The boisterous state capital city of Hawaii offers visitors a chance to blend with locals, put in some quality time at the beach, explore it’s historic corners and sample some incredible food. We’re bringing you all the essential know-how for a trip to this incredible city and launch point to some of the most incredible scenery the United States can offer.
Bus: The cheapest way to get from the airport to Honolulu is to take the airport bus. The airport is located 10 miles from Waikiki, and six miles from downtown Honolulu. Buses go into Waikiki and Honolulu.
- PRICE: $2.50 Adult – See baggage size restrictions here
Taxi: The quickest, yet most expensive, way to get from the airport is by taxi.
- PRICE: $40.00-$45.00, plus a baggage charge of 50 cents per bag.
Where To Eat
Dinner with a View
Surf and Turf… with a view. Photos courtesy of the Top of Waikiki Facebook page
Top of Waikiki is, as the name suggests, high above Honolulu and Waikiki beach. For a special night out head to Top of Waikiki and have dinner in Hawaii’s only revolving restaurant. Located on the 18th floor of the Waikiki Business Plaza, the restaurant has absolutely breathtaking views of Oahu. Be sure to come for sunset and stay for dinner. It takes one hour to make a complete rotation. Menu favorites are the Korean style poke, a twist on the Hawaiian dish of the moment and the panko and bacon crusted ahi.
- LOCATION: 2270 Kalakaua Avenue, 18th Floor – (808) 923-3877
- HOURS: 4:30 p.m. – 9:30 p.m. daily
Dinner with your toes in the sand
Tacos, burgers and beers on the beach… Photos courtesy of the Duke’s Waikiki Facebook page.
Made famous by it’s barefoot bar, Duke’s Waikiki is a favorite on the beach. Guests can literally check their shoes at the door and sink their feet into the sand. Serving Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner, Duke’s is one of the best restaurants right on Waikiki.
- LOCATION: 2335 Kalakaua St, Suite 116, Waikiki, HI – Phone (808) 922-2268
- HOURS: Breakfast 7:00 a.m.- 10:30 a.m. , Lunch 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., Dinner 4:45 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.
For a local taste head to L&L Hawaiian Barbecue for what Hawaiians call plate lunch. Traditional Hawaiian plate lunch consists of rice, macaroni salad, and a generous serving of a local favorite. L&L is known for its large portion sizes and unique dishes like Chicken katsu, “Loco Moco” (hamburger patties, two eggs, & gravy) among other dishes you’ve probably never heard of, but will definitely enjoy.
- LOCATION: Multiple Locations, see here for addresses
- HOURS: Vary by location
Matsumoto’s Shave Ice has been serving up True Hawaiian shaved ice on the North Shore since 1951. On a warm sunny day they sell 1,000+ shaved ices — topped with homemade syrups in flavors like honeydew melon, cherry or sour green apple, you’ll understand why locals and visitors alike flock here.
- LOCATION: 66-087 Kamehameha Hwy,Haleiwa, North Shore Haleiwa, Hawaii
- HOURS: 9:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m.
What to See
Honolulu is full of natural beauty, famous beaches, and a few historical sites. On a first trip to Honolulu reserve around 2-3 days just to take in the sites. It would be easy to spend a week or more exploring all that Honolulu and the island of Oahu have to offer.
This 1.5 mile (2.4 km) stretch of white sand beach is the heart of Oahu’s and all of Hawaii’s tourist industry. Once the royal family’s private beach, Waikiki gained international fame in the first half of the 20th century as surfing became popular. A bronze statue of Duke Kahanamoku, the father of modern day surfing, watches over Waikiki beach. At the east end of Waikiki is the Honolulu Zoo and Waikiki Aquarium, fun for the entire family!
Pearl Harbor Memorial
On December 7th, 1941, the Japanese Imperial Army carried out a surprise attack in Hawaii that sunk four American ships including the USS Arizona. The attacks on Pearl Harbor killed over 2,000 people and lead to the involvement of the U.S. in World War II.
Plan a half day to tour around the monuments. Make sure to walk out on to the platform above the USS Arizona, which still rests at the bottom of the harbor. History buffs may want to allot more time as there are plenty of exhibits for those who enjoy WWII history. If your schedule is tight on time, it’s best to reserve your tickets in advance here.
- HOURS: 7:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. (closed some holidays)
- EXPERT TIP: Try and score walk-in tickets. The National Park Service gives out 1,300 free walk-in tickets daily, on a first come, first served basis. Get there when the park opens at 7:00 a.m. for a chance at these tickets.
What To Do
Learn to surf on the famous Waikiki beach
Nearly synonymous with surfing, Waikiki is great place for beginners to learn to surf — it doesn’t have the killer waves like the North Shore beaches. Waikiki has nice small longboard waves perfect for beginner lessons. A further paddle from shore will bring you to some moderate sized waves once you’ve mastered the basics. Board rentals and lessons can be arranged right on the beach.
