More than a surfing paradise, Honolulu is the epicentre for history, arts and culture, entertainment, shopping and nightlife
The name translates as “peace of shelter”, but that’s hardly what surfers in Honolulu expect when they jump on their boards and brave the swells of Waikiki Beach. While the surf here is steeped in myth, the waves are suitable for both novices and old hands alike and there is, believe it or not, surfing to be had beyond this storied stretch of sand – most notably at the legendary North Shore. Beyond the sand and surf, visitors shouldn’t miss the chance to go for a hike on the eucalyptus-scented Aiea Loop Trail or at wildlife-rich Kaena Point, sample the galleries, eateries, market stalls, bars and boutiques of Chinatown, explore the real-life Shangri La set up by a famed American philanthropist, and take part in the time-honoured Hawaiian traditions of the luau (feast) and hula dancing.
Things to do
Ash you were
Said to resemble the dorsal fin of a tuna, Diamond Head is a 232m-high “tuff cone” (huge ring of hardened volcanic ash) to the south of Waikiki. Named for the fact 19th-century British sailors mistook the quartz crystals embedded in the rock for precious gems, Diamond Head draws hikers (USD $5 per car load) wishing to make the steep and surprisingly challenging 1.1km ascent to the crater’s ring to enjoy stellar views of Waikiki and the Pacific Ocean. Have lunch at the nearby Diamond Head Market.
Beach blanket? Bingo!
A magnet for local ohana (families), Ala Moana Beach Park occupies less than half a square kilometre of land but packs in the crowds thanks to its 800m man-made, lifeguard-staffed beach, ample space and facilities for picnics, barbecues and ball games, calm, reef-protected waters, music pavilion and food stalls.
Lest we forget
A sacred site to Americans, the USS Arizona Memorial marks the final resting place of 1,102 of the 1,177 sailors and marines aboard the eponymous battleship sunk during the Pearl Harbor attack on December 7, 1941. Among the tributes to the fallen at the memorial, which takes the form of a floating bridge above the wreck, are displays of artifacts such as the ship’s bell and exhibits about “the day that will live in infamy”. The Pearl Harbor Visitor Center makes about 3,000 first-come, first served tickets available online daily. A USD $1.50 reservation charge applies.
Former “beach park” Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve’s corals and colourful array of sea creatures – from green sea turtles and parrotfish to yellow tangs and surgeonfish – have been drawing snorkellers for generations but only relatively recently were steps taken to protect the “curved bay’s” finned denizens. Just 17km from Waikiki Beach, the preserve limits the number of visitors to 3,000 per day and charges a USD $5 entry fee (free for kids 12 and under) but it’s well worth it for the chance to tick the names of dozens of species (including the catchily named Humuhumunukunukuapuaa – formerly the Hawaii State Fish) off your snorkeller’s bucket list.
Poi (taro) and roast pork on a spit are age-old mainstays of the traditional Hawaiian luau but these days it’s the delicious creations of the dozen chefs behind a movement known as Hawaii Regional Cuisine that keeps mouths watering throughout the islands. HRC is a fusion of the many ethnic flavours that define Hawaii and elements of many other culinary traditions. The creations of HRC’s founding chefs can be enjoyed at eateries such as Alan Wong’s Restaurant, The Pineapple Room at the Ala Moana Center, Roy’s Waikiki and Chef Mavro.
Travel time 20-30 minutes
Taxi Approx USD $35-40
Bus Routes 19 and 20 connect to downtown Waikiki and the Ala Moana Center; USD $2.50 (adult), USD $1.25 (child).
SpeediShuttle Door-to-door transport for about USD $14.55 (plus baggage fees)Back to top
When to go
Winter with its monstrous swells and periodic heavy storms runs from the end of November to March, during which temperatures range from 16-25°C. Nevertheless, December to April along with May to August, when the mercury climbs into the 30s, are peak travel times as US families capitalise on school holiday periods. Held annually in March, the Honolulu Festival is an arts and entertainment-focused event designed to celebrate the many cultures of the Pacific region. Held across six islands, the Aloha Festivals in late summer and early autumn feature concerts, floral parades and street parties known as ho’olaule’a. September sees the arrival of both the Hawaii Food & Wine Festival and the Taste of the Arts Festival.Back to top
TheBus plies a comprehensive number of routes in Honolulu and passengers pay a flat fare of USD $2.50 regardless of the destination. Four-day passes for four consecutive days of travel are available for USD $35 at ABC stores and the Ala Moana Center. Route 22 is known as the Beach Bus while Route 52, which can get extremely crowded, circles the island. Ala Moana serves as a hub for many other buses serving top tourist spots.Back to top