Honolulu is the largest city in Hawaii and undoubtedly the one with the most going on. These are the best things to do in Honolulu for first-time visitors – including cultural sights and more!
Any tips or recommendations for what to do in Honolulu? Let us know the Honolulu attractions we missed in the comments! Thanks!
- Best Things to Do in Honolulu
- Ala Moana Center
- Waikiki Beach
- Iolani Palace
- Manoa Falls
- Diamond Head State Monument (Lë’ahi)
- Kuhio Beach Park
- Pearl Harbor National Memorial
- Halona Blowhole
- Honolulu Botanical Gardens
- Kaka’ako District
- Honolulu Museum of Art
- Shangri La Museum of Islamic Art, Culture, and Design
- Corsair Wreck Dive Site
- Aloha Tower
- Waiola Shave Ice
- Sans Souci Beach Park
- Royal Hawaiian Center
- The Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum
- Koko Crater Trail
- Farmer’s Market KCC
- Craft Beer in Honolulu
- Nu’uanu Pali State Wayside
- More Honolulu Travel Guides
- Pin this Honolulu Things to Do Guide
Best Things to Do in Honolulu
Ala Moana Center
The Ala Moana Center is one of the best shopping centers in Honolulu and while I donʻt love listing a shopping center on a guide, it is worth a visit as there are some great shops and places to get coffee there.
Ala Moana Center is the kind of mall that makes you feel like you’ve entered a whole new city. It’s a four-story shopping complex and holds the title of being the largest open-air shopping center in the entire world.
The store variety here is at its best ranging from luxury brands to department and souvenir stores. There are more than 350 stores and eateries overall. Just keep in mind that some things here can be pricey.
Youʻll find Sephora, Island Vintage Coffee, several surf shops, and more inside. It is definitely worth a visit if youʻre in the area.
Address: 1450 Ala Moana Blvd, Honolulu, HI 96814
One of the most well-known names around all of Hawaii (and the world), this extraordinarily beautiful beach is made up of miles of stunning, fluffy white-sand beaches bordered by tall palm palms and a bright blue sea.
Plus, since many sections of Waikiki Beach are roped off for swimming, the waves are quite gentle. However, you can head beyond the break and surf and do other water sports. This beach has it all!
The beaches that make up Waikiki as a whole include Fort DeRussy Beach (which faces the Royal Hawaiian Hotel), Kuhio Beach, and Queen Surf Beach.
Swimming, surfing, boogie boarding, catamaran, and outrigger canoe cruises are all popular local activities. Be sure to also check out the gorgeous sunsets of Waikiki – it is one of the best things to do in the city!
Nevertheless, crowds are a big disadvantage here. Along the beach, you’ll definitely see tons of people and it is often extremely crowded. I love going at dawn and while youʻll definitely still see people here, it will be far fewer than later in the day.
Iolani Palace is a must-visit when visiting Oahu! This site is the former residence of the Hawaiian king and is one of Honolulu’s most historic attractions. The palace was constructed in 1882, rebuilt in 1969, and reopened to the public in 1978.
This massive structure in downtown Honolulu spans several acres and houses everything from rich royal rooms to plush-carpeted political offices.
History fans will deeply appreciate this place. Upon your arrival, you can take tours, listen to audio recordings, and even check out vintage displays of clothing, fittings, furniture, and relics of past royalties!
Across the street, youʻll also see the Ali’iolani Hale, another famous site. It also has a statue of King Kamehameha V in front ot it.
The Iolani Palace truly is one of the best Honolulu museums to visit when you’re there!
Address: 364 S King St, Honolulu, HI 96813
Manoa Falls is an easily accessible, 150-foot-tall waterfall, located 5 miles northeast of downtown Honolulu in the lush Manoa Valley.
The Manoa Falls Trail is one of the best waterfall hikes on Oahu!
If you’re looking for a gorgeous and iconic destination in Honolulu, this waterfall is your must-go-to place. Famous movies like “Jurassic Park” and “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” have scenes filmed in this area.
Do be wary that the waterfall may not be as powerful as expected. If it has rained a lot recently, it will undoubtedly look more spectacular than if not.
The hike to the waterfall is open from sunrise to sunset. Also, note that entry to the area of the waterfall is free but if you have a car to park near the trailhead, the parking fee is $7.
The trail to the falls can be fairly muddy, so wearing hiking boots or sneakers is highly recommended! Also, be sure to check out Lyon Arboretum next door when youʻre up there!
