Honolulu, as Hawaii’s capital city, serves as the gateway to this beautiful volcanic archipelago in the Central Pacific. Waikiki Beach is just a short stroll past an urban landscape of high-rise luxury hotels. Just outside the cityscape, you can find pristine natural attractions such as the Diamond Head crater, the Waimano Falls, and the snorkelling paradise of Hanauma Bay.

    The city is on the southern shore of Oahu, Hawaii’s third largest island, and is home to Daniel K. Inouye International Airport. There’s much to see and do around downtown alone, while other attractions aren’t far away. Here’s a mix of the best things to do in Honolulu in a day, to show you some highlights from this slice of Polynesian paradise.

    What are the best things to do in Honolulu?

    1

    Waikiki Beach

    The most popular coast in Oahu

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    • Budget

    Before hitting the sand of Oahu’s most popular beach, enjoy a prelude walk with plenty to see through downtown Waikiki. You can start from Kaʻiulani Avenue, with the lush public garden featuring the namesake Hawaiian princess’ statue. Upon reaching the main street, Kalakaua Avenue, you’ll find the sandy, palm-lined Waikiki beachfront shared by luxurious hotels. Parasols and loungers speckle the coast, facing the blue Pacific waters.

    Location: Kalakaua Ave, Honolulu, HI 96815, USA

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    2

    Pearl Harbor

    Where the pivotal World War II battle took place

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    • History

    This famous lagoon harbour is around 15 minutes’ drive northwest of Honolulu and next to Daniel K. Inouye International Airport. It’s steeped in war history, particularly relating to the surprise attack by the Japanese Empire in December 1941. There are numerous naval memorials and attractions that you can see here. These include the main site of the USS Arizona Memorial, where the mighty battleship sunk and burned during the attack. There’s also the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and the Pacific Aviation Museum.

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    Location: 1 Arizona Memorial Pl, Honolulu, HI 96818, USA

    Open: Daily from 7 am to 5 pm

    Phone: +1 808-422-3399

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    3

    Waimea Waterfall

    A scenic and relatively easy nature hike

    The beautiful Waimea Waterfall lies in the lush valley of the same name, an hour’s drive north from Honolulu, on the northern side of the island. It’s a popular and relatively easy 3.5-mile hike, and enjoyable even for those who can’t do the walk, thanks to an optional tram service. The hiking trail is flat and well-paved, with scenic botanical gardens and a few historical sites to enjoy along the way. The waterfall is around 45 feet tall, and you can swim in the pool under it.

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    Location: 59-864 Kamehameha Hwy, Haleiwa, HI 96712, USA

    Open: Daily from 9 am to 5 pm

    Phone: +1 808-638-7766

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    4

    Diamond Head

    Sweeping panoramas from atop an extinct volcanic crater

    Head up to Diamond Head, a remnant of an ancient volcano, where you can climb up and walk along its rims for panoramic views over Honolulu. From the crater’s grassy top, you can view the high-rise skyline of the coastal city, bordered by the vast blue waters of the Pacific Ocean. The trail up is a combination of rocky terrain and paved concrete steps. It can be quite steep in places, and normally takes an hour to climb.

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    Location: Kapahulu, Honolulu, HI 96815, USA

    Open: Daily from 6 am to 4.30 pm

    Phone: +1 808-587-0300

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    5

    Hanauma Bay

    Underwater wonders in a beautiful reef ecosystem

    For seaside fun in pristine natural settings, head to Hanauma Bay State Park. This nature preserve on the south-eastern tip of Oahu has a curved bay formed by an extinct volcano. Naturally, it’s a snorkelling paradise. Besides enjoying the clear, shallow waters near the coast, you can learn more about the bay’s reef conservation efforts as well as its biodiversity at the onsite marine education centre. 

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    Location: 100 Hanauma Bay Rd, Honolulu, HI 96825, USA

    Open: Daily from 6 am to 7 pm

    Phone: +1 808-396-4229

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    6

    Iolani Palace

    The historical residence of Hawaii’s monarchy

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    This 19th-century Iolani Palace in the heart of Honolulu is the historical residence of Hawaii’s 2 ruling dynasties: Kamehameha and Kalakaua. The national landmark dates to 1882, and was restored in 1930 to its former glory. Now, you can roam through the regal halls and learn how the Hawaiian royals once lived. You can enjoy a self-led audio tour, which lets you better understand the history of the place, including the struggles and sacrifices by the royal family.

