By Dana Perkiss
Boasting white sandy beaches, year-round warm weather, and the friendly spirit of Aloha, Hawaii is a bucket list destination filled with endless possibilities – and the capital city of Honolulu is often the place travelers want to visit first.
If you’re heading to this vibrant city in Oahu and need help figuring out your itinerary, check out these top things to do in Honolulu!
Arguably the most famous volcano in Hawaii, Diamond Head was formed around 300,000 years ago by only one eruption. Now, the area provides some of the best hikes in Honolulu with gorgeous coastal views and interesting military history. Diamond Head expands over 475 acres for visitors to explore and is also one of the best places to see whales in Honolulu all year round, especially during their peak season (late December to early May).
This charming neighborhood in Honolulu has long been loved for its honey-yellow sand beaches and turquoise waters – in fact, Waikiki Beach is where Hawaiian royalty used to go in the 19th century to surf and relax! It’s still one of the best beaches in Honolulu and is filled with fun activities available like lei-making classes, surfing, shopping, and occasional firework shows. If you’re only able to go to one beach in Honolulu, make it Waikiki!
Polynesian Cultural Center
Think of the Polynesian Cultural Center like an interactive museum, one that covers 42 acres with six authentic villages from Native Pacific cultures. Guests can experience demonstrations of Native crafts, arts, and traditions – including authentic lūʻaus! Other activities you can enjoy are hula dancing, canoeing down the river with your own personal drummer, and marveling at warriors climbing a 40-foot coconut tree. This is definitely one of the best things to do in Honolulu with family, partners, friends, or anyone!
Attend a Lūʻau
Whether you go to a lūʻau at the Polynesian Cultural Center or somewhere else, make sure to attend a lūʻau in Hawaii! Featuring a delicious Hawaiian feast, vibrant music, and spectacular performances, lūʻaus are truly one of the most festive celebrations you will ever experience.
As the only royal palace ever built in the U.S., checking out the Iolani Palace is by far one of the most fascinating things to do in Honolulu. Before Hawaii became a part of the U.S., it was known as “The Kingdom of Hawaii” and was ruled as such until the late 19th century. Located in downtown Honolulu, the palace is absolutely gorgeous and features intricate throne rooms and royal artifacts.
Serene blue waters, colorful coral reefs, Green sea turtles… There are many reasons why Hanauma Bay is one of the most popular destinations in Honolulu, as well as one of the best places to snorkel in Honolulu.
Please note these eco-conscious tips when visiting Hanauma Bay such as: do not step on coral, utilize reef-safe sunscreen, and do not feed the fish!
You may not have been to Hawaii before, but chances are, you’ve seen Kualoa Ranch! It’s an extremely popular filming location in Hawaii, featuring tons of movies like Jurassic Park, 50 First Dates, and The Karate Kid II as well as television shows like Lost and Hawaii Five-0.
In reality, it’s a spectacular 4,000-acre nature reserve/ranch where you can stroll around on foot, cruise in an ATV, or fly through the sky on a zip line.
Ala Moana Center
The Ala Moana Center is a four-story shopping complex in Honolulu and is impressively ranked as the world’s largest open-air shopping center. There’s a good mix of upscale boutiques and affordable stores where you can shop, drink, and eat, plus a public amphitheater where you can enjoy live music!
Want to walk on the wild side? Visit the Honolulu Zoo to check out over 900 different species, from unique tortoises to cheetahs, giraffes, and much more. The zoo hosts events and holiday-themed nights as well, like for Halloween and Christmas – plus, there are even “Twilight Tours” which allow guests entry after the zoo closes and “Snooze at the Zoo” where you can, well, sleep at the zoo!
Eat Tons of Hawaiian Food
From fresh seafood to juicy fruit, Honolulu is a heaven for foodies – the island of Oahu was even featured in the new Netflix show Street Food: USA, which showcases the best street food in America!
When you travel to Honolulu, be sure to eat as much Poke as you can with whatever raw fish and toppings you’d like. You’ll also want to try anything that’s “kalua” which translates to “cooked in an underground oven” – think rich, smokey, BBQ flavors. When you’re in the mood for something sweet, try the Hawaiian fan-favorite dessert Malasadas, which is probably the best donut you’ll ever eat.
As the location of the “date that lives in infamy” (Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941), there are several memorials, museums, and monuments in Honolulu known as the Pearl Harbor Historic Sites. The USS Arizona Memorial is perhaps the most well-known memorial of Pearl Harbor, as well as the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum.
As the oldest pineapple plantation in the U.S. running since 1950, it’s highly worth a visit to the Dole Plantation! There are tons of things to do here including a Plantation Garden Tour, Pineapple Garden Maze, Pineapple Express Train, food tastings, and much more. Be sure not to leave without trying their “world-famous” Dole Soft Serve!
Which of these incredible activities will you enjoy on your trip to Honolulu?