By Dana Perkiss
Honolulu is the cosmopolitan capital of Oahu and often the first place travelers visit on their Hawaii vacation. Filled with stunning beaches, historical sights, and high-end shopping, this island destination provides something for every traveler.
To help you get a lay of the land, here’s a helpful travel guide to Honolulu featuring tricks, tips, things to do, and more!
What to Know
Defined by the characteristics of genuine friendliness and acceptance, “Aloha” is not only a popular greeting in Hawaii but also a general way of life. This amiable atmosphere is one of the many reasons why Hawaii is such a popular travel destination, as visitors are sure to feel welcomed and relaxed during their stay.
Embrace the spirit of Aloha during your trip to Honolulu, as well as the island’s respect for sacred sites and the environment. Conservation of the “'aina”, or land, is extremely important in Hawaii, so it’s important to be as eco-conscious and environmentally friendly as possible. Here are some tips:
- Absolutely no littering
- Keep a safe distance from wildlife
- Don’t take anything from parks or beaches
When to Go
When it comes to visiting Honolulu, there's never a bad time. Oahu enjoys excellent weather throughout the year, with winters averaging around 80°F (26°C) and summers in the mid-to upper-80s F (30-32°C).
Although winter brings some rain, it's usually scattered and quickly followed by sunshine. Additionally, winter in Honolulu is the prime time for whale-watching, making it an incredible season to explore this beautiful city. If you’re visiting in December, you’ll enjoy the extra benefit of experiencing the holiday magic of Honolulu.
How to Get Around Honolulu
Choosing the right transportation in Honolulu depends on factors like itinerary, vacation duration, and budget. Renting a car suits longer stays and leisurely exploration, though it can be costly. Fortunately, Oahu boasts an extensive bus network, offering affordable rides at $2.75 each or $5.50 for an unlimited day pass.
Alternatively, taxis and rideshare apps like Uber and Lyft are accessible, with the latter being more budget-friendly. Non-motorized options like bike rentals, scooters, and mopeds are also available. These provide a more fun, sustainable, and leisurely means to explore Honolulu's attractions.
The local Hawaiian delicacy known as poke has rapidly gained popularity across the nation and even beyond, captivating people with its irresistible flavors. Comprising raw fish, seaweed, and kukui nuts, this dish is often likened to sushi due to its luscious fish taste and hints of sesame oil. Customize a bowl with your choice of rice, fish, sauces, vegetables, and anything else you want to enjoy in this popular Hawaiian dish.
Undoubtedly Hawaii's most renowned dish, the Kalua Pig is somewhat like southern-style pulled pork but better. The key distinction lies in the slow-roasting process where it’s cooked underground, imparting a tantalizing smoky flavor rather than barbecue. This iconic delicacy is often served at luaus, offering a perfect opportunity to savor its flavors after witnessing enchanting hula dances.
Interestingly, "kalua" translates to "cooked in an underground oven," leading to the presence of other kalua dishes in Hawaii. Don’t hesitate to try others!
Laulau, one of the best Hawaiian dishes, promises a hearty and comforting meal. Select your preferred meat, which is carefully wrapped in taro leaves and then cooked underground over hot rocks for several hours, achieving a soft and smoky texture. While pork is the customary choice, laulau can also be prepared with fish or chicken, providing delightful options to suit every palate.
A beloved local favorite, poi serves as a fundamental starch accompanying many traditional Hawaiian dishes. This pudding-like delicacy is crafted from taro root, steamed, pounded, or baked with water until it achieves a thick, pasty consistency. Poi boasts a unique, mildly sour taste, making it an ideal complement to savory dishes like kalua pork and lomi salmon.
Shave ice is a delightful treat made of finely shaved ice infused with syrup and then served in cups, paper cones, or bowls. Unlike snow cones, which use crushed ice, Hawaiian shave ice sets itself apart with its delicate texture and savory flavor. It’s the perfect dessert to cool off and ease the edge off the heat!
Haupia, a classic Hawaiian dessert, is a delightful coconut pudding prepared using coconut milk, sugar, and cornstarch. Traditionally, it graces the table as a dessert following a satisfying meal of Kalua pork or Laulau. With its mild sweetness, haupia is not only enjoyed on its own but also serves as a favored filling in other Hawaiian dishes like pies and malasadas.
For coffee enthusiasts, a must-try during your Honolulu vacation is Kona coffee. This renowned brew hails from the slopes of Mauna Loa volcano in Kona and is cherished across the islands. While of premium quality, Kona coffee can be relatively expensive, leading to the availability of Kona blends that incorporate non-Hawaiian coffee to make it more accessible.
Where to Eat in Honolulu
While there are many restaurants in Honolulu to explore, don't miss the authentic local experience by venturing to the delightful food trucks and farmers' markets. These hidden gems offer a wealth of delectable treats and dishes, connecting you to the heart of the local culture and flavors.
Discover the vibrant Honolulu Farmers' Market, a delightful weekly gathering that celebrates local family farms, street food vendors, and skilled food artisans. With a rotating lineup of over 30 vendors each week, the selection continuously expands and ensures something delicious for every palate. Indulge in a diverse array of treats from Asian delicacies to local farm-fresh produce, making this market an unmissable thing to do in Honolulu.
