Hangin’ Loose in Honolulu, Hawaii

Here's what to see and do in the Hawaiian capital.

Hiking near Honolulu
View of Waikiki and Honlulu from atop Leahi. Credit Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA)/Tor Johnson

What to See and Do in Honolulu

The city has several distinct neighborhoods, each with a flavor all its own. Downtown Honolulu is the business district, with the Hawaii State Library and Honolulu Hale (city hall). Be sure to look for the beautiful Iolani Palace, the royal residence of King Kalakaua and Queen Lili`uokalani, the last monarchs of Hawaii.

Another historical neighborhood is Chinatown, the oldest Chinatown in America and home to dozens of small Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese restaurants. One of the local favorites is Wo Fat Restaurant, which was founded in 1882.

Shopping for mango at a local farmer's market in Oahu. Photo by Hawaii Tourism Authority
Shopping for mango at a local farmer’s market in Oahu. Photo by Hawaii Tourism Authority

If you like fresh fruit, be sure to stop at the neighborhood’s Oahu Market, where you can pick up mango, papaya, and other local produce. (The prices are much better than at the major grocery stores.)

The Kuan Yin Temple located in Chinatown is the oldest temple in Honolulu, and worshippers still come here to worship and light candles.

Nestled behind the University of Hawaii is the quiet Manoa neighborhood. It is characterized by fine old homes built near the turn of the century. The lush area is a good place to get a glimpse of the Hawaii of yesterday.

Excellent shopping opportunities are everywhere in Honolulu. You can find typical Hawaiian souvenirs, such as aloha dress, macadamia nuts, or island-grown coffee at Hilo Hattie stores, which are all over the islands.

Favorite local products in Hawaii. Photo by Janna Graber
Favorite local products in Hawaii. Photo by Janna Graber

The most convenient shopping may be the Ala Moana Shopping Center, the largest open-air shopping center in the world with more than 200 stores. Located in the heart of the city, the mall is also a good place for a quick bite.

What to Eat in Honolulu

Be sure to stop for malassadas, a very Hawaiian desert. The tasty fried donuts were actually brought to the islands by Portuguese settlers and they’ve been a beloved snack ever since.

Due to Hawaii’s mixed cultural heritage, you’ll be able to find restaurants of all kinds. But the most typical local fare is called a “plate lunch”. This is usually the daily special served with “two scoops rice.” These are often inexpensive and tasty options.

Hawaiian shave ice. Credit Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Tor Johnson
Hawaiian shave ice. Credit Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Tor Johnson

One of my favorite treats is a huge scoop of “shave ice”, the local version of a snowcone (finely shaved ice topped with your choice of flavored syrup). Some shave ice have frozen yogurt or ice cream in the middle; others are simply flavored by the syrup of your choice.

These cool treats melt fast in the heat, so you need to eat them quickly! Another refreshing option is the fresh local juices sold in cardboard cartons in every grocery store. Be sure to try the starfruit juice. It’s delicious and I always wish I could import it to the mainland.

The weather is usually warm and pleasant on Oahu, with average highs around 80° F (27°C), and temperatures cooling a little after the sun goes down. Hawaiian sunsets are truly incredible, so bring lots of film to capture them. The photos are sure to impress your friends back home.

Things slow down in the evening on the other Hawaiian Islands, but in Honolulu, nightlife is just beginning. Whatever your taste, you’ll have plenty to choose from. The city has dozens of nightclubs, music bars and dance shows. If you’re up for a truly Hawaiian experience, try a luau.

Hula is a huge part of Hawaiian culture. Photo by Janna Graber
Hula dance during a luau. Photo by Janna Graber

The Royal Hawaiian Hotel, built in 1927 and often called the “Pink Palace of the Pacific”, offers a luau each Monday night on the beach of Waikiki. While most luaus offer the same standard fare and dance entertainment, the setting here is truly spectacular.

Perhaps the most popular tourist attractions on the island are the beautiful Hawaiian beaches offering warm water, abundant sea life, and clean sand. The mile-and-a-half long Waikiki beach is the best known in Honolulu, but the locals favor other sites. Ala Moana Beach includes a 76-acre park for picnickers, swimmers, and fishermen.

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