Amazing Things to Do in Honolulu, Hawaii on Vacation

Looking for tips on things to do in Honolulu?

As part of our city guides series, we interviewed Hilary Stockton who is true kama’aina (local), she was born and raised in Honolulu and lived there until she went to university.

Things to do in Honolulu

She still has family living in Hawaii and goes back to visit Hawaii, as well as for work, to do site checks of luxury and boutique Honolulu hotels.

Hilary shares with us her insider tips on things to do in Honolulu for those looking for the best places to see, eat, stay, drink, and explore.

Why visit Honolulu?

Honolulu Hawaii needs little introduction.

It offers a beautiful, sunny beach vacation for visitors from northern climates, but as the capital of Hawaii, it also offers so much more in terms of the arts, culture, shopping and nightlife.

Only in Honolulu will you be able to swim at an idyllic beach, visit the only royal palace in the U.S., have your pick of dim sum, Korean, Vietnamese, Thai or Hawaiian food for lunch, and in the evening, go salsa dancing, clubbing, or listen to live jazz — all in one day.

Things to Do in Honolulu

Hike Diamond Head Crater

Diamond Head Walk, Oahu, Hawaii

You’ll want to do this in the early morning of a clear day, before it gets too hot.

Active kids love this hike, with its bunkers and tunnel. And you’ll love the magnificent panoramic view from the top of Waikiki and the Honolulu skyline.

Visit Iolani Palace

If you’re at all interested in Hawaii’s history, visit the only royal palace in the U.S., and learn a little about Hawaii’s history and monarchy before Hawaii’s annexation to the U.S.

a large buidling
Iolani Palace, Honolulu

Learn to hula

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center in Waikiki offers free hula lessons. If you want to see a professional performance, there’s a Polynesian Cultural Center performance on Saturday.

Most of the upscale Waikiki hotels also offer live Hawaiian music, sometimes accompanied by a hula dancer, in the early evenings.

Visit Doris Duke’s Shangri La

palm trees next to a pool
Doris Duke’s Shangri-La

Even if you’re not particularly interested in Islamic art, it’s worth visiting Doris Duke’s private Honolulu estate in Diamond Head for the architecture and design alone.

Make sure you reserve your tickets well in advance, as you can only visit as part of a tour leaving from the Honolulu Academy of Arts.

Go for a swim at Lanikai Beach

Lanakai Beach, Oahu, Hawaii

 You’ll need to rent a car to get there, but it’s worth going to this lovely, peaceful beach where you’ll likely only see a few locals—you may even have it all to yourself, as we did the last time we were there.

Anyone who tells you that all Oahu beaches are crowded, like Waikiki, hasn’t been to Lanikai.

Visit the Polynesian Cultural Center

This continues to be one of the top Honolulu attractions.

Many folks come just for the evening luau and show, but I’d actually recommend coming in the day time, especially with kids, since you can visit villages set up to reflect the culture and traditions of various Polynesian nations: Tahiti, Tonga, Samoa, Fiji, Aotearoa, Marquesas, and of course Hawaii.

people dancing on a stage
Polynesian Cultural Center, photo by cplbasilisk

Tours, Sightseeing & Passes

Find popular tours and attractions via our booking partner, Get Your Guide. They have the lowest prices, guaranteed — no booking fees or hidden charges and you can cancel up to 24 hours before.

Where to Eat in Honolulu

Honolulu has a plethora of great food options, from cheap and simple plate lunches to exquisite Pacific Rim cuisine.

Azure is one of your best bets for a romantic, special occasion dinner in Waikiki. It’s at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, and specializes in fresh seafood, but the meat dishes are just as good if not better.

Start with the wonderful Alaskan King Crab Chowder with Kahuku corn and bacon or the Azure Sashimi.

A plate of food on a table
Azure Restaurant, Honolulu

Ono Hawaiian Foods in Kapahulu is the place to try Hawaiian food at least once during your stay. My favorites here are the pork lau lau, kalua pork, and poi with lomi lomi salmon.

