28 Best Things to Do in Honolulu (for First-Time Visitors!)
Honolulu is the largest city in Hawaii and undoubtedly the one with the most going on. These are the best things to do in Honolulu for first-time visitors – including cultural sights and more!
If you’re traveling to Honolulu last minute, you want to ensure you have lodging/tours ahead of time! Below are some of our top picks on Oahu!
Best Tours and Activities on Oahu:
- Pearl Harbor and USS Arizona Memorial Tour (essential for your trip!)
- North Shore Shark Cage Diving (leaves from Haleiwa but recommended!)
- Oahuʻs hidden gems and sea turtles snorkeling
- Diamond Head morning hike from Honolulu
- Full-day Oahu island tour (highly recommended!)
Best Hotels and Lodging in Honolulu:
- Hotel Renew(budget option in HNL)
- White Sands Hotel(budget – I stayed here many nights!)
- Laylow (mid-range and stylish)
- Moana Surfrider Hotel (famous place & affordable luxury)
- Espacio the Jewel of Waikiki (luxury living in Waikiki)
Any tips or recommendations for what to do in Honolulu? Let us know the Honolulu attractions we missed in the comments!
And be sure to check out our Honolulu itinerary to help plan accordingly! Thanks!
Best things to do in Honolulu
Best Things to Do in Honolulu
Ala Moana Center
The Ala Moana Center is one of the best shopping centers in Honolulu and while I donʻt love listing a shopping center on a guide, it is worth a visit as there are some great shops and places to get coffee there.
Ala Moana Center is the kind of mall that makes you feel like you’ve entered a whole new city. It’s a four-story shopping complex and holds the title of being the largest open-air shopping center in the entire world.
Ala Moana Center
The store variety here is at its best ranging from luxury brands to department and souvenir stores. There are more than 350 stores and eateries overall. Just keep in mind that some things here can be pricey.
Youʻll find Sephora, Island Vintage Coffee, several surf shops, and more inside. It is definitely worth a visit if youʻre in the area.
Address: 1450 Ala Moana Blvd, Honolulu, HI 96814
Enjoy a Poke Bowl
One of the best things to do in Honolulu is to eat! Honestly… it is one of the best food cities in the US and one dish to start with is a poke bowl.
While you can get poke bowls just about anywhere in the city, my favorite ones are at Sato Seafood and Fresh Catch in Kaimuki.
I stayed near Fresh Catch for a week and found myself heading there regularly. Just be aware that they close earlyish (around 7pm on weekdays and 5pm on Sundays).
Best poke bowl in Honolulu – Sato Seafood
Sato Seafood is a newer establishment in Honolulu and they specialize in seafood, as their name suggests! But… it is SO good. I ate there multiple times on my last trip and opted for their Spicy Maui Maui bowl which was spicy tuna atop rice with chopped onions. Honestly, it was addicting.
Sato is small and only takes credit cards so leave the cash at home! They offer a table or two outside but donʻt have a lot of seating – so it is the perfect place to take-away from.
You can find Sato Seafood at 2310 Kuhio Ave (right beside the famous Marugame!) and Fresh Catch at 1113 Kapahulu Ave.
One of the most well-known names around all of Hawaii (and the world), this extraordinarily beautiful beach is made up of miles of stunning, fluffy white-sand beaches bordered by tall palm palms and a bright blue sea.
Plus, since many sections of Waikiki Beach are roped off for swimming, the waves are quite gentle. However, you can head beyond the break and surf and do other water sports. This beach has it all!
The beaches that make up Waikiki as a whole include Fort DeRussy Beach (which faces the Royal Hawaiian Hotel), Kuhio Beach, and Queen Surf Beach.
Swimming, surfing, boogie boarding, catamaran, and outrigger canoe cruises are all popular local activities. Be sure to also check out the gorgeous sunsets of Waikiki – it is one of the best things to do in the city!
Sunrise at Waikiki Beach in Honolulu
Nevertheless, crowds are a big disadvantage here. Along the beach, you’ll definitely see tons of people and it is often extremely crowded. I love going at dawn and while youʻll definitely still see people here, it will be far fewer than later in the day.
If crowds are not an issue for you, visit Waikiki and then proudly claim that you’ve been to one of the most famous beaches in the world! It is definitely the most famous beach on Oahu.
Iolani Palace is a must-visit when visiting Oahu! This site is the former residence of the Hawaiian king and is one of Honolulu’s most historic attractions. The palace was constructed in 1882, rebuilt in 1969, and reopened to the public in 1978.
This massive structure in downtown Honolulu spans several acres and houses everything from rich royal rooms to plush-carpeted political offices.
Iolani Palace in Honolulu
History fans will deeply appreciate this place. Upon your arrival, you can take tours, listen to audio recordings, and even check out vintage displays of clothing, fittings, furniture, and relics of past royalties!
Across the street, youʻll also see the Ali’iolani Hale, another famous site. It also has a statue of King Kamehameha V in front ot it.
The Iolani Palace truly is one of the best Honolulu museums to visit when you’re there!