Diamond Head State Monument (Lë’ahi)
Having gotten the name from 19th-century British sailors, Diamond Head is a one-of-a-kind crater, formed 300,000 years ago. Its actual name given by Hawaiians is Lë’ahi.
It resulted from a single volcanic eruption that poured ash into the atmosphere and fell over thousands of years, making up the amazing ridgeline of Diamond Head.
Hiking here will give you that feeling of being on top of the world. When visiting, just get yourself to the summit of the crater and enjoy breathtaking aerial views of the Hawaiian land, Waikiki Beach, and the Pacific Ocean.
Please do take note that in late April 2022, the state has implemented a reservation system in order to hike Diamond Head (if youʻre not a Hawaii resident). It will go into effect May 12, 2022.
To find out more (and to reserve your spot), click here. Do note that Diamond Head is closed on Wednesdays.
If walking by yourself isn’t the way you want to enjoy this extraordinary location, consider getting a helicopter tour.
Kuhio Beach Park
Spotted right by the Canoes and Queens (Waikiki’s popular surf and bodyboarding sites), Kuhio Beach Park is well-known for its laid-back vibes and tranquil clear seas. It is, more or less, part of Waikiki.
If you’re interested in the culture, definitely check out the amazing landmarks, including the Duke Kahanamoku Statue, the Stones of Kapaemahu, and the Prince Kuhio Statue.
Another great feature of Kuhio Beach is that it holds free hula shows on a regular basis! I always find this area to be entertainment-filled and lively!
Visitors are welcome to walk around the area and watch different sorts of hula styles followed by live music accompaniment.
Pearl Harbor National Memorial
As you probably already know, Pearl Harbor is where the Japanese attack happened in December 1941, which resulted in the U.S. entering WWII.
The military base of Pearl Harbor is both a National Historic Landmark and an active military base. You can visit independently, take a tour, or book tickets in advance (I highly, highly recommend this for the USS Arizona and USS Missouri).
Taking a tour of Pearl Harbor will give you the opportunity to see a great selection of historical sites like the battleship USS Missouri (this is where the Japanese surrendered), the USS Arizona Memorial, the Pacific Aviation Museum Pearl Harbor, the USS Bowfin, and more.
The park has a free entrance and is full of amazing antiques, historical film backgrounds, and museums. There is also a restaurant/food truck area on-site where you can grab a bite to eat.
If you’re interested to visit most of the sites within the Pearl Harbor National Memorial complex it is a hefty charge (and most are paid separately).
We encourage you to book ahead of time and make sure you get a reservation to see the USS Arizona and USS Missouri.
The Halona Blowhole, located on Oahu’s east coast, is another one of the island’s most popular attractions. Here, the waves pound into the cliffs beneath the rocks and the water bursts out of a blowhole blasting into the air and making the sight indescribably beautiful.
In spite of its stunning nature, the area is quite dangerous because of its strong currents. You might see a few people visiting below but we encourage seeing it from the lookout point near the road.
Also, if you’re lucky enough to visit this area during the summer as it’s the best season to do so, you’ll enjoy sunny and windy days making the water shoot higher than it typically does.
This is one of the best things to do near Honolulu (and there is a gorgeous beach called Eternity Beach nearby)!
Honolulu Botanical Gardens
The Honolulu Botanical Gardens is a series of gardens that are spread throughout the city. Each one of them offers a unique diversity of flora and is worth a visit if youʻre into that (which I am).
The specific location of gardens greatly influences the type of plants and trees you can see there. The Wahiawa Botanical Garden, for example, is situated on a high plateau with milder temperatures, so it boasts lush greenery and a variety of vibrant flowers.
On the other hand, the Koko Crater Botanical Garden is known for its hot climate resulting in cacti and shrubs growing there.
There are a few more names on this list of Honolulu Botanical Gardens like Foster Botanical Gardens, the Liliʻuokalani Botanical Garden, and the Lyon Arboretum (run by University of Hawaiʻi – Manoa).
Consider researching and making a plan to visit them one by one if you have the time!
One of the best things to do in Honolulu is to visit Kaka’ako. It’s a fashionable and entertaining district of the city, brimming with cafes, galleries, interesting new eateries, and amazing street art.
This used to be an industrial town in the past, but today it is unrecognizable. Here, you’ll delve into a buzzing environment featuring cutting-edge art, retail, dining, and so much more.
If you’re into Hawaiian food, don’t miss your chance to visit The Highway Inn. It’s a fantastic spot for travelers to get a taste of authentic Hawaiian cuisine and they even offer sample platters and will go over each dish with you!
