Hawaii seems like a different world with its exotic and ancient yet modern and calm environment. Can you imagine how fun the best things to do in Honolulu, Hawaii, would be?
As seen in everybody’s Instagram feed, Hawaii is famous for clear blue skies, sand, umbrella drinks, and sometimes fashion show of Jacquemus and more. But the place is more than that.
Undoubtedly, the first choice of anyone visiting Hawaii is its largest part- Honolulu. It is an indispensable part of the island state. Honolulu offers a perfect balance between adventure and relaxation.
Known for famous beaches and hotels, Honolulu has numerous spots catering to every want of any kind of tourism like food and leisure. With Hawaiian culture spots, too, if one does proper research, they might even get confused. So here we are with the 14 top tourist attractions in Honolulu, Hawaii.
Pearl Harbor National Memorial
Pearl Harbor got its name from the pearls found in the water here and is an essential item in the list of Honolulu attractions.
The Japanese’s widely known Pearl Harbor attack in December 1941 is still alive in the memories. The attack was what led the US to enter the famous World War two. The place, at present, is both an active military base as well as a Historic Landmark.
The popular tourists pay their respects to the lives lost in the attack, which is approximately 2400.
Pearl Harbor historic sites include various centers and museums; together, they are a group of memorials and monuments. A must-visit in the list of things to do in Honolulu, one can also take a tour or book tickets apart from visiting.
The Pearl Harbor Visitor Center allows people to see sites such as USS Missouri, USS Arizona Memorial, USS Bowfin, and the Pacific Aviation Museum Pearl Harbor mentioned below (for these sites, people are recommended to have bookings).
USS Missouri is the place of surrender by the Japanese, and at USS Bowfin Submarine Museum, one can see World War 2 submarines and the Pacific Submarine Museum. The most famous is the USS Arizona Memorial, which was made over bombed battleship after World War II. The USS Bowfin Submarine ship sank 44 vessels of enemies and is also known as Pearl Harbor Avenger.
The park here has antiques, museums, historical backgrounds, and a documentary on its history related to the Second World War. You can also grab a bite from an array of restaurants located here.
The only issue with this place is the cost, as the price is high and other sites need to be paid separately. But, it does not come in the way of people who wish to pay their respects to the history of the place, which can be seen with the crowd every time.
Pacific Aviation Museum Pearl Harbor
A part of Pearl Harbor Historic Sites, this museum is the most famous of all the memorials and monuments in Pearl Harbor and is located on Ford Island.
Given the location, it also has a Ford Island control tower and multiple hangars.
The museum was founded in 1999. It has all the aviation exhibits that defended the region’s freedom, mostly including the planes used in the 1941 attack, the damages done, and flight simulators.
Internationally known, this national historic landmark museum is a favorite visit for not only tourists but also the locals as it helps them to connect with the past and understand and appreciate the history of aviation, making it one of the must things to do in Honolulu, Hawaii.
Everybody worldwide has heard the name of Waikiki beach unless you’re living under a rock. This beautiful place is not a city as one might think but a neighborhood in Honolulu on the island’s south shore.
As one of the most famous beaches in Hawaii, it is informally illegal not to visit this place.
This extraordinary two-mile beach in Oahu has fluffy white sand and borders of palms and high buildings, including the Diamond Head in the background making the scene surreal, as many say.
It is exactly the place one imagines when dreaming of quitting the 9-5 and moving to a new place.
Many parts of the beaches are separated into multiple sections, each guarded. People often use most sections for swimming. The waves here are usually gentle. One can also play other water sports besides swimming.
If that’s not enough, you can take lei-making classes, enjoy fireworks over the bay, or set picnic tables. If one visits in spring, one can even experience the Honolulu Festival.
Waikiki beach includes- Kuhio Beach, Fort DeRussy Beach (facing the Royal Hawaiian Hotel), and Queen Surf Beach.
The places like Kapiolani Park are known for picnics, balls, and jogging, and Duke Kahanamoku Lagoon on the west of the beach is pretty secluded, so it’s a safe spot for children to enjoy.