Address: 364 S King St, Honolulu, HI 96813
Enjoy Coffee in Honolulu
Coffee lovers can rejoice when in Honolulu because it is not challenging to find delicious coffee (in the slightest)! There are so many cool coffee shops in Honolulu that you will jaunt around the city and taste them all, as I did!
I have to say that Kona Coffee Purveyors, located right in the heart of Waikiki, is one of the best cups of coffee I have ever had anywhere in the world. Everyone else must share this opinion because it was hard-pressed to find this place without a long line out the door… even at 7am!
Flat white at Arvo Coffee
But, I did learn that if you go there right before closing, the lines have dwindled down quite a bit. Their coffee is so worth the wait, on the other hand.
I ventured around the city for amazing specialty coffee and below are some of the best places I visited:
- Kona Coffee Purveyors (2330 Kalakaua Ave #160 at Kuhio Ave Mall Entrance of Intʻl Marketplace)
- Arvo (324 Coral St Suite 1A-104b)
- Brew & Foam Coffee House (1909 Ala Wai Blvd)
- Surfjack Shop (412 Lewers St at The Surfjack Hotel)
Let us know other cool Honolulu coffee shops in the comments for next time!
Manoa Falls is an easily accessible, 150-foot-tall waterfall, located 5 miles northeast of downtown Honolulu in the lush Manoa Valley.
The Manoa Falls Trail is one of the best waterfall hikes on Oahu!
If you’re looking for a gorgeous and iconic destination in Honolulu, this waterfall is your must-go-to place. Famous movies like “Jurassic Park” and “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” have scenes filmed in this area.
Do be wary that the waterfall may not be as powerful as expected. If it has rained a lot recently, it will undoubtedly look more spectacular than if not.
The trail to Manoa Falls in late February
The hike to the waterfall is open from sunrise to sunset. Also, note that entry to the area of the waterfall is free but if you have a car to park near the trailhead, the parking fee is $7.
The trail to the falls can be fairly muddy, so wearing hiking boots or sneakers is highly recommended! Also, be sure to check out Lyon Arboretum next door when youʻre up there!
Malasadas at Leonardʻs Bakery
Leonardʻs Bakery is one of the most famous (if not THE most famous) bakeries in Hawaii and it is renowned for its malasadas, which are essentially puffed Portuguese donuts.
When I was on my most recent trip to Honolulu, I stayed right beside the original location (they also have a food truck elsewhere) in Kaimuki.
Delicious malasadas from Leonardʻs Bakery in Honolulu
Due to jet lag, I was up at absurd hours of the morning and would see the lines already formed at 5:30am when they opened!
Anyway, it is a must-try when youʻre in Honolulu. They have a few different options of malasadas such as the original (plain sugar), li hing, a cinnamon sugar. They also have ones that are filled with dobash (chocolate), guava, haupia (coconut), and more.
Address: 933 Kapahulu Ave
Diamond Head State Monument (Lë’ahi)
Having gotten the name from 19th-century British sailors, Diamond Head is a one-of-a-kind crater, formed 300,000 years ago. Its actual name given by Hawaiians is Lë’ahi.
It resulted from a single volcanic eruption that poured ash into the atmosphere and fell over thousands of years, making up the amazing ridgeline of Diamond Head.
Diamond Head Crater
Hiking here will give you that feeling of being on top of the world. When visiting, just get yourself to the summit of the crater and enjoy breathtaking aerial views of the Hawaiian land, Waikiki Beach, and the Pacific Ocean.
Please do take note that in late April 2022, the state has implemented a reservation system in order to hike Diamond Head (if youʻre not a Hawaii resident). It will go into effect May 12, 2022.
To find out more (and to reserve your spot), click here. Do note that Diamond Head is closed on Wednesdays.
If walking by yourself isn’t the way you want to enjoy this extraordinary location, consider getting a helicopter tour.
Kuhio Beach Park
Spotted right by the Canoes and Queens (Waikiki’s popular surf and bodyboarding sites), Kuhio Beach Park is well-known for its laid-back vibes and tranquil clear seas. It is, more or less, part of Waikiki.
If you’re interested in the culture, definitely check out the amazing landmarks, including the Duke Kahanamoku Statue, the Stones of Kapaemahu, and the Prince Kuhio Statue.
Another great feature of Kuhio Beach is that it holds free hula shows on a regular basis! I always find this area to be entertainment-filled and lively!
Visitors are welcome to walk around the area and watch different sorts of hula styles followed by live music accompaniment.
Enjoy an Acai Bowl in Honolulu
So, acai bowls may have origins in Brazil, but the locals in Hawaii have definitely embraced them and you can find them nearly everywhere throughout Honolulu.
My favorite places for an acai bowl in Honolulu are Tropical Tribe and ALO Cafe.
Tropical Tribe has three locations on Oahu, including one at the Ala Moana Shops, one up in Haleiwa, and one in Waikiki.
They have been selling their delicious bowls since 2013 and they offer a variety of bowls, including the standard Tropical Tribe Bowl which is a take on the Brazilian style with Acai and Guarana Berry juice.
Acai bowl in Honolulu at Tropical Tribe
ALO Cafe is another fabulous place to try an acai bowl in the capital city! Located at 159 Kaiulani Ave. #105 in Waikiki, this plant-based, vegan cafe has a variety of healthy food options, including acai bowls, lilikoi bowls, Hawaiian coffee, and smoothies.
