Hawaii’s capital and largest city, Honolulu acts as an important economic and cultural centre for the rest of the archipelago. While it is the main point of entry for most visitors to the state, Honolulu is a top tourist destination in its own right with untold thousands vacationing here each year.
Set along the southwest coast of Oahu, it is surrounded by gorgeous mountain ranges, lush tropical foliage and vast volcanic cones. As well, breathtaking beaches and sparkling waters line its shores. Many people hike along its dramatic coast, scuba dive offshore or surf its swells. Lounging on the world-renowned Waikiki Beach is equally popular.
Although you can certainly relax and enjoy a peaceful holiday in Honolulu, the capital pulsates with energy. It has superb shopping, dining and nightlife scenes to delve into. In addition to these things to do in Honolulu there are plenty of excellent museums where you can learn about the islands’ rich history and culture. The Pearl Harbor monuments and memorials count among its other main tourist attractions.
28. Royal Hawaiian Center
One of the best places to shop, dine and go out in Waikiki is the huge Royal Hawaiian Center. Sprawled across three blocks of Kalakaua Avenue, the massive, outdoor mall’s umpteen shops specialize in luxury brands, glittering jewellery and one-of-a-kind accessories.
The famous neighborhood’s main shopping center opened in 1979. It has over ninety upscale boutiques and thirty high-end dining venues on offer. Wandering about the sophisticated mall is a lovely experience due to its decadent design, unique layout and sparkling shop windows.
As well as shopping and dining at one of its exquisite restaurants, you can also catch a traditional Hawaiian dance or music performance. Its groves of swaying palms and open outdoor spaces only add to the appealing ambience and aesthetic.
27. Aloha Tower
One of the city’s most important landmarks is the enormous Aloha Tower that overlooks Honolulu Harbor. Often considered the Hawaiian equivalent of the Statue of Liberty, it is certainly one of the capital’s standout symbols and sights.
Initially erected in 1926, the 184-feet high lighthouse was later painted in camouflage to protect it during World War II. Since then, the striking Hawaiian Gothic-style structure has greeted thousands of immigrants and tourists to the Big Pineapple.
Aside from snapping pictures of its attractive architecture, you can enter and enjoy fabulous views over the harbor and waterfront from its lofty observation deck. At its foot is a terrific daily marketplace to stroll around, and the monument looks particularly fetching at night when it is lit up delightfully against the dark sky.
26. Foster Botanical Gardens
A picturesque place to wander around, the fantastic Foster Botanical Gardens lie just a short stroll from the Aloha Tower. Home to colorful orchids, cycads and other tropical plants, it acts as an oasis of calm and tranquility from the bustling blocks all around it.
The oldest botanic garden in the state, it was established around 1853 with both native and exotic plants found alongside its pretty paths. Dotted amidst the lush foliage are splendid sculptures and water displays with beautiful birds often spotted flitting from tree to tree.
Besides marveling at its exceptional orchids, there are plenty of other immaculately manicured terraces and gardens to explore full of towering trees and fragrant flowers. In addition to a gorgeous conservatory and butterfly garden, there is also a great gift shop to stop by.
25. Statue of Duke Kahanamoku
Lying along the Waikiki waterfront in a prominent spot, you can find the superb Statue of Duke Kahanamoku. One of Honolulu’s most photographed places, it depicts Duke or ‘The Big Kahuna’ who was one of the most respected Hawaiian surfers of his time.
Commonly referred to as the ‘Father of Modern Surfing’, it was he who popularized the sport in the early twentieth century and put Hawaii on the map as a surf destination. On top of surfing the city’s nearby swells so elegantly and effortlessly, Duke won medals at the 1912, 1920 and 1924 Olympics for swimming.
Nowadays the Native Hawaiian is commemorated through a nine-foot sculpture alongside the spot where he used to surf. Standing arms outraised, backed by a surfboard, the bronze figure makes for some fine photos with flower leis often coating the local legend.
24. KCC Farmer’s Market
A colorful and chaotic affair, the KCC Farmer’s Market has around a hundred stands and stalls for locals and tourists alike to peruse. Held each Tuesday evening and Saturday morning, its jumbled collection of crafts, fresh produce and food vendors can be found on the campus of the Kapi’olani Community College.
