A Guide to Honolulu

Welcome to the islands’ Gathering Place. Visit Waikiki, Waimea and Manoa – even the names are magical. Watch hula, dine on Pacific Rim Cuisine, and snorkel Hanauma Bay. East meets West in every aspect and the warm spirit of Aloha embraces it all.

By the numbers

Population: 350,399 (city); 953,207 (metropolitan area)

Elevation: 19 feet / 6 meters

Time Zone: GMT -10; Hawaii-Aleutian Standard Time (HAST)

Weather

Average Annual Rainfall: 17.05 inches / 43.3 centimetres

Average Jan. Temperature: 73°F / 23°C

Average July Temperature: 81°F / 27°C

Did you know?

The bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941 by Japan triggered the entrance of the United States into World War II and the imposition of martial law until 1944.

The 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama, was born in Honolulu – the only American President from Hawaii.

District Guide

Honolulu is an ultra-modern city, the state capital of Hawaii and the gateway to the islands. The city is also Hawaii’s largest and a bustling center of trade and commerce. Honolulu is home to a diverse population, its varied populous lending the island of O’ahu the nickname – “The Gathering Place.”

City Skyline in Honolulu

Waikiki
Waikiki Beach stretches from the slopes of Diamond Head to Ala Moana and the Ala Wai Yacht Harbor. The beach itself is a great spot for the whole family. There is a near-shore break for the children, while the more experienced swimmers surf the waves.

The main thoroughfare of Waikiki is Kalakaua Boulevard. Most of the hotels, shops, and restaurants are gathered along this well-populated strip. The Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center is a must-stop for anyone in the mood for a little retail therapy. Dine on pho, sushi, fresh seafood or gourmet buffets at area restaurants. As for accommodations, Waikiki hotels are some of the best in the world. You can find everything from upscale, five-star establishments such as the Westin Moana Surfrider Hotel to lodgings for the budget traveler at Waikiki Beachside Hostel.

Ala Moana
This diverse area is probably the first place business travellers will see, thanks to the presence of the enormous Hawai’i Convention Center. Be sure not to miss one of the largest open-air shopping centres in the country and the Hawaiian Islands’ premier shopping mall – the Ala Moana Shopping Center. Ala Moana Beach Park and Magic Island are area attractions that are beloved by locals and visitors alike. Restaurant Row, the stomping ground for the corporate lunch and Happy Hour crowd, is also known as the “gateway” to downtown Honolulu.

Chinatown
Chinatown is one of Honolulu’s most colourful and exciting neighbourhoods. The area has been a major gateway for immigrants to Hawai’i. Chinese medicine and Eastern religion have a huge presence, with Taoist, Buddhist and Shinto temples sandwiched between herbalists, shops, and restaurants. Highlights of Chinatown include the Maunakea Marketplace, a local shopping plaza complete with its own ethnic food court, and the Chinese Cultural Plaza, a spacious open-air courtyard inhabited by jewellers, Asian restaurants and cultural organizations.

Downtown/Waterfront
From the steely skyscrapers and luxury high rises that rise up along the waterfront to the restored palaces and fascinating museums on Beretania and Bernice Streets, the downtown area proves Honolulu to be much more than the glitzy tourist town that Waikiki would have us believe. Landmarks are numerous, but a few that should not be missed are the grand and graceful Honolulu Harbor and the stunning Iolani Palace. After the sun goes down, the Honolulu Symphony offers entertainment to a cultured, affluent crowd.

Manoa Valley/Makiki
Manoa Valley, where the University of Hawaii is situated, is typical of the valleys resulting from the erosion caused by lava flows in Hawai’i. One of the best places to view Honolulu and the Ko’olau mountain range is from the Manoa Cliff Trail. The main attraction of the valley itself is the University of Hawaii, a research university founded in 1907 and the only one of its kind in the state.