This place was so friendly and chilled-out that it was one of my highlights in Honolulu!
Pearl Harbor National Memorial
As you probably already know, Pearl Harbor is where the Japanese attack happened in December 1941, which resulted in the U.S. entering WWII.
The military base of Pearl Harbor is both a National Historic Landmark and an active military base. You can visit independently, take a tour, or book tickets in advance (I highly, highly recommend this for the USS Arizona and USS Missouri).
USS Bowfin – visiting Pearl Harbor from Honolulu
Taking a tour of Pearl Harbor will give you the opportunity to see a great selection of historical sites like the battleship USS Missouri (this is where the Japanese surrendered), the USS Arizona Memorial, the Pacific Aviation Museum Pearl Harbor, the USS Bowfin, and more.
The park has a free entrance and is full of amazing antiques, historical film backgrounds, and museums. There is also a restaurant/food truck area on-site where you can grab a bite to eat.
If you’re interested to visit most of the sites within the Pearl Harbor National Memorial complex it is a hefty charge (and most are paid separately).
We encourage you to book ahead of time and make sure you get a reservation to see the USS Arizona and USS Missouri.
The Halona Blowhole, located on Oahu’s east coast, is another one of the island’s most popular attractions. Here, the waves pound into the cliffs beneath the rocks and the water bursts out of a blowhole blasting into the air and making the sight indescribably beautiful.
In spite of its stunning nature, the area is quite dangerous because of its strong currents. You might see a few people visiting below but we encourage seeing it from the lookout point near the road.
Halona Blowhole on Oahu
Also, if you’re lucky enough to visit this area during the summer as it’s the best season to do so, you’ll enjoy sunny and windy days making the water shoot higher than it typically does.
This is one of the best things to do near Honolulu (and there is a gorgeous beach called Eternity Beach nearby)!
Honolulu Botanical Gardens
The Honolulu Botanical Gardens is a series of gardens that are spread throughout the city. Each one of them offers a unique diversity of flora and is worth a visit if youʻre into that (which I am).
The specific location of gardens greatly influences the type of plants and trees you can see there. The Wahiawa Botanical Garden, for example, is situated on a high plateau with milder temperatures, so it boasts lush greenery and a variety of vibrant flowers.
On the other hand, the Koko Crater Botanical Garden is known for its hot climate resulting in cacti and shrubs growing there.
There are a few more names on this list of Honolulu Botanical Gardens like Foster Botanical Gardens, the Liliʻuokalani Botanical Garden, and the Lyon Arboretum (run by University of Hawaiʻi – Manoa).
Consider researching and making a plan to visit them one by one if you have the time!
One of the best things to do in Honolulu is to visit Kaka’ako. It’s a fashionable and entertaining district of the city, brimming with cafes, galleries, interesting new eateries, and amazing street art.
Murals in Kaka’ako District of Honolulu
This used to be an industrial town in the past, but today it is unrecognizable. Here, you’ll delve into a buzzing environment featuring cutting-edge art, retail, dining, and so much more.
If you’re into Hawaiian food, don’t miss your chance to visit The Highway Inn. It’s a fantastic spot for travelers to get a taste of authentic Hawaiian cuisine and they even offer sample platters and will go over each dish with you!
Delicious Hawaiian food in Honolulu at The Highway Inn
Also, be sure to stop by Arvo and grab a coffee, 9BAR HNL for an ube latte, and Paiko for some beautiful house plants. They are all located in SALT, a cultural hub within the district.
This is easily my favorite place to walk around in Honolulu!
Walk the Ala Wai Canal
One of my favorite things to do early in the mornings in Honolulu was to walk along the Ala Wai Canal.
The artificial waterway serves as the unofficial northern border of the Waikiki district and was created in 1928 to drain the rice paddies and swamps for Hawaiiʻs most famous neighborhood (Waikiki).
Early morning along the Ala Wai Canal in Honolulu
In the mornings, the light is so beautiful and I saw plenty of people kayaking and walking along it.
While it could use a bit of a clean-up (it is seemingly in the pipeline), it really does offer gorgeous views over the mountains, and youʻre only a stoneʻs throw away from the beaches of Waikiki.
Honolulu Museum of Art
Founded in 1927, the Honolulu Museum of Art is recognized for having one of the largest collections of Pan-Pacific and Asian art in the US.
The Doris Duke Theatre, which organizes concerts, seminars, and lectures, as well as the Robert Allerton Art Research Library and the Honolulu Museum of Art School, are all part of the museum.
Honolulu Museum of Art – Jeff Whyte – Shutterstock.com
The Honolulu Museum of Art’s main campus houses one of America’s best Asian art collections, as well as works by Europe’s great artists, like Picasso, Gauguin, van Gogh, etc).
For some really unique stuff, it’s recommended to visit The Arts of Hawai’i collection, which includes Georgia O’Keeffe’s Maui landscapes and indigenous feather capes.
Address: 900 South Beretania St Honolulu, HI 96814
Shangri La Museum of Islamic Art, Culture, and Design
The Shangri La Museum of Islamic Art, Culture, and Design is located in Diamond Head, just outside of Honolulu.
