Travel Guide: Honolulu
Let me tell you something: when you’re husband gets asked to take a work trip to Honolulu, you go.
You drop everything you’re doing and you make that happen! Even if you must shamelessly tag along and entertain yourself for a few days, you just go. It’s Hawaii!
I speak from experience here. That’s exactly what I did just before we decided to expand our family to 3. It was our last trip as a couple, but looking back, Honolulu would be the perfect place to bring kids! With a culture that loves their keikis, here’s a few reasons Honolulu should be on every family’s bucket list.
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Honolulu: The Basics
Honolulu is Hawaii’s capital and largest city, located on the southern coast of the island of Oahu. It’s arguably not quite as idyllic as the islands of Maui or Kauai, but there’s something uniquely genuine about Oahu and its people. Visiting will give you a sense for what life is like for the average person living in Hawaii.
Honolulu is a city with a deep political history, both as an independent nation and since coming under American rule in the late 19th century. Because of the mix of American and Asian influences, it’s also incredibly diverse. Not to mention, the city consistently ranks as one of the safest and happiest cities in America.[irp]
Getting Around Honolulu
The best way to get around Honolulu is by car. The city is very easy to navigate, with the H1 spanning the length of the city and connecting Honolulu to the rest of Oahu. You can get by walking around Waikiki (or using Uber for quick trips), but if you want to do any exploring beyond the tourist zone, renting a car is the best way to go.
Where to Stay in Honolulu
Kahala Resort | The Kahala is a little removed from Waikiki on the eastern, more affluent side of Honolulu. You’ll definitely pay a higher price tag at this luxury resort, but you’ll also never have to leave if you simply want to soak up the surf and sun! The resort has multiple on-site restaurants, a world-class spa, shopping center, pool and water activities, and a Keiki Club for kids ages 5-12.
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Moana Surfrider | The Moana was Waikiki’s very first hotel, built in 1901, and its grand architecture stands out among the other hotels along the beach. A long porch with rocking chairs runs along the front of the hotel, while wide lanais surround the back for a relaxing ocean view you can take in any time of day. Rent a beach cabana or hang by the pool at this historic hotel. With all of Waikiki right at your doorstep, you’re always in the action.
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Vive Hotel Waikiki | If you’re looking for a budget-friendly place to stay, the Vive Hotel is a great option. We stayed here for a couple of nights and got a great deal booking through Jetsetter…we paid just over $100 a night! Some of the rooms at this boutique hotel are really tiny though, so make sure you check to see if a crib will fit in the room (not even joking) before booking. For the price, you just can’t beat the location a few blocks off of Waikiki beach, with nice modern decor and a generous continental breakfast to boot.
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What to See & Do in Honolulu
Honolulu has a little something for everyone, from adventure to history to relaxing beaches. Here are a few of our favorites places:
Koko Head | We did this hike first thing after arriving via our red eye flight. Tired, hungry…not the best recipe for one of Oahu’s toughest hikes! But if you go, be sure to arrive early in the morning to beat the heat (and crowds). The hike takes you straight up an old railway line to the top of the mountain…and I’m not kidding about the straight up part. By the end you’re literally climbing the rail ties. The views from the top are the ultimate reward though! The hike is tough, and I would definitely not recommend doing it with kids. I mean, I did see someone with a baby strapped to their back, but I’m pretty sure they were crazy.
Iolani Palace | On one of Matt’s work days (yes, he really did have a couple of those), I ventured off on my own to tour Iolani Palace, the former home to the Hawaiian royal family. It’s also where the last Hawaiian monarch, Queen Lili’uokalani, was imprisoned for 9 months while we lovely Americans overthrew the Hawaiian government. If you’re like me and know very little about Hawaiian history, the palace is a great place to start your trip.
Diamond Head Crater | This hike is a cake walk compared to Koko Head. The hike starts in the middle of a crater created by an old volcano, and then it’s a gentle climb to the rim which takes about an hour. The former military post offers those gorgeous postcard views of Waikiki. It’s not too difficult and could easily be tackled with active kids or a baby strapped to your chest.
Hanauma Bay | This is the place to go snorkeling near Honolulu. The coral reef under the bay is full of bright and colorful fish within easy reach of the shoreline. We rented snorkel gear from Snorkel Bob’s before leaving Honolulu: it’s much cheaper than renting directly from the Hanauma Bay visitor center and you also won’t have to wait in an extra line.
Surf N’ Hula Hawaii | If you’ll be in the Kaimuki neighborhood for dinner (you can’t miss an evening at Town), try to make a stop into this antique shop for some vintage Hawaiian collectibles…a most authentic souvenir!
USS Arizona Memorial | Our our last morning in Honolulu we made the trip out to Pearl Harbor. You’ll need to purchase separate tickets for each of the different battleships, but if you only choose one, make it the USS Arizona Memorial. The still leaking oil from the wreckage underneath is a sobering and humbling site to visit.[irp]
Where to Eat in Honolulu
I was blown away by how much seriously good food there was to be found on Honolulu. So if you’re heading to Oahu, be sure to make time to sample these traditional Hawaiian must-eat foods.
But be warned, you’ll have to venture away from the tourists of Waikiki to find all of them. In off-the-beaten-path neighborhoods like Kaimuki and Chinatown, you’ll find some pretty amazing little spots.
And while we visited as a fancy-free couple pre-children, every spot on this list is casual enough for kids.
La Mariana Sailing Club | This old school tiki bar with funky Hawaiian decor hasn’t changed much since it opened in the 70’s. It’s in a weird location, tucked deep in between marina warehouses, but don’t let that deter you. We had some fabulous Hawaiian poke and cocktails. Come from 3-5 PM for specials on pupus and drinks.
Town | Honolulu’s darling of the food scene, I’m pretty sure I read somewhere that the chef at Town is hired by the Obamas to cook for them while visiting Hawaii. So you know it has to be good stuff. Town serves up fresh, seasonal dishes in a semi-casual atmosphere.
The Beach Bar at the Moana | Even if you aren’t able to stay at the Moana Surfrider, a trip to their backyard beach bar for an evening cocktail and pupus is a must. Or, if you wish, substitute the cocktail with afternoon tea on the veranda. Both have a ‘keiki’ menu.
Queen’s BarBQ | I stopped in here alone one afternoon, looking for a traditional Hawaiian plate lunch (chicken, rice and macaroni salad) that was within walking distance of Iolani Palace. I can still smell the garlic chicken… There’s nothing fancy about Queen’s, but based on the blue collar clientele that came bustling in and out while I was there, I can tell you this cheap eat is a favorite.
Lucky Belly | This was our last meal in Honolulu and one of the best! We ordered a variety of small plates with everything from shishito peppers to pork belly and seared duck breast. But its their ramen that really put them on the map. Definitely don’t miss this one.
The Pig & The Lady | Another one of our favorites in Chinatown, we stopped into The Pig & The Lady for Vietnamese banh mi. The atmosphere is casual with long communal tables in the center. We left feeling 100% satisfied and I would love to come back to try more!
What are your favorite things to see, eat and drink in Honolulu?