- COST: (Approximately) $100 per person or $75 per person for two or more people
Diamond Head Hike
For some of the best views on the island, lace up your hiking boots and head up Diamond Head Trail. Originally built by the U.S. government in 1908 and used for many years as part of Fort Rugur. Hikers are rewarded with 360° views of Waikiki and beyond. Bring good hiking shoes and allow 1.5 – 2 hours round trip hiking time.
- COST: $5.00 per car or $1 per person for pedestrians. Cash only!
- HOURS: Daily 6 a.m. — 6 p.m., every day of the year including holidays. Last Entrance 4:30 p.m.
Snorkel in Hanauma Bay
Photos by Dalton Reed and SNORKELINGDIVES.COM CC BY
A short drive from Honolulu is the spectacular snorkeling site of Hanauma bay. Swim with wild sea turtles and other sea life in a protected bay in the shadow of Diamond Head. The bay is a nature reserve and conservation area full of exotic sea life. Tours including snorkel gear can be arranged for $25 per person round trip from Waikiki. Independent visits are also possible, but parking can be limited so arrive early.
- HOURS: 6:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m. *Closed Tuesdays
- COST: Entry Fee – $7.50, 12 years and under – FREE, Equipment rental $20, Lockers available
North Shore Day trip
Experience and explore the low-key side of Oahu’s North Shore. In stark contrast to the busy downtown Honolulu and Waikiki, the North Shore is quiet and less developed. The one thing that is developed on this side of the island is the surf. Boasting some of the biggest ridable waves in the world, Oahu’s North Shore is home to several prime surf competitions every year. Spend a day watching surfers challenge famous sites such as Sunset Beach and the Banzai Pipeline. The surf is the highest from October-April, with the peak in December/January.
Where to Stay
Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort
If you’re looking for luxury in an all-you-need environment, the oceanfront Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort is your top pick. The 2,860 air conditioned guest rooms and suites, with en-suite bathrooms, have all the bells and whistles you’ll need. There are over 20 restaurants, lounges and bars with a wide variety of menus and cuisines. The fitness room is fully equipped with cardiovascular equipment, free weights and resistance machines. Wake up each morning with a stroll on Waikiki Beach or take a dip in the outdoor swimming pool. The Hotel boasts impressive sun terraces, sun loungers, massages, tennis courts, bicycle rental, and a variety of water and beach sports.
Aqua Bamboo and Spa
Photos courtesy of the Aqua Bamboo and Spa
The three-star Aqua Bamboo and Spa is located close to Waikiki beach with its extensive water sports and other Honolulu attractions. The 92 Asian-inspired guest rooms at the Aqua Bamboo and Spa feature a mix of rooms, studios and suites.
Hotel amenities include private lanais, free high speed internet access, an outdoor saltwater swimming pool and a spa, Aqua Bamboo Spa, which offers a full range of spa therapies including massages and facials.
Located on the beach front at Waikiki and just a short walk from The International Market Place and the Royal Hawaiian Center, the Outrigger hotel doesn’t charge a resort fee but you get all the amenities of a resort — including several restaurants, beach access with surfing lessons, a beautiful outdoor pool and a spa. The suites boast panoramic ocean views and whirlpools and many rooms have balcony’s on which you can catch the morning breeze while enjoying a coffee.
Insider Tips for Hawaii
RENT A CAR
Drive yourself around paradise. One of the best ways to explore a destination is to self drive. This allows ultimate freedom and the ability to explore lesser known areas at your own pace. Driving on Oahu is straight forward and very easy outside the city. There are just a few main highways and it’s easy to navigate.
BEST BRUNCH SPOT
Cinnamon’s Restaurant is famous for local island pancakes with flavors like red velvet, guava chiffon, and local corn with blueberries. Open from 7:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. daily.
Sunset Beach is one of the many beaches on the North Shore but it stands out as one of the island’s best beaches. It also, as the name suggests, is a good place to catch the sunset. It’s around 44 miles from Waikiki if you drive the east coast on the HI-83 or Lanikai.
Sharks Cove was named by Scuba Diving Magazine as one of the “Top Twelve Shore Dives in the World” making it a must if the tides are right. Located right next to some of the Island’s biggest surf spots, Shark’s Cove should only be visited when there aren’t large swells — it’s not a site for young or inexperienced swimmers. If the tides aren’t in your favor check out Pupukea tide pools on the south end of the beach.
A favorite hike among locals that most tourists don’t know about is the Aiea Loop. It’s long but amazing! This 4.8-mile trail runs along the ridge on the west side of Halawa Valley and offers stunning views of the southern coastline. Allow 2.5 to 3 hours for the hike and to enjoy the nature around you.
WHERE TO NEXT
Flights to the surrounding Hawaiian Islands can be found at affordable rates making island hopping an attractive way to spend your time in Hawaii. Hop a plane to nearby Maui or make a stop in Kauai, the state’s garden island.
Want to see more about Hawaiian paradise?