It’s at the former home of Doris Duke, which now serves as a public museum dedicated to the arts and cultures of the Islamic world.
Shangri La Museum – Phillip B. Espinasse – Shutterstock.com
This place began as a mansion, where Doris Duke acquired and displayed Islamic art.
Thanks to that, the museum now houses a diverse collection of art, furnishings, and built-in architectural components from countries like Iran, Morocco, Turkey, Spain, Syria, Egypt, and India.
Keep in mind that tours to Shangri La must be booked well in advance and individual access is not permitted.
Address: 4055 Pāpū Cir, Honolulu, HI 96816
Corsair Wreck Dive Site
For those who have some diving skills and are looking for a real challenge, the Corsair Wreck Dive Site is one of the best attractions in Honolulu. It lies about 3 miles south of the Hawaii Kai Marina on Oahu’s southeast shore.
This site incorporates a real plane from WWII that lies at the bottom of the ocean, making it interesting for not only divers but also photographers.
Corsair Wreck Dive Site
The diving spot is rated as advanced, so you’ll need a boat and a guide to get to the area. The crash is located at a depth of around 115 feet.
Moreover, there are usually strong and rapid currents that can be unpredictable, so make sure to be extremely cautious here. However, if youʻre advanced, it is a great place to go scuba diving on Oahu.
The Aloha Tower is the Hawaiian Statue of Liberty and is known as one of the iconic landmarks of the state. For many years, this tower served as a guiding beacon welcoming sailors to Honolulu.
The Gothic-styled tower is 184-foot high and was constructed in the early 20th century. Aloha Tower’s primary role today is tourism but that doesn’t mean that it no longer “works” as a lighthouse.
Aloha Tower in Honolulu
If you’re about to get around the tower, note that visitors are allowed to climb all the way to the top for spectacular views of the Honolulu shoreline. You can also walk, shop, and dine at a marketplace located inside the tower.
Address: 1 Aloha Tower Dr, Honolulu, HI
Waiola Shave Ice
On the list of must-try Hawaiian snacks and sweet treats, Wailua Shave Ice has its very own spot. It’s so famous that locals have transformed it into an art form.
This Hawaiian dessert is made of a thousand flavors, toppings, and juices. It has quite a unique taste and is adored by many, making Waiola Shave Ice one of the top places to visit in Honolulu.
Shaved ice in Hawaii
Mango, cherries, passionfruit, haupia, chocolate, green tea, mochi, and margarita are some of the main flavors.
The best part is that you can mix and match your favorites to find the very best combination for you!
Address: 2135 Waiola St, Honolulu, HI 96826
Sans Souci Beach Park
Looking for a relaxing place to unwind yourself in Honolulu? Sans Souci Beach Park should be one of the very first choices to consider if youʻre looking to walk around from the crowds a bit.
Also known as Kaimana Beach, Sans Souci Beach is shallow, sandy, with no strong currents, making it one of the cityʻs best family beaches.
It’s also a fantastic snorkeling spot. Swimmers and kayakers use the beach to access the seas beyond the reef via Kapua Channel, which leads to the popular surf spot: Old Man’s.
Sans Souci Beach Park
Overall, this is one of the best (if not the best) beach parks in Honolulu to enjoy some nice, relaxing, and as the name states, a “worry-free” time!
Royal Hawaiian Center
This one is for those shopping lovers again. Compared to other malls, the Royal Hawaiian Center specializes in luxury brands. It stretches along a three-block section of Waikiki’s iconic Kalākaua Avenue and encompasses more than 310,000 square feet.
Royal Hawaiian Center – Felix Mizioznikov – Shutterstock.com
Its design and architectural style combined with a good variety of high-end shops makes this center an interesting site to visit in Honolulu.
While shopping here in 110 unique stores and 30 unique dining venues, you can join a celebration of dance, music, and other Hawaiian traditions.
Address: 2201 Kalakaua Ave, Honolulu, HI 96815
Chinatown is a district, located on the outskirts of Honolulu and Waikiki, that is now a trendy area with interesting art galleries, cafes, and a monthly First Friday series event.
When visiting, tourists can experience traditional Chinese restaurants or the dim sum scene, as well as more than 10 acres of local lei stands, traditional shops, and agricultural markets.
This place is home to incredible landmarks like the Kuan Yin, which is a Buddhist temple with red columns and a green roof, designed with flowers, statues, and relics. It is a must-visit spot in Honolulu!
The Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum
To learn some more about Hawaiian history and culture, don’t miss out on The Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum.
More than 24 million historical, cultural, and natural relics about Hawaii and the Pacific are housed at this location.
The Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum – Phillip B. Espinasse – Shutterstock.com
Visitors can get to know about Hawaiian gods, historical events, and much more in the three-story Hawaiian Hall, or explore the Hawai’i Sports Hall of Fame, which is devoted to Hawaiian sports history.
Aside from the extensive Hawaiian exhibits, the museum’s total holdings of natural history specimens surpass 24 million items, with the entomological collection alone counting for over 13.5 million.
In fact, it’s the third-largest insect collection in the United States.