Manoa, and the nearby neighbourhood of Makiki, comprise one of the major cultural hot spots on the island. While this district isn’t marketed or publicized as a cultural destination, it is home to several galleries, museums and theatre companies. Among the hidden jewels in the area are Spalding House, one of the best art museums in Hawaii, and Manoa Valley Theatre, a spirited community theatre group.

East Honolulu—Diamond Head Kahala, Hawaii Kai
There are several major tourist attractions spread out through this area. Diamond Head is great for hikers. This peak can be seen from many vantage points in Honolulu, but for outdoor enthusiasts, there’s no better way to experience it than by hiking to the summit and gazing down at the island below. Kahala Mall, Hawaii Kai Towne Center and the Hawaii Kai Golf Course are other area attractions.

Experts agree that Hanauma Bay, on the eastern tip of the island, offers some of the world’s best snorkelling. However, if you prefer more privacy, try snorkelling or diving in Hawaii Kai. And if you’d prefer to view sea creatures from the safety of land, head over to Sea Life Park.

North Honolulu—Pearl Harbor, Pearl City & Ewa
Aside from Waikiki, this district may be the one most frequently visited by tourists. The site of the infamous Pearl Harbor attack, it is among the most famous naval attractions in the country. Millions of people visit the Arizona Memorial, Bowfin Memorial Park and “Mighty Mo” each year, to learn about or revisit this momentous turn of events this enclave of the city.

Locals and in-the-know tourists often bypass Ala Moana Center and the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center in favour of Pearl City’s famous Pearlridge Center for shopping.

Windward O’ahu
If you visit Honolulu or even read about it, you’ll likely find that the term “Windward” is tossed around quite a bit. Windward, to clarify, is the Eastern shore of the island. It’s a quiet, laid-back place, devoid of all the glitz and bustle of Honolulu. Most locals will also tell you that it’s the best part of the island.

There are no major hotels or malls here, but there are plenty of restaurants and shops, and there seems to be a B&B tucked under every hillock and at the end of every street. Kailua Beach Park offers some of the world’s best windsurfing, while Lanikai is simply one of the world’s most picturesque beaches. This is also where you’ll find the Ko’olau Golf Club, consistently ranked among the best on the island by the prestigious Golf Digest.

Leeward O’ahu & Central O’ahu
Like Windward O’ahu and East Honolulu, Leeward (that’s Western to all you mainlanders) is a quieter district with a few outstanding visitor attractions. Smart tourists—at least, the ones who can afford it—forego the jam-packed hotels of Waikiki in favour of the paradisaical beach resorts of Leeward like Marriott’s Ko’olina Beach Club at the serene Ko’olina Marina. Near Ko’olina is Hawaiian Waters, a water park on a grand scale. At Makaha Beach Park, swimmers, surfers and sun-worshipers congregate every day in the spring and summer months. In winter, daredevil surfers test their skill against swells that soar to heights of 20 to 30 feet (6.09 meters to 9.14 meters).

Central Honolulu isn’t much of a visitor destination, although the famous Dole Plantation draws its fair share of tourists.

North Shore
It seems like every Hawaiian island has its own North Shore, where surfers from around the world come to brave the big waves in winter. O’ahu is no different, and it doesn’t stop there: It also boasts great beaches, famous parks and a mellow lifestyle. Waimea Valley is a great place to hike, ride horses and watch people dive off cliffs. There is also the Polynesian Cultural Center, which recreates seven Polynesian villages, each with their own activities and attractions.

Dining and drinking

Honolulu is a city that is rich in dining and drinking choices. Cuisine from all cultures can be found here in abundance. The competition to capture part of the tourist market (5 million people annually) makes restaurants innovative and very conscious of quality. Whether you are in the mood for seafood, Chinese, Italian, French, Thai, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese or good old American fare, Honolulu will not disappoint you.

Sizzling Surf N Turf

Waikiki
Hawaii’s premier vacation destination, Waikiki, boasts every imaginable kind of dining establishment. Every large hotel has at least one restaurant and some boast five or six; most are very worthwhile. For great steak, your choices are many. Seafood places are also just about everywhere in Waikiki. La Mer is a nouveau French seafood restaurant that is one of the top-rated establishments in Hawai’i.

