From meeting new people to experiencing new sights, sounds, and smells – is there anything more exciting or rejuvenating than a break from the day-to-day mundanity? Traveling is an excellent way to immerse yourself in a new culture, setting, or way-of-life, but the best part is this: you don’t have to venture far from home to enjoy what this world has to offer.
Whether your journey takes you across your own city, to an unexplored part of your state, or even to the other side of the world, there’s no doubt you will still learn a lot about your surroundings – and yourself – along the way.
While the culture an hour away from your home might not be drastically different from what you’re used to, you can still gain a deepened sense of appreciation for where you’ve laid your roots. Plus, traveling locally has a lot of benefits:
More cost-effective. Local travel is certainly a budget-friendly way to explore! Many activities and parks are free or have a low cost of entry. For day trips, you can also pack your own meals to save.
Eco-friendly way to travel. Travel is hard on the environment, but putzing around your area is more sustainable than air travel.
Quick trips. Getting out locally means you can do it more often! Long weekend trips are a lot easier to take when the destination is a short drive away.
Easy to plan. Preparing your itinerary for a local getaway will likely save you some time and stress.
More convenient. Especially if you have little ones, sticking close to home may be much more convenient than far-off destinations. If you forget something, have an emergency, or need to cut the trip short, being closeby definitely has its benefits.
If you’re lucky enough to call paradise home, you don’t need us to tell you twice: Hawaii is an incredible place to be for any length of time, and offers endless secrets that can keep it fresh for a lifetime.
That said, there are plenty of local gems you might easily miss if you don’t know where to look, which is why we’ve put together this helpful guide. Here are the top things to do and places to explore in the state’s capital, Honolulu!
*Note: Some of the suggestions may not be doable due to coronavirus closures, but keep this list handy for when things start opening back up more! Be sure to check individual pages for specific operation details.
From stunning sandy beaches to active volcanoes and dense rainforests, Hawaii truly has it all when it comes to the great outdoors. Here are some of the best state and national parks and preserves within easy reach of Honolulu, HI.
Easily one of the most recognizable landmarks in the entire state and known to Hawaiian natives as Lēʻahi, Diamond Head State Monument encompasses the massive, ashy remains of a volcanic tuff cone that hovers over Honolulu’s skyline. Offering a historic hiking trail along with unbeatable coastal views, this unique geological formation also plays into Hawaii’s military history. Visit yourself to learn more!
Located on the island’s windward shore, He’eia State Park is composed of 18.5 acres of Hawaiian landscape, including beautiful oceanfront vistas, inviting palm-dotted forested areas, and event space for gatherings and special occasions. Both self-guided and free guided walking tours are available, and traditional Makahiki games take place during the Makahiki season.
Small but mighty, the Kaiwi State Scenic Shoreline offers a one-mile hike along a paved roadway to the headland that juts over the historic Makapuʻu lighthouse. Although the lighthouse itself isn’t open to the public, it can be viewed from the walking trail — and the endless ocean vistas are well worth the effort in and of themselves.
Home to the ruins of an ancient medicinal or healing temple — also known as a heiau — the Keaīwa Heiau State Recreation Area has way more to offer than this incredible historical significance. The park, which covers more than 380 acres, offers a beautiful loop trail of approximately five miles that’s perfect for hikers of a variety of skill levels, from which you can enjoy views of Pearl Harbor, the Wai’anae Range, Diamond head and Honolulu itself.
Hiking along the top of this 1,048-foot hill provides breathtaking, panoramic views of southern Oahu — and best of all, the Pu’u ‘Ualaka’a State Wayside is just a 12-minute drive from downtown Honolulu. The park is also ADA accessible and includes restrooms, picnic tables, pavilions, and other facilities to make your visit that much more comfortable.
A simple stretch of sandy beach, Sans Souci State Recreational Park is a popular go-to amongst local Honolulu denizens looking for a walk along the beach or an opportunity to sunbathe. The beach is ADA accessible and an easy drive from Honolulu — just south of Waikīkī Beach and the zoo.
If you’re looking to experience the lush, rainforest-y side of Hawaii, a trip to Wa’ahila Ridge State Recreation Area is in order. This park consists of a Norfolk Island pine forest situated along a ridge, and offers a family-friendly hiking trail, picnic areas, and beautiful views of the Manoa and Palolo valleys.
You don’t have to go very far from Honolulu at all to find some incredible places to make boot tracks. Here are some of the best hiking trails in and around Hawaii’s capital.
