Ready to plan the perfect vacation to the heart of Oahu? Leave plenty of room on your itinerary for all the best things to do in Honolulu. From golden beaches to epic volcanic craters, the biggest city in Hawaii is a must-visit U.S. destination.
The top tourist attractions in Honolulu provide a perfect balance of relaxation and adventure. Traveling families will likewise find plenty of ways to keep the young ones busy. Hike to viewpoints, explore Hollywood movie sets, or roam historic museums: The choice is all yours!
Not sure what to do on your Honolulu getaway? Kickstart your trip planning to Hawaii’s capital city with our guide to the best places to visit in Honolulu, Hawaii!
Best places to visit in Honolulu, HI
Diamond Head State Monument
Standing ominously over the turquoise water on Waikiki Beach, the Diamond Head State Monument is one of the coolest places to see in Honolulu. Being so close to the city center, it won’t take you long to arrive at the 300,000-year-old volcanic crater.
While you can appreciate the imposing beauty of the mountain, it’s impossible to grasp the sheer magnitude of the crater from below. To do this, embark on a hike along one of the top trails on the island for unforgettable panoramic views.
The Diamond Head Trail was originally developed as a military defense. Today, the 0.8-mile trek is as popular as ever. After an elevation gain of 560 feet, stand at the summit to see the Diamond Head Crater and map out a variety of landmarks, like its WWI-era lighthouse, the Kuilei Cliffs, the Honolulu skyline, and the endless Pacific Ocean.
After your hike, make the drive down Diamond Head Rd to chill out at Le’ahi Beach Park, famed among locals for its epic sunsets.
Pearl Harbor National Memorial
Named after the pearls that were harvested from its blue waters, Pearl Harbor will forever be linked to the tragic events of the attack on December 7, 1941. The harbor is a somber reminder of the lives lost on that fateful day. Exploring the various memorials and monuments of the National Historic Landmark to pay tribute to the fallen soldiers is one of the essential things to do in Honolulu.
Begin your time here at the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center, where the free exhibits expound on the events along with Pearl Harbor’s natural history. A major focus of many travelers is the USS Arizona Memorial. The memorial was constructed over the battleship where 1,700 lives were lost.
Within close walking distance, navy buffs can check out USS Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park. The grounds host the famed USS Bowfin, the most well-preserved submarine from the WWII era.
Pacific Aviation Museum on Ford Island is another highlight near Pearl Harbor. Its collections, spread over multiple hangars, feature a variety of planes from the Second World War. Besides the displays, keep an eye out for the museum’s immersive flight simulator to test your resolve in the skies!
As one of the most famous beaches on earth, it’s no surprise that Waikiki Beach is one of the top Honolulu attractions. The two-mile stretch of golden sand is backed by high-rises and the ever-present Diamond Head.
Waikiki Beach is broken up into multiple sections, each manned by lifeguards. With restaurants, beachfront bars, and the shady Kapiolani Park just steps away, you have everything you need for the perfect beach day.
Lay down the towel and admire the views before stepping into the crystal clear water and enjoying the quintessential Hawaii experience on the waves. For families with younger kids, head to Kahanamoku Lagoon, a protected swimming area with zero swell and safe currents.
PRO TIP: If surfing is your jam, squeeze in a day trip to Oahu’s North Shore to check out the Banzai Pipeline at Ehukai Beach Park in Pupukea. Even if you don’t hit the waves yourself, watching surfers attempt some of the biggest swells on the planet is a must-see for surfing fans!
After a day of soaking up the fun charms of Waikiki Bay, slip over to Kalakaua Avenue. Running parallel to the beach, Kalakaua Avenue is one of the top destinations on the island, home to a ton of boutique shops, shopping malls, and fantastic restaurants.
Hankering for a hearty seafood dinner? Bring your appetite to Duke’s Waikiki, famed for its seafood and epic beachfront sunset scenes along the shores. (Tip: As Duke’s is one of the city’s most popular seafood restaurants, be sure to book your table in advance.)
