As the capital of Hawaii, Honolulu combines the best of both worlds when it comes to vacationing: it’s a thriving city, yet it’s also surrounded by lush tropical foliage and turquoise Pacific waters. It’s where you’ll find Hawaii’s most recognizable landmark: Diamond Head, a 300,000-year-old crater formed by a volcanic eruption.
Honolulu is best known for its white-sand beaches, among them the famous Waikiki beach and quieter alternatives such as Ala Moana and Kailua. When not sprawled on the sand, explore sunny avenues lined with everything from upscale boutiques and nightclubs to craft booths and street performers.
What to Eat and Drink
- Fresh catches: There’s no shortage of seafood—or inventive ways to prepare it—in Honolulu. Try Ono Seafood’s ahi poke, a seafood salad made with diced raw tuna, seaweed, and onions seasoned with chili pepper and sesame oil.
- Plate lunches: Asia’s influence on Hawaiian cuisine is evident in these meals, which usually have two scoops of white rice, macaroni salad, and a meat entree. Common choices include teriyaki-like barbecue chicken, beef, or pork and spam musubi—white rice sandwiched between grilled Spam patties and wrapped in seaweed.
- Shave ice is made from fine ice crystals, which absorb flavored syrups better than crushed ice. Island Snow in nearby Kailua offers passionfruit and other Hawaiian varieties; for extra sweetness, get an order with condensed milk on top or ice cream at the bottom.
- Bar 35 pours more than 150 beers from 21 countries, including more than a dozen Hawaiian brews.
Where to Shop
- Honolulu Night Market: Part street festival, part boutique. At this monthly event, you’ll find local art and clothing vendors and live entertainers. Take a cab, as parking can be hard to find, and get there early to avoid long lines at food trucks and stalls.
- Bob’s Ukulele: This shop stocks hundreds of Hawaiian-made ukuleles, many crafted from native koa wood.
- Aloha Stadium Swap Meet & Marketplace: Three times a week, more than 400 vendors sell handmade gifts and other products at this open-air flea market. Ship your packages home from the onsite post office.
- High end: Royal Hawaiian Center and Ala Moana Center house about 400 retailers and restaurants between them, including the likes of Tory Burch, Hermès, and Versace.
History on Display
- Statue of King Kamehameha I: This 18-foot bronze figure pays tribute to the leader who united the Hawaiian islands in 1810. It stands in front of Aliiolani Hale, a government building opened in 1874 and now the home of the state’s Supreme Court.
- Iolani Palace was built in 1882 under the direction of King Kalakaua. Tour the National Historic Landmark, including the room where Kalakaua’s sister and successor, Queen Liliuokalani, was imprisoned after the Kingdom of Hawaii was overthrown in 1893.
- USS Arizona Memorial: The site of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor is now a memorial to the sailors and marines who lost their lives during the Pacific campaign of World War II. Tranquil, informative, and free, the memorial is reachable by boat only.
Where to Stay
- For luxury: Known as the “First Lady of Waikiki,” the Moana Surfrider has a star-studded guestbook—including Frank Sinatra, Joe DiMaggio, and Amelia Earhart—that dates back to 1901. A $20 million renovation of the Beaux Arts hotel brought remodeled guest rooms and a beachfront spa.
- For families: Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort occupies an idyllic stretch of Duke Kahanamoku Beach and Lagoon. More than 60 bird, fish, and turtle species live on the property, and you can watch penguin and turtle feedings. The hotel’s Camp Penguin treats kids to games, art projects, and field trips based on a daily theme about Hawaii.
- For staying on budget: At the Ambassador Hotel Waikiki, you’ll be a quick walk or trolley ride from Waikiki’s restaurants, shops, and nightlife.