26 Unique Things To Do In Honolulu For An Unforgettable Experience

Last Updated 08 Jul 2024 by Fiona Perisone

Honolulu, Hawaii, is a tropical paradise that offers a unique blend of natural beauty, rich culture, and unforgettable experiences. As one of the largest cities in the Hawaiian Islands, you'll find endless opportunities for adventure, relaxation, and cultural immersion. From the pristine beaches to culture-rich landmarks to the vibrant nightlife and world-class dining, Honolulu is a dream destination for everyone.

Honolulu is home to some of the world's most stunning natural attractions, including the lush greenery of the Lyon Arboretum, the stunning coral reefs of Hanauma Bay, and the majestic beauty of Manoa Falls. For those looking for a little adventure, Honolulu offers plenty of opportunities for surfing, snorkeling, and other water activities. And with countless restaurants, shops, and entertainment options, there's never a dull moment in this vibrant city.

So whether you're planning a honeymoon, romantic escape, a family vacation, or a solo adventure, Honolulu is the perfect destination to experience the beauty and culture of Hawaii. Here are 26 unforgettable things to do in Honolulu that will make your trip a memorable one.

26 Things To Do In Honolulu

1. Check Out the Iconic Iolani Palace

Iolani Palace

Source: Pixabay

The Iolani Palace, located right in the heart of the city, is the former residence of the revered Kalakaua Dynasty. The 10-room historic house is a spectacular palace — the only one of its kind in the U.S. to have hosted a monarchy. 

Here, you can see how royalty lived by exploring their throne rooms, plush carpeted political offices, and state dining room. Its 19th-century architecture, oozing Italianate and Baroque charm, is like stepping back into another time. 

You can take a tour, listen to audiobooks, and check out vintage clothes, furniture, glassware, and military artifacts in this one-of-a-kind building. Its stark contrast with the modern structures around it will impress you with its historical significance.

2. Eat Your Fill at the Famed Leonard’s Bakery 

Leonard’s Bakery

Source: Flickr

Leonard's Bakery is a local hot spot famed for its vintage-like candy-striped awning and original creations like malasadas. The fried pastries (or should we call them doughnuts?) are available in various flavors and fillings for every palate. When you stop by, you'll experience the island's culture through one of its most famous desserts. 

3. Explore the Historic Downtown Area of Honolulu 

Downtown Honolulu

Source: Flickr

Downtown Honolulu is known as the beating heart of Hawaii. Visit it, and you'll see for yourself why. From luxury resorts, Foster Botanical Garden, and the antiquated Kawaiahao Church to food trucks, street music, murals, and artworks — you'll have many striking backgrounds that are simply too perfect for Instagram.

4. Hit the Sands at Waikiki Beach

Waikiki Beach

Source: Unsplash

The world-famous Waikiki Beach in Honolulu is a tropical dream. It's an extraordinary piece of paradise on earth, full of honey-colored sand, tall palms, turquoise waters, and luxurious hotels. Many sections of the beach are perfect for a relaxing dip that'll make you feel at peace. But you can also channel the wave rider in you, indulge in other watersports, or take a canoe cruise. While here, don't forget to stay behind for picture-perfect fireworks every Friday night at the beach.

Remember that this is a famous beach, so you'll likely encounter crowds. If that's not something you're into, you can enjoy the sun-kissed, powdery, yellow sand beach and sunset of Waikiki from other vantage points.

5. Marvel at the Diverse Wildlife of Honolulu Zoo

Honolulu Zoo

Source: Tripadvisor

The Honolulu Zoo is a 42-acre home to more than 900 species of wildlife — think mammals, amphibians, and reptiles! Here, you can see endangered species like the Komodo dragon and Sumatran Tiger alongside Manchurian cranes and Asian elephants. It also has an exotic variety of flora and fauna that is sure to delight.

The zoo also has a playground, a picnic lawn, and restrooms, making it the ideal spot to catch some quality downtime with your family.

6. Peruse the Flora at Honolulu Botanical Gardens

Koko Crater Botanical Garden

Source: Unsplash

Honolulu has many botanical gardens scattered across the city — each with its unique diversity of flora and landscapes that will appeal to nature lovers. The locations of the gardens alone are enough to make your visit worthwhile. 

For example, the Koko Crater Botanical Garden is located in a desert-like climate and hence, boasts a wide variety of cacti and shrubs. The Wahiawa Botanical Garden, on the other hand, is located on a high plateau, offering visitors lush greens and a variety of vibrant flowers. 