Manoa Falls Trail
One of the most popular places to go in Honolulu to chase waterfalls is Manoa. From the quaint historic town, you can make a brief journey to the beginning of the Manoa Falls Trail. The popular hiking trail through a lush forest leads to none other than Manoa Falls, one of the most accessible waterfalls in Oahu.
Starting from the Lyon Arboretum, Manoa Falls are under a mile away along a casual trail through dense jungle, with many different types of flora. After 20 minutes, the lush rainforests disperse, making way for hikers to discover a tumbling 150-foot waterfall that dives into the sparkling pool below.
The Hawaiian sun beams through the prehistoric canopy, creating a mesmerizing sight for nature lovers. If it feels familiar, that’s because parts of Jurassic Park were shot right here. While you shouldn’t expect dinosaurs, bring plenty of insect repellent while tackling these hikes!
Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve
Formed within the crater of a prehistoric volcano on the South Shore, the Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve is one of the most interesting things to see in Honolulu. From the moment you arrive, you’ll be greeted with stunning jade-green water with distant waves ending along the offshore reef.
The coral reef at Hanauma Bay is clear as day from the bay’s white sand and clear waters. It’s teeming with exotic marine life, from tropical fish to green sea turtles, and vibrant coral reefs, making it a must-visit spot for snorkeling and scuba diving. (Keep in mind that because of overuse, the preserve restricts the number of daily visitors to protect the sea creatures.)
After enjoying the underwater world in Hanauma Bay, tourists can kick back on the soft sand of the coastline with a tropical cocktail and soak in the scenery of the Hawaiian islands, including Koko Head as a backdrop.
Kuhio Beach Park
A section of the iconic Waikiki Beach, Kuhio Beach Park offers sun, sand, grass, and shade in equal measure providing a well-rounded Honolulu beach experience.
Kuhio Beach is great for all kinds of travelers, with plenty of activities abound. Surfers can make their way to Canoes and Queens, two popular breaks. Families can set up picnics in the park, with the beach just steps away. The rest of us can set up hammocks, read a book, enjoy some snacks, and play volleyball till the sun goes down.
RELATED: What to See & Do in Waikiki
Beyond surfing in the waters and lazing about, you can also check out several local landmarks, including the statue of Duke Kahanamoku. Duke was an Olympic gold medalist and a historic figure in the world of surfing. The park is also home to the Wizard Stones of Kapaemahu, which are believed to have healing powers.
Ala Moana Beach Park
A local favorite, Ala Moana Beach Park, is a great way to experience Honolulu’s beautiful beaches without having to elbow your way through the crowds. With its central location, Ala Moana Beach is easy to get to—even if you only have 24 hours in Honolulu. It offers a half-mile crescent beach lined with shady trees and plenty of options for fun activities on the waters.
The waves huddle off-shore, providing great surf for those that want to make the trip. This leaves the rest of the beach protected with little swell and safe swimming conditions.
To add to your adventure, grab a snorkel and dive below the surface to spot colorful sea creatures like tropical fish and green sea turtles swirling around the reef.
After catching some sun on the golden sands and floating in the blue ocean, check out one of the three food shacks, spacious lawns, and picnic tables.
Finished with your beach day? Cross over Ala Moana Blvd to stop in at the famed open-roof Ala Moana Center, one of Honolulu’s top shopping spots. Sprawling several buildings, the shopping center is also a great option for delicious food and drinks, with a variety of restaurants and bars to choose from.
Koko Crater Botanical Garden
One of the top tourist attractions in Honolulu, Koko Head Crater Botanical Garden features over 60 acres of rare and endangered plants. As a part of the broader Honolulu Botanical Gardens, you’ll find stunning examples of cacti and other desert plants thriving in the ash-burnt side of the volcanic crater.
You can make your way through the Koko Head Crater Botanical Garden along a casual two-mile loop that showcases the arid yet beautiful landscapes. However, most travelers come to the crater to tackle the challenging Koko Crater Trail.
