35 Things to Do in Honolulu

By Janet Benoir – May 17, 2024

Honolulu, a vibrant blend of natural beauty and cosmopolitan allure, invites travelers to dive deep into its lush landscapes and rich culture. Whether you’re surfing the waves off Waikiki, exploring historic landmarks, or enjoying the local cuisine, Honolulu promises an unforgettable Hawaiian experience.

Here are the top 35 activities and attractions to explore in this sun-drenched paradise.

Waikiki Beach

Waikiki Beach is the ideal spot for surfers of all levels, with its gentle, rolling waves providing the perfect conditions for beginners to catch their first wave, while also offering seasoned surfers a place to enjoy the thrill of the ride. This beach is steeped in surfing history, considered the birthplace of the sport, where you can ride the waves in the footsteps of legendary surfers like Duke Kahanamoku.

Waikiki Beach

The atmosphere on Waikiki Beach is electric, filled with the warmth of the Hawaiian sun and the vibrant energy of its visitors and locals alike. After surfing, you can unwind on its golden sands or refresh yourself with a local shave ice. Here, surfing is more than a sport—it’s a rich heritage that connects you to the history and culture of Hawaii, making every wave a continuation of the surfing legacy.

Diamond Head

Ascend the slopes of Diamond Head, the iconic tuff crater whose silhouette defines Honolulu’s skyline. This moderately challenging hike weaves through tunnels and past old military bunkers, offering a blend of history with stunning vistas. From the summit, hikers enjoy breathtaking 360-degree views that stretch from Honolulu’s bustling cityscape across the lush greenery of the surrounding park to the boundless Pacific Ocean.

Diamond Head

Reaching the top of Diamond Head provides a profound sense of accomplishment, alongside the chance to capture striking photographs of the crystal-clear waters and vibrant city below. It’s a perfect moment to bask in the natural beauty and tranquility that makes Honolulu truly mesmerizing, offering an unparalleled opportunity to appreciate the city from above.

Pearl Harbor 

Visit Pearl Harbor and immerse yourself in a pivotal chapter of World War II history. The USS Arizona Memorial, placed directly above the sunken battleship, serves as a profound tribute to the lives lost during the attack on December 7, 1941. The site is a poignant reminder of sacrifice, with oil still seeping from the wreckage, symbolizing the ongoing impact of that day.

Pearl Harbor

Extend your visit to the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center to explore more about the events of that fateful day through its museums and memorials. Don’t miss the USS Missouri, the site of Japan’s formal WWII surrender, which starkly contrasts the beginning and end of the United States’ involvement in the war. Pearl Harbor offers a deeply moving experience, connecting visitors with the significant historical events that have shaped our world.

Honolulu Zoo

Explore the vibrant world of the Honolulu Zoo, where you can encounter animals from the African savanna, the tropical forests of Asia and America, and more. Experience close encounters with elephants, monkeys, and cheetahs within habitats designed to mirror their natural environments. This zoological haven is perfect for family outings, offering a chance to witness the diverse beauty of wildlife.

Honolulu Zoo

Nestled near the scenic Diamond Head, the zoo not only showcases a variety of animal species but also focuses on conservation education. Visitors can engage in interactive feeding sessions and learn about the zoo’s efforts to preserve biodiversity. It’s an ideal spot for those eager to deepen their connection with nature and gain insight into the global animal community.

Polynesian Cultural Center

The Polynesian Cultural Center is where the traditions of various islands are brought to life. Stroll through authentic villages representing Hawaii, Samoa, Fiji, Tonga, Tahiti, and more, each offering a window into unique cultural practices—from Samoan fire-knife dances to Tahitian pearl diving. The center isn’t just about observation; it’s about engagement. You can make your lei, paddle in an outrigger canoe, or learn to dance the hula.

Polynesian Cultural Center

As the day transitions to evening, the experience culminates in a traditional luau. Enjoy a feast of indigenous flavors accompanied by enchanting dance performances under a starlit sky. This immersive journey not only delights the senses but also deepens your appreciation for the diverse and dynamic cultures of Polynesia.