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    Location: 364 S King St, Honolulu, HI 96813, USA

    Open: Monday – Saturday from 9 am to 4 pm (closed on Sundays)

    Phone: +1 808-522-0822

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    7

    Hoomaluhia Botanical Garden

    A place where you can appreciate Oahu's tropical beauty

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    At Hoomaluhia Botanical Garden, you can experience the tropical beauty of Oahu. Though you can do so in many parks and at many beaches across the island, very few could give you the ability to experience all the indigenous flora all in one place. 

    Hoomaluhia Botanical Garden will give you just that, and you can come and see multiple geographic regions of botanical collections represented, with the sprawling lake and plant life throughout the lush 400 acres. Group tours are available, and if you enjoy fishing, there are complimentary bamboo poles available.

    Location: 45-680 Luluku Rd, Kaneohe, HI 96744, USA

    Open: Daily from 9 am to 4 pm

    Phone: +1 808-233-7323

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    8

    Aloha Tower

    A tall landmark overlooking Honolulu’s Pier 9

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    The Aloha Tower is one of Honolulu’s most distinctive landmarks, built in 1926 to mark Honolulu’s status as a major port. It stands tall at Pier 9, overlooking the coastal cityscape and the Honolulu Harbor. You can head up to the top of the tower for breathtaking views. Up close, you can admire the craftsmanship that contributed to the historical building’s exterior. At ground level, the Aloha Tower Marketplace features shops, event spaces and dining spots.

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    Location: 155 Ala Moana Blvd, Honolulu, HI 96813, USA

    Open: Daily from 9 am to 5 pm

    Phone: +1 808-544-1453

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    9

    Ala Moana Center

    Just minutes from the beach and Ala Moana Regional Park

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    • Shoppers

    Ala Moana Center is the largest mall in Hawaii and it's said to be the world’s largest outdoor shopping centre. Its open-air design spread over 4 levels with koi ponds and tropical gardens lets visitors enjoy Hawaii’s mild climate while they shop. Found near Waikiki, Ala Moana Center has more than 300 stores, dozens of restaurants, and 2 food courts. There’s a great range of things to buy here with its 3 department stores – Macy’s, Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom – plus a mix of international brands and local boutique shops. You’ll even have a chance to soak up some local culture with the mall’s free hula shows, staged daily at 1 pm.

    The easiest way to get there is by catching the Ala Moana Shopping Trolley, which runs every 10-12 minutes during the mall’s opening hours between Ala Moana Center and 10 locations around Waikiki. The cost is a couple of dollars per trip, with day passes and multi-day passes available. 

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    Location: 1450 Ala Moana Boulevard, Honolulu, HI 96814, USA

    Open: Monday–Thursday from 11 am to 7 pm, Friday and Saturday from 11 am to 8 pm, Sunday from noon to 6pm

    Phone: +1 808-955-9517

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    photo by Penkurou (CC BY-SA 3.0) modified

    10

    Diamond Head Luau

    Experience a cultural Hawaiian feast

    Diamond Head Luau is one of the best places in Honolulu to enjoy a traditional Hawaiian party with local food, and traditional music and dance. The outdoor dinner theatre overlooks the shore just west of the namesake crater. After you’ve been greeted with refreshing Mai Tais and lei garlands, the festive nights here carry on with fire dancers performing to steady drumming beats, as well as hula and traditional leaf craft-making lessons that you can freely partake in. They promote a farm-to-table dining experience, with Hawaiian delights including poi shooters with lomilomi salmon, poke, kalbi short ribs, huli-huli chicken and kalua pork.

    Location: 2777, 4027, Kalakaua Ave, Honolulu, HI 96815, USA

    Phone: +1 808-926-3800

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    photo by Piyush Kumar (CC BY 2.0) modified

    Ari Gunadi | Compulsive Traveller

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    Attractions and experiences recommended in our guides may be affected. Please check local guidance before you travel.

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