Blake Walsh

15 Best Things to Do in Honolulu, HI

  • Published 2023/04/16

As Hawaii’s capital, Honolulu is always bustling with action.

Located on the southeast coast of Oahu, Honolulu is home to most of the island’s residents and runs from Pearl Harbor to Makapu’u Point, including the internationally renowned Waikiki Beach.

Honolulu translates to “calm port” or “sheltered harbor” in Hawaiian.

It’s a hotspot for vacationers because of its sunny weather, pristine beaches, and fruity beverages with colorful straws.

On the south coast of Oahu island, the city is a fantastic jumping-off point for adventures in the Pacific Islands’ verdant landscape.

Honolulu has many exciting activities, such as sunbathing on Oahu’s beautiful beaches, strolling through a gorgeous park, hiking a breathtaking trail, and exploring Hawaii’s rich cultural past.

Check out this list of the best things to do in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Revisit History at Pearl Harbor National Memorial

Exterior of Pearl Harbor National Memorial

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Pearl Harbor, Hawaii’s largest harbor, was named after its waters’ historical abundance of pearls.

Hawaiians have two words for the port: Pu’uloa, meaning “long hill,” and Wai Momi, meaning “water of pearl.”

Both names refer to the same place, an active military facility the Japanese attacked by surprise in December 1941.

FDR declared the day of the attack a “day of infamy” as the United States entered World War II.

People in Pearl Harbor National Memorial

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Pearl Harbor is the Pacific Fleet’s headquarters and a National Historical Monument with four significant sites honoring past generations’ achievements.

When you visit the Pearl Harbor National Memorial, stop by the Visitor Center to pick up a map and a guidebook.

High demand means you should plan if they want to see Pearl Harbor National Memorial for free.

Aerial view of Pearl Harbor National Memorial

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Soak up the Sun at Waikiki Beach

Aerial view of the stunning Waikiki Beach

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Miles of lovely, powdery white-sand beaches framed by towering palm trees and brilliant blue water make up one of the most famous beaches in the world.

Moreover, the surf is mild since many parts of Waikiki Beach are not just for swimming.

Yet, if you venture past the break, you can surf and engage in other water sports.

You can do it all at this beach.

People swimming at Waikiki Beach

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Fort DeRussy Beach, Kuhio Beach, and Queen Surf Beach are all parts of Waikiki and face the Royal Hawaiian Hotel.

The locals love cruising in their outrigger canoes and catamaran, swimming, surfing, and riding a boogie board in the waves.

One of the most incredible things to do in the city is to watch the sunset over Waikiki.

Surfboard stack at Waikiki Beach

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Hike the Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail

Exterior of the Makapu'u Point Lighthouse

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Two miles northeast of the Koko Crater Trail is the Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail, which you may hike in either direction for four miles.

This accessible route has stunning views of the Pacific Ocean and is an excellent location to see whales and seabirds between November and May.

The red-roofed Makapu’u Lighthouse, constructed in 1909, may be reached along the same trail.

The Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail is a favorite among visitors since it is well-maintained, paved, and equipped with several seats.

Hikers along Makapu'u Point Lighthouse Trail

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In addition, many hikers say that the “wonderful” scenery along the walk is worth the effort of packing a camera.

Remember that this route is hot and windy; you must bring protective clothing, sunscreen, and many drinks.

According to the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources, getting around this trail will take at least two hours.

Information board along Makapu'u Point Lighthouse Trail

Phillip B. Espinasse /

Reach the Top of Diamond Head

Aerial view of Diamond Head

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This mountain’s official name is Mt. Leahi, but the common name is Diamond Head.

You may have heard of this mountain because it has one of the world’s most famous volcano craters.

Standing atop the 760-foot peak, treat yourself to the breathtaking vistas over Waikiki and the rest of the South Shore.

It’s one of those events when you want to bring your camera.

Hikers at Diamond Head

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Although Diamond Head is close to Waikiki, climbing up the mountain might be challenging for anyone in peak physical condition.

Nonetheless, the effort will be worthwhile if you hike Diamond Head.

For this half-hour ascent, it is best to get an early start and pack a drink, sunscreen, and sturdy shoes.

Walk among the most stunning and impressive vistas on the entire island of Oahu.

A tourist admiring the view from Diamond Head

Maridav /

Explore the Sea at Hanauma Bay State Park

Scenic view of Hanauma Bay State Park


Hanauma Bay Natural Park, about ten miles east of Waikiki, is one of the greatest sites to snorkel with unique fish and marine life and is excellent for families.