Koko Crater Trail
Located near Waimanalo, Oahu, Koko Crater is a 1,208-foot-tall volcanic tuff cone. This is truly one of those hiking trails that is classified as strenuous and offers the opportunity to witness wildlife at its best.
To reach the lookout point, this popular hiking spot challenges hikers to climb 1,048 exceedingly steep railroad ties stairs, which were built more than 60 years ago so that the military could carry supplies to the bunkers at the summit.
Koko Crater Trail
The Koko Crater Trail is open all year round and is largely utilized for its touristic hiking and nature visits.
Farmer’s Market KCC
The Hawaii Farm Bureau Federation is a nonprofit organization with 1,800 farm family members statewide, which has been there since 1948 and acts as Hawaii’s voice of agriculture (it protects and advocates the agricultural community’s interests).
Farmer’s Market KCC
KCC Farmer’s Market is where a variety of vendors display and sell their products each week.
You’re welcome to choose from a large selection of fresh fruits, vegetables, flowers, meat, aquacultured fish, baked bread, handcrafted pasta, unusual jams, jellies, snacks, and many more mouth-watering foods, honey, baked goods, specialty seasonings, etc.
The Oahu farmersʻ market is open on Saturdays from 0730 until 1100 and you can find out more here.
Address: 4303 Diamond Head Rd, Honolulu, HI 96816
Craft Beer in Honolulu
In Honolulu, you will find a burgeoning (and rather developed) craft beer scene. You will find island favorites from the Maui Brewing Company to Honolulu Beerworks to the Waikiki Brewing Company.
All are worth a visit (or try)!
Honolulu Beerworks has a leading position when it comes to craft breweries in Oahu. The microbrewery is 5 years old and offers a bunch of unique special releases. In addition, Honolulu Beerworks has 14 beers on tap.
Craft beer in Honolulu – Waikiki Brewing Company
At Waikiki Brewing Company, youʻll find four locations throughout Hawaii and they even distribute to Guam! It was one of my favorite places for craft beer in Honolulu, to be honest.
Nu’uanu Pali State Wayside
The Nu’uanu Pali Lookout, which is only a 5-mile drive from downtown Honolulu, has some of the greatest views in all of Oahu!
Once you’re there, be ready to witness breathtaking views of Kailua town, Kaneohe Bay, and, of course, the magnificent Ko’olau Mountains.
We recommend that those visiting this spot bring their cameras or phones to capture the views for themselves. The lookout is open every day from 6am until 6pm, if the weather allows it.
There is no charge for admission and even parking is not an issue here (there is plenty of space available). But, while not an issue, it does cost to park ($7/vehicle).
Nu’uanu Pali Lookout views
One thing to keep in mind though is that the area of the lookout has some strong winds and being cautious here (especially if you’re with youngsters) is a must.
Do note that if you are taking a Circle Island Tour of Oahu, your tour likely goes there.
Did we miss any of your favorite things to do in Honolulu as a first-time visitor to the Hawaiian capital city? If youʻre looking for what to eat in Hawaii, do check our guide out for that!
Where to Stay in Honolulu
There are many amazing places to call home for a few nights in Honolulu. Here are some of our top favorites (including my favorite budget location that I stay at)!
- Hotel Renew(budget option in HNL)
- White Sands Hotel(budget – I stayed here many nights!)
- Laylow (mid-range and stylish)
- Moana Surfrider Hotel (famous place & affordable luxury)
- Espacio the Jewel of Waikiki (luxury living in Waikiki)
Let us know your favorite attractions in Honolulu in the comments! Thanks!
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Very helpful post. Those who will be visiting Hawaii for the first time and at the same time new travelers will benefit a lot. Thanks Author.
10 Places to Avoid in Hawaii
From sandy beaches and breathtaking sites to fantastic nightlife, Hawaii has something for everyone, but it is not without its issues. From dangerous locations and wildlife to some crime-ridden streets, there are a few places you want to avoid while in Hawaii.
By reading further, you will discover the top 10 Hawaiian places to avoid, along with a few alternatives. You will also learn what not to do when visiting the islands.
— article continued below —
The Places You Must Avoid When Visiting Hawaii
With many places to hike, sail, bike, swim, or just sunbathe on one of the many beautiful beaches, Hawaii is a paradise. The Aloha state is also a melting pot with numerous races and cultures, ensuring the state has something for everyone. It is also one of the safest locations in the world.
However, the state is not without its hazards and places to avoid. Most of these places are just tourist traps that might scam you from time to time, but there are places in Hawaii that no visitor should travel to without a good reason. These avoidable places have one thing in common: crime.
While crime exists everywhere, there is a more significant hazard in hot tourist locations such as Hawaii. Criminals know tourists have money, which breeds all sorts of scams and pickpockets. To make matters worse, these crimes can hit when you feel the safest.
To keep you safe during your ventures through the Hawaiian archipelago, here is a list of 10 of the most dangerous places you should avoid, especially after dark:
A haven for surfers and sea turtle lovers, Makaha should be a fun excursion for anyone venturing around the island of Oahu. However, this tourist trap has the most crime in the state. While the Honolulu Police Department has several stations in the region, there is a 1 in 30 chance that someone might steal your wallet while you enjoy Makaha Beach Park.