What started in 1948 as just a handful of stalls has since morphed into one of the Aloha State’s largest and liveliest markets. Countless local farmers now sell everything from artisan products and homemade jams to fresh fruit, vegetables and flowers. Delicious baked goods and some sumptuous seafood also feature as do arts, crafts and clothes.
Pop-up coffee stalls and food stands selling tasty Japanese, Mexican and Vietnamese dishes all add to the lovely laidback atmosphere.
23. Honolulu Zoo
A firm favorite with families, the Honolulu Zoo has an amazing menagerie of animals, reptiles and birds for visitors to check out. Its spacious enclosures and innumerable nature exhibits are set on the slopes of Diamond Head, overlooking the center of Waikiki and the endless Pacific.
Covering a considerable part of the Queen Kapi’olani Park, its lush, leafy grounds house around 900 animals of around 250 species. While some residents are native to Hawaii, others come from as far away as Africa, Asia and Australia. As such, guests can expect to see not just giraffes and hippos but Komodo dragons, orangutans and tigers too.
Dotted about its expansive site are playgrounds, picnic areas and food stands with the archipelago’s verdant flora and blooming flowers on show wherever you go.
22. Nu’uanu Pali Lookout
If you are after some of the best views imaginable on Oahu, then make sure to head to the Nu’uanu Pali Lookout. Located just ten minutes drive north of downtown, the historical landmark offers panoramas overdramatic coastal cliffs and mountain peaks.
Perched over a thousand feet above the city and shoreline far below, the stone terrace marks the site of a hugely important battle. It was here in 1795 that Kamehameha I and his troops prevailed and he finally succeeded in uniting Oahu under his rule. Many poor soldiers lost their lives when they were forced off the top of the steep cliffs and plunged to their deaths far below.
As well as reading up on its history from the informative plaques, you can also bask in breathtaking vistas over the area’s awe-inspiring landscapes.
21. Halona Blowhole
Another of Oahu’s incredible natural features is the jaw-dropping Halona Blowhole that lies along its southeastern shore. At the rugged rock formation, visitors can see seawater spurt up to thirty feet in height and enjoy commanding views over the craggy coast and glittering Pacific.
Situated just off of Hanauma Bay, the ancient lava tube was formed thousands of years ago during a period of heightened volcanic activity. When the tide is high and the wind is pretty strong, water is channeled through its cave and up into the air.
While the spraying geyser certainly makes for some impressive viewing and photos, it is well worth exploring the scenic little cove alongside it. This is because its turquoise waters and sandy beach are hemmed in by towering cliffs on all sides with great sunbathing and swimming on offer.
20. Corsair Wreck Dive Site
As the island is surrounded by loads of colorful coral reefs and an abundance of marine life, many holidaymakers snorkel or scuba dive during their trip to Hawaii. One of the most popular dive sites is the atmospheric Corsair Wreck which lies 115 feet below the surface, roughly half an hour’s boat ride offshore.
Numerous tour companies can take you out to the site which consists of the coral-crusted wreck of a real plane from WWII. Its fuselage, propeller and cockpit are amazing to see with groups of jacks, stingrays and eels now inhabiting its intriguing underwater remains.
As the currents can be quite strong and unpredictable, the exposed dive site is only appropriate for intermediate or advanced divers.
19. Ala Moana Beach Park
Back on firm land is another picturesque place to hit up that offers up myriad fun outdoor activities. At Ala Moana Beach Park, visitors can either relax and unwind on its soft sands, swim in the sea or play games out on its numerous courts.
Tucked away between downtown and Waikiki, the long, narrow park lies alongside the ocean with an offshore coral reef protecting its calm, clear waters. On top of swimming and sunbathing, you can use its tennis courts, playing fields and numerous bike paths.
Public restrooms, picnic areas and concession stands are scattered about while the McCoy Pavilion hosts numerous concerts and cultural events during the year. At its eastern end is the man-made Magic Island peninsula which also puts on plenty of festivals and performances.
18. Shangri La
As its name indicates, Shangri La really does offer up a small slice of island paradise. Formerly the home of American heiress and art collector Doris Duke, the attractive estate now instead operates as a museum dedicated to Islamic arts and cultures.
