The 28 Best Things To Do In Honolulu For First Time Tourists!

If you did not know, Honolulu is the biggest city which is in Hawaii, and because of this, if you are a tourist, there is so much to see and do on your trip, especially if you are just visiting for the first time!

The 28 Best Things To Do In Honolulu For First Time Tourists!

If you are going on a shorter trip, you may feel overwhelmed at the sheer variety and choice which is available to you, and because of this, not know what to do and where to go.

For people in this situation we have put this list together!

There is so much to do in Honolulu, that we can not simply gather everything which is available in one list as there is just not enough space, but what we can do is show you the highlights!

This list has something for everyone who could be visiting Honolulu, so you will definitely find a few things which you will enjoy, and a few things you may not have even considered!

We have included some of the most famous things to do in Honolulu, as well as some of the more underrated attractions and things to do.

There are also some pretty specific recommendations in here, but there are just as many more general ones to give you a less limited scope of things to try out.

So, if you are planning to visit Honolulu soon, but you still have no idea what you want to do, we have got you covered!

So keep reading to find some great ideas of what you should do when you get to this amazing city!

The Best Things To Do In Honolulu

This is by no means an exhaustive list, with this being the biggest city in Hawaii, there are countless activities to partake in, but we have gathered what we think some of the best highlights you should do if you are visiting for the first time, especially if you are on a short trip!

Ala Moana Center

If you have not heard of it, the Ala Moana Center is up there with the best shopping areas in Hawaii, and definitely one of the best in Honolulu.

While not everyone wants to go shopping while they are on vacation, for those who want some retail therapy on their trip, this is one of the best options in this city.

If you do not want to spend all your time shopping, there are also some great eateries in the center, with some amazing options for coffee especially.

Entering this shopping center feels like entering a completely new world.

The mall sprawls over 4 floors and it holds the record for being the biggest shopping center which is not contained in a building just to give you an idea of the scale we are working with.

There is a massive array of variety in the mall with department stores, luxury brands, and even souvenirs if you want to make sure to get gifts for when you get back home.

There is a massive variety of over 350 stores and restaurants, so there will be something here for everyone!

It is worth keeping in mind that some of these stores can get very expensive, but there should still be something for everyone! 

If you are staying close by to the area the shopping center, even if you are not a big fan of shopping, we would still recommend having a walk around to pick up some gifts or have a nice meal!

Enjoy A Poke Bowl

Just like with every trip, something you should always do is indulge in the unique food which is offered in the culture, and one of the best local delicacies which is in Honolulu is a poke bowl.

Poke bowls have become popular in recent years and you can find this dish being served somewhere a lot more local to your home, but you will not be able to find it served as well as it is in a city like Honolulu.

You can find some delicious poke being served around every corner in Honolulu, however the best places we have found to try it are Fresh Catch and Sato Seafood which are both in Kaimuki, so if you are nearby, you should definitely try some!

Both of these restaurants serve some amazing poke bowls with a massive variety of different options and flavors, so you will definitely find yourself coming back if you are staying close by.

While some people do not like poke, or have maybe tried some poke which they are not the biggest fan of, we really encourage you to try again in Honolulu as the poke bowls served here are honestly on another level!

Waikiki Beach

This beach is massively famous for a reason, and because of this, even if you do not love beaches, you have to spend sometime on Waikiki beach.

This beach is known globally, and this is for good reason with the beach covered in stunning white sand which is super fluffy as well as iconic massive palm trees lining the horizon by the vivid blue sea.

With this beach being so popular, it is no wonder that there is effort put into sustaining and keeping it organized by the city with specific sections of this iconic beach being roped off as areas which are great for swimming with slightly more gentle water.

But if you want to go past these rope barriers, there are sections of the water which are better suited for activities like surfing or water sports. Whatever water activities you want to do, you will find them at Waikiki beach!

There are actually multiple beaches which come under the umbrella of Waikiki beach which include Fort DeRussy Beach which is attached to the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, Queen Surf Beach, and Kuhio Beach.

While there are plenty of more active things to do at Waikiki beach like swimming, boogie boarding, surfing, catamaran, and even canoe cruises, there are also plenty of more relaxing activities which are available, for example, you should not miss the beautiful sight of being by this beach at sunset.

The only issue with this beach is how massively crowded it can get, and this makes sense with how popular and famous this beach is.