Some other common activities at Waikiki beach are catamaran, snorkeling, boogie boarding, surfing, and last but not least – watching the breathtaking sunset.
Waikiki beach has restaurants, museums, shops, luxury hotels, beach bars, theatres, cafes, and resorts like every other tourist destination. With so many options, one can easily buy surfboards and souvenirs.
Koko Crater Trail
Koko Crater Trail is a volcanic tuff cone. It is 1208 feet tall and near the well-known landmark in Waimanalo, Oahu. Koko is one of the most difficult hiking trails, unlike others in Honolulu, like Diamond Head crater, which is unique in its way.
The trail also allows people to experience the wildlife in its raw form, which is rare. It leads to the peak is easily visible from far away.
The hikers climb 1048 steep stairs made of railroad ties to reach the peak. The stairs were built more than 60 years ago.
The trail’s intention was to make it easy for the military to carry supplies to the bunkers at the peak.
The railroad tracks hanging makes the hike a bit spooky, which adds to the adventure. Inside the crater, one can experience horse stables and Koko Crater Botanical Garden (elaborated below).
Nearby there is another smaller tuff cone, known as Koko Head.
This famous hiking trail is popular with tourists and is open the entire year for people to experience nature and adventures. From the crater, one can also view the Hanauma Bay and the skyline of the city.
Koko Crater Botanical Garden
One of the many Honolulu botanical gardens, this garden is spread over 60 acres. One can expect to find endangered and rare plant species, including the local ones found only on the Hawaiian Islands, which one might not be familiar with.
It has plants like succulents and cacti, too, making it an essential part of many Honolulu botanical gardens.
To reach the botanical garden, one will have to hike along the trail, which is another adventure and allows you to experience wildlife and nature in Honolulu.
Ala Moana Center
Although there is an ocean of places to shop or enjoy in Honolulu, Ala Moana Center is one of a kind. This four-story mall is a one-stop for all the people as it has the option of both- brands which give luxury and souvenir shops and departments.
Ala Moana Center is also known as the largest shopping center in the world, which is open-air, making it one of the top tourist attractions.
The place gives one a feeling of being in a different vibe than the rest of the city. As one visits this place, it should be no surprise that some shops might be pricey because of this extra.
But one can always look for alternatives since Ala Moana Center has 350+ stores and places to eat.
The stucco architecture gives the unique feeling of the place as the sidewalks and stairs lead to places that look like houses but are commercial places.
The Ala Moana Center has everything from an arena where bands play and boutiques to cheap kiosks. One can shop, eat, drink, or lounge here as the good music gives a continuous vibe.
If a confused first-timer you are, Sephora, Surf Shops, and getting an Island Vintage Coffee can be on the to-do list as coffee and shopping are where never goes wrong.
Ala Moana Beach Park-
Apart from the Ala Moana Center, one can also visit the Ala Moana Beach Park. It is centrally located, so never too far away from any place in the city and easy to reach.
It has a line of shady trees, and the beach is almost half a mile crescent. The waves are the best for activities like surfing yet have enough space for safe swimming conditions.
Besides water and sun, at the Ala Moana Beach Park, one can try lawns, picnic spots, and the 3 food shacks.
Traveling to Oahu and not visiting Iolani Palace will be equal to not visiting Oahu altogether.
Not known to many, Hawaii was once a monarchy and called the ‘Kingdom of Hawaii’ until the late 19th century when a coup d’etat overthrew it and then became an integral part of the US as it is the only royal palace here.
The ornate palace was constructed in 1882 and used to be the residence of the king of Hawaii, i.e., Kalakaua (the last Hawaiian King) and Lili’uokalani, his sister.
The Iolani Palace was rebuilt in 1969 and was opened to the public in 1978. It is a historical site and one of the only few ways the Hawaiians remember their past.
It is located in downtown Honolulu and is near Waikiki Beach
The Iolani Palace is large area-wise with four-story and has 10 rooms. The first two palace floors have a living area, and the basement has photos, decorations, Hawaiian crown jewels, and regalia.
Registered as a National Historic Landmark, the palace’s architecture is in the Renaissance style of Italy and was also electricity wired.