Pearl’s Korean BBQ is a chain, but it’s one of the places I miss most in NYC: hearty Korean food with lots of veggie choices, where a $10-12 plate easily feeds two hungry people.

The Waikiki outlet is located in the basement food court of the Waikiki Shopping Plaza, across the street from the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center.

A plate of food
Pearl’s Korean BBQ

Morio’s Sushi Bistro is tiny, so I recommend calling a week or two ahead to reserve. The place itself is no frills, so don’t dress up, but the sushi is great.

It’s BYOB, and do bring some beers for Morio and his staff. While I enjoyed the variety of the omakase, I’d order a la carte next time, and also order Hamachi kama ahead.

a tray of food
Sushi at Morio’s Sushi Bistro, Honolulu

Champion Malasadas is a local favorite. Malasadas are Portuguese hole-less doughnuts, rolled in sugar while still hot.

The best ones are made at the Iolani and Punahou school carnivals, but since those are only held once a year, the best alternative is to get them made to order at Champion Malasadas.

Check out the Paradise Cove Luau for a night of Hawaiian culture and hospitality

Best Places for a Night on the Town in Honolulu

  • Lewers Lounge: Excellent live jazz in a stylish, intimate spot at The Halekulani. Dress up and go for the music and signature cocktails. The food is mediocre, so dine elsewhere.
  • Manifest: Coffee shop with free WiFi by day, Manifest morphs into a hip cocktail bar at night, with great music. There’s even a small dance floor.
  • Wang Chung’s: If you just want to have a fun evening with your friends or significant other, check out this karaoke bar—very welcoming and friendly
  • Salsamore Latin Dancing at Vice Nightclub: Salsa and Latin dance party every Thursday. The $10 cover includes a free soft drink and free dance lesson 8-9pm

Where to Stay in Honolulu

Some of the top 5-Star Honolulu hotels are The Halekulani, The Kahala, The Royal Hawaiian, and The Trump.

A palm tree in front of a building
The Royal Hawaiian Hotel

For a lower cost boutique option right outside Waikiki, consider The Modern Honolulu.

overview of a resort
Pools at The Modern Honolulu

Another reasonable hotel option if you want to be closer to Diamond Head and Kapiolani Park is Aqua Lotus, in a building that used to be a W Hotel.

a hotel bedroom
Aqua Lotus, Honolulu

Find your perfect Airbnb

Airbnb is another accommodation option for Honolulu. Click here to find the right vacation rental for you. 

Events & Festivals in Honolulu

Hawaii has many colorful festivals throughout the year, reflecting not only its Hawaiian heritage, but also the culture of its immigrants.

Some notable festivals are: First Fridays: Held the first Friday of each month, downtown art studios showcase the work of local artists, and there’s also street entertainment, live music, and wine tasting.

Honolulu Festival: This annual festival, usually held in early March, is a three-day celebration of arts, music, dance and crafts from across the Pacific, culminating in a grand parade in Waikiki and fireworks. Lei Day Celebration: “May Day is Lei Day in Hawaii,” with many kama’aina (locals) wearing and giving leis on this day, and a number of hula performances.

Head to Kapiolani Park Bandstand in Waikiki to see some of the official festivities, and view the entries in the annual May Day Lei Contest.

Lantern Floating: Every Memorial Day, thousands of lanterns are lit and floated on the water by locals and visitors to honor those who have sacrificed their lives in war and loved ones who have passed away, and as a symbol of hope and peace around the world.

Best time of year to visit Honolulu

While Honolulu tends to be warm and sunny all year round, it’s best to avoid the peak holiday season around Christmas and New Year’s, due to high airfare and hotel prices, and also to avoid July and August, which tend to be excessively hot and humid.

Rain showers are possible at any time, but usually don’t last for long, absent a tropical storm.

Favorite Side Trip from Honolulu?

Don’t miss a trip to the Big Island, when visiting Honolulu.

There are incredible natural wonders you won’t find anywhere else in Hawaii, such as the still active Kilauea Volcano at the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, black sand beaches, and even snow capped Mauna Kea.

You can also see better preserved Hawaiian petroglyphs and the sites of ancient heiaus (temples), including the City of Refuge.