This is why we would recommend going at dawn since while you will never find this beach empty, this is when it will be the most quiet.

Iolani Palace

If you are on Oahu, you can not miss Iolani Palace.

If you have not heard of it, this is the area where the former king of Hawaii lived and because of this it is one of the top cultural and historical attractions to do in Hawaii.

The famous palace was build all the way back in 1882 and then had to be rebuilt in 1969, after this it got reopened in 1978 which was also when the palace became open for public viewing.

You are able to see this massive building if you are in downtown Honolulu and it is hard to miss spanning over multiple acres and features royal rooms and political offices. 

There are plenty of different options when it comes to looking around this palace, when you first arrive you’ll have the option of a guided tour, or an audio tour depending on your preference.

Close by there is also Ali-iolnai Hale which is just across the street which features King Kamehamehe V’s statue

Enjoy Coffee In Honolulu

If you are a fan of Coffee, one thing which you will definitely have to do when you are in Honolulu is enjoy some of the amazing coffee which is brewed here.

You will find absolutely no struggle to find amazing coffee in Honolulu with coffee shops being practically around every corner, so indulge in trying a different one as often as possible until you finally find your favorite, but trust us, this will take a while!

Right in the center of Waikiki, we found Kona Coffee Purveyors which made one of the best tasting cups of coffee we had ever tried, but because of this there are lines pretty often, so be prepared to wait for this taste of heaven.

If you want to try somewhere else however, there are plenty of other options being; Arvo, Brew & Foam Coffee House, and Surfjack Shop.

However, these suggestions are by no means exhaustive so try any coffee you find as there is a good chance it will be amazing!

Manoa Falls

Manoa Falls

One of the best things about Manoa Falls is how easy it is to access making it an easy trip to get to if you are staying in Honolulu.

This is an insane 150 foot waterfall which is on 5 miles away from northeast downtown Honolulu, and it is located in the beautifully natural Manoa Valley.

If you want a beautiful waterfall hike in Oahu, this is going to be the best one and one of the most easy to get to.

While also being a beautiful sight to see, this is also a very iconic destination for where this waterfall has shown up in other media which you have probably heard.

There are scenes from both ‘Jurassic Park’ as well as ‘Hunger Games: Catching Fire’ which have both been filmed here, so if you are a movie buff, this is an exciting location to be able to visit.

While the waterfall itself may not be as powerful as you expect it to, but if there has been lots of rain recently, it will look even better than usual.

You can access the public hike to the waterfall between sunrise and sunset, so there are not many strict times you will want to have to get there.

While using this trail is completely free, there is a parking fee of $7 mainly spent on maintenance at the trailhead.

A final note is that the trail up to the waterfall is normally quite muddy so you will want to wear shoes which can put up with these conditions.

Also, if you are in the area, Lyon Arboretum is only next door!

Malasadas At Leonardʻs Bakery

It is probably not an overstatement to say that Leonard’s Bakery is the most popular and famous bakery in Hawaii, and this is because of the amazing malasadas which are served here.

If you are not familiar with malasadas, they are best compared to a puffed version of Portuguese donuts and they are absolutely delicious!

Their original location is near Kaimuki so if you are staying nearby you will be able to go at a time of day where the lines are hopefully a bit more clear, but they also have a food truck which changes location occasionally.

Even so, there will likely be lines at any time of day, so do not assume that there is a time when you can guarantee it will be quiet.

But, if you are in Honolulu, you can not miss visiting this location.

There are a few different flavors which you can get so even if you are a picky eater, you are sure to find a flavor which you will like.

You can get the original plain sugar, li hing, cinnamon sugar, and even ones which have different filling like coconut, guava, and chocolate, but these are only a few of the flavors on offer.

Diamond Head State Monument (Lë’ahi)

The name Diamond Head was given by British sailors from the 19th century and it is a crate which was formed around 300,000 years ago, so if you are a fan of history or geography, or just love seeing natural phenomena like this, seeing Diamond Head is something you have to do.

While it more commonly known by Diamond Head, the original Hawaiian name for the crater is Lë’ahi.

This crater was formed from just one volcanic eruption and the result of this was ash which was poured into the atmosphere and then proceeded to fall over the course of thousands of years which is why the ridgeline of this structure is so unique and distinct.

The hike on this crater is amazing and the sense of scale you will get from doing it can not be recreated with photography.

