20 Things To Do in Honolulu For First Timers

There are fantastic things to do in Honolulu for first-timers who are looking for memorable experiences in their grand Hawaii vacation.

Honolulu as the biggest city in Hawaii is not just limited to the excellent beaches and luxurious high-rise hotels.

This wonderful city offers a variety of thrilling adventures and activities that will make visiting Hawaii an exceptional experience.

We have gathered all the marvelous activities that you should try on your Hawaiian vacation.

These things to do in Honolulu are not only approved by tourists but also provide unique experiences that you will surely love.

Here are the 20 things to do in Hawaii Honolulu for first-timers:

20. Enjoy a Sunset Dinner Cruise

Sunset dinner cruise in Hawaii

A relaxing vacation becomes more special with superb sunset views and the taste of Hawaiian’s delectable food. A sunset dinner cruise in Hawaii is one of the best things to do in Honolulu and is a perfect getaway to savor your time away from the city’s hustle and bustle.

There is a spacious deck where you can enjoy the breeze and of course witness the wonderful Honolulu sunset.

There are several dinner choices to choose from, from a casual dinner star to a luxury five-star dinner.

You will get to taste the island-style dishes in a buffet setting where you can choose from a wide array of food choices.

What’s even amazing is that the sunset dinner cruise comes with outstanding hula dancing from live performers showcasing the Polynesian culture and all-time favorite Hawaiian music.

The sunset dinner cruise departs from Aloha Tower in downtown Honolulu.

19. Pearl Harbor, USS Arizona Memorial, and USS Missouri Memorial Tour

USS Arizona Memorial site at Pearl Harbor

Hawaii was an important part of World War II history. If you are in any way interested in history, visiting Pearl Harbor might be the best thing to do in Honolulu for you.

Get to learn more about the history that surrounds the famous attack on Pearl Harbor and visit the remnants of the distant past.

Aside from Pearl Harbor, you can also extend your Hawaii tour to USS Arizona Memorial and USS Missouri Memorial.

You will take a short boat ride and board the memorial that was built over Arizona, a sunken battleship.

Get the chance to board the USS Missouri battleship where you will be fascinated by more wartime history.

The tour usually includes a narrated bus ride through downtown Honolulu to Punchbowl National Cemetery.

18. Jet Ski Ride and Parasailing in Maunalua Bay

Jet Ski Ride and Parasailing in Maunalua Bay

The southeast of Honolulu Hawaii is Maunalua Bay which is a great place to experience water activities for first-time visitors visiting Hawaii.

Many first timers find that their favorite things to do in Honolulu are the various water activities, which also include just relaxing on the beach.

You can enjoy a thrilling jet ski ride and an exhilarating parasailing experience in the lovely waters of Hawaii with majestic views of the Koko Head and Ko’olau Mountains.

Before you enjoy the activities, there will be a brief safety orientation.

For parasailing, you can have around 8-15 minutes in the air with a standard line length of 600-feet or you can also get the 800-feet package.

Your jet ski ride usually lasts for 30 minutes and will include two people – a rider, and a driver. Jet ski ride will also have a convenient launch from a partially sunken platform.

Don’t forget to bring your sunglasses and sunblock for all these exciting water activities.

17. Private Charter Catamaran Cruise

Private Charter Catamaran Cruise

If you like a private boat experience for your family, corporate group, or group of friends for a Hawaiian island celebration you can rent a catamaran for a sunset cruise, snorkeling, or sailing.

If you are looking for things to do in Honolulu for larger groups of people, then this is the activity for you.

The custom-built catamaran can cater to different celebration needs. You can even personalize the activities that you’d like to do.

There are several packages to choose from depending on your needs. You can choose a package specifically for a sunset cruise or for daytime sailing.

You can also set up your private snorkel charter that will have your guests, family, or friends enjoy the tropical waters of Hawaii with fantastic views of marine life and coral reef.

The private charter has drinks, life jackets, snorkels, and fins included depending on your package.

16. Island Tour

Byodo-In Temple

There are several phenomenal places that first-time visitors should not miss out on when visiting Hawaii. The following are Honolulu attractions that you should visit during your Hawaiian vacation:

Ala Moana Center

Ala Moana Center is an open-air shopping center with modern Hawaiian architecture and more than 290 different types of shops that will surely step up your shopping experience.