Oh, and the Liliʻuokalani Botanical Garden hosts native Hawaiian plants and has a waterfall. It's the perfect destination if you want to learn more about the country.

7. Relax at the Kuhio Beach Park 

Kuhio Beach Park

Source: Tripadvisor

If you want to catch some sun, go to Kuhio Beach Park. Located right by the Canoes and Queens, it's a popular area for surfing and bodyboarding.

Kuhio Beach Park has a stretch of sand that's known for its tranquil, clear waters and relaxing atmosphere. It also has authentic hula shows and live music to give visitors a dose of local entertainment. The best thing? It's practically untouched by tourists, allowing you to enjoy a semi-private beach experience without elbowing tourists and spending a pretty penny.

Visitors who are interested in learning about the Hawaiian culture can also check out the Duke Kahanamoku Statue, Prince Kuhio Statue, and "Wizard Stones of Kapaemahu."

8. See the Waves at Halona Blowhole 

Halona Blowhole

Source: Unsplash

Halona Blowhole has strong currents beneath its cliffs, but that's not all. The waves crash against the rocks, causing the water to shoot up to 30 feet like a geyser.

Bottom line? It's dangerous but, at the same time, beautiful.

What else could explain its appearance in movies like Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, T.V. shows, and music videos? 

Visit it during the summer, so you get to enjoy sunny and windy days when the tides make the water shoot higher than it normally does. If you time your visit right, you can also see the annual migration of humpback whales!

9. Spend the Day at Pearl Harbor National Memorial

Pearl Harbor National Memorial

Source: Unsplash

Pearl Harbor is the historic site that offers visitors a glimpse of the area where the Japanese launched their attack on December 7, 1941, causing havoc on the American naval fleet. This is one of the must-see Honolulu attractions, and the visit is free for the first 1,000 visitors, but you can also buy tickets to visit individual sites to become better acquainted with one of Honolulu's most devastating historical events.

The area surrounding Pearl Harbor is a national memorial site. There are a series of monuments, tear-jerking museums, and memorials like the USS Bowfin, the USS Oklahoma, and the USS Arizona Memorial that you can check out. 

10. Take a Dolphin Watching and Snorkeling Cruise 

Dolphin Watching And Snorkeling Cruise

Source: Unsplash

Take a cruise to see several Hawaiian spinner dolphins in their natural habitat with knowledgeable and friendly captains by your side. It's a great way to learn more about the gentle, playful, and fascinating sea mammals that call the area home. 

When you embark on your cruise, you'll sail out to the area to observe local marine life, where some of them will chase your boat! Think tropical fish, green sea turtles, whales, and monk seals. You can then enter the water with a 20-foot waterslide, swim, kayak, snorkel, or paddleboard to get up close and personal with the aquatic creatures.

11. Take a Tour of the Shangri La Museum of Islamic Art, Culture & Design

Shangri La Museum Of Islamic Art, Culture & Design

Source: Tripadvisor

The former home of philanthropist and tobacco heiress Doris Duke, the Shangri La Museum of Islamic Arts, Culture & Design boasts an impressive collection of over 4,500 Islamic art objects that Duke acquired over nearly 60 years.

Thanks to her, the public can now enjoy modern twists on Arabesque designs through art collections and architectural features from Egypt, India, Iran, Morocco, Spain, Syria, and Turkey. Recommend booking in advance to guarantee a slot.

12. Visit Honolulu Museum Of Art and Hawaii State Art Museum

Honolulu Museum Of Art, Hawaii

Source: Flickr

Hawaii State Art Museum, Hawaii

Source: Flickr

For art enthusiasts, the Honolulu Museum of Art is a must-visit destination. The museum boasts a world-renowned collection of over 50,000 artworks, including Hawaiian art, Asian art, European paintings, and contemporary art. In addition to its impressive collection of art, the museum also offers a variety of cultural events and programs throughout the year, including film screenings, concerts, lectures, and workshops.

The Hawaii State Art Museum, also known as HiSAM, is a museum located in downtown Honolulu, Hawaii. It is the only museum in Hawaii dedicated solely to contemporary art and is a must-visit destination for anyone interested in Hawaii's rich cultural heritage. The museum is housed in a historic building that was once a hotel and featured a variety of exhibitions and galleries that showcase the work of both established and emerging artists from Hawaii and beyond. The museum's permanent collection includes works by prominent Hawaii-based artists and pieces from around the world.

13. Ala Moana Beach Park

Ala Moana Beach Park

Source: Unsplash

Ala Moana Beach Park is one of the most stunning natural attractions on the island. It offers a perfect blend of white sandy beaches, crystal-clear waters, and lush greenery, all set against a stunning backdrop of the Pacific Ocean.

