9 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions & Things to Do in Honolulu
Honolulu is the capital of Hawaii and the main point of entry for most visitors to the state. Easily accessible by direct flights from North America, Asia, and destinations around the South Pacific, Hawaii is a major tourist destination, with visitors from all over coming here to enjoy the beaches and tropical climate.
The city of Honolulu falls roughly into three areas that include Waikiki, Downtown, and Pearl Harbor. Waikiki, the main attraction with it's beautiful stretch of soft sand beach, is a peninsula covering nearly half a square mile. In this small area, one of the most densely-populated in the whole of the United States, more hotels, restaurants and shops can be found than in the rest of Hawaii. Downtown, the center and historical part of Honolulu, contains a number of museums, historic buildings, and famous statues.
Pearl Harbor, first developed in 1911, occupies a large part of the city, stretching for many miles to the west. As well as naval bases, military bases and the Honolulu Airport are located here.
See also: Where to Stay in Honolulu
1 Pearl Harbour and USS Arizona Memorial
Pearl Harbor is one of Honolulu's biggest tourist attractions. Although it is home to the Navy's Pacific Fleet, visitors can take a tour to see the USS Arizona Memorial, and the USS Missouri.
Waikiki is the main beach destination of most people heading to Honolulu and the island of Oahu. This area is known for its large crescent shaped beach, where visitors come to lie out in the sun, swim, and learn to surf. Stores, restaurants, and hotels line the oceanfront street backing Waikiki Beach.
- Read More:
- 10 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Waikiki
3 Lyon Arboretum and Manoa Falls
The Lyon Arboretum is a 194-acre botanical garden in a rainforest, featuring a collection of over 5,000 tropical plants from Hawaii and Polynesia. It is said to have one of largest collection of palms found in a botanical garden. This facility is also an active research facility, working on preserving the state's tropical forests.
The Arboretum maintains a number of theme gardens that visitors can easily wander through. Among these are an herb and spice garden, bromeliad garden, the Beatrice H. Krauss Hawaiian Ethnobotanical Garden, and many others. The facility is both beautiful and educational.
A path at the entrance to the Lyon Arboretum leads 1.5mi/2.4km to the Manoa Falls where bathing is permitted.
Address: 3860 Manoa Road, Honolulu, HI 96822-1180, United States
4 Iolani Palace
Iolani Palace is an impressive neo-classical building, completed in 1882 for King Kalakaua. It is the official residence of Hawaii's monarchy. The building has been restored to its former glory and is a great place to experience Hawaiian history. The palace was the residence of Hawaii's royalty until they were deposed by American settlers in 1893. It then served as the state capitol until the modern one was constructed in 1969. The palace was restored in the 1970s and opened as a museum in 1978. The interior boasts elaborate wood paneling and carving of native woods like Koa and several imported species. The throne room still has the original carved throne and chandelier. Stained glass and elaborate decorations grace the façade.
Located in the palace grounds are the Royal Barracks where the king's bodyguards lived. Originally built in 1871 close to the site of the present Hawaii State Capitol, the barracks only moved to their current position when the Capitol was built. The building resembles medieval battlements with embrasures, which appear somewhat odd in these surroundings. The palace is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
5 Ala Moana Park
Tucked between downtown Honolulu and Waikiki, Ala Moana Park and Beach provides a good view of Waikiki. There is a fine beach for swimming with a man-made reef protecting it from the open sea, meaning the water is generally calm. The sand here is coarse. On its western end, Kewalo Basin, also known as Fisherman's Wharf, is a small picturesque port where it's possible to hire a boat to go fishing out in the open sea.
6 Queen Emma Summer Palace
The white colonial mansion, built in 1848, was a summer home for King Kamehameha IV and Queen Emma. The museum contains koa furniture and quilts as well as Emma's wedding dress.
The house consists of six rooms, with the one across the back added in 1865 to accommodate the Duke of Edinburgh during his visit. The room's highlight is a Gothic curved glass cabinet given by Queen Victoria for the wedding of the royal couple. It was made in Germany from Koa logs shipped from Hawaii.
