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Honolulu is a study in contrasts. As the capital of the state of Hawaii, the city and county of Honolulu comprises the entire island of Oahu and is home to over 70% of the state’s population. If you’re looking for a metropolitan city with culture, nightlife, and more that just so happens to be situated right alongside a stretch of coastline, then you’ve come to the right place. That being said, it only takes a drive of about half an hour to get out into the “country” and away from the more urban areas, where you can find fantastic natural beauty and a more authentic Hawaii. In Honolulu, you really can have it all.

Things to do

There are so many options for things to do in Honolulu! If you’re the active type, you might want to start your day with a jog or morning swim at some of the city’s great parks and beaches. Other daytime activities include great hiking or water sports like snorkeling, surfing, or stand-up paddleboarding.

Check out some of Oahu’s historic attractions, like Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona Memorial. Visit Iolani Palace or check out a church service (in Hawaiian or English) at nearby Kawaiaha’o Church. If you can get up early enough, visit the Honolulu Fish Auction or shop at one of Oahu’s many farmers markets for local fruits, produce, or food items.

Whether you’re in need of souvenirs for those back home or just want to pick up something for yourself, you can find tons of shops and boutiques to fit every taste and budget. Whether it’s Ala Moana Shopping Center (the nations largest open-air shopping mall), a quaint boutique in Haleiwa or Kaimuki, or a native Hawaiian bookstore like Na Mea Hawaii.

As the sun goes down, take advantage of Honolulu’s varied nightlife. Waikiki is the perfect place for a sunset mai tai, a cocktail with a fabulous meal, or dancing until 2 or 4am. Chinatown is a bustling center of commerce during the day, but the neighborhood transforms after dark as the the shopkeepers pull in their wares and the trendy bars and nightclubs open up for business a block or two over.

Places to go

If it’s time to get out of Waikiki, there are many ways to explore the island. It’s possible to do so by using The Bus system, but if you have a rental car available, it will allow you a bit more freedom. A weekend escape is the North Shore – even locals head here for big waves or snorkeling (depending on the season), shave ice, and shrimp trucks. The windward side has some amazing beaches, a familiar movie backdrop or two, and a more laid-back lifestyle.

To get off the beaten path, you may want to explore some of the more challenging hikes on the island or even drive out to the east side to body surf at Sandy Beach. A popular drive out to the Polynesian Cultural Center gives stunning views of both the coast and the Ko’olau mountain range.

>> More ideas for Day Trips from Honolulu

What to eat

Traditional Hawaiian food may not be for everyone, but if the only taste of it you’ll get is at a luau, then you’ll likely be disappointed and totally misinformed! If you want to eat like the locals do, head to Ono Hawaiian Food in Kapahulu to try out luau food how it should be done. Or pick up a plate lunch – two scoops of rice and macaroni salad with your choice of entrees influenced by Hawaii’s melting pot of cultures and ethnicities. Food trucks have recently begun opening up all over town and you can find those that specialize in just about anything – be it tacos, grilled cheese, Jamaican BBQ, or Japanese teppanyaki, it’s not just shrimp trucks anymore!

Honolulu is famous for some of the best and freshest seafood and if you’re a foodie you’ll want to check out restaurants influenced by the Hawaii Regional Cuisine movement, such as Chef Mavro’s or Alan Wong’s. Locavores will be thrilled to find restaurants such as Town where the emphasis is on local and organic ingredients served with aloha.

>> Read more on Drinking and Dining in Honolulu.
>> Check out our article over at Bootsnall.com entitled “Eat Your Way Around Honolulu” for more delicious ideas.

Where to stay

The biggest question to ask yourself when deciding on where to stay while in Honolulu is Waikiki or not? A vast majority of Oahu accommodations are in Waikiki, and you will easily find just about anything you could need on this two mile stretch of land just off the south shore. However, Waikiki is not for everyone and those looking to get off the beaten path may prefer resort accommodations out on the Western side of the island, a vacation rental on the windward side, or even a hostel nestled up in Manoa.

Visit the following pages for more information on accommodations in Honolulu:
>> Search for Honolulu hotels
>> Search for Honolulu hostels
>> Search for all types of accommodation
>> Check out some Honolulu travel photos

Diamond Head photo by garyhymes