This popular beach park covers over 100 acres and features a variety of amenities, including picnic areas, tennis courts, a walking path, and a large playground for children. Several food trucks and vendors sell snacks, shaved ice, and other refreshments.

One of the main attractions of Ala Moana Beach Park is its protected swimming area, which is perfect for families with young children or anyone looking for a calm and safe place to swim. The park is also popular among surfers and stand-up paddleboarders, who can catch some waves in the more open beach areas.

14. Going Shopping

Going Shopping

Shop At Royal Hawaiian Center

The Royal Hawaiian Center is a premier shopping and entertainment destination located in the heart of Waikiki in Honolulu. With over 110 shops, restaurants, and cultural activities, the center offers a one-of-a-kind experience.

The center's open-air design allows visitors to enjoy Hawaii's beautiful weather while browsing through a variety of high-end fashion boutiques, luxury jewelry stores, and unique Hawaiian-themed shops. The center also features several restaurants and cafes serving up delicious local and international cuisine, as well as live music and cultural performances.

Shop at the Ala Moana Center 

With over 350 stores, restaurants, and entertainment options, Ala Moana Center is a shopper's paradise and one of the largest outdoor shopping centers on the planet. If you're looking for a top-notch shopping experience in Honolulu, this destination is a must-visit. Here, you'll find something for every budget — from boutiques like Chanel and Dior to Island Vintage Coffee to souvenir shops. 

Ala Moana Center also offers excellent on-site dining options from Italian to Japanese. The shopping area also has a public amphitheater where you can go for entertainment after shopping.  

15. Take a Hike

Kuliouou Ridge Trail

Source: Unsplash

Hiking is one of the best things to do in Honolulu for those who love the great outdoors, and Honolulu offers a range of hiking spots with scenic views for nature lovers.

Ehukai Pillboxes Trail

The Ehukai Pillboxes Trail is a popular hiking trail located on the North Shore of Oahu in Hawaii. The trail is named after the two World War II-era bunkers, or "pillboxes," located along the route. The trail provides breathtaking views of the nearby hills and the ocean, offering an excellent opportunity to immerse yourself in the stunning natural beauty of Hawaii. The hike is moderately challenging, with a steep climb initially, but it suits hikers of all levels. The trail is about 2.2 miles round-trip, which will takes about 1-2 hours to complete. You should wear sturdy hiking shoes and bring plenty of water and sunscreen, as there is little shade along the trail.

Climb the Diamond Head

Diamond Head, known as Le'ahi (Tuna Brow) by the natives, is a volcanic formation. Hike up the 760-foot summit of the Diamond Head State Monument — which could take you around an hour — and you'll be rewarded with sweeping views of nature's holy trinity: sweeping landscapes, blue waters, and the city's high-rise skyline. Be sure to carry water, as the steep and strenuous trail does not have water fountains. 

When you've exhausted yourself, you can stop by one of the local shops, restaurants, or food trucks in the area to munch on Lomi-Lomi and feast on fancy smoothie bowls.

Makapu'u Point Lighthouse Trail

Makapu'u Point Lighthouse Trail is a popular hiking spot in Honolulu. The trail offers stunning panoramic views of the ocean and surrounding landscape, making it a great spot for photography. The trail is about 2 miles round trip and is suitable for all skill levels. Along the way, you can catch a glimpse of seabirds and even whales during winter. At the trail's end, visitors can see the historic Makapu'u Lighthouse, built in 1909 and still operates today. The trailhead is easily accessible by car, and plenty of parking is available.

Manoa Falls Trail

Manoa Falls is a 150-foot waterfall that has been featured in movies like The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Lost, Hawaii Five-0, and Jurassic Park. Keep in mind that it sounds more spectacular to the ears than it might look, although that might change if it recently rained in the area. 

To reach the falls, you'll need to hike through a two-mile trail that takes you through lush Hawaiian rainforests and views of fantastic flora. It's essential that you pack and wear suitable hiking shoes and be cautious of the slippery trail.

Kuliouou Ridge Trail

Kuliouou Ridge Trail is a popular hiking trail. It is a 4.5-mile round-trip hike that takes you through lush greenery and offers panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and valleys. The trail can be challenging at times, with steep inclines, uneven surface ground, and rocky terrain, but the picturesque views at the peak make it all worthwhile. The trail is suitable for hikers of all levels, but proper footwear and plenty of water are recommended. Experience the breathtaking natural beauty of Hawaii and get some exercise on this amazing trail.