Honolulu Museum of Art

Honolulu Museum of Art will give you an amazing glimpse of the Hawaiian culture with art collections and exhibitions. There are live entertainment, local artists pop-ups, youth and adult art classes, and many more.

Byodo-In Temple

This Buddhist temple is another great place to explore when you visit Hawaii for your Honolulu vacation. The temple is a replica of a world heritage site in Kyoto Japan.

Royal Hawaiian Center

If you want to splurge on luxury brands or looking for several dining choices in Hawaii then this place is your go-to place.

Kaka’ako District

Kaka’ako District offers a taste of Hawaiian street art, local cuisine, craft beer, lively gatherings, and a unique shopping experience.

Iolani Palace

Iolani Palance was the royal residence of the first rulers of the Kingdom of Hawaii. This picturesque place is one of the best places in Honolulu.

Aloha Tower

Aloha Tower is an iconic symbol of Hawaii, a retired lighthouse with a marvelous view, especially at night.

Haleiwa Town

Haleiwa Town boasts the rich Hawaiian local culture with its shopping centers, boutique shops, and the famous North Shore which is one of the best surfing spots in Hawaii.

Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum

Bishop Museum is one of the best museums in Honolulu to visit. This museum has the Hawai’i Sports Hall of Fame which has the records of Hawaiin history for sports.

For those that love Hawaiian history about gods, there is a Hawaiian Hall that showcases Hawaiian gods.

Polynesian Cultural Center

Polynesian Cultural Center has six island villages, luau tickets, and exhibits that showcase Hawaiian culture. You can get island-themed handiworks, jewelry, and clothing from Hukilau Marketplace.

15. Diamond Head Hike

Diamond Head crater from above

The exquisite Honolulu can be viewed by going on a Diamond Head hike during your Hawaii vacation.

This 90-minute hike will bring you to a well-maintained trail that ultimately leads to the top which is the Diamond Head Crater.

At the Diamond Head Crater, you can see the lovely Waikiki Beach, Honolulu City’s skyline, and the turquoise waters of the Pacific Ocean.

The hike usually is paired with additional island experiences such as visiting tropical farms, going to Kualoa Regional Park, stopping at Kuilima Farm Stand, stopping by Halona Blowhole, and visiting the Shangri La Museum of Islamic Art, Culture, and Design.

Make sure to be in comfortable clothing and hiking shoes. Don’t forget your sunscreen too.

14. Whale Watching

A whale breaching the ocean

Whale watching is one of the major tourist attractions in Honolulu Hawaii and is by far one of the best things to do in Honolulu for first timers.

During the whale watching tour, you can learn amazing new things from the knowledgeable naturalist crew.

The cruise time starts early, usually at around 8:45 AM. You will board a large vessel with four observation decks and a 60-feet high observation deck in your search for the majestic humpback whales.

There even is a whale guarantee for your whale watching activity where if you don’t see a whale, you can return for free.

Whale watching usually lasts for two hours with Aloha Tower as the departure place. You can also purchase snacks and drinks on the vessel.

13. Helicopter Tour or Glider Tour

A glider flying in the air

Helicopter Tour

There are helicopter tours in Honolulu Hawaii that will have you experience a day trip of incredible sightseeing for your Hawaii vacation.

You will have a bird’s eye view of Oahu’s iconic landmarks and top attractions in Honolulu while circling the whole island of Oahu.

The iconic landmarks you can see from up above include but are not limited to Pearl Harbor, Dole plantation, downtown Honolulu, Koolau Mountain Ranges, Kaneohe Bay, and many more.

The tour usually lasts for an hour with a guided narration by the pilot. You can also opt for a 45-minute helicopter tour.

Glider Tour

A glider tour is another one-of-a-kind experience in Honolulu Hawaii where you get to ride or fly an engine-less airplane.

This aerial tour will give you a view of the breathtaking Oahu’s North Shore and the lush green vegetation that surrounds the area.

A single passenger or double passenger rides are depending on the package that you choose.

