Top 10 Fun Things to Do When Visiting Honolulu

By Susan Guillory · June 12, 2023 · 9 minute read

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Top 10 Fun Things to Do When Visiting Honolulu

Known as “The Big Pineapple,” Honolulu is the capital of Hawaii and a great place for your next vacation. While Honolulu is very much a major city on the island of Oahu, within minutes, you can be exploring the gorgeous, lush countryside that surrounds it.

That means there’s ample opportunities to do everything from visiting historical sites and sampling amazing food to snorkeling, kayaking, or climbing waterfalls. To help you develop your itinerary for visiting this tropical paradise, consider the following list of things to do in Honolulu, Hawaii. You’ll also learn travel tips and tricks to make your vacay that much better.

Best Times to Go to Honolulu

With temperatures that rarely rise above the high 80s, Honolulu is temperate throughout the year. The best (and least crowded) times to visit are April, May, September, or October.

Here are some of the annual events in Honolulu you might want to plan your trip around:

•   March: The Honolulu Festival

•   May: The Lei Day Celebration

•   June: The King Kamehameha Floral Parade

•   September: The Aloha Festival

•   October: Hawaiʻi Food and Wine Festival

•   December: Honolulu Marathon

Bad Times to Go to Honolulu

While temperatures are appealing year-round, some can find the summer sun and warmth a bit oppressive; others find winter a tad too humid.

Also, summer travel can often mean more tourists and therefore more crowded attractions. The rainy season is from November to March, and since many of the best things to do in Honolulu are outdoor activities, this might not be the ideal time to take your Honolulu trip.

Weather is one of the many variables that can impact a trip. If the unexpected happens and you can’t take your trip or things were to go awry once you were in Hawaii, having travel insurance can help you get reimbursed for travel purchases. You might be able to access credit card travel insurance, or you could buy it before your trip.

Average Cost of a Honolulu Vacation

If you’re taking a romantic trip for two to Honolulu, you can expect the cost of a weeklong trip to run about $4,142. It can, of course, cost more or less, depending on your budget.

Renting a vacation home, which can cost from $220 to $1,000 a night, means you can save on food since you can cook in the home. It may, however, cost more per night than a hotel, which averages $100 to $459 a night in Honolulu, though you can often save on hotel costs by being a member of a chain’s rewards program, finding coupon codes, or using other travel hacks.

Other costs to consider include renting a car, airfare, and dining. Of course, attractions are another expense, whether that’s museum admission or chartering a boat.

The prices above don’t include airfare getting to and from the island. Obviously, the cost will vary depending upon where you are flying from and back to, as well as how you like to travel (nonstop or not, which class of service, whether you check bags, and so forth). Signing up for an airline credit card before you book your flights can help you earn points for purchases.

10 Fun Must-Dos in Honolulu

If you’re ready to plan your trip and pack in the best things to do in Honolulu, here is a list culled from travelers’ experiences, locals’ recommendations, and top-reviewed attractions.

One quick tip: If you’re planning on doing some of the pricier activities (say, a scuba or snorkeling expedition), you may want to pay with plastic to earn some credit card rewards.

1. Hike Mānoa Falls

Visiting a waterfall is a highlight of many Hawaiian vacations. One to consider: Mānoa Falls, a short-but-sweet 1.6-mile round-trip hike. It’s especially nice on a hot day, as the entire trail is shaded by bamboo, ferns, and ancient banyan trees. The trail’s incline is steady and can sometimes be muddy, so bring water and wear appropriate shoes.

At the end of the trail is a gorgeous waterfall to enjoy; take time to snap a few photos and catch your breath. Incidentally, there is a sign at the bottom of the falls discouraging visitors from swimming due to possible bacteria in the water; follow guidance and/or do your own research. Also worth noting: There is a $5 parking fee.

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2. Soak in the Sunset at Waikīkī Beach

One of the top things to do in Honolulu is visit historic Waikīkī Beach. This is where the first hotel was built in 1901, and since then, it has become a hotspot for vacationers. Even if you aren’t staying nearby, it’s worth an evening visit to watch the pinks, purples, and blues of the sunset melt into the water. If you have kids in tow, hanging out at a beach is a free thing to do in Honolulu, which can be one of the ways families can afford to travel.

Consider having a cocktail at one of the many beachside bars to enjoy the experience.

3. Get Up Close to a Coral Reef

Another must on the list of fun things to do in Honolulu is Hanauma Bay State Park, which has been a protected marine life conservation area and underwater park since 1967. To protect the coral reef and its inhabitants, reservations are now required. There is a $3 parking fee and a $25 park entrance fee.

Once you’re in, you’ll be treated to a short video explaining the history of the park, as well as introducing you to the creatures that call it home. Take the tram down to the shore and spend the day snorkeling over coral reefs. Take an underwater camera so you can capture parrotfish, octopuses, sea urchins, puffer fish, and more.

