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Best Things To Do in Honolulu

AOL PICK from our Editors
With a water temperature that hovers around 75 degrees, you won’t need a wetsuit to go in the ocean, the favorite playground of visitors and residents alike. Honolulu has dozens of accessible beaches and beach parks with well-maintained facilities, and let’s be honest, most people come to Hawaii because everyday can be a day at the beach. Some of the best things to do in Honolulu involve the ocean. Whether you want to swim, surf, paddle, fish, kayak, dive, or just bob up and down at the shore, there’s a spot to suit your preference. Meanwhile, landlubbers will also find endless activities to fill their itineraries, both of the indoor (museums, art galleries) and outdoor (botanical gardens, hiking trails, tree-lined parks) variety. Also, a $2 bus ride can take you anywhere else on the island, including popular places like Pearl Harbor, Aloha Stadium, and the North Shore, a few of the best things to do in Honolulu for a taste of the history and brilliance of the area. Browse the Honolulu Weekly’s calendar listings for other timely events—attend an art opening, enter a swim race, or check out a local band—for a more intimate look at island life.

Diamond Head State Monument

Neighborhood: Waikiki/Ala Moana
Few photos of Waikiki Beach don’t feature the silhouette of Diamond Head crater looming in the background. Officially called the Diamond Head State Monument, this state park has a .8-mile long trail that is mostly paved, with a series of switchbacks, a lighted tunnel, and two stair sections—one that has 99 steps and the other, 76. Hiking Diamond Head is one of the best things to do in Honolulu for exercise on vacation - and you'll forget all of the exercising once you see the breathtaking views you'll get at the top. A word to the wise—the inside of the crater is hot and dry with little vegetation, and these conditions can make it a challenging climb for accidental hikers. A bottle of cold water, a hat, and sunscreen will go a long way in making the trek to the 760-foot summit a more enjoyable experience. The reward is a spectacular aerial view of the azure waters offshore and the Waikiki coastline—one that makes the huff-and-puff well worth it. Be sure to arrive before 4:30PM if you plan to make the ascent (the gates to the park are locked at 6:00PM).

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Manoa Falls

Neighborhood: Manoa/Makiki
Manoa Falls is one of our favorite trails because it’s as accessible and user-friendly as it is lush and verdant. Drive past the residences along Manoa Road until you reach the back of Manoa Valley, where you’ll find the trailhead to the Manoa Falls trails. Manoa Falls is one of the top things to do in Honolulu to experience the beautiful natural wildlife the area has to offer. The rainforest hike has a well-marked trail and no major steep sections. The .8-mile path is lined with dense flora and fauna—towering bamboo, bright red heliconia and gingers. You’ll hear the gurgle of the stream as you approach the idyllic 150-foot waterfall. The trail is cool and shady, and in Manoa, intermittent showers are possible. Wear comfortable hiking shoes, and bring mosquito juice to ward off the hungry little buggers.

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Harold L. Lyon Arboretum

Neighborhood: Manoa/Makiki
Located at the end of Manoa Road is Lyon Arboretum, one of Honolulu’s most precious hidden gems. The lush botanical gardens stretch across 194 acres, featuring more than 8,000 plant species from all over the world. Keep an eye out for white-rumped Shama thrushes, cockatoos, cardinals, mynas and other singing birds as you stroll past towering breadfruit trees, exotic palms, and a native Hawaiian garden. Visiting the Arboretum is one of the top things to do in Honolulu if you are looking to see the beauty of Hawaiian vegetation all in one spot. The grounds are meticulously maintained, complementing the aesthetic beauty of the dense collection of flowering plants and trees.