Along an old military railway, you’ll traverse up 1,050 steps on your way to the summit. From the top of the Koko Crater Trail, you’ll enjoy amazing views of Hanauma Bay and the city skyline.
Fans of Jurassic Park, Lost, and Hawaii Five-O will be familiar with the Kualoa Ranch, one of the most popular attractions in Oahu. The historic ranch has been passed down through the family for generations. Today, it’s one of the top filming locations in the Hawaiian islands for Hollywood blockbusters and popular TV shows.
Although you can only visit on a guided tour, Kualoa Ranch is packed with exciting attractions. You can experience the expansive ranch on a 4WD adventure, tours on the back of an ATV, or even by zip-lining through the jungle canopy.
Along the way, your guide will bring you to iconic sets from movies past, including the Indominus Rex paddock from everyone’s favorite cloned dinosaur movie. Don’t forget to bring your camera to take advantage of all the opportunities to snap epic photos for your Instagram feed!
If you’re wondering where to go in Honolulu for Hawaiian history, add the Bishop Museum to your bursting itinerary. As Hawaii’s state museum, the popular Honolulu attraction lets visitors uncover a thorough collection of historical artifacts and explore Hawaii’s natural history.
From the get-go, you’ll jump right in by taking in the Kai Akea exhibit. Kai Akea is the vast ocean where everything was born and marks the beginning of Hawaiian culture. Other floors have ancient artifacts on display, including kahilis, which were flags for royals; plus feathered capes, and military helmets.
The fascinating Bishop Museum also houses an immense collection of objects brought in by early settlers from around the world.
In the foothills of Diamond Head and near Kapiolani Park, the Honolulu Zoo is one of the top points of interest in Honolulu for travelers with kids. Here, the entire family can wander between the various enclosures to witness over 900 species in action.
The Honolulu Zoo has a wide range of wildlife to keep you entertained for hours on end. From little critters like the poisonous tree frog to soaring giraffes, if the kids have a favorite animal, it’s likely to be here.
A great way to experience Honolulu Zoo is to grab tickets for one of their fun Twilight Tours. On the tour, you and the family will get to explore the zoo and its animals after dark when almost everyone has gone home.
Honolulu Museum of Art
History buffs visiting Oahu will have a blast exploring the Honolulu Museum of Art. With some pieces dating as far back as the early 18th century, the vast collection in Downtown Honolulu is the largest in Hawaii. Visitors can spend their time discovering over 50,000 works of art from all around the world.
Covering various genres and eras, the gallery includes everything from ornate sculptures to indigenous dolls to about 23,000 pieces in the immense Asian Art Collection. Hawaiian art is a strong focus and showcases prominent local artists through the centuries.
To round out the experience, the stunning European collection includes such icons as Van Gogh, Monet, and Rodin.
Covering almost 200 acres of countryside in the Manoa Valley, the Lyon Arboretum is a lush botanical garden showcasing thousands of tropical plants. The arboretum boasts an impressive collection of palms, one of the biggest in the world. The collection is surrounded by several distinct gardens, creating fresh experiences as you explore.
The Lyon Arboretum does a wonderful job of putting Honolulu’s diverse nature on display. Some of the unique gardens include the Bromeliad Garden, a herb and spice section, and the popular Hawaiian Ethnobotanical Garden.
The arboretum is also used as a research facility to conserve the island’s natural landscapes.
Polynesian Cultural Center
An interactive park divided into six villages, the Polynesian Cultural Center is an interactive and exciting look into Polynesian culture. Rather than another boring museum, the center is a living world where you can explore several Polynesian regions, including Samoa, Fiji, and, of course, Hawaii.
In each village, you’ll experience a range of activities related to the destination. In Samoa, residents climb coconut trees while you paddle down the river. Throughout the experience, you can try your hand at spear-throwing and hula dancing as you take time to immerse yourself in the broader culture.
Dive further into Hawaiian history at Iolani Palace, as you learn about the islands’ prior monarchy inside one of Honolulu’s top landmarks. The ornate 19th-century palace is laden with designs befitting kings and queens. Iolani Palace was built in the 1880s and was the official residence of King Kalakaua, the last king of Hawaii.
