sunny day at Makapuu Beach Park

Eric Broder Van Dyke /

Explore the He’eia State Park

Go on a self-guided walking tour of the He’eia State Park, an 18-acre peninsula accessible from the Kamehameha Highway.

The general public is welcome to this park, noted for its unique location connecting land and water.

Also known as Kealohi Point, the Heeia State Park draws locals and visitors alike for its various sites preserving the native Hawaiian culture.

One local belief is that the park’s site is a sacred “leaping point” where departed souls join their ancestors.

Plant life and marine creatures are also sights to behold at this park, with spectacular views of the Koolau Mountains.

Dive Off China Walls at Koko Kai Beach Mini Park

The waters of Koko Kai Beach Mini Park

Wirestock Creators /

Although small, Koko Kai Beach Mini Park is popular among intrepid sea cliff divers.

For them, the main attraction of this park on Hanapepe Loop is the thrilling China Walls.

These rock cliffs resembling the Great Wall in China also create waves that attract experienced surfers.

The Koko Kai Beach Mini Park is likewise noted for its remarkable Spitting Caves that powerful wave action creates as slewing waters on the oceanfront cliffs.

A Japanese fishing shrine on lava rock is another point of interest in this park; the near-shore waters also teem with marine life.

Off the water, Koko Kai Beach Mini Park visitors can enjoy watching wildlife and sunbathing.

Climb the Olomana

A hiker at Olomana

Jakub Maculewicz /

The Olomana is a 1,643-foot tall mountain with three peaks accessible from its ridge trail on Loop Road.

The mountain’s Olomana name means “divided hill” in Hawaiian and tells of a legendary warrior slain in a battle, which split his body in half.

The first peak of Olomana is the highest, with a steep trail but not too dangerous, with fixed ropes from the summit.

Most climbers descend after reaching the first peak, with the rewarding views of the Koolau Range and Windward Coast that it offers.

This peak also provides views of the second and third peaks of Olomana.

The trails to these peaks are more complex and challenging and have already had fatalities among climbers.

Let the Kids Try the Manoa Falls Trail

The waters of Manoa Falls

Stephen James Burke /

The Manoa Falls Trail offers a family-friendly hike that kids will love.

Accessible from Manoa Road, the trail is open from dawn to dusk.

Its 1.6-mile round-trip route traverses a gradient gentle enough for casual hikers.

The Manoa Falls Trail can turn muddy, so trail or hiking shoes are advisable for the short trek.

The highlight of a hike on this trail, the 150-foot Manoa Falls, is spectacular.

Scenes from blockbuster adventure films, like Jurassic Park, were filmed here.

Trees along Manoa Falls Trail

Parthena Savides /

Check Out the Tropicals of the Lyon Arboretum

Flowers at Lyon Arboretum

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Lyon Arboretum on Manoa Road is a facility of the University of Hawaii open to the public.

The arboretum sprawls over almost 200 acres on the rear portion of Manoa Valley.

Visitors of the Lyon Arboretum can browse various sub-tropical and tropical plants within its acreage.

All these can be accessed via a self-guided hike on trails covering seven miles.

Just taking a 20-minute stroll on these trails may be more than enough to satisfy your curiosity, given the arboretum’s vast plant collection.

Lush greenery at Lyon Arboretum

Daniel Ramirez from Honolulu, USA, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Go Nuts at the Tropical Farms

People at Tropical Farms

Molly NZ /

Starting as a humble mom-and-pop store in 1987, Tropical Farms has become a popular roadside stop on Kamehameha Highway.

It started as a family-owned and operated business, offering many Hawaii-made products iconic of the islands.

Fresh macadamia nuts, which started it all for Tropical Farms, remain among its bestsellers.

This roadside shop is also known for its signature roast Kona Macadamia coffee.

Other goodies available at Tropical Farms include island-made chocolates, popcorn, chips, condiments, and spices.

Shops at Tropical Farms

Jeff Whyte /

Final Thoughts

An itinerary on this windward side of Oahu promises a wide selection of recreational activities outdoors.

The extensive trails in the beaches and parks in East Honolulu alone can be enough to fill a day of fun for visitors.

Make the most of your trip with this list of the best things to do in East Honolulu, Hawaii.

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