Built between 1936 and 1939, the opulent oceanfront mansion and its lovingly landscaped grounds lie just past Diamond Head. Its series of small, sparkling pools, brilliantly white buildings and lush green grounds make for quite the sight with the Pacific in the background.
While its exterior already features some exquisite Islamic architecture, its airy rooms house sublime ceramics, furniture and artworks from all around the Middle East. Certainly one of the most unique sites to visit in the state, the property is a must as it combines art, history, culture and nature.
17. US Army Museum of Hawaii
Housed within Battery Randolph in Fort Derussy Beach Park you can find the interesting US Army Museum of Hawaii. As well as all kinds of excellent artifacts and exhibits, it has a number of tanks, helicopters and gun turrets to view.
Originally owned by a Chinese millionaire, the strategic coastal plot was later purchased and turned into a fort and battery in 1911. Guests can now stroll around all its bunkers and bastions with well-preserved uniforms, weapons and military memorabilia lying inside. These document the history of the archipelago’s fighting forces and important events involving the defense of the islands.
While some sections cover pre-Imperial warfare in Hawaii, others look at the US Army and Pacific theater during World War II.
16. Honolulu Museum of Art
Another fantastic place to head if you are interested in art is the Honolulu Museum of Art which lies in the Makiki part of town. Besides boasting one of the largest collections of Asian and Pan-Pacific art in the country, it also displays masterpieces by Monet, Picasso and van Gogh among others.
First opened to the public in 1927, it is now the largest museum of its kind in the entire state with its 50,000 artworks covering over 5,000 years of art history. In its galleries, you can see not just statues and paintings but hand-painted dolls, indigenous feather capes and awesome Maui landscapes too.
Its wide variety of artworks from across the seas and centuries makes the museum a treat to explore with its complex also being noted for its beautiful buildings.
15. Ala Moana Center
If you are after a shopping experience like no other, then make sure to check out the enormous Ala Moana Center. Remarkably enough, it is the largest open-air shopping mall in the world with more than 350 shops and restaurants being spread across its four floors.
Formerly wetlands, the area adjacent to the beach park of the same name was transformed into the massive mall in 1959. Over the years, numerous expansions have seen even more unique boutiques, dining options and luxury brand stores open up. These include everything from Macy’s and Target to Nordstrom, Sears and Rolex.
There are tranquil koi ponds and a stage for performances with its delightful design and layout reflecting modern Hawaiian architectural principles. As it always hums with life, the Ala Moana Center is a great spot to shop, dine or go out. Hula dances and concerts regularly take place.
14. USS Bowfin Submarine Museum
Offering a fascinating glimpse into life below the waves is the outstanding USS Bowfin Submarine Museum. Permanently moored alongside the Pearl Harbor National Memorial, the sleek, grey sub and its museum are packed with historic photos and artifacts, paintings and exhibits.
Popularly called the ‘Pearl Harbor Avenger’, the USS Bowfin served between 1942 and 1971 and impressively sunk 44 Japanese vessels in WWII. Nowadays, visitors can walk about its corridors, mess rooms and living quarters and see how US seamen used to live and work in decades gone by.
Aside from exploring the National Historic Landmark, you can also pay your respects at its moving memorial. This honors the 3,500 submariners who lost their lives during the Second World War.
13. Kailua Beach
After all the sightseeing, shopping and outdoor activities, you’re going to want to relax and unwind at one of Oahu’s breathtaking beaches. Much calmer and quieter than Waikiki, Kailua Beach lies on the Windward Coast, just twenty minutes drive from downtown Honolulu.
Stretching around 2.5 miles in length, its soft sands arch gracefully about the crescent-shaped bay of the same name. While many come to soak up some sun and swim and splash about in the turquoise waters, other holiday goers prefer more energetic pastimes. Besides body surfing and surfing atop its gentle swells, you can paddleboard and kayak about the nearby seabird sanctuaries.
Thanks to its steady trade winds, Kailua Beach is a top kitesurfing and windsurfing destination with sweeping views over the Pacific.
12. Waikiki Aquarium
Back alongside Kalakaua Avenue and Kapi’olani Park is the wonderful Waikiki Aquarium. Home to a wealth of amazing marine mammals, shimmering fish and colorful corals; it has long been one of Honolulu’s top tourist attractions.