Also, be sure to stop by Arvo and grab a coffee, 9BAR HNL for an ube latte, and Paiko for some beautiful house plants. They are all located in SALT, a cultural hub within the district.
This is easily my favorite place to walk around in Honolulu!
Honolulu Museum of Art
Founded in 1927, the Honolulu Museum of Art is recognized for having one of the largest collections of Pan-Pacific and Asian art in the US.
The Doris Duke Theatre, which organizes concerts, seminars, and lectures, as well as the Robert Allerton Art Research Library and the Honolulu Museum of Art School, are all part of the museum.
The Honolulu Museum of Art’s main campus houses one of America’s best Asian art collections, as well as works by Europe’s great artists, like Picasso, Gauguin, van Gogh, etc).
For some really unique stuff, it’s recommended to visit The Arts of Hawai’i collection, which includes Georgia O’Keeffe’s Maui landscapes and indigenous feather capes.
Address: 900 South Beretania St Honolulu, HI 96814
Shangri La Museum of Islamic Art, Culture, and Design
The Shangri La Museum of Islamic Art, Culture, and Design is located in Diamond Head, just outside of Honolulu.
It’s at the former home of Doris Duke, which now serves as a public museum dedicated to the arts and cultures of the Islamic world.
This place began as a mansion, where Doris Duke acquired and displayed Islamic art.
Thanks to that, the museum now houses a diverse collection of art, furnishings, and built-in architectural components from countries like Iran, Morocco, Turkey, Spain, Syria, Egypt, and India.
Keep in mind that tours to Shangri La must be booked well in advance and individual access is not permitted.
Address: 4055 Pāpū Cir, Honolulu, HI 96816
Corsair Wreck Dive Site
For those who have some diving skills and are looking for a real challenge, the Corsair Wreck Dive Site is one of the best attractions in Honolulu. It lies about 3 miles south of the Hawaii Kai Marina on Oahu’s southeast shore.
This site incorporates a real plane from WWII that lies at the bottom of the ocean, making it interesting for not only divers but also photographers.
The diving spot is rated as advanced, so you’ll need a boat and a guide to get to the area. The crash is located at a depth of around 115 feet.
Moreover, there are usually strong and rapid currents that can be unpredictable, so make sure to be extremely cautious here. However, if youʻre advanced, it is a great place to go scuba diving on Oahu.
The Aloha Tower is the Hawaiian Statue of Liberty and is known as one of the iconic landmarks of the state. For many years, this tower served as a guiding beacon welcoming sailors to Honolulu.
The Gothic-styled tower is 184-foot high and was constructed in the early 20th century. Aloha Tower’s primary role today is tourism but that doesn’t mean that it no longer “works” as a lighthouse.
If you’re about to get around the tower, note that visitors are allowed to climb all the way to the top for spectacular views of the Honolulu shoreline. You can also walk, shop, and dine at a marketplace located inside the tower.
Address: 1 Aloha Tower Dr, Honolulu, HI
Waiola Shave Ice
On the list of must-try Hawaiian snacks and sweet treats, Wailua Shave Ice has its very own spot. It’s so famous that locals have transformed it into an art form.
This Hawaiian dessert is made of a thousand flavors, toppings, and juices. It has quite a unique taste and is adored by many, making Waiola Shave Ice one of the top places to visit in Honolulu.
Mango, cherries, passionfruit, haupia, chocolate, green tea, mochi, and margarita are some of the main flavors.
The best part is that you can mix and match your favorites to find the very best combination for you!
Address: 2135 Waiola St, Honolulu, HI 96826
Sans Souci Beach Park
Looking for a relaxing place to unwind yourself in Honolulu? Sans Souci Beach Park should be one of the very first choices to consider if youʻre looking to walk around from the crowds a bit.
Also known as Kaimana Beach, Sans Souci Beach is shallow, sandy, with no strong currents, making it one of the cityʻs best family beaches.
It’s also a fantastic snorkeling spot. Swimmers and kayakers use the beach to access the seas beyond the reef via Kapua Channel, which leads to the popular surf spot: Old Man’s.
Overall, this is one of the best (if not the best) beach parks in Honolulu to enjoy some nice, relaxing, and as the name states, a “worry-free” time!
Royal Hawaiian Center
This one is for those shopping lovers again. Compared to other malls, the Royal Hawaiian Center specializes in luxury brands. It stretches along a three-block section of Waikiki’s iconic Kalākaua Avenue and encompasses more than 310,000 square feet.
Its design and architectural style combined with a good variety of high-end shops makes this center an interesting site to visit in Honolulu.
