Honolulu is a huge city with several district articles containing sightseeing, restaurant, nightlife and accommodation listings — consider printing them all.
Honolulu, on the island of Oahu, is the capital and largest city of the state of Hawaii. It is the center of government, transportation, and commerce for the state; home to a population of nearly one million people in the metro area (80% of the state's population) and Hawaii's best known tourist destination, Waikiki Beach.
The majority of visitors to Hawaii enter through this city, meaning this is definitely not the place to go for a "get-away-from-it-all" Hawaiian vacation - It is as fast-paced and dynamic as any city, with all its problems such as heavy traffic, drugs, crime, and homelessness. But Honolulu still has the charm of the Islands' laid-back atmosphere and culture.
Honolulu extends inland from the southeast shore of Oahu, east of Pearl Harbor to Makapu'u Point, and incorporates many neighborhoods and districts. You'll most often hear people refer to these districts by name -- Waikiki, Manoa, Kahala, Hawaii Kai and so on -- as though they're not part of the same city. Technically, they are. In fact, the municipal government of Honolulu covers the entire island of Oahu, including its outlying suburbs.
This guide focuses on attractions and accommodations located in Honolulu proper; for more information on Oahu's outlying communities, see the Oahu article.
The historic heart of the city, home to the state capitol, several museums, the harborfront, and the commercial center of the Hawaiian Islands.
The tourist center of Hawaii: white sand beaches, crowds of surfers and sunbathers, and block after block of highrise hotels.
A quieter area in the foothills north of Downtown, home to the University of Hawaii at Manoa, the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in the Punchbowl crater, and the tropical scenery of the Koolau Mountains behind the city.
A mostly residential area which extends to Makapu'u Point, the very southeastern corner of the island and home to rocky shorelines, scenic beaches, and the popular snorkeling spot Hanauma Bay.
Another major residential area, home to the airport, the Bishop Museum, and the military memorials of Pearl Harbor.
Established in 1900, the Honolulu Symphony is the oldest US symphony orchestra west of the Rocky Mountains. Other classical music ensembles include the Hawaii Opera Theatre. Honolulu is also a center for Hawaiian music. The main music venues include the Neal Blaisdell Center Concert Hall and Arena, the Waikiki Shell, and the Hawaii Theatre.
Honolulu also includes several venues for live theater, including the Diamond Head Theatre.
There are various institutions for the visual arts. The Honolulu Academy of Arts is endowed with the largest collection of Asian and Western art in Hawaii. It also has the largest collection of Islamic art, housed at the Shangri La estate. The academy hosts a film and video program dedicated to arthouse and world cinema in the museum's Doris Duke Theatre, named for the academy's historic patroness Doris Duke.
The Contemporary Museum is the only contemporary art museum in the state. It has two locations: main campus in Makiki and a multi-level gallery in downtown Honolulu at the First Hawaiian Center.
The Hawaii State Art Museum (also downtown) boasts pieces by local artists as well as traditional Hawaiian art. The museum is administered by the Hawaii State Foundation on Culture and the Arts.
Honolulu also annually holds the Hawaii International Film Festival (HIFF). It showcases some of the best films from producers all across the Pacific Rim and is the largest "East meets West" style film festival of its sort in the United States.
The Bishop Museum is the largest of Honolulu's museums. It is endowed with the state's largest collection of natural history specimens and the world's largest collection of Hawaiiana and Pacific culture artifacts. The Honolulu Zoo is the main zoological institution in Hawaii while the Waikiki Aquarium is a working marine biology laboratory. The Waikiki Aquarium is partnered with the University of Hawaii and other universities worldwide. Established for appreciation and botany, Honolulu is home to several gardens: Foster Botanical Garden, Liliʻuokalani Botanical Garden, Walker Estate, among others.
Ala Moana Center
Honolulu Academy of Arts
National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific
USS Arizona Memorial
Honolulu has a very moderate climate, with very little change of temperature throughout the year - the average high is 80-90°F (27-32°C) and the average low is 65-75°F (19-24°C) any time of the year. Water temperature averages 82°F (27°C) in the summer months and 77°F (25°C) in the winter months.
The only noticeable variation in seasons is in terms of rainfall. Honolulu is on the sunny, leeward side of the island, and where you are in the city will affect the chances for rain - areas like Waikiki, downtown, and the western side of the city will usually be sunny, while the hills or eastern side of the city may get some passing clouds and very brief rainfall. On average, Honolulu gets less than half an inch of rain in the summer months to almost three inches in the winter months.