Located on a peninsula in the middle of Lake Wilson, Wahiawa has the thrilling nickname of “armpit of Oahu” for a reason. The birthplace of Dole Foods has a higher crime rate than the state as a whole, despite only being in 10th place overall. It is so bad here that the local police recommend avoiding the town altogether, especially at night.
Ewa Beach looks like a paradise.
- Fantastic beaches
- Great nightlife
- Numerous attractions
Adorn the streets of this suburb of Honolulu, but you need to keep your head on a swivel if you want to go there. Police reports note that tourists can be kidnapped and robbed in broad daylight even from public places.
Located on the eastern tip of the Big Island, Pahoa had impressive arts and surfing scenes until a volcanic eruption leveled most of the area. Now, the tiny village that remains has the highest number of sex offenders in the state. The region also has an extremely high property theft rate.
As a small industrial town on Maui, Kahului does not have many tourist attractions. While it does have a few museums and parks, you should avoid it unless you know someone there. It also has a high crime rate for a town of its size.
With Hawaii’s largest homeless camp, Waianae has a higher-than-average crime rate. It also has only a few accommodations for visitors, with its boat harbor serving as the only attraction. As such, you should avoid the town if possible. If you do find yourself there, please stay away from the beaches at night for your safety.
A former sugarcane plantation on the north shore of Pearl Harbor, Waipahu has seen better days. While the plantation village museum is a nice day trip, the city, unfortunately, has nothing to offer to tourists. As such, you should avoid it as much as possible. Across Interstate H1, the town of Waikele is safer for tourists and has better amenities.
While it has a higher crime rate than average, Waimea is also a location with only a few accommodations for tourists. The only major events are the Waimea Cherry Blossom Heritage Festival and an annual rodeo. Otherwise, you should avoid the place and go somewhere else.
Nestled near Nounou Mountain on Kauai, Kapaa looks like a great tourist destination. The small village is the staging point for several hikes through the nearby forests and nature preserves. However, the tourist-friendly amenities brought in criminals looking for a quick buck. If you visit the area, you should avoid the local bar scene, especially at night.
Hilo is the largest town on the Big Island and has a tourist industry to match. Hawaii’s oldest settlement holds the annual week-long Merrie Monarch Festival, the world’s preeminent hula competition and festival. There is even an orchid show, among other points of interest, including a tsunami museum and the Mokupāpapa Discovery Center.
However, all that fun has a dark side. While the tourist areas are safe, you should avoid straying too far from them. Hilo has a 70 percent higher than average crime rate. You also should never see the area by bicycle due to the drunk drivers on the narrow streets and the frequent rainfall.
Playing It Smart While in Hawaii: Avoiding Taboos and Mistakes
Despite the crime in the above cities, Hawaii is among the safest tourist destinations in the world. As long as you avoid the hot spots for crime, you can enjoy your stay without worry. You can surf, hike, and enjoy the nightlife until your heart is content.
With that said, Hawaii is a melting pot of cultures with conflicting standards. With some misunderstanding, you can easily offend someone, potentially leading to conflicts, violence, and other issues no matter where you are in Hawaii. Therefore, you will want to avoid some seriously insulting behavior so that you can respect the native Hawaiian culture as much as possible.
We listed the most common taboos and mistakes tourists tend to make while in Hawaii below. Most of these infractions make sense logically, but people often overlook them in the heat of the moment. We hope that this list will help you avoid any unnecessary conflicts so you can enjoy your stay in paradise.
Refrain from Mentioning that You Are American
While you may feel that it is necessary to say “the USA” when abroad, such things have no place in Hawaii. The Aloha State has been a part of the union since 1959. So, saying that you are American has no meaning there as everyone you meet is likely an American. If you must reveal your home location, you should just mention “the mainland” or your city or state.
Leave Nothing in Your Rental Car
While you are safer from most crimes by sticking to the dedicated tourist spots, you still must keep an eye on your stuff. Thieves are everywhere looking for victims, and rental cars are easy targets. That is because rental cars are easy to spot, and most locals know the secret. Therefore, you never want to leave anything valuable when you park your rental. Not even trucks are safe.
Never Forget to Tip
Like everywhere else in America, Hawaiians who work in the service industry rely on tips to pay their bills. That includes:
- Restaurant servers
- Tour guides
- Hotel bell and valet staff
Your tip may be the reason these people can live with Hawaii’s high cost of living.
Never Honk Your Horn
If you usually hit the horn when the cars in front of you do not go immediately once the light turns green, you should refrain from doing so while in Hawaii. Honking the horn outside of emergencies is considered rude on the islands. You can avoid needless road rage incidents by staying away from the horn.
It is Illegal to Take Lava Rocks and Sand Home
You may want a cheap souvenir of your time in Hawaii, but keep your hands off the lava rocks. Similarly, you might want a handful of sand from Hawaii’s lava flows and multicolored beaches but leave them be. It is illegal to remove objects from national parks. Plus, the sand is not limitless. Enjoy the rocks from a distance and get your souvenirs from gift shops.
