34 top things to do in Honolulu now and many of them are free! (Updated 2021)
Honolulu is the main tourist hub in Oahu and a fun place to explore the many attractions on the island. With outdoor activities and adventure experiences available almost year round, there is something for everyone to enjoy in around Honolulu area. If you are visiting Oahu, check out all the top things to do in Honolulu for planning your visit. Hopefully, these fantastic suggestions and tips will fill up your must do list when you are visiting Hawaii.
Whether you’re walking down the street on Kalakaua Boulevard and visiting Waikiki, sipping a Mai Tai at an ocean view bar or checking the panoramic vistas from Diamond Head, there’s so much to see and do in this amazing city. It’s a big list, so check all the best things to do in Honolulu and put them on your must do list soon.
Why visit Honolulu now?
Every season is perfect visiting Honolulu and around Oahu with so many different activities, fantastic beach scenes, shopping day and night, wonderful dining and bar scenes and a very active outdoor lifestyle, Honolulu offers so much fun, cool and fantastic places to explore. Outside of the glitzy and beach scene here in Honolulu, there’s also amazing culture and events, Historic sites and unique neighborhoods, foodie hangouts and delicious mom and pop eateries along with everything to keep kiddies to Grandma busy and engaged.
If you’re wondering what’s the top things to do in Honolulu and Waikiki, check out all these must do things in town now.
** Please note – during the Covid Pandemic some things maybe temporarily closed or going with limited hours in Honolulu and Hawaii. Check out the latest Covid updates for Hawaii information and Covid here for more details.
Here’s all the Honolulu attractions and activities to see and do
1. Visit Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona
The most popular attraction and top things to do in Honolulu is to visit in the area, a visit to Pearl Harbor is a must to really absorb and experience the infamous Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor. The park is a national park monument that is filled with interesting artifacts, historic film background, museums and a water tour to the monument and the USS Arizona which is all fascinating to witness. You can also visit the Pacific Aviation Museum and the USS Bowfin submarine park for a nominal fee. Entrance to the park is free but there is a small fee to book a reservation which is advised.
You can also book a nice tour of the Pearl Harbor and visit here for a guided tour of the park and visit to other attractions along the North Shore area.
2. Explore cool and hip Kaka’ako, Honolulu
The hip and fun district of Kaka’ako in Honolulu is where to hang out for all the fun bars, galleries, cool new restaurants and colorful street art. The once run-down warehouses in the neighborhood is now filled with vivid graffiti and street art and the area is a hot new entertainment zone filled with cutting edge art, shopping, dining and entertainment. If you are looking for one of the top things to do in Honolulu that’s fun and cool, explore the Kaka’ako district now.
3. Hike up to Diamond Head
One of the fun top things to do in Honolulu is to hike up Diamond Head and experience the expansive panorama of Waikiki and Honolulu below. Popular time frames would be early in the morning for cooler temperatures or later in the afternoon for that golden light and sunset views (park closes at 6pm). Park is open from 6am to 6pm with the trail head closed off at 4:30 pm and parking fee is $5 per car. Check out the visitor information site here for more details.
For a guided tour of Diamond head, transfers and visit, check out this affordable tour here for more details.
4. Stroll down Kalakaua Boulevard
The main thoroughfare In Waikiki is Kalakaua Boulevard which contains all the popular tourist attractions filled with shopping malls, restaurants and entertainment venues on the street. It’s fun to check out all the chic shops and galleries during the day time but Kalakaua Boulevard really comes alive at night when everyone seems to be out and enjoying the lively night scenes, people watching and dining al fresco in all the outdoor bars and restaurants around the street and beach areas at Waikiki.
5. Enjoy Kapiolani park in Waikiki
The large green park area on the edge of Waikiki is a nice and quiet respite to enjoy in busy Honolulu. But you can also check out the main attractions in Kapiolani park including the Honolulu Zoo, Diamond Head Crater, Queens beach, Waikiki Aquarium and also the bandstand at Waikiki Shell that has weekly free or paid events and concerts for visitors and locals.
