The island of Oahu welcomed over six-million visitors in 2019, and many of them flocked to Honolulu. It’s the state capital and main hub of commerce, government, and activity on the island. As a result, both tourists and residents can be found heading to Honolulu. If you’re looking for the best things to do in Honolulu, look no further. We’ve compiled our 8 favorite activities to enjoy “In Town” as the city is often referred to on the island. Whether you’re a visitor, planning a move, or a current Hawaii resident, we’re sure you’ll find something to love.
#1: Explore Hawaii’s Military History
Nearly 39,000 members of armed forces are stationed at military bases on Oahu, making it the fourth-largest military workforce in the U.S. Plus the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, and it makes sense to find museums and memorials surrounding our armed forces. The USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor National Memorial is probably the most famous but you’ll find three additional museums. Because they’re operated separately from the National Park, each has its own entrance fees. Tickets can be purchased at the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center.
- The Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum – If you or your kids love airplanes, this is a must-do. The museum features 50+ aircraft and over 75 years of Pacific aviation history. Access by shuttle from the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center.
- The USS Bowfin Submarine Park & Museum – Tour one of 15 remaining WWII-era submarines at this fascinating attraction. Kids will love the Junior Submariner program, which gives them the opportunity to earn an iron-on patch by demonstrating what they learned at the site. Enter through the USS Arizona Memorial entrance.
- Battleship Missouri Memorial – Take a guided tour through the last battleship ever built. Walk the decks which hosted the official surrender ceremony of World War II, bringing the war to its end on September 2, 1945.
(BONUS: Looking for more military history? We’ve got you covered)
Outside of Pearl Harbor National Memorial, you’ll find these options for exploring the history and impact of the armed forces including:
- The Hawaii Army Museum – A donation-based museum honoring those who served in the U.S. Army. Their gift shop has a great selection of fun military-themed souvenirs.
- Home of the Brave Museum – This museum & unique brewseum (yes, you read that right!) are dedicated to preserving their repository of Hawaii’s historical artifacts and World War II memorabilia. Tour the collection or stop into the brewhouse for a cold one. Plus, enjoy a great photo opp with a 1945 Ford Jeep used in the filming of Pearl Harbor.
#2: Explore the Honolulu Museum of Art
Originally opened to the public in 1927, the Honolulu Museum of Art (HoMa) now features 50,000 pieces spanning 5,000 years of paintings, decorative art, textiles, and works on paper. Thanks to a gift from The Contemporary Museum, HoMa also exhibits a significant collection of contemporary art, Asian art, American and European paintings, as well as traditional works from Africa and Oceania. Fun fact: The museum holds the largest collection of prints by Japanese ukiyo-e woodblock printing master Utagawa Hiroshige.
- Admission: $20 for adults 18+, $10 for Hawaii residents, free for children under 18.
- Website: The Honolulu Museum of Art
#3: Dine on Delicious Dim Sum
Honolulu is the kind of town you can (and should!) eat your way through. One of the city’s specialties is dim sum, a Chinese tradition that involves lots of small plates, ideally shared amongst a group of people. Usually, dim sum is eaten during breakfast or brunch hours. However, there are a few spots in Honolulu that serve dim sum through the afternoon. Don’t miss the opportunity to try a ton of different tastes, which can include steamed buns, dumplings, sticky rice, steamed pork ribs, and much more. Two of our favorite dim sum spots to try in Honolulu:
#4: Visit the Only Royal Palace in the U.S.
Iolani Palace was the official residence of the last monarchs of the Hawaiian Kingdom. King David Kalakaua built Iolani Palace in 1882. After he passed away in 1891, the palace was the home of his sister, Queen Liliuokalani. It was also the site of her house arrest after the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom and an unsuccessful uprising in 1895. Today, the first and second floors of the palace are open to the public. They offer a fascinating glimpse into 19th century life in Hawaii. You’ll also get an excellent history surrounding the transition of Hawaii from independent monarchy to 50th U.S. state.
- Admission: $20 per adult, $6 for children 5-12; discounts available for kamaaina and active military
- Website: Iolani Palace
#5: Snag a Craft Hawaiian Brew
As the craft brew market continues to gain ground on the mainland, Hawaii’s locally brewed options are growing along with it. While you’re in Honolulu, you’ve got plenty of options to snag a cold one that’s brewed locally. Here are our picks:
- Beer Lab – Focusing on experimental brews in small batches, Beer Lab consistently serves up interesting beers that taste as delicious as they sound.
- Waikiki Brewing Co. – Offering nine core beers, plus occasional specialty brews, this brewery is rapidly expanding, with two locations in Oahu, plus a new one in Maui. Try their Hana Hou Hefe.
- Aloha Beer Co. – This brewery recently established a new production facility in Kakaako. Their brewpub features a full menu, as well as to-go beer options.
- Honolulu Beerworks – Also located in Kakaako, their early focus was locally sourced ingredients. They’ve since expanded to more experimental offerings, plus a line of barrel-aged beers.
#6: Get a Different Perspective
There’s a reason that Diamond Head Crater is one of the most popular hikes on the island. Standing on the edge of this volcanic crater offers a breathtaking view of the city from a more than 500 feet above sea level. We like making the climb in the early morning hours, before the heat of the day.
- Admission: $5 per person for visitors, free for Hawaii residents and children 3 and under; $10 parking fee for visitors, free for Hawaii residents
- Website: Diamond Head State Monument
#7: Enjoy the Magic of Waikiki Beach
A whole roster of songs have been written about Waikiki Beach. The white sand, lined with high-rises on one side and turquoise water on the other is capped by the verdant green of Diamond Head. Some of our favorite activities include:
- Take a surfing lesson or, if you’re an experienced surfer, catch a wave on one of the beach’s many breaks.
- Pay tribute to Hawaii’s most famous waterman, Duke Kahanamoku by visiting his bronze statue just across from the Hyatt Regency Waikiki Beach Resort. Then grab a mai tai at Duke’s, the restaurant named in his honor, which sits right on the beach.
- See famous Waikiki from yet another angle and hop on board one of the sunset cruises that pulls right up on the sand to pick you up. (The Maitai catamaran picks up right in front of the Sheraton Waikiki on most days.)
#8: Shop at the World’s Largest Open-Air Shopping Center
Honolulu is well known for its plentiful shopping opportunities. All kinds of stores line Kalakaua Avenue, from luxury stores like Louis Vuitton and Gucci to popular surf brands like Volcom, Billabong, and Rip Curl.
If shopping is your thing, stop at the Ala Moana Center. There’s a little something for everyone amongst its 350+ stores. Amidst many familiar names, you’ll find some only-in-Hawaii gems. Don’t miss Big Island Candies, whose cookies and sweet treats are highly coveted by tourists and residents alike.
- Admission: Free; opens at 11:00am every day except Sunday, when the center opens at noon
- Website: Ala Moana Center
Have a Blast in Honolulu
As Hawaii’s “big city,” Honolulu is a popular destination for tourists and residents alike. Considering how much there is to do, it’s a place you can visit over and over again. Our top-eight list will certainly get you started. However the more you visit Honolulu, the more activities you’ll discover in this diverse and widely-visited area.
Moving to Honolulu? Or considering a relocation to Oahu? We’d be happy to help you make a safe, easy, and affordable transition to your new home. We’ve helped tens of thousands of families and individuals make the move, and we’d love to assist you. Get started with a complimentary quote from one of our experts.
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