Honolulu – the beating heart of Hawaii – is a remarkable city that perfectly blends awe-inspiring scenery with cosmopolitan luxury. A vibrant Polynesian capital, the city also offers a mixed island-style plate of exciting and unforgettable experiences. From Chinatown’s pan-Asian alleys to its photogenic peaks, you’ll find plenty of awesome and memorable things to do in Honolulu, Hawaii. And, while it’s dynamic and fast-paced as any American metropolis, it still has the laid-back charm and culture of a tropical island paradise.
Headed to Hawaii’s capital, but don’t know what to do in Honolulu? Want to go on a rocking vacation full of mesmerizing sights and beautiful memories? Then, check out our hand-picked best things to do in Honolulu, so you can experience a memorable vacation in Hawaii!
1. Hike Diamond Head State Monument
A hike to the top of Diamond Head State Monument is, by far, one of the best and most exciting things to do in Honolulu, Hawaii. With a total length of only a mile, the climb is so accessible that even novice hikers can scale it. And, once you arrived at the summit, you’ll be rewarded with a breathtaking view of Waikiki’s downtown area. Of course, this scenic hike will also burn a great deal of calories, allowing you to indulge more on the delectable food in Honolulu, Hawaii.
2. Check out Doris Duke’s Shangri La
Islamic art isn’t usually the first thing that jumps into mind when you think of things to do in Honolulu, Hawaii. But, thanks to the passion and obsessions of billionaire Doris Duke, you can see myriads of Islamic art at the tobacco heiress’s former home. Built in 1937, the mansion is now available and accessible to the public. Inside, you can gaze in amazement at elaborate tiles from Iran, painted Moroccan wood ceilings and lovely custom marble-work from India.
3. See Honolulu Museum of Art
Speaking of artsy things to do in Honolulu, you might also want to pay a visit to Honolulu Museum of Art. In 2011, the Contemporary Museum joined forces with the Honolulu Academy of Arts, creating the Honolulu Museum of Art. Today, the museum as well as the Spalding House – its sister property – showcase a marvelous art collection spanning across centuries, styles and seas. For the entry price of one museum, you may explore the other museum as well, within the same day. Keep in mind, though, that these museums in Honolulu are a couple of miles away from one another.
With a visit to Honolulu Museum of Art, you’ll get to lay eyes on pieces from a bunch of great European painters, like Van Gogh, Gauguin and Picasso. What’s more, it houses one of the finest art collections in America, making it one of the best things to do in Honolulu for art lovers.
No list of the best things to do in Honolulu is complete without the inclusion of surfing. Home to some of the best surfing spots on earth, Honolulu is truly a paradise for surfers who are looking for diverse and world-class waves. In winter, professional surfers from all over the world flock to the North Shore of Oahu, to slice some fine waves in the famed Vans Triple Crown of Surfing. Coined as surfing’s version of Super Bowl, this international event happens in November and December, when strong massive waves are rolling in from the windy Pacific Ocean.
Not a seasoned surfing aficionado? Guess what? You don’t have to be pro surfer to test the waves of Oahu. There are tons of surfing schools that will take your surfing skills up a notch. And, best of all, nobody will laugh at you if you do get wiped out. Even if you’re not good at it, surfing should still be on your Honolulu travel itinerary. It’s one of the quintessential things to do in Honolulu, after all!
5. Snorkeling and diving
Up for more exciting and watery things to do in Honolulu? Why not include a diving or snorkeling adventure to your list of things to do in Honolulu, Hawaii? With over a thousand miles of coral reef, you’ll surely have a blast exploring the underwater world of Oahu, Hawaii. As you dive into the surrounding water of the island, you’ll find a plethora of colorful fish, like reef triggerfish, rainbow runners and bright yellow tang. Not to mention, you’ll likely discover larger marine creatures such as sea turtles and dolphins.
6. Visit Bishop Museum
Delve deep into the natural and cultural history of Polynesia with a visit to the Bishop Museum. Here, you’ll lay eyes on a mishmash of displays highlighting the Polynesian heritage, such as the royal capes woven from countless of feathers. To make things even better, it has a planetarium show that lets you discover the navigation techniques used by the people riding the Hokulea – a traditional sea vessel that sailed around the world. Trust me, it’s one of the best things to do in Honolulu, especially if you’re a culture vulture or history buff.
7. Get your beach fix at Waikiki Beach
They don’t call Waikiki Beach as one of the best attractions and things to do in Honolulu, Hawaii for nothing. For over a hundred years, people have been coming to this Honolulu neighborhood to surf and relax. With a string of fabulous honey-colored sandy beaches dotting the coastline, it’s truly the go-to spot for beach goers in Honolulu. Even if you’re not a surfer, you can have fun at Waikiki beach, just sitting on a beach towel, relaxing and gazing at the remarkable Diamond Head State Monument.
And, when you need a breather from the beach, there are loads of restaurants and shops that line the nearby Kalakua Avenue. A shopaholic’s paradise, the avenue is home to some of the most exclusive and expensive designer boutiques in the world, including Louis Vuitton, Hermes, Coach and Cartier. So, if you are addicted to shopping, you should put it on top of your list of things to do in Honolulu, Hawaii.
8. Unwind at Lanikai Beach
From downtown Honolulu, head 15 miles northeast to the Windward Coast, to uncover two of Oahu’s most beloved beaches – Lanikai Beach and Kailua Beach Park. If you have to pick one, select the more serene Lanikai Beach. With a mile of pristine white sands and clam waters, it’s, hands down, one of the must-experience things to do in Honolulu. As an added bonus, the beach is family friendly and pretty close to the Mokulua Islands.
