Honolulu is a popular tourist spot in Hawaii, and for good reason. It’s situated near many gorgeous beaches and volcanic rock formations. The Waikiki neighborhood is a bustling tourist stop full of shopping and restaurants, but you can find many quieter beaches and streets to explore, too. As Hawaii’s largest city and capital, Honolulu has lots of hotel options for every kind of traveler. Stay beachfront for a luxurious vacation experience, or concentrate your trip on the history and majesty of this island city.

Breakfast: Stop at a Cafe

Egghead Cafe is a breakfast spot in Honolulu serving delicious stacks of pancakes, breakfast sandwiches, and more. The menu mixes Hawaiian and Taiwanese cooking for a blend of flavors you’ve never tasted before. If you’re in the mood to get going, grab a coffee and a pastry. You can also sit down for a full meal.

Sweet-E’s Cafe is cozy on the inside with clean, modern decor. The French toast gets rave reviews, so if you’re into that sort of thing, someone in your party must order it. Other options (also delicious) include pancakes, scrambled eggs, and corned beef hash. Basically, it’s breakfast comfort food with a twist, all of which is ridiculously tasty.

USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor.

Mid-Morning: Visit Pearl Harbor

Do Pearl Harbor first thing, because the lines to enter form at sunrise. See the USS Arizona memorial, which is stationed on the water above the ship that sunk when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor during WWII. You can also see the USS Missouri, nicknamed Mighty Mo. She’s the only US vessel to have fired guns during WWII and the First Gulf War, so she’s a very unique sight to see.

Late Morning: See the Iolani Palace

The Iolani Palace was completed in 1882, and it was where the Hawaiian monarchs lived in modern style. The palace had every modern convenience, including a telephone and electric lights. Today, the palace has been restored as a landmark. Visit this gorgeous piece of architecture to see inside the throne room, to walk the grounds, and to see many royal collections of documents and photographs.

Lunch: Light Fare and Noodles

You simply can’t beat well-crafted Chinese food, and that’s what you get at Little Village Noodle House. From potstickers to egg drop soup, the appetizer options are unbeatable. The main event is, of course, the noodles, of which there are more than a dozen options. Go for one of many pan-fried egg noodle dishes, or the several Chow Fun options.

Mocha Java Cafe is where to go for a light lunch. Get coffee and a smoothie or an acai bowl. Try a vegetarian or vegan dish. The restaurant has delicious breakfast, too, so if you don’t mind eating breakfast twice, go for an omelette.

Early Afternoon: Splash Around the Waikiki Aquarium

Midday in Honolulu is hot, so take your opportunity to get (partially) indoors for a few hours by visiting the Waikiki Aquarium. The aquarium has been around since 1904, making it the US’s second-oldest aquarium. It’s open until 4:30 p.m. (it officially closes at 5 p.m., so you can linger a little bit) and general admission is $12.

The exhibits are mostly centered around Hawaiian and Pacific marine species, which means lots of coral and colorful fish. See beautiful coral reefs, fish native to different parts of the island, giant clams, and conservation efforts. Every Thursday at 3 p.m., the aquarium hosts a behind the scenes tour. Every Monday at 3 p.m. is Critter Encounters, which includes holding a sea star and feeding an anemone. Critter Encounters is especially popular with children.

Late Afternoon: Experience the Hawaiian Outdoors

If you happen upon a cooler day, you can switch your early and late afternoon activities and head to the aquarium around 2 or 3 p.m., or skip the aquarium all together and do both these wonderful outdoor activities. Otherwise, plan to hike and visit the beach a few hours after midday, so you’re not dealing with the heat and high temperatures common in Honolulu year-round.

Two gorgeous locations await your exploration: Hanauma Bay and Manoa Falls. Hanauma Bay is a state park and a protected marine life conservatory. It is a marine ecosystem in a volcanic crater, with clear turquoise water and about 3,000 visitors a day. When you see it in person, you’ll understand why people flock here. Bring your swimsuit, because you’ll absolutely want to swim in this pristine water.