Duke’s Restaurant & Barefoot Bar is also in a class all by itself, offering great food, live Hawaiian music and a fantastic beachfront location. This is the place to be on a Sunday afternoon after a refreshing dip in the blue Pacific. A Honolulu institution and an absolute “must” for any foodie is the original Chart House Restaurant overlooking the Ala Wai Yacht Harbor. The food, service and sunset are simply wonderful. For Japanese Teppan-yaki, try Tanaka of Tokyo, with three locations in Waikiki.

Chinatown
As might be expected, Honolulu’s Chinatown features some of the best Chinese restaurants in the Pacific Basin. In addition to regional Chinese establishments, you’ll find other authentic Asian eateries here. Vietnamese, Japanese, Korean and Indonesian food is available and in most cases, very reasonably priced. There are about ten restaurants in and around the Chinese Cultural Plaza on King Street. Enjoy buffets, dim sum, or inexpensive a la carte meals from all regions of China. One of the best known restaurants in the Plaza is Legend Seafood Restaurant. As the name suggests, seafood of all kinds is in the spotlight here. It’s a noisy place reminiscent of modern-day Hong Kong. The dim sum lunch is not to be missed. Many excellent Vietnamese restaurants are in this district; the most famous is probably Pho 97 on Maunakea. It’s easy to confuse them, but don’t worry too much about it; the menus and prices are comparable. Anyone sampling Vietnamese cuisine for the first time should order a huge, steaming bowl of Pho, the ubiquitous Vietnamese soup.

Downtown Honolulu
The center of this fascinating melting-pot city offers a wide choice of dining establishments. Straddling the border of downtown and Ala Moana is Restaurant Row on Ala Moana Boulevard.

Another gourmet hot spot is the Chef Mavro Restaurant. Under the stellar direction of the culinary wizard who was formerly executive chef at La Mer, this restaurant has garnered accolades from the likes of Gourmet Magazine and The New York Times. In the center of Honolulu’s old town, you’ll find Murphy’s Bar and Grill on Merchant Street. As might be expected, the corned beef and cabbage are great and there’s plenty of Guinness on tap. Palomino Euro Bistro on Queen Street usually wins prizes for decor and cuisine every year. The Pavilion Cafe at Honolulu Academy of Arts is a wonderful place for lunch. Have a delicious, healthful meal and a glass of wine in a tropical courtyard, surrounded by many wonderful works of art.

Ala Moana & Kaakako
There are some great places to dine on the stretch between downtown Honolulu and Waikiki. The two main thoroughfares that span this four-mile distance are Ala Moana and Kapiolani Boulevards. The many-sided Victoria Ward Centers on Ala Moana has some of the best spots in town.

In the huge Ala Moana Shopping Center, there are over 30 choices for dining. Bubba Gump Shrimp Company on the second level serves up shrimp dishes of all kinds in a fun atmosphere. Delicious Italian food can be enjoyed in the contemporary setting of Assaggio’s, easily distinguishable by the modern-art fountain out front. The Ala Moana Food Court, also known as the Makai Market, has over 20 stalls that serve American, Mexican, Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese and local cuisine.

East Honolulu (Kahala & Hawai’i Kai)
This upscale stretch of coastline features many dining opportunities. The elegant Kahala hotel offers numerous dining choices, most notably Pan-Asian gourmet room Hoku’s. The Kahala Mall at the end of the H1 freeway has several excellent choices.

Farther down the coast toward the beaches near Coco Head, the community of Hawai’i Kai boasts one of the best restaurants in Hawai’i, Roy’s. The cuisine is a mixture of Continental, Japanese and local Hawaiian. It’s very pricey, but well worth it.

