Save money on your next flight

Skyscanner is the world’s leading flight search engine, helping you find the cheapest flights to destinations all over the world.

With its pristine beaches, iconic landmarks, rich culture, and lively city vibe, Honolulu is a dream vacation destination. If you’re wondering what to do during your trip to Hawaii’s capital city, you’ve come to the right place.

If you’re short on time, here are some top things to do in Honolulu: visit Waikiki Beach, see the Pearl Harbor memorial and museum, check out famous landmarks like Diamond Head and the Iolani Palace, shop and dine in Chinatown and Kakaako, discover Hawaiian history at Bishop Museum, and enjoy the island vibes at an authentic luau.

In this comprehensive Honolulu travel guide, we’ll suggest can’t-miss attractions, delicious restaurants, beautiful parks and beaches, thrilling activities, the best places to stay, getting around the city, and so much more to help you plan an unforgettable Oahu vacation.

Top Attractions and Landmarks

Waikiki Beach & Diamond Head

Waikiki Beach is world-famous for its warm, turquoise waters and soft, golden sand. This 2-mile stretch of beach on Oahu’s south shore bustles with hotels, restaurants, and shops. At one end lies Diamond Head State Monument, the iconic volcanic crater that can be seen from miles away.

Hiking to the 761-foot summit rewards visitors with stunning 360° views. According to the Hawaii Tourism Authority, Waikiki Beach had nearly 5 million visitors in 2021, making it one of Hawaii’s top attractions.

Pearl Harbor Memorials

The Pearl Harbor National Memorial commemorates the lives lost in the December 7, 1941 attack that propelled the US into World War II. Don’t miss the USS Arizona Memorial, which sits directly above the sunken battleship.

The adjacent USS Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park allows visitors to explore the historic submarine launched on December 7. For a comprehensive experience, also visit the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum on Ford Island to see WWII aircraft and learn about the critical role pilots played that day.

Iolani Palace

The only official royal palace in the US, Iolani Palace offers an intriguing look at Hawaii’s monarchical era. The palace served as home to King Kalakaua and Queen Lili’uokalani, the last reigning monarchs.

Today, this National Historic Landmark has been meticulously restored to its original splendor. Guided tours allow you to envision royals and dignitaries walking the same halls over a century ago. Don’t miss the basement galleries exhibiting royal artifacts like the queen’s intricate gowns.

Koko Head Trail

Get an adrenaline rush and glimpses of Oahu’s rugged coastline on this strenuous hike. The nearly 1,000 wooden railroad ties along Koko Head Trail create a steep path straight up the side of the extinct volcano.

Huffing and puffing to the top over 1,200 feet above the ocean delivers sweeping views as your reward. While certainly a challenge, Koko Head is often called one of Oahu’s best hikes. Around 300 people climb it daily, according to Go Hawaii.

Punchbowl Crater & National Cemetery

Punchbowl Crater formed an estimated 75,000-150,000 years ago during Honolulu’s largest volcanic eruption. Today, this extinct crater is home to the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, where over 50,000 soldiers from 20th century wars are laid to rest.

Pay respects at the marble courts honoring those killed in WWII, Korea & Vietnam. Various memorials and views of Honolulu also make this Punchbowl area worth visiting when in Oahu’s capital city.

Historic and Cultural Sites

Bishop Museum

The Bishop Museum is known as Hawaii’s museum of natural and cultural history. Founded in 1889, it houses over 25 million artifacts and specimens related to Hawaii and the Pacific, making it the largest museum of its kind in the world.

Some key exhibits include Hawaiian hall showcasing history, culture and natural history, Science Adventure Center with interactive science exhibits, and the Jhamandas Watumull Planetarium.

The museum is open daily from 9am to 5pm except on Tuesdays and Christmas Day. General admission tickets start from $24.95 for adults. Be sure to allocate at least half a day to properly explore this expansive museum.

ʻIolani Palace

ʻIolani Palace is the only official state residence of royalty in the United States. This National Historic Landmark was the official residence of King Kalakaua and Queen Liliʻuokalani, the last two monarchs to rule Hawaiʻi before annexation by the US.

Guided tours bring visitors back in time to learn about the history of the Hawaiian monarchy.