Overlooking both the ocean and a large living coral reef, the exceptional aquarium was opened back in 1904. While it primarily specializes in tropical animals and ecosystems from around the Pacific, it also contains tanks full of other incredible sea creatures.
In total, about 3,500 animals of more than 500 species reside within its aquariums with informative displays and exhibits teaching you all about them. As such, guests can expect to see everything from giant clams and brain corals to playful seals, smart octopi and even some small sharks.
11. Bishop Museum
Packed with over 24 million artifacts and specimens, Bishop Museum is one of the best places to head if you want to learn about Hawaii’s rich history, culture and nature. Lying within the historic Kalihi district, its grand galleries cover the ancient gods, early settlers and everything in between.
The state’s largest museum, it was established in 1889 with it now housing the most comprehensive collection of Polynesian cultural artifacts in the world. Across its complex of refined Richardsonian Romanesque buildings, you can delve into the archipelago’s fabulous fauna and flora, discovery and development.
On show are royal standards, volcanic rocks and recordings of traditional chants while the complete skeleton of a sperm whale hangs up in its humongous Hawaiian Hall. To top it all off, the museum also includes a planetarium where you can see celestial bodies swirl about overhead.
10. Battleship Missouri Memorial
A must for history buffs, the USS Missouri is where the Japanese officially surrendered and finally brought an end to the Second World War. Now preserved as both a memorial and museum, the giant battleship lies permanently docked at Pearl Harbor.
The last Iowa-class ship to be commissioned by the States, she saw action at Iwo Jima and Okinawa before later serving in the Korean War. After providing fire support during the Gulf War, ‘Mighty Mo’ was retired in 1992 after seventeen years of active service and having earned eleven battle stars.
Visitors can now take tours around her cabins, bridge and upper decks with enormous engine rooms and gigantic guns also featured. As you amble about the colossal battleship, your guide will teach you all about its history and the daily lives of the sailors living on board.
9. Manoa Falls
One of the most spellbinding natural sights in the region though has to be the massive and majestic Manoa Falls. In just fifteen minutes from downtown, outdoor lovers find themselves hiking amidst lush tropical vegetation and gazing up at the jaw-dropping waterfall before them.
Towering 150 feet in height, its jet white waters plunge their way down the side of a steep cliff with green ferns and trees lying all around it. Tucked away in the vast valley of the same name, the falls, their pool and leafy surroundings lie amongst the mountains of Ko’olau.
In addition to snapping some pictures of the phenomenal falls, you can also hike around the steamy Lyon Arboretum near its foot. Although splashing about in its pool is tempting, this is best avoided as bacteria in its waters can cause flu-like symptoms.
8. Lanikai Beach
Another of the windward side’s most stunning stretches of sand is the picture-perfect Lanikai Beach just south of Kailua. As well as sparkling white sands and calm, clear waters, it boasts astounding views over Oahu’s coast and other offshore islands.
Regularly ranked among the best beaches in the world, its idyllic shoreline extends just over a mile in length. While it can get crowded during the weekend, the rest of the time you can sunbathe, swim and kayak out to the nearby Na Mokulua in peace.
It is these two islets that make the beach such a popular place to take photos. Many people also come to watch the moonrise. While you can set foot on the larger of the two, the smaller one is out of bounds as it is protected as a bird sanctuary.
7. Koko Crater Trail
For yet more spectacular views and nature, make sure to head to the top of the Koko Crater Trail. At the 1,208 feet high summit, hardy hikers can indulge in divine panoramas over the ocean, city, crater and Ko’olau Range off in the distance.
Part of the Honolulu Volcanics, the long-extinct tuff cone is thought to have formed some 7,000 or so years ago. During WWII, the US military built bunkers atop the craggy cone and a very steep railroad up to its summit. It is its abandoned sleepers that now make up much of the two mile trail’s rambling route.
While clambering up the exceedingly steep steps, visitors can stop for a much-needed breather and enjoy all the sublime views and nature about them. At its lofty summit, you are rewarded with epic vistas that more than make up for the taxing trek.
6. Hanauma Bay Preserve
If that sounds a bit too strenuous for a holiday, you can always just stop instead at the Hanauma Bay Preserve that lies at the foot of the crater. One of the most popular and picturesque places to visit on the island, its sheltered waters offer superb swimming, snorkeling and sea life viewing.
