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What To Do When Visiting Honolulu

Updated on September 3, 2017

I had the opportunity to live in Hawaii on the island of Oahu for five months with my husband and three sons. During that time we got to live as locals as well as tourists. Here are some of the things we did while there. I am sure you will find something you will enjoy. Please verify hours of operation of the various locations listed below.

If you enjoy botanical gardens, be sure to check out 5 Unique Botanical Gardens of Oahu.

1.  Aloha Tower
1. Aloha Tower | Source

1. Aloha Tower Marketplace

At the Aloha Tower Marketplace you can shop, eat, catch a hula show and watch the cruise ships set sail or come into port. Completed in 1926 and listed on the Hawaii and National Registers of Historic Places, The Aloha Tower still functions as a traffic control center for Honolulu Harbor. In the early 90's the building surrounding the base of the tower was renovated to become a marketplace. You can ride a vintage elevator to the 10th floor of the tower for views of the harbor, downtown, Diamond Head and the Koolau Mountains. The observation deck is open daily from 9:30 am to 5:00 pm.

2. Ala Moana Center

Located just minutes from Waikiki, this is THE mall of Honolulu! With close to 300 shops, an extensive food court, koi ponds and entertainment, this four-level open air mall is a must-see! Hours: 9:30 am to 9:00 pm Monday through Saturday; 10:00 am to 7:00 pm Sunday. Makai Market Food Court opens at 9:00 daily.


3. North Shore

Check out Banzai Pipeline - home of several top international surfing competitions. This is not a place for average surfers, with waves reaching 50 feet in height during the winter season. Also don't forget to get a shave ice at Matsumoto's in Haleiwa Town. For avid hikers, go to "the end of the road" at Ka'ena Point. At the northwest tip of the island, Ka'ena can only be reached by foot by trekking several miles after Farrington Road ends on either side of the point.

4. Polynesian Cultural Center

Experience different villages representing the Polynesian cultures of Fiji, Hawaii, Samoa, Tonga and others. Complete your visit to The Polynesian Cultural Center with a luau dinner and show. With parking lot and gift shops opening just before noon, presentations take place throughout the afternoon until 5:00 or 5:30 pm. See website for luau and evening show times. Closed on Sundays, Thanksgiving, Christmas.

2.  Polynesian Cultural Center
2. Polynesian Cultural Center | Source

5. Punchbowl Cemetery

No, this is not creepy. This is one of the most beautiful places I have been. Formally the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, it is the burial sight of nearly 34,000 veterans of World War I, World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. The cemetery is located in a crater that looks like a punchbowl, thus the name. The grounds are immaculate and serene. An easy stroll up the Memorial Walkway leads to an elevated area that gives way to spectacular views of the city, the ocean, and Diamond Head in the distance. Open daily from 8:00 am to 5:30 or 6:30 pm depending on the time of year; open from 7:00 am to 7:00 pm on Memorial Day.

Punchbowl Cemetery
Punchbowl Cemetery | Source

6. Kahala Mandarin Hotel

The Kahala Mandarin is a lovely hotel and fortunately you do not have to be staying there to enjoy the surroundings. Eat outside at the Plumeria Beach Cafe, just steps from the ocean, then watch the dolphins splash in their own pool or sign up to swim with them through Dolphin Quest available at the hotel. During the Christmas season the hotel boasts a beautifully decorated tree in the lobby, great for taking family pictures!


7. Ride a Submarine

Departing from Hilton Hawaiian Village in Waikiki, Atlantis Submarine Tours offers submarine rides from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm daily. Discover a different kind of "Blue Hawaii" as your submarine descends 100 feet and everything literally turns blue!

One of the Atlantis tourist submarines.
One of the Atlantis tourist submarines. | Source

You can rent snorkle gear or bring your own.

8. Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve

If you want to get in a day or just a couple of hours of snorkeling, this is the place to go! Beauty beyond words, both on shore and in the water. After watching a brief video about the fragile ecosystem of a coral reef, you can walk down to the bay or catch the shuttle. You will definitely see colorful fish, and you may even get lucky enough to swim with a sea turtle like we did! But please respect the bay and follow all the rules so others can continue to enjoy everything it offers. Hanauma Bay is open every day from 6:00 am to 6:00 pm; closed on Tuesdays. *One special note: Do not leave food unattended because mongooses WILL come and eat it while you are swimming! They have taken up residency on the grounds of the park.

Beautiful Hanauma Bay

Hanauma Bay with Koko Crater in the background
Hanauma Bay with Koko Crater in the background | Source

9. Pearl Harbor, USS Arizona Memorial, USS Missouri Museum

Established as a US Naval Base in 1899 and later attacked on December 7, 1941, by the Imperial Japanese Navy, Pearl Harbor remains a base for the US Pacific Fleet. The attack lead to the direct involvement of the US in World War II. Also located there is the USS Arizona Memorial and the USS Missouri Museum. You can tour the Missouri as well as view the remains of the Arizona sunken below the water of the harbor. The Pearl Harbor Visitor Center is open from 7:00 am to 5:00 pm. Closed Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, New Years Day.

USS Arizona Memorial
USS Arizona Memorial | Source
USS Missouri Museum
USS Missouri Museum | Source

10. Aloha Stadium Swap Meet and Marketplace

Open Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday from 8:00 am to 3:00 pm, this is a giant open-air market. Only 20 minutes from Waikiki, you can find souvenirs, luggage, food, clothes and much more! On Sundays the Swap Meet portion opens earlier at 6:30 am.