The palace is open Tuesday to Saturday from 9am to 2:15pm, with the last guided tour at 12pm. General admission is $24 for adults. It’s recommended to book tickets early online as tours often sell out in advance.

Honolulu Museum of Art

The Honolulu Museum of Art is one of the largest art museums in the United States, home to over 50,000 works spanning 5,000 years. Its holdings include extensive collections of Asian art, American and European paintings and decorative art, art of Hawaii and the Pacific Islands, textiles, contemporary art and more.

The museum is open Tuesday to Sunday from 10am to 4:30pm. Admission is $20 for adults. Visitors should plan on spending 2-3 hours exploring the different galleries.

Hawaii State Art Museum

Adjacent to the Honolulu Museum of Art lies the Hawaii State Art Museum, showcasing visual arts of Hawaii’s diverse people. It was founded in 2002 and includes pieces from over 900 Hawaii artists using various media such as sculpture, painting, photography and more.

Some exhibits also incorporate multi-sensory elements.

The museum is open Tuesday to Sunday from 10am to 4pm, with free admission. It takes about an hour to view the full collection.

Foster Botanical Garden

Foster Botanical Garden is a lush 14-acre public garden dating back to the 1850s. It features specialized gardens showcasing orchids, native plants, palms and cycads, aroids, heliconias and gingers. The Prehistoric Glen has cycads dating back over 8,000 years.

There is also an economic garden demonstrating the plants’ practical uses.

The garden is open daily from 9am to 4pm except Christmas Day. An admission fee of $10 applies for non-Hawaii residents ages 13 and up. Visitors should plan on at least an hour to wander through and take in the scenery.

Beaches and Outdoor Activities

Hiking Diamond Head

No trip to Honolulu is complete without hiking to the top of the iconic Diamond Head crater. This moderate 3.5 mile round trip hike rewards you with panoramic views of Waikiki and the Pacific Ocean below. Be prepared with sturdy walking shoes, water, snacks, and sun protection.

Entry into Diamond Head State Monument costs just $5 per person. For updated hours and tips for visiting, check the official website at https://dlnr.hawaii.gov.

Snorkeling at Hanauma Bay

Oahu’s most popular snorkeling spot, picturesque Hanauma Bay offers an abundance of tropical fish and sea turtles gliding through the bay’s protected waters. Entry is $12 per person and limited to 300 per hour, so arrive early or pre-purchase tickets online.

First-timers can enjoy a free educational film and snorkel rental gear available onsite. Lifeguards are present, but beware stronger currents outside the reef. For conservation efforts and latest rules, visit Honolulu’s municipal site.

Stand Up Paddling along Ala Moana Beach Park

Glide across Ala Moana Beach Park’s calm waters while taking in views of Diamond Head on a stand up paddleboarding (SUP) tour. Experience is not needed as skilled guides provide boarding lessons before leading you around Magic Island and across the harbor.

Tours like SUPSUP Oahu offer 1.5 hour excursions starting at $99, with discounts available for booking online.

Visiting Sea Life Park Hawaii

For a family-friendly ocean adventure, head to Sea Life Park to see sea turtles, penguins, rays and Hawaiian monk seals. Located just 30 minutes from Waikiki on Oahu’s leeward coast, this interactive aquarium hosts dolphin shows, shark encounters and a chance to swim with dolphins in their habitat.

General admission starts at $39 for adults and $27 for kids ages 3-11. Check their website for combo deals that include animal interactions.

Submarine & Whale Watching Cruises

Several operators like Atlantis Adventures offer submarine tours 100 feet below the ocean’s surface along coral reefs near Waikiki. For seasonal whale watching, December-April boat tours allow you to spot massive humpbacks breaching offshore.

A 2.5-hour catamaran cruise with coastal views costs around $120 per adult. Advance reservations are essential for these popular Honolulu activities.

Food and Dining

Hawaiian Plate Lunches & Poke Bowls

No trip to Hawaii is complete without trying the iconic plate lunch, featuring rice, macaroni salad, and a protein like teriyaki chicken, kalua pork, or fresh fish. Locals flock to Rainbow Drive-In and L&L Hawaiian Barbecue for heaping portions of ono grinds (good food). Can’t get enough poke?

