8 Reasons to Love Honolulu

Honolulu from Diamond Head

Whenever we’ve asked for advice about where to go in Hawaii, whether for this latest excursion or one twenty years earlier, we invariably hear the same suggestion: skip Honolulu. It’s a place where the conventional wisdom has travelers stopping only long enough to catch a connecting flight to some other, presumably better, Hawaiian destination. We’re told Honolulu is too crowded; too touristy; too developed; too this or too that.

That’s too bad. Because what we found in Honolulu is an island city with almost too many great things to count. That won’t stop us from trying, though. We love Honolulu, and here’s our abbreviated list of reasons why you should too.

Beaches to bum on

Beach Bumming on Waikiki

It wouldn’t be Hawaii without surf, sand and sun, and Honolulu has each in abundance. Whether your thing is just relaxing with a Mai Tai in hand at a resort on Waikiki, spying on sea creatures under the sparkling clean water at Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve, or bodysurfing the rough and rugged waves at Makapuu there’s bound to be a beach to suit your needs.

Culture(s) to explore

Kuan Yin Temple Honolulu

Originally settled by Polynesian migrants and eventually annexed by the United States, this Pacific Ocean archipelago is the very definition of East meets West. Nowhere is that dynamic more on display than in the cosmopolitan city of Honolulu.

Visit working Buddhist temples in bustling Chinatown, marvel at one of the best collections of Asian art we’ve seen anywhere, or spend a day or days exploring the 42 acres of the kitschy, but sincere, Polynesian Cultural Center.

And don’t forget to dine on fabulous ramen at any one of the city’s wonderful Japanese restaurants or sample a less wonderful but apparently popular Hawaiian Spam musubi. Saki please!

Jungles to trek

Hawaiian Jungle Flower

Leave the city streets behind (you can even take the number 5 bus) and immerse yourself in Jurassic Park jungles, literally. On the short but muddy trek to the 100-foot-tall Manoa Falls you’ll pass through bamboo-laden rainforests Jurassic enough to serve as a backdrop for the movie and also for the T.V. series Lost. You’ll never feel so far from the city and yet be so close to civilization.

Volcanoes to climb

Koko Head Crater Oahu

Climb out of the woods and into the sky atop two different volcanic craters that both offer panoramic island views. Diamond Head is probably Oahu’s most popular hike so try the Koko Head Crater Trail for a steeper and less crowded alternative.

Or choose any one of Honolulu’s other fantastic hikes

Art and artifacts to appreciate

Guanyin statue Honolulu Museum of Art

Find refuge from the mid-day heat in the cool climates of Honolulu’s great museums. There’s no shortage of options from which to choose. There are collections devoted to Hawaiian artists (Hawaii State Art Museum), contemporary artists (The Spalding House), international masters (Honolulu Museum of Art), and natural history (The Bishop Museum).

With so many world class museums around it’s okay to spend a little of your Hawaiian vacation indoors. That sunburn needs a break anyway.

History to relive

King Kamehameha Statue Honolulu

A conquering king leads his forces to victory on the eastern slopes of Oahu and unifies the Hawaiian Islands under his monarchical rule.

On a winter day that still lives in infamy, a surprise attack on Oahu’s western harbor draws a large republic into the Second World War and changes the course of history.

These events, and others, are commemorated and illuminated by Oahu’s palaces, museums, temples, monuments and statues like nowhere else on the islands.

Architecture to ogle

Iona Palace Honolulu Hawaii

There’s more to Honolulu architecture than tiki huts and resort towers. Although those things certainly exist, they do so alongside a city of breathtaking architectural diversity. There’s the customarily Gothic Cathedral of St. Andrews and the distinctly Hawaiian State Capitol building whose cone-shaped legislative chambers were patterned after the island’s volcanoes. There’s King Kalakaua’s Iolani Palace featuring architectural elements seen nowhere else in the world and Doris Duke’s 14,000-square-foot Shangri La that draws its inspiration from Islamic art.

Energy to enliven

Hang Loose Yin Yang

Honolulu is the energetic Yin to Hawaii’s hang-loose Yang. With spirited nightlife and bustling streets, Honolulu gets you out of your hammock and makes you feel alive.

So don’t let the naysayers dissuade you. Sure, Honolulu isn’t Maui but Maui isn’t Honolulu either. Each has its own charm. Each is remarkable in its own way, and each deserves your love. I know they each have ours.


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25 Comments on “8 Reasons to Love Honolulu”

  1. Jennifer Avventura September 6, 2013 at 9:40 am #

    I’ve yet to travel to Honolulu. Thanks for the photographic journey.


    • Brian September 6, 2013 at 4:29 pm #

      We’re happy to do it. 😉


  2. brissioni September 6, 2013 at 9:49 am #

    I’m convinced. I hope I make it to Honolulu some day (I hate to fly, so it will have to be after we solve teletransportation).


    • Brian September 6, 2013 at 4:30 pm #

      Oh, that could take a while. Maybe a boat trip or some sedatives might work.


