Planning a sweep of the Hawaiian Islands? Carve out time to spend at least a day in Honolulu on the island of Oahu. Hawaii’s capital city, Honolulu is known for its beautiful beaches, vibrant city life, and stunning ocean views.
You may want to stay put and enjoy Honolulu’s glorious sand and surf. (Think: Waikiki). Or you may want to use Honolulu as the perfect base for other Oahu island adventures. With just 24 hours in Honolulu, you can hike up a volcano, explore a rich array of cultural and historical sites (including a royal palace), or experience a beachside Hawaiian luau. Whatever your choice, you’ll find plenty to keep you busy!
Ready to map out your strategy for what to do in Honolulu in 24 hours? Get some useful Hawaii travel tips with this handy 1-day Honolulu itinerary—and get ready to roll!
Where to go in Honolulu in one day: A complete 1-day itinerary
Get fired up at Kona Coffee Purveyors
Want to fuel up for a busy day in Honolulu? Chances are you won’t have time to sit down for a full-on breakfast—but you’ll definitely want a little something to power up for the activities you’ve planned.
If a cup of coffee is essential to your morning, you won’t find any better than at Kona Coffee Purveyors. This coffee shop supreme is conveniently located in the International Market Place in Waikiki. Sip your Joe and zip next door to b. Patisserie, which features a wide range of delicious pastries infused with exotic flavorings.
Or if you’re really on the run, grab a tasty spam musubi (a kind of hand-rolled sushi with different filling options) from any L & L Hawaiian BBG, Foodland, or just about any convenience store in downtown Honolulu.
Visit Pearl Harbor
Still an active U.S. naval base, Pearl Harbor is a National Historic Site that commemorates the Japanese attack of December 7, 1941, the “day that will live in infamy”. The aerial attack on Pearl Harbor was one of the deadliest in America’s history and sparked the belated U.S. engagement in the Second World War.
This historic site bears testimony to the nearly 1,200 lives lost. Explore five different sites at Pearl Harbor, and learn about this history-shaking event through documentary film and first-hand survivor stories.
View Pearl Harbor’s bomb-scarred airplane hangar, and the massive hull of the battleship USS Arizona, sunk during the attack.
Pearl Harbor is a truly iconic site that merits time and attention. Block off a couple of hours if you plan to visit. It’s less than a 20-minute drive to Pearl Harbor from downtown Honolulu.
Discover Diamond Head
Up for a famous Oahu hiking adventure? Don’t miss Diamond Head Crater, probably the most recognized feature on the Honolulu skyline. Just a 25-minute drive from Pearl Harbor and a ten-minute drive from downtown Honolulu, this stunning landmark has a fascinating history.
Stretching across 350 acres, Diamond Head Crater is an enduring testament to volcanic eruptions that shaped the island of Oahu nearly 4 million years ago.
Used for centuries by inhabitants as a lookout post, it was also the site of navigational fires lit to guide canoes traveling along the shoreline. A temple (“heiau”) built on the summit was dedicated to the god of wind in hopes that the fires would continue to burn.
Enter the tunnel that bores into the side of the crater, and you’ll feel you’re stepping back in time. Explore the bunkers built over a century ago to defend Oahu from attack.
Strap on sturdy shoes (and bring your camera), because you’ll want to hike the Diamond Head Trail to the summit of this breathtaking lookout.
Be prepared for a rugged trek, but it’s worth the trip. At the top, you’ll be rewarded at the summit with spectacular 360-degree views of Waikiki, Honolulu, and the surrounding Oahu South Shore area.
Ride the surf at Waikiki Beach
You don’t have to be a beachboy to know that Waikiki Beach was the birthplace of surfing. It’s also where the legendary Duke Kahanamoku, the “Father of Surfing”, ruled the waves. And it’s an easy walk from downtown Honolulu!
Feeling inspired? If you’re a newbie, sign up for a crash course at the Waikiki Beach Faith Surf School, run by the renowned Moniz surfing family. You’ll get a small-group, two-hour session that’ll equip you with some surfing basics. Before you know it, you’ll be catching your own waves. Ride ‘em!
And don’t overlook the other options. Waikiki Beach, stretching along two full miles, is considered one of the most beautiful beaches on Oahu. Dig your toes into the warm sand—or grab a paddleboard or boogie board to enjoy some surf playtime.
RELATED: Top Tourist Attractions in Waikiki
Stick around ‘til day’s end to catch two signature Waikiki Beach sights: an unforgettably vivid sunset, and a brilliant torch-lighting ceremony that greets the coming of night.
