Discover Honolulu's flawless beaches, extinct volcanoes, bustling industrial districts, and a culturally rich local population.
From November through May, humpback whales can be spotted along Hawaii’s southern coastline. These gentle giants make the arduous trek from the chilly Alaskan waters to breed and birth their calves along the island’s warmer shores. The naked eye can catch glimpses of these majestic creatures from the beach, but if you want to see them up close, your best bet is to book an organized boat tour.
Hanauma Bay is a crescent-shaped basin that was formed thousands of years ago in a volcanic crater. It is now a marine life conservation area where sea turtles, coral, and schools of fish thrive. After watching a brief video on preservation efforts and reef safety, visitors are encouraged to snorkel the bay. Be aware that the park is closed on Tuesdays to give the marine ecosystems a day of rest.
The trek to the summit of Diamond Head State Monument is one of Oahu’s most popular hikes. At only a mile and half round-trip, the climb is accessible to even the most novice hikers. The summit rewards its guests with a stunning view of downtown Waikiki and the extra burned calories will allow you to justify another shave ice or two.
Ancient oral history states that the Na Pohaku Ola Kapaemahu a Kapuni (formerly known as the “Wizard Stones”) were left on Oahu by four renowned Tahitian healers. Before departing the island, the healers each endowed a stone with mana, or magical powers. The four stones have since been relocated to their permanent home on Kuhio beach and can be enjoyed by all.
Within Honolulu’s historic Kalihi district visitors will find one of the best cultural experiences in the city. The Bishop Museum boasts a collection of more than 24 million historical treasures making it the world’s largest collection of Polynesian artifacts. Informative exhibits recount the island’s rich history while live lava demonstrations and the celestial planetarium will enchant and enthrall even the youngest historians.
Best Day Trip
Spend a day away from the hustle and bustle of Honolulu by taking a trip to the windward side of the island. Kailua is a small laid back town close Lanikai, one of Oahu’s most pristine beaches. When you’re not frolicking on the powdery white sand, head into town to shop for unique souvenirs at any of the locally-owned boutiques.
Off the Beaten Path
While making the trek to Makapu’u Lighthouse, be on the lookout for Humpback whale signage and binoculars along the trail. These clues mark where an unidentifiable path to the secret Makapu’u tide pools begins. A short scramble down loose rocks and gravel rewards the daring with magnificent gem-colored pools and very little company.
Most Iconic Attraction
Get a taste of local Hawaiian food and culture all in one place: a luau. Feast on a meal of local island dishes such as kalua pork, lomi lomi salmon, and freshly pounded poi while enjoying traditional Hawaiian entertainment. Hula dancers use elegant hands and the sway of their hips to tell the history of Hawaii while fire dancers literally light up the room.
Downtown Waikiki’s nightlife is reliably lively but if you’re looking for something a little more raw, head to Chinatown. The sizzling nightlife suits all tastes with its assortment of swanky jazz bars, hip tiki lounges, and bumping dance clubs.
Iolani Palace was home to Hawaii’s last two remaining monarchs and is the United States’ only official royal palace. The palace is now a living restoration and allows guests to walk the same halls as revered Hawaiian royalty including King Kalakaua and his sister and successor, Queen Liliuokalani.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
Attentive ears are bound to pick up that locals often refer to each other as “auntie” or “uncle.” No, not everyone on the island is related. In fact, calling someone “auntie” or “uncle” is a term of endearment or respect, much like how people in the South use “sir” or “ma’am.”
Neighborhood to Explore
Located in the heart of Honolulu is the newly renovated Kaka’ako district. At the center of the industrial nine city blocks lies SALT at Our Kaka’ako, a mixed-use warehouse space chock-full of local artisans, restaurants, breweries, and tastemakers. The vibe is hip and trendy where one can shop for locally made souvenirs while enjoying a refreshing acai bowl. Walk the neighborhood and take in the dozens of beautifully vibrant murals that change up from year to year. Nearly every corner of Kaka’ako is instagrammable and begging to be shared.
The Waikiki strip offers the best people-watching in all of Honolulu. You’ll find laid-back surfer dudes, wealthy shoppers, literal beach bums, and bewildered tourists. Whether you perch yourself on a sidewalk bench or relax on the beach, you will be provided with hours of endless entertainment.
The Koko Head Crater Trail is a steep and challenging trail, not for the faint of heart. 1,050 abandoned railroad ties, some missing and many worn down, mark where a World War II incline tram once transferred supplies to bunkers at the top of the crater. Bold hikers ascend the steep steps to the deserted pillboxes at the top. Be sure to bring your own water and tread carefully. Catch your breath by taking in the stunning panoramic view of Honolulu before starting the arduous trek back to sea level.