Honolulu has all of the convenience of the USA in a tropical setting that is heart-achingly beautiful. It is, in my humble opinion, the most beautiful state capital in the entire USA!
Hawaii’s capital sits on Oahu Island’s southern shore and acts as a gateway to the tropical archipelago. The heart of Hawaii is Waikiki Beach’s lively neighbourhood, where you’ll find the majority of the city’s hotels, bars, restaurants, and shops.
The Clouds seem softer here than back home!
Honolulu hasn’t always been a built-up beach town. Originally founded in 1850 by King Kamehameha III, Honolulu blossomed into a busy city when merchants, missionaries, and sailors took to the shores in the late 19th-century. Nearby Pearl Harbour has long been home to the U.S. Navy Fleet, and the attack on the fleet on December 7, 1941 by the Empire of Japan dragged the USA into World War II. The city quickly became a strategic player during the war and then flourished in the aftermath of the allied victory. When Hawaii joined as the 50th state in 1959, a flurry of tourism followed. From then on, the city became a popular destination with travellers from around the globe.
The greens are so luscious they almost hurt your eyes!
Daniel K. Inouye International Airport is Honolulu’s primary gateway, and most travellers will touch down there. From the airport, making your way to downtown Honolulu and Waikiki is easy! Depending on your budget, you can use local shuttle buses, rideshares, car rentals, taxis, and public transport. Shuttle buses depart from the airport throughout the day and tend to cost between £13 – £20 for a round-trip. Go Waikiki Shuttle and Tour is one of the most popular providers of shuttle services, and you can pre-book your ride online. Alternatively, rideshare services were given the green light in Honolulu in 2018, and you’ll find them at the loading bays at Terminal 1 (opposite Lobby 2) and Terminal 2 (opposite Lobby 8). The journey takes around 20-minutes, and you can expect a bill of around £20 – £40 one way for a rideshare. A traditional taxi from the airport to downtown Honolulu costs roughly £25 one-way. Taxi dispatchers can be found close to the baggage claim area and can be recognized by their yellow shirts.
Here’s Another Pro Tip: Prepare to eat lots of doughnuts. Malasadas (traditional Portuguese doughnuts) are among the most popular Hawaiian desserts, and locals like to cover them in tropical fruits such as guava and mango. It’s one of Barack Obama’s favourites!
Honolulu is home to several iconic landmarks, culture museums, and soft sand beaches. To help you plan your time in the city and surrounding island, I’ve listed my absolute must-see attractions below:
Some days are Diamonds and some days are rocks!
- Diamond Head: The Diamond Head State Monument is one of the capital’s most iconic sights, and you’ll quickly notice its looming presence over downtown. Strap on your walking boots and follow the well-marked trails to the summit of this dormant volcano. You’ll be rewarded with panoramic views of Honolulu.
- Hanauma Bay: This magnificent nature preserve sits just 10 miles east of downtown and is home to white-sand beaches and dreamy turquoise waters. Visitors tend to rent snorkel gear and swim with the turtles!
- Pearl Harbor National Memorial: Honour the fallen with a visit to the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial Park and the surrounding museums. The park is a National Historic Landmark and pays tribute to the lives lost during the surprise attack in 1941.
- Honolulu Zoo: Spread over 42-acres of parkland and home to over 900 animals, the Honolulu Zoo is a fun day out for all the family. Don’t miss the King Vulture, one of the most strikingly coloured birds of the new world.
- Bishop Museum: Brush up on Polynesian culture and natural history at this expansive museum. Inside you’ll find Polynesian artefacts, whale teeth, and tools used by the first Hawaiians.
- Island Hopping: The Hawaiian archipelago has some beautiful spots. Most visitors take quick flights from Honolulu to surrounding islands. The “Big Island” has an active volcano and beautiful black sand beaches!
While Honolulu might not be at the forefront of culinary innovation, it’s certainly come a long way from when Spam used to be a staple of residents. Because it is much-loved, look for Spam in lots of different local recipes and keep an open mind about this processed ham product! Today travellers can dine on farm-to-table dishes made with fresh fish and tropical fruits including these cool spots:
- 1938 Indochine – Vietnamese pork chops, shrimp fried rice, and bite-sized crab cakes make up the menu at this funky restaurant. Owner Kevin Aoki has successfully managed to recreate Southeast Asian street food in the heart of Honolulu.
- Mermin’s – This award-winning gastropub is known for its Kalua Pig Quesadilla’s, seasonal smoked oysters, and lobster rolls. Owner, Peter Merriman, is one of the city’s farm-to-table dining pioneers.
Share your food. Don’t be shellfish!
- Alan Wong’s – Popular with the Obama’s, Alan Wong’s is a colourful restaurant serving fresh Hawaiian fare in a fine-dining setting. For dessert, order ‘The Coconut’ an innovative fruit and sorbet dish that looks just like a coconut!
From trendy new bars to traditional watering holes, Honolulu’s nightlife offers a vast array of choices. Here are my top three bars in the city:
- Skull & Crown Trading Co – This funky tiki bar has a menu bursting with speciality cocktails, including the signature ‘Skull & Crown’ (a rich blend of Bacardi, grenadine, and grapefruit juice), which comes in a flaming skull! Don’t forget, Hawaii is home to an abundance of exotic fruits so cocktails really should be your drink of choice!
Ties are required in some places: Mai Tai’s!
- Hana Koa Brewing – This former syrup factory turned brewery pumps out craft beer day and night! Order the four-beer flight to sample the local delights, including guava-flavoured beer and coffee stouts.
- The Hi Brau Room – For a sophisticated evening, or perhaps a date night, head to the Hi Brau Room which sits above the Aloha Beer Company. Take a seat in one of the dark leather chairs and nurse a carefully crafted Smoker in the Rye (a modern take on an Old Fashioned).
From 5-star hidden beach retreats to boutique inner-island hotels, Honolulu has accommodation to suit all budgets. I’ve listed my three favourite hotels below:
- The Kalala Hotel & Resort – Located on a private beach in an affluent neighbourhood of Honolulu, this luxury hotel offers a 5-star stay in heaven! Frank Sinatra, the Dalai Lama, and several U.S. presidents have called the Kalala Hotel home.
- The Modern Honolulu – Swanky, contemporary, and affordable, this Honolulu hotel provides a luxury escape without breaking the bank. What’s the hotel’s selling point? It’s just steps from Waikiki Beach.
- Hotel Renew – This boutique hotel is one of Honolulu’s best budget accommodation options. It’s a suitable option for those who’d prefer to stay a little further from the action of Waikiki and the surrounding beaches.
Honolulu’s golden shores, outstanding nature, and delightful Polynesian gastronomy draws visitors from far and wide. Prepare to splash in the ocean and soak up Hawaii’s impressive capital city. Honolulu has all of the beauty of the Seychelles, all of the relaxing fun of Cape Town and all of the convenience of Miami. That’s a combination that difficult to beat!