Tucked inside the Round Top Forest Preserve, Judd Trail is an easy adventure perfect for beginner hikers or those bringing along their family for the trip. This one-mile-long, heavily-trafficked loop meanders by a waterfall and through scenic forested areas, gaining just over 150 feet in elevation along the way. Four-legged friends are welcome as well, but must be kept on a leash the entire time.
As its name suggests, the Kuliouou Ridge Trail is part of the Kuliouou Forest Reserve, and runs about four miles altogether. Along the way, the trail sees an undulating 1,600 feet in elevation gain, putting it in the moderately challenging category — but those who are willing to put in the sweat will be rewarded with lush forests, beautiful wild flowers, and sweeping ocean views.
Another moderately challenging hike in the Honolulu area, the trailhead for the Wiliwilinui Ridge Trail is located inside a gated community — so be sure to stop by the guard house for a parking pass on your way in. Seeing about 1,600 feet of elevation change over its 4.5-mile total, this trail is known for its wildlife spotting opportunities and is also popular amongst trail runners.
A steep but worthwhile climb, the Koko Crater Trail ascends almost 1,000 feet over just under a mile… so you’re certainly going to be sweating and feeling your calves. That said, once you get to the top, you’ll have earned the once-in-a-lifetime crater-top views of the surrounding areas, as well as the relief of that all-downhill-from-here feeling.
If you’re looking for some intense adventure, check out the Ka’au Crater hike — which, at more than 2,200 feet in elevation gain along its seven-plus-mile round-trip route, is certainly a challenge. That said, those who are up for this feat will get to experience an otherworldly landscape that will truly make you understand why Hawaii is such a special, sacred place. This trail is accessible year-round and also features a waterfall.
With so many things to do and places to explore in Honolulu, you’re going to have to make sure you’re well-fueled for the journey! Here are some of the very best restaurants to enjoy while you’re in town.
You absolutely must have traditional Hawaiian food while in Hawaii — and if there’s only one place you go for favorites like kalua pig, lomi salmon, and pipikaula (quick-fried, air-dried short ribs), make it Helena’s Hawaiian Food. Serving up these classics since 1946, this joint has also been the recipient of a James Beard America’s Classics award, and offers takeout service as well as in-house dining.
When searching for the best Asian cuisine in Honolulu, you’ve got a vast array of options — far more than you’ll find in almost any major city on the mainland. But regardless of its strip mall location and styrofoam to-go containers, Maguro Brothers should be your go-to when it comes to all things sushi (and poke): offering up the freshest and most delicately sliced fish you’ll find anywhere, these meals are healthy, refreshing, and delicious.
Vegan or vegetarian eating doesn’t have to mean foregoing flavor — far from it. Those who visit Honolulu’s Vegan Hills will be treated to gourmet plant-based dining that will leave even the most devoted carnivores satisfied, all washed down with freshly crafted cocktails. Offering brunch, lunch, and dinner, there’s never a bad time to try out this local favorite.
Looking for some old-world charm in paradise? La Cucina Ristorante Italiano is considered by some to be the best Italian restaurant not just in Honolulu, but in all of Hawaii — and their fresh sauces and house-made pastas do make a compelling argument. Hearty, generous portions are served in a casual-yet-elegant atmosphere, and everything is sumptuous, from the bruschetta appetizer to the creme brulee cheesecake you simply must save room for at dessert.
Another local favorite, Zippy’s is an iconic Hawaii chain that anyone who was raised on the island has frequented more than once. A classic, comforting diner, this spot is known best for its warm, hearty chili, Apple Napples (think: sweet, flaky turnovers), fried chicken and chili cheese fries. It’s stick-to-your-ribs good and the kind of meal that won’t leave you hungry again in just a couple of hours!
While the fine dining and incredible outdoor opportunities are wonderful, they’re just the beginning when it comes to things to do in Honolulu. Here are more of our top picks, no matter your situation or interests!
Hawaii is a truly magical place to raise a family — or even bring them to visit. Here are some of the best things for visitors of all ages to enjoy in Honolulu.
While a zoo is pretty much never a bad idea for those looking for a day of family fun, the Honolulu Zoo has the special distinction of hosting a variety of indigenous Hawaiian species that can’t be found anywhere else. Home to more than 1,200 animals representing a wide variety of (often endangered) species, this spot is a must-visit for wildlife enthusiasts of all ages.
What better place than Hawaii to get up close and personal with the magic of life underneath the waves? Waikīkī Aquarium offers the opportunity to see what there is to see under the sea without getting your toes wet — though you may be able to touch a few friendly creatures at the Edge of the Reef installation, which is the longest-running exhibit in the place!
The bright sunshine and inviting waves mean you’re neer short of things to do in Honolulu during the daytime — but the good news is, there’s plenty to see after hours, too. Here are some of our favorite things to do in town once the sun has finally set.
