Honolulu, Hawaii, USA. Photo by Cosmin Serban, Unsplash

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If a beach vacation (read: turquoise water, umbrella drinks, palm trees and walking around in flip-flops) is your kind of therapy, as it is for me, look to Honolulu. I discovered Hawaii’s capital is a vibrant, and cosmopolitan city, trimmed by sandy beaches with crashing waves and fantastic restaurants. Read on to learn about 10 of my favorite things to do in Honolulu.

1. Walk Waikiki Beach

Waikīkī Beach, Honolulu, Hawaii, USA. Photo by Angela Bailey, Unsplash
Waikīkī Beach, Honolulu, Hawaii, USA. Photo by Angela Bailey, Unsplash

No holiday in Honolulu is complete without a walk along Waikiki Beach, located on the south shore of the island. Approximately 2 miles long, the famous Waikiki Beach is ideal for an easy stroll and is very accessible.

Along the way, you can shop, eat in waterfront restaurants, sunbathe on the white sand, and swim in the crystal-clear waters. Start at the Hilton Hawaiian Village on the promenade (a paved sidewalk) and stroll all the way down to Outrigger Reef.

2. Picnic or Park Your Beach Towel in Kapi’olani Park

Local families and groups of friends go to play their guitars, jog, play tennis and gather in one of the shaded picnic areas. Kapi’olani Park, located below Diamond Head, near Waikiki, is the end point of the Honolulu Marathon.

King Kalakaua chose this 300-acre plot of land at the base of Diamond Head for a public park in 1867. It was a military base during World War II. Today it is where locals gather for music and festivals.

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One of my favorite places to stop and drink from a fresh pineapple and savor the ahi tuna burger is the Barefoot Beach Café, located on Queen’s Surf Beach at the Diamond Head end of Waikiki. It is a casual oceanfront restaurant and café with outdoor seating, weekend beach BBQ, and live music.

3. Hike Diamond Head

Waikiki, Honolulu, Hawaii, USA. Photo by Benjamin R., Unsplash
Waikiki, Honolulu, Hawaii, USA. Photo by Benjamin R., Unsplash

It’s not every day that you can walk across an extinct volcanic crater and be “wowed” by the sweeping views of Waikiki Beach and the city. The crater, located at the end of Kalakaua Avenue and Kapi’olani Park, is 2/3 of a mile across.

Why the English name Diamond Head? It refers to the glinting calcite minerals which were mistaken for diamonds. Take the .8-mile paved trail to the top for stunning vistas. Entry and parking reservations are required.

4. Visit the Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor

December 7, 1941, was a quiet Sunday morning when Japanese planes attacked the US fleet at Pearl Harbor. This attack marked the official entry of the United States into World War II. Tour Pearl Harbor to see where it all started.

Pearl Harbor is set in a bay where Hawaiians once harvested clams and oysters (hence the “pearl” connection).

This infamous World War II site is still an active military base and is well worth visiting. The Arizona Memorial is a stark white, rectangular structure floating above the ship that became a tomb, where the Battleship USS Arizona sank.

It was one of 4 battleships that sank during the attack. A memorial wall is inscribed with the names of those who lost their lives. The death toll aboard the Arizona was 1,177. Only 334 crew members survived.

5. Discover USS Missouri Museum

Honolulu, USA. Photo by Michelle Spollen, Unsplash
Honolulu, USA. Photo by Michelle Spollen, Unsplash

A self-guided tour of the USS Missouri gives close-up views of the inner workings of the massive battleship. The USS Missouri was built for the US Navy in the 1940s and assigned to the Pacific Theater during WWII, where she participated in the Battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa and shelled Japanese islands.

Walk on the quarterdeck to see the site of the surrender of the Empire of Japan to the United States that ended the war in the Pacific and brought World War II to a close. Japanese Foreign Minister Mamoru Shigemitsu and American General Douglas MacArthur stood on this deck on September 2, 1945, for the surrender. It was a very moving history lesson for me and my family.

6. Explore Chinatown

There’s also Chinatown. The best time to visit is right after breakfast when the stands overflow with locally grown fruit and vegetables, lots of imported Asian goods, fresh Pacific fish, freshly made noodles, and dishes, made with every part of the chicken and the pig.

It’s great for small gifts, such as candlewood soap, painted fans, dried persimmons, Chinese pottery, and of course the red and gold good luck banners of Chinatown. You could watch the butchers chop pork with incredible speed and skill and buy fresh fruit at one of the market stalls. You can also visit places of worship, such as Kyan Yin Temple.

7. The Bishop Museum

Waikiki Beach, Honolulu, Hawaii, USA. Photo by AussieActive, Unsplash
Waikiki Beach, Honolulu, Hawaii, USA. Photo by AussieActive, Unsplash

Considered the world’s finest museum of Polynesian culture, the Bishop Museum is a gem of art and history. The fascinating Pacific Hall focuses on the lifestyle of people across the Pacific.

Artifacts such as carved figures give an insight into Polynesian rituals, religion, warfare, clothing, music, and dance. The museum is also a family-friendly center for scientific and cultural experiences and storytelling. There are lectures, workshops, and art openings.

