The most heavily visited of the islands, and the center of Hawaiian commerce and government. Honolulu is a modern city that happens to be set in the tropics, and Waikiki is an overbuilt district of hotels and apartments. But at the same time, both are fun to visit, with lots to do and see. With its selection of hotels and restaurants, Waikiki can be one of the most economical places to stay in the islands.

Even if you are more interested in visiting one or more of the other islands, one thing you might want to consider is spending one or two nights in Waikiki. We've been forced to do this on occasion, thanks to airline schedules that got us into Honolulu after the last flight to another island. A mid-afternoon departure to another island gives you most of the day (especially if you wake up early due to jet lag) to go to the beach and do some sightseeing in Waikiki.

Top things we like to do

  • Polynesian Cultural Center. Expensive and a long drive from Honolulu, but lots to do and see. We've just gone during the day, never bothering with the dinner or show. Web site.
  • Waikiki Aquarium. A small but very impressive aquarium in Kapiolani Park, and walkable from the hotels on Waikiki. (Albeit a *long* walk from the Hilton Hawaiian Village.) Web site.
  • Waimea Falls Park. On the north shore, this is a developed park (admission) with lots of native plants, Hawaiian crops, games, and other things to do. We like to take the shuttle bus to the back of the park (by the falls), and then meander back to the entrance.
  • Sea Life Park. A smaller version of SeaWorld, this is on the east shore of the island. More showy and touristy than the aquarium, with scripted shows with dolphins, whales, etc. Web site.
  • Diamond Head. Not only does Diamond Head stand out from Waikiki Beach, you can drive into the crater and hike up to top, where you get a great view of the ocean and beach. The hike includes a long, dark tunnel, and a long stairway.
  • Pearl Harbor. Center of the US Navy operations in the Pacific. The USS Arizona and USS Utah memorials are worth a visit; you can also take boat tours around Pearl Harbor. Web site.
    • Hint: Worst thing about visiting the USS Arizona is that you've usually got a long wait, and it can be very crowded. There is a museum and bookstore in the center, but after fighting the crowds to see anything, you probably still have another hour or two to kill. So instead, when you get to the center, buy your tickets. Then go next door to the USS Bowfin submarine park, which has a lot of neat things to see and is rarely crowded. Web site.
  • Waikiki. Just wandering around Waikiki is a lot of fun. There are tons of stores, and this is the best place in the islands to do your souvenir buying (particularly in the International Market Place). Also lots of restaurants of all sorts. Waikiki Beach is great for people watching, starting with the beach goers who start laying their towels out at 7 AM in just the right spots to catch the sun rays poking between the highrises.
  • Bishop Museum. A fascinating museum of Hawaiian history and science. A little awkward to get to without a car, but worth figuring out the buses, or taking a cab. Web site.
  • Punahou School. My alma mater. A high school founded in 1841 by missionaries. Web site. (They don't really encourage tourists visiting the school, for obvious reasons.)


  • There are ton of restaurants in and around Honolulu. There really aren't any that we go out of our way to return to year after year, so we don't really have any strong recommendations.
Recommended guidebook (now in its 3rd edition)