Manoa Valley
This lovely area is home to the University of Hawaii and is one of Honolulu’s nicest suburban neighbourhoods. In the center of the Valley, the Ala Manoa Center is a gathering place for students, professors and residents. The most unusual of the restaurants in the valley is Paesano, a top-notch Italian bistro owned and operated by a family from Laos. The comfortable eatery serves food to rival any Italian dining spot in town. It’s located in the Center, on Woodlawn Drive.

These dining establishments represent just a small cross-section of the hundreds of great places in Honolulu and its home island of O’ahu. Wherever you turn in this Pacific metropolis, you’ll find opportunities to enjoy wonderful cuisine. Bon Appetit!

Entertainment

As the geographical center of the Pacific, Honolulu is also the entertainment capital of this vast region. There is much to do and see at its many entertainment venues.

Friends rowing canoe in ocean

Art
Hawai’i is home to many world-class artists, and Honolulu has multiple galleries displaying their work. The Arts of Paradise Gallery in Waikiki features the art of more than 40 of Hawaii’s best artists.

Honolulu Academy of Arts, which opened its doors to the general public in 1927, was the dream of Anna Rice Cooke. Her goal, which became the goal of the Academy as a whole, was to create a place where, artistically, “East meets West.” There is a large main exhibit area that is used for temporary special exhibits. In addition, there are several other permanent galleries along with a wonderful shop and a delightful restaurant, the Pavilion Cafe, set in a tropical courtyard.

The Arts at Marks Garage is a community arts center that has recently come to the fore of the city’s thriving arts scene, with a varied program that features monthly exhibitions, screenings, performances, and lectures. The center is also home to over a dozen performance and visual arts ensembles. Other contemporary art galleries that showcase the artwork of local artists include those of Cedar Street, Louis Pohl, Nohea, Pegge Hopper and Robyn Buntin.

Museums
Honolulu boasts one of the country’s most interesting local history and cultural archives, the Bishop Museum. Located downtown, this fascinating place was founded in 1889 by Bernice Pauahi Bishop, a member of the Hawaiian royal family. The museum primarily focuses on the islands of the Pacific Basin, but also houses a fascinating astronomy exhibit. In North Honolulu, Hawaii’s Plantation Village recreates life on a sugar plantation through several decades.

For those interested in Military history, the island of O’ahu offers many choices. At the northern end of Waikiki, you’ll find the historical Fort DeRussy. The mighty Battleship Missouri has been turned into a Navy and World War II museum at Pearl Harbor. Nearby, the Bowfin Memorial Park has many exhibits about undersea warfare in the last century.

Music & Dance
All the colourful islands of the Pacific are well represented in the music and dance of Honolulu. The Polynesian Cultural Center on Oahu’s North Shore also presents daily and nightly music and dance extravaganzas. Free entertainment is presented often throughout Waikiki. Two of the best free shows are the classic live hula show at the Waikiki Shell and Aloha Waikiki, at DFS Galleria.

Lovers of classical music should make a date with The Honolulu Symphony. The reputed Symphony attracts some of the world’s finest guest conductors and soloists. The Hawaii Opera Theatre has been entertaining lovers of the genre for years.

The most popular venue for rock and pop concerts is the 9000-capacity Neal Blaisdell Arena, located between downtown Honolulu and Waikiki. The Hard Rock Cafe Honolulu also does its share to entertain the rock and pop fans visiting Waikiki.

Nightlife
Sundown in Honolulu does not mark the end of the day, but instead, this is when the city’s bars and nightclubs come alive as natives and visitors flock to its many entertainment venues for a night of drinking and dancing in the company of friendly strangers. The city is known to offer the best and most diverse nightlife options across the Hawaiian Islands, with everything from local bars to dance clubs pulsating to the beat of the latest tunes. Waikiki is where party-goers flock for a night of revelry and parties that go on well into the wee hours of the morning. More upscale options include Bar 35, featuring a stellar lineup of brews and top-notch DJs. Duke’s Canoe Club and Mai Tai top the list for those who crave a more authentic island experience. While Waikiki is the soul of the city’s nightlife, the North Shore is where you will find more authentic, Hawaiian staples. Whichever you choose, Honolulu is sure to please.

