Honolulu Aloha! Ekomo mai (welcome) to Honolulu, on Oahu’s south shore, the capital of Hawaii. The Waikiki neighbourhood is its centre for dining, nightlife and shopping, famed for its iconic crescent beach backed by palms and high-rise hotels, with volcanic Diamond Head looming in the distance.
Honolulu is both the westernmost and the southernmost major American city. Famously being host to a diverse variety of east-west and Pacific culture, cuisine, and traditions. Hawaii is a major tourist destination and Honolulu is the main gateway. The majority of visitors to Hawaii enter through this city – It is as fast-paced and dynamic as any city, with all its problems such as heavy traffic, drugs, crime, and homelessness. But Honolulu still has the charm of the Islands’ laid-back atmosphere and culture.
Honolulu enjoys a warm, humid year-round climate, with pleasant breezes and sunny, tropical weather. Located on the coast, Honolulu has only two long seasons – summer and winter, but the weather only varies slightly, making it a perfect holiday destination.
Despite the turbulent history of the late 19th century and early 20th centuries, such as the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy in 1893, Hawaii‘s subsequent annexation by the United States in 1898, followed by a large fire in 1900, and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, Honolulu remained the capital, largest city, and main airport and seaport of the Hawaiian Islands.
The name Honolulu means “sheltered bay” or “peace of shelter” in Hawaiian, and its natural harbour catapulted this humble village to importance when, in 1809, shortly after King Kamehameha I conquered Oahu in order to unite the Hawaiian Islands under the Kingdom of Hawaii, that he moved his royal court from the island of Hawaii to Oahu. Eventually, in 1845, Kamehameha III officially moved the kingdom’s capital from Lahaina on Maui to Honolulu.
Honolulu‘s ideally located port made the city a perfect stop for merchant ships travelling between North America and Asia, and through the 1800s, descendants of missionaries who arrived in the early 1800s established their headquarters in Honolulu, making it the centre of business and the main seaport for the Hawaiian Islands.
The late 1800s and early 1900s brought the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy and subsequent annexation by the United States. Under American rule, Honolulu saw the rise of tourism and the first hotels were constructed in Waikiki. American rule also brought the U.S. military, which built numerous bases in the islands, not least of which was nearby Pearl Harbor; now famous for the surprise attack by the Japanese in 1941, which brought the U.S. into World War II in the Pacific.
Statehood for the islands brought rapid economic growth to Honolulu, with all the state’s major businesses headquartered in the city, the Honolulu airport as the primary entrance point for visitors, and Waikiki as the centre of the island’s tourism industry.
Naturally, when most visitors think of beaches here, they think of the famous Waikiki Beach. As the tourist centre of the Hawaiian Islands, this white sand beach, framed by hotels and Diamond Head as a backdrop, is easily the most crowded. Waikiki is popular with a wide crowd, as it’s an excellent place for swimming, sunbathers, catamaran and outrigger canoes, as well as a great spot for beginner surfers and bodyboarders. What’s remarkable is that even in Waikiki you can find a fairly quiet beach; it’s just a matter of knowing where to look.
But if you really need to get away from the crowds, there are plenty of other beaches. Just to the west, near Downtown, is Ala Moana Park, a green space with plenty of trees and grass as well as a nice sandy beach that’s popular with the locals and is perfect for families or a calmer swim.
The area surrounding Makapu’u Point in Eastern Honolulu has several excellent beaches, the most popular being Hanauma Bay, which is set in the crater of an extinct volcano, now open to the sea and filled with a coral reef. This is not the place for a good swim and certainly not the spot for surfing, but the calm water and abundance of marine life makes it excellent for snorkelling and scuba diving. Even if you don’t get in the water, the scenery makes it a great place to sunbathe or picnic.
Pearl Harbor, located in Western Honolulu and accessible by Bus #42 or #20, is well-remembered for ‘December 7, 1941— “a date which will live in infamy” (President Franklin D. Roosevelt), when an attack by Japanese forces killed over 2,000 personnel and brought the U.S. military into World War II. Today the harbour, still functioning as a navy base, is the site of several memorials honouring the fallen of that day and the rest of the war. The centrepiece is the USS Arizona Memorial, which was built over the sunken hull of the USS Arizona battleship; the resting place of many who died that day. The memorial itself is accessed after an introductory movie and a short ferry ride and lists the names of those lost as well as a chance to view the wreck. Time-stamped tickets (free) are needed to access the USS Arizona Memorial and can be obtained on the same day (get there early, the ticket office opens at 7:45 am) or in advance online for a small fee.