Manoa Falls.

Manoa Falls is for those who’d rather hike than swim. The Manoa Falls Trail is 1.6 miles as a round trip, making it a nice hike even for those not especially athletically inclined. This is one of the easiest waterfalls to get to in Oahu, thanks to the short trip. The beautiful scenery you see both during the hike and once you arrive is totally worth the effort of hiking. Just don’t do this trail barefoot, because it’s got gravel all over it.

Dinner: Sit Down to Wonderful Cuisine

You’ve had a lot to do, so take the time to sit down for a long meal at dinner. La Mer at Halekulani Resort is an AAA Five-Diamond restaurant with an ultra-romantic atmosphere. This is your spot for true fine dining in Honolulu. The menu is full of options like foie gras, filet de boeuf, and the best caviar. The fish is delectable, so try something native to the island. You can order either a three-course or four-course menu. Don’t forget to pair wine with your dinner, and to check out dessert. You definitely don’t want to miss the Hawaiian Vanilla Souffle.

Alan Wong’s is a spot locals love to go to, though tourists have caught on thanks to the internet. Chef Alan Wong prepares Hawaiian cuisine, which has been winning this restaurant awards and recognition for decades. The restaurant is only open from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., and is an upscale dining experience, though not to the extent you’ll find at La Mer. The meat dishes at Alan Wong’s are especially noteworthy. Try the venison or the lamb chops, or do a tasting menu, so you can experience multiple courses.

A view of the city from Mount Tantalus.

Where to Stay

Hotels

Treat yourself like royalty when you visit Honolulu by picking a five-star hotel. Resort hotels with luxury amenities like Halekulani and the Kahala Hotel and Resort put you oceanfront with beautiful views. Impeccable decorating, attentive staff, and gorgeous views of the water from the rooms are just a few reasons to book at these upscale accommodations.

To stay in a hotel with class and personality without breaking the bank, consider Vive Hotel Waikiki or Coconut Waikiki Hotel. Both of these locations offer interesting decor, comfortable accommodations, and extras like either free breakfast or an on-site pool.

If you need to truly save, budget options are available in Honolulu as well. Try the Queen Kapiolani Hotel or the Equus, An Ascend Hotel Collection Member for reduced rates without giving up comfortable amenities. Other budget options include the Pacific Marina Inn Airport and the Aqua Aloha Surf Waikiki.

Vacation Rentals

Rent an apartment or a condo vacation rental during your time in Honolulu. While vacation rentals in Honolulu vary significantly in price, you’ll typically get far more room than you would in a hotel for a lower price per square foot. Amenities like bespoke decor, a fully stocked kitchen, and sometimes even transportation, are available with Honolulu vacation rentals. You’re also able to rent in areas that have fewer hotels.

Ultimately, a vacation rental is perfect for bigger groups. If you’re traveling with a small bachelorette party, for instance, it’s way more fun to stay in a house with several bedrooms and two bathrooms than to split the party between hotel rooms.

Hostels

Booking a hostel in Honolulu is a great way to save on hotel costs. Hostels, even private rooms, are often a fraction of the cost of a night’s stay in a Honolulu hotel. Hostels aren’t as plentiful in Honolulu as they are in other cities and countries, but you can find several with great reputations. Get either a private room or a spot in a dorm at the Polynesian Hostel Beach Club Waikiki. The Seaside Hawaiian Hostel Waikiki is a great deal with dorm spots typically priced at under $30.

Keep in mind that many Honolulu hostels are located in Waikiki, which is one of the most touristy spots in Honolulu. For some, being around the bustle of restaurants, busy beaches, and lots of people will be an attraction. Otherwise, look for creative ways, like bikes, to get to other parts of the island so you can enjoy a quieter Honolulu experience.

While in Honolulu, you may be tempted to spend your days at the beach. You won’t be alone; the gorgeous beaches attract tourists and locals in droves, especially with such good surfing opportunities at many of the spots. However, Honolulu has many other attractions you should take time out to see. The history and wildlife in this city will delight you and your travel companions.