Welcome to Honolulu, the capital of Hawaii and home to many glorious attractions! From extravagant resorts and vibrant nightlife to fine dining and stunning beaches, Oahu is a paradise for any tourist. But it’s not just all play – there are also plenty of educational experiences to be had in downtown Honolulu.
My boyfriend and I often visit Honolulu on our trips, so this time we decided to bring some friends along. We gave them a tour of the city’s landmarks such as the Iolani Palace, Statue of King Kamehameha I, and the Hawaii State Capitol – all located within blocks from each other. These historical sites blend with modern architecture, creating strikingly gorgeous views that made for an unforgettable experience for us all.
If you’re looking for something special when visiting Honolulu then head downtown for a walking tour. Admire its charm and beauty up close – take your time soaking in the sights around you! From markets filled with local wares to breathtaking gardens, you won’t be disappointed by what awaits you here. And don’t forget about the delicious cuisine – there’s nothing like indulging in exotic flavors while enjoying one of these fabulous locations!
So get ready to explore downtown Honolulu: start planning your top activities today!
Visit the Aloha Tower Area
The Aloha Tower is a welcoming sight on entering Honolulu’s waterfront district. This tower was built as a lighthouse to guide ships entering the harbor in the 1920s. Today it’s surrounded by skyscrapers from the Business District, and the Hawaiian gothic architecture makes it an awe-inspiring sight.
However, the marketplace and harbor around the tower are what make it more appealing. Firstly, you can climb inside the tower and enjoy waterfront views, as far as the Diamond Head volcano and Koolau Mountains.
In addition, it’s surrounded by the Aloha Tower Marketplace, which includes shops and restaurants, where you can roam around, grab a quick bite, and engage in some retail therapy.
From the nearby Honolulu Harbor, visit the Falls of Clyde, the last surviving four-masted, iron-hulled, rigged ship. This is a museum ship now but not currently open for public viewing.
We loved touring the Aloha Tower, and even though the area is commercialized now, getting to experience this slice of Hawaiian history was one of the best things to do in downtown Honolulu.
- The tower is free for public access every day, from 9.30 am to 5 pm.
- It’s sometimes undergoing repairs for which they close the tower, so check before going.
- You can read more about the tower from the storyboards lining its interior.
See The Hawaii State Capitol
Located in the Capitol District in downtown Honolulu, this area comprises governors’ and legislators’ offices, the state house, and senate chambers. Since Honolulu is Hawaii’s capital, this is the area where government affairs take place and is open for tourists to explore the offices and chambers.
Luckily, we went during the week and got to explore the area inside, which offers a self-guided tour. You simply find the appropriate office and let them know you want to tour the area, and they provide instructions, plus a complimentary pin of the state seal.
People in the offices are very friendly and guide you if you get lost (since the Capitol is huge!) We could see the governor’s ceremonial office and look inside the senate chambers, which are amphitheaters decorated with state memorabilia and furnished with historic Hawaiian Koa wood paneling.
Roaming the Capitol is a terrific way to associate yourself with the current Hawaiian governmental system and one of the best things to do in downtown Honolulu.
- There is a statue of Queen Lili’uokalani out front, the last monarch of Hawaii.
- The gorgeous architecture showcases the number 8 often to symbolize Hawaii’s eight islands.
- The offices aren’t open access on weekends, but you can roam the grounds.
Explore The Foster Botanical Gardens
Hawaiian royalty thrived amongst flora and fauna, and this garden is a symbol of the nature-loving monarchs, Hawaii’s oldest botanical garden. A stroll through this gorgeous garden, spanning 14 acres, is a wonderful way to escape the crowded city streets and tourist hubs.
The gardens feature 4000 species of rare tropical plants, an impressive variety of trees in bloom, orchids, birds of paradise, an open butterfly garden, and a conservatory, which were all well-maintained and fun to explore.
You can take the Red Line Waikiki Trolley to get here, but it’s also within walking distance from downtown Honolulu. We came here after roaming Waikiki, and it was such a calm atmosphere that we didn’t feel like leaving. I especially liked seeing the orchids in full bloom, displayed in the conservatory, where you can find a variety of exotic flowers.