6. Free Hula show at Kuhio Beach
Regular hula shows are offered at Kuhio and visit Waikiki hosts a free hula show at Kuhio Beach which Is a fantastic way to enjoy a hula experience for free at the beach. You’ll enjoy different types of hula styles being performed along with live music accompaniment and the visitors are allowed to hang out on the grass or beach area around the stage. Check the calendar here for any updates on the regular show schedule at Kuhio.
7. Enjoy free fireworks at night
Every Friday night between 7:45 to 8pm on the beach at the Hilton Hawaiian Village, a free firework display is staged for all to enjoy right on Waikiki beach. Make sure that you get there early since the prime spots fill up quickly closer to the stage and the beach area for the best picture taking spots. For easier and good views of the fireworks at the distance, check out Ala Moana park with nice views to the fireworks display at Waikiki.
8. Photo tour of Honolulu and region
A guided tour showing you the best spots around town and in the area with a guide and without the headache of driving, parking is a great way to spend the day and capture some of the best images and scenes around Oahu. I would recommend doing this with someone who knows the best locations and times to be at certain spots around the main attractions of Honolulu without all the hassles.
If your visit is limited or planning is a pain, check out this local tour photography experience that you can do without all the hassles and time to enjoy the photo process and focus your energies to creating beautiful impressions of your visit. Or you can enjoy a full day tour covering Waikiki, East Hawaii and also the North Shore in a full day photo tour experience.
9. Enjoy amazing malasadas at Leonard’s Bakery
For a delicious foodie experience and one of the top things to do in Honolulu, go to Leonard’s and try some of the famous malasadas (Portuguese inspired doughnuts and now a local favorite dessert). These fried goodies are best hot and just served fresh and you can have them filled with different custards or tropical inspired flavors.
10. Learn to surf on Waikiki Beach
Waikiki Beach is the perfect surfing beach in Oahu with shallow water that expands far out at a distance from the beach area and with a sandy soil bottom to land on when you fall. Learning to surf on Waikiki is a fantastic opportunity to enjoy a new adventure experience or even brush up on some of your surfing background.
Check out this fantastic surfing lesson experience on Waikiki Beach here for more information and planning for your surfing fun on the beach.
11. Honolulu Museum of Art
If you’re into visiting museums, this museum is definitely worth visiting containing an eclectic mix of Polynesian inspired artifacts, artwork, sculpture and spanning from ancient tribal to contemporary styles of art and expression. The Honolulu Museum of Art hosts and impressive collection along with some fascinating rotating shows highlighting the unique history and culture of Pacific Island lifestyle and interests. Check out their website here for more information and details to the current shows on their calendar.
12. Tour Shangri la
The famous American heiress Doris Duke created her own Shangri La Mansion that shines like a Persian jewel box in the middle of the Pacific coastline in Honolulu. Created entirely to look and feel like a Muslim palace, the home has been customized with spectacular marbles, hand-maid inlay tiles and intricate Islamic artwork showcasing the best art she purchased from various sources. This amazing Shangri La fronting the Pacific Ocean is truly one of a kind filled with art, sculpture, artifacts and other treasures. Tours to this special place have to be arranged in advanced but you can easily book a reservation on their website here for visiting this amazing and historic home.
13. Atlantis Submarine Tours
If you are looking to see the bottom ocean floor in Hawaii without getting your feet wet, then sign up for this Atlantic Submarine Tour which will take you under 100 feet of Oahu’s coastline. You can experience the real marine life, tropical fish and corals that exists around the coastlines of Oahu especially the hidden marine areas around Diamond Head’s coast which is not easily accessible on your own.
Check out the Atlantic submarine experience here for more details to enjoying a different tour of the area.
14. Visit Manoa Falls in Honolulu
Located in Honolulu area towards the university, Manoa falls is an easy hike through a lush jungle area called Rainbow valley with all the rain and rainbows occurring daily in the area. You’ll know when your close when you reach the rock cliff areas where Manoa falls cascades about 150 feet from the top to the basin area to a shallow lagoon. When you are in the area already, check out the Lyon Arboretum which is close by. You can check more details about visiting Manoa Falls here for planning a hike to the falls and surrounding area.
