Are you planning a trip to Hawaii and curious about the best things to do in Honolulu? We’ve rounded up some of the most fun things to do in Honolulu—whether you’re visiting for the first time or the fifteenth time!
Fun Things To Do in Honolulu
Honolulu is the capital of Hawaii, located on the southern shore of Oahu Island. With a population of over 300,000, Honolulu is a bustling city that combines stunning natural scenery with upscale shopping and dining. Honolulu is a fun and exciting getaway for families, couples, and solo travelers, with no shortage of unique things to see and do.
Between the picturesque landscapes, thrilling watersports, and historical sites, deciding how to spend time in Honolulu is challenging. This guide to the best things to do in Honolulu will help you plan an unforgettable trip to this bucket list travel destination.
Honolulu is home to many incredible hiking trails where you can spot local wildlife, learn about the area’s history, and experience breathtaking views. Regardless of how experienced of a hiker you are, there’s a great variety of hikes ranging from easy to difficult in the Honolulu area. Sandals won’t cut it on these rugged trails, so pack a good pair of hiking sneakers or boots.
Diamond Head Crater Summit Trail
Diamond Head Crater is a stunning and unique natural landmark famous for its short yet challenging summit hike. While the path from the Diamond Head State Monument parking lot to the crater is less than one mile, it gains over 550 feet of elevation. Prepare for a steep and strenuous hike—make it to the top, and you’ll enjoy some of the best views in Honolulu.
Koko Crater Railway Trail
Another challenging Honolulu hike worth tackling is the Koko Crater Railway Trail, which leads to the top of Koko Crater. Expect minimal shade and opportunities to rest along this 0.8-mile-long trail with over 1,000 stairs. Pack plenty of water and snacks, and pace yourself while hiking up to the crater—Koko Crater Trail is known for its heat and humidity.
Manoa Falls Trail
The trail to Manoa Falls is just under one mile each way, leading you through the tropical Hawaiian jungle on one of Honolulu’s best adventures. This Honolulu hike is moderately challenging, but the end reward of Manoa Falls is well worth the effort. The water cascades over 150 feet through the lush forest, ending in a small, picturesque pool of water. While swimming is technically prohibited, many tourists take a dip in the refreshing water.
Shopping for locally sourced food, apparel, and gifts is one of the best things to do in Honolulu. If you aren’t particularly outdoorsy, visiting the city’s famous shopping areas is an excellent way to enjoy your time in Honolulu.
Ala Moana Shopping Center
The Ala Moana Center is a highly-rated attraction for shopping, grabbing dinner and drinks, and people-watching. Ala Moana is Hawaii’s largest shopping center, with over 350 stores and restaurants. From luxury boutiques to national chains and independently owned shops unique to Hawaii, this open-air shopping center has something for everyone. After working up an appetite, enjoy a meal at one of the hundreds of dining options.
If you’re staying at the Hilton Hawaiian Village end of Waikiki Beach it is within walking distance.
KCC Farmers’ Market
Visit the KCC Farmer’s Market for some of Honolulu’s freshest produce, flowers, and local food in Honolulu. Hosted weekly on Saturday mornings, the KCC Market is well-loved among locals and tourists. You’ll find everything from regionally sourced vegetables to handmade soaps, vibrant flower bouquets, dog treats, and more. Arrive hungry and feast on the delicious local offerings made fresh to order.
Tap into the local culture by window shopping downtown Honolulu. The bustling city center has an impressive variety of stores to wander through, including high-end stores and small hidden gems. Downtown Honolulu is the perfect place to find souvenirs, gifts, art, home decor, and clothes. Whatever your shopaholic heart desires, you’ll find it exploring the busy streets of Honolulu’s downtown area.
Learning Local History
Honolulu has a rich local culture and fascinating history that can be experienced at landmarks and museums. History buffs will enjoy learning about Hawaii’s past and how it shaped the state as we know it today. Whether you’re a fan of architecture or interested in Honolulu’s role in major political conflicts, there’s a lot to learn.
