What to Do in Historic Downtown Honolulu

in Hawaii, Trip Planning

Just a few miles from the throngs of tourists in Waikiki is a more urban, budget-friendly part of Honolulu.

Whether you choose to spend an afternoon soaking in the unique history of the Honolulu waterfront, walking around downtown and taking in all of the public art or heading over to Chinatown to take in the ethnic eateries, flower stalls, fresh produce vendors, dish and housewares shops, you’re sure to experience a side of Hawaiian life. If you don’t have a rental car, it’s still easy to get downtown (even if you do have a rental car, I suggest taking public transportation downtown – it’s much easier). Most hotels offer shuttle buses downtown. You can also take a city bus (schedules available at concierge desks and tourist information centers).


In general, the further one gets from Waikiki, the more reasonable the prices will be. Prices in downtown Honolulu tend to be much better than those in the tourist shops along the beach. You’re also more likely to get a better quality product and have a better selection of cheap souvenirs.

If you’re going to take a trip to Hawaii, then don’t miss one of the most famous sights in downtown Honolulu – the Aloha Tower Marketplace. Surrounding the tower you’ll find an eclectic array of shops and eateries. There is a small jewelry district here that sells gold Hawaiian jewelry charms for much less (and a better selection) than you’d find them in Waikiki. Unique and inexpensive souvenirs can also be found in Chinatown. If you’re in the market for traditional Hawaiian souvenirs (artificial leis, macadamia nuts, Kona coffee, muumuus and shirts), head to one of the Hilo Hatties outposts in downtown Honolulu.


The Historic Iolani Palace

If you’re looking for a quick bite to eat, there are some commercial options (chains, etc.) around Aloha Tower. Chinatown has some of the best fresh Asian food (both street food and sit-down restaurants) in the city.  There are quite a few “foodie-friendly” Asian fusion restaurants of note in downtown Honolulu, including Indigo, Zen Shu, Alan Wong, Roy’s, Hiroshi Eurasian Tapas, Duc’s Bistro and Chef Mavro.

Museums and Cultural Sites

The Hawaii Maritime Center allows visitors to discover Hawaii’s fascinating ocean history, featuring exhibits on ancient Polynesian voyagers, rough and tumble whalers, and the luxurious cruise liners of the 1920s and ‘30s.

The beautiful and famous Iolani Palace is located on King’s Street. It holds the distinction of being the only royal palace standing on American soil. The palace was the royal residence of Hawaii’s last two monarchs. Guided tours are available 5 days a week. While you’re in the area, head across the street to tour the Iolani Barracks (also called Halekoa or “house of warriors”). It was built in 1870 and housed 80 members of the Royal Guard (before the overthrow of the monarchy).

The Mission Museum is located on Punchbowl Street and is located on the site where the first American Protestant missionaries established their headquarters in 1820.  Most of the buildings are original, and represent the oldest Western-style buildings in Hawaii. Here you can see a variety of artifacts – furniture, books, quilts, clothing, etc. – from these missionaries.

There are several lovely churches in downtown Honolulu, including St. Andrew’s Episcopal Cathedral, Cathedral of our Lady of Peace, and Kawaiaha’o Church, each representing different architectural styles.

Ho’ohoihoi k’ ho’omahana! (Enjoy your trip!)

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