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Honolulu Visitors Guide

How to Get There, Things to Do & More

Updated April 2024 ⋅ Written by Vanessa Howard ⋅ Edited by Laura Schulthies

Honolulu Visitors Guide: The Best of Honolulu, Hawaii
Honolulu Visitors Guide: The Best of Honolulu, Hawaii

Welcome to Honolulu

Honolulu is the heartbeat of the island of Oahu, and this vibrant city has it all. Visitors can explore everything from historic landmarks to fine dining, beaches and more. Home to most of Oahu’s population, the city stretches across the island’s southeastern shores from Pearl Harbor to Makapuʻu Point. It encompasses the world famous Waikiki Beach as well. This Honolulu Visitors Guide will help you plan the perfect trip and enjoy your time in this Hawaiian paradise!

Honolulu is the heartbeat of the island of Oahu, and this vibrant city has it all. Visitors can explore everything from historic landmarks to fine dining, beaches and more. Home to most of Oahu’s population, the city stretches across the island’s southeastern shores from Pearl Harbor to Makapuʻu Point. It encompasses the world famous Waikiki Beach as well. This Honolulu Visitors Guide will help you plan the perfect trip and enjoy your time in this Hawaiian paradise!

Oahu Map

Oahu Map

Contents

Honolulu Visitors Guide: The Best of Honolulu, Hawaii
Honolulu Visitors Guide

A Bit Of History

Hawaiian legend suggests that the earliest settlement of Honolulu was around 1100. By 1820, Honolulu flourished as a base for sandalwood traders and whalers. After going through periods of Russian, British, and French rule, it was returned to King Kamehameha III, who officially declared Honolulu a city and the capital of Oahu in1850. Famously, in December of 1941, the city and the Pearl Harbor naval-military complex were attacked aerially by the Japanese. Following the events of Pearl Harbor, Honolulu became one of the prime staging areas of World War II.

Honolulu Visitors Guide

Honolulu Today

Today as the state capital of Hawaii, Honolulu, is one of the safest cities in the U.S., with features and characteristics that make it incredibly unique. It’s home to America’s only royal palace and is known for its lush green landscape, diverse population, and aloha community spirit. You won’t find Honolulu lacking things to do with many notable historical sites, luxurious resorts, art museums, and fantastic dining experiences.

Where Is Honolulu?

Where is Oahu in the Hawaiian islands

Honolulu is situated on the southeastern coast of the island of Oahu, which is part of the Hawaiian archipelago. It is the capital and largest city of Hawaii. The city is nestled between the majestic Koʻolau Mountain Range to the east and the vast Pacific Ocean to the south. The city’s strategic position in the Pacific Ocean makes it a crucial hub for commerce, tourism, and transportation.

Honolulu Visitors Guide
Honolulu Visitors Guide

Best Time To Visit Honolulu

The best time to visit Honolulu is from mid-April to early June or between September and mid-December. During these shoulder seasons, visitors will find that attractions are less crowded, there are plenty of fun festivals, and airfare and room rates are at their lowest.

The best time to visit Honolulu is from mid-April to early June or between September and mid-December. During these shoulder seasons, visitors will find that attractions are less crowded, there are plenty of fun festivals, and airfare and room rates are at their lowest.

December – April

December through April is peak season for surfers in Honolulu. Thanks to its incredible wave swells and highly regarded surf competitions. This time of year includes can’t-miss winter events like the Volcom Pipe Pro and Da Hui Pipeline Warriors. These months are also a great time to spot humpback whales and daytime temperatures rarely stray from the low 80s. Keep in mind that rain showers are common during this time.

Mid-April – June

Between the end of surf season and the start of summer, you’ll find the sweet spot when fewer travelers come to the island, resulting in many hotels and airlines offering reduced rates. Popular tourist attractions in Honolulu are less crowded, and you may even catch a glimpse of humpback whales in April and May. Average temperatures hover in the high 60s to high 80s.

Mid-June – August

Mid-June you will find more travelers in Honolulu taking advantage of its superb tropical weather. Temperatures generally hover in the mid-70s to high 80s, and rain showers are highly unlikely. The phenomenal weather comes at a cost though, many hotels and airlines charge more in the summer. You’ll need to book accommodations and flights well in advance.