You will get one of the most jaw-dropping views imaginable getting to see much of Oahu including Waikiki Beach and a vast view of the Pacific Ocean.

In what is a move to stop the route up this crater getting too crowded, since April of 2022 the state has put forward a system to reserve a spot to hike up Diamond Head if you are not local and this has been in effect since mid-May of the same year.

Reserving your spot is not going to be too much of an issue and is a good move to stop this tourist attraction from becoming unenjoyable with crowds.

Another note is that you will not be able to visit Diamond Head on Wednesdays, so when planning an itinerary, keep this in mind.

If you have a bit more of a budget, getting a helicopter tour which passes by the crater is also an amazing option too!

Kuhio Beach Park

This beach park is right near the Canoes and Queens which is one of the best spots on Waikiki for both surfing as well as bodyboarding, and this area is known for having an incredibly chilled out atmosphere near the amazingly calm sea.

While this is part of Waikiki beach, we think it deserves its own spot.

If you want to indulge in the culture of Oahu, this is a great spot with the statue of Duke Kahanmoku, the statue of Prince Kuhio and the Stones of Kapaemahu all being nearby.

There are also free hula shows which take place regularly and are a great way to see something unique when you are visiting without having to break the bank.

This area will always be full of entertainment and is well worth visiting. Just walking through this area is a great relaxing way to spend your time!

Enjoy An Açai Bowl In Honolulu

While açai bowls did not actually originate in Hawaii and are originally from Brazil, locals in Hawaii have made this food their own and being on Honolulu is one of the best places to one to enjoy an amazing açai bowl!

Because of this you will find them being served very regularly and this is one of the best places to get one!

If you want a recommendation about some of the best spots to get an açaí bowl, we recommend either ALO Cafe, or Tropical Tribe as they have some of the best ones available.

There are actually three locations for Tropical Tribe just on Oahu, one of which is near the Ala Moana shops, one is in Waikiki, and one is all the way up in Haleiwa.

They have been serving delicious açai since 2013 and there are plenty of variations available with their signature Tropical Tribe Bowl being in the standard Brazilian style including açai as well as Guarana juice.

ALO Café only has one location in Waikiki and this café prides itself on being vegan and plant based with plenty of different healthy options for food, as well as some of the best açai bowls available!

If you want a chill spot to have a great açai bowl, this is your best bet!

Pearl Harbor National Memorial

You are probably aware of Pearl Harbor being the spot which was victim to Japanese attack in 1941, and this is why the US ended up joining WW2.

This is the military base which is in Pearl Harbor and is both still an active base, as well as being a memorial for the historic event which took place here.

There are plenty of options when it comes to looking around with a self-guided solo trip being an option, but if you want a tour, booking in advance is definitely the best option.

There are plenty of different memorials and sites to see, so seeing everything in one day may be a struggle, so knowing what you want to see, or dedicating the time to be able to see everything is recommended.

There are different battleships with different historical relevance to look around like the USS Missouri as well as the memorial for the USS Arizona, and the USS Bowfin, there is also the Pacific Aviation Museum as well.

There are many different options when it comes to looking around, and most things to do are free making it a great budget friendly option, but there are just as many paid options if you want to support keeping this attraction open.

If you are specifically interested in seeing the USS Missouri or the USS Arizona, make sure that you book ahead of time so you will be able to see them when you want to.

Halona Blowhole

Halona Blowhole

This location is on the east coast of Oahu and is one of the most popular places for visitors of the island to travel to.

At the Halona Blowhole, there will be waves which pound against cliffs and this will lead to the water blasting out of a blowhole up into the air which makes it an amazing natural sight to behold.

However, this area can be quite dangerous because of the incredibly strong currents which are present, so while some people get as close as we can, we recommend only looking from the lookout point by the road, especially if you are with children.

The best time to view this attraction is during the summer with the sun and the wind making the water shoot up higher than it ever does.

You can also double up the trip to the blowhole to also go to the beautiful Eternity Beach which is close to it.

Honolulu Botanical Gardens

If you want to spend some time taking in the beauty of nature, you have to visit the Botanical Gardens in Honolulu which are spread out over Honolulu making them a fun activity to tour throughout your trip.

There is a massively diverse array of unique flora which is something astounding to see if you are in the area and enjoy looking at things like this.