Break for lunch in Downtown Honolulu
After your surfside action, you’ll be ready to stoke up with some tasty edibles. Now’s your chance to experience a unique island staple: the “plate lunch”, Hawaii’s version of comfort food. Plate lunches are the product of an intriguing mix of culinary tastes brought to Hawaii by generations of pineapple and sugar plantation workers. The results: delicious!
Build on the basics: rice, macaroni, or potato salad, and your choice of an amazing variety of savory meats. Good bets are tangy, barbecued pork and beef; braised, fried or teriyaki style chicken; or Mexican style salmon. (Is your mouth watering yet?)
Grab one to go from just about any lunch wagon or market in downtown—or at one of Oahu’s classic diners like Rainbow Drive Inn, L&L Hawaiian Barbecue, Highway Inn, or Zippy’s.
Island plates are cheap and filling—and did we mention delicious?—and they’ll keep you rockin’ and rollin’ all day.
Pop into Iolani Palace
Fueled up for the afternoon? Before continuing your travel plan, be sure to carve out some time to check out Iolani Palace. One of Honolulu’s most iconic landmarks, this popular attraction is the only former royal palace in the United States.
Although its current form emerged in 1876, the grounds of Iolani Palace served as the royal residence from 1845 to 1893, starting with King Kamehameha III.
Now a National Historic Landmark, Iolani Palace is one of Honolulu’s must-see attractions. The palace is open for self-guided and docent-led tours from Tuesday to Saturday. (Check the schedule on the official site.)
Shop and chill at Ala Moana
In the mood for some post-lunch perambulation? Head over to Ala Moana, where you’ll be tempted to shop ‘til you drop. An easy walk from downtown Honolulu, Ala Moana boasts the world’s largest open-air shopping center.
Get ready to give your wallet a workout: The Ala Moana Center is home to nearly 300 stores. It features one of the world’s largest collections of luxury retailers, four major departments stores, several Hawaiian retailers offering locally-crafted items, and 70 dining destinations—if you’re still hungry.
When you’re ready for a break from browsing, check out the other major attraction: Ala Moana Beach Park. This 100-acre public park features over a half-mile of golden sand and is one of the top-rated Honolulu beaches. With its protective offshore reef, it’s one of the most popular open ocean swimming spots in Hawaii. So dive in and burn off those lunch plate carbs!
Shop the world at International Market Place
Prefer your shopping with a dash of something extra? Don’t miss the International Market Place in Waikiki. Once a popular outdoor market, it’s now an upscale shopping hotspot. (Think Christian Louboutin, Burberry, Saks Fifth Avenue.)
But there’s more to the International Market Place than browsing and buying: the history and culture of the region are woven into the architecture. Featuring flowing water, living walls, and tropical gardens, this destination is an amazing tropical oasis in downtown Honolulu.
Check out the visitor’s center, walk the handcrafted tree house and view numerous photos depicting the cultural journey of this special place. The crown jewel: the iconic Banyan tree, still standing strong after more than a century.
Ready for a break from browsing? Relax outside on the Grand Lanai and savor delicious fare from one of the many first-class restaurants at the International Market Place. Enjoy a glass of wine, be serenaded by Hawaiian music, and take in a glorious sunset.
Embark a North Shore Circle Island Adventure
Want to experience island life to the max? Try to squeeze a North Shore Circle Island Adventure. On this multi-stop Oahu road trip, you’ll explore Oahu’s iconic cultural sites and learn about its fascinating history. This guided minibus tour ensures you won’t miss a thing.
Check out the historic Dole Pineapple Plantation, one of the top things to see in Oahu. Get great photo ops at stunning Diamond Head. Marvel at the Halona Blowhole, where geysers reach heights of 30 feet. Take in the natural beauty of Makapu’u Beach and the white sands of Waimanalo Beach Park on the Windward Coast.
Jump into the North Shore waters for some snorkeling—and get up close and personal with the local marine life. The star attraction: the majestic Honu (Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles). These gentle giants weigh up to 500 pounds – definitely worth a look!
Enjoy stunning views of famous North Shore beaches like Waimea Bay, Pipeline, and Sunset Beach as you cruise Oahu’s North Shore.
Grab a snack at a shrimp truck stop, crunch some macadamia nuts during a plantation visit or savor a traditional Hawaiian plate lunch at one of the island’s farms. Filling and delicious!
