When most people think of a vacation to Hawaii, the first thing to come to mind is probably relaxing on the beach. There are a ton of great places in Honolulu to chill on the beach and get some sun, but the city has a lot more to offer with activities and cool places to explore. That’s why Honolulu has been high up on my travel bucket list for a long time. I love to sit on the beach, but when I’m traveling, I really want to get to know the area that I’m staying in. Here are some of the places I would want to explore within the city and some places around Honolulu to appreciate Hawaii’s nature on a dream trip to Honolulu.
Exploring the city
Hawaiian history and culture is not something that I know a lot about. That’s why on a trip to Honolulu, I would want to take some time to explore the city to learn more about the state’s history and culture. Here are some of the places that I would want to visit in Honolulu.
Iolani Palace is a unique historic landmark to visit because it is the only official residence of royalty in the United States. This palace in downtown Honolulu was the home of the last two Hawaiian monarchs, King Kalakaua and his sister and successor, Queen Liliuokalani. The Hawaiian islands were annexed to the United States in 1898, and Hawaii became a U.S state in 1959. During this time, the Iolani Palace functioned as the capitol building until 1968. The palace went unused and fell into disrepair until 1978 when it was reopened to the public. The building is beautiful, with European architecture influences and decorations inside that include royal gifts from all over the world. There are different tours of the palace available from Wednesday to Saturday. Iolani Palace is the perfect place to learn more about Hawaii’s culture and history.
Pearl Harbor National Memorial
The Pearl Harbor National Memorial is another important historic site in Honolulu. The memorial includes the USS Arizona Memorial and two museums. It is free to visit the USS Arizona Memorial, but you have to reserve a time-slot in advance for the US Navy vessel that takes you to the memorial built overtop the USS Arizona Memorial, which has a large marble wall engraved with the names of people who lost their lives during the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. The attack on Pearl Harbor is such an important part of American history that the memorial in Honolulu is a must visit.
The Aloha Tower is a popular historic landmark in downtown Honolulu. It’s a retired lighthouse on the Honolulu Harbor that was built in 1926. When it was built, the tower was the tallest building in Hawaii for four decades, and its clock was one of the largest in the United States. The Aloha Tower became known as a welcoming symbol of Hawaii for visitors when travel to the island was only done by sea. Today, the tower is a docking port for cruise ships coming to Honolulu, and the rest of the building has been converted into the Aloha Tower Marketplace. The marketplace is part of Hawaii Pacific University, and it includes student residences, community event areas, and a variety of shops and restaurants. The 10th floor of the tower has an observation deck that you can visit for stunning views of downtown Honolulu on one side and Honolulu Harbor on the other. The observation deck is free to visit and open every day from 9:00-5:00, weather permitting.
Shangri La Museum
The Shangri La Museum of Islamic Art, Culture, and Design is right outside of downtown Honolulu, near the Diamond Head volcano. The museum is in an old mansion, and it used to be the home of an American heiress and philanthropist named Doris Duke. She built the museum in 1937 with the hopes of sharing Islamic art and culture with people in Hawaii after traveling extensively through North Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia. The museum hosts a large collection of Islamic art from all over the world in a beautiful old mansion with views of the Diamond Head volcano. The Honolulu Museum of Art offers tours of the museum Wednesday to Saturday for $25.
The Bishop Museum in Honolulu has the largest collection of Hawaiian artifacts in the state, and it is focused on preserving the history of Hawaii and the Pacific. At the museum, you can see artifacts, documents, and photos to learn more about Hawaiian and other Polynesian cultures. The museum was originally built in 1889 by Charles Reed Bishop to honor his late wife, Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, and to showcase her collection of royal family heirlooms and other Hawaiian artifacts. The museum is open everyday from 9:00-5:00.
Murals in Downtown Honolulu
Kaka’ako is a neighborhood in downtown Honolulu that is famous for its murals that decorate both old and new buildings throughout the neighborhood. The neighborhood used to mostly be home to old industrial buildings, but today, Kaka’ako also has a great number of restaurants, small businesses, and residential buildings. There are murals on almost every street of Kaka’ako, with many of them being on the old warehouses. However, a lot of the newer restaurants and stores also are decorated with their own unique murals.
Honolulu’s Chinatown, located in the downtown area, is one of the oldest Chinatowns in the United States. In the 19th century, laborers from China came to Hawaii to work on the sugar plantations. After their contracts expired, many of these laborers became merchants and settled in the area that is now Chinatown. The neighborhood is known for its places to eat, and this area is definitely a must visit for any foodie visiting Honolulu. Another thing that Honlulu’s Chinatown is known for is the open-air Oahu market with stands selling all kinds of fruit, vegetables, and seafood. As you walk around the neighborhood, you can see shrines and temples that are characteristic of historic Chinese and Japanese architectural styles. There is a big arts scene in Chinatown, especially on the Eastern edge of the neighborhood where the Honolulu Arts District is, around Nu’uanu Avenue. On the first Friday of every month, there is an art walk along Nu’uanu and Bethel Street. On these evenings, you can visit galleries which often have exhibits with contemporary Hawaiian art.
