If there’s one place in the world that epitomizes the idea of exotic islands, welcoming locals and everything else one needs for a perfect location, it’s Hawaii. Along with its capital city Honolulu, it welcomes countless tourists every single years, both from all over the United States and all over the world. As a matter of fact, the city is the perfect base from which to explore these beautiful islands, but it too has a whole lot to offer. Spend a day here and you’ll be amazed by the things you can do and see in Honolulu.
What’s the best time to visit Honolulu?
The weather in Honolulu is pretty constant – it’s warm throughout the year, so you can view the city as a year-round destination without any problems. The climate is tropical, which means a fair amount of humidity too, something to be mindful of, for sure. Still, summers are quite dry and perfect for a vacation, so that’s probably the best time to visit Honolulu.
Festivals and events can therefore play a bigger role in your decision when to come. Honolulu Festival is in early March, and in June you have the big King Kamehameha Celebration and the very interesting Pan-Pacific Festival. In September, another very celebrated event takes place because it’s time for the Okinawan Festival. In any case, the events here allow you to learn a lot about the numerous Pacific cultures that are in some way connected to the islands, so you really should set some time aside and visit them if you’re in town.
A few facts about Honolulu
The name Honolulu actually means “safe harbour” in Hawaiian language, which certainly fits the city perfectly. Also, it is the capital of the state of Hawaii, the last state to become incorporated into the United States. Since Hawaii was actually an independent kingdom in the past, Honolulu is the only city in the country with a genuine royal palace. Interestingly, this is also the second most populous city (Honolulu has about 350,000 people) in the region of Polynesia, trailing only Auckland, New Zealand in that respect.
Apart from that, Honolulu is also one of the safest cities in the US, with one of the highest standards of living in the world, so you will be enjoying a lot more than just beautiful nature.
One Day in Honolulu Itinerary – Best things to do in Honolulu, Hawaii
Follow this guide and make the most of your trip even if you’re short on time. These are the best sights and things to do during your one day in Honolulu.
Start your day nice and easy
You’re here on vacation, so take things nice and slowly and go grab a cup of coffee first and soak in the city’s vibe. One of the best places to do that is Arvo Cafe, a great little coffee shop where you can get some great cups of Joe and some nice T-shirts as a souvenir. Right next door is Moku Kitchen, a great place to grab brunch since they open at 11 AM.
Yes, hiking! Once you’re all done with your morning ritual, head to Manoa Falls Trail, a gorgeous trail surrounded by lush greenery that ends with a fantastic waterfall. You can reach it in about 15 minutes by car, the views are fantastic, and the hike is really not too demanding, so this is easily one of the best things to do in Honolulu if you want to enjoy nature. It can get muddy, though, so maybe don’t wear your best shoes.
Hit the beach
Obviously, no day in Honolulu is complete without going to the beach. So what to do if you want to just jump in? There are a few great beaches right in the city centre, like the famous Waikiki Beach and Ala Moana Beach.
Ala Moana is closer to the coffee shop mentioned above, but Waikiki has a great surfing school you can visit and get a crash course in what is pretty much a national pastime around here. If you don’t want to stick to the city centre, Lanikai Beach is extremely beautiful, but you’ll need a car to reach it.
Have lunch and do some shopping
International Market Place is where you want to go for lunch, especially if you want to shop, too. This outdoor shopping mall is in Waikiki, so a big advantage is that it’s close to the beach.
Shops abound, plus there are plenty of good choices when it comes to eating – from sushi and seafood to pizzas and good old burgers. Mexican, Japanese, American and Italian cuisines are all represented, so you’re bound to find something tasty.
Visit the Polynesian Cultural Centre
Your one day in Honolulu doesn’t have to be restricted just to the city. Head to the northern side of Oahu and find the Polynesian Cultural Centre. It may take about an hour to get there, but it’s well worth it. This excellent theme park will teach you a whole lot about Polynesian cultures, namely Tonga, Tahiti, Samoa, Aotearoa, Fiji and, of course, Hawaii. Loads of fun, since there are plenty of things to do and activities you can participate in. Be warned, it’s easy to spend a whole day here!
Enjoy more beaches
After you finish with the cultural centre, hit the beach once again. Northern part of Oahu has some truly spectacular places to visit, including Sunset Beach, Keiki Beach and Waimea Bay. Many consider these to be the very best beaches on the island, so don’t miss your chance to see them. If you have a car with you, you can head about 20km west for some skydiving at Skydive Hawaii’s centre.
End your day with a dinner cruise
If you have followed this itinerary, your one day in Honolulu has certainly been an active one, which means it’s time to just chill out an enjoy at the end. The best way to do that is to book a dinner cruise and sail into the sunset, maybe with a nice cocktail in hand. You will be able to soak in the beauty of this place to the fullest, and it really seems like the best thing to do to end a wonderful day, especially if you’re here with your significant other.
What to do in Honolulu at night?