Stop by Foodland grocery stores for make-your-own bowls brimming with raw ahi tuna or salmon, shrimp, tako (octopus), crab, and veggies over rice. The combos are endless.

Fine Dining Hot Spots

For upscale bites with stunning views, book a table at MW Restaurant at the Ala Moana Hotel, known for its extensive wine list, or Azure Restaurant at The Royal Hawaiian resort, situated right on the beachfront.

Celebrity chef restaurants like Alan Wong’s Honolulu and Roy Yamaguchi’s Roy’s Waikiki also offer creative Pacific Rim-influenced plates in sleek surrounds. Make reservations well in advance to secure coveted seats at any of these renowned tables.

Best Restaurants in Chinatown

With cool converted warehouses housing some of Honolulu’s hottest new eateries, Chinatown is fast emerging as the city’s dining epicenter. Foodie favorites like The Pig and the Lady (modern Vietnamese), Lucky Belly (trendy ramen spot), and Livestock Tavern (gastropub) are leading the charge.

Many places don’t take reservations, so arrive early or come prepared to wait in line for exceptional pan-Asian bites paired with crafty cocktails in industrial-chic spaces.

Top Seafood Spots

An island destination demands world-class seafood, and Honolulu delivers with fresh catches from Hawaiian waters making regular appearances on menus around town. For the best sushi around, nab a counter seat at Sushi Izakaya Gaku or Sushi Sasabune just steps from Waikiki Beach.

Local faves like Mitch’s Fish Market & Sushi Bar in Diamond Head and Keo’s in Waikiki plate up divine furikake ahi, seafood laulau, and more dock-to-dish fare in casual digs.

Hip Bistros & Cafes in Kakaako

Kakaako, once a sleepy industrial neighborhood, is now flourishing with trendy boutiques alongside chic eateries like Bevy and Bread & Butter. Grab third-wave coffee from kai café or cold-pressed juices from Juice Bar before browsing wares at one of the area’s colorful concept stores.

Later, watch the sunset with tasty craft brews and tasty apps from Honolulu Beerworks or Village Bottle Shop & Tasting Room. Kakaako’s nightlife scene is on the rise too, making it a convenient all-in-one destination for a memorable night out.

Shopping and Nightlife

Luxury Boutiques in Waikiki

Waikiki is home to many high-end designer boutiques like Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Gucci, and Prada. You’ll find them housed in the lobbies of posh beachfront hotels along Kalakaua Avenue. Prices are not cheap, but if you want to splurge on luxury fashion or accessories, Waikiki offers fabulous options.

An iconic store is the DFS Galleria, which carries hundreds of big designer names under one roof.

Local Crafts & Souvenirs in Chinatown

Honolulu’s Chinatown neighborhood boasts cute boutiques and mom-and-pop shops brimming with locally made art, jewelry, clothing, home goods, and food items that make great souvenirs. Places like the Cotton Tree and Fishcake offer unique Hawaii-inspired gifts you won’t find in typical tourist shops.

And the bustling open-air markets like Kekaulike Market are full of fresh exotic produce, dried goods, and specialty items that offer a dose of local culture.

Farmers Markets for Local Goods

Honolulu has some fantastic farmers markets to shop for locally grown tropical fruits and vegetables, vibrant flowers, artisanal food products, and handmade crafts. The Saturday Kapiolani Community College Farmers Market is arguably the best on Oahu, with over 100 vendors.

You’ll also find small neighborhood farmers markets taking place around town throughout the week, like the Kailua Town Farmers Market on Thursday evenings.

Hot Nightclubs and Live Music Venues

When the sun goes down in Waikiki, the nightlife scene heats up with hot dance clubs and live music venues rocking into the early morning hours. For an energetic club vibe, head to Sky Waikiki rooftop lounge with its awesome views and resident DJs spinning hip hop, house, and Top 40 beats.

Or check out what A-list acts are performing at the legendary Blue Note Hawaii jazz club, which books world famous musicians year-round.

Where to Stay in Honolulu

Luxury Hotels & Resorts in Waikiki

Waikiki is home to many of Honolulu’s most luxurious hotels and resorts, perfect for those wanting high-end amenities and breathtaking views. The legendary Halekulani offers lavish rooms and suites, exceptional dining, and unparalleled service next to Waikiki Beach.