One of our favorites of the botanical gardens in Honolulu is the Wahaiawa Botanical Garden which is located on a plateau giving it a more mild temperature than the other meaning the greenery is more lush and the array of flowers which you can see in just one location is massive.

There is also the botanical gardens in Koko Crater which are magical, as well as the Foster location, the aforementioned Lyon Arboretum, and the Lili’uokalani Botanical Garden. 

Seeing all of these gardens is going to be well worth your time, but if you are on a shorter trip, try to see at least a couple if you love seeing rare flora.

Kaka’ako District

If you want to dedicate a day to visiting a specific part of Honolulu, then we recommend visiting Kaka’ako.

This is an amazing entertainment district in Honolulu with a chic and fashionable feel with plenty of street art, galleries, cafés, and delicious dining options available for you to spend your time with.

If you want to get some of the best Hawaiian food which is available in Oahu, we recommend visiting here, one of our favorite eateries here is The Highway Inn which is a great place to try some authentic food if you want to get to try something which you may not be used to.

The best part about this restaurant is the sample platter which is available so you and your group can try a bit of everything.

This district is also home to Arvo which we mentioned earlier as having some of the best coffee in the city.

There is also 9BAR HNL which serve an amazing ube latter, and finally Paiko sells some amazing house plants.

All of these locations are in SALT which is the cultural hub of this district and is an area you can not miss if you are in the city.

Walk The Ala Wai Canal

If you want a nice spot to go walking in, we cannot recommend the Ala Wai Canal enough, especially if you like going on relaxing walks in the morning!

This is an artificial waterway which is used as the northern border of Waikiki, but it was also used back in 1928 for use in draining rice paddies as well as swamps in the Waikiki district. 

The light in this location is beautiful, and you can watch people kayaking and people watch for hours if you want.

You will also get amazing views of the mountain, and you will be super close to Waikiki as well.

Honolulu Museum Of Art

This spectacular museum was founded all the way back in 1927 and you can tell this based on the amazing selection of Pan-Pacific as well as Asian art has been collected here being one of the biggest collections in the country.

It does not need to be said, but if you are an art lover, you can not miss this museum.

There is the Doris Duke Theatre that is part of this museum which is responsible for organizing their own seminars, concerts, and lectures.

There is also the Robert Allerton Art Research Library as well as the art school attached to the museum.

There is so much included on one site that you will not have to travel far to spend a whole day here.

This museum is seen as one of the best collections in America of Asian art, and this is paired with pieces from some of the best European artists as well including; Van Gogh, Gauguin, and Picasso.

If you want to see some particularly amazing local art, there is the Arts Of Hawaii collection which famously includes the Maui landscapes by Georgia O’Keeffe (see also ‘19 Dreamy Places To Visit In Maui‘).

Shangri La Museum Of Islamic Art, Culture, And Design

For another amazing art collection there is the Shangri La Museum which focuses on Islamic Art, Culture, and Design specifically, and you will find this at Diamond Head which is only a little outside of Honolulu.

This is actually located at what was the home of Doris Duke, but it is not a museum which is for art from the Islamic world.

The building was originally a mansion which was used by Duke to display the Islamic art they collected, and now thanks to this origin the building is an amazing collection of art which is publicly available to persue.

The art originates from countries like; India, Egypt, Syria, Spain, Turkey, Morocco, and Iran.

Something you should know if you want to visit this museum is that you will need to book a ticket a good period of time in advance and you will not be able to get individual access.

Corsair Wreck Dive Site

Corsair Wreck Dive Site

This is something to visit if you are a fan of diving who is skilled enough to pull this off, but if you are, we recommend not missing this amazing site.

This is the Corsair Wreck Dive Site and it is about 3 miles south from the Marina which is on the southeast part of Oahu.

It will take a little bit of time to get to, but it is honestly worth the effort if you are a good enough diver!

The dive site actually uses an actual plane which was used in WW2 and this is at the bottom of this section of the ocean making it popular with photographers as well as divers.

As we have emphasized, this is definitely an advanced spot for diving with a guide needed to get to the area and the crash being submerged at 115 feet.

There is also a good chance of rapid currents which are likely to be unpredictable so make sure to be careful. But if you have the skills, you should not miss out on this!