You can even opt for tours (either self-guided or assisted) and audio recordings. When visiting the palace, one can expect vintage displays of clothes, furniture, past royal relics, and fittings.
This downtown Honolulu palace has throne rooms and political offices with carpets giving a whole historical vibe. Across the street, one can also view the historic Ali’olani Hale.
Shangri La Museum of Islamic Art, Culture and Design
This public Honolulu museum was commissioned by heiress Doris Duke due to the efforts of the Doris Duke Foundation, as it was a private collection before. This fascinating museum with a picturesque view now holds Islamic Art.
Shangri La Museum started as a coastal mansion of Doris Duke located right outside Honolulu in Diamond Head.
Doris Duke used to collect and display a diverse art collection of Islamic culture. Her enthusiasm for this started during her honeymoon in the Middle East. Since then, she wanted a place to collect and keep all her jewelry, wood carvings, tiles, ornate embroideries, and prominent portraits.
Her collection also included architectural components from worldwide like Spain, Egypt, India, Iran, Turkey, Morocco, and Syria. In simple words, Islamic art and culture enthusiasts can call this Honolulu museum their Mecca.
Shangri La Museum is the unique place one can expect in Hawaii, so it is obviously on the list of every person visiting Honolulu.
Hence, it is highly recommended to have a booking at this Honolulu museum as individual access is not allowed too.
Kuhio Beach Park
The literal meaning of Kuhio in Kuhio Beach Park is ‘flower from the wreath of heaven,’ and the inspiration for the name was Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalanianaole, who at one point used to live in the same place with his wife namely Princess Elizabeth Kahanu.
More or less, Kuhio Beach Park is part of Waikiki. One can spot it by the famous surf and bodyboarding sites of Waikiki- Canoes and Queens.
Unlike other numerous, Kuhio Beach Park has a cultural check too. It is home to numerous landmarks which are local, like the Duke Kahanamoku Statue (the most famous statue and also the one most photographed by tourists as it is a sculpture of the Olympic swimmer, surfer, and canoeist) and Prince Kuhio Statue (a sculpture by Sean Browne) are an indispensable part of Hawaiian history.
Stones of Kapaemahu (represents 4 legendary men- Kahaloa, Kapuni, Kapaemahu, and Kinohi) and “Wizard Stones of Kapaemahu” is rumored to have healing power for anyone who visits it.
Besides that, Kuhio also has regular hula shows for free, giving visitors another option of entertainment where people can walk and watch hula styles with live music in the background.
People can also have picnics and gatherings in the park, lie on a beach towel, or play volleyball, besides surfing and wandering aimlessly and lazily.
Since Hawaii has so many beaches, one might not always be in the mood to view the ocean with many people around. In that case, Kuhio is the best option since, despite being famous, the crowd here is not as overwhelming as on other beaches.
According to people, Kuhio has an atmosphere of laid-back, clear water, and calm vibes. It is also said to have the perfect proportion of sun, shade, grass, and sand, making the overall experience of a beach typical yet unique.
Diamond Head State Monument (Le’ahi)
In the land of volcanoes, the inspiration for the name of the Diamond Head monument was taken from British Sailors of the 19th century as they thought of the glittering calcite as diamonds.
The locals call it Le’ahi, which translates to ‘Tuna Brow’ as it looks like a fin is on the city’s North shore.
Close to the city center, Diamond Head has formed 300,000 years ago and is preserved within the monument, which is 475 acres. Diamond Head Crater was formed due to a huge volcanic eruption.
A large number of ashes fell for years, leading to the making of the ridgeline of this monument known as Diamond Head.
The Diamond Head State Monument trail was made in 1908 for the defense of Hawaii. Although there are many other equally good places to go hiking in Honolulu, Diamond Head hiking is considered different as people describe it to be like being on top of the world.
It is the Hawaiian landmark that is most recognizable, and after reaching the summit, one gets to experience the majestic aerial view of every beauty that Hawaii has to offer.
It includes the World War 1 era lighthouse and the skyline of Honolulu. The hike is 0.8 miles but steep, making it difficult yet enjoyable.