Of all the museums in Honolulu, none approach the size of the Bishop Museum in Western Honolulu; a complex of buildings with a large collection of Hawaiian artefacts. Much of the museum is dedicated to Hawaiian history, with a growing number of science-based exhibits, including a planetarium, a large natural history hall, and an area centred around volcanology. The museum is huge, so give yourself a few hours to take it all in.
Downtown is home to several museums. On the state capitol grounds is the gorgeous `Iolani Palace, which was the official residence of the Hawaiian Kingdom’s last two monarchs and is now open for tours. Nearby is the Mission Houses Museum, which has three 19th century Honolulu houses restored for viewing, and the Hawaii State Art Museum, which displays visual art by Hawaii artists.
Makiki has two major art museums worth a look: the Honolulu Academy of Arts is the largest art museum in the city and houses one of the largest collections of Asian art in the United States, along with an impressive Western collection to boot, including Van Gogh, Picasso, Gauguin, Cezanne, Monet, Modigliani and other masters. Just up the hill is the Contemporary Museum, which occupies an old estate overlooking the city and is devoted exclusively to contemporary art. Further east along the Pali highway is Queen Emma’s Summer Palace, the summer home of King Kamehameha IV and his family that is now transformed into a museum commemorating its past residents.
Diamond Head Crater Park, Hawaii’s most recognised landmark known for its historic hiking trail and stunning coastal views.
It’s Hawaii, so there’s no shortage of natural scenery, even near the big city. For those looking for expansive vistas, Diamond Head is a good starting point – this ancient volcanic crater dominates over Waikiki and the top offers an incredible view over the city. The trail leads up into a World War II-era bunker and up some steep staircases (one of over 100 steps), so the climb can be a little rough for the average couch potato.
If you’re looking for a vista that you don’t have to hike far to get to, look no further than the hills above Makiki. The Punchbowl Crater, home to a military cemetery, offers a panoramic view closer to Downtown. Pu’u Ualaka’a Park, also above Makiki, has a winding mountain road, Tantalus/Round Top Drive, and a number of hiking trails which provide a stunning view of southern O’ahu nearly 2,000 feet above sea level.
Another popular overlook is the Nu’uanu Pali Lookout, located 6 miles north of Downtown on State Route 61 (Pali Highway). The scenic vista, set between two incredibly high cliffs, provides a panoramic view of Windward O’ahu. The overlook is often buffeted by high winds, but the view is more than worth it.
If ocean scenery is more your speed, the rocky shoreline of the Makapu’u Point area is an excellent bet. In addition to the scenic beaches here is the Makapuʻu Point State Wayside, a roadside stop which offers an excellent view of Makapu’u Point and its lighthouse, a view up the Windward O’ahu coast, and if you’re lucky, whales off-shore in the winter months. Nearby is the popular Halona Blowhole, one of the many blowholes (an underwater cave with a hole in the top, so ocean water blasts out the top) in this area, but the easiest to view due to the large parking area overlooking it.
Places to Eat
Have breakfast at Wailana Coffee House (1860 Ala Moana Boulevard, Honolulu, HI 96815, USA) – Open 24 hours, this diner with big plates and plenty of service, be careful as the portions are more than one could eat. Diner with throwback ambiance offers an extensive menu including all-you-can-eat pancakes.
Lunch is the best time to eat at Marukame Udon Waikiki (2310 Kuhio Avenue, Honolulu, HI 96815, USA) – a Japanese style restaurant with noodles and fast food, but the quality if excellent and very good value. The queues are very long during dinner and expect to wait for a table. This is self serve at its best.
Try Surf N Turf Tacos (2310 Kuhio Ave, Honolulu, HI 96815, United States) – Tacos & other Mexican fast food are served all day in a no-frills setting with outdoor seating. Fish and meat tacos that are extremely delicious.
The best burgers in town are at ShoreFyre (2446 Koa Ave, Honolulu, HI 96815, United States) – mean and delicious. Casual, no-frills restaurant serving American & Hawaiian fare for breakfast, lunch & dinner.