Aloha Tower

This tower is often referred to as the Hawaiian Statue Of Liberty and this is for good reason, it is one of the most iconic landmarks which is in this state and it was originally used as a landmark for sailors who want to get to Honolulu.

The iconic tower is in a gothic style so if you are a fan of this style of architecture you should really go out of your way to see this 184 foot tower. 

Nowadays, this tower is mainly used for tourism but it can also still be used as a lighthouse which makes it even more impressive as a structure from the 20th century.

Luckily, visitors are able to go all the way up to the top for amazing views of the city and the shoreline so if you are not scared of heights this is something you should definitely try!

Waiola Shave Ice

When it comes to food and snacks which you have to try in Hawaii, trying Waiola Shaved Ice should definitely be high up on your list, this is such a famous snack that the locals have made it its own art form.

There are thousands of different combinations of juices, flavors, and toppings which are all available and this is why getting shaved ice at Waiola should be where you go specifically!

Some of our favorite flavors we would recommend trying if you are unsure of what to pick are; cherries, mango, passion fruit, chocolate, haupia, mochi, green tea, and even margarita.

Finding your perfect flavor combination is a great feeling and something you should definitely try to do.

Sans Souci Beach Park

If you want a more relaxed spot to go so you can unwind from the hustle and bustle which Honolulu is so well known for, then going to Sans Souci Beach is definitely something you should try, especially if you want to get away from the crowds.

This beach is also called Kaimana Beach if you hear this name being used as well, and it has a lovely relaxed vibe with it being shallow with sand and the currents are not that strong.

It is also a good choice for if you want to snorkel in more relaxed conditions.

This beach is also used commonly by kayakers and swimmers for accessing the seas which are beyond the reef by using the Kapua Channel which will then lead to Old Man’s surfing spot.

This is one of the most relaxed beach parks in Honolulu, so if you want to take some time to relax, this is the perfect spot for it!

Royal Hawaiian Center

Another top pick for those who love to go shopping, this is a mall which specializes in stocking luxury brands, so if you are on a tight budget, this might be a skip.

This center stretches over 3 blocks of Kalakaua Avenue and it is a massive 310,000 square feet, so if you just want to look around, it is a sight to behold!

The architecture of this building is amazing and features 110 stores with 30 places to eat!

Chinatown

The Chinatown district of Honolulu is on the outskirts of both Waikiki and Honolulu and it is an area which keeps on getting more popular with its own variety of cafés and galleries.

There is some amazing dim sum in this Chinatown specifically and there are even 10 acres of locally run lei stands.

On top of this you will also find some amazing shops and markets.

When it comes to landmarks there is also the Buddhist temple Kuan Yin with its iconic green roof and red columns.

The Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum

If you want an opportunity to learn more about the history and the culture of Hawaii, this is a museum you will not want to miss.

It has over 24 million relics from Hawaii and the pacific region making it a packed place to visit with loads to see.

If you visit you will get educated on Hawaiian gods as well as historical events in Hawaii which are not as spoken about outside this state.

Koko Crater Trail

Koko Crater Trail

This trail is nearby Waimanalo which is in Oahu and this is a volcanic cone which is over 1200 feet tall making it a pretty tough walk which is well worth the payoff.

It is a pretty hard hike, but if you want to see the wildlife of Oahu up close, this is well worth the visit.

If you want to get to the lookout, you will have to climb 1048 stairs made from railroad ties which are pretty steep, so make sure to bring plenty of water!

Farmer’s Market KCC

This farmers market is organized by the Hawaii Farm Bureau Federation which is an organization which is a non-profit for farmers and family members which has been running for since 1948.

Many members of this federation take part in this famed farmer’s market to show off their goods and it is a great way to get some delicious local goods

Craft Beer In Honolulu

If you are a fan of beer, you have to partake in the growing craft beer scene with one of the best being the Maui Brewing Company which make some of the best beer available!

There is also Honolulu Beerworks which is one of the best craft breweries on the island with its own unique releases of microbrews.

Nu’uanu Pali State Wayside

This lookout is only about 5 miles from downtown Honolulu by car and you will get one of the best views available on the island.

The lookout is open between 6am and 6pm if the weather permits and while there is no admission price, parking does cost $7.

Summary

Hopefully this list has given you the inspiration you need to have an amazing packed vacation in Honolulu. While you do not have to try everything, just trying a couple of these will ensure you have a trip you can not forget!

Mylene Mace