For divers and snorkelers, a night dive with manta rays is a must. While there are certainly beach resorts in sunny Kona, I’d recommend a trip to Hilo, an eclectic mix of local and cosmopolitan.

Visit the Hilo Farmers Market on Wednesday or Saturday, where 200 vendors sell everything from delicious strawberry papayas and apple bananas to gorgeous orchids to homemade jams, pastries and snacks.

Getting There & Away

There are nonstop flights to Honolulu from many U.S. cities plus from Australia, Canada, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, and the Philippines.

From the West Coast, it’s often possible to get fares of $400 or even less round trip.

Even from the East Coast there are also sometimes great deals for $450 or so roundtrip in coach, especially given that Hawaiian Air now flies nonstop from NYC to Honolulu, providing competition to United.

For visitors with United frequent flyer miles who want a comfortable trip, one of the best deals is flying First Class in a flat bed seat from NYC to Honolulu via San Francisco for 50,000 miles each way.

Not all flights offer flat bed seats in First Class, so check the seating chart.

plane seats
United Flat Bed Seat in BusinessFirst

Best Insiders Tip for Honolulu

All beaches in Hawaii are by law open to the public; there are no private beaches.

This doesn’t mean you can trespass on someone’s property, but once you find a public access path to the beach, you can walk along the beach and lay your blanket wherever you like.

Planning a Trip to Honolulu

Accommodation in Honolulu

  • has over 250 properties in Honolulu including hotels, apartments, and hostels. You get free cancellation on most rooms and a best price guarantee.
  • Don’t forget to check Airbnb rentals

Flights to Honolulu

  • Skyscanner is a comparison website that searches millions of flights. Once you find your best deal, book directly through the airline (no extra fees).
  • Scott’s Cheap Flights is a great way to score amazing deals

Car Rental in Honolulu

  • is the world’s biggest car rental booking service that compares all the major brands like Hertz, Avis, Alamo, and Europcar.

More Hawaii Travel Tips

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BIO: Hilary Stockton is the founder of TravelSort, which helps members book their perfect luxury or boutique hotel at wholesale prices, and shares tips and tricks for flying first class and business class free, using frequent flyer miles.

Do you have any tips on things to do in Honolulu?

Share in the comments.

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45 thoughts on “Amazing Things to Do in Honolulu, Hawaii on Vacation”

  1. Malasadas: Leonards Bakery is my fave, but I’ll have to try Champions next time. Skip the car rental during your stay in Honolulu, you can walk so many places. Just rent when you are going out of the main city, or take public transit.

    1. It’s been 18 years since I was in Honolulu as a single man. I enjoyed it at the time, but these tips have got me inspired to take the family back 🙂

  2. Joanne T Ferguson

    Brother (now deceased) used to be the Assistant DA of Honolulu too!
    Aside from the Book em Danno jokes…was THE best family holiday EVER too!
    LOVED the Polynesian Center Luau!
    As part of the experience and culture was WOW!
    Surprised POI wasn’t mentioned to experience true!
    As only tasted it a couple of times when was 12, but now almost 50, remember the UNIQUE experience too!
    Don’t know if it is still running, but was the DOLE PLANTATION Princess of the day!
    YEARN to return as LOVE the Hawaiian laid back ALOHA philosophy and way!
    Thanks for allowing me to take a trip down memory lane today!
    HIGHLY recommend people visit Hawaii!!! And A-L-O-H-A!!!! IS what I can say!

  3. Ashley of Ashley Abroad

    I’ve always wanted to go to Hawaii (any day now!) but this list will certainly be helpful for when I finally make it island-side. Also the food looks amazing, I would love to try that sushi!

  4. Ashley, glad it’s helpful, hope you have a chance to visit Hawaii soon! Morio’s is great, and there are many other delicious no frills local places to discover–helpful to get out of Waikiki though 🙂

  5. Great article and great tips. I have a couple of other questions though:
    – are there any good camping spots?
    – is Hawaii vegetarian-friendly?