On the other hand, if you still have some energy, it’s time to party! You don’t have to worry about what to do in Honolulu at night because the city has quite a lot to offer, as you would expect from a destination like this. Bar 35 is a great place, for example, especially for those of you who want to be sure they have always some interesting beers nearby. Duke’s Waikiki has a great Barefoot Bar which will offer you exactly the experience you want from Hawaii – evenings near the ocean and on a sandy beach. Finally, Mai Tai is a great place to just take it easy and sip a nice cocktail or two.
Where to stay in Honolulu?
Aston Waikiki Beach Hotel
2570 Kalakaua Avenue, Waikiki, Honolulu, HI 96815
Aston Waikiki Beach Hotel is, as the name suggest, right near the Waikiki Beach. However, this is a five-star condo hotel located in one of those huge skyscrapers near the beach. Therefore, no matter in which condo you stay, you will have an incredible view of the Pacific. Fully equipped kitchens and ironing facilities are just the tip of the iceberg of features you get, and the hotel even has an outdoor and a children’s pool. Perfect!
Lotus Honolulu Hotel
2885 Kalakaua Avenue, Waikiki, Honolulu, HI 96815
Luxury and fantastic surroundings, that’s what you get at Lotus Honolulu Hotel. It is within a short walking distance from Sans Souci Beach, and with the Diamond Head volcano looming behind it, the setting is absolutely mesmerizing. The rooms are huge, with big terraces, and the hotel even serves wine from 5.30 to 6.30 PM every day. You’re going to love it here!
Hampton Inn & Suites Oahu/Kapolei
91-5431 Kapolei Parkway, Suite 900, Kapolei, HI 96707
If, however, you want great value for your money on your trip to Honolulu, book a room in Hampton Inn & Suites Oahu/Kapolei. The design is great, the rooms are well equipped and there is also a pool in the hotel. To top everything off, they serve excellent complimentary breakfast here! You will also be close to Pearl Harbour, and considering all of this, you really can’t get a much better deal.
Hostelling International Honolulu
2323A Seaview Avenue, Honolulu, HI 96822
Hostelling International Honolulu is most probably the best hostel in the city. From there, you can reach Prince Kuhio Beach in under 10 minutes by car and the airport is also quite close. You will get towels when you check in, and all dormitories have an equipped kitchen. That being said, keep in mind that the dormitories are male- or female-only. The staff is excellent and will also contribute a lot to your pleasant stay.
Day trips from Honolulu
There are plenty of day trips from Honolulu you can make, so don’t just limit yourself to the city if you’re spending more than one day here. Don’t know where to go? Here are a few great suggestions!
Attention nature lovers! Hawaii’s big island is an incredibly diverse place with loads of fascinating things to see and places to visit, so you really mustn’t miss this tour. Beaches of black sand surrounded by palm trees will make you feel you’re in paradise, and there is also a chance you see sea turtles enjoying the sun. Apart from that, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is also a must, plus there are plenty of fascinating waterfalls, too.
WW2 fanatics will surely want to see this, but other visitors shouldn’t miss it, either. It’s one of the best things to see when in Honolulu. You can visit USS Arizona Memorial and pay homage to the biggest disaster of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour. Furthermore, there are two interesting museums you can visit and actual footage of the attack you can see. While this is usually not a full day trip, it is nevertheless very much worth it.
Probably the most famous luau around, Paradise Cove Luau is not so much a day trip from Honolulu as an evening trip. Hula dancers, great food, loads of games and contests, the Shower of Flowers, an incredible sunset… all that and more awaits you here. This is just good clean fun all the way, so if you’re looking for a way to party like a local, just book this. You’ll love it!
Why not just explore Oahu, the island on which Honolulu is located? There are so many things to see around there that it will make for an excellent day trip. You can visit the Byodo-In Temple, a beautiful edifice built fully in Japanese style, check out pineapple plantations and taste their fresh an delicious products, climb the Diamond Head volcano… and that’s just the beginning!
Extra tips for visiting Honolulu
- Souvenirs at the airport and hotels are much more expensive than those in town. Buy a souvenir as you’re exploring the city or maybe at one of the places you will visit.
- Renting a car is a good idea to get around. Sure, there’s Uber and Lyft you can take, but if you’re out for exploring as much as possible, renting car is the solution because there really are so many places to see and visit in Honolulu.
- Be careful with the fees. The so-called nightly resort fees, as well as parking fees are often not included in the hotel price and you will have to pay them when checking out.
- Wind can get sand into your gadgets like cameras and phones. Protect them with something like a ziplock bag.
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Anca is a travel writer and the founder of One Day Itinerary - the biggest collection of travel itineraries for those who are time-limited or just want to maximize their time while traveling. Although she easily becomes homesick for Croatia, she thinks travel is essential to her happiness. She has traveled to more countries than she is years old and doesn’t plan on changing that fact. In her travel guides she aims to inspire people to travel whenever they have a spare day (or two).