Diamond Head has elevation gain between the crater floor and the peak of 560 ft. The trail crossing the slope of crater interiors forms numerous switchbacks. It was made to limit the erosion, but it changes as tuff or volcanic rock (natural) after 2 miles.
The hike then continues through the steep stairs, and next is a tunnel of 225 feet, and then one reaches the 1911 Fire Control Station.
The visitors and locals appreciate the panoramic view, as some call it, and recommend one from Koko Head to Wai’anae.
It is widely popular to have Lomi-Lomi at the top of the crater. Adventurous foodies can also drop by nearby local shops, including restaurants. One can also buy souvenirs to remember the place or the adventure.
Besides everything else, it is also important to note that since April 2022, according to the new law, there’s a system of reservations to hike at Diamond Head, and it’ll be with effect from May 2022.
Sans Souci Beach Park
Also called Kaimana Beach, Sans Souci Beach Park is the best place to unwind and relax, as the name itself translates to ‘worry-free.’ The beach is shallow, so the waves are mild, and it’s a sandy beach with clean shores.
There aren’t strong currents making it the best spot for a family outing as there’s no risk of a near-death situation but rather a rejuvenating vibe.
It is the best place if one wants to relax under the sun or in the shade of palm trees. It’s a perfect place if not a cliff-diving or wave-skimming enthusiasts or people who don’t like taking oxygen tanks or helmets when in the mood to watch the sunset on the beach.
Besides that, tropical beach Sans Souci is also a snorkeling spot.
Some swimmers and kayakers take advantage to get to seas beyond the reef through Kapua Channel, which gives them access to the Old Man’s- a famous surf spot.
Hanauma Bay Nature preserve
Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve, commonly referred to as tropical paradise, is one of the best Honolulu attractions.
The bay is of prehistoric volcanic origin, which is evident due to the circular shape spotted from the city’s east side. The crater was flooded, and wave erosion led to the present beautiful shape.
With greenish water clear as crystal and it is easy to spot sea turtles, waves along the clear offshore reef, and parrotfish; even chilling in the soft sand is fun because it’s filled with seashells and corals.
As an aquatic enthusiast’s paradise, at Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve, one can go swimming, surfing, diving, snorkeling, or lastly, enjoy their Spotify playlist or read that fiction with your favorite drink.
As a con for some, the beach can get crowded at times, given the beautiful picturesque it has to offer. Being so popular, it is on the must-visit list of tourists too, other than regular locals making it necessary for the authorities to limit the visitors.
The government also created a center for Nature Preserve and Marine Education where people visiting Hanauma Bay can watch a small presentation on the nature of the marine system and life and learn to enjoy it without harming it.
Manoa Falls Trail
In the northeast downtown Honolulu in Manoa Valley, in the heart of the tropical rainforest, watching Manoa Falls is a surreal experience no tourist wants to miss on their Hawaiian vacation. It is at a short distance from the popular Waikiki Beach. It is 150 feet and accessible easily.
The small pool where the water falls looks inviting but is dangerous for swimming due to bacterial contamination and chances of rocks falling, yet there are other ways to enjoy this place to its fullest.
This 1.6-mile-long waterfall hike is iconic and relatively easy with boulders. The place has also been part of forever gold movies like “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” and “Jurassic Park” have shot scenes here, so one can expect to go deep into the trees and dappled sun because of canopies- a paradise for nature lovers.
It is rumored that Manoa falls trail is still used as a roaming ground by a ghost group of Hawaiian warriors- the Nightmarchers.
One might want to note that this quaint historical waterfall, as some describe, is in the rainforest. And even if the conditions are dry, one should carry a bug spray or insect repellent.
One can watch stunning Manoa falls from sunrise to sunset timing and even though the entry is free of cost if one visits by car, they might’ve to pay the parking fee of $7. The dollars are nothing compared to the heavenly sight so make sure to visit!
There is Lyon Arboretum near Manoa. Lyon Arboretum is a botanical garden that you can check out after hiking here. Because the trail is pretty muddy, it is seriously recommended not to forget hiking boots.