  6. Jane, glad you enjoyed! Yes, Hawaii, including Honolulu, does have several good camping areas. Although it’s been years and years, I have good memories of Malaekahana, by the beach on the windward side. See for more details on other campgrounds. In terms of vegetarian, my brother is vegetarian (although not vegan) and often eats out. There’s also a Whole Foods at Kahala Mall, Down to Earth Vegetarian and Organic Market at 2525 S King St and several farmers markets good for local produce.

  7. Great post! I been wanting to visit Hawaii for a while now and this post will certainly come in useful if I do make it any time soon. The food looks amazing and I’d love to see the lantern floating!

  8. The Art Gallery of Hawaii is wonderful and on Tues they have a free lunch time presentation about a different topic relating to Hawaiian history, culture, arts, etc. You grab your lunch from the excellent gallery cafe and join in the audience. When we were there, the presentation was by a Hawaiian cowboy, talking about the history of local cowboys. Fascinating!

  9. Like there aren’t ENOUGH reasons for visit Hawaii! lol I particularly love the Aloha Bus tours and my most unforgettable experience in Honolulu was the Dolphin Quest Oahu!!! It is an experience you will never forget!!

  10. I am born and raised on Oahu. You MUST add Hanauma Bay on your list. It’s an amazing place to go snorkeling to see all the beautiful fish.

    Waiola Shave Ice (in town) is a well kept secret. Personally it’s better than Matsumoto’s which is famous on the North Shore.

    Also, Paradise Cove is the BEST Luau to attend. Germaine’s Luau is cheaper but not as good.

    We have a bus system that makes traveling all over the island very affordable if you don’t want to rent a car.

    Hope this was helpful! 😀

    1. Ashley, thanks for your comment! I actually purposely left off Hanauma Bay. I loved it growing up, back before it was actually touristy and so crowded, and it just makes me sad to see how crowded and commercialized it is now. I prefer a much less crowded and touristy area to do snorkeling.

      Thanks for the tip on Shave Ice, I’m sure it will help fans–personally, although I’m also born and raised on Oahu, I’ve never really liked Shave Ice. My favorite treat growing up was homemade vanilla macadamia ice cream that we cranked ourselves 🙂

      In terms of luaus, I actually thought the entertainment at the Polynesian Cultural Center was fantastic, but good to get your recommendation for Paradise Cove.

      The circle island bus is great if you have loads of time, but honestly I can’t see doing this if you have limited time or are traveling with kids–a car is much more convenient.

  11. I run Hawaii Salsa Info Productions, LLC. It runs promotions for the entire Latin Dance Scene in Hawaii.

    I also run 808 Bachata Advancement in which we teach at nightclubs,
    Workshops and weekly classes in Hawaii.

    If you need information for your blog, please feel free to contact me and
    pull it from my websites.

    I also have all the social media outlets covered through Hawaii Salsa Info
    and a few with 808, but please see my FB pages for content.

  12. I am a great fan of Y travelblog.I always read all your posts which are really nice.Honolulu is one of my favorite cities and love to visit it again and again and these all are awesome things you mentioned here to do in Honolulu.I am <a planning a trip to Honolulu soon and this will surely helpful for me.

  13. I just watched a DVD on Hawaii and there sure is a lot to do there. From the Polynesian Cultural Center, to the Dole Pineapple Farm, to the Royal Place, there is plenty to do. A lot of national parks where the volcanoes and scenery are breathtaking. And then of course there is Pearl harbor, so a lot of history is there. I am going to go there next summer.

  14. Fresh cafe is a great coffee shop to go to during the day. They serve great coffee and food and provide free wifi. At night they serve drinks and play music. Great spot if you want to go out on the town.

  15. It sounds amazing!!! My wife and I have booked our flights and we’ll be heading there in May. Thanks heaps for the inspiration. I can’t wait to hike up to Diamond Head, go swimming at Lanikai, and try all the delicious local cuisine.

  16. AMAZING Place!! I hope and I dream, 🙂
    Some day I will be there,.Reading your blog, I am already feel that places, so many happy in my mind now.