Hosted by the Hilton Hawaiian Village each Friday night, a fireworks show takes place over Waikīkī Beach — and it’s totally free to attend! Exact start time depends on when the sun is setting, and the whole display is only about ten minutes, but it’s a great way to finish up an evening or get started before hitting the town to party.
A once-monthly outdoor street food festival, Eat the Street is an event foodies won’t want to miss. Dozens of local food trucks gather to offer some of the most delicious local delicacies in affordable servings, giving you the opportunity to taste the island literally and broadly.
It’s easy to spend way too much money in a place like paradise… but fortunately, there are also plenty of things to do that are easy on the wallet. Here are some options.
Originally constructed back in 1882 by King Kalakaua, Iolani Palace was the historic home of Hawaii’s reigning monarchs, and is available for a wide variety of guided and self-led tours today. While admissions prices depend on which kind of experience you’re after, they start at just $20 per adult, with discounts available for children and locals.
Part of the University of Hawaii, Lyon Arboretum is actually free to the public, though donations of $5-$10 are suggested and happily accepted. Featuring more than 6,000 taxa of tropical and subtropical plant species sprawled across its 200 or so acres, strolling this well-maintained is easily toward the top of our list of things for couples to do in Honolulu.
It’s true: there are some incredible local options to consider that won’t cost you a single cent to enjoy! Here are some of the best free things to do in Honolulu.
It’s world-famous for a reason — and best of all, Waikīkī Beach is totally free to visit. Whether you’re sunbathing, sand-castle-building, enjoying the sunset or going for a swim, the time you spend on the best-known beach is sure to leave lasting memories.
Roosevelt called it “a day that will live in infamy,” and he was right — the history of Pearl Harbor has had a lasting impact on the American psyche. Visit Pearl Harbor National Memorial, built onto the site of this famous tragedy, and pay your respects; you won’t have to pay a dime of actual money.
If there’s one thing Hawaii’s more famous for than its beaches, it’s the day spas that provide yet another relaxing oasis. Here are some of the best spots to get pampered at in Honolulu.
Offering a wide range of spa packages, including classic treatments like massage and facial, as well as more exotic services, like floating massages administered while you’re suspended in a saltwater pool, Spa Pure - Honolulu Day Spa is known as one of the best in the area for good reason. We recommend the seaweed anti-aging facial!
Whether you’re after a relaxing full-body massage, a facial performed with organic ingredients, a long-lasting shellac manicure or a multi-process hair color treatment, Heaven on Earth Salon & Day Spa can perform the treatments you need in a, well, heavenly atmosphere. You’ll certainly walk out feeling refreshed and rejuvenated, no matter which treatments you choose!
Keeping in shape will make those waves far easier to surf on! Here are some of the best gyms and yoga studios in Honolulu.
The empathetic and knowledgeable practitioners at Iyengar Yoga Honolulu understand that yoga is all about finding the best practice for your body — and they know how to lead you toward your own inner strength and flexibility, both physical and mental. Enjoy a wide variety of classes including free online streaming videos so you can keep up with your practice at home.
A comprehensive and classic gym environment, Honolulu Fitness Center puts the power to reach goals in your hands — literally. Grab a set of dumbbells and get curling, or, if you feel you need some guidance to get started, enjoy the affordable personal training programs the center offers. There’s also plenty of cardio equipment and strength-training machines to choose from.
If you can bear to tear yourself away from Honolulu even for an afternoon, here are some great ideas for day trips and weekend getaways in the area!
Nestled into the lush forests that characterize the east side of Oahu island, The Valley of the Temples is home to a wide variety of preserved religions spaces; you’ll find Catholic cathedrals neighboring Buddhist sanctuaries, making for a diverse and inclusive experience. It’s all just half an hour’s drive from downtown Honolulu — totally worth the effort!
While you don’t usually hop on board an airplane for a day trip, everything’s a little bit different in Hawaii — and 40 minutes in the air can land you on a totally different island and give you a brand new experience of the state. Maui, also known as “The Valley Isle,” is the second largest in the Hawaiian chain and is known for its incredible beaches, including the iconic Black Sand Beach tucked inside Wai’anapanapa State Park. This island also offers stellar farm-to-table dining and incredible sunset (and sunrise) opportunities.
As a final reminder, some of these activities may need to wait until businesses fully reopen from coronavirus closures. However, there is still much to see and experience in Honolulu that you can enjoy today! What are your favorite spots in Honolulu? Send them our way to [email protected] or by tagging us on Instagram @rvshare and using the hashtag #rvsharelocal.