Aiea Loop Trail

The Keaiwa Heiau State Recreation Area on the island of Oahu in Hawaii is home to the stunning Aiea Loop Trail, a must-visit hiking destination for outdoor enthusiasts. This 4.8-mile loop trail offers stunning views of the lush forest, the mountains, and the ocean. The Aiea Loop Trail is a moderate hiking trail that welcomes hikers of all skill levels. Along trail, you can see a variety of native plants and wildlife. The trail features a gradual ascent and descent with some steep sections, making it a great workout.

16. Explore the Waimea Valley

Waimea Valley

Source: 

Waimea Valley is a natural park and botanical garden located on the North Shore of Oahu in Hawaii. The valley is home to a diverse range of plants and animals, including a variety of rare and endangered species. You can explore the lush tropical gardens and admire the scenic views of the surrounding mountains and waterfalls. The park also offers cultural activities and educational programs, such as hula performances and traditional Hawaiian crafts. The park's highlight is Waimea Falls, a 45-foot waterfall you can swim in.

17. Go Snorkeling or Scuba Diving

Snorkeling Or Scuba Diving

Source: Unsplash

Snorkeling and scuba diving are among one of the best things to do in Honolulu. With clear waters, vibrant coral reefs, and diverse marine life, Honolulu is the perfect destination for both beginner and experienced snorkelers.

Here are some of the best snorkeling and scuba diving spots:

Shark's Cove

Shark's Cove is a popular snorkeling and scuba diving spot. Despite its name, Shark's Cove is not known for shark sightings but rather for its diverse marine life and clear waters. The Cove is surrounded by volcanic rocks and is home to various fish species, sea turtles, and other marine creatures. Snorkeling and scuba diving enthusiasts can explore the underwater world and see colorful corals, schools of fish, and other fascinating sea creatures. The water can be rough and the currents strong, so it's important to be a strong swimmer and check the conditions before entering the water.

Hanauma Bay

Hanauma Bay is a popular snorkeling destination. The bay is known for its crystal-clear waters and abundant marine life, including colorful fish, sea turtles, and coral reefs. Here, you can rent snorkeling gear on-site and take a short hike down to the beach. It's important to note that the bay is a protected nature reserve, and you are required to watch a short educational video on conservation before entering.

Kahe Point Beach Park

Kahe Point Beach Park, also known as Electric Beach, is a popular snorkeling spot in Honolulu. The beach is known for its crystal-clear waters and diverse marine life, including vibrant fish, sea turtles, and even dolphins. Snorkelers can explore the rocky reefs and coral formations just offshore and may even encounter the resident pod of spinner dolphins that frequent the area. However, caution should be exercised as the ocean currents and waves can sometimes be strong. Snorkeling with a buddy and checking the weather conditions before heading outThe pipeline is particularly famous for its steep, hollow waves, which can reach heights of up to 30 feet during the winter months..

the Corsair Wreck Site 

There are many diving sites in Honolulu, but few compare to the authentic experience offered by the Corsair Wreck site. It has the remains of a genuine WWII plane at the bottom of the ocean. The stingrays, garden eels, and jacks swimming among the wreckage have attracted many divers and photographers. 

If you're a capable diver looking for a challenge, consider diving at a depth of 115 feet at the Corsair Wreck site during your visit. However, keep in mind that you'll have to get a boat and guide from a local port which can be costly. Word to the wise: It has unpredictable, strong, and rapid currents, so be cautious.  

18. Take a scenic drive along Kamehameha Highway

Kamehameha Highway

Source: Unsplash

Kamehameha Highway is a scenic drive that stretches along the eastern coast of Oahu and offers breathtaking views of the ocean and surrounding mountains. This is one of the best things to do in Honolulu to soak up the scenery without taking a hike. The highway passes through charming towns and popular attractions such as the Polynesian Cultural Center and the Laie Hawaii Temple. As you drive, make sure to stop at some of the lookout points and beaches along the way, including the famous Sunset Beach and Waimea Bay. The drive is especially beautiful during winter when the surf is high and the waves crash against the rocky shoreline.

19. Visit the famous Banzai Pipeline

Banzai Pipeline

Source: Unsplash

The Banzai Pipeline is a world-renowned surf break. It is a popular destination for surfers and spectators alike, who flock to the area to watch the pros ride the massive waves. The pipeline is particularly famous for its steep, hollow waves that can reach towering heights of up to 30 feet, especially during the winter season. While the pipeline is a great place to watch the action from the shore, experienced surfers can also take on the challenge themselves if they dare. The beach is easily accessible and has plenty of parking, making it a must-see destination for any North Shore visitor.