As a state park, its location within a volcanic cone affords it natural protection from wind and surf.

You can’t take a tour bus into Hanauma Bay, so you must take an Uber or drive yourself.

The parking lot tends to fill up rapidly, so plan accordingly.

Sunny day at Hanauma Bay State Park

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Buy tickets in advance through the Honolulu Parks & Recreation website, but only with a confirmed online reservation.

Experts advise planning ahead of time because of the daily visiting caps for conservation purposes.

You might gush over the abundance and variety of reef fish they saw.

Fish at Hanauma Bay State Park's reef

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Admire Downtown Honolulu from the Aloha Tower

Exterior of the Aloha Tower

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The Aloha Tower is a historic landmark and the decommissioned lighthouse of Hawaii.

The tower, which stands 184 feet tall and once had a 40-foot flagpole, was Hawaii’s highest structure in 1926.

Aloha Tower is to Hawaii what the Statue of Liberty is to New York.

Even now, cruise ships can drop anchor at the tower on their way to or from Oahu.

Aerial view of the Aloha Tower

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Located in the heart of downtown Honolulu, Aloha Tower serves as a landmark, port, shopping, and eating hub.

The tower’s clock was one of the biggest in the United States, and it remained Hawaii’s tallest structure for four decades.

Currently, visitors worldwide flock to the tower’s tenth-floor Observation Deck to take in breathtaking vistas of Honolulu’s harbor and cityscape.

Top half of the Aloha Tower

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Check Out Vintage Aircraft at Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum

The grounds of Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum

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The Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum (formerly the Pacific Aviation Museum) lies near the Pearl Harbor National Monument.

To reach the museum from the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center, take the free shuttle to Ford Island.

There are 50 different planes on display in the museum, from blue angels to combat jets.

You may find the planes in two disused airplane hangars.

One of them, “Hangar 37,” is dedicated to preserving and displaying airplanes and memorabilia from the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor during World War Two.

An exhibit in Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum

Benny Marty /

In Hangar 79, guests may see more planes and aviation memorabilia.

Most objects in this hangar illustrate the expansion of American aviation superiority across the Pacific following Pearl Harbor.

Together with the impressive planes, you may also peruse photographs, newspaper clippings, and other items that celebrate the history of flight.

Here’s your opportunity to sit in the cockpit of a fighter plane and pretend you’re the pilot!

Visitors to the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum may test their mettle at the controls of a mighty aircraft on the museum’s Flight Ace 360 flight simulator.

Aircrafts in Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum

Benny Marty /

See Hawaiian Culture at Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum

Exterior of Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum

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The Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum is the biggest Hawaiian museum showcasing the state’s natural and cultural heritage.

The Bishop Museum is well worth taking time away from the beach to visit, thanks to its illustrious educational activities and cultural treasures.

Admire the art and history of the Polynesians who sailed the Pacific.

Interior of Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum

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Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum, built in 1889, memorializes the life and legacy of Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, the last surviving member of Hawaii’s original royal family, the Kamehameha.

Inspiring cultural appreciation and a deeper understanding of Hawaii’s past, the museum has been going strong for quite some time.

Displays in Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum

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Discover Honolulu’s Creatives at the Honolulu Museum of Art

Exterior of Honolulu Museum of Art

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The Honolulu Museum of Art began in 2011 as a collaboration between the Honolulu Academy of Arts and The Contemporary Museum.

The museum’s collection includes art from many cultures, periods, and locations.

The Honolulu Museum of Art features one of the most significant collections of Asian art in the world.

It also contains works by European masters such as Picasso, Gauguin, and van Gogh.

A sculpture at Honolulu Museum of Art

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The Doris Duke Theatre is located within the museum and shows alternative, documentary, and foreign films.

Moreover, the Georgia O’Keeffe landscapes of Maui and native feather capes in the Arts of Hawai’i collection are some of the property’s main draws.

Numerous reviews have mentioned that you also gain access to the museum when you book a tour of Doris Duke’s old house, Shangri La.

Explore the Shangri La Museum of Islamic Art, Culture & Design

The grounds of Shangri La Museum of Islamic Art, Culture & Design

Phillip B. Espinasse /

Anyone interested in Islamic art, culture, and design should visit the Shangri La Museum of Islamic Art, Culture & Design.

Doris Duke’s old home now houses this open museum devoted to Islamic art and culture.