Hanauma Bay

Hanauma Bay, nestled within a volcanic ring, is renowned for its exceptional snorkeling. Its clear, tranquil waters host vibrant coral reefs and lively schools of tropical fish, providing a vivid underwater tableau for snorkelers of all skill levels. Whether you’re gliding over the reef or exploring the shallow waters near the shore, the bay offers a close-up view of diverse marine life in its natural habitat.

Hanauma Bay

Hanauma Bay caters not only to experienced snorkelers but also welcomes beginners with its accessible and calm snorkeling spots close to the beach. The bay is actively involved in conservation efforts and educates visitors on the ecological significance of the area. By snorkeling here, you contribute to the preservation of Hawaii’s marine ecosystems, ensuring they remain vibrant and healthy for future generations.

Ala Moana Center

At the heart of Honolulu, Ala Moana Center stands as a shopper’s haven under the open sky, lined with palm trees swaying in the Pacific breeze. With over 350 shops and restaurants, it offers a luxurious blend of local boutiques and international designer brands all in one place, ensuring that every shopping desire is catered to.

Ala Moana Center

Beyond shopping, Ala Moana Center is a vibrant social hub, complete with lush tropical landscaping and koi ponds. Enjoy live Hawaiian music and hula performances on the Centerstage while you sip on a locally brewed coffee or dine al fresco at the myriad of eateries that offer everything from gourmet meals to quick bites, providing a perfect break between shopping sprees.

Iolani Palace

Iolani Palace is a grand symbol of Hawaii’s royal past, blending Hawaiian motifs with European architectural styles. Visitors stepping into its grand halls and stately rooms, each carefully restored, will feel transported back to the times of King Kalakaua and Queen Liliuokalani, who once roamed these corridors and ruled their kingdom from these walls.

Iolani Palace

Each room within the palace tells a distinct story, from the opulence of the throne room adorned with gilded details to the somber quarters where Queen Liliuokalani was imprisoned. The guided tours provided are not only insightful but also deeply connect visitors to the palace’s significant role during the dramatic events leading to the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy, offering a profound educational experience into Hawaii’s cultural and political legacy.

Lanikai Beach

Lanikai Beach epitomizes a serene paradise with its soft, white sands and clear, turquoise waters, set against a backdrop of lush greenery that offers a perfect photo op. It’s an ideal spot for those looking to unwind with a swim, sunbathe, or just relax with a book, providing a peaceful retreat from everyday life.

Lanikai Beach

The name Lanikai translates to “heavenly sea,” reflecting the area’s breathtaking beauty. For those seeking a bit of adventure, kayaking to the nearby Mokulua Islands is a fantastic day trip. The journey across the calm blue waters leads to secluded coves and quiet bird sanctuaries, making Lanikai Beach not just beautiful but also a gateway to exploring the natural beauty of Hawaii’s landscape.

First Friday Art Walk – Chinatown

On the first Friday of every month, Honolulu’s historic Chinatown comes alive with its Art Walk event, turning the district into a bustling center of art and culture. Galleries invite both locals and visitors to explore an eclectic mix of art while street performers and musicians enhance the vibrant atmosphere. This festive occasion is perfect for immersing yourself in the local art scene and enjoying the lively street vibes.

First Friday Art Walk - Chinatown

The Art Walk is interactive, encouraging attendees to connect with local artists, buy unique Hawaiian artwork, or simply soak in the various installations and live acts. For those looking to extend the experience, numerous culinary pop-ups and fashionable bars provide spaces to unwind and chat about the night’s artistic encounters. This monthly event is not just a cultural outing but a social event, marking a highlight in Honolulu’s cultural calendar.

Mokulua Islands

Venture beyond the usual beach activities with a kayaking trip to the Mokulua Islands, affectionately known as “The Mokes.” Located off the windward coast of Oahu, this twin island adventure offers breathtaking views of crystal-clear waters and pristine, sandy shores. Paddling across the tranquil sea, you might even be joined by sea turtles and Hawaiian monk seals, making the journey as delightful as the destination.

Mokulua Islands

Upon reaching the islands, explore secluded coves and sunbathe on untouched beaches. The larger of the two islands, Moku Nui, offers a small beach where kayakers often rest and picnic. The surrounding waters and tidepools teem with marine life, ideal for snorkeling. It’s a perfect escape into nature’s embrace, providing a serene break from the hustle of Honolulu.