Outdoor Adventures Around Honolulu
Another reason that Honolulu is on my travel bucket list is because of all the outdoor activities and cool places to explore nature within and around the city. Hawaii is known for its microclimates, and it has 10 of the world’s 14 different climate zones, making it the only place in the world with so many different climate zones concentrated in that small of an area. This means that Hawaii has diverse nature, and you can see some different climates around Honolulu. Here are some of the places I would want to go and activities I would want to do to appreciate Hawaii’s nature on a dream trip to Honolulu.
Manoa Falls Trail and Manoa Falls
The Manoa Falls Trail, located in the Manoa Valley, is a 1.6 mile trail and an easy hike that takes most people 1-2 hours. As you walk up the trail, you can enjoy the Hawaiian nature, including eucalyptus trees, tropical flowers, and bamboo. You also will get a cool, panoramic view of the Manoa valley as you hike. Although the Manoa Falls Trail is only a fifteen minute drive from sunny Honolulu, the Manoa Valley is considered a rainforest, so the trail is often rainy and muddy. When you get to the top of the trail, you can see the Manoa Falls, a beautiful 100-foot-high waterfall. If you want to hike this trail, keep in mind that it is only open Friday-Sunday and on all state and federal holidays.
Lyon Arboretum, which is part of the University of Hawaii, is also located in the Manoa Valley. The 200 acre arboretum features a public botanical garden and over 7 miles of hiking trails. The arboretum was created in 1918 to help reforestation efforts. Today, you can see a variety of plants that are native to Hawaii, many of which are endangered. Lyon Arboretum also has a trail going up to the Aihualama Falls, which is less popular among tourists and often less crowded than the Manoa Falls. Admission to the arboretum is free, but a $5 donation is suggested.
The Halona Blowhole is one of the natural wonders in Hawaii. It was formed thousands of years ago from molten lava tubes that were created from volcanic eruptions. The strong currents in this area send water through the lava tubes, causing water to shoot up. The water can go as high as 30 feet in the air. The blowhole is typically active when there are strong winds and the current is high. However, if the blowhole isn’t active when you are visiting, you still can enjoy the view of miles of coastline from the lookout.
Kuhio Beach Park
Kuhio Beach Park is part of Waikiki Beach, and it’s a popular spot among locals and tourists. One reason this beach is popular is because the waters are semi-protected, making it a good place to swim. The park is named after Prince Kuhio, and the site of the park was once the home of Prince Kuhio and his wife, Princess Elizabeth Kahanu. The city got the property after the prince’s death in 1922, and the Kuhio Beach Park was officially established in 1940. At the park, you also can see public artwork and three famous statues: the statue of Duke Kahanamoku, the statue of Prince Jonah Kuhio, monument the Stones of Life, which is a statue made of ancient basaltic stones.
Atlantis Adventures Underwater Submarine Trip
There is so much beautiful nature to enjoy around Honolulu, including underwater. The tour company Atlantis Adventures offers underwater submarine trips that go 100 feet below the surface. On their tours, you can see marine wildlife up close, including sharks, green sea turtles, eels, and more. Plus, Atlantis Adventures boasts that their submarines are environmentally friendly and move quietly through the water so as not to disturb the wildlife.
Stand Up Paddle Boarding
Stand Up Paddle Boarding is one of the most popular sports in Hawaii. It originated in Hawaii in the early 1900s as a different kind of surfing, and it’s something fun for tourists to try out. There are plenty of places to rent paddle boards in Honolulu or take lessons. A good spot for first time stand up paddle boarders is at Ala Moana Beach, because the water is protected by an outer reef, so the water is always calm. Another popular spot for beginner paddle boarders is Waikiki Bay, which also has water that is calm enough to paddle board, but because this is a popular spot, it can get crowded.
Hike Up Diamond Head Volcano
Diamond Head is one of the most popular state parks in Hawaii. It is part of the Ko’olau Range of volcanoes, which has eruptions tracing back to 2.6 million years ago. Around 300,000 years ago, a single eruption created the cater that makes up Diamond Head today. The crater is 350 acres large, and the volcano is no longer active. In 1905, the U.S government bought the Diamond Head Crater and built Fort Ruger, which was Hawaii’s first U.S military reservation. You can hike the 1.6 mile trail to the edge of the crater, and at the top you’ll get to see amazing views of the island and the Pacific Ocean.