Honolulu is one of the top travel destinations in the world. It’s where you’ll find Waikiki, with its calm waters and energetic culture, along with historic sites like Pearl Harbor and Iolani Palace. There is so much to do throughout Oahu, but its main city of Honolulu offers a full vacation on its own.
From nature trails to shopping malls, and from scenic vistas to world-class art collections, you’ll find a little bit of everything in this trendy yet historical city. We’re outlining our favorite things to do in Honolulu, Hawaii – so read along and get ready for the visit of a lifetime.
HIKE THE MANOA FALLS TRAIL
Anyone who wants a unique Hawaii waterfall hike doesn’t have to venture outside Honolulu. The Manoa Falls Trail offers an easy hike, great scenery, and a chance to escape the city’s hustle and bustle without traveling far.
Your surroundings on the Manoa Falls Trail may look familiar. The original Jurassic Park, The Hunger Games, and Lost all shot footage in this lush jungle setting.
Manoa Falls is less than 15 minutes from Waikiki, but it will feel like you’re in a whole different world.
BASK ON WAIKIKI BEACH
With rows of pink umbrellas from the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, tranquil blue water, and endless sunshine, you can easily spend multiple days simply laying on the shoreline at Waikiki Beach.
Grab a float at a nearby ABC store and relax away in the cool water, or people-watch as you sunbathe in the sand.
With so much to do in Honolulu, you may forget to simply relax on the beach, but the Waikiki coast will give you a chance to unwind while experiencing the incredible city.
EXPLORE DIAMOND HEAD STATE MONUMENT
Diamond Head is one of the most distinct landmarks in Hawaii, and visitors can explore it up close and personal by hiking to the top of the crater.
It’s about a 1.5-mile walk round trip, and much of it is up rough steps in the bright sun. But the challenge is worth it when you reach the summit, which boasts endless views of the Pacific Ocean.
Make a reservation in advance and plan to spend two hours at the park. After your adventure, relax and cool off at Kuhio Beach Park nearby. A day spent here is one of the best things to do in Honolulu!
PAY RESPECTS AT PEARL HARBOR
Pearl Harbor is one of the most visited areas in Oahu, but it requires some planning to get the most out of your visit. The main attraction at the park is the USS Arizona Memorial, a sunken ship that serves as a gravesite for over a thousand sailors and marines who lost their lives in the World War II attack.
Visiting the USS Arizona Memorial is free, but you’ll need to get your tickets online beforehand.
Besides the somber tour of the bombing site, the Pearl Harbor area also offers unique naval exhibits. The USS Bowfin allows visitors to discover what life is like on a military submarine, and you can also go to the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum, also known as the Pacific Aviation Museum, to see vintage aircraft.
Both the USS Bowfin and the Aviation Museum charge admission.
The museums and memorials at Pearl Harbor are kid friendly, so this is an excellent opportunity to include a unique and historical experience in your Honolulu vacation.
VISIT IOLANI PALACE
A visit to Iolani Palace will allow Hawaii visitors to understand the complex political history of the islands, which was a monarchy just over a century ago.
Iolani Palace is an icon of Hawaiian identity, a museum, and an architectural wonder. The 19th century palace has been restored to its original splendor and is a must-see attraction.
It’s a chance to see an authentic palace without leaving the United States, plus you can learn about Hawaii’s history in a way that’s usually overlooked in classrooms and media.
Take a docent-led tour or a self-guided audio tour of Iolani Palace. It’s located in Downtown Honolulu on the corner of King and Richards Streets.
STOP AT THE NU’UANU PALI LOOKOUT
If you’re looking for great views of Oahu without a hike, check out Nu’uanu Pali Lookout. This overlook features sweeping views of the Ko’olau Mountains and Kaneohe Bay, along with some of the strongest winds on the island.
It’s also a significant spot in Hawaiian history – it’s the place of King Kamehameha’s final battle before uniting the islands under his rule.
There’s a small parking fee when you visit the Nu’uanu Pali Lookout, but getting the incredible views and standing in such a historical spot is worth it. You’ll likely just spend a few minutes here, but it could be a highlight of your trip.
LEARN SOME HAWAIIAN HISTORY AT THE BERNICE PAUAHI BISHOP MUSEUM
Bishop Museum is a must-do attraction for anyone wanting to better understand and appreciate Hawaii’s complex history and culture. It was founded in the late 1800s by the widower of Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, and it’s now the largest museum in the state.
You’ll find millions of artifacts and documents here, all telling the story of Hawaii and the Pacific. Some top highlights include King Kamehameha’s vibrant royal cape and the full-size whale skeleton.
There’s so much to learn about Hawaii and Polynesia, and visiting Bishop Museum is a great place to start. Come early in your vacation to better appreciate the rest of your sightseeing.
TOUR THE SHANGRI LA MUSEUM
You may be surprised to find a world-class Islamic Art exhibit in Honolulu, but the Shangri La Museum is a worthy attraction.