Other top luxury options include the oceanfront Hilton Hawaiian Village, the iconic Royal Hawaiian known as the “Pink Palace of the Pacific”, and the recently renovated Aston Waikiki Beach Hotel.

B&Bs and Vacation Rentals in Kailua

On the beautiful Windward side of O’ahu lies the coastal town of Kailua, filled with cozy bed and breakfasts, vacation rentals, and more affordable accommodations ideal for an authentic Hawaiian getaway.

Top-rated options include Sheffield House Bed & Breakfast, Pat’s at Punalu’u, and the charming Mana Kai Ocean View Rentals, offering amazing views and a peaceful atmosphere just minutes from Kailua Beach.

Budget-Friendly Hotels

Finding affordable hotels in Waikiki is easy with chains like Aqua Aston Hospitality and Outrigger offering quality rooms from $150-250/night during high season. Other budget picks include Waikiki Hostel with prime beach access under $50/night, the local favorite White Sands Hotel starting around $130/night, and newly renovated Shoreline Hotel Waikiki with modern amenities from just $169/night.

Ideal Neighborhoods for Different Travelers

Type of Traveler Recommended Neighborhood in Honolulu
Families Waikiki – Kid-friendly beaches, attractions, dining
Honeymooners Turtle Bay – Luxurious resorts, dramatic scenery, privacy
Surf Enthusiasts North Shore – World-famous big wave beaches
Outdoor Adventurers Kailua – Hiking, kayaking, laid-back vibe
Shoppers/Foodies Waikiki – Endless dining, shopping at Ala Moana Center

No matter your travel style, Honolulu has diverse neighborhoods and hotels catering to every taste and budget!

Getting Around Honolulu

Public Buses and Trolleys

Honolulu’s public transportation system, known as TheBus, offers an affordable and convenient way to get around O’ahu. Fares start at just $2.75 for adults using stored value on a reloadable pass. TheBus serves popular attractions like Waikīkī Beach, Pearl Harbor, and Hanauma Bay with over 100 routes islandwide.

In addition to standard buses, Honolulu also has a fleet of trolleys that run between major hotels and shopping areas in Waikīkī. These open-air vehicles add a fun twist to public transit. Popular trolley routes include the Waikīkī Loop, Airport Shuttle, and Ala Moana Shopping Center Line.

Boat & Submarine Cruises

Island Boat Tours offers upgraded transportation with seasonal whale watching cruises, snorkeling adventures, coastline tours along the famed North Shore, and submarine trips 100 feet below the surface to observe sea life and sunken ships.

Prices range from $20 for quick sailing trips to $100+ for an all-day extravaganza.

Tour Type Major Operators Sample Attractions
Whale Watching Island Boat Tours, Captain Bob’s Picnic Sail Humpback whales, sea turtles
Snorkeling Kaimana Snorkel Tours, Blue Water Ventures Coral reefs, tropical fish
Submarine Atlantis Adventures Sunken battleships, sea planes

Bike Rentals and Tours

Pedaling through iconic beachfronts and lush gardens reveals O’ahu’s natural side. Top spots to grab wheels from bike rental shops averaging $15-30 per day include Waikīkī Beach, Kailua Beach Park, and Turtle Bay Resort on the North Shore.

Guided bicycle excursions like the Hidden Honolulu Bike Tour offer insider perspectives of must-see landmarks.

Hop-on Hop-off Bus Tours

Hop-on hop-off tours allow you to plan your own itinerary while a guide handles driving duties. The convenience of these double-decker buses makes absorbing the island’s top sights a breeze. Most companies offer 24 or 48-hour tickets costing around $40-60 for adults.

Popular hop-on hop-off bus operators include Polynesian Adventure Tours Gray Line Hawaii, Roberts Hawaii, and E Noa Tours.

Conclusion

From world-famous beaches to incredible cuisine, fascinating history and culture, thrilling outdoor adventures, and vibrant city life, Honolulu truly has something for every type of traveler. Use this guide to discover all the best things to do in Hawaii’s capital city.

With so many amazing experiences packed into one vibrant island destination, Honolulu should be at the top of your travel bucket list!

Sharing is caring!

Similar Posts