The capital and largest city of Hawaii is located on O’ahu, Hawaii’s most populated island. This island is our number one Hawaiian choice for first-time visitors, as three-quarters of state residents choose to call O’ahu home. It offers a wide variety of fun things to do, including beautiful beaches, art galleries, intriguing museums sharing the islands rich culture, parks and relaxing activities. It has a population of 400,000 and has become a favorite among tourists and locals alike. First-time visitors to Hawaii will want to be sure to check out my interview with Dave and Deb from The Planet D. Other popular islands include Maui (which is especially known for scenic hiking, snorkeling & regional culinary delights) Kaua’i (hike by panoramic coastal cliffs, vibrant landscapes & discover the wettest spot on Earth) and Big Island (known for having Kilauea, the most active volcano on earth, golfing, dolphin watching, humpback whale watching in the winter & opportunities to experience and participate in the local dances and culture) and flying, preferably Hawaiian Airlines, is the only way to get from one major island to another.
Top 10 Attractions
1. Waikiki Beach is perfect for a romantic stroll through these white sands shores or family fun, as your children build their first sandcastle. Large 30 feet screens can be found on the beach for tourists to catch free movies while they get a sun tan! This place where movies are offered is called ‘Sunset at the beach’ by natives. Come back at night for a completely different experience.
2. Hanauma Bay is the most attractive place in the city and can be enjoyed only if you get up early in the morning and make your way through the crowds before the parking lot is full. Swim with the turtles after renting a snorkeling gear for an awesome underwater experience. The clear blue waters and all the sea creatures make the experience much wilder than you could have ever imagined.
3. Honolulu Zoo – See the native animals of this 42 acre paradise, which is home to 905 different animals from the tropics. Species include komodo dragons, orang-utans, elephants, primates, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and a variety of African animals can be seen daily. General admission is $14 for adults and $6 for children.
4. Hula Shows – You can’t visit Hawaii without seeing the hula dancers doing their magical moves in their classic Hawaiian outfits. The shows are free to enjoy in parks and feature dancing to traditional Hawaiian music. You can interact with the dancers if you sit in the front rows. Enjoy the floral dresses, outfits and necklaces showcasing the famous Hawaiian culture.
5. Aloha Tower – On the he 10th floor of this tower is a place where visitors can enjoy the crystal clear waters from atop of the observation deck, open from morning until sunset every day. The Aloha Tower is now a major shopping and dining complex, surrounded by a marketplace and excellent restaurants. Enjoy a day long trip to Aloha Tower and finish the day watching the sunset before going off to dinner nearby.
6. Dole Plantation – Oahu is well known for their DoleWhip and this is also the site of the world’s largest maze! Turn through the Pineapple Maze, ride the Pineapple Express, and experience what a real operating pineapple plantation is like. The visitor center is a lot of fun and even sells fresh pineapples that you can take home with you. It’s located about 30-minutes outside of Honolulu. Visiting is free but garden tours cost $5 for adults and $4.25 for children.
7. Ala Moana Beach Park – This a picturesque tourist attraction is located on the coast of the island. It boasts a beautiful jogging trail, beach and nearby shopping center. The Ala Moana Shopping Center was once the largest mall in the States, yet remains the largest open-air shopping center in the world.
8. Wet ‘n’ Wild Water Park – Escape the heat here at this 29 acre lush tropical paradise. It is Hawaii’s only water park and it features over 25 rides and attractions. Located about 20 minutes from the Honolulu airport. General admission is $46.99 for adults and $36.99 for children.
9. USS Arizona Memorial – Learn more about all the nitty gritty regarding Pearl Harbor. History buffs may want to book an all-day tour of Pearl Harbor, which begins with a video and includes a boat ride to the memorial site of the World War II attacks. 70 years later, you can still see oil in the water from the submerged USS Arizona. You can also purchase tickets to visit the USS Bowfin, a WWII-era submarine, the USS Missouri and an aviation museum.
10. Diamond Head Hike – Visiting the 350-acre Diamond Head crater is widely considered one of the best things to do in Honolulu. You’ll be able to see views of Honolulu that are unlike any other. The hike to the top of Diamond Head is suitable for people of any age, though you should be aware that there are lengthy staircases and a tightly enclosed tunnel. Try to visit early on in the day to beat the crowds and the brutal heat.