If you are looking for more waterfalls, check out Waimea Botanical gardens and it’s fabulous waterfalls that you can actually swim in. Located on the North Shore, it is a fun day trip to visit the garden and enjoy the beach scene across the street.
15. Snorkel/Dive experience
What’s not to like with a snorkel or dive experience to round out the Waikiki fun. This snorkel tour here will take you on a sailing experience to some fun spots around Oahu to check out all the cool sea life, tropical fish, green sea turtles and coral reef to explore and snorkel through. Providing, transportation services, equipment and a nice meal you’ll enjoy this guided tour and not have to deal with driving and parking issues around the island. For a more extensive diving experience around Waikiki including two diving wrecks, this tour is unique and fun to do in Oahu.
16. Explore a mature and lush Lyon arboretum in Honolulu
If you love natural gardens then visit the Lyon Arboretum – a beautiful botanical garden located very close to Manoa Falls. Entrance is free but a requested donation of $5 helps to maintain the expansive gardens in the park. Large with lush garden areas and an inspiration point that really inspires, it is hard to believe that this is just in the city limits with all this tropical splendor and beautiful landscape to enjoy. Check out visiting the Lyon Arboretum here for more details and inspiration to seeing this lush and mature garden in Oahu.
17. So many delicious Shaved Ice
If you are looking for a really good shaved Ice experience in Honolulu then check out the best different shave locations around Honolulu here. There’s so many opinions on what makes the best tasting shave ice on Oahu, but check out post on which places to try and what some of the popular flavors are to mix and try when you get there.
18. Visit the Honolulu Zoo
The Honolulu Zoo located at Kapiolani park is the perfect family friendly attraction that is colorful and filled with a fantastic assortment of animals regionally and from around the world. The gorgeous tropical settings and environments make this zoo fun to explore specially to capture in photographs with friends and family. Check out the Honolulu Zoo’s website here for more details and information to what’s currently happening or any other special events currently going on.
19. Duke Statue at Waikiki
The world-famous Hawaiian surfer Duke Kahanamoku has a bronze statue located on Waikiki beach right at the end of hotels. A well-loved water sports leader and spirit of Aloha, you will always find fresh leis adorning this sculpture with outstretched hands. It’s a perfect spot to take pictures of the surfer typically adorned with fresh and old leis. With fantastic views of Waikiki beach and ocean in the background, this is the perfect moment to capture with your friends and family along with the Duke of Waikiki.
20. Dining and shopping at Ala Moana Center
This is the largest open-air shopping mall in the Pacific and filled with high end designer shops, local galleries and art, souvenir and gift specialty vendors and the biggest food court you’ll find around Oahu along with a cool Japanese food walking court. There’s plenty of things to see and do at Ala Moana Center and the outdoor venues and even outdoor food venues really complement the Hawaii lifestyle and shopping at its best.
21. Hanauma Bay
One of the best snorkeling areas on Oahu and a marine preserve sanctuary, Hanauma Bay is quite spectacular and well maintained. You have to go through a video entry to the park first and then have access to the park and beach areas. What you’ll find at Hanauma Bay is a magnificent crescent shaped beach protected by small cliffs with beautiful coral beds, colorful tropical fish and some cool marine life that may unexpectedly show up. Definitely worth visiting and enjoying the beach and snorkel experience, check out the Haunama Bay website here for more details on entrance, conservation and other updated news to your snorkel experience in Waikiki area.
22. A delicious Luau show and buffet
A fantastic one of a kind luau experience with a large buffet spread in Waikiki, this luau show and dinner here also includes entrance to the Waikiki Aquarium. Dinner includes a different farm to table experience with locally sourced local foods and other specialties.
23. Visit a local Farmers market in Honolulu
Check out local life, snacks and goodies, and fresh local produce at these local farmers markets in Hawaii. The farmers markets in Hawaii sell delicious Hawaiian fruits and vegetables, popular local foods of Hawaii, locally made arts, jewelry and crafts and shave ice, delicious Hawaiian snack foods and home made Hawaiian desserts for take out.