September – November

This shoulder season brings fewer travelers to Honolulu, meaning you’ll have more elbow room at all the most popular attractions such as Waikiki Beach and Diamond Head State Monument. Oahu hosts events centered around food, film, and Hawaiian heritage. Keep in mind that the chance of rain increases as the fall season progresses. In November the North Shore swells bring surfers for the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing competitions.

December – April

December through April is peak season for surfers in Honolulu. Thanks to its incredible wave swells and highly regarded surf competitions. This time of year includes can’t-miss winter events like the Volcom Pipe Pro and Da Hui Pipeline Warriors. These months are also a great time to spot humpback whales and daytime temperatures rarely stray from the low 80s. Keep in mind that rain showers are common during this time.

Mid-April – June

Between the end of surf season and the start of summer, you’ll find the sweet spot when fewer travelers come to the island, resulting in many hotels and airlines offering reduced rates. Popular tourist attractions in Honolulu are less crowded, and you may even catch a glimpse of humpback whales in April and May. Average temperatures hover in the high 60s to high 80s.

Mid-June – August

Mid-June you will find more travelers in Honolulu taking advantage of its superb tropical weather. Temperatures generally hover in the mid-70s to high 80s, and rain showers are highly unlikely. The phenomenal weather comes at a cost though, many hotels and airlines charge more in the summer. You’ll need to book accommodations and flights well in advance.

September – November

This shoulder season brings fewer travelers to Honolulu, meaning you will have more elbow room at all the most popular attractions such as Waikiki Beach and Diamond Head State Monument. Oahu hosts events centered around food, film, and Hawaiian heritage. Keep in mind that the chance of rain increases as the fall season progresses. In November the North Shore swells bring surfers for the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing competitions.

  When Is Honolulu Hurricane Season?

The hurricane season for Honolulu, like in the rest of Hawaii, officially runs from June 1 to November 30 each year. However, the peak of the hurricane season in Hawaii is usually from mid-August to early October. While it’s important to be aware of the potential for hurricanes during this time, it’s worth noting that Hawaii is not typically affected by direct hits from hurricanes, as the islands are small targets in a vast ocean and the mountains of Hawaii can disrupt the flow of storm systems. Be sure to check weather reports ahead of time and we always suggest getting travel insurance during these months just in case.

Hurricane Season
Honolulu Visitors Guide
Honolulu Visitors Guide

How To Get To Honolulu

Transportation in Honolulu is incredibly easy to access and use.

Oahu Visitors Guide

Arrival By Air

Getting to Honolulu is as easy as flying to Honolulu International Airport (HNL), which is Hawaii’s largest airport. Honolulu International serves as the entry point for most visitors to Hawaii. All major domestic airlines and many international carriers serve Honolulu, making getting to the island a breeze.

  Search for great deals on flights here.

Rental Cars in Honolulu

If you are planning on staying in Honolulu during your time on Oahu, a rental car may not be necessary. If you want to explore more of the island of Oahu,  it is a good idea to rent a car while visiting the third largest Hawaiian Island. For those wanting to fully immerse themselves and explore the island, a rental car will pay for itself within a few days. The average rental car cost on Oahu is $60 per day. However, during peak times of the year, expect to pay upwards of $185 per day. Most major rental car companies provide cars on the island, including Alamo, Hertz, Budget, and Enterprise. Keep in mind that those staying in larger cities and not venturing out can easily walk instead.

  Search for great deals on rental cars here.

Oahu Visitors Guide

Taxis in Honolulu

You can easily find taxis in Honolulu. You’ll find many outside of the airports and popular tourist destinations. Taxis in Honolulu provide airport transfers and transportation to all the most popular activities on the island of Oahu. However, Taxis can be quite expensive, but rideshare apps are available in Honolulu.

  You can easily book ground transportation from the airport to your hotel here.

Things To Do in Honolulu

Honolulu's Top Highlights

Being the capital of Hawaii, this vibrant city has so much to see and do. You can explore historical sites, relax on the fantastic beaches, or eat delicious Hawaiian cuisine in Honolulu.

