Guide

Explore Honolulu

Honolulu is Hawaii’s largest city and known for the world-famous Waikiki Beach, luxury shopping, and proximity to Pearl Harbor. More than surf, sand, sunshine, and palm trees, however, Honolulu has rich history if you know where to look. Though they may be hiding among modern high-rises, the historic treasures in this cosmopolitan city stand to illustrate Hawaii’s unique culture—a fusion of Native, Asian, and Western influences.

Whether you are planning a trip to paradise or just need a quick armchair escape, our Honolulu guide will have you feeling the spirit of aloha in no time.

  1. Photo By: Donna L. Ching

    Waikīkī War Memorial Natatorium

    The Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium was built in 1927 to honor the 10,000 Hawaii citizens who served in the First World War. But it is also one of the first “living memorials” in the United States and was designed as a protected ocean water swimming area where generations of Hawaii’s children learned to swim. Though this National Treasure has been closed for almost 40 years, the National Trust is working with local groups to re-open the one-of-a-kind facility.

  2. Photo By: Courtesy Moana Surfrider

    Moana Surfrider

    Known as "The First Lady of Waikiki," the Moana Surfrider is located on Waikiki beach not far from the War Memorial Natatorium. Built in 1901, the hotel captures the old colonial style of architecture popular during the period, with a sophisticated yet welcoming lobby that features a grand staircase and views to the Pacific. If you visit, be sure to have lunch outside under the iconic Moana banyan tree. Planted on site in 1904, the tree is now 75 feet tall and 150 feet across.

  3. Photo By: Courtesy Royal Hawaiian

    The Royal Hawaiian

    Just down the beach from the Moana is its sister hotel, the Royal Hawaiian. Built in 1927, this hotel ushered in a new era of luxury resort travel to Hawaii and continues to define tropical elegance to this day. Known as the “Pink Lady of the Pacific,” the Royal is located on a stretch of beach known for long gentle waves, perfect for learning to surf or SUP. Grab a drink at the Mai Tai bar where Trader Vic is said to have invented the hotel’s signature cocktail.

  4. Photo By: arcticpenguin/Flickr

    Honolulu Academy of Arts

    Founded in 1922 as the Honolulu Academy of Arts, this museum campus includes several buildings designed in what is now viewed as a distinctly Hawaiian regional style. Reflecting the culture and environment of Hawaii, this style fused Asian and Western stylistic influences with practical elements designed to capitalize on the tropical environment. The museum’s collection is highly regarded and includes work from blue-chip artists such as Picasso and Warhol alongside traditional Asian and Hawaiian art.

  5. Photo By: Alison Hinchman

    Iolani Palace

    Built in 1882 by King Kalakaua at the location of an ancient Hawaiian sacred site, the Iolani Palace is one of the most recognizable buildings in the islands. Serving as the residence of Hawaii’s last royal family until the overthrow of the monarchy in 1893, the building continued in its role as the seat of government and served as Hawaii’s capital for nearly 80 years. Restored to its original grandeur in the 1970s, the palace today is open to the public for guided tours.

  6. Photo By: Terence Faircloth/Flickr

    Laniakea (Honolulu YWCA)

    Designed by the renowned Julia Morgan of Hearst Castle fame, the 1927 YWCA building in Honolulu is still serving its original intent now 90 years later. Though the YWCA’s mission is to prepare the women of today to support the women of tomorrow, the historic site does allows visitors, and there are no membership or gender restrictions for access to the facility. Visitors are limited to the first floor, and donations are suggested.

  7. Photo By: Patricia Barden/Flicker

    Honolulu's Chinatown

    Long a neighborhood for immigrant laborers, the area now known as Chinatown was the site of two major fires that destroyed many of the buildings in 1886 and 1900. The buildings today date from 1901, and the area still serves as the primary center of business and social life for Oahu’s entire Chinese community. According to the Historic Hawaii Foundation, this Historic District is the only one in Hawaii that reflects the full impact of Honolulu’s role as a multi-cultural crossroads.

  8. Photo By: Jason Raia, Flickr

    Honolulu's La Mariana Sailing Club Tiki Bar and Restaurant

    For a journey in time back to Hawaii’s post WWII era, consider the last of Honolulu’s original tiki bars, the La Mariana Sailing Club Tiki Bar. Located on the shores of Keehi Lagoon, this place is equal parts museum and watering hole and houses a collection of artifacts and memorabilia from Hawaii’s tiki-themed restaurants past. Hand-carved antique tikis, rattan furnishings, fishing net and sea glass decor, pufferfish lighting, and live piano music set the vibe.

  9. Photo By: Jennifer Boyer

    Kyoto Gardens of Honolulu Memorial Park

    Located in the Honolulu Memorial Park cemetery, Kyoto Gardens is noted for some of the best examples of Japanese traditional-style structures and gardens built outside of Japan. Though it is not open to the public, the gardens’ Sanju Pagoda and Kinkaku-Ji Temple can be viewed from a scenic overlook point along the Pali Highway. The Pagoda is one of three known inhabitable pagodas in the United States, and it is the largest of the three.

  10. Photo By: Manoa Heritage Center

    Mānoa Heritage Center

    No trip to Honolulu is complete without a visit to the Mānoa Heritage Center, a non-profit organization, whose mission is to promote the thoughtful stewardship of the natural and cultural heritage of Hawaii. This cultural and historical site includes a native plant garden of rare and endangered Hawaiian plants, a historic Tudor-style house, and an ancient stone heiau, thought to be an agricultural worshiping site. The heiau is one of the few traditional Hawaiian structures that still exists in Honolulu's urban landscape.

  11. Photo By: Linny Morris/Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art

    Doris Duke's Shangri La: A Unique Gem in Hawaii

    Located in Oahu’s exclusive Black Point, this five-acre estate was inspired by the art and architecture Doris Duke encountered on her honeymoon trip Palestine, Jordan, Egypt, and India. Completed in 1938, the property and house elegantly integrates a Hawaiian sense of place and 1930s Modernist architecture with an overlay of detail from India, Syria, Iran, and Morocco. Today, Shangri La is open for public tours and promotes the study and understanding of Islamic art and cultures.

  12. Photo By: Dennis Hockman

    Diamond Head (Lē‘ahi) State Monument

    The mountain-like crater of the dormant volcano known as Diamond Head, or Leahi, defines the Honolulu landscape more than any other single feature. Hike the old army trail that was built in 1908 to the top of the crater for one of the best views in the Pacific. An observation deck and cement bunkers at the summit remain as reminders of this natural landmark’s decades of military use.

From coast to coast, fascinating historic places are waiting for you to visit and explore.

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