Luaus
One of the most popular forms of entertainment for the visitor to Hawai’i is the luau, a traditional Hawaiian party. Guests are served sumptuous food and drink and treated to a music and dance bonanza. The Royal Hawaiian Hotel on the beach at Waikiki, offers the Royal Hawaiian Luau, one of the best around. Germaine’s Luau is another favorite, as is the luau at Paradise Cove. On the North Shore, the Polynesian Cultural Center offers a luau that is widely praised for its authenticity and quality.

Shopping
Shopping in Honolulu is a quintessential O’ahu experience that ranks right up there with the island’s fantastic beaches. Options range from vast shopping centres like the Ala Moana Center, Kahala Mall and Ward Village Shops, to the duty-free delights of T Galleria. The Royal Hawaiian Center is another top-rated shopping mall, while the Waikele Premium Outlets is the place to be for premium brands at discount prices. For bargain shopping, O’ahu’s Aloha Stadium Swap Meet just can’t be beat.

Outdoor Activities
From scaling the Diamond Head to lounging at the beach, Honolulu’s outdoor offer is a varied one. Dive to the depths of the ocean in search of the island’s colourful marine life, or carve your way through the dense foliage that fringes the volcanic mount. There are kayak and canoe tours aplenty, as well as offroad adventures and jeep tours to be had. Sailing lessons, fishing charters, and yacht tours are also quite popular.

Live Theatre
The premier house for live theatre is the Diamond Head Theatre in the shadow of the Diamond Head State Monument. Another place to see live theatre is at the Manoa Valley Theater near the University of Hawai’i. The Honolulu Academy of Arts has the Doris Duke Theatre that often presents plays and musical showcases. Other popular venues for the performing arts include the Kumu Kahua Theatre in downtown Honolulu and the historic Hawaii Theatre Center.

Golf
One of the main reasons visitors come to the Hawaiian Islands is the abundance of beautiful golf courses. Honolulu’s home island of O’ahu has a number of great choices. Coral Creek is a favorite for its lush tropical landscaping, exotic coral formations and challenging par-72 course. The Royal Hawaiian Golf Club and the Oahu Country Club are well-ranked as well.

Cinema
Cinemaphiles can catch the latest blockbusters at the city’s outposts of Consolidated Theaters and Regal Cinemas; modern multiplexes that promise cinematic brilliance in a comfortable setting.

Recommended Tours

Because Hawai’i, the island of O’ahu, and the city of Honolulu are all major tourist areas, tours and places to visit abound. A tourist could stay within the district of Waikiki, explore the most highly trafficked areas of Central Honolulu, or spend time hiking the hills, woods and beaches of the Windward Coast or the North Shore.

Couple relaxing in convertible on beach

Downtown History
There is no better way to begin a tour of Honolulu than with a look at the famous Iolani Palace, a carefully restored 19th-century edifice that was home to Hawaii’s last king and queen. The palace is located on King Street, and is a place that is full of mana (spirit). An interesting fact: the palace had electric lights before the White House.

Close to the Iolani Palace on King Street, you will find some of Hawaii’s oldest structures. The cluster of buildings includes the Frame House, prefabricated and shipped from Boston in 1821. The grounds are well kept, and descendants of the original missionaries conduct tours on certain days.

After lunch in one of the many downtown restaurants, head to the Bishop Museum. Located on Bernice Street, this interesting place contains more than 20 million artifacts of Pacific history, making it the largest collection of its kind in the world. The museum also has a planetarium that features daily shows produced mostly by the Big Island of Hawaii’s Keck Observatory.

Downtown Shopping
Honolulu’s Chinatown district provides the perfect foil to its nostalgic downtown neighbour. While the historic buildings and museums are only blocks away, this part of town is a distinctly modern melange of cultures and lifestyles. You can start your tour of Chinatown with a quest for lunch. On Maunakea Street sits one of the best Vietnamese dining establishments in town, A Little Bit of Saigon. Other options include Legend Seafood. Afterward, browse the jewelry and craft shops around the Chinese Cultural Plaza and find some of the best bargains in Waikiki.