4. Swim with the Sharks

Not everyone will consider this one of the fun things to do in Honolulu, but some will enjoy this adventure. Several companies offer snorkel tours that give you instruction in this pursuit, and then, when suited up, you can hold onto a rope along the side of the boat and watch as sandbar sharks, hammerhead sharks, whale sharks, tiger sharks, and more drift by at a safe distance. You may also get the chance to free dive into the water for an extra thrill.

An outing like this, lasting a couple of hours, can cost about $150 per person. You might want to use a travel credit card and get points when paying for pricier activities like these.

5. Tour a Japanese Temple

Oahu has a strong tie to Japanese culture, and nowhere is that more evident than at the Byodo-In Temple. It was built in 1968 to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of the first Japanese immigrants in Hawaii. After paying $5 for adult admission (card only; no cash), tour the gorgeous gardens and temple, ring the giant sacred bell (Bon-sho), make an offering to the Amida Buddha, and feed the goldfish. You can also buy a souvenir in the gift shop.

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5. Revisit Pearl Harbor

For many, Honolulu is synonymous with Pearl Harbor, which was bombed in 1941 and is an important date in U.S. history. One of the best things you can do in Honolulu is take a tour and immerse yourself in what happened at Pearl Harbor during World War II. View the wreckage of this historic battle site; visit the Battleship Missouri, where the Japanese surrendered and ended the war; and learn from the WWII museum exhibits.

Ticket prices vary. Admission to the Submarine Museum is $12.99 for kids; $21.99 for adults. Admission to four exhibits and the Visitor Center is $44.99 for kids and $89.99 for adults.

6. Treat Yourself to Something Sweet

After a day of exploring Honolulu, you’ll be ready for a sweet break, and you’ll find that at the famous Liliha Bakery. There are five locations in Honolulu, often offering up to 150 different types of baked goods. Liliha is especially well-known for its craveable cream puffs in flavors like green tea and chocolate. If you go for lunch, save room for dessert!

7. Explore the North Shore

If you’re a surfer (or surf-watcher), North Shore is the place to be. If you’re a beginner, you can take a surf lesson. If you’re a spectator, there are surf competitions like Vans Triple Crown of Surfing in the winter.

Not into surfing? No worries. The North Shore is still worth a visit: Haleʻiwa Town is a great place to shop at cute boutiques or grab a shave ice at Matsumoto’s.

8. Savor a Steak

Buzz’s Original Steakhouse has been an Oahu classic since it started serving up its prime cuts in 1962. Located across the street from Kailua Beach Park, Buzz’s is open for lunch, pupu (appetizers) and drinks, and dinner (Note: The website requests no tank tops after 4:30 pm; just sayin’). Fare includes beef spring rolls, poke, rack of lamb, and calamari steak, which cooks up a big portion of the calamari vs. just the tentacles. Buzz’s mai tais are said to be among the best on the island.

9. Kayak to Mokoli’i

Mokoliʻi Island, also known as Chinaman’s Hat, is a cone-shaped island that’s a popular destination for visitors. You can kayak to the island, which is a short distance from Kualoa Point. Once you’re there, you can hike to the peak and wave to your friends on the opposite beach.

10. Dine at a Tea House

Here’s another piece of World War II history: the Natsunoya Tea House, which has been a tea house (under a different name) since 1921, was taken over by the U.S. government during the war and converted into a fire and first-aid station. After the war, it reverted to a teahouse. Today, it’s a sushi restaurant, Natsunoya, that also offers banquets and catering.

The Takeaway

For those dreaming of a vacation in Hawaii, Honolulu can bring together the best of big-city amenities and the relaxation of the country. The battle you’ll face is managing downtime with so many fun things to do in Honolulu, from beaches to hikes to historical sites and more.

Whether you want to travel more or get a better ROI for your travel dollar, SoFi can help. SoFi Travel is a new service exclusively for SoFi members that lets you budget, plan, and book your next trip in a convenient one-stop shop. SoFi takes the guessing game out of how much you can afford for that honeymoon, family vacation, or quick getaway — and we help you save too.

SoFi Travel can take you farther.


What sweets is Honolulu known for?

People with a sweet tooth will be spoiled for choice in Honolulu. Popular snacks include cream puffs from Liliha Bakery, malasadas (fried dough), shaved ice, and poi donuts (poi is derived from taro root and has a purple hue).

Where can I see a waterfall in Honolulu?

Mānoa Falls is a beautiful and easily-accessible waterfall near Honolulu. Waimea Falls is another option, though it can sometimes be crowded.

How long do I need to see Honolulu?

Plan for a minimum of five days in Honolulu, and more if you plan to visit other spots in Hawaii.

Photo credit: iStock/okimo

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