Honolulu Visitors Guide
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Visit ‘Iolani Palace
Honolulu Visitors Guide
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1. Visit ‘Iolani Palace

Honolulu’s ʻIolani Palace was the official residence of Hawaii’s last two monarchs, King Kalākaua and his successor, Queen Liliʻuokalani. The palace is a beautiful place to explore, thanks to the influence of European architectural styles. This royal residence includes Hawaii’s first electric light system, flush toilets, and telephones. The rich interior features beautifully ornate furniture, a koa staircase, dramatic portraits of Hawaiian royalty, and ornaments from around the world.

You can take a guided or self-guided tour of the ‘Iolani Palace from Tuesday through Saturday. On the tour you’ll get to see the palace’s reception, dining room, and throne room. View the private living quarters of the royal family and listen to the tragic story of Liliʻuokalani’s imprisonment in an upstairs bedroom following the overthrow. This is one of Honolulu’s most important historical places, and ʻIolani Palace plays an integral part in understanding the history and culture of Hawaii.

Honolulu Visitors Guide
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Take A Surf Lesson On Waikiki Beach
Honolulu Visitors Guide
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2. Take A Surf Lesson at Waikiki Beach

Located on the south shore of Honolulu is the world-famous Waikiki Beach. If you have always wanted to learn how to surf, the calm waters of Waikiki Beach are perfect for a surfing lesson. While here, visit the Duke Kahanamoku Statue, located right on the beach, as it has become an iconic symbol of Waikiki and the surf culture of the island.

  There are a variety of options when it comes to surfing lessons at Waikiki Beach.

  This group surf lesson in Waikiki is perfect for those looking to learn in groups of 4 or less.

Honolulu Visitors Guide
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Enjoy The Waters Of Hanauma Bay
Honolulu Visitors Guide
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3. Enjoy the Waters of Hanauma Bay

This cove is one of the best places in Honolulu to snorkel and enjoy marine life and the stunning coral reefs. Over 400 species of vibrant tropical fish call the bay home, and it is also known for its abundance of green sea turtles. The number of visitors is limited each day, so make sure to plan ahead if you want to visit Hanauma Bay during your time in Honolulu.

Reservations are now required under a new program instituted to help preserve the natural elements of the area and the health of marine life. You can visit Hanauma Bay Wednesday through Sunday from 6:45 am to 1:30 pm, and all visitors must leave the nature preserve by 4 p.m. There is a $25 entry fee, and a $3 parking fee.

  Not wanting to go it alone? Check out this Snorkeling Tour Of Hanauma Bay.

  ISLAND LIFE TRAVEL TIP : GET TRAVEL INSURANCE

Travel Insurance is a must in our opinion. Standard health insurance likely doesn’t cover you while outside of the country so travel insurance will cover any emergency medical needs as well as trip cancellation, lost or stolen luggage (it happens), flight delays, missed connections and more. You can easily compare the top-rated travel insurance plans here.

Honolulu Visitors Guide
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Visit The Bishops Museum
Honolulu Visitors Guide
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4. Visit the Bishops Museum

The Bishop Museum showcases a variety of cultural and natural history exhibits. It is one of the finest Polynesian anthropological museums in the world. Founded in 1889 to honor Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, the museum was originally only housed Hawaiian and royal artifacts.

However, these days The Bishops Museum honors all of Polynesia and is a can’t miss part of the cultural fabric of Honolulu. This is also home to one of Oahu’s best planetariums, which includes a fascinating look at traditional Polynesian methods of wayfaring (navigation).

Honolulu Visitors Guide
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Hike Diamond Head State Monument
Honolulu Visitors Guide
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5. Hike Diamond Head State Monument

The iconic silhouette of Diamond Head State Monument sits along the Honolulu skyline and is one of Oahu’s most famous landmarks. The moderately challenging hiking trail includes two sets of stairs, totaling 175 steps, as well as military bunkers to explore. The gorgeous views that greet you once you reach the top are well worth the effort to get there.

The monument is open daily from 6 am to 6 pm, excluding Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, with the last hike beginning at 4 pm. Admission for Diamond Head State Monument is $10 (USD) per vehicle and $5 (USD) per pedestrian entry. As of May 2022, reservations are required for out-of-state visitors to hike this trail. You can find out more at the Division of State Parks website.

