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10 Best Things to Do in Honolulu

SmarterTravel

A dream destination for its fantastic beaches, year-round sunny weather, and lush, natural landscape, Honolulu is a vacationer’s paradise offering plenty of things to see and do.

The Best Things to Do in Honolulu

Trying to figure out what to do during your stay in paradise? Here’s what to do in Honolulu.

Spend a Day at the Beach

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Surrounded by the beautiful blue Pacific Ocean, Honolulu is renowned for its gorgeous, white sand beaches and stunningly hued sunsets. If you’re staying in Waikiki, plan to spend at least a day on the beach, whether sunning or surfing or just enjoying the beautiful weather.

Better yet, go in search of one of the quieter, more hidden local beaches. All of Hawaii’s beaches are public beaches, meaning you have free beach access no matter where you go. And as they say in Hawaii, a beautiful beach is never more than 10 minutes away.

Visit Pearl Harbor

Visit pearl harbor, oahu
(Photo: Hawaii Tourism Authority/Kirk Lee Aeder)

Pay your respects to soldiers and citizens who lost their lives at this National Historic Landmark located north of Waikiki. When you’ve had enough of fun in the sun, this is one of the most important things to do in Honolulu. Though the grounds themselves are rich in history and significance, the site also offers four ticketed entry attractions, the most important of which is the USS Arizona Memorial. Plan ahead and avoid lines by getting tickets to one or all of the attractions ahead of time.

Go Shopping

ala moana center honolulu
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Honolulu shopping is second to none and one of the best things to do in Honolulu. Fashionistas can scour the 40-plus international luxury brand name boutiques at Ala Moana Center, go on a purse-shopping spree at places like Louis Vuitton on Luxury Row, browse the terrific beauty country displays at T Galleria by DFS, and get lost at Royal Hawaiian Center or International Marketplace.

Boutiques featuring local designers can also be found in Kaka’Ako boutiques and Ala Moana. For browsing tiki mugs and all manner of Hawaiiana while enjoying Hawaiian shaved ice, there’s also the weekend Aloha Stadium Swap Meet.

Learn to Surf

best beaches in honolulu
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A sport that dates back to the 1800s, when it was first observed by Captain James Cook, surfing was literally invented in Hawaii. And learning to surf is practically a rite of passage here. From private lessons to surfing schools, take advantage of the abundantly available expertise and try your hand at catching a wave while you’re on the island.

Go Scuba Diving or Snorkeling

Snorkeling

While you can certainly laze around on the beach all day working your tan or reading a book, one of the best things to do in Honolulu is to spend time exploring the marine wildlife. Book a snorkeling or scuba diving tour for expert guidance on the best places to go to swim with the turtles or the dolphins, or spend a day on your own at Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve, one of the island’s top attractions for snorkeling.

Take a Circle Island Tour

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One of the best ways to see the entire island in a short amount of time, circle island tours literally take you in a circle around the island, hitting all the main attractions and photo ops that you wouldn’t experience if staying solely in Waikiki. While the stops vary depending on the tour operator, in one day you could arguably see Diamond Head, Hanauma Bay, Waimea Falls, the Dole Plantation, the North Shore Beaches, Nuʻuanu Pali Lookout, and Halona Cove Beach—the beach made famous by the 1953 movie From Here to Eternity.

Hike Diamond Head

urban hikes

It’s worth leaving the beach and putting on your hiking shoes to get a glimpse inside the Diamond Head crater. A mid-intensity hike requiring a climb of more than 200 steps along the way, it’s a must-do among things to do in Honolulu, if only for that Instagram photo from the top (and the many great ones you can also take along the way). Note that the hike is not advisable for children.

Experience a Luau

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From the tiki torch lighting to the blowing of the conch shell to the live local music, hula dancing, and live fire-throwing show—not to mention the bounteous spread of traditional Hawaiian food—attending a luau is absolutely one of the best things to do in Honolulu. Think of it as dinner and a show, the Hawaiian way, and make a night of it. Book the pre-sunset seating to enjoy it against the backdrop of Honolulu’s amazing sunset.

Visit Kualoa Ranch

Kualoa ranch, oahu
(Photo: Dara Continenza)

You’ll have to leave Honolulu to get to Kualoa Ranch, but it’s worth it to see what people often dub “The Jurassic Park of Hawaii.” A 4,000-acre working ranch and nature preserve, the breathtakingly beautiful ranch is famous thanks to the spectacular ridge of the Kualoa mountains that rise above it. The ranch offers tours that feature horseback riding, biking, zip-lining, an adventure-filled ATV experience, and more. Everyone loves the Movie Sites Tour, which is loads of fun and takes you around to all the places that have been filmed on the ranch for some great photo ops.

Try Local Hawaiian Food

cheap eats in honolulu
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Mineral-rich volcanic soil and beautiful farming conditions have blessed Hawaii with some of the freshest and most delicious produce you’ll find anywhere. And, because there’s no place better than the source, one of the best things to do in Honolulu is to try the local cuisine and produce.

Visit a restaurant specializing in traditional Hawaiian cuisine to taste dishes like kalua pig and lau lau. Hit weekend Saturday Farmer’s Market at KCC to try foods prepared by local vendors and sample sweet pineapples, lush rambutan and tangy lilikoi, or passionfruit.

Honolulu has a rich dining scene that also features James Beard award-winning chefs who specialize in Hawaii Regional Cuisine, and new up-and-comers who are doing Hawaiian food with a contemporary spin. Don’t leave Honolulu without tasting fresh poke, often made from fish caught just the day before.

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– Original reporting by Mai Pham

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