Long live the luau
What would a trip to Hawaii be without attending a traditional Hawaiian luau? In centuries past, this uniquely Hawaiian celebration-cum-feast was a strictly royal ritual. Today, luaus are a wide-open staple for both locals and visitors, highlighting everything from school graduations to elaborate weddings.
Want to experience a luau? Many Oahu resorts are happy to oblige. Check out Paradise Cove Luau at Ko Olina Resort to take in the island vibe. Sip on a welcoming Mai Tai, and dig into traditional Hawaiian fare including kalua pork, fresh seafood, and tropical fruit. Feel free to customize!
Sit back and enjoy the live entertainment on the playbill: Hawaiian music, hula dancers, and fire twirlers. Savor the sunset and the sound of the surf. Tempted to stay? Just book a room at Ko Olina Resort on Paradise Cove to get a little extra time in … well, paradise.
Enjoy Honolulu’s vibrant nightlife
Still have some energy to burn? If you’re not ready to call it a day – you don’t have to! Cap off your Honolulu itinerary with some after-dark action. You don’t have to scratch your head over this one: Downtown Honolulu boasts a vibrant nightlife.
Want to sample some great crafted beer? Head to Bar 35 for a terrific selection. Looking for a mellow end to the evening? Drop into Mai Tai, sit back, and chill out. In the mood for a barefoot-on-the-beach nightcap experience? Saunter over to Duke’s Waikiki Barefoot Bar, where you can sip and watch the surf roll in.
Cruise into the sunset
Or—since you’ve spent so much of your day in & around the beautiful water of Oahu, maybe the best way to end your day is on it. Whether you want a romantic night out or an unforgettable Hawaiian experience for the whole family, one of Honolulu’s many sunset dinner cruise options will make a spectacular finale to your visit.
As you sail out of the harbor to Diamond Head, take in stunning views of the sunset and the city lights of downtown Honolulu. Enjoy delicious cuisine ranging from whole Maine lobster to beef tenderloin. Mellow out with a cocktail in hand, savor the memories you’ve made today—and start dreaming about your future trips to Hawaii!
Where to stay with 24 hours in Honolulu
With only 24 hours in Honolulu, the best hotels & places to stay in Honolulu fall in and around Waikiki. As the most popular area to stay in the city, Waikiki is also a great base for exploring the entire island of Oahu.
If you want to stay in Honolulu without breaking the bank, book yourself in at the Surfjack Hotel. Offering vintage-inspired bungalows and suites five minutes from Waikiki Beach, the hotel is the perfect place to base yourself to make the most of your Honolulu day trip.
For a dash of class minutes from the beach, settle in at The Laylow. The mid-century hotel charms guests with elegant modern rooms and an array of luxurious amenities, including an outdoor pool, fitness center, and on-site restaurant.
Located across from Waikiki Beach, this luxury aparthotel delivers well-equipped suites featuring kitchens and balconies with views over the Pacific Ocean. The luxurious amenities include an outdoor swimming pool, fitness center, hot tub, and recreation deck.
More Honolulu itinerary ideas
Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve
If you’re seeking out more time in the water, squeeze in a visit to Hanauma Bay Preserve. Located 25 minutes from the heart of the city, the unique marine ecosystem is one of the top snorkeling spots on Oahu.
Dipping into the waters of Hanauma Bay, you’ll be face-to-face with hundreds of tropical fish species along with sea turtles. To protect its marine life, entrance to Hanauma Bay is limited to a max of about 1,000 people per day. Arrive early before the throngs of tourists to experience the preserve at its most peaceful.
Koko Head Crater Trail
Forming the backdrop to Hanauma Bay is Koko Head. To experience its glory to its fullest, fire up your quads on the Koko Head Crater Trail. Also known as the Koko Head Stairs, the hike propels you up 1,000 steps to the top of the volcanic crater.
Although popular, be warned: The Koko Head Crater Trail is challenging. When you reach the top, however, you’ll be rewarded with fantastic views over Hanauma Bay and the South Shore coastline. (If you decide to start your day here, it’s a superb spot to catch a dramatic Pacific sunrise.)
Want to add another beautiful beach to your Oahu trip? Skip over to Lanikai Beach. Located 30 minutes from Honolulu in Kailua, the beach isn’t just one of the finest on Oahu but one of the world’s most beautiful.
Although only half a mile long, the beach is doused with soft sand lapped by blue waters. After soaking in the sun, venture northward to Kailua Beach, another Oahu coastal gem.