Honolulu

Its name means “Sheltered Bay” in the Hawaiian language, but Honolulu is now a tropical metropolis stretching around the entire island of Oahu. As Hawaii’s most populated city, Honolulu also lives up to Oahu’s meaning—a “Gathering Place” among the remote Pacific Islands. Honolulu offers loads of activities from snorkeling to surfing and from hiking to farm tours. Visitors to this Pacific crossroads will return home with a piece of paradise in their hearts.

The Best Hawaiian Islands to Visit for Different Kinds of Travelers

Photo by Erin Kunkel

Overview

When’s the best time to go to Honolulu?

Hawaii boasts the best weather on the planet, making nearly anytime the perfect time for an escape to Honolulu. Hurricane season, from June to November, rarely touches the Islands, and an unpredictable bout of rain remains the mild disclaimer of any tropical island destination, Honolulu included. August and February bring fewer tourists and better prices.

How to get around Honolulu

Domestic and international arrivals land directly at Honolulu International Airport on major U.S. airlines and international carriers including Qantas, Japan Airlines, Air New Zealand, and Air Canada. For travelers arriving from within the state, Hawaiian, Island Air, and Mokulele airlines operate interisland flights.

Despite being small, the state of Hawaii is full of tropical activities, and each of the four major islands is large enough to warrant a car rental. Honolulu’s main highways include H1, H2, and H3, and traffic is heavy, so build extra time into any day trip. Guests who prefer to stay in one place for most of their vacation can use taxis or shuttle services. Tour companies typically provide pickup services and meet guests at their hotel.

Can’t miss things to do in Honolulu

Hanauma Bay may not be as iconic as Diamond Head, or provide the beach experience of Lanikai or the shoppers’ dream of Ala Moana Center, but there is magic in the stunning cove of sea water in the middle of a volcanic crater. Hanauma is a nature preserve where sea creatures are protected and plentiful. Lucky snorkelers may see a turtle along with moray eels and the Hawaii state fish, the humuhumunukunukuapuaa. A short ecological and safety video is offered before entering the bay. Snorkeling equipment is available for rent on the beach. Parking is $1 per car, and entrance is $7.50 per adult visitor.

Food and drink to try in Honolulu

As in most American cities, diners in Honolulu can find a variety of cuisines. Honolulu’s predominant Asian and South Pacific Island cultures influence many menus. Travelers will love the seafood, including Hawaii’s signature ahi poke and fish fresh from the boat. Several restaurants offer organic and farm-fresh foods from local sources.

Culture in Honolulu

Honolulu is undoubtedly the largest business center in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, drawing businesses and people from all over the Pacific Rim. The city’s residents include native Hawaiian people, Asian and South Pacific immigrants, military personnel, colonial settlers from Europe, and more recent mainland transplants. The most recent U.S. land to attain statehood, Hawaii has a relatively short history. But in an ethnically diverse state, Hawaii’s people contribute to a great variety of cultural events, landmarks, and cuisine.

In addition to U.S. federal holidays, state holidays honor the history and culture of the Hawaiian people. Parades and festivities tie up Waikiki streets during celebrations like Kamehameha Day, Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalanianaole Day, and Statehood Day. Hawaii’s colorful exuberance and somber remembrance give visitors and locals a beautiful way to participate in the state’s history.

Local travel tips for Honolulu

While Waikiki is Honolulu’s tourist hub, nearby districts have a bit less congestion. Ala Moana offers restaurants, a large shopping mall, and a beautiful beach park. Kakaako is an up-and-coming neighborhood with shops, restaurants, and high-rise buildings popping up everywhere. Respect for the local people and culture goes a long way toward contributing to island spirit—from yielding when surfing on the waves to respecting the island as a place where locals live and work. While many Hawaiian businesses take credit cards, having cash on hand is essential at some restaurants and tour companies.

Guide Editor

Read Before You Go
Resources to help plan your trip
For fresh foods, souvenirs, and beautiful local produce, farmers’ markets and local shops peddle a wonderful assortment of island goods and produce.
Hawaii’s capital still exudes a laidback surfer vibe amidst its urban buzz. Hotels such as the Halekulani and the Royal Hawaiian harken back to the glitzy glory days of Waikiki Beach, while the storied Kahala Hotel & Resort still affords the privacy that attracted actors, movie stars and U.S. presidents. Budget-minded travelers will love the retro-modern vibe of Coconut Waikiki, but families should book the Polynesian-themed Outrigger Reef Waikiki Beach.
To experience Honolulu like a local, you’ll want to look beyond the iconic beaches and hotels of Waikiki, and zero in on Kakaako, a nine-square-block hub between the Ala Moana and downtown neighborhoods that buzzes with creativity. It’s where Honolulu’s innovative artists, chefs, and entrepreneurs congregate—and embrace a distinctive urban-island spirit. You’ll find it in the streetwear boutiques, the cocktail bars, and the galleries. See how Hawaii’s past and future come together in Kakaako.
Only steps away from any accommodation in Honolulu are numerous must-do Hawaiian experiences that introduce visitors to the aloha spirit of Oahu. These must-do Honolulu experiences include learning hula, lei making, discovering the past, and playing in the ocean waves, and offer visitors the opportunity to create Honolulu-style tropical memories to take home with them.
Get off the beaten path and check out some of the stunning hiking trails just outside Honolulu. Mere minutes from the city you can enjoy refreshing mountain hikes through the Koolau Mountains or the romance of the surf from a shoreline path. Oahu hosts numerous off-the-beaten-path hikes, where the scents of eucalyptus and plumeria are as intoxicating as the tropical landscapes and the beautiful views of Honolulu.
Food trucks filled with the best fish tacos and seafood dot the roadways around Honolulu and the Island of Oahu. From downtown to the North Shore, trucks serve up sweets, burgers, bentos, shrimp, and fish tacos. Some sit in a fixed spot in the capital; others roam around Oahu; and several function as the catering arm of a stand-alone restaurant.
Looking for Oahu’s local flavors? True Hawaiian food and produce is not difficult to locate. In a bind, the local L&L or Zippy’s will be close by for a quick eat. Or take a wander through the rain forest in search of your own fruit (just eat it before you leave the islands)!
Around 112 miles of coastline fringe Oahu, including some of Hawaii’s best beaches, perfect for kayaking, snorkeling, and surfing. From rocky shores to sugar-silky stretches of sand, options abound for a day—or even a week—spent soaking up the sun and sea. Grab a towel and some reef-safe sunscreen (bereefsafe.com), then dive in!
Don’t settle for kitsch: Take home a souvenir of Oahu that offers a locally made memory of the island. Shop at the markets and malls where residents find treats from mochi doughnuts to a beer salted with sea water. Then explore distinctive Hawaiian gifts like koa-wood ukuleles, Niihau shell lei, updated aloha shirts and quilts with traditional botanical designs.
Known as “The Gathering Place,” Oahu embraces all the peoples who have settled there, from the first Polynesian voyagers to the Japanese immigrants who helped harvest pineapple and sugarcane. Immerse yourself in this rich heritage, which includes America’s only royal palace.
Hurry, these flight deals are selling out fast.
These funky-fresh tee shops are keeping island style alive.
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