You can even enroll in aerobatic flights and intro to flying lessons. Activity can be postponed due to unprecedented weather conditions.

12. Waterfalls Hiking

A waterfall with lots of trees surrounding it

Nature lovers will love this beginner waterfall hike adventure in Hawaii. The hike usually takes an hour and a half, exploring two famous falls, the Ko’olau Falls and Manoa Falls.

You can even choose a scenic trail of your preference. If you choose the Manoa Falls Trail, you will be able to pass by Jurassic Park filming locations and lush Manoa valley.

The Ko’olau Falls Hike will have you experience a sightseeing adventure with views of the Pacific Ocean, Oahu’s Windward Coast, and vibrant jungle vegetation.

There will be an expert guide who will be along with you. Bottled water, waist pack, rain jacket, and mosquito repellant are included on your hike.

11. Scuba Diving

2 people scuba diving

Scuba diving to view the diverse coral reef, sea turtles, and many wonderful marine creatures is an out-of-the-world experience that you can try on your Honolulu Hawaii vacation.

If you have not tried scuba diving yet, then it’s time for you to learn from a licensed Scuba diving instructor. There are a lot of great scuba diving activities that cater to beginners and first-timers.

You will be given a period to get acquainted with the waters and get comfortable breathing at your own pace.

Scuba diving in Hawaii even includes free photos and videos underwater for you to have memories of your awesome experience.

Worried about scuba diving gear? Most scuba diving has the full gear rental included for your convenience.

10. Bike Tours

People biking

Sightseeing on your first trip around Honolulu Hawaii can be more fun at your own pace. Instead of going on a tour inside an air-conditioned bus, if you plan to stay fit and healthy while on vacation, you can take advantage of available bike tours.

Enjoy a scenic downhill adventure savoring the fresh air, palm trees view, and invigorating speed from a mountain bike.

There are tour packages that also allow you to have time to experience biking in Hawaii tourist attraction areas on top of other activities.

One example is the Mount Tantalus bike ride where you will get to see fantastic Honolulu views. There will even be guides together with you to point out great spots to visit.

9. Bottom Fishing

A bottom fishing boat

For those who are looking for a unique experience and cool things to do in Hawaii on their first trip, bottom fishing in Honolulu is something to try out.

You can choose from either 3-hour or the 4-hour option to be aboard a 60-feet fishing vessel that can accommodate up to 42 passengers.

You don’t have to bring any fishing gear as all gear needed such as a fishing rod and bait for fishing is usually included in the activity.

If it’s your first time fishing, a crew will help you out in learning the basics. After productive hours of fishing, you can even grill your fresh catch.

Additional inclusions are juice, water, and a cooler to keep you hydrated during the activity. For those who want to fish and just observe, you can book an “Observer” option.

8. Surfing Lessons

A lady learning to surf

Surfing Lessons in Honolulu Hawaii for a first-time visitor is a must-try first trip activity.

It is one of the most popular activities to do while on vacation in Hawaii. It would be best to try surfing on the world-famous Waikiki Beach where the waves are gentle and perfect for beginners.

With an expert instructor, you will learn quickly how to catch a wave and enjoy the ride.

After the lesson, you can even try out different types of boards to find the one that suits you best.

The whole experience includes a surfboard, rashguard, sunscreen, and bottled water.

7. Flyboarding With Hydroflight Aqua Jet Propulsion

A man flyboarding

Flyboarding with Hydroflight Aqua Jet Propulsion in Honolulu Hawaii is an excellent first trip activity for those who are looking for an extreme water adventure.

It is a new watersport that will let you experience flying and swimming like never before.

With the help of an experienced flyboarding instructor, you will be able to reach great heights and do different stunts while enjoying the magnificent views of Honolulu.

The activity includes all the gear you need such as a wetsuit, life vest, and helmet.

There is also a free shuttle service available from select hotels in Waikiki.

6. Snorkeling with Underwater Scooter

A man snorkeling with an underwater scooter

Snorkeling with an Underwater Scooter in Honolulu Hawaii for the first-timers is one of the best things to do in Honolulu and a great activity to explore the underwater world without having to swim.