One of the many trails at Lyon Arboretum
One of the many trails at Lyon Arboretum | Source

11. Lyon Arboretum and Botanical Garden

This is a 200-acre preserve located at the upper end of Manoa Valley. With average rainfall of 165" per year, this area of Hawaii is technically a rainforest. Bring insect repellent and good walking shoes if you want to hike the trail--the path can be slippery. The hike through the Hawaiian Restoration section of the botanical gardens culminates at a waterfall. Hours of operation: Monday - Friday 8:00 am to 4:00 pm, Saturdays 9:00 am to 3:00 pm; Closed Sundays and federal holidays.

12. Nu'uanu Pali Lookout

From Downtown, follow the lush Pali Highway (Highway 61) eastward to the lookout for stunning views of the Koolau Mountain Range ahead, the city of Kaneohe below, and the Pacific Ocean stretching off into the distance. This has to be one of the most breathtaking places on earth. Learn about the history of the cliffs (Pali) and the story of one of the bloodiest battles in Hawaiian history when King Kamehameha drove warriors over the cliffs.

View from the Nu'uanu Pali Lookout
View from the Nu'uanu Pali Lookout | Source

13. Honolulu Zoo

Who knew there was a zoo near Waikiki? From the map shown below you can see that the animal kingdom is well-represented here. And the sight of giraffes walking around with the tall buildings of Waikiki in the background is something to see! Open daily from 9:00 am to 4:30 pm. Closed Christmas Day.

Honolulu Zoo

Grounds map of the Honolulu Zoo
Grounds map of the Honolulu Zoo | Source

14. Tantalus Mountain Lookout

The views from Tantalus are second to none! Especially at night. Wind your way up Roundtop Road and Tantalus Road through the Honolulu Forest Reserve and spend some time relaxing at the top as you overlook the hustle and bustle below.

View Honolulu while winding up Tantalus Road.
View Honolulu while winding up Tantalus Road. | Source

15. Waikiki Aquarium

What a wonderful gem of an aquarium! Located at the east end of Waikiki, delight to the sights of seahorses, sea turtles, coral species and monk seals. It has been open since 1904 and is the second oldest aquarium in the United States! Hours: 9:00 am to 5:00 pm daily. Check website for special holiday hours.

Waikiki Aquarium

Waikiki Aquarium
Waikiki Aquarium

What is your favorite thing to do while on Oahu?

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Locations close to Waikiki

Aloha Tower :
Aloha Tower, Aloha Tower Marketplace, Honolulu, HI 96813, USA

get directions

Ala Moana Center:
Ala Moana Bl + Ala Moana Center, Honolulu, HI 96814, USA

get directions

Punchbowl Cemetery:
National Memorial Cemetery-Pacific, 2177 Puowaina Drive, Honolulu, HI 96813, USA

get directions

Atlantis Submarine:
Hilton Hawaiian Village, Honolulu, HI 96815, USA

get directions

Honolulu Zoo:
Honolulu Zoo, 151 Kapahulu Avenue, Honolulu, HI 96816, USA

get directions

Waikiki Aquarium:
Waikiki Aquarium, 2777 Kalakaua Avenue, Honolulu, HI 96815, USA

get directions

Outlying Locations

North Shore:
Haleiwa, HI, USA

get directions

Polynesian Cultural Center:
Polynesian Cultural Center, 55-370 Kamehameha Highway, Laie, HI 96762, USA

get directions

Kahala Mandarin Hotel:
5000 Kahala Avenue, Honolulu, HI 96816, USA

get directions

Hanauma Bay:
Hanauma Bay, Honolulu, HI 96825, USA

get directions

Pearl Harbor:
Pearl Harbor, HI 96706, USA

get directions

Aloha Stadium:
Aloha Stadium, 99-500 Salt Lake Boulevard, Honolulu, HI 96818, USA

get directions

Lyon Arboretum:
Lyon Arboretum, Honolulu Watershed Forest Reserve, 3860 Manoa Road, Honolulu, HI 96822, USA

get directions

Nu'uanu Pali Lookout:
Nuʻuanu Pali State Wayside, Honolulu, HI 96817, USA

get directions

Tantalus Mountain Lookout:
Round Top Drive, Honolulu, HI 96822, USA

get directions


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    • Kappygirl profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago

      Thank you so much @Hawaiian Scribe! I truly love Hawaii--the people, the ocean, the mountains, the food, the culture. I've visited 5 times and I'm having withdrawal!

    • Hawaiian Scribe profile image

      Stephanie Launiu 

      4 years ago from Hawai'i

      I loved your hub! Looks like you kept busy while on O'ahu. It always makes me happy to know that people have enjoyed living and visiting our islands. I look forward to reading more of your hubs. Voted up, awesome, interesting, beautiful, useful, tweeted and pinned. Aloha, Stephanie

    • Kappygirl profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago

      We loved it. It was hard to come back after 5 months there. A lot of the things do stay the same, which can be nice. Thanks for stopping by.

    • bdegiulio profile image

      Bill De Giulio 

      4 years ago from Massachusetts

      Brings back great memories. Spent our honeymoon in Hawaii 21 years ago. Managed to see many of the sites on your list. Need to go back soon. Thanks for sharing.


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