20. Go Fishing

Fishing

Source: Unsplash

Fishing is a popular activity in Hawaii, and there are many options available for visitors to try their hand at catching fish. In Honolulu, several fishing charters are available from Honolulu harbor that offer a variety of experiences, from deep sea fishing to fly fishing in local streams. You can catch various fish, including mahi-mahi, tuna, and marlin. Fishing in Honolulu is a fun activity and can provide a delicious meal, as many local restaurants will cook your catch for you.

21. Take A Sunset Cruise

Sunset Cruise

Source: Unsplash

A sunset cruise is a relaxing and romantic way to experience the beauty of Honolulu's coastline. You can enjoy breathtaking views of the ocean and skyline while sipping on a cocktail and feeling the cool ocean breeze. Many sunset cruises also offer dinner options, live music, and even fireworks displays. It's the perfect way to end a day of sightseeing and adventure in Honolulu.

22. Learn about Hawaiian History and Culture At Bishop Museum

Bishop Museum

Source: Flickr

The Bishop Museum in Honolulu is a world-renowned museum that is dedicated to preserving and celebrating the history and culture of Hawaii and the Pacific. The museum's collection includes over 25 million artifacts, documents, and specimens, including ancient Hawaiian artifacts, artwork, and natural history specimens. Here, you can explore the many exhibits, galleries, and programs that highlight the unique history and culture of Hawaii and the Pacific, as well as participate in hands-on activities and interactive experiences.

23. Try Surfing

Surfing

Source: Unsplash

Honolulu is a great place to catch some waves and experience the rush of the ocean beneath you. Whether you're a beginner or an experienced surfer, there are plenty of surf schools and rental shops available to help you get started. If you're up for an adventure, surfing is a must-try activity when in Honolulu. The warm waters and consistent waves make surfing in Honolulu a memorable and exciting experience. 

Here are some of the most popular surf spots:

Waikiki Beach

This world-famous beach is known for its gentle waves and beginner-friendly surf conditions, making it a popular spot for surf schools and lessons.

Ala Moana Bowls

This surf spot is located near Ala Moana Beach Park and is known for its long, hollow waves that are ideal for experienced surfers.

Diamond Head

This iconic landmark is also a popular surf spot, with waves that break off the point and attract experienced surfers looking for a challenge.

Sandy Beach

This beach is known for its powerful shore break and is a popular spot for bodyboarding, bodysurfing, and experienced surfers.

Makaha Beach

This beach is located on the western coast of Oahu and is known for its large waves that can reach up to 25 feet. It's a popular spot for experienced surfers looking for a challenge.

Pipeline

This is one of the most famous surf spots in the world, located on the North Shore of Oahu. It's known for its powerful waves that break over a shallow reef and attract the world's best surfers.

Sunset Beach

Another popular spot on the North Shore, Sunset Beach, is known for its long, rolling waves that attract surfers of all levels.

24. Kayaking On The Water Of Kailua Beach Park

Kayaking

Source: Pixabay

Kailua Beach Park is a popular destination on Oahu for kayaking enthusiasts. The calm waters and beautiful scenery make it the perfect spot for a leisurely paddle. Rent a kayak from one of the many local vendors and explore the nearby Mokulua Islands, or simply enjoy the stunning views of the mountains and coastline. Keep an eye out for sea turtles and other marine life as you glide along the crystal-clear waters.

25. Try Local Cuisine

Hawaiian poke

Honolulu is home to a wide variety of delicious and unique local cuisine that reflects the diverse cultural influences of Hawaii. Some popular local dishes include poke, a traditional Hawaiian dish made of raw fish marinated in soy sauce and other seasonings, and spam musubi, a snack made of spam and rice wrapped in seaweed. Other must-try dishes include kalua pork, lau lau (pork wrapped in taro leaves), loco moco (rice, beef patty, and fried egg), and shave ice, a refreshing treat made of shaved ice and flavored syrup. These dishes are found at local food trucks, markets, and restaurants throughout Honolulu.

26. Zip lining in Honolulu

Zipline

There are several options for zip lining in Honolulu, including the Coral Crater Adventure Park, Kualoa Ranch, and Bay View Mini-Putt and Zipline. These parks offer various courses with different levels of difficulty, ranging from easy and beginner-friendly to more challenging courses for experienced zipliners.

About the Author

Fiona is a veteran travel consultant, photographer and travel writer at planetrider.com. She has spent many years as a corporate travel consultant and decided to actually live the life rather than plan it for others!

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