Doris Duke, once called “the richest girl in the world,” established Shangri La in the 1930s. It’s located in the residential Diamond Head community and seems modest on the outside. However, inside, it’s a treasure trove of artifacts that Duke collected in her global travels.
You’ll book your admission to Shangri La through the Honolulu Museum of Art, which provides a shuttle to the estate. It’s a great place to explore, even if you’re not typically into art.
ENJOY THE WATER AT KAIMANA BEACH
Kaimana Beach is the last stretch of sand along Waikiki Beach. It’s more spacious than other spots in the neighborhood, and it’s extra quiet on weekdays. With calm water and soft sand, it’s an excellent beach for swimming or snorkeling.
If you want to add some adventure to your beach day, you can access Old Man’s surf spot beyond the reef via Kapua Channel. It’s a great longboarding spot for beginners, and some people kayak or swim on flat days.
Kaimana Beach is also called Sans Souci Beach Park. It’s located on Kalakaua Avenue at the south end of Waikiki.
SHOP TIL YOU DROP AT ALA MOANA CENTER
Did you know that Honolulu is home to one of the country’s largest shopping malls? Anyone needing a break from the sun and surf can spend some time at Ala Moana Center, which features nearly 300 stores and 80 dining options.
It has several department stores, many luxury boutiques, and lots of local shops to get souvenirs or unique art.
One of the highlights of Ala Moana Center is the Makai Market Food Court. If you’re tired of agreeing on places to eat during your vacation, set the family loose in the food court. It features mainland staples and local favorites, so there’s something to please everyone.
Ala Moana is the largest open-air shopping center in the world. Anyone who isn’t into all-day shopping can hang out nearby at Ala Moana Beach Park, one of the best beaches on the island.
SEE A FREE HULA SHOW AT KUHIO BEACH
You really can’t get any more peaceful and dreamy than sunset hula in Hawaii, and you don’t have to book a luau ticket to get that experience. Instead, catch a free performance each Saturday in Waikiki.
Bring your lawn chairs or blankets and get ready to enjoy a world-class and authentic performance. Look for the gathering near Duke Kahanamoku (statue) on Kalakaua Avenue.
An ideal Saturday itinerary would be a day of shopping and swimming in Waikiki, Happy Hour with Mai Tais, and then sunset hula at Kuhio Beach.
PERUSE THE COLLECTIONS AT THE HONOLULU MUSEUM OF ART
You may expect surfing and shopping in Honolulu, along with environmental and cultural education. But what about fine art? The Honolulu Museum of Art (or HoMA) is home to some of the best fine art in the country.
Its outdoor gardens highlight Hawaii’s beauty, and its indoor displays feature art from around the world. And with many revolving and temporary exhibitions, you’ll find something new each time you visit.
The Honolulu Museum of Art is located on South Beretania Street in downtown Honolulu. There’s a coffee bar and cafe on site.
SEE THE VIEWS FROM THE TOP OF THE KOKO CRATER TRAIL
Koko Crater Trail offers a scenic workout for any active visitor. The steep trek to the volcanic crater lookout spans three-quarters of a mile and over 1,000 stairsteps.
The stairsteps are actually old railroad ties, built when a tram brought supplies to bunkers during World War II.
When you reach the dirt trail in the Koko Head District Park lot, you may mistake it for an easy hike. After all, accessing the path is easy, but climbing to the top is not. But it is a lot of fun, and you’ll be joined by many other adventurers who traded in an elliptical for an otherworldly staircase.
Children and adults of all fitness levels climb Koko Crater Trail. Nobody will boo you if you decide to turn around before reaching the top, but if you do make it, you’ll be rewarded with some of the best views on the island.
While you’re here, you can visit the Koko Crater Botanical Garden. Take a 2-mile loop path through the garden, and see the collections that occupy 60 acres of the basin and inner slopes.
OR HIKE THE (EASIER) MAKAPU’U POINT LIGHTHOUSE TRAIL
If you do not want to get in your cardio for the day, then the Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail offers scenic views without the extreme workout. Like Koko Crater, it’s less than two miles round trip, but the ascent is less steep, and the path is paved.
At the lookout, you’ll be surrounded by clear blue water and the green and sandy Windward Coast. On clear days you can see Molokai in the distance, and you’ll likely see whales breaching in the winter months.
Arrive early to get a parking space. The designated lot is small, but people come and go pretty quickly as they finish their hikes.
SNORKEL HANAUMA BAY NATURE PRESERVE
Hanauma Bay is one of the prettiest places in Honolulu. The Nature Preserve is home to a vast array of fish and coral, all protected through efforts to control tourism in the area.
Don’t worry, you can still visit this pristine beach even though it’s a nature preserve. You’ll need to reserve your time and pay an admission fee in advance. Then you watch a brief video when you arrive at the park.