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Honolulu Academy of Arts

Neighborhood: Downtown
The Academy of Arts was founded in 1927 by local, Anna Rice Cooke, who spent her life collecting art with her husband, Charles Montague Cooke. She donated 4,000 pieces to establish the museum’s collection, which today spans more than 50,000 works and encompasses both eastern and western art. Start with the impressive display of Buddhist relics and then wind your way through the galleries that are dedicated to art from throughout the Pacific Islands. Before you leave, visit the wing devoted to Renaissance paintings. For those landlubbing travelers, the Academy of Arts is one of the best things to do in Honolulu to experience island culture and beauty in a serene setting. This museum itself is as beautiful as the art. Its floor plan includes courtyards, gardens, and fountains that allow visitors to weave in and out between art and nature.

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The Honolulu Zoo

Neighborhood: Waikiki/Ala Moana
Situated at the edge of Kapiolani Park between Diamond Head and Waikiki, a trip to the Honolulu Zoo makes for an excellent half-day excursion for families and it is walking distance to most hotels. Among the 1,200 animals who call the zoo home are birds, mammals, and reptiles, including chimpanzees, elephants, hippopotamuses, and a komodo dragon. All of the animals are worth seeing, but make sure to pay your respects to Kruger—a massive white rhino that weighs in at 5,000 pounds. The zoo is one of the top things to do in Honolulu if you are traveling with kids, and need to get away from the pool for a few hours. Food concessions are available, but we recommend bringing a cooler and enjoying a leisurely picnic on the zoo’s manicured lawns—not only will you save money, but you’ll avoid having to wait in line at lunchtime. The park is open from 9AM to 4:30PM daily.

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Bishop Museum

Neighborhood: Downtown
If there’s one thing you need to do besides visit the beach, it’s check out the Bishop Museum to get a good grasp on Hawaiian history and culture. Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, whose trust funds education for Native Hawaiian children, also asked her husband to establish a museum that would permanently preserve relics of Hawaiian history and culture to be shared with people in Hawaii and the world. On its premises reside the largest collection of natural and cultural artifacts from Hawaii and the Pacific, a recently opened science adventure center that focuses on volcanology and oceanography, and a brilliant planetarium that modern day canoe voyagers used to learn how to navigate by the stars. From elaborate feather capes to hand-woven nets and old calabashes, the exhibits offer a singular glimpse into ancient Hawaiian life that enrich every visitor’s understanding of Hawaiian culture. The museum is closed on Tuesdays.

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Surfing at Kuhio Beach

Neighborhood: Waikiki/Ala Moana
What better place to learn how to hang ten than Waikiki Beach, the birthplace of modern surfing? And who better to learn from than an authentic Waikiki beachboy? The motley crew of surf instructors take students out to the surf break called “Canoes” on padded, “soft-top” longboards. They promise to get you up and riding for about $40—half of what you’ll pay for private lessons elsewhere. The only downside is that the lineup is precariously crowded, mostly with beginners who haven’t totally mastered control of their boards. One of the top things to do in Honolulu is surf and Kuhio Beach offers an unparalleled experience. 

Iolani Palace

Neighborhood: Downtown
 The Iolani Palace is not only a beautiful architectural specimen, it’s also a critical cultural stop. Between Honolulu’s government buildings and the glass towers of the financial district sits Iolani Palace, the only royal palace in the United States. The royal building was built by King David Kalakaua in 1882. Before the overthrow of the Hawaiian kingdom, it served as the magnificent residence—as well as the social and political headquarters—of Kalakaua and his sister, Queen Liliuokalani, Hawaii’s last monarch. The National Historic Landmark has been painstakingly restored to reflect its original grandeur, and walking through the magnificent halls and grand rooms gives you a tangible sense of what majestic life was like. The docent-guided tour is outstanding and worth the $20 price of admission.

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Waikiki Aquarium

Neighborhood: Waikiki/Ala Moana
If you're looking for one of the best indoor things to do in Honolulu, get up close and personal with Hawaii’s aquatic life at the small yet superb Waikiki Aquarium. Here at the country’s third oldest aquarium (opened in 1904), there are over 3,500 marine animals and more than 500 species represented, including such rarities as a zebra shark and a masked angelfish. What’s especially interesting is that some of the creatures, including the Hawaiian monk seal, are found nowhere else but in Hawaiian waters.

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