While shopping here in 110 unique stores and 30 unique dining venues, you can join a celebration of dance, music, and other Hawaiian traditions.
Address: 2201 Kalakaua Ave, Honolulu, HI 96815
Chinatown is a district, located on the outskirts of Honolulu and Waikiki, that is now a trendy area with interesting art galleries, cafes, and a monthly First Friday series event.
When visiting, tourists can experience traditional Chinese restaurants or the dim sum scene, as well as more than 10 acres of local lei stands, traditional shops, and agricultural markets.
This place is home to incredible landmarks like the Kuan Yin, which is a Buddhist temple with red columns and a green roof, designed with flowers, statues, and relics. It is a must-visit spot in Honolulu!
The Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum
To learn some more about Hawaiian history and culture, don’t miss out on The Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum.
More than 24 million historical, cultural, and natural relics about Hawaii and the Pacific are housed at this location.
Visitors can get to know about Hawaiian gods, historical events, and much more in the three-story Hawaiian Hall, or explore the Hawai’i Sports Hall of Fame, which is devoted to Hawaiian sports history.
Aside from the extensive Hawaiian exhibits, the museum’s total holdings of natural history specimens surpass 24 million items, with the entomological collection alone counting for over 13.5 million.
In fact, it’s the third-largest insect collection in the United States.
Koko Crater Trail
Located near Waimanalo, Oahu, Koko Crater is a 1,208-foot-tall volcanic tuff cone. This is truly one of those hiking trails that is classified as strenuous and offers the opportunity to witness wildlife at its best.
To reach the lookout point, this popular hiking spot challenges hikers to climb 1,048 exceedingly steep railroad ties stairs, which were built more than 60 years ago so that the military could carry supplies to the bunkers at the summit.
The Koko Crater Trail is open all year round and is largely utilized for its touristic hiking and nature visits.
Farmer’s Market KCC
The Hawaii Farm Bureau Federation is a nonprofit organization with 1,800 farm family members statewide, which has been there since 1948 and acts as Hawaii’s voice of agriculture (it protects and advocates the agricultural community’s interests).
KCC Farmer’s Market is where a variety of vendors display and sell their products each week.
You’re welcome to choose from a large selection of fresh fruits, vegetables, flowers, meat, aquacultured fish, baked bread, handcrafted pasta, unusual jams, jellies, snacks, and many more mouth-watering foods, honey, baked goods, specialty seasonings, etc.
The Oahu farmersʻ market is open on Saturdays from 0730 until 1100 and you can find out more here.
Address: 4303 Diamond Head Rd, Honolulu, HI 96816
Craft Beer in Honolulu
In Honolulu, you will find a burgeoning (and rather developed) craft beer scene. You will find island favorites from the Maui Brewing Company to Honolulu Beerworks to the Waikiki Brewing Company.
All are worth a visit (or try)!
Honolulu Beerworks has a leading position when it comes to craft breweries in Oahu. The microbrewery is 5 years old and offers a bunch of unique special releases. In addition, Honolulu Beerworks has 14 beers on tap.
At Waikiki Brewing Company, youʻll find four locations throughout Hawaii and they even distribute to Guam! It was one of my favorite places for craft beer in Honolulu, to be honest.
Nu’uanu Pali State Wayside
The Nu’uanu Pali Lookout, which is only a 5-mile drive from downtown Honolulu, has some of the greatest views in all of Oahu!
Once you’re there, be ready to witness breathtaking views of Kailua town, Kaneohe Bay, and, of course, the magnificent Ko’olau Mountains.
We recommend that those visiting this spot bring their cameras or phones to capture the views for themselves. The lookout is open every day from 6am until 6pm, if the weather allows it.
There is no charge for admission and even parking is not an issue here (there is plenty of space available). But, while not an issue, it does cost to park ($7/vehicle).
One thing to keep in mind though is that the area of the lookout has some strong winds and being cautious here (especially if you’re with youngsters) is a must.
Do note that if you are taking a Circle Island Tour of Oahu, your tour likely goes there.
Did we miss any of your favorite things to do in Honolulu as a first-time visitor to the Hawaiian capital city? If youʻre looking for what to eat in Hawaii, do check our guide out for that!
Let us know your favorite attractions in Honolulu in the comments! Thanks!
More Honolulu Travel Guides
- Best museums in Honolulu
- Things to do in Haleiwa
- Ice cream shops in Honolulu
- Wine bars in Honolulu
- Top beaches near Honolulu
- Perfect Oahu itinerary
- Honolulu helicopter tours
- Day trip to Kapolei
Pin this Honolulu Things to Do Guide