10 things to do in Honolulu

Water Sports, shopping and history in an idyllic setting

From one of the best bays in the world to snorkel to the birth place of the food trend 2016 and a melting pot of cultures, discover the best of Honolulu.

Hawaii is the 50th and most recent state of the United States of America, receiving statehood on August 21, 1959. The state encompasses nearly the entire volcanic Hawaiian archipelago, which comprises hundreds of islands spread over 1,500 square miles (2,400 square km). At the southeastern end of the archipelago, the eight main islands are Niʻihau, Kauaʻi, Oʻahu, Molokaʻi, Lānaʻi, Kahoʻolawe, Maui and the Island of HawaiʻI. Interestingly, though part of the US, Hawaii is not in the Americas, but is part of the Polynesian subregion of Oceania. It is perhaps its geography that has brought the state its almost mythical status as “Heaven on Earth”.

It is in fact its diverse natural scenery, warm tropical climate, abundance of public beaches, oceanic surroundings, and active volcanoes make it a popular destination for tourists, surfers, biologists, and volcanologists. As well as its natural beauty, Hawaii’s culture is strongly influenced by North American and Asian cultures, in addition to its indigenous Hawaiian culture.

The state’s capital is Honolulu on the island of Oʻahu, where modern tower blocks and 19th century architecture are surrounded by verdant nature and azure seas. The bustling city offers culture, entertainment and a variety of water sports on your doorstep, as well as the chance to be immersed in nature by venturing inland on the island of Oʻahu.

Hawaii however also bares the scars of history, being the location of the attack on Pearl Harbor, when on the morning of December 7, 1941 a surprise military strike by the Imperial Japanese Navy against the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor led the United States into World War II.

With so many islands to choose from, its difficult to hone in on a destination in Hawaii, but Oʻahu, with the state capital Honolulu offers the best of everything, from scenery to beach life, passing by history, delicious food and great shopping (and make sure to check out the new Dolce&Gabbana boutique at the Ala Moana Mall.)

Here are 10 things to do in Honolulu and surroundings.

1. Visit Iolani Palace / Downtown Honolulu
Nestled between the skyscrapers of the financial district, the beaches of Waikiki and the largest open air shopping centre in the world, Ala Moana, Honolulu also hosts the only royal palace on US soil. The Iolani Palace was the royal residence of the rulers of the Kingdom of Hawaii beginning with Kamehameha III under the Kamehameha Dynasty (1845) and ending with Queen Liliʻuokalani (1893) under the Kalākaua Dynasty. It is located in the capitol district of downtown Honolulu in the U.S. state of Hawaii. After the monarchy was overthrown in 1893, the building was used as the capitol building for the Provisional Government, Republic, Territory, and State of Hawaii until 1969, until it was restored and opened as a museum in 1978.
Image Credit: Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Tor Johnson

 

2. Get lost in Lyon Arboretum
It is impossible to visit Hawaii and not want to enjoy its verdant nature. For the less adventurous, the stunning Harold L. Lyon Arboretum, located in Manoa, a 200-acre arboretum and botanical garden managed by the University of Hawaii is the perfect compromise. The botanical collection consists of an artificial lowland tropical rainforest with numerous trails as well as small water features. Here you can gaze at magnificent Polynesian tropical plants, palm trees and native ecosystems without venturing too much into the wild.

3. Eat Poke the new food trend for 2016
Poke is the new ceviche. The raw fish salad seasoned with citrus, herbs and a kick of chilli which hails from Peru has been at the top of the food trends for a couple of years, but in 2016 its the year of the Hawaiian poke. Similar in concept, poke is usually made with yellowfin tuna and seasoned with heavily Asian influenced flavours like soy sauce, green onions and sesame oil.  Hawaiian cuisine is heavily influenced by Asian traditions with Japanese, Korean and Chinese forming the majority. Interestingly Portuguese and Costa Rican foods are also on the menu due to immigration influxes in the early 20th Century. Another must try? Hawaiian BBQ.
Image Credit: Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Tor Johnson

 