  17. I was lucky enough to live on Oahu for 4 months, and I would add this tips to the article:
    Hanauma Bay for snorkelling
    Waimanalo beach, another stunning beach like Lanikai but less crowded
    The pillbox hike, close to lanikai, you can have a great view of Kailua Area
    The north shore of oahu with its huge waves in winter
    Hike up Koko head and enjoy the amazing view from the top
    Pearl Harbour if you are interested in history
    Visit one of the hundreds waterfalls around the island
    You can get everywhere by bus!
    Just get lost on the island and feel the Aloha spirit!

    Can’t wait to go back to that incredible island!

  18. I was born and raised here in Honolulu, HI, and here are some places off the beaten touristy track…

    -Lulumahu Falls Hike: Near the Pali Hwy, Lulumahu Falls is one of the best, short(ish) hikes (an hour round trip) here on O’ahu.
    -Hawaii Loa Ridge Hike: This hike is located in one the ritziest neighborhoods on O’ahu. Since the hike is strenuous (4-hour roundtrip), you won’t find a lot of people on the trail. If you’re lucky and go on a clear day, you’ll be able to see all of Waimanalo at the top. It’s gorgeous! Pro Tip: Before you enter, everybody in your vehicle is going to have to show some form of ID to the guard shack so don’t forget it at your accommodation!

    Places to Eat:
    -Helena’s Hawaiian Food: My vote for the BEST Hawaiian food on the island. The pipikaula short ribs, which is marinated in shoyu (soy sauce), hung over the grill for 24-hours, and deep fried, I guarantee is one of the most heavenly things you’ll ever eat. This place is cash-only and closed Sat-Mon.
    -Side Street Inn: If you’re looking for local grub, huge portions, and a place where you can have a drink or two, go to Side Street Inn. There’s one location on Kapahulu Ave near Waikiki. The portions are family-style, and if you have a party of four, three dishes are more than enough (you’ll probably have leftovers). I recommend the fried pork chops, kimchee fried rice, and the garlic chicken.

    Yokohama and Pray for Sex: These two beaches are right next to each other and located in Waianae, at the Westside of the island. They’re both some of the most pristine beaches on the island.

    Waianae has a reputation for being unfriendly toward tourists, however, as long as you don’t draw attention to yourself, you’ll be okay. Not a lot of visitors make it out to Yokohama and Pray for Sex beaches because 1) of the area’s reputation and 2) the road ends at Yokohama. If you’re planning on heading to the North Shore from this side of the island, you’re going to have to backtrack.

    Shave Ice:
    -Shimazu Store: located in Kalihi has my vote for BEST shave ice spot on the island (yes, better than Waiola’s and Matsumoto’s). The portions are huuuuggggggeeeee, and the quality of the syrup and ice are unmatched.

    I have one last thing. The Diamond Head hike is just OK. The only reason it’s garnered such notoriety is because of its location near Waikiki. Other than that, however, there’s just way too many people, and you have to pay an entrance fee, which is the only popular hike on O’ahu to my knowledge that requires one.

    These are my 2 cents for anybody looking to come to O’ahu and seeking to get off the all-too-visited tourist track. Mahalo!!!

  19. I loved Honolulu when I visited some 5 years ago. I am returning again in June with my daughter as a graduation present. I plan on purchasing the Go Ohau card to save and hit the sights while there like I did before. We have 2 weeks. What do you recommend we see during our visit?

  20. Hello,
    We are a family of four traveling to Honolulu for a week soon and we love hiking (not extreme), food and culture. Any tips or websites you can recommend would be appreciated.

    1. Hey Suraj,

      Awesome, we are heading to Honolulu and the big island of Hawaii in February as well and will be creating tons of new content on our blog and social media accounts. Besides our blog post on Honolulu, check out the official Hawaii tourism website:

      Enjoy 🙂

  21. I’m on this page for a school thing and I wanna know where this was published at. I can’t find it. If u could tell me that would be great, thanks.

  22. There are so many things to do while in Hawaii. From morning till night. I am sure anyone who goes to Hawaii will surely enjoy his/her vacation. Well not just enjoy, but also learn about the culture of Hawaii. Thank you for posting this really enjoyed reading!

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