Our time at the Foster Botanical Gardens was incredible, and we recommend everyone coming to Oahu to visit, as it’s one of the best things to do in downtown Honolulu.
- There’s ample parking outside the gardens.
- The entrance fee is $5 per person.
- Eating isn’t allowed on the grounds, but you can sit on blankets under shady trees.
Shop & Eat in Honolulu’s Chinatown
This is the oldest Chinatown in the US, home to Hawaii’s Chinese-American population and tons of authentic cuisines like Chinese dim sum, Filipino adobo, Vietnamese pho, and more. Plus, you can get fresh produce from local vendors, tea shops, entertainment centers, traditional Chinese medicine practitioners, and stores selling Hawaiian handicrafts.
We stop by Chinatown on every visit to Honolulu and still haven’t seen every shop and eatery here. However, the area can get crowded later in the day, so we recommend coming early to get fresh fruits and vegetables from the stalls.
If you want to explore Honolulu’s vibrant nightlife, stop by Chinatown on Fridays when there’s an art walk around Nu’uanu and Bethel Streets. You can explore terrific urban art from independent galleries, move through underground wine bars and jazz clubs, and listen to live music at the area’s bustling night markets.
We love roaming Chinatown for its lively marketplace feel, and it’s one of the best things to do in downtown Honolulu.
- There’s a growing homeless population in North Chinatown, so don’t come here late at night.
- You can get fresh fish and delicious cuts of meat from the butcher shops.
- The vendors are very friendly and chat with you about the area.
Appreciate The Art at Hawaii Art Museum
Located in the Capitol District Building, the Hawaii Art Museum showcases contemporary Hawaiian art all week, with free family-friendly events held often. The museum displays art pieces from around the world and special exhibits from local Hawaiian artists, born or long-term residents.
This is a beautiful museum with gorgeous sprawling architecture surrounded by intimate tropical gardens and a lovely covered lanai, where they serve lunch, dinner, and drinks for visitors. We enjoyed sitting in the gardens and enjoying the museum’s beauty, which feels like its own piece of art.
The museum showcases local art perfectly, with masterful sculptures displayed in the outdoor garden.
If you’re with children, there are entertainment events on Fridays and Saturdays for families with lots of fun activities and a terrific Halloween party each year.
We loved getting mesmerized by the breathtaking art displayed at the Hawaii Art Museum, as it’s the most fun thing to do in Hawaii.
- They have a children’s area and a restaurant serving delicious food.
- Entry is free for everyone, and there’s ample parking available.
- The museum is open Monday to Saturday, from 10 am to 4 pm.
See the Historic Iolani Palace
It’s not every day you can visit a palace occupied by past rulers, but come to downtown Honolulu and explore the historic grandeur of Iolani Palace. This was home to King Kakalua and his sister Queen Lili’uokalani during the years of the Hawaiian monarchy.
This site is a National Historic Landmark and is open to tourists who can visit the palace’s interior. In addition, the on-site guides offer tours that provide a historical background of the palace and royal family.
You can also take self-guided tours to see the throne room, a ceremonial clothing display, and the dining areas, complete with cutlery used by the royals.
We recommend taking the audio tour as you can roam around at your own pace and still get much information about the palace. The whole experience is inspiring and one of the best things to do in downtown Honolulu.
- You have to make a booking for the tour and follow the palace rules of conduct.
- You can get an autobiography of the late Queen after the tour to learn about her life better.
- The palace gets crowded with tourists later in the day so try to book an earlier tour.
Winding Up: Things to do in Downtown Honolulu
Exploring downtown Honolulu is a wonderful thing to do when in Oahu. You can visit historical landmarks, see architectural masterpieces, roam local markets, and relax in gorgeous gardens.
There’s a great calm in getting to know Hawaii’s past, from seeing its history preserved in the various sites in Honolulu. We make it a point to frequent these areas in Oahu as they’re great tourist hubs.
Want to see the Honolulu district and harbor? Visit the Aloha Tower and its nearby marketplace.
Want to marvel at art from all over Hawaii? Stop by the Hawaii Art Museum.
Need a place to get away from the crowded city? Take a stroll through the Foster Botanical Gardens.
You won’t run out of fun things to do in downtown Honolulu!
Last Updated on February 8, 2023 by Brigitte