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 wouldn’t be a Hawaiian destination if it weren’t known for its beaches, and there are so many beaches nearby to suit your travel style. 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.

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People-Watch at Waikiki Beach Outrigger Waikiki Beach Hotel overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Hawaii
Outrigger Waikiki Beach Hotel overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Hawaii

People-Watch at Waikiki Beach

Waikiki is the most famous and popular beach on Oahu and a must-see when you visit Honolulu. This area is typically pretty touristy, but it’s a great place to relax and people-watch. There are many hotels here, so chances are that you’ll be staying very close to this popular beach. 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
Pearl Harbor & U.S.S. Arizona Memorial

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

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. 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. History buffs can also vist a WWII submarine, the U.S.S. Bowfin, and tour the aviation museum.

Take a Surfing Lesson Surfing

Take a Surfing Lesson

Water sports are a way of life in Honolulu, so embrace the spirit of the ocean and try some for yourself. 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. 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
Hanauma Bay

Go Snorkeling at Hanauma Bay

There are so many diverse and colorful fish, corals, and marine animals around Honolulu that you can only see while in the water yourself! Head to Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve for some of the best snorkeling opportunities around. 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
Manoa Falls

Hike to Manoa Falls

Hands down, one of the best hiking areas near Honolulu is Manoa Falls. 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. 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 Diamond Head
Diamond Head

Hike to Diamond Head

Diamond Head is the common name for Mount Leahi and a famous volcanic rock crater near Honolulu. 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. 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
Iolani Palace

Tour Iolani Palace

Travelers interested in Honolulu’s history should also make a point to visit Iolani Palace, which is in downtown Honolulu and a historical landmark. 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. 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
Polynesian Cultural Center Authentic Luau

Attend a Polynesian Cultural Center Authentic Luau

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

Check out Honolulu’s Chinatown

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. This energetic market has lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as locally caught fish that are sold at very reasonable prices. Honolulu is an expensive city, so cooking your own meals can help you save some money while traveling on a budget.

Sample Local Hawaiian Food Hawaiian Food
Hawaiian Food

Sample Local Hawaiian Food

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

Browse Aloha Stadium’s Swap Meet Aloha Stadium’s Swap Meet
Credit: Michael Ocampo
Aloha Stadium’s Swap Meet

Browse Aloha Stadium’s Swap Meet

It’d be a shame to go back home with nothing to show for your unforgettable trip to Honolulu! For souvenir shopping, head to Aloha Stadium’s Swap Meet to find many Hawaiian themed gifts sold by hundreds of local merchants. The swap meet takes place from 6:30 am to 3 pm on Sundays and from 8 am to 3 pm on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Gifts you may find here include dashboard hula girls, sweet plum powder, Hawaiian-print shirts, and beach towels.