Best Attractions in HonoluluIn a destination with dozens of attractions, you may have trouble deciding where to spend your time. Here are the highlights for this destination, as chosen by AAA editors. GEMs are “Great Experiences for Members.”
Island ali‘i (chiefs) loved its beautiful beaches, coconut palm groves, exotic foliage and spectacular vistas, all things celebrated in the Honolulu area's many natural attractions. Hike three quarters of a mile to the 761-foot-high summit rim of the Diamond Head State Monument volcanic crater, where you're treated to a bird's-eye view of nature's splendor.
For other dramatic panoramas and beautiful sights to see on your vacation, venture to the Nu‘uanu Pali State Wayside and Pu‘u ‘Ualaka‘a State Wayside . Kamehameha the Great scored a decisive victory in the conquest of O‘ahu at Nu‘uanu Pali, a 1,200-foot-high gap between 2,000- to 3,000-foot cliffs. Winds on the perch can approach gale-force strength, so hold on tight to anything you're not willing to lose. A popular picnicking destination, Pu‘u Ualaka‘a (which translates as “rolling sweet potato hill”) affords views from Diamond Head clear across to the Waianae Range.
For more up-close-and-personal encounters with nature to include during your Hawaii travel, wander through the 14-acre Foster Botanical Garden, which began in 1853 and now comprises 4,000 species of tropical trees and plants from all over the world. Hybrid orchids, primitive cycads and many varieties of palms effectively grab your interest.
The focus remains on botany at Lyon Arboretum, a 194-acre rain forest teeming with native Hawaiian, Polynesian and other verdant plants. Tiny, vibrant flowers contrast with towering breadfruit trees.
Looking for fun things to do this weekend? AAA GEM attraction Hānauma Bay Nature Preserve shifts your attention to what lies under the water. In what remains of a volcanic crater below Koko Head, the bay entices scuba divers, snorkelers and swimmers, particularly on weekends.
Home to Pearl Harbor, the island recalls its unfortunate place in World War II history in a trio of AAA GEM attractions. The USS Arizona Memorial pays haunting homage to the 1,177 sailors who perished during a Japanese air raid on Dec. 7, 1941. Measuring 106 by 608 feet, a stark, rectangular memorial spans the ship's sunken hull, in which most of the dead are entombed. Inside the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center , you can watch a 23-minute documentary and tour a museum with interactive exhibits, audiovisual displays, oral histories, photos and artifacts.
Just north of the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center, you can explore both the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park and the Battleship Missouri Memorial. The former lets you experience how the submarine's crew lived. The museum's displays and videos further document the role and history of submarines, and a memorial honors the 52 U.S. submarines lost and more than 3,500 crewmen who died during the war. The latter recounts the missions of “Mighty Mo,” a veteran not only of World War II but also of the Korean and Gulf wars. Wander on the Surrender Deck, where Japan signed the official act of surrender that brought World War II to an end.
Delve into another aspect of Hawaiian history at Bishop Museum, a AAA GEM attraction. Check out the broad collection of natural history and cultural displays, including kings' ‘ahu‘ula (feathered capes), Polynesian art, nose flutes and calabashes, then gaze at the Pacific sky from the observatory and planetarium.
Polynesian Cultural Center, a AAA GEM attraction, studies the heritage of the South Seas region. Tour the facility on foot or in a canoe, or analyze displays of art, crafts and items related to regional customs and sports.
Ask your AAA travel advisor about the Honolulu Museum of Art, a AAA GEM attraction that boasts an Asian collection said to rank among the nation's finest. Japanese screens and hanging scrolls, Buddhist and Shinto sculpture, Chinese furniture and porcelain, Korean ceramics and Indian stone sculpture share exhibit space with Italian Renaissance paintings, Mayan and Greek pieces and creations by American and European masters.
Pull on a pair of floor-friendly booties and take the Grand Tour through Iolani Palace, which focuses on the islands' royal history. King Kalākaua's 1882 palace houses crown jewels, feathered cloaks and scores of other lavish appointments.
Portraits of Hawaiian royalty hang inside nearby Kawaiaha‘o Church, the 1842 coral-block building where rulers once worshiped and commoners give praise today. A 1912 Stephan Sinding statue of a grieving woman tugs at your heartstrings.
Embellished with volcanic rock, the rectangular 1969 Hawai‘i State Capitol, a AAA GEM attraction, houses the state's executive and legislative branches of government. The building's architecture exemplifies nature: the reflecting pool, symbolic of the ocean; the conical legislative chambers, symbolic of volcanoes; the perimeter columns, symbolic of coconut palms; and the open-air design, which enables sun, rain and wind to enter.
For out-and-out fun, it's hard to beat the splash and flash of Wet ’N’ Wild Hawai‘i. The 29-acre water park incorporates water slides, a huge wave pool, a lazy river and a recreation area just for your little ones. The area's animal-oriented attractions also allow for enjoyable adventures.
You'll find some native creatures wandering through Honolulu Zoo, but many of the facility's 1,200-plus residents, including giraffes, elephants and lions, found their way here from other corners of the world.
If animals of the sea interest you most, the exhibits at the 1904 Waikīkī Aquarium won't disappoint. The chambered nautilus—a spiral-shelled mollusk that inspired Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea—merits top billing, but giant clams, Hawaiian monk seals, sharks, sea dragons and a living coral ecosystem also garner interest.
Sea Life Park in Waimānalo allows for observation of penguins, California sea lions and other marine life. You can interact with dolphins, walk amid reef inhabitants and take underwater pictures of varied denizens of the deep. The park's most famous resident is a wholphin named Kekaimalu, a hybrid of a false killer whale and Atlantic bottlenose dolphin. Two days before Christmas in 2004, Kekaimalu delivered Kawili Kai: a three-quarters-dolphin/one-quarter whale female calf.
See all the AAA recommended attractions for this destination.
AAA’s in-person hotel evaluations are unscheduled to ensure the inspector has an experience similar to that of members. To pass inspection, all hotels must meet the same rigorous standards for cleanliness, comfort and hospitality. These hotels receive a AAA Diamond designation that tells members what type of experience to expect.
Hawai‘i has an excise tax of 4 percent (4.712 percent in Honolulu) on most goods and services. Honolulu has a lodging tax of 10.25 percent; rental cars are subject to state tax and a road tax of approximately $5 per day.
Kaiser Permanente-Moanalua Medical Center & Clinic, (808) 432-0000; The Queen's Medical Center, (808) 691-1000; Straub Medical Center, (808) 522-4000.
2270 Kalākaua Ave. Suite 801 Honolulu, HI 96815. Phone:(808)923-1811 or (800)464-2924
Hertz, (800) 654-3080, offers discounts to AAA members and has several area locations: the airport, (808) 837-7100; Kahala Hotel & Resort, (808) 735-8983; Hyatt Regency Waikīkī Beach Resort & Spa, (808) 971-3535; Imperial Hotel, (808) 922-3331; and Pagoda Hotel, (808) 942-5626.
The largest companies serving the island are TheCAB, (808) 422-2222; and Charley's Taxi & Tours, (808) 233-3333.