Naturally, when most visitors think of beaches here, they think of the famous Waikiki Beach. As the tourist center of the Hawaiian Islands, this white sand beach, framed by hotels and Diamond Head as a backdrop, is easily the most crowded. Waikiki is popular with a wide crowd, as it's a excellent place for swimming, sunbathers, catamaran and outrigger canoes, as well as a great spot for beginner surfers and body boarders (and there are plenty of surf schools set up in Waikiki for lessons). What's remarkable is that even in Waikiki you can find a fairly quiet beach; it's just a matter of knowing where to look.
But if you really need to get away from the crowds, there are plenty of other beaches. Just to the west, near Downtown, is Ala Moana Park, a green space with plenty of trees and grass as well as an nice sandy beach that's popular with the locals and is perfect for families or a calmer swim.
The area surrounding Makapu'u Point in Eastern Honolulu has several excellent beaches, the most popular being Hanauma Bay, which is set in the crater of an extinct volcano, now open to the sea and filled with a coral reef. This is not the place for a good swim and certainly not the spot for surfing, but the calm water and abundance of marine life makes it excellent for snorkeling and scuba diving. Even if you don't get in the water, the scenery makes it a great place to sunbathe or picnic, although you'll find parking to be an issue.
Just near Hanauma Bay is the Halona Beach Cove, known as "the Peering Place". It is a small, rocky cove that has good swimming with the surf is calm, but no lifeguards here means it's at your own risk. Nearby Sandy Beach does have lifeguards, and has been popular with surfers and bodyboarders for decades. On a calm day, it can be good for a fun day of swimming. Makapu'u Beach, just a little further up the road, is quite scenic. It tends to have very large waves, meaning it many not be the best place to swim but a fantastic place to surf.
Of all the museums in Honolulu, none approach the size of the Bishop Museum in Western Honolulu; a complex of buildings with a large collection of Hawaiian artifacts. Much of the museum is dedicated to Hawaiian history, with a growing number of science-based exhibits, including a planetarium, a large natural history hall, and an area centered around volcanology. The museum is huge, so give yourself a few hours to take it all in.
Downtown is home to several museums. On the state capitol grounds is the gorgeous `Iolani Palace, which was the official residence of the Hawaiian Kingdom's last two monarchs and is now open for tours. Nearby is the Mission Houses Museum, which has three 19th century Honolulu houses restored for viewing, and the Hawaii State Art Museum, which displays visual art by Hawaii artists.
Makiki has two major art museums worth a look: the Honolulu Academy of Arts is the largest art museum in the city and houses one of the largest collections of Asian art in the United States, along with an impressive Western collection to boot, including Van Gogh, Picasso, Gauguin, Cezanne, Monet, Modigliani and other masters. Just up the hill is the Contemporary Museum, which occupys an old estate overlooking the city and is devoted exclusively to contemporary art.
Kapiolani Park in Waikiki is home to the city's zoo and aquarium. The Honolulu Zoo is fairly small but quite enjoyable, with plenty of exotic animals including the big-name ones like lions, elephants, rhinos, zebras, giraffes, etc. The also small but rather impressive Waikiki Aquarium holds a spot on the beach and has marine life from all over the Pacific Ocean, including sharks, octopus, colorful reef fish, jellies, and an outdoor exhibit with seals.
It's Hawai'i, so there's no shortage of natural scenery, even near the big city. For those looking for expansive vistas, Diamond Head is a good starting point - this ancient volcanic crater dominates over Waikiki and the top offers an incredible view over the city. The trail leads up into a World War II-era bunker and up some steep staircases (one of over 100 steps), so the climb can be a little rough for the average couch potato.
If you're looking for a vista that you don't have to hike far to get to, look no further than the hills above Makiki. The Punchbowl crater, home to a military cemetery, offers a panoramic view closer to Downtown. Pu'u Ualaka'a Park, also above Makiki, has a winding mountain road, Tantalus/Round Top Drive, and a number of hiking trails which provide a stunning view of southern O'ahu nearly 2,000 feet above sea level.
Another popular overlook is the Nu'uanu Pali Lookout, located 6 miles north of Downtown on State Route 61 (Pali Highway). The scenic vista, set between two incredibly high cliffs, provides a panoramic view of Windward O'ahu. The overlook is often buffeted by high winds, but the view is more than worth it.
If ocean scenery is more your speed, the rocky shoreline of the Makapu'u Point area is an excellent bet. In addition to the scenic beaches here is the Makapuʻu Point State Wayside, a roadside stop which offers an excellent view of Makapu'u Point and its lighthouse, a view up the Windward O'ahu coast, and if you're lucky, whales off-shore in the winter months. Nearby is the popular Halona Blowhole, one of the many blowholes (an underwater cave with a hole in the top, so ocean water blasts out the top) in this area, but the easiest to view due to the large parking area overlooking it.