Best Places to Visit in Honolulu

Best Places to Visit in Honolulu

Maritime Museum and Aloha Tower

Aloha Tower
Aloha Tower

Two separate destinations really, but it’s only a quarter mile walk between them, and they are thematically joined. The Maritime Museum has an informative and attractive presentation on the history of  Hawaii, focused on the area’s maritime accomplishments.

The Aloha Tower, built in the 1920s to welcome the tourists steaming into Honolulu Harbor, is one of the most recognizable sights in Honolulu.  Its  observation deck has re-opened (it was closed for a long time post 9/11) and is a great place for snapshots of the harbor and the skyline of Honolulu. . Most of the downtown is behind a curtain of much taller buildings, though for years, at ten stories,  the Aloha Tower was the tallest construction in town.

Open Daily from 8:30am to 5:30 pm – closed Christmas. The Aloha Tower is located at Pier 7 in the Honolulu Harbor next to the Aloha Tower Marketplace off of Nimitz Highway

The Aloha Tower Marketplace, is a shopping center that features good shopping, fun restaurants, micro breweries, and entertainment – not to mention a great view of the harbor.  See the official website for more details on visiting:

Bishop Museum

Bishop Museum
Bishop Museum

The Bishop museum was founded in the late 19th century by the Bishop family whose members included  Princess Pauahi Bishop , the last descendant of the Hawai’i’s royal family, the Kamehamehas.  The Bishop Museum is Hawai’i’s premier museum for the cultural and natural history of Hawai’i. See the official website for more details on visiting:

Open Daily from 8:30am to 5:30 pm – closed Christmas. Located at 1525 Bernice St. Honolulu.

‘Iolani Palace State Monument

During the late 19th century, the ‘Iolani Palace, now on the Register of National Historic Landmarks, was the home of the Hawai’ian Monarchy. Officially dedicated in 1882, ‘Iolani Palace was the residence of the Hawai’ian Kingdom’s last two monarchs. The Palace is probably the only one in the country, though we could quibble on definitions. It reflects Hawai’i’s leaders’ awareness of the grandeur of 19th century European capitals. The grounds include the Coronation Stand and a guard house/ barracks building that was moved to the site when the new State Capital Building  was constructed next door.

Thoroughly restored over the last 40 years, the ‘Iolani Palace is worth a tour. Its history is both interesting and informative.  The official website can be found at

The ‘Iolani Palace is located at the corner of South King Street and Richards Street in downtown Honolulu.

Guided tours of the palace interior  are by advance reservations (fee charged)–call the Friends of ‘Iolani Palace at (808) 522-0832; tour hours are 9 a.m. to 2:15 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday.

Downtown Honolulu

Downtown Honolulu
Downtown Honolulu

The city center of Honolulu is very walkable. Downtown has sprouted its skyscrapers in recent years, but  there are about a dozen buildings that are charmingly human-scaled,
dating mostly from “territorial days”, but some a bit earlier.  We provide details on just of few and recommend a tour of downtown Honolulu to fill out your mental map of Oahu.

Historic Buildings

The Alexander and Baldwin Building  at 822 Bishop Street and the Dillingham Transportation Building  at 735 Bishop Street, are two of the headquarters of Hawai’i’s “big five” and date back to the late 1920’s.  The buildings reflect an architectural style that merged Asian and Mediterranean influences and were designed by the architects C.W.Dickey and Hart Wood. The oxidized, copper covered, hipped roof, with breeze ways and considerable decoration are worth a look.

The Big 5 were five major companies that were involved in ending the  Republic of Hawai’i and making the Islands  a territory of the United States.  The companies included: Alexander and Baldwin, Theo H. Davis, Castle & Cooke, C. Brewer,  and American Factors ( also known as Amfac and originally as Hackfeld and Company). For a number of years, these companies “managed Hawai’i’s growth.

The intersection of Nuuanu Avenue and Merchant Street is the “Irish corner” of Honolulu.  It is marked by two “Irish” pubs, both in historically significant buildings. Murphy’s Bar & Grill (2 Merchant Street – at Nuuanu) occupies the site of the former Royal Saloon that was constructed in the 19th century.  Across the way at 902 Nuuanu Street, in the old Foster building, is O’Toole’s Irish Pub.  Both are good places to stop for a brew and both serve food and both buildings are worth a quick look if you are in the area.


Bounded by River Street and Bethel on the north and south, by Nimitz Highway on the west and N. Beretania Street on the East, Chinatown has many interesting sights (especially in the area near Nuuanu Avenue and N. Hotel Street).

The area between downtown and Nuuanu Stream (running into the Harbor from the Nuuanu Valley), is undergoing a bit of a renaissance. The mostly two story brick, stone, and concrete buildings were built in the decade after the fire of 1900, which effectively removed the preexisting wooden tenements.  The buildings tend to have shops on the first floor and, with new zoning, the second floors are being transformed back into apartments. The arts scene is moving in with many galleries that have attracted new restaurants.

Chinatown’s vendors are more likely to be Vietnamese these days, but the street scene is a hoot. On weekend mornings the shopping and dim sum-chasing crowds pack the sidewalks.

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