There are a couple of temples that are worthy of a visit: the Izumo Taishakyo Mission Cultural Hall on Nu’uanu Street and the Kuan Yin Temple on Vinyard Street. For a formal tour of Honolulu’s Chinatown, choose between the Hawai’i Heritage Center or the Chinese Chamber of Commerce.

Just three blocks away from Chinatown is the lovely Aloha Tower. Built in 1926 to welcome Hawaii’s burgeoning tourist industry, it has a 10-story spire meant to convey the Hawaiian tradition of “Aloha,” meaning love, welcome, a fond good-bye, and a plea to come back. The observation tower at the top has fantastic views of Honolulu’s harbour and waterfront.

Pearl Harbor Memorials
Home to the United States Pacific Fleet, Pearl Harbor is rich with sights and history. The main tour attractions are the Arizona Memorial, the Battleship Missouri Memorial and the Bowfin Memorial. All three memorials are a proud tribute to the US Navy and other armed forces that gave so much to protect the freedom of the Pacific during the middle of the 20th century.

You need to plan a full day to take in all three sights and a short tour of the Pearl Harbor base itself. See the Arizona Memorial first; the lines in the morning are shorter than the ones later in the day.

Waikiki
Start at the “First Lady” of Waikiki, the graceful Sheraton Moana Surfrider Hotel. Operating since 1901, this grand old structure has aged beautifully. Continuing north on Kalakaua Avenue, Waikiki’s main street, you can visit dozens of other hotels and shopping areas including King’s Village. Finally, you’ll come to the other great lady of the strand, the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. Shoppers won’t want to miss the adjacent Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center, a three-block paradise complete with every designer boutique and specialty retailer imaginable.

When the commercial bustle of Waikiki becomes altogether too overwhelming, make a trip to The Honolulu Zoo. Relax on a bench while listening to the huge variety of tropical birds and watching the antics of chimps in their large home. If you are traveling with children, this is the place to bring them if they tired of the beach. Close to the Zoo and opposite Kapiolani Park is the Waikiki Aquarium situated on a living reef. Founded in 1904, it is one of the three oldest aquariums in the United States. It’s not large by mainland standards, but it is home to more than 2,000 sea dwellers representing 350 different species. As one might expect, the heaviest concentration of species is Pacific tropical fish.

Punchbowl Crater
Above downtown Honolulu sits dramatic Punchbowl Crater, home to the National Cemetery of the Pacific. Native Hawaiians call this place Puowaina, which translates to “hill of sacrifice.” The view from the rim of the crater is dramatic. Outward, you can take in a vista from Diamond Head on the right all the way to Barbers Point on the left. In between, you can see Waikiki, Ala Moana, the skyscrapers of downtown, the airport, Pearl Harbor and the beaches of the Ewa and Kapolei area of leeward O’ahu. In the crater is a verdant resting place for more than 25,000 victims of World War II, Korea and Vietnam. Most of the military personnel that perished in the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941 are buried here. The Court of the Missing is dedicated to those whose remains were never recovered from World War II. There is also a monument to Ellison Onizuka, the Hawaiian astronaut who perished in the Challenger space shuttle disaster in 1986. A visit to this impeccably maintained memorial is a moving experience.

Sport Tours

Snorkelling by Hawaii Water Sports Center (+1 808 395 3773 / http://www.hawaiiwatersportscenter.com)

Kailua Sailboards and Kayaks (+1 808 262 2555 / http://www.kailuasailboards.com/)

Nature and Location Tours

Oahu Nature Tours (+1 808 924 2473 / http://www.oahunaturetours.com/)

Hawaiian Escapades (+1 808 366 0400 / http://www.hawaiianescapades.com/)

History

Hawai’i began 60 million years ago as what geologists call a hot spot: a bulge of hot, molten rock about 250 miles wide running down 1900 miles to our planet’s iron core. It rose to the Pacific Ocean plate, where it melted the rock and turned to magma, breaking out of the Earth’s crust as lava, and eventually turning to land. Today on Honolulu’s home island, O’ahu, there are the remnants of two huge volcanoes, Waianae and Ko’olau.