Held every Wednesday on the Lawn at the Blaisdell Center, the farmers market is held from 4 to 7pm. At the KCC farmers market facing the Diamond Head entrance, the market is on Saturday from 7:30- 11am and on Tuesdays evenings from 4 to 7pm. For a comprehensive list of farmers market here in Honolulu and the entire Oahu island.
24. Japanese food experience at Shirokiya’s Japan Village Walk
For a unique food experience check out the Shirokiya’s Japan Village Walk at the Ala Moana Center. Modeled after a Japanese village, this walk has over 30 kiosks serving typical and favorite Japanese foods and local beers. There is a cool set up buddhas in the back that serve as guardian spirit for the area. A cool and unique Japanese foodie experience in Honolulu, check out their official website here for details and other new updates on the Village Walk.
25. Sunset cruise on Waikiki at night
A sunset cruise is a great time to experience to enjoy sunset on the water and fantastic views of Waikiki and the golden hour. Many cruises do offer cruises with dining or drinking options to compliment the cruising experience. Most of the experiences launch right on Waikiki beach with catamarans that offer a typical 1 ½ to 2-hour tour cruising the coastline and passing through popular attractions in the area.
Check out this sunset sailing cruise tour with appetizers, drinks and a two hour cruise and launching right on Waikiki beach. Or check out this elaborate dinner buffet cruise with fireworks experience is a really way to do it up for the once in a lifetime experience cruising Waikiki.
26. Tour Honolulu’s Iolani Palace
The royal Iolani palace built in 1882 by King Kalakaua is where the last queen, Liliuokalani was living prior to the US coup that overthrew her government and installed an interim colonial government. This once royal palace was at its time, the most innovative and outstanding royal palace and the only one in the USA in its time frame. Filled with magnificent furniture, artifacts, memorabilia and even fashion of the royals during that time frame, you’ll get to see all of these wonderful collection within the palace rooms. You can visit the palace with a docent tour by registering for a set tour on the Iolani Palace website here for more details and instructions to the tour.
27. Experience Hawaiian history at the Bishop Museum
The rich and cultural heritage and tradition of the ancient Hawaiians are well presented at the renovated Bishop Museum in Kahili. This expansive museum houses Polynesian artifacts, historical treasures even royal adornments and fascinating exhibits to explore. The museum shares the history of the early voyagers and Polynesian settlers, Hawaiian and cultural beliefs or exhibits and folklore along with features on Volcanoes, different cultures, even early sporting events on the Hawaiian Islands. Check out the calendar and new shows at the Bishop Museum here for updated information, entry and other events.
28. Helicopter tour over Honolulu
A night tour above Waikiki and Honolulu along with an amazing firework display is one of the most spectacular helicopter experiences you can have in Hawaii. This helicopter tour offers a real one of kind experience cruising the south shore, Pearl Harbor and all over Waikiki.
A day helicopter tour over the Pali mountains, east side of Oahu and Waikiki is another fun option to see the spectacular attractions from above.
29. Visit Honolulu’s Chinatown district
On the outskirts of Honolulu and Waikiki is the large Chinatown district which has gone through a big change and now is a popular and hip area for cool art galleries, cafes and a monthly First Friday series event. You can also opt for the more traditional Chinese restaurants or dim sum scene, checking out the lei stands, traditional shops and produce markets that locals visit for cheap and fresh produce. Check out the Chinatown First Friday website here for updated information, pictures and calendar of fun things happening in this district.
30. Check out the Honolulu Aloha Swap meet
Just outside Honolulu at the Aloha Stadium is the popular swap meet that happens every Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday. You’ll find lots of thrift and antiques, collectibles and even lots of cheap Hawaiian souvenirs to take home as gifts. Entry to the swap meet is only $1 per person. Check out the swap meet website here for more details, hours and updates.
31. Waikiki Aquarium
Located in Waikiki off Kapiolani park, this family friendly venue has a lot of fantastic local animals and typical animals from around the world in tropical inspired environments. Admission for the aquarium is $12 per adult and $5 per child. Visit the museum’s website here for more details, admission and current shows.