    • Daisy Lala May 30, 2016 at 4:07 pm #

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  3. Loved your jungles to trek. The pic looked so enticing, just waiting for one to dive into it.


    • Brian September 6, 2013 at 4:31 pm #

      Yeah. So many people think of Oahu as Wikiki. There’s so much the island has to offer. And we’re just getting started.


  4. JulieCao September 6, 2013 at 10:41 am #

    One thing you mentioned in the article is really interesting: “skip Honolulu. It’s a place where the conventional wisdom has travelers stopping only long enough to catch a connecting”.

    I had lived in Honolulu for over three years and I invariably hear people saying the same thing.Sure, Honolulu is quite different from Maui and Big Island, and people get jaded for life in metropolitan Hawaii, traffic, and bars and even beaches, But as local resident who lived there for long and moved away, I still miss that place. I believe it is difficult for people who used to live there and then move away, because they will never get way with that place.

    Much Mahalo for a well-written account of the real life in Honolulu, bring back tons of good memories. I look forward to reading more of your travel journals about Hawaii and the rest of the world.


    • Brian September 6, 2013 at 4:32 pm #

      I completely understand missing it because it is one of the few places in the world that we’d actually consider moving to.


  5. digger666 September 6, 2013 at 11:34 am #

    Reblogged this on digger666 and commented:
    My dad spent part of the war based on Oahu and couldn’t wait to return; a goal he achieved briefly many, many years later. He never spoke of whether the return visit lived up to his expectations.

    Brian and Shannon, however, have made a persuasive argument for more than a change of flights in Honolulu, something I’ve not previously found tempting.


  6. Pankaj Jyoti Barua September 6, 2013 at 11:50 am #

    Loved the post…
    I simply love traveling and travel accounts such as this that can take an intrepid traveler to the hidden treasures that do not fall under regular tourist circuits….
    Thanks for sharing…


    • Brian September 6, 2013 at 4:33 pm #

      Thank you for reading.


  7. travelscapism September 6, 2013 at 2:32 pm #

    LUV this… and always wanted to visit. Great ideas and a great post.


  8. writecrites September 6, 2013 at 3:55 pm #

    As a Honolulu-based travel writer, I’d say you did the island proud. I often hear that “why go Honolulu” routine, but as you’ve so beautifully expressed, the island has charms too numerous to count. Nice job. (I have the urge to throw in lots more fascinating places to see on Oahu, but will refrain due to time constraints).


    • Brian September 6, 2013 at 4:34 pm #

      We ain’t done with Oahu just yet. 😉


  9. dfolstad58 September 6, 2013 at 7:56 pm #

    Reblogged this on Notes from "A Place to Live Forever" and commented:
    Excellent post, this post has me rethinking my aversion to returning to Honolulu as clearly there is more to be discovered. Nice photos, and written with style, and interesting vocabulary.


  10. Chris September 7, 2013 at 9:50 am #

    Honolulu is great, your right there I so much to do.


  11. Allison September 8, 2013 at 12:29 pm #

    I haven’t been to Hawai’i. A perforated ear drum prevents me from putting my head in oceans, rivers or streams, so no swimming for me. However, your post makes me reconsider my thinking; especially that you would consider living in Honolulu. I’d never considered it. So, thanks for that thought.


    • Brian September 8, 2013 at 3:00 pm #

      I think you’ll love Hawaii even if you never set foot in the water. It’s a remarkably beautiful place with tons of things to do. We’ll be showing you a lot more of the islands in the coming weeks so we hope you stick with us.


  12. amoralegria September 8, 2013 at 2:19 pm #

    Thanks for this post. I agree, there’s much to see and do in Honolulu, but it is easy to get into tourist traps, so be careful! The jungle hike I didn’t know about, but we did hike Diamond Head and from there saw a whale near the shore!!

    One place you forgot but definitely worth visiting is Pearl Harbor. There are 3 museums, a submarine and a battleship, plus of course the monument to the USS Arizona and its victims. It’s totally up to you how much time and which of these things to see, but I thought it was a lot more interesting than I expected.


    • Brian September 8, 2013 at 3:01 pm #

      We do make reference to Pearl Harbor in this post (albeit a bit subtly). We’ll have more to say soon. 😉


  13. sonnenstern88 September 15, 2013 at 8:37 am #

    Hawaii is one of my fav places on my travel list. Now i know i have to visit Honululu too ;). Nice pictures!


  14. Brian October 1, 2014 at 9:21 pm #

    I totally agree. I’ve been to Hawaii many times and perhaps because I come from a small city when I get to Hawaii, Oahu and Waikiki specifically is where I want to be. I recommend visitors visit the length of Waikiki from Ala Moana Park to Diamond Head and not just the narrow beach in the middle. Some areas are much less congested. Unlike the city I call home in Waikiki and Oahu there is everything imaginable to excite impress entertain amuse relax and satisfy. I have found the other islands lovely but with fewer options.



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