Pearl Harbor National Memorial
The Pearl Harbor National Memorial is a somber yet inspiring dedication to the 1941 Pearl Harbor Attack, which killed thousands. This 20-acre national historic landmark includes a visitor center, multiple ships such as the USS Arizona Memorial, and portions of Ford Island. Since the museum and grounds are free to visit, taking a day tour of the Pearl Harbor Memorial is an excellent activity that doesn’t cost a dime.
USS Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park
Located near the Pearl Harbor National Memorial, the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park consists of a World War II-era submarine filled with artifacts for visitors to explore. Throughout the museum, you’ll learn about the use of submarines, beginning in World War II and continuing to this day. The large USS Bowfin is well-preserved, offering a glimpse into Honolulu’s past.
One of the most recognizable historic landmarks in Honolulu is Iolani Palace, a former royal residence built in 1882. For nearly 50 years, rulers of Hawaii lived in the grand estate, which holds the distinction of being the only royal palace on U.S. soil. The striking architecture of Iolani Palace is a classic example of the American Florentine style. Today, visitors can stroll through the palace halls on self-led or guided tours.
Make sure to check their open hours, as they are closed during certain days of the week.
Exploring Nature Areas
Unsurprisingly, Honolulu has many stunning parks and gardens where tourists can spot local wildlife and native Hawaiian plants. If you want to get outside for the day but don’t feel up to a long, strenuous hike, consider walking through some of Honolulu’s scenic nature areas. Don’t forget to pack your camera!
Koko Crater Botanical Garden
Koko Crater Botanical Garden is a small but mighty garden showcasing succulents, flowers, palms, and large trees. The garden is free to visit and has a 2-mile-long walking trail through the various plant collections. Koko Crater is a unique garden because it highlights Honolulu’s desert-like environment rather than the famous tropical forests. This botanical garden is a must-visit for those traveling with people of all ages and interests.
One of the best nature preserves in Honolulu is Hanauma Bay, a beautiful marine area for snorkeling, boating, and swimming. Hanauma Bay allows visitors to see wild green sea turtles, dolphins, and whales native to Hawaii. This state park is also home to many species of fish, coral, and other marine plants and animals, making it the perfect place to experience Honolulu’s incredible biodiversity.
It is one of the most popular tourist spots so please pack your patience.
Explore Honolulu’s iconic jungles at Lyon Arboretum, a public botanical garden run by the University of Hawaii. Situated in the picturesque Manoa Valley, the arboretum encompasses 200 acres with seven miles of walking trails to explore. Over 6,000 species of tropical plants and beautiful Hawaiian flowers are throughout Lyon Arboretum, offering beautiful sights and photo opportunities.
Visiting World-Class Beaches
Of course, a guide to the best things to do in Honolulu has to highlight the area’s world-class beaches. Honolulu is the ideal destination for lounging on the beach in a cute bathing suit (we recommend Cupshe swimsuits) with a cocktail, and there are many stunning local options.
A 15-20 minute drive from downtown Honolulu lies Kailua Beach Park, a highly underrated Hawaiian beach park. Kailua has plenty of shade, uncrowded stretches of white sand, and crystal-clear water. The water at Kailua Beach is generally gentle and calm, perfect for snorkeling and kayaking.
This is a residential area, so please be a respectful visitor to this neighborhood.
Waikiki Beach is one of the most famous beaches in Hawaii and the world. Millions of visitors flock to the pristine beach to enjoy the turquoise ocean and views of Diamond Head. Popular activities at Waikiki Beach include surfing, swimming, and paddleboarding. Start your day with the best breakfast in Waikiki before enjoying a few hours of relaxation surrounded by sun, surf, and sand. Be prepared for crowds, as Waikiki is Honolulu’s top-visited beach.
A Day Trip Worth the Drive
If you’re willing to drive, North Shore is another can’t-miss beach area less than 30 miles from central Honolulu. North Shore is ideal for thrill-seekers who want to take surfing lessons among Hawaii’s iconic waves and go snorkeling among the colorful coral reefs and tropical fish. There are more than seven miles of North Shore coastline for relaxing or getting your heart pumping.
This article originally appeared on Wealth of Geeks.