Once you step onto the sandy shore, you’ll know the extra effort was worth it. The water is calm, the crowd is relaxed, and the views are incredible. So grab your snorkel gear and get ready to explore one of the state’s most stunning beaches.
SEE THE FISH AT WAIKIKI AQUARIUM
If you’re not much for snorkeling or simply want to take a break from the salt and sun, visit the Waikiki Aquarium. Opened in the early 1900s, it’s the second-oldest aquarium in the country.
You’ve been to bigger and better aquariums, but the Waikiki Aquarium is charming in its modesty and holds a strong sense of place thanks to its history and location.
You’ll see the Humuhumunukunukuāpua‘a, the official State Fish of Hawaii, and The Hawaiian Monk Seal, which is endemic and endangered.
Take a tour of the aquarium before a big snorkeling trip to better identify and appreciate the fish you see in the wild.
RIDE IN AN OUTRIGGER CANOE
An outrigger canoe ride allows you to experience an ancient Hawaiian practice right in Waikiki. Polynesian Voyagers traveled across the Pacific in outrigger canoes. Today, you can book a spot to venture past the reefs with a professional guide.
You’ll be active on the journey, helping propel and steer the canoe (or waa) with your paddle. You’ll even be able to catch a wave on the vessel.
While out on the water, enjoy 360-degree views of Hawaii and incredible sea life below your paddle. It’s an unforgettable experience for any group.
ENJOY A LUAU ON THE BEACH
Many of the resorts around Waikiki offer fantastic luaus, but we prefer those close to the water. That way, you can catch those iconic sunset views while experiencing one of the most unique celebrations in the world.
Most of the island’s highest-rated luaus are located beyond the borders of Honolulu, but you can still experience award-winning dining and entertainment right in Waikiki.
The Diamond Head Luau includes a farm-to-table menu and an oceanfront setting at the Waikiki Aquarium. The Waikiki Starlight Luau is at the Hilton Hawaiian Village by their calm lagoon. And the Aha’aina Luau is a historical experience at the Royal Hawaiian Resort.
All of them offer impressive shows and various ticket options. If you can swing it, go for the premium options for better seating and a better experience.
TOUR THE DOLE PINEAPPLE PLANTATION
Hawaii is a dream for anyone who loves pineapples. Dole was one of the biggest corporations in the state during the 20th century, and today the fruit is still incorporated into many signature island treats and drinks.
Today, the Dole Plantation is a sunshiny tourist stop that features easy-to-digest history and pristine gardens. It’s a fun spot to spend some time, and kids will really love it. There’s a train ride and a giant maze found here. Plus, you can get an authentic Dole Whip and cute little souvenirs from their onsite shop.
This is a great place to stop if you’re heading back to Honolulu after a visit to the North Shore.
HOP ABOARD THE USS MISSOURI
The USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor offers visitors the chance to stand at the bombing site that led America to enter World War II. Nearby at the USS Battleship Missouri, you can also stand where the war officially ended.
In 1945, Japan officially surrendered to U.S. and Allied Forces on the USS Missouri, which is now decommissioned and open to visitors.
Touring the USS Missouri is a great experience for history buffs or anyone who loves exploring unique spaces. You’ll begin your visit at the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center and then take the shuttle to the battleship.
You could spend as little as 30 minutes touring the ship, but you may become immersed as you explore the vessel and find yourself spending hours aboard.
VISIT THE HONOLULU ZOO
Take a walk on the wild side with a trip to the Honolulu Zoo.
At the zoo, you’ll find all sorts of animals who are waiting to make your acquaintance. Visit the lions, giraffes, and zebras in the African Savanna, see alligators and tortoises in the Reptiles area, visit the many amazing birds in the Kipuka Nene Sanctuary, before seeing the orangutans in the Primates section. You’ll find tigers, elephants, and many more animals here.
In addition to the animal fun, make sure to stop by the gift shop for a fun souvenir, or grab a bite to eat at one of the restaurants or snack bars here. A visit to the Honolulu Zoo is guaranteed fun for all ages.
SEE THE PLANTS AT LYON ARBORETUM
The University of Hawaii’s Lyon Arboretum is a public botanical garden that is worth a visit.
Open on weekdays, the Lyon Arboretum features more than 6,000 classifications of tropical and sub-tropical plants. Located on almost 200 acres, you’ll also find seven miles of hiking trails here.
Reservations are currently required to visit the arboretum. Admission is free, but a donation of $10 is appreciated.
MORE INFORMATION FOR YOUR TRIP TO HAWAII
- YOUR HAWAII VACATION
- WAIKIKI: 24 Best Things To Do In Waikiki You’re Gonna Love
- OAHU WATERFALLS: 13 Spectacular Waterfall Hikes Oahu Has To Offer
- MAUI WATERFALLS: 18 Maui Waterfalls On The Road To Hana and Beyond
- BEACHES: 14 Best Beaches In Hawaii For Fun In The Sun
WHERE TO STAY IN HONOLULU
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