Stay Away from Hawaiian Wildlife
Hawaii is home to many endangered species such as the green sea turtle and the monk seal. These critters reside on the warm beaches that line the coasts of the Hawaiian Islands, and you may run into a few of them during your stay. If you do spot one, leave them be and enjoy them from a distance, treating them as you would out in the ocean.
While these creatures are recovering thanks to conservation efforts, their numbers are still dangerously low and may go extinct within your lifetime. They can also become hostile if provoked. You have no business messing with them so just leave them alone.
Take Your Shoes Off When Entering Homes
With a large Asian population, Hawaii developed the cultural norm of removing one’s shoes before entering someone’s home. As such, you must do likewise when visiting the islands. Some condominiums even require it as a part of your rent. The owners can and have kicked renters out over the infraction.
General Tips and Best Practices When Visiting Hawaii
Beyond the specific Hawaiian taboos, there are some common pieces of advice you should adhere to regardless of where your adventure takes you. Some of these things may not apply to your situations, but it is always good to go prepared. These tips and advice may even save your life.
Even if they aren’t particularly life-saving in nature, some Hawaiian tourist best practices are just a good way to make sure you are truly getting the most out of your possibly once-in-a-lifetime experience. Hawaii is another state in the union, but its unique climate and geographical location mean that you might not be familiar with its unique terrain and intense sun.
Go to Multiple Beaches
One of the main points mentioned in this article revolves around not staying in one place more than you must. This tip is no exception. Every Hawaiian beach is different. Therefore, you should try to reach as many as you can to take advantage of everything Hawaii offers.
Just be careful, though, as ocean currents are highly variable. The waters can be calm for one moment only to become turbulent high surf during the next. If you are not careful, you can be swept out to sea without warning. Heed any warning signs you see posted at beaches.
Understand the risks and take the necessary precautions before you take a dip. For instance, you can just watch the professional surfers do their thing if you do not have the months or preparation needed to do it yourself.
Never Swim Alone
You might be a world-class swimmer, but even the pros know to never swim alone. However, too many unfortunate people never got that memo. They either drowned or were attacked by sharks. Either way, they did not have anyone nearby to help them get out of their situation. Even better, make sure there is a lifeguard around when you head out into the water as well.
Moderate Your Sun Exposure
Everyone dreams about lying in the Hawaiian sun all day, but no one dreams about the extreme sunburn you would get from that. Therefore, you want to spread out your exposure over your whole trip. You also want to coat yourself with plenty of sunscreen.
Visit More than Waikiki
While many foolish travelers keep to their resorts, there are even those that never leave Waikiki and boast to their friends that they saw everything Hawaii had to offer. While the Waikiki beaches and resorts are safe and fun for everyone, there is more to do elsewhere, even if you only stay on Oahu.
Doing so can even cure what Hawaiians like to call island fever. As a tourist, you are unlikely to develop island fever, but it can happen. Like cabin fever, island fever is just a feeling that you need to get off an island and go somewhere else. It is primarily a problem for the locals, but you can develop it if you stay in one place for too long.
You can avoid island fever by keeping your schedule busy exploring as many Hawaiian attractions as possible. There is nothing wrong with visiting every island either.
Stay Away from the Super Touristy Areas
While straying away from tourist areas can lead to nightmares, sticking too close to them can be equally undesirable. Hawaii has numerous high-profile attractions such as volcanoes and Haleakala National Parks, Mauna Kea, Waikiki, and the Maui Ocean Center.
These places remain crowded all year long, which is fine. However, you may want to try avoiding them during peak tourist season if you want some room for yourself. Hawaii has many fine but less well-known attractions and beaches just waiting for you to discover them. For instance, you can try real Hawaiian food at a local restaurant instead of the resorts.
Dine Out in Moderation
Hawaii is an expensive place. A part of that expense comes from having to ship everything, including food, from 2,000 miles away. As such, everything on the island has a steeply inflated price, even at restaurants. If you want to have enough cash to enjoy your stay, you should do as the locals do and head to a grocery store instead.
Avoid Driving During Rush Hour
You never want to be caught in traffic on your vacation. You came to Hawaii to get away from that. So, why would you attempt traveling during the local rush hour? Hawaiian rush hour is approximately from 3 pm to around 7 pm on weekdays. If you can avoid the roads during this time, you can enjoy your stay stress-free.
Never Hike Unprepared
Hiking takes you directly into nature. You get to see the world in its natural glory without modern problems getting in your way. Hiking in Hawaii is no different, especially with its breathtaking tropical volcanic landscape. However, hiking is only enjoyable if you make it back home in one piece.
While the Hawaiian Islands are small enough that you are always a short distance from civilization, you can still get lost or injured while hiking. Therefore, you always want to take the necessary precautions before heading out.
Some necessary hiking precautions include:
- Fully charge your phone for emergencies and photo opportunities.
- Bring plenty of water, snacks, and a fully equipped first aid kit.
- Notify a friend or family member where you are going and when you expect to return.
Hawaii is usually a very safe place to visit. You can enjoy the sun, beaches, and wildlife without issue in most cases, but there are places where you should not tread without a good reason. A high crime rate, coupled with the lack of amenities in some areas, can transform your island getaway into a nightmare in seconds.