Chef Mavro – Hawaii’s premiere dining establishment brings traditional French techniques to these Honululu. Frommer’s claims it among the top 10 restaurant in the world, Gayot considers it as one of the top 40 restaurants in America and it’s been a AAA Five Diamond restaurant for 6 consecutive years. A 4 course meal runs at $85 a person while a 6 course meal goes for $128 and wine pairing racks it up quite a bit more.
Rumfire – This ultra-modern ocean lounge offers a long list of creative cocktails and exotic rums from all around the world are offered in this beautiful bar which also provides excellent food choices along with great music. Dance the night away here at this celebrity hotspot.
Longhi’s – Located in Lahaina, Maui, this restaurant was actually recommended to me from my good friend Chris Christensen, who I got to interview for the USCityTraveler Podcast. It’s his favorite fancy restaurant in the world so I’m going to take his judgement and tell you to give it a try. Tweet at me or Chris and let us know how you like it!
Top Of Waikiki – Get an incredible view of Waikiki, Honolulu, Oahu and 3 extinct volcanoes. This 3-tiered restaurant is located 18 stories above the city and makes a full 360-degree rotation every hour, as Hawaii’s only revolving restaurant. Come for the Happy Hour or to dive into the Pacific Rim cuisine, which includes seared scallops, braised pancetta, chicken cordon blue and a tenderloin of beef.
Uncle Clay’s House of Pure Aloha – Out of all of the Honolulu restaurants on TripAdvisor, this one is ranked #1 with a 5 star review and it is easy to see why. They have also been featured in Conde Nast Traveler and in The Wall Street Journal. Their all-natural homemade shaved ice, which is a Hawaiian specialty, comes in over a dozen flavors (some of these are seasonal), including: guava, mango, coconut, sweet potato, and coffee. They have made a huge focus on giving back and helping underprivileged children, which is another reason why I love coming here!
Buca di Beppo – Owned by Planet Hollywood, Buca di Beppo specializes in immigrant Southern Italian food. Vintage photographs cover the walls, in fact each restaurant is said to have more than 2,500 pictures. The food is served family style, where each item is shared among the dinner party. A select number of locations have a lunch menu, with individual-sized portions. All restaurants have a Pope table, a large table in a room to iteself, with a bust of the pope in the center. Most locations also have a room right across from the kitchen, where you can watch them cook – chefs even come over and talk to you and even let you sample dishes.
Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. – Located in Maui. Owned by the people who own Rainforest Cafe. Since 1996, Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. has been entertaining guests with a charming down-home style that’s a hit with eaters around the globe. Their menu offers a number of items for the shrimp lover in all of us. Boasting creative seafood dishes inspired straight from the movie Forrest Gump and a fun family atmosphere, Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. will have you running to the nearest location you can find! Although that movie came out around 20 years ago, this popular restaurant never fails to delight.
4.5 Star- Aulani – If you can afford to stay here (rooms start at $400 a night!) at this luxurious 21 acre beachfront property then by all means do! This fairly new Disney resort offers exciting adventures, a beautiful miniature water park, Disney characters roaming the grounds and dying to meet your children, access and views of the beach, guided excursions, exciting entertainment and great dining. Disney Movie Nights, pool parties, an interactive kids club, and storytelling, are all included with your stay. It is located about 17 miles from the Honolulu International Airport and it is nearby Waikiki. It was featured on our list of America’s Ten Best Hotel Pools.
5 Star- Halekulani – Located on the island of Oahu, celebrities like Halle Berry, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ben Afflek and Paula Abdul have all been known to stay at this luxurious resort. It is also ranked as one of the top two hotels in Oahu on TripAdvisor, the world’s largest travel site.
5 Star – The Kahala Hotel & Resort – Named by Travel and Leisure as America’s 12 best family hotel, this iconic beachfront hideaway features a 26,000-square-foot natural lagoon, where guests can frolic alongside a family of Atlantic bottlenose dolphins. Even the Four Seasons and Ritz Carltons I’ve seen don’t have their own dolphin habitat. True luxury! Reef walks, lei-making, and hula dancing are among the countless activities catering to kids; parents can indulge in tropical treatments at the resort’s plumeria-scented spa, ranging from floral immersions to a traditional lomilomi massage.