Soon after, Hawaii became a part of the United States, making the Iolani Palace the only royal residence in the country. You can tour the stunning building and learn about the Kingdom of Hawaii and its royalty on a self-guided tour. Plug in your audio and walk around the royal palace as you discover period furnishings and artifacts used by the last royal family.
Shangri La Museum of Islamic Art, Culture & Design
The Shangri La Museum of Islamic Art, Culture & Design began as a private collection of Islamic art within a spectacular coastal mansion. Today, the fascinating museum has grown to be one of the places to see in Honolulu for art & culture lovers. Doris Duke, the iconic heiress, began her collection after being inspired by her travels around the Middle East.
Duke’s collection grew to include ornate embroideries, wood carvings, and prominent portraits. Now under the umbrella of the Doris Duke Foundation, the Shangri La Museum is a public space where you can experience a wondrous collection of Middle Eastern art surrounded by picturesque views.
Ala Moana Center
After your day at Ala Moana Park Beach, take a few steps back and visit the four-story Ala Moana Center. The open-air mall is the largest of its kind on earth, offering an expansive collection of shops from local boutiques to international brands.
Exploring the Ala Moana Center mall is an adventure in itself, thanks to the pristine stucco architecture and manicured interior landscapes that create an urban jungle. Spend your time at the shopping center between the stores and sitting under the shady palms.
The Ala Moana Center is also home to an amphitheater where live music regularly floats through the air.
Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum
Located in the historic Kalihi district, the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum celebrates Hawaii’s rich culture and history. The museum is the state’s premier cultural institution and is designated as the Hawaiʻi State Museum of Natural and Cultural History.
Established in 1889, the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum houses over 25 million local historical & cultural artifacts within its galleries and exhibitions. The collection spans everything from royal heirlooms to photographs to insect specimens.
Even if history isn’t your thing, drop by the Watumull Planetarium, the oldest of its kind in Polynesia. Watch one of the planetarium’s daily shows to dazzle at the skies about Hawaii on its crisp 4K full-dome screen.
Aloha Beer Company
Unwind from all the Honolulu sightseeing with a cold pint at the Aloha Beer Company. Located on Queen Street, the craft brewery offers a chill hangout spot, tossing together a fantastic selection of local craft beer and inspired pub fare.
Slake your thirst with a sip of Aloha Beer Company favorites like the thirst-quenching Golden IPA, the robust Coco’aina Porter, and the old-school Red Zeppelin.
Soak up the suds with a brimming plate of delicious modern pub food. Spice things up with Japanese-Curry Fries or indulge in Hawaiian-Japanese fusion with Shoyu Ahi Poke. Yum!
Best places to stay in Honolulu for sightseeing
For most first-time visitors, the best places to stay in Honolulu lie in and around Waikiki. The area is home to most of the city’s top hotels. If you’re looking for quieter digs, you’ll also find a small selection of accommodations outside the city center in areas and neighborhoods like Manoa, Kahala, and around Diamond Head.
Dishing out a retro 1960s vibe, the Surfjack Hotel & Swim Club is a fantastic spot for your Honolulu sightseeing adventure. The location of this boutique hotel is perfect; the accommodation sits just 5 minutes from Waikiki Beach on the coast. Catch some rays at the outdoor swimming pool or chill out in your room, breathing in the sea breeze from on your own private balcony.
Sitting a block from Waikiki Beach, the Queen Kapiolani Hotel stuns with its dramatic Pacific Ocean and Diamond Head views. Besides relaxing in the spacious traditional rooms, you can spend your day on the beach or soaking up the sun at the outdoor pool.
One of Waikiki’s classic hotels, the Moana Surfrider charms guests with tranquil rooms featuring private balconies with spectacular views. You’ll also enjoy a swath of amenities, including a swimming pool, spa, and several on-site restaurants.
Enjoy this article? Pin it for later!