4. Discover the multicultural heritage of Hawaii
Before becoming the 50th state of the US, the archipelago of Hawaii was a Polynesian Kingdom, and lest you forget, Honolulu hosts a number of monuments and museums to attest to its history. As well as the Iolani Palace, make sure to visit the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum, founded in 1889, it is the largest museum in Hawaii and has the world’s largest collection of Polynesian cultural artefacts and natural history specimens. If you’re more an entertainment learner, then head to the Polynesian Cultural Center, a Polynesian-themed theme park and living museum located in Laie. Hawaii also hosts Asian cultural hotspots including the Temples Memorial Park set in a breath-taking valley, the Byodo-In Temple, a 1960s replica of an 11th century Japanese Buddhist phoenix temple. Inside the temple, there’s an enormous gold-plated Buddha statue surrounded by offerings of fresh flowers and incense, just like in Japan. West of Honolulu’s financial district, Chinatown’s historic buildings are home to a hodgepodge of shops, herbalists, lei makers, antique dealers, temples, bars and restaurants. One of the oldest and largest China Towns in the US, its also one of the best places for nightlife in Honolulu, with plenty of secret bars and restaurants.

5. Surf at Waikiki Beach
Perhaps one of the most famous beaches and districts of Honolulu is Waikiki, whose name means spouting fresh water in the Hawaiian language. The area has always attracted the discerning visitor being a retreat for Hawaiian royalty in the 1800s who enjoyed surfing there on early forms of longboards. Since the Archipelago became part of the US, Waikiki has become a luxury residential and tourist hot spot, with high rises, shopping and plenty of nightlife. Its legendary beach today is divided in half, for the exclusive use of surfers. For some distance into the ocean the water is quite shallow, although there are numerous rocks on the bottom. As with most ocean beaches the waves can have some force, particularly on windy days, but the surf at Waikiki is known for its long rolling break, making it ideal for long boarding, tandem surfing and beginners.
Image Credit: Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Dana Edmunds 

 

6. Get up close to Manoa Falls
For the lovers of hiking the Manoa Falls trail is a dream come true. The Oahu trail leads through paths canopied with guava, eucalyptus, banyan trees, and bamboo. Hillside wildflowers can easily be spotted, along with large patches of beautiful ginger. At the end of the trail a true spectacle awaits: the Manoa Falls, which cascade 150 feet down the mountainside into a calm, clear pool. Hawaii is well known for its waterfalls, and the peculiarity of the Manoa ones is that they are easy to reach from the centre of Honolulu. In the past, the pool at the end of the falls was open for swimming, unfortunately it is no longer viable.

7.  Hike up Diamond Head
How can you go to Hawaii and ignore its myriad of volcanoes? Luckily, one of the most iconic craters sits just on the outskirts of Honolulu and its called the Diamond Head. Its original name was “Le’ahi,” which means “brow of the tuna”, but the British named it Diamond Head as they believed that diamonds could be mined in the carter (they couldn’t). One of the most recognizable sites of Honolulu, and with just a 2 hour hike up to the top you can enjoy some of the most breath-taking sceneries. To gauge the true beauty of Hawaii this trek is not to be missed.
Image Credit: Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Tor Johnson

 

8. Pay your respects at the USS Arizona Memorial
Honolulu is not just a small corner of paradise on earth, but it is also the location of a tragedy of world wide historical significance. The USS Arizona Memorial, located at Pearl Harbor, marks the resting place of 1,102 of the 1,177 sailors and Marines killed on USS Arizona (BB-39) during the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941 and commemorates the events of that day. The attack was the concrete reason for the United States decision to become directly involved in World War II. The memorial, built in 1962, and designed by Hawaiian architect Alfred Preis was initially known as the “squashed milk carton” due to its design, yet today it is visited by more than 2 million people annually. A poignant experience, for which you must find the time when in Honolulu.

9. Snorkel in Hanauma Bay
For lovers of marine life head East from Honolulu to Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve, a Nature Preserve and a Marine Life Conservation District. Though very popular with tourists here you will able to view a vast range of marine life (over 400 species live in the area) including Green sea turtles, Honu, parrotfish as well as many different forms of coral. The bay is also a nesting ground and nursery for immature turtles. Remember to pack your snorkelling equipment.

10. Get up early and see the Honolulu Fish Auction
Perhaps lets famous than its counterpart in Tokyo, the Honolulu Fish Auction is definitely an experience to be enjoyed. The only fresh tuna auction in the United States, you can find out about the fishing, sustainability efforts and see the astonishing prices some tuna fish can fetch. Finding out about sustainability and quality first hand is an important experience for any lover of the sea and seafood.

Cover Credits: Hawaii Tourism Authority / Tor Johnson 

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