Hawaii’s capital is the center of the state’s government and commerce, and home to almost 4 in 5 of its residents. Though Honolulu’s climate, vegetation, and brilliant-blue waters make it part of the tropical paradise that is the Aloha State, it’s also a vibrant, bustling city in its own right, with almost as many high-rise buildings as L.A. So, maximizing your stay in Honolulu is a matter of striking a balance: soaking up as much unbelievable scenery, and as much culture, as possible.
When to Go
If you can, try to visit between spring and summer vacation (April to May) or between summer break and the holiday season (September to mid-November). During these periods, Hawaiian tourism slows, so you’ll be able to find better rates and the places you visit will be less crowded.
What to Do
1. See the USS Arizona and the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Pearl Harbor’s Punchbowl Crater
The National Memorial Cemetery is where the bodies of more than 40,000 U.S. soldiers who died in WWII, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War are buried. It is a peaceful, sober, gratitude-inspiring memorial with a scenic vantage to Honolulu’s downtown, and the nearby USS Arizona museum presents a wealth of history as told by people who survived the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.
2. Hike Waikiki’s Diamond Head Crater
Diamond Head, looming over the background of Honolulu’s skyline, has an 8-mile trail that will give you not only great exercise but awe-inspiring, postcard-worthy views of Waikiki and the Oahu shoreline at its finish. (Do NOT forget your camera!)
After your hike, you can round out your day of adventuring by visiting nearby Kapiolani Park, the Honolulu Zoo, the Waikiki Aquarium, or famous Waikiki Beach. If you come on a Saturday, you can also visit the enormous farmer’s market at Kapiolani Community College across the street, and get a true taste of Hawaii by sampling native produce and delectable snacks and drinks from local vendors.
3. Snorkel at the Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve
Hanauma Bay is one of Hawaii’s most popular snorkeling destinations because of its clear, gentle waters and the sheer amount of tropical fish and other sea life that live in it. Masks, snorkels, and fins can be rented, and many places offer lessons and snorkeling tours for first-timers. Expect to see anything from eels, to technicolor parrot fish, to yellow-striped tang fish, to sea turtles—often even in shallow water.
Where to Stay
Because the city is a top tourist destination, Honolulu hotels are plentiful. Opt for a centrally located hotel in Waikiki so it’ll be easy to get to must-see destinations. Consider your hotel-room view as well: there’s no reason you shouldn’t enjoy beautiful views of Waikiki or the Ko’olau Mountains once you’ve retired from sight-seeing each night. Look for discounts, seasonal deals, and packages that’ll allow you to save on car rentals for driving around the island.