Bishop Museum

The Bishop Museum serves as a profound center for Pacific anthropology, providing deep insights into Hawaiian history and culture. Its extensive collections, including royal family artifacts and detailed natural history exhibits, alongside a planetarium that explores the Polynesian night skies, connect Hawaii’s rich earthly culture with its stellar origins.

Bishop Museum

Every exhibit at the museum is carefully curated to both educate and inspire visitors. From the immersive Hawaiian Hall to the interactive displays at the Science Adventure Center, the museum offers a comprehensive understanding of the islands’ heritage. It’s an indispensable destination for anyone eager to truly grasp the spirit of Hawaii.

Manoa Falls

Embark on a captivating trek through the lush tropical rainforest to Manoa Falls, where you’ll be surrounded by ancient trees, vibrant exotic flowers, and the melodies of native birds. The journey culminates at a breathtaking 150-foot waterfall, plunging into a tranquil pool below. The refreshing mist from the falls provides a soothing end to your hike, allowing you to soak in the awe-inspiring beauty of nature.

Manoa Falls

The trail leading to Manoa Falls is well-maintained and suitable for most visitors, offering a manageable yet enchanting adventure. As you wander along the path, the rich scents of the earth and the lush greenery of the forest envelop you, crafting a deeply immersive experience that showcases the quintessential beauty of the Hawaiian Islands.

Honolulu Museum of Art

At the Honolulu Museum of Art, you’re invited to explore a vast array of artworks that encompass a rich tapestry of global art history, enhanced by the unique cultural backdrop of Hawaii. The museum’s extensive collection includes everything from classical European masterpieces to striking modern sculptures, allowing visitors to traverse artistic epochs and styles within a few steps.

Honolulu Museum of Art

Beyond its visual delights, the museum acts as a cultural beacon in Honolulu, offering a variety of educational and interactive opportunities for all ages. Its well-curated exhibits are complemented by serene courtyards and vibrant gardens, making it not just a place to appreciate art but also a peaceful retreat for contemplation and inspiration amidst the bustling city.

Shangri La Museum of Islamic Art

Visit the Shangri La Museum of Islamic Art, where heiress Doris Duke’s fascination with Islamic art and architecture manifests in a collection that spans textiles, ceramics, and metalwork. The museum is beautifully situated against the Pacific Ocean, providing a picturesque setting for exploring the diverse artistic traditions of the Islamic world. Each artifact showcases the rich cultural heritage, offering insight into the intricate artistry and historical significance.

Shangri La Museum of Islamic Art

The museum’s architecture is a blend of traditional Islamic motifs and the modern vision of its founder, creating an immersive environment that reflects both historical authenticity and personal creativity. You’ll experience stories of cultural exchange and personal passion. Shangri La is more than just an art museum; it’s a center for cultural understanding, inviting visitors to appreciate the depth and beauty of Islamic culture through engaging exhibitions and educational programs.

Waikiki Historic Trail

Embark on a journey through time on the Waikiki Historic Trail, where surfboard signs lead you through the evolution of this area from a royal retreat to a globally celebrated tourist hub. Along the trail, iconic landmarks and statues unfold the stories and significant events that have shaped Waikiki, providing a deeper understanding of its rich history with each informational signpost.

Waikiki Historic Trail

As you wander this scenic route, you’ll enjoy not only a lesson in history but also stunning views of Waikiki’s famous beaches and vibrant streets. Ideal for history enthusiasts and those looking to connect more intimately with their travel destination, the Waikiki Historic Trail offers a meaningful exploration of Hawaiian culture and history, complemented by the beauty of its surroundings.

Aloha Festivals 

Dive into the heart of Hawaiian culture at the Aloha Festivals, the largest cultural celebration across the islands. This vibrant festival paints the town with parades, music, dance, and traditional crafts, encapsulating the spirit of aloha. Join locals and visitors alike in the jubilant street parties, or witness the floral parade where floats and pa’u riders showcase the rich tapestry of Hawaii’s heritage.

Aloha Festivals

Experience the pulsating rhythm of the islands through live performances of hula and the resonating beats of Tahitian drums at the Aloha Festivals. Immerse yourself in workshops teaching lei making or ukulele playing, and savor authentic Hawaiian cuisine at bustling food stalls. This festival isn’t just an event; it’s a profound celebration of the Hawaiian way of life, inviting you to partake in the communal spirit and island pride.