25 Best Places to Visit in Hawaii
The sundrenched Hawaiian archipelago is made of up of eight major islands surrounded by numerous atolls, bays, and inlets in the heart of the Pacific Ocean. The majority of visitors are drawn to the islands by the promise of long sunny days on the beach and countless hours of water sports in the warm tropical waters, but the six major tourist islands of Hawaii have even more to offer visitors. Here are the best places to visit in Hawaii.
We recommend that you call the attractions and restaurants ahead of your visit to confirm current opening times.
1. Best island in Hawaii: Maui
The fun never stops on Maui and you will find yourself longing for more hours in the day to explore the myriad of attractions on offer here. The island is blessed with more than 30 wonderful beaches where you can relax, swim, snorkel, scuba, and paddle. You can watch big-wave surfing competitions or get out there and catch a wave yourself – lessons and equipment are widely available.
You can explore the island’s heritage along the Lahaina Historic Trail, hike through the lush and beautiful Iao Valley State Park to see where historic battles took place, or watch the daily sunset cliff-diving ceremony at Kaanapali Beach. Haleakala National Park is one of the top Hawaii points of interest. Family adventures include a ride on the 1890’s Sugar Cane Train and a visit to the Maui Ocean Center.
2. Best Hawaiian Island to Visit: Hawaii Island
Hawaii Island (aka the Big Island) is the largest and youngest island in the Hawaiian archipelago and rewards visitors with non-stop opportunities for fun and adventure. Here you can see an active volcano in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, where you can hike over 150 miles of trails through scalded deserts, craters, and rainforest, walk through a 500-year-old lava tube, and visit the Thomas A. Jaggar Museum to learn about volcanology.
There are several heritage and historic sites you can tour, including Kealakekua Bay State Historical Park, where you can scuba, snorkel, or kayak. The dramatic natural beauty of the island has inspired many artists and you can see their work at several galleries as well as at the East Hawaii Cultural Center and the Lyman Mission House Museum in Hilo.
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3. Best island in Hawaii: Oahu
Oahu is the third largest of Hawaii’s six main islands and is home to Honolulu, the capital of Hawaii, and marvelous Waikiki, where the sport of surfing originated.
There is an endless list of water sports to keep energetic visitors happy and history buffs will find plenty to interest them after a day on the beaches – in downtown Honolulu you can visit the historic Lolani Palace, while at the Pearl Harbor National Historic Landmark you can learn all about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor during World War II on a tour of the five historic sites that commemorate this event. The Bishop Museum showcases Oahu culture, while at the Hawaii State Art Museum you can admire the visual arts.
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4. Best island in Hawaii: Kauai
Kauai is traditionally known as the adventure capital of the Hawaiian archipelago and the action starts the moment you step off the plane. In addition to snorkeling, scuba diving, swimming, and sunbathing, you can enjoy fabulous scenic/snorkeling boat trips along the sea cliffs of the Na Pali Coast, where you have a great chance of encountering dolphins, or try your hand at kayaking the beautiful Wailua River.
Other adventures unique to Kauai include tubing along the historical water channels of Lihue (which were built to irrigate the sugar plantations), zip-lining high above the Kauai rainforests, and off-road 4X4 adventures. You can also go hiking in the Kokee State Park or Waimea Canyon, play a round of golf, or take an aerial tour of the island with Blue Hawaiian Helicopters.
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Honolulu is the largest city in Hawaii and is home to a large percentage of the Hawaiian population. The city contains the state capitol, many historical landmarks, a vibrant arts scene, great shopping and nightlife and, of course, famous Waikiki beach, where surfing was invented.
Lovers of historical architecture can tour the impressive Lolani Palace in downtown Honolulu and take a walking tour through the surrounding streets to visit the Hawaiian State Art Museum and several other historical sites. You can learn all about the infamous Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor during World War II at the Pearl Harbor National Historic Landmark and shop until you drop at the Ala Moana Center and several other world-class shopping malls. Round your day off with fabulous local food, live music, and dancing in downtown and Chinatown. Next read: 25 Best Things to Do in Honolulu
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6. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
In Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on Hawaii Island you can literally see the Earth taking shape before your eyes as the Kïlauea Volcano, the world’s most active volcano, constantly produces lava flows.
After visiting the Kïlauea Visitors Center, you can take the Crater Rim Drive Tour or drive the Chain of Craters Road to get a great overview of what the park has to offer. Energetic visitors can choose from several easy day hikes (and there are some invigorating backcountry trails for the super-fit).
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7. Best places to visit in Hawaii: Hilo
From its humble beginnings as an early farming and fishing community, Hilo became a thriving town serving the sugar industry in the 1800’s. Today, the town provides an interesting and convenient base for visitors wanting to visit the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, which is just 45 minutes from Hilo.
Downtown Hilo is home to many early buildings, several of which are on the National Register of Historic Places – you can visit the neo-classical Palace Theater (1925), several art galleries, and the Hilo Farmers Market. If you can tear yourself away from the beach, you can visit the Pacific Tsunami Museum, the Lyman Mission House and Museum, the Mokupapapa Discovery Center, and the Imiloa Astronomy Center. Hikers can have fun admiring waterfalls and the Boiling Pots at the Wailuku River State Park.
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