Before becoming a museum, this building was a house where Doris Duke exhibited her collection of Islamic art.

The result is a wide-ranging collection of Iranian, Moroccan, Turkish, Spanish, Syrian, Egyptian, and Indian artworks, furniture, and incorporated architectural elements on display at the museum.

Remember that you may only visit Shangri La as part of a prearranged trip, so book ahead.

Learn about a Former Ruler at Iolani Palace

Exterior of Iolani Palace

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King Kalakaua’s sister, Queen Lili’uokalani, ruled Hawaii for the final time after her brother.

Their ten-room palace, now a museum and National Historic Site, chronicles their reigns.

Iolani Palace is the only palace in the United States and the only one in the whole western hemisphere.

An impressive staircase made of Hawaiian koa wood, paintings of Hawaiian monarchs, thrones fit for kings, and exotic ornamental pieces add to the palace’s lavish atmosphere.

Interior of Iolani Palace

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This site provides an authentic look into the Hawaiian way of life.

Children under five must always be carried or seated in a stroller supplied by the palace.

Iolani Palace also mandates using cotton booties to prevent damage to the flooring.

Dining room in Iolani Palace

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Feel like Royalty at Queen Emma Summer Palace

Exterior of Queen Emma Summer Palace

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Queen Emma Summer Palace is a must-see to learn about the Hawaiian royal family.

From 1857 through 1885, Queen Emma, King Kamehameha IV, and their son Prince Albert Edward spent their summers in the palace.

Nu’uanu Valley was where the Hawaiian aristocracy went to escape the sweltering heat of summer.

Interior of Queen Emma Summer Palace

Cliff, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The former summer residence of Queen Emma is now a museum and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Here, you’ll find many pieces of furniture, garments, antiquities, paintings, and other relics previously belonging to the royal family.

Quilting classes, hula classes, and ukulele lessons are just a few of the weekly events that take place at the palace.

Take Photos of Public Art around Kaka’ako

A trail at Kaka'ako

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Kaka’ako, one of Honolulu’s hippest areas, is a must-see for art and culture lovers.

There’s a buzzing energy there as young people congregate for events like music festivals and food truck battles.

It was a derelict industrial area with abandoned factories and repair businesses.

As painters began painting murals on the city’s walls and bridges, things began to shift.

Modern Kakaako is bright and breezy, with a bar, café, or microbrewery around every corner.

If you’re wondering, this is the place to get your bubble tea fix in Honolulu.

Try Retail Therapy at Ala Moana Center

Exterior of Ala Moana Center

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Are you looking for the best shopping destination in Honolulu?

Ala Moana Center is the world’s biggest open-air shopping and entertainment complex.

It measures over two million square feet with about 300 stores and 80 restaurants.

Ala Moana Center is more than just a mall because it constantly introduces new attractions.

The mall’s many levels and wings make it easy to lose track of time.

Interior of Ala Moana Center

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It features a variety of retail options, from upscale boutiques to grocery stores to gas stations to bakeries to bookstores to pop-up shops to restaurants to coffee shops.

The mall’s center stage is a popular spot for performances of various kinds.

After a long shopping day, Ala Moana Beach Park is the perfect place to relax and picnic.

The beautiful Ala Moana Beach Park is directly opposite the shopping center.

Depending on your mood, you may lounge in the cool grassy areas, stroll on the scenic boardwalks, or play in the sand and surf.

Shops at Ala Moana Center

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Shop for Lucky Charms at Chinatown

Buildings at Chinatown

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Honolulu’s Chinatown is one of the oldest districts in Hawaii and one of the four central districts of Honolulu.

The ten-acre Chinatown caters to businesses, booths, and marketplaces that honor Chinese tradition and culture.

Treat yourself to delicious dazhu gansi (tofu soup) and lazi ji (stir-fried chicken with chili).

Roasted pork vendor at Chinatown

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Get some lucky charms or a qipao to flaunt your knowledge of Asian style.

Otherwise, visit Kuan Yin, a Buddhist temple in Chinatown characterized by its bright façade of red columns and a green roof.

It is equally colorful inside, containing flowers, sculptures, and relics.

A marketplace at Chinatown

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Final Thoughts

These are just a few attractions in Honolulu that you shouldn’t miss.

There’s no shortage of fun with its many must-see destinations, such as historic landmarks and renowned beaches.

Discover the best things to do in Honolulu, Hawaii!

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