9. Drop by Iolani Palace
Iolani Palace was once home to two remaining monarchs in Hawaii. Not to mention, it is the only official royal palace in the United States, meaning it’s one of the can’t-miss things to do in Honolulu. Nowadays, the wondrous palace is a living restoration, allowing guests to stroll the same halls walked by revered royalty in Hawaii, like Queen Liliuokalani and King Kalakaua.
10. Hike the Koko Head Crater Trail
Still looking for mind-blowing and heart-pounding things to do in Honolulu, Hawaii? Then, don’t forget to include the Koko Head Crater trail to your checklist of must-visit attractions in Honolulu! Not for the faint of heart, this trail is totally challenging and steep. More than a thousand deserted railroad tires, with many worn down and some missing, mark wherein a Second World War incline tram once transported supplies to bunkers at the crater’s top. Bold hikers, mostly, ascend the steep stairway to the abandoned pillboxes at the summit.
11. People-watching at the Waikiki strip
Need to unwind after days of non-stop surfing, beaching, hiking and sightseeing in Honolulu? Searching for free things to do in Honolulu? Take it slow, and just watch the diverse and lively groups of people at Waikiki strip. You’ll find bewildered tourists, literal beach bums and laid-back surfers. Whether you relax on the bench of perch yourself on a sidewalk bench, you’ll have hours of endless fun and free entertainment.
12. Explore Kualoa Ranch
A visit to the Kualoa Ranch should on every traveler’s bucket list of things to do in Honolulu, Hawaii. Nicknamed as the “the Jurassic Park of Hawaii”, this 4,000-acre nature preserve wows visitors with spectacular views of the rising Kualoa mountain ridge. Moreover, the beautiful ranch offers fun-filled tours that feature zip-lining, biking, ATV experience, horseback riding and a whole lot more.
13. Hike Makapuu Point Lighthouse Trail
A great way to kick-off a morning in Honolulu is to hike the Makapuu Point Lighthouse Trail. A ritual for visitors and locals alike, the hike will definitely sweep you away with its stunning sunrise views. Even if you visit after sunrise, you’ll still love the gorgeous views of the sapphire sea of southeast coast of Oahu. And, from November to May, you’ll also have a chance to catch sight of whales beautifully breaching in the distance. And, did we mention that it’s a more serene alternative to the Diamond Head hike?
14. Hit Kaka’ako Farmers Market
Are you a bona fide foodie who’s on the lookout for tasty things to do in Honolulu, Hawaii? Discover a smorgasbord of delicious eats and tropical fruits at Kaka’ako Farmers Market. Depending on the season or month you’re visiting, you might find custardy soursop, juicy lychee or magneta-hued dragonfruit at this farmers market. Aside from fresh vegetable and exotic fruits, the market’s vendors also offer ready-to-eat treats, such as the steamed salmon belly wrapped in taro leaves.
15. Remember Pearl Harbor at the USS Arizona Memorial
Truthfully, the USS Arizona isn’t exactly an attraction. Still, a visit to the memorial should be on your personal list of things to do in Honolulu, Hawaii. With a visit to the memorial, you’re paying homage to the unfortunate sailors who suffered during the 1941 Japanese surprise attack. Although it happened decades ago, the oil from the wreckage below still leaks to the surface, which is a ghostly and sad reminder of the numerous lives lost here.
16. Venture into Manao Falls
Get ready for an exciting and wet adventure by venturing into this majestic waterfall. As far as I’m concerned, it’s indeed one of the best things to do in Honolulu, Hawaii. And, guess what? The waterfall is pretty accessible, and is just a few miles away from the downtown area. All you need is clean drinking water, insect repellant, proper footwear and the stamina to trek around half a mile on an established trail. Here, you get to soak up its stunning natural backdrop, with its snaking banyan tree roots and huge prehistoric ferns.
With its outstanding scenery, it’s easy to see why the producers of Jurassic Park filmed some scenes here. You won’t bump into any man-eating dinosaurs at this waterfall, though.
17. Stop and smell the flowers at Lyon Arboretum
The Lyon Arboretum is a wondrous 194-acre botanical garden set in a rainforest, housing a collection of over 5,000 tropical plants from Polynesia and Hawaii. As a matter of fact, it maintains a variety of themed gardens and has the biggest palm collection found in a botanical garden. Inside, you’ll find the Beatrice H. Krauss Hawaiian Ethnobotanical Garden, bromeliad garden as well as a spice and herb garden. Additionally, the arboretum is a research facility, designed to help preserve Hawaii’s tropical forests.
18. Explore Honolulu Chinatown
Like most Chinatowns across the world, Honolulu’s version is also full of life and energy. Amazingly, however, it’s not as chaotic as the Chinatowns in Manila and Bangkok. And, though it’s rather small, it’s jam-packed with goodies and bargains for an assortment of items.
19. Visit Waikiki Aquarium
Traveling with the kids and looking for fun things to do in Honolulu? You might want to include Waikiki Aquarium to your travel itinerary! Founded in 1904, it’s without a doubt one of the country’s oldest aquariums. Located just off the famed Waikiki Beach, the aquarium houses more than 500 live marine species and 3,000 marine specimens. The most popular exhibits are the Hawaiian Marine Communities, Corals are alive, Jet Set and the New Hawaiian Green Sea turtle.
20. Visit the US Army Museum of Hawaii
Get an unusual glimpse into the past of Hawaii by paying a visit to the US Armey Museum of Hawaii, Honolulu. Filled with helicopters, bunkers, tanks and guns, the treasure trove details the military history of Hawaii through its building and artifacts. Plus, war aficionados and history buffs will also enjoy the museum’s interactive displays filled with objects and pictures that will take you back in time. Shared proudly by the ethnic groups of Hawaii, the museum tells the story of the military, machines and men that defended the island and its inhabitants.
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