Premier Golf Courses

Golfing in Oahu is an exceptional experience. The island’s top golf courses stretch from the lush landscapes of the North Shore to dramatic cliff-side vistas over the Pacific, offering both beauty and challenge in each round. Whether you’re an amateur enjoying a leisurely game or an experienced player seeking to hone your skills, these courses provide the perfect setting.

Premier Golf Courses

These premier golfing spots are enhanced by the luxurious amenities of nearby world-class resorts. No matter your skill level, you’ll find a course that suits your needs, complete with clubhouses where you can unwind and reminisce about your best plays against the glorious setting sun. Each game on these courses promises not just a test of your golfing abilities but a memorable experience enriched by Hawaii’s natural beauty.

Kaka’ako Waterfront Park

Step into the vibrant heart of Honolulu at Kaka’ako Waterfront Park, a community gem bustling with life and color. This sprawling urban space is not just a park but a canvas, adorned with massive murals painted by renowned global street artists during the annual POW! WOW! Hawaii art festival. Stroll along the waterfront, where the murals provide a dynamic backdrop to the serene views of the ocean.

Kaka'ako Waterfront Park

Kaka’ako Waterfront Park also offers ample space for leisure and play, featuring lush grassy areas perfect for picnics and family gatherings. Engage in recreational activities like jogging, skateboarding, or simply unwind by the calming waters. As the sun sets, the park transforms with the hues of twilight, making it a perfect spot for an evening walk under the soft glow of street lamps.

Waimea Valley

Explore the heart of Oahu’s natural beauty at Waimea Valley, a place deeply rooted in Hawaiian history and lush landscapes. Wander through its extensive botanical gardens, which boast over 5,000 tropical and subtropical plants, including some rare and endangered species. The trails lead to the breathtaking Waimea Falls, inviting a cooling swim in the natural pool below the falls.

Waimea Valley

Waimea Valley offers more than just scenic beauty; it is a portal to the cultural heritage of the Native Hawaiians who once flourished here. Engage in cultural demonstrations, discover the traditional uses of native plants, and soak in the rich legends of the area. This immersive experience connects visitors deeply with the land, its stories, and ongoing efforts to preserve Hawaii’s ancestral legacy.

North Shore

Experience the thrill of surfing on the North Shore, renowned worldwide as a haven for surf enthusiasts. Here, formidable waves offer a challenge to even the most experienced surfers, providing a breathtaking spectacle against a backdrop of lush greenery and clear blue skies. Whether you’re actively participating or simply watching from the beach, the North Shore embodies the essence of surfing culture.

North Shore

Explore the quaint surf towns along the coastline, buzzing with surf shops and casual cafes filled with stories of legendary waves and surf icons. The North Shore represents more than just a surfing destination; it’s a way of life. Each wave tells a tale, and the ocean’s persistent call promises endless adventure, drawing surfers back into its embrace with each new day.

Lewers Street

As the sun sets, Lewers Street in Honolulu bursts into life, becoming a vibrant hub of activity that draws both locals and tourists. The area is known for its dynamic blend of bars, restaurants, and live music venues, each offering a distinctive atmosphere—from sophisticated cocktail bars to relaxed beachfront lounges—perfect for an evening out.

Lewers Street

The street offers a rich culinary adventure with a variety of eateries that blend Pacific flavors with international dishes, creating unique and enticing menus. As the evening progresses, lively bars with live bands and DJs encourage dancing and socializing under the starlit Hawaiian sky, ensuring a memorable night on Lewers Street.

Royal Hawaiian Center 

Discover the Royal Hawaiian Center, a vibrant cultural and shopping destination nestled in the heart of Waikiki. This unique venue weaves together the essence of Hawaii’s rich heritage with modern attractions through free cultural lessons and performances. From learning the graceful art of hula dancing to strumming a ukulele, each activity offers a deep dive into the islands’ traditions.

Royal Hawaiian Center

As you wander through the Center’s spacious plazas surrounded by lush greenery, you’ll find a variety of shops and restaurants that enrich your experience. The design of the center itself promotes a relaxed exploration, allowing the spirit of Aloha to enhance every aspect of your visit, turning a simple shopping trip into a memorable cultural journey.