With the help of an experienced guide, you will be able to see amazing coral reefs and different kinds of fish while riding on your underwater scooter.

There are a lot of fantastic snorkeling sites in Hawaii such as the Shark’s Cove where you will get to see remnants of past volcanic eruptions. Just be careful of any actual sharks.

The South of Oahu is also one of the best vacation destinations that are perfect for snorkeling with crystal waters and plenty of tropical marine life.

The activity usually includes all the gear you need such as a wet suit, snorkeling equipment, life vest, and even beverages.

5. Rainforest Hike

A lady standing by a forest

A rainforest hike at Mt. Tantalus in Honolulu Hawaii is one of the fun things to do in Honolulu and a great activity for those who want to explore the lush and verdant side of Honolulu.

With an experienced guide, you will be able to see different kinds of plant and animal life that are unique to this part of the world.

The hike can be a bit challenging but it is definitely worth it when you reach the summit and get a glimpse of the stunning city below.

The activity includes a guide, a rain jacket, mosquito repellent, and plenty of water.

4. Visit Honolulu Botanical Gardens

Honolulu Botanical Gardens

Botanical Gardens in Hawaii are among the most visited tourist attractions and among the best things to see in Honolulu.

Take time to immerse yourself in the relaxing vibe surrounded by green vegetation and the fresh air of Hawaii.

Among the best botanical gardens to visit are as follows:

  • Koko Crater Botanical Garden in the Koko Crater Trail – It is a haven for different kinds of native Hawaiian plants along the Koko Crater Trail.
  • Lyon Arboretum – This arboretum is home to different kinds of flowers and trees.

The best time to visit is during the late afternoon or early evening when the temperature is cooler.

3. Photo Tour and Light Painting Experience

Photo Tour and Light Painting Experience

This photo workshop will make your trip to Honolulu Hawaii for the first time more magical.

With the help of a professional photographer, you will be able to take amazing photos of popular landmarks while learning different photography tips and techniques.

You will also get to experience light painting which is one of the best things to do in Honolulu Hawaii and a unique way of taking pictures at night.

Capture the stunning night sky of different scenic locations like Makapuu Beach, Lana’i Lookout, and Makapuu Lookout.

The activity usually lasts for 4 hours and includes, a tripod, a professional photographer guide, and a free photo package.

2. Beach Escapades

A beach in Honolulu, Hawaii

Hawaii is a haven for the loveliest beach resorts in the world and to experience the best of Honolulu, spending time at the wonderful beaches is one of the top things to do in Hawaii.

Among the Hawaii attractions that are considered as best beaches to explore in Honolulu are as follows:

  • Waikiki Beach – A world-famous beach that offers a wide range of activities like swimming, sunbathing, and surfing.
  • Hanauma Bay Beach Park – One of the best snorkeling spots in Honolulu.
  • Sans Souci Beach Park – A great place for swimming, surfing, and sunbathing.
  • Ala Moana Beach Park – One of the busiest beach parks in Honolulu that offers a wide range of activities like swimming, picnicking, and jogging.

For places to stay after beach hopping, one of the highly recommended accommodations is the Royal Hawaiian Hotel.

1. Explore Wonderful Tourists Spots

A hidden beach in Hawaii

There are several places worth your time as a Honolulu tourist and if you’re visiting Hawaii for the first time. Among the best places to visit in Honolulu are as follows:

  • Nu’uanu Pali State Wayside – This place offers a stunning view of the Windward side of Oahu.
  • Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve – A world-famous snorkeling spot and one of the best things to do in Honolulu Hawaii for first-timers.
  • Corsair Wreck Dive Site – An interesting dive site and a Honolulu must-see for those who want to explore the underwater world.
  • Diamond Head State Monument – A volcanic crater that offers a stunning view of Honolulu.

Some tours provide customization on areas to visit and you should take advantage of planning the places to go in Honolulu.

There you go, all the best things to do for first-timers in Honolulu Hawaii! With this list, you are sure to have an amazing and memorable experience in the wonderful city of Honolulu.

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Article by Kyle

Digital nomad since 2010. I spend my time traveling around the world learning about new cultures and languages. I've lived in 4 continents and still have a lot left to explore!