32. Honolulu’s Punchbowl cemetery
The National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific locally known as the punchbowl was built in 1948 as a cemetery for the US armed forces that died during World War II. The Punchbowl is in a dormant volcano called Pouwaina and means the hill of Sacrifice. A beautiful area with gorgeous views, cemetery and monuments, it is very peaceful and a quiet respite from busy Honolulu. Check out more details to visiting the Punchbowl here for information and directions.
33. Enjoy sunset on the beach
A simple but inspiring way to end the day in Waikiki is a walk on the beach or just relax and watch the sunset come down with all the brilliant colors on the bay and beach area. Afterwards the twinkling lights of Waikiki’s shopping streets and restaurants beckon you to stop by and check out all the fun and delicious food venues waiting for hungry appetites.
34. Hike Koko Head Stairs
This is a fantastic workout climbing an ancient tuff cone with an old abandoned railway that serviced bunkers that were built on top of the cone. You climb over these railroad ties (that’s over 1000 steps ) all the way to the ridgeline and the trail truly a cardio workout if you don’t take any breaks on the way to the top. Once there, will be rewarded with fantastic views of the east side of the island and the Hawaii Kai area of Portlock.
Check out these amazing views from the top of Koko crater trail.
So what’s free to do in Honolulu (Or really dirt cheap)
There’s a lot of free things to do where you won’t spend a dime visiting this pricey city. Check out all the fun freebies below:
- Visit Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona
- Check out the street art and vibe at Kaka’ako
- Hike up Diamond Head for the best views
- Window shop on Kalakaua Boulevard
- Enjoy the sites at Kapiolani Park
- Check out the free Hula show at Kuhio Beach
- Fireworks night at the Hilton Hawaiian Village
- Visit Manoa Falls
- Check out the lush botanical gardens at Lyon Arboretum
- Explore the Chinatown neighborhood
- Take a picture with the famous “Duke” statue
- Visit a farmers market in Honolulu
- Check out the Aloha Bowl Swap meet
- Explore Shirokiya’s Japan Village walk
- Visit the Ala Moana Shopping Center
- Discover Honolulu’s Punchbowl Cemetery
- Do a climb challenge at the Koko Head Stairs
- Not free but trying some delicious and cheap shave ice is sooooo good!
- Sunset on the beach in Waikiki is a must!
Looking to save more money while on vacation
Check out the Go Oahu Card which will save you with admission to the most popular attractions on the island with a 1, 2, 3, 5 to 7-day pass. This includes entrance to many must visit places like the Polynesian Cultural Center, Hanauma Bay, Iolani Palace, Bishop Museum, Dole plantation and a variety of snorkeling excursions and more. With a few of these bigger experiences you can easily save some money on this vacation. You can purchase the Go Card here.
Where to stay in Honolulu
With most of the hotels located in Waikiki, you can find the full gamut of hotel accommodations that can fit your needs and budget. Check out these highly rated Trip Advisor reviews of the best hotels in Waikiki below.
The Outrigger Beach Resort in Waikiki – is right on the beach and in a great location with excellent service, many rooms with ocean views/city views and excellent value for the money. Check the TA site here for the reviews and images of this highly rated hotel.
Prince Waikiki – on the edge of Waikiki and a close walk to the Ala Moana Center. This quiet hotel is away from all the bustle of Waikiki, excellent ratings, service and comfortable rooms. Check the TA site here for the reviews and images of this highly rated hotel.
Embassy Suites Waikiki Beach – features 1 to 2 bedroom suites and kitchenette. Also free breakfast, poolside reception and just steps to famous Waikiki Beach and shops. Check the TA site here for the reviews and images of this highly rated hotel.
Ilikai Lite – 5 star ratings to this quality 3 star hotel with excellent service, free wiki, good walking distance to beach and shopping, and really good value for Waikiki. Check the TA site here for the reviews and images of this highly rated hotel.
Check out more of the best rated hotels with Trip Advisor here for images, details and un biased reviews from visitors.
Conclusion to visiting Honolulu
Hopefully all of these fantastic suggestions and places to visit in Honolulu will give you ideas that will peak your interest so start planning your vacation to Honolulu now and you’ll enjoy your trip to paradise!
Check out these other posts on visiting Oahu
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