No trip to Hawaii is complete without spending some time in Honolulu. Its museums and palaces are the best place to learn about the history and culture of the Hawaiian Islands. Its nightclubs and restaurants are the most sophisticated in the state. And you can spend the day at the beach and then see a show in the evening.
If you’re wondering what to do in Honolulu, there are plenty of options. You should start your visit at Waikiki, one of the most famous beaches in the world. Lined with luxury hotels and resorts, it’s always packed. For the best views of Diamond Head and the city skyline, take a surfing lesson. Or go for a catamaran cruise at sunset. Whatever you do, make sure you get out on or in the water at least once during your visit.
Even though it’s part of the United States, Hawaiian culture is unique – and foreign. While you’re here, take the time to discover more and you’ll have a richer, more rewarding trip.
The Bishop Museum is a great place to learn more about the islands. Located in a building that dates from 1889, it recently underwent a $20 million restoration. Not only does the museum have the best historical and cultural artifacts from Hawaiian culture, it also has exhibits about volcanoes, the Pacific Ocean, and the flora and fauna of the islands. There are several buildings on the property, and you’ll see everything from the Hawaiian kings’ ceremonial robes to grass huts.
The best hula performance in Hawaii takes place here at 11AM and 2PM on weekdays. There’s also a planetarium with several shows a day. The Bishop Museum is one of the most informative things to do in Honolulu.
At the Polynesian Cultural Center, you’ll see recreated mini-villages from Tonga, Tahiti, Samoa, Fiji, and New Zealand. Opened in 1963 by members of the LDS church, the center is on a 42-acre site about 30 miles from Waikiki. Demonstrations of hula dancing, tattooing, fire dancing, craft making, and other native arts bring traditions alive for visitors. There’s a show every night with hula and other island entertainment.
Diamond Head is the most recognizable Honolulu attraction. But it also offers some of the best views of the city. If you hike 560 feet to the top of the crater, you’ll have 360-degree views of the island of Oahu. It only takes about half an hour, and it’s suitable for people of average abilities. To beat the crowds, go early or late – but be aware that the park closes at 6PM.
Gardeners will enjoy a visit to the Foster Botanical Garden. It’s close to Chinatown, in the heart of Honolulu. Many of the trees in the 14-acre garden were planted in the 1850s, and today the garden has many rare species that are found only in Hawaii. There’s a large collection of ornamental palms, orchids and other tropical flowers, and 26 rare trees that are protected by law.
Housed in the original 1872 Royal Hawaiian Hotel, the Hawaii State Art Museum showcases the work of more than 200 artists. And the Honolulu Academy of Arts has 32 galleries displaying Hawaiian art, American and European paintings, prehistoric artifacts, and Mayan and Greek objects. The building itself is considered one of the best examples of old Hawaiian architecture, and the grounds are lovely.
Built in 1882, Iolani Palace is the only royal residence in America. Visitors see the jewelry of the royal family, their royal apartments, and the thrones of King Kalakaua and Queen Liliuokalani. When it was built at a cost of $360,000, it was quite lavish and high-tech. In fact, it had electricity before Buckingham Palace or the White House. Tours of the palace add a lot of insight, but you need to make reservations in advance.
The most moving of the Honolulu attractions is the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor. When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the USS Arizona was struck and sank in nine minutes. 1,777 people perished and the names of the dead are carved into the white marble wall here. The stark memorial flanks the sunken ship which lies six feet below the surface. The experience lasts several hours, and you’ll spend some of your time waiting. Invest in one of the audio players and reflect on the sacrifice of the sailors and marines who died here.
If the USS Arizona marked the beginning of America’s participation in World War II, the USS Missouri marked the end. The last American battleship, “Mighty Mo” is best known as the place where the Japanese signed the Terms of Surrender on September 2, 1945.
With more than 420 species of marine life, the Waikiki Aquarium is a must for those who love the sea. Exhibits here are dedicated to reef environments, jellyfish, and other underwater critters. And you’ll be able to get up close and personal at the touch tanks. You’ll see sharks, monk seals, sea turtles, coral, eels, tropical fish, and the only chambered nautilus born in captivity.
Find more Hawaii travel tips.Legend:
1) Bishop Museum
2) Polynesian Cultural Center
3) Diamond Head
4) Foster Botanic Garden
5) Hawaii State Art Musuem
6) Honolulu Academy of Arts
7) Iolani Palace
8) USS Arizona Memorial
9) USS Missouri
10) Waikiki Aquarium