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Top 11 Things to Do in Honolulu, Hawaii

It’s almost hard to think of a reason to not visit Honolulu since it’s one of the most fascinating and beautiful island cities in the world. Many travelers to Hawaii pass through Honolulu on connecting flights to the other islands, but the city itself is certainly worth a visit as well.

Honolulu is a top Hawaiian destination for its beaches and luxury hotels. This is an East-Meets-West destination full of culture, which you can explore all over the city. Meanwhile, outdoor enthusiasts will fall in love with the area’s jungles and volcanoes, which are perfect for exploring on foot.

Located on the island of Oahu, the best times to visit Honolulu are between September and November, and these are some of the most amazing ways to spend your vacation here.

People-Watch at Waikiki Beach Waikiki Beach, Oahu
Credit: Waikiki Beach, Oahu by bigstock.com

People-Watch at Waikiki Beach

What Is It? Waikiki Beach is the most famous and popular beach on Oahu and a must-see when you visit Honolulu.

Why Do It? This area is typically pretty touristy, but it’s a great place to relax and people-watch. There are many top hotels here, so chances are that you’ll be staying very close to this popular beach.

Good to Know: Sit back and enjoy the beautiful scenery, or get active by renting out a canoe, surf board, or snorkel gear.

Reflect at Pearl Harbor & the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial Pearl Harbor & U.S.S. Arizona Memorial
Credit: Pearl Harbor & U.S.S. Arizona Memorial by Bigstock.com

Reflect at Pearl Harbor & the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial

What Is It? Hawaii has an important role in World War II history, and there’s no better place to learn about it than at Pearl Harbor and the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial.

Why Do It? Tours of Pearl Harbor include a boat ride to the memorial site of where the island was attacked during the war. One of the most important historic sites is the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial, which was built over the original battleship.

Good to Know: History buffs can also visit a WWII submarine, the U.S.S. Bowfin, and tour the aviation museum.

Take a Surfing Lesson Surfing
Credit: Surfing by Bigstock.com

Take a Surfing Lesson

What Is It? Water sports are a way of life in Honolulu, so embrace the spirit of the ocean and try some for yourself.

Why Do It? The most popular and enduring water sport here is surfing, so consider taking a lesson from a local guide company to give it a try. If surfing’s not your thing, you can also try bodyboarding, stand-up paddleboarding, or kayaking too.

Good to Know: Some of the best places to enjoy the warm Hawaiian waters around Honolulu include Ala Moana Beach Park, Kaka’ako, Diamond Head, and Waikiki. Perhaps you’ll even see some dolphins, whales, or turtles while you’re out on the water!

Go Snorkeling at Hanauma Bay Hanauma Bay
Credit: Hanauma Bay by I. Noyan Yilmaz/shutterstock.com

Go Snorkeling at Hanauma Bay

What Is It? There are so many diverse and colorful fish, corals, and marine animals around Honolulu that you can only see while in the water yourself.

Why Do It? Head to Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve for some of the best snorkeling opportunities around.

Good to Know: You can rent out snorkeling equipment at the preserve, but try to do this adventure early in the morning to beat the crowds.

Hike to Manoa Falls Manoa Falls
Credit: Manoa Falls by Bigstock.com

Hike to Manoa Falls

What Is It? Hands down, one of the best hiking areas near Honolulu is Manoa Falls.

Why Do It? The hike to the falls typically takes between 30 minutes and one hour but is well worth every step. The rainforest that you’ll pass through to get there is incredibly peaceful and there are tons of scenic photo ops along the way.

Good to Know: To beat the heat, you can even take a dip in the beautiful water near the falls, but just be careful of falling rocks and read the signs around the pool at the bottom of the falls.

Hike to Diamond Head Hanauma Bay and Diamond Head from above
Credit: Hanauma Bay and Diamond Head from above by bigstock.com

Hike to Diamond Head

What Is It? Diamond Head is the common name for Mount Leahi and a famous volcanic rock crater near Honolulu.

Why Do It? Take a short drive from Waikiki and then hike up to the top if you’re feeling in-shape and adventurous. The summit reaches 760 feet tall and offers amazing views of the Hawaiian island.

Good to Know: It’s a moderately difficult hike that takes about 30 minutes to reach the top, but a manageable one if you’re in good health and start out early in the morning to stay cool.

Tour Iolani Palace  Iolani Palace
Credit: Iolani Palace by Bigstock.com

Tour Iolani Palace

What Is It? Travelers interested in Honolulu’s history should also make a point to visit Iolani Palace, which is in downtown Honolulu and a historical landmark.

Why Do It? The palace was built by King Kalakaua in the late 1800s to give Hawaii a more prestigious presence in the world. Today, you can take a guided or self-guided tour of the palace to see its elegant rooms and elaborate furnishings.

Good to Know: Don’t miss the Imprisonment Room, which is where a former queen was held under “house arrest” for several months!

Attend a Polynesian Cultural Center Authentic Luau Polynesian Cultural Center Authentic Luau
Credit: Polynesian Cultural Center Authentic Luau by Bigstock.com

Attend a Polynesian Cultural Center Authentic Luau

What Is It? It’s practically a rite of passage to attend a luau when visiting Honolulu for the first time.

Why Do It? These traditions are native to Hawaii, and there’s no better place to learn what they’re all about than at the Polynesian Cultural Center.

Good to Know: You can expect to dine on kalua pig prepared in a traditional earth oven, listen to live Hawaiian music, and watch hula dancers perform before you. In addition to the pig roast, you can indulge in a multi-course buffet and enjoy some festive cocktails.

Check out Honolulu’s Chinatown Chinatown
Credit: Chinatown by Bigstock.com

Check out Honolulu’s Chinatown

What Is It? Many cities around the world have their own Chinatown, but the one in Honolulu is worth visiting if you are staying somewhere that you can cook your own meals.

Why Do It? This energetic market has lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as locally caught fish that are sold at very reasonable prices.

Good to Know: Honolulu is an expensive city, so cooking your own meals can help you save some money while traveling on a budget.

Browse Aloha Stadium’s Swap Meet Aloha Stadium’s Swap Meet
Credit: Aloha Stadium’s Swap Meet by Michael Ocampo via Flickr

Browse Aloha Stadium’s Swap Meet

What Is It? It’d be a shame to go back home with nothing to show for your unforgettable trip to Honolulu!

Why Do It? For souvenir shopping, head to Aloha Stadium’s Swap Meet to find many Hawaiian-themed gifts sold by hundreds of local merchants.

Good to Know: The swap meet takes place on Sundays, Wednesdays and Saturdays. Gifts you may find here include dashboard hula girls, sweet plum powder, Hawaiian-print shirts, and beach towels.

Sample Local Hawaiian Food Hawaiian Food
Credit: Hawaiian Food by Bigstock.com

Sample Local Hawaiian Food

What Is It? Hawaiian food blends international flavors with fresh ingredients, local produce, and a festive flair.

Why Do It? To get a taste of what Honolulu is all about, consider taking a food tour to satisfy the inner foodie in you. Some local favorites to try include kalua pig, poi, poke, a loco moco, and SPAM musubi. One food destination to check out is the Kapiloani Community College Farmer’s Market, which operates weekly and features fresh crops grown by local farmers. Stock up on local favorites like the red rambutan fruit, sweet potatoes, and banana fritters drizzled with maple syrup.

Good to Know: Eat the Street is a monthly themed food event that takes place in the Honolulu hipster neighborhood of Kakaako on the last Friday of each month and plays into the food truck culture trend.

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