The front parlor room has a round dining table in an early mission style and is one of the only pieces remaining from John Young II, a missionary who built the house and left it to Queen Emma. The 1865 baby grand piano was picked up on the royal family's grand tour of Europe. The rosewood bookcases display symbols of royalty such as a woman's feather cape and a chief's helmet made of roots.
The front bedroom across the hall contains an 1842 four-poster bed made of Koa wood, a sleigh bed with a crown, and a cradle in the shape of a canoe decorated with shells.
Three rooms across the middle of the house display Hawaiian feather capes, one of which contains 100,000 feathers, wooden bowls, glass, silver, jewelry, and tapa cloths.
The house has been a museum since 1913 and is operated by the Daughters of Hawaii. While the King and Queen had six houses, this is one of only two which remain standing.
Address: 2913 Pali Highway, Honolulu, HI 96817-1417, United States
7 Foster Botanical Garden
Foster Botanical Garden was established in 1853 and bequeathed to the City of Honolulu as a public garden in 1930. Today it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Of particular interest is the Prehistoric Glen with its ferns and cycads. Other areas include the Lyon Orchid Garden, the oldest section known as the Main Terrace, the Butterfly Garden, the Economic Garden of herbs and spices, the blooming orchid display in the Orchid Conservatory, and a number of "exceptional trees" which are spread throughout the property.
Address: 50 North Vineyard Boulevard, Honolulu, HI 96817-3937, United States
8 Bishop Museum and Planetarium
Bishop Museum, Hawaii's state museum, contains one of the best collection of Polynesian arts and artifacts in the state. On display is an important collection of the feathered royal standards (kahilis) which essentially served as flags for past royalty. Hawaiian feathered capes and helmets are other highlights. Also of note is a large collection of artifacts from the South Pacific, and objects brought by the Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, Korean, Portuguese, German and other early settlers. Natural history exhibits, including whaling artifacts, complete the museum. Also on site is the J Watumull Planetarium.
Address: 1525 Bernice Street, Honolulu, HI 96817-2704, United States
9 Mission Houses Museum
This museum maintains three historical properties from the early 19th century. These restored homes, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, document the lives and living conditions of early missionaries. They are the oldest western style buildings still standing. The properties include the Mission House (1821), the printing works (1841) and the Chamberlain House (1831), built by Levi Chamberlain for himself and his family of eight when they came to Honolulu from Vermont in 1823. It was here that books in the Hawaiian language, used by missionaries as a written language, were first printed.
- Read More:
- Mission Houses Museum, Honolulu
Where to Stay in Honolulu for Sightseeing
If you are coming to Honolulu to enjoy the beaches, it's best to stay in Waikiki. This is the famous beachfront suburb of Honolulu and the main tourist destination on the island of Oahu. Hotels closest to the beach are generally the top-end resorts, with more affordable accommodation options available as you head inland. Below are some highly-rated hotels in good locations:
- Luxury Hotels: Consistently rated as one of the top hotels in Waikiki by multiple sources, Trump International Hotel Waikiki Beach Walk is a five-star high-rise complex with fabulous views, top-end facilities, shopping, dining, and a great location just steps from the beach. With a beautiful beachfront location, the Halekulani Hotel is another of Waikiki's famous posh hotels, offering a range of rooms and suites with incredible views over the ocean, beach, and Diamond Head. The Hyatt Regency Waikiki Resort and Spa is an older property but with a prime location in the heart of Waikiki, and close to the waterfront. All of these hotels have beautiful pool areas.
- Mid-Range Hotels: In a central location in Waikiki, near shopping and restaurants, and just a short walk to the beach, is the Holiday Inn Resort Waikiki Beachcomber. Some rooms have ocean views, and the property has an outdoor pool. Vive Hotel Waikiki, three short blocks off the beach, is a stylish boutique hotel offering complimentary breakfast. For families looking for more space, the Luana Waikiki Hotel and Suites offers a range of accommodation options, including rooms with kitchenettes or full kitchens. This property is further back, but still within walking distance of the beach, and has a small pool.
- Budget Hotels: The Waikiki Prince, also a walk from the beach, is popular with travelers interested in longer stays and offers basic rooms with kitchenettes. A little more removed from the action but still just a short stroll from the beach is the Ewa Hotel. Well back from the ocean, but with decent rooms and a pool, is the White Sands Hotel.