Foster Botanical Garden

Discover an oasis of tranquility at the Foster Botanical Garden, where rare tropical plants flourish amidst the bustle of urban Honolulu. This historic garden invites you to wander through collections that tell the story of the world’s tropical flora. The lush greenery and blooming flowers create a tapestry of colors and scents that soothe the soul and ignite the senses.

Foster Botanical Garden

Established in the 1850s, this botanical haven offers themed gardens, including the prehistoric glen—a landscape of primitive plants that transports visitors back in time. Meandering paths lead to ancient trees and exotic plant species, each with a story that deepens your appreciation of nature’s marvels. It’s a place where each visit reveals new secrets hidden within its leafy embrace.

Atlantis Submarine

Dive into the depths of the ocean aboard the Atlantis Submarine, a unique underwater vessel that offers a breathtaking glimpse into the vibrant life beneath the waves off Waikiki. Descend 100 feet to explore stunning coral reefs and an array of marine life, including tropical fish, sea turtles, and perhaps even a shy shark, all viewed through the submarine’s expansive portholes.

Atlantis Submarine

This extraordinary voyage not only provides a rare look at the underwater ecosystem but also serves as an educational experience that marries the thrill of discovery with the serene beauty of the ocean. Ideal for families and adventure-seekers alike, the Atlantis Submarine adventure is an unforgettable way to witness the spectacular marine biodiversity and learn about the ocean’s ecological importance.

Queen’s Beach

Queen’s Beach, tucked away in the heart of Waikiki, offers a serene alternative to its more frequented counterparts. Here, the turquoise waters and golden sands provide a tranquil refuge for swimming and snorkeling, embraced by views of Diamond Head that stand majestically in the distance, creating a picturesque backdrop for water enthusiasts and sun-seekers alike.

Queen’s Beach

Beyond its beauty, Queen’s Beach is a haven for vibrant marine life, making it an ideal spot for snorkelers eager to explore underwater worlds without straying too far from the shore. With fewer crowds, you can float in peaceful waters or relax on the sand, letting the rhythm of the waves provide a soothing soundtrack to a perfect beach day.

King Kamehameha Floral Parade

The King Kamehameha Floral Parade is an annual spectacle of color and culture that paints the streets of Honolulu in vibrant hues. Celebrating Hawaii’s rich history and the legacy of King Kamehameha, this event features elaborate floats adorned with native flowers, traditional pa’u riders showcasing skilled horsemanship, and performances that echo the island’s storied past.

King Kamehameha Floral Parade

Held in June, the parade offers a dazzling display of aloha spirit through its intricate floral arrangements and lively hula dancers. Spectators line the parade route early to witness this magnificent blend of tradition and festivity, making it a must-see for anyone visiting Honolulu during this festive time.

East Coast

A drive along Honolulu’s East Coast offers a vibrant tapestry of sights, starting with the lively Waikiki and unfolding into dramatic cliffs and lush landscapes as you approach the windward side. Lookouts like Makapu’u Point provide breathtaking panoramic views, where the vast ocean seamlessly merges with the sky.

East Coast

Each coastal town from Kailua to Haleiwa has its own unique character, defined by laid-back surf vibes or artistic communities. Along the way, beaches, local cafes, and quaint shops offer plenty of opportunities to soak in the local culture and hospitality, making every stop a delightful experience under the warm Hawaiian sun.

Hawaii State Capitol

The Hawaii State Capitol in Honolulu is an architectural tribute to the islands’ distinctive governance style, characterized by its unique open design without a dome, symbolizing transparency and openness. The building’s entry, featuring slopes instead of traditional steps, represents the volcanoes central to Hawaii’s landscape.

Hawaii State Capitol

Within the Capitol, the design elements draw heavily from local influences, with legislative chambers mimicking volcanic shapes and columns resembling royal palm trees. A tour of this Capitol doesn’t just provide insights into Hawaii’s government operations but also celebrates its profound ties to the island’s natural beauty and cultural traditions.

Sea Life Park

Dive into the vibrant world of Sea Life Park, where the ocean’s wonders are on full display. Here, you can swim with dolphins, rays, and sharks in an environment that not only allows close encounters but also emphasizes the importance of marine conservation. It’s more than just a visit; it’s an educational journey that leaves you enchanted and more informed about aquatic life.