One of my favorite pieces in the museum is the huge feather cloak and helmet Kalani’ōpu’u gifted to Captain Cook in 1779. It is made from the yellow feathers of the now-extinct mamo bird. These birds were black, with three or four yellow feathers under each arm. It took about 60,000 birds to make this cloak.

They were formerly on display in the New Zealand Museum collection. They were permanently returned to Hawaii in 2016.

8. Eat like the Locals

Sashimi bowl. Photo by Canva
Sashimi bowl. Photo by Canva

There is no better way to learn about Hawaiian culture than to sample the local cuisine.

Roast Pork

The centerpiece of any luau or festival is a whole pig. It is slow roasted in an underground oven and is so tender the meat literally falls off the bone.

Sushi, Sashimi and Poke

Japanese culinary influences in Hawaiian cuisine are sashimi (sliced raw fish) and sushi (raw fish) served on top of or rolled in rice.

Poke is the Hawaiian word for diced or chopped and is Hawaii’s version of ceviche. These dishes are delicious and available everywhere – from roadside food trucks to local supermarkets to fine dining restaurants.

Poi

This taro staple of the Hawaiian diet, poi is made by pounding taro leaves and root into a paste.

Kimchi

This fermented cabbage specialty was introduced into the Hawaiian cuisine by Korean immigrants. It is fermented, seasoned cabbage and has a sour and spicy flavor. Traditionally it was stored in tightly sealed jars and buried in the ground, to be dug up when needed.

Portuguese Bean Soup and Sweet Bread.

Introduced by Portuguese immigrants, the bread was originally baked in an outdoor brick oven but is now available in markets. Served with bean soup made with vegetables, meat, and beans. It makes a hearty, filling meal.

Noodles and Rice

Very few meals in Hawaii are served without rice or noodles. Noodles in a hot broth with pork and green onions is served for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

Spam

That’s right. Hawaiians love it.

It was a military staple during World War II because it could be stored for a long time. The canned meat can be found chopped up in fried rice, sliced in saimin soup, or served more simply with eggs and rice for breakfast.

Spam is so ubiquitous in the islands that Hawaii consumes the most Spam per capita in the US at about 7 million cans a year, showcasing how it’s a part of Hawaii’s unique history and heritage. Most Hawaiians consider Spam to be their comfort food.

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9. Snorkel in Hanauma Bay State Park

Honolulu, Hawaii, USA. Photo by little plant, Unsplash
Honolulu, Hawaii, USA. Photo by Little Plant, Unsplash

Hanauma Bay is one of the most popular snorkeling locations in Hawaii, with good reason. Formed within a volcanic cone, Hanauma Bay offers a pristine marine ecosystem because it is protected and has some of the best snorkeling on the island. Snorkeling in the bay my daughter we saw our first Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles.

Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles, named Honu in Hawaiian, can be seen swimming in the shallow waters, resting on a sandy beach, or nibbling on algae in shallow waters. On average the shell length of an adult Honu is 4 to 5 feet, and they weigh between 200 and 250 pounds.

They became listed as a threatened species in 1978 and are protected today under the Endangered Species Act. Their lifespan usually falls between 60 and 80 years.

10. Boutique and Designer Shopping in Honolulu

The huge Ala Moana Center is the world’s largest, open-air shopping mall, boasting more than 350 stores. Shoppers enjoy some of the finest shopping over 4 floors of department stores, first-class boutiques, and specialty shops offering casual wear to unique items such as Hawaiian shirts and surf gear. Need a new bathing suit? This is the place to go.

While you are there, you may see one of the amazing and free, Hula Shows or a music festival. Open daily 10 am – 8 pm. Admission is free.

Honolulu is a renowned international travel destination for luxury brands. Meander down Kalakaua Avenue, located in the heart of Honolulu’s Waikiki beach to find Valentino, Gucci, Fendi, Tory Burch, Dior, Saint Laurent, and Louis Vuitton to name a few.

If You Go:

Hawaii Tourism Authority urges tourists to be conscious of their impact when visiting Hawaii. Beyond the beautiful beaches and landscapes, Hawaii has a fragile ecosystem and a rich culture that requires respect and mindfulness from visitors.

By being conscious of their actions, tourists can minimize their ecological footprint and contribute positively to the preservation of Hawaii’s natural beauty. Simple acts such as reducing single-use plastics, conserving water, staying at eco-friendly hotels and supporting local businesses can make a world of difference.

Moreover, respecting Hawaiian culture and traditions is paramount. Recognizing the significance of sacred sites, observing cultural protocols, and engaging with the local community respectfully fosters mutual understanding and appreciation.

Ultimately, being conscious when visiting Hawaii is not only about preserving its environment and culture but also about enriching one’s own travel experience. By immersing oneself fully in the spirit of aloha – with humility, gratitude, and respect – tourists can leave behind memories of a trip well-taken and a destination well-preserved for generations to come.

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Author Bio: Marybeth left a career in the tech world for a two-year solo trip around the world. She has hiked, cycled, climbed, and kayaked in 100+ countries on seven continents —and she met her future husband in Kathmandu after a month of trekking.

She returned to San Francisco, where she has written articles and books for National Geographic and other publications, and she created a blog GutsyTraveler.com. She was a guest on The Oprah Winfrey Show with her book Gutsy Women and was the featured celebrity in the New York Times Travel Section. 

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