Hawaiian Tikis totem poles

The earliest inhabitants of these islands were likely royal navigators from the Marquesa Islands. They found their way to Hawai’i sometime around 900CE. Later came seafarers from New Zealand, Tahiti and other Pacific islands. When the navigators reached these islands, the Big Island’s southern points were the first areas settled. British Captain James Cook started the “modern era” of Hawai’i on January 18, 1778. During the next 20 years, the Hawaiian Islands became a beacon for voyagers in an era of international imperialism. For the most part, Hawaiians welcomed the foreign crews, not knowing they brought diseases deadly to the native population. During the next 100 years, 80 percent of the native Hawaiian population succumbed to these illnesses. Tyrannic ruler Kamehameha the First died in May of 1819 just as the first of the American Christian missionaries proclaimed their goal of “raising up the people of Hawai’i to an elevated state of Christian civilization.” The influx of missionaries over the next 40 years was to change the island chain forever.

Foreigners created the village of Honolulu beside the tiny harbour of Kou in the first half of the 19th Century. By 1850, Honolulu Harbor was full of masts with more than 150 whaling and merchant ships. This meant that more than 3000 seamen were ashore, looking for liquor and other entertainment. Honolulu’s jails were always filled to capacity. The town, for better or worse, had become the hub of commerce for the entire northern and central Pacific. Sugar production took hold in the 1840s, and by 1884 production soared to 10 million pounds a year, transforming Hawai’i from a traditional, insular, agrarian and debt-ridden society into a city that was multicultural, cosmopolitan and prosperous. In the center of this world was Honolulu.

19th-century super-powers England, France, and the United States were keenly aware of the Islands’ and Honolulu’s strategic importance. By the early 1840s, intrigues by British residents led Rear Admiral Richard Thomas, commander of the British Squadron in the Pacific, to send Lord George Paulet to Honolulu to protect British interests. He arrived in the winter of 1843 and issued a series of threatening ultimatums. King Kamehameha III had sent emissaries to Europe to resolve all disputes, but to no avail. The king was forced to yield to British guns on February 15, 1843. Protests mounted in the Islands. Since Great Britain had already recognized Hawaii’s independence and France had promised to do likewise, the provisional cession to Paulet was received with concern in London, Paris and other foreign capitals. Admiral Thomas came to Honolulu on July 26 and declared Paulet’s act to be unauthorized. On July 31, the Hawaiian flag was again raised.

In 62 years, there were to be five individuals that carried the Kamehameha title, with the last of the direct dynasty passing on in 1872. In 1887, several hundred foreigners formed a secret group called the Hawaiian League. By various means, they intimidated the current king, David Kalakaua (descended from a cousin of Kamehameha the Great), into accepting a new constitution, known as the Bayonet Constitution. It stripped him of many powers, making him a figurehead, and permitted only Caucasian foreigners to vote in elections. In 1889, a man named Robert Wilcox led an uprising against the new constitution. The uprising was put down by the king’s troops, but Wilcox became a hero to native Hawaiians. An all-Hawaiian jury at his conspiracy trial found him not guilty.

After David Kalakaua’s death in 1891, his sister Lydia garnered the distinction of becoming the last Hawaiian monarch. Queen Liliuokalani, as she was known, was a courageous and intelligent woman and a strong nationalist. She tried to replace the Bayonet Constitution with one that would favour native Hawaiians, but was pressured into letting the old constitution stand.