Sea Life Park

Experience the excitement of a sea lion show or the grace of seabirds in their naturalistic habitats. Sea Life Park merges fun with conservation, offering a deeper understanding of the ocean’s diverse ecosystem. Each visit helps support their mission to protect marine life and educate the public, ensuring these magnificent creatures can be appreciated by future generations.

USS Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park

Step aboard the USS Bowfin Submarine, known as the “Pearl Harbor Avenger,” where history comes alive in the waters it once safeguarded during WWII. This submarine provides an intimate look at the life of its crew, showcasing the tight living quarters, intricate machinery, and indomitable spirit of those who served. The accompanying museum enhances the experience with exhibits detailing critical moments of the Pacific War.

USS Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park

As you traverse the narrow corridors of the USS Bowfin, you’ll connect directly with history, handling the same controls and resting in the bunks where sailors once braved dangerous waters. Outside, the serene park setting by the waterfront invites reflection on the profound sacrifices of these servicemen, making it a poignant and enlightening destination for visitors of all ages.

Hawaii State Art Museum

Discover the pulse of Hawaii’s vibrant culture at the Hawaii State Art Museum in the heart of Honolulu. This museum presents a rich collection of contemporary art that embodies the island’s soul, featuring everything from paintings and sculptures to multimedia installations. These pieces collectively explore the diverse cultural tapestry of Hawaii, providing visitors with a window into the complexities and beauty of the region.

Hawaii State Art Museum

Each exhibit at the museum is an invitation for an interactive experience with the artwork, promoting a deeper appreciation of Hawaii’s unique cultural blend. Situated in a picturesque part of downtown Honolulu, the museum is not just a place to view art—it’s a celebration of Hawaii’s artistic heritage, melding influences from East and West and showcasing both traditional and modern elements.

Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail

The Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail is a serene hiking experience that promises breathtaking views of Oahu’s southeastern coastline. This family-friendly trail leads to a historic lighthouse that stands watch over the vast Pacific Ocean, offering sweeping panoramas that include distant islets and, in the winter, migrating humpback whales.

Makapu'u Point Lighthouse Trail

As you climb higher, the landscape unfolds with dramatic cliffs and the endless ocean stretching into the distance. Reaching the lighthouse, you’re rewarded with a stunning photo opportunity—its distinctive red roof contrasting beautifully against the deep blue sky and the expansive sea below.

Waialua Sugar Mill

Discover the Waialua Sugar Mill on Oahu’s North Shore, a site rich with Hawaii’s agricultural history now repurposed into a vibrant hub for local artisans. The mill now houses entrepreneurs who craft a range of products from organic coffee to handmade soaps. Visitors can explore this innovative space, experiencing firsthand how historical sites have transitioned into creative outlets while supporting local businesses by purchasing their unique products.

Waialua Sugar Mill

The mill’s allure also lies in its rustic ambiance and the dynamic spirit of its artisans, reflecting a blend of tradition and modernity. This place not only preserves its history through continued productivity but also showcases the island’s evolution from a plantation-based economy to a thriving community of creative artisans. Each visit offers a glimpse into this transformation, enriching your understanding of Hawaii’s cultural landscape.

Ko Olina

Away from Honolulu’s bustling city lights, the serene resorts at Ko Olina offer a magical stargazing experience under a canopy of stars. The night sky, filled with twinkling constellations and the broad sweep of the Milky Way, becomes your theater. Here, guided stargazing sessions mix ancient Hawaiian navigation techniques with modern astronomy, providing an engaging educational experience for visitors of all ages.

Ko Olina

As the evening progresses, the sky’s celestial ballet captivates all who watch, reinforcing Hawaii’s deep ties to astronomical traditions. Whether you’re an experienced stargazer or simply curious about the night sky, Ko Olina’s stargazing opportunities provide a tranquil escape into the cosmos, accompanied by the soothing sounds of ocean waves.

From the pulsating heart of its bustling city life to the serene escapades nestled in nature, Honolulu offers an adventure for every type of traveler. Whether it’s the history that speaks to you, the call of the wild, or the relentless waves of the Pacific, your journey through Honolulu is sure to be as enriching as it is thrilling.