Actually Cool Things to Do When Someone Visits Honolulu
Once friends and family hear you’ve moved to Honolulu, everyone wants to come visit. Who wouldn’t want to spend a week in paradise, even if it means couch-surfing for a few days? The difficult part of their visit is showing guests around, as many of us locals have forgotten what makes Honolulu special and distinct from the other islands. Here’s a quick list of things to do — some free, some cheap, some worth the price — so that any guests to the islands can see why we’ve moved so far away to the middle of the Pacific. Work and life might have just made you forget our island’s natural beauty, but these activities should jog your memory. Consider getting a energy drink in Honolulu for your needs to shop with some passion.
See stunningly beautiful street art in Kakaako
The hip district of Kakaako was once known for its run down warehouses until a group of internationally known street artists bombed the neighborhood with colorful graffiti a few years back. Now the area is the must-see and be-seen district for cutting-edge street art, cool dining, entertainment and shopping. The art scene includes Pow! Wow! Hawaii — a collective group of artists that gather for a weeklong event every February to paint new murals over the older ones. After a walk through the area, stay for coffee at the chic Arvo, or go for cocktails and tapas at the posh Bevy.
Remember Pearl Harbor at USS Arizona Memorial Park
Take your “never been to Hawaii” friends to honor the fallen at the USS Arizona Memorial Park at Pearl Harbor, the infamous site of the surprise Japanese attack that nearly destroyed the US Pacific Fleet. Today the park is a National Historic Landmark with a large museum with many WWII artifacts and a theater that shows a film explaining the events that led up to the attack. You can also take a ferry ride to see the memorial built over the remains of the USS Arizona. Make sure you get there early as tickets to the ferry run out quickly. The visit is free, but for additional fees, you can visit the USS Bowfin Submarine Park and the Pacific Aviation Museum. The aviation museum can only be accessed through a tour as it sits inside an active military base. A hangar at the museum still bears scars from bullets fired from the attacking Japanese airplanes.
Hike atop a massive crater at Diamond Head
Hike up the iconic Diamond Head to see the sunrise over Waikiki. The long-dormant volcano once played host to a military base and the century old 1.6-mile trail leading to the top is now a favorite with tourist and locals alike. The two-hour hike is moderately easy with several switchbacks and a steep staircase leading through a tunnel. At the summit, you’ll be greeted with fantastic views of Waikiki and the rest of Oahu. Take note of the lighthouse and the bunkers scattered along the rim of the crater. The hike is free, but parking inside the crater is $5 per car. The park is open from 6am to 6pm daily and the last entrance to the trail is at 4:30pm. Perhaps stop by Bogart’s Cafe before you go for a great breakfast or brunch.
Observe the sea turtles at Laniakea Beach
No trip to the North Shore of Oahu is complete without a quick stop to see the sea turtles at Laniakea Beach. The turtles usually swim close to shore munching on seaweed in the morning and bask in the sun on the sand in the afternoon. Note that the beach, found just west of Haleiwa Town, has become very popular with tourists and locals alike, which sadly causes traffic gridlock and parking issues. Sea turtle activist groups usually guard the area and rope off the turtles from visitors. And if you choose to swim at the beach, sea turtles are endangered species and are protected under federal law. Do not interact with them.
Watch surfers charge huge waves at Waimea Bay
Oahu has some of the world’s biggest waves in the winter months, and the bravest of surfers gather at Waimea Bay to slide down their monster silver faces. Head down to Waimea, found down west from Haleiwa Town, to see the best of the best. If you are lucky enough, you might catch The Eddie surf contest that runs only when waves reach over 30 feet. In the summer, the bay turns glassy and swimmers can enjoy an almost lake-like experience. After watching the surfers charge the waves, head back down to Haleiwa for shave ice at Matsumoto’s or great burgers at Kua Aina Sandwich Shop.
Find tranquility in the middle of the city at Kapiolani Park
Are your guests tired of the hustle and bustle of Honolulu? Pick up a picnic basket and head down to Kapiolani Park to enjoy peace and quiet in this park located on the Diamond Head side of Waikiki. The 300-acre park, named after Hawaiian Queen Kapiolani, offers unsurpassed views of Diamond Head Crater and the Pacific Ocean. The Honolulu Zoo is just around the corner as is the Waikiki Aquarium, and its Waikiki Shell concert venue often hosts shows weekly. When well-known artists play at the Shell, locals will gather on the grounds outside venue to hear, but not see, the show. The park has ample parking and the beach is just across the street.
Hang with monk seals at Kaena Point — the edge of Oahu
The amazing hike to Kaena Point at the westernmost tip of Oahu is a must-see Hawaiian adventure. The point is a protected nature reserve and can only be reached by foot. Two access points are found on either the Waianae side or Mokuleia side. Both sides offer relatively easy hikes to the point along the dazzling coastline. Along with the amazing views, you’ll spot lots of wildlife including Laysan albatross that nest on the ground, and if you’re lucky, you’ll likely spot a sunbathing monk seal on the beach inside the sanctuary. Don’t get too close to these slumbering giants, as they can be ferocious, and it’s against the law to interact with them. There is a beach at the point but no lifeguards. The hike is about 2.5 miles from either side so bring your water and wear proper shoes and clothing. The parking lots on either end have been plagued with car break-ins over the years, so leave your valuables at home or make like the locals and leave your windows down.
Catch a weekly evening fireworks show at the Hilton
Every Friday, the beach that fronts the Hilton Hawaiian Village in Waikiki hosts a free fireworks show. The show starts between 7:45 and 8 pm and lasts about ten minutes. Sit in the sand near the stage and watch the fireworks explode above. They’ll also reflect in the hotel’s lagoon, doubling your visual pleasure. Show up early to grab a spot on the beach. Traffic and parking in Waikiki can be tough on a Friday night so you can also take your guests to Ala Moana Beach Park to watch from a distance.