Hawaiian planters needed political help to keep their plantations profitable. Most of all, they needed a reciprocity treaty that gave them the ability to sell sugar in the United States without paying a tariff. Hawaiians opposed reciprocity, fearing it was the bait to give the United States exclusive use of Pearl Harbor. The Queen’s attempt to create a constitution that would restore more power to the Hawaiian monarchy was the catalyst and the call to action for powerful Honolulu businessmen. On January 17, 1893, supported by U.S. Marines, they overthrew the Kingdom of Hawai’i. A provisional government was declared and immediately recognized by John Stevens, the American Minister to Hawai’i. Pineapple baron Sandford Dole was appointed President. This lasted until 1898, when the United States annexed Hawai’i and it became a territory of the United States. Once Hawai’i became a state in 1959, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs was created to manage native lands ceded during the overthrow and U.S. annexation.

During the pre-tourist years, sugar planters and pineapple growers ran the islands with impunity, and prospered. However, strong new cultural identities were emerging. The U.S. military was creating a strong presence in the Pacific. The Navy and Army both considered Honolulu, with its key asset of Pearl Harbor, as the most important place in the North Pacific. Unlike military bases on the mainland or in the Philippines, where military life was separated from civilians, Hawai’i and the military grew up together. Military officers were at the top of Honolulu society. Waikiki’s first luxury-trade hotel, opened in 1901, the elegant Moana Surfrider, was an exclusive paradise mainly for the rich. The same held true for the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, which opened in 1919. This would change greatly during the next 20 years, as steamship companies, Hollywood and the Pan American Clipper discovered Honolulu.

In one of World War II’s most historic events, Pearl Harbor was struck by forces of the Japanese navy on December 7, 1941. For America, World War II began here, although interestingly, Hawaii would not become a state until much later in 1959.

Honolulu is currently the permanent home to almost one million people of all races and cultural backgrounds. It is not only one of the largest cities in the US, hovering around the 10th or 11th spot on the census charts, but also one of the most popular destinations in the country for business and leisure. At any given time, there are about 100,000 visitors in Hawai’i. Nearly all of them travel through Honolulu, “The Queen of the Pacific.”

Getting there and getting around

Getting There

From the Airport

Taxi:
AAA Hui/Koko Head Taxi (+1 808 396 6633)
Airport Group Intl. Inc. (+1 808 836 1381)
A-1 Airport Shuttle-Airport (+1 808 521 2121)
Leeward Aaa Hui/Airport Express (+1 808 676 6996)
Charley’s Taxi & Tours

Car Rental:
Avis (+1 800 831 2847 / http://www.avis.com/)
Budget (+1 800 527 0700 / http://www.budget.com/)
Hertz (+1 800 654 3131 / http://www.hertz.com/)
National (+1 800 227 7368 / http://www.nationalcar.com/)
Enterprise (+1 800 736 8227 / http://www.enterprise.com/)
Hawaii Motorcycle Rentals (+1 888 451 5544 / http://www.lava.net/wikiwiki-wheels/)

Limousine:
Garden State Limo Service (+1 800 323 4902)
Limos.com (+1 800 660 7686)

Getting Around

Bus
The bus connects several parts on Oahu’s island sprawl, and operates every 15 minutes to half an hour. One-day passes are available as well.

Car
While driving is one of the best ways to get around Honolulu, it would be advisable to avoid taking out your car during rush hour, that typically lasts from 5a to 8a, and 3p to 6:30p on weekdays.

Trolley
Hop-on, hop-off trolley systems connect a few Waikiki and Downtown Honolulu attractions and is an enjoyable ride, although it does take a long time to get from one landmark to another.

On Foot
Walking is only a good idea when traversing smaller distances in Waikiki. A few attractions like the Honolulu Museum of Art and Iolani Palace lie in close proximity to one another, and can be covered on foot.

Ferry:
The Boat (+1 808 848 5555 / http://www.trytheboat.com)
Hawaii Superferry (+1 877 443 3779 / http://www.hawaiisuperferry.com/)

If traveling overseas, take the safety precaution of registering your trip at https://travelregistration.state.gov and for helpful, practical advice about traveling technicalities and safety standards check out http://travel.state.gov/.