  Diamond Head can be a bit intimidating, but no need to worry there are numerous Diamond Head hiking tours to choose from, including this self-guided Diamond Head Crater Tour.

Honolulu Visitors Guide
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Stroll And Shop At Aloha Tower
Honolulu Visitors Center
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6. Stroll and Shop at Aloha Tower

Located on the Honolulu Harbor and built in September of 1926, the Aloha Tower is one of the tallest buildings on the islands, and its clock is one of the largest in the United States. Today the tower has been transformed into a revitalized marketplace. It features Hawaii Pacific University student residences, event areas, gathering places, and a variety of phenomenal restaurants.

Enjoy lunch with a beautiful ocean view, listen to live music at night, or explore unique shops. You can also visit the Observation Deck, which is located on the 10th floor of Aloha Tower. Or dance the night away at Nashville Waikiki, all with beautiful views of the harbor and the cityscape of Honolulu.

Honolulu Visitors Guide
7
Pay Your Respects At Pearl Harbor
Honolulu Visitors Guide
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7. Pay Your Respects at Pearl Harbor

Known around the world as a “date which will live in infamy,” the events of that day in December 1941 changed the course of history. Here in Honolulu, a surprise air attack by the Japanese plunged the United States into World War II and claimed the lives of thousands. Today, five historic sites honor the events that occurred at this National Historic Landmark.

Visiting the Pearl Harbor National Monument is an important stop during your time on Oahu. Here, you will find the USS Arizona Memorial, USS Oklahoma Memorial, and USS Utah Memorial. You can also pay your respects at the Battleship Missouri Memorial and the Pacific Fleet Submarine Museum.

  There are numerous guided tour options to choose from.

  This very popular half day tour of Pearl Harbor includes hotel pickup and drop off and a guide.

  This full day small group tour also includes visits to both the USS Arizona Memorial and the USS Missouri battleship.

Honolulu Visitors Guide
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Wander The Honolulu Museum Of Art
Honolulu Visitors Guide
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8. Wander the Honolulu Museum of Art

As Hawaii’s largest general fine arts museum, the Honolulu Fine Arts Museum features a permanent collection of more than 60,000 pieces. Here you can explore one of the finest collections of Asian art in the world, as well as impressive collections of European, Western, and Polynesian art.

For a bit of a different museum experience, head to the Honolulu Museum of Art on a Friday or Saturday night for “HoMA Nights.” The museum is open until 9 pm and offers live music, drinks, and bites at the café. You can also partake in hands-on art experiences, see the latest exhibitions, or stargaze in the courtyards.

Honolulu Visitors Guide
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Admire The View From Makapu'u Point Lighthouse Trail
Honolulu Visitors Guide
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9. Admire the View From Makapu'u Point Lighthouse Trail

Visitors love that the Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail is paved and features plenty of benches for resting and enjoying the view. The trail is perfect for travelers of all ages to explore. Known for its incredible views, you’ll want to bring your camera on this hike to the beautiful lighthouse. It takes at least two hours to complete the Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail.

It’s important to note that this path is mainly exposed to the sun and wind. Make sure to wear sunscreen, dress appropriately, and pack plenty of water. The trail overlooks the Pacific Ocean and is a prime spot for spotting seabirds and whales between November and May. The path also leads to the picturesque Makapu’u Lighthouse, which was built in 1909.

  This Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Tour includes park fees and a shuttle to the trailhead.

Honolulu Visitors Guide
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Experience The Polynesian Cultural Center
Honolulu Visitors Guide
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10. Experience the Polynesian Cultural Center

If you want to learn about the rich heritage of the Pacific Islands, including Hawaii, Fiji, Samoa, and Tahiti, then the Polynesian Cultural Center is a must-visit during your time in Honolulu. The 42-acre property features “villages” that represent six different islands. Each village features traditional architecture, art, dance, food, games, music, and plenty of hands-on activities for kids.

Admission to the Polynesian Cultural Center starts at $89.95 for adults and $71.96 for kids ages 4 to 11, and these prices include a self-guided tour of the villages and a digital photo. You can also stay for an authentic luau dinner and show. The center’s luau packages cost $194.95 for adults and $155.96 (USD) for kids ages 4 to 11.

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