Explore the vibrant Waikiki Farmers Market, an ideal destination for those seeking budget-friendly fresh produce, local art, and delectable treats. Held every Thursday at the Hyatt Regency Waikiki Resort and Spa on Kalakaua Avenue, this vibrant market offers everything from refreshing shave ice, Aloha pops, gourmet cookies, and other culinary sweets to fresh poke, Laulau, and more.
The Kailua Farmers' Market, another vibrant weekly market, showcases the finest local produce, meat, and seafood. Year-round, this market celebrates Hawaii's freshly grown bounty and serves as a hub for promoting locally sourced delights. With a delectable assortment of street food in Honolulu, it's a culinary haven for food enthusiasts
Nestled on Maunakea in Honolulu, this open-air market stands as a cherished spot for both tourists and locals alike. This bustling marketplace boasts a diverse array of stalls vending fresh produce, souvenirs, clothing, and various goods. Satisfy your taste buds with an assortment of delectable food options ranging from refreshing bubble tea to scrumptious sandwiches.
As one of Hawaii’s most well-known volcanoes, Diamond Head is one of the top hiking destinations in Honolulu and features more than 475 acres to explore. It’s also a prime location to see whales in Hawaii, particularly during their peak season of late December to early May.
Nestled in Honolulu, this delightful neighborhood is a traveler favorite thanks to its inviting honey-yellow sand beaches and turquoise waters. Interestingly, Waikiki Beach even once served as a favored surfing and relaxation spot for Hawaiian royalty during the 19th century. To this day, it remains one of the best beaches in Honolulu. Come here to relax, try a lei-making class, shop, surf, or even be mesmerized by occasional firework displays.
Attend a Luau
These vibrant events showcase a mouthwatering Hawaiian feast, accompanied by lively music and captivating performances. With a perfect blend of delicious flavors and joyous entertainment, luau’s promise to be an unforgettable experience and are considered one of the best things to do in Honolulu.
Tranquil azure waters, vibrant coral reefs, and graceful Green sea turtles… it’s no wonder why Hanauma Bay is one of the top destinations in Honolulu and a premier snorkeling paradise. With its breathtaking beauty and rich marine life, this captivating bay offers an unmatched experience, making it a top choice for those seeking the best snorkeling in Honolulu.
Even if you haven't set foot in Hawaii, you're likely familiar with the renowned Kualoa Ranch! This iconic location has been a filming destination for many moves such as Jurassic Park, 50 First Dates, and The Karate Kid II, as well as popular TV shows like Lost and Hawaii Five-0.
Beyond its cinematic fame, Kualoa Ranch is a breathtaking 4,000-acre nature reserve and ranch. Wander on foot through its stunning landscapes, embark on thrilling ATV adventures, or soar through the sky on an exhilarating zip line ride.
Honolulu stands as the solemn ground where the "date that lives in infamy" unfolded, marking the tragic events of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. A cluster of revered memorials, museums, and monuments from the Pearl Harbor Historic Sites can be found here paying tribute to this significant historical event. Among these include the USS Arizona Memorial and the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum.
Day Trips from Honolulu
Ko Olina Coastline
Oahu’s west end is home to some of the most trendy and beautiful beaches on the island, including the dazzling Ko Olina Coastline. This is one of the best day trips from Honolulu if you’re looking for a quiet, more serene beach experience.
Oahu North Shore
Much like the enchanting Ko Olina Coastline, Oahu's serene north shore features a stunning collection of tranquil beaches and offers an idyllic day trip from Honolulu. This captivating destination holds particular allure for surfers seeking the thrill of riding the waves or snorkelers searching for unique marine life.
The Valley of the Temples
Located on the eastern side of the island is the lush Valley of the Temples which provides a refreshing tranquil break from the city. This huge park features hundreds of shrines, Buddhist temples, and Christian cathedrals that blend together to create a truly enlightening experience.
Napali Coast, Kaua’i
At just a 35-minute plane to Kaua’i, it’s highly worth the day trip from Honolulu to experience the breathtaking Napali Coast. Marvel at countless waterfalls, and the red rocks of Waimea Canyon, or even take a thrilling helicopter tour to see the wonders from above.
Road to Hana, Maui
There are daily flights from Honolulu to Kahului every day, taking only about 43 minutes. Travel here to experience the famous 50-mile-long Hana Highway around East Maui, where you can see otherworldly marvels like lava tubes and waterfalls.
Experience the allure of the Dole Plantation, the oldest pineapple plantation in the U.S. since 1950. Here you can embark on a fascinating Plantation Garden Tour, navigate through the intriguing Pineapple Garden Maze, hop aboard the delightful Pineapple Express Train, and indulge in delicious food tastings including the renowned Dole Soft Serve.
Tips and Tricks
- Bring reusable bags, as single-use plastic bags are banned in many places across Hawaii
- Use reef-safe sunscreen, as it’s actually illegal in Hawaii to use non-reef-safe sun protection
- Be a considerate driver, slow down, and do as the locals call: “driving with Aloha”
- Learn some basic Hawaiian phrases