Set almost at Oahu’s southernmost tip, its twinkling turquoise waters and the beautiful bay around it actually lie within the crater of an ancient volcano. Now open to the sea, the preserve protects loads of colorful coral reefs with plenty of pretty parrotfish and green sea turtles spied swimming about.
Besides delighting in its awe-inspiring underwater riches, you can sun yourself on its sandy beach and snap photos of the cool crater all around you.
5. Makapuu Lighthouse Trail
Just up the coast from the pristine preserve is another scenic spot for visitors to stop by: the amazing Makapuu Lighthouse. Occupying the easternmost point of Oahu, its rugged, windswept reaches are accessible by a tantalizing trail that takes you along the top of precipitous sea cliffs.
While the terrain you pass through is quite rocky and rough, the hike is nowhere near as challenging as that of the Koko Crater. In total, the paved path stretches 1.2 miles in length with it culminating at the historic old lighthouse perched atop a jagged cliff.
Aside from taking photos of the lonely lighthouse looking out over the ocean, you can enjoy magnificent views of the windward coast and its islets with whales sometimes also spied offshore.
4. Iolani Palace
Undoubtedly one of the city and state’s most impressive buildings, the incredible Iolani Palace was once the royal residence of the rulers of the Kingdom of Hawaii. Very well-preserved, it lies in the capitol district of downtown, within easy walking distance of countless other tourist attractions.
While various palaces and royal burial grounds have stood in the same spot since at least the early nineteenth century, the current Neoclassical edition was erected in 1879. When the monarchy was overthrown just over a decade later, it was turned into Hawaii’s capitol building and housed the seat of the state’s government.
Since 1978, the National Historic Landmark has been open to the public as a museum with fantastic tours taking you all around its elegant interior. Innumerable artifacts, exhibits and artworks decorate its stately rooms which are designed to look as they did over a century ago.
3. Diamond Head Crater
Rising dramatically to the southeast of the city is the distinctive Diamond Head Crater; one of its defining landmarks. Hiking up the towering tuff cone is a popular pastime of residents and tourists alike due to its stupendous views over the ocean, coast and Ko’olau Range.
Part of an extensive system of cones and vents, the long-extinct volcano reaches 762 feet in height with sparse shrubs and wavy grasses coating its rugged slopes. On the hike up to its soaring summit, you climb up steep steps, wind your way past a WWII-era bunker and along a writhing ridgeline.
Once you arrive, you’ll be greeted by startling panoramas over Waikiki Beach and the city’s skyline. You can also look down into its cavernous crater and spot the Diamond Head Lighthouse far below.
2. Pearl Harbor National Memorial
When on Oahu, the Pearl Harbor National Memorial really is a must for the moving look it presents of the heinous attack. Its waterfront site in Western Honolulu commemorates the surprise strike that catapulted the US into WWII with boat trips also taking you to the offshore USS Arizona Memorial.
Numerous monuments and memorials now lie alongside the huge harbor with informative plaques highlighting how the deadly air raid unfolded. More than 2,400 Americans tragically lost their lives that day with twelve ships also being sunk.
The artifacts and exhibits in its museum explore the lead-up and aftermath of the attack with its old photos and taped oral testimonies of survivors being particularly harrowing. After learning about the Pacific theater, many people take a trip out to the USS Arizona and pay their respects to the fallen.
1. Waikiki Beach
One of the most famous stretches of sand in the world, Waikiki Beach is the undoubted highlight of many tourists’ trips to Hawaii. Bordered by tall, swaying palm trees and bright blue waters, its fluffy white sands really are a treat to lounge on lazily.
Once a retreat for Hawaiian royalty in the 1800s, its stunning shores are now instead lined by scores of designer shops, trendy restaurants and luxurious hotels. While umpteen high-rises tower above its sands, the hulking great Diamond Head can also be spied looming in the distance.
Besides basking in its breathtaking beauty and snapping some profile pictures, visitors can enjoy all kinds of awesome outdoor activities at the beach. These include not just swimming and surfing but boogie boarding, catamaran cruises and kayak trips too. Lively yet laid back, Waikiki Beach is not to be missed when exploring all that Oahu and Honolulu have to offer.