On most trips to tropical destinations, you arrive in the capital city and then immediately depart for the rainforests and beaches. In Hawaii, you don’t have to: the city of Honolulu is a paradise in its own right. You’ll find seductive stretches of sand and stunning natural areas all around you — and phenomenal food, too. We’ll help you plan your Hawaiian getaway with this guide to the best Honolulu attractions, hotels and restaurants.
1. Snorkel in Hanauma Bay. Thirty years ago, this curved bay in East Honolulu was overrun with trash and tourists. Today, Hanauma Bay has been restored and is operated as a nature preserve, where all visitors must first learn about the responsible treatment of marine life before they dive in to snorkel through a dazzling array of fish.
2. Hike the Diamond Head Summit Trail. For active travelers, one of the most fun things to do in Honolulu is climbing Diamond Head (Lē‘ahi), an ancient volcano that rises over Waikiki. A mile-long trail (which includes some stairs and steep switchbacks) takes you to the summit, where you’ll find a military bunker, a century-old lighthouse, and sweeping views of the coast.
3. Learn to surf on Waikiki Beach. This is it: the place where the original Waikiki Beach Boys first taught people how to surf, turning an ancient Hawaiian pastime into a worldwide phenomenon.1 The tradition continues today, where you can take a beginner’s lesson on Waikiki Beach. Or, drive to the North Shore in winter to watch pros tackle enormous waves.
4. Visit the final resting place of the USS Arizona. On Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese fighter planes bombed the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, destroying ships and airplanes and killing more than 2,400 Americans.2 The World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument is a powerful memorial to those lost. The monument itself, reachable only by boat, floats over the sunken hull of the USS Battleship Arizona.
5. See how Hawaiian royalty lived. For almost a century, the Kingdom of Hawaii was ruled by two royal families. One of the last monarchs, King Kalakaua, built the lavish Iolani Palace in Honolulu — the only official royal palace in the United States. A guided tour reveals not only opulence but also turbulence, as you’ll see the room where Queen Liliuokalani was imprisoned after being overthrown.3
“Wish You Were Here!” That’s the cheerfully gloating message written in tiles on the bottom of the pool at The Surfjack, a boutique hotel in Waikiki that has a playful spirit and a midcentury vibe. With on-site yoga lessons, live music, and beer tastings, you may not want to leave the hotel.
On the quieter side of Waikiki Beach is Lotus Honolulu at Diamond Head. You’re away from the crowds, but just steps from everything you want to do: snorkeling off Kaimana Beach; strolling in Kapiolani Park; or climbing Diamond Head.
The Outrigger Waikiki Beach Resort is the quintessential Honolulu luxury hotel: beachfront rooms, ocean breezes, and warm service. The resort is home to Duke’s Waikiki, a restaurant named for surfing legend Duke Kahanamoku that’s famous for its mai tai.
Wondering where to stay in Honolulu if you’re on a budget? It’s not easy to find a hotel in Waikiki for less than $200 per night, but here’s one possibility: The Breakers. The décor hasn’t changed much since the 1960s, but this charming little hotel is clean, affordable and fun.
For traditional Hawaiian cuisine, there’s no place like Helena’s Hawaiian Food. This down-home Honolulu restaurant is the place to try poi (mashed taro root), slow-cooked kalua pork or fried butterfish collar.
Satisfy your sweet tooth at Liliha Bakery, home of an iconic Honolulu dessert, the Coco Puff. This is a puff pastry filled with chocolate pudding and topped with a buttery chantilly frosting. Liliha Bakery also has a 24-hour diner known for its fluffy pancakes.
Senia is Honolulu’s hotspot for imaginative, extravagant takes on Hawaiian cuisine. “The menu items most evocative of Hawai‘i are the snacks: spoonfuls of poke nestled onto rice crackers dyed black from squid ink, or kālua-style pork paired with cabbage, fried into croquettes, and served with a variation on the local condiment chili pepper water,” writes Eater critic Bill Addison, who heaps praise on Senia.4
Planning your Honolulu getaway? Travel insurance can help if you experience flight delays, lost luggage, covered trip cancellations and other vacation mishaps. Find the plan that’s right for you!