I’ve been fortunate to travel to Honolulu dozens of times, both for work and for pleasure, and without a doubt it’s one of my favorite places in the world. The city is on the island of Oahu, which has an area of 597 square miles and it takes about three hours to drive around the island without stopping. Despite the size ,the island is so diverse, you need a good month to really see it but if you’ve only got 24 hours, here’s how to make the most of your time there.
After landing at Honolulu’s International Airport, I would either make a beeline for the car rental shuttle (if you do rent a car, be sure to get a fast track so you don’t wait in a long line. Avis offers a cool app/service without paying extra or being a frequent customer) or I would arrange an Uber Taxi since the taxi line can be long. Uber Taxi is just a regular taxi but you don’t exchange cash since your credit card is already on file.
I almost always stay in Waikiki since it has everything within walking distance. However, some people hate Waikiki because it’s so touristy and crowded. If you like Waikiki, consider some of these hotels:
Hilton Hawaiian Village
The Hilton Hawaiian Village is a resort that’s like a city within a city, with 22 lush tropical acres, seven towers and 3,500 rooms. It’s located on the beach at the beginning of Waikiki Beach.
The famed Moana Surfrider was the first hotel in Waikiki and now is the heart of it. It’s on the beach and the hotel has 552 guest rooms and three wings.
The Royal Hawaiian is the famous pink hotel you see in all the pictures of Waikiki. It’s next door to the Moana Surfrider, is an upscale option, and has 528 rooms.
Outrigger Waikiki on the Beach
The Outrigger Waikiki on the Beach has 524 rooms, right on the beach, next to The Royal Hawaiian. The famous Duke’s Waikiki Restaurant is located on their ground floor.
The Modern Honolulu is a cool boutique hotel that has 353 rooms. It’s not on the beach, but it’s away from the hustle and bustle of Waikiki. It’s close to the Hilton Hawaiian Village and though it’s away from the crowds, you can still easily walk to Waikiki from there.
Once you’ve had a good night’s sleep, I would head to Diamond Head (from the heart of Waikiki, it takes about one hour to walk or about 10 minutes to drive.) Get there right when they open at 6 am (they close at 6 pm, but last entry is at 4:30 pm) to avoid the tour groups. Bring cash since that’s all they take for entry fees. Entry costs $5* for a car or $1* for each pedestrian. If you don’t stop, the climb to the top takes about 20 minutes, but wear hiking shoes (not flip flops!) since the ground is uneven and can be muddy.
After seeing the sun rise over Oahu, start to head back towards Waikiki. If you’re walking, a few minutes after you go through the tunnel to exit the crater, call Bogart’s (808-739-0999) and order an acai bowl. They usually take 15 minutes to make and cost $9* each (they only take cash, too). That way when you get to Bogart’s, you can bypass the long line that’s usually out the door and go straight to the takeout counter to pick up your bowl. You can then either look for a table in Bogart’s or eat on a nearby park bench.
Next up: head back to your hotel and go for a morning dip or rent a surfboard ($15* an hour). You can also get surf lessons from the Star Beach Boys (a private lesson is $100*, a group is $50*).
If you want authentic Hawaiian food, then go to Highway Inn. It’s been serving the best Hawaiian food since 1947 and they now have a second location in the new Kamehameha School’s SALT at their ‘Kaka’ako’ iconic 680 building between Waikiki and downtown Honolulu. They don’t take reservations and service can be slow, but the Loco Moco and Chicken Long Rice are so worth it! Highway Inn Restaurant at Kaka’ako, 680 Ala Moana Blvd #105; Tel: 808-954-4955; info@myHighwayInn.com.
After all of that, if you don’t need a nap, there’s lots more you can do. If you have a car, I would either go see Pearl Harbor, snorkel Hanauma Bay, check our Lanikai beach (where President Obama stayed), or go to the North Shore.
The North Shore is about an hour’s drive and is considered to have some of the best waves in the world; every November-December, the world’s biggest surf contest takes place there.
You can’t leave the North Shore without hitting Matsumoto. It’s the world’s most famous shave ice that’s in the town of Haleiwa. To make sure you aren’t overwhelmed when it’s your time to order (there will probably be a line out the door), check out their menu in advance.
For shave ice closer to Waikiki, go to Shimazu Store. They have two locations and they offer a wide variety of flavors. All the typical flavors are there, but they also have rarities like hot cinnamon, peanut butter and chocolate. Small sizes are huge and you can add condensed milk, Azuki beans or a scoop of vanilla ice cream at the bottom.
If you don’t mind long lines and want to try a local favorite, go to Leonard’s Bakery. It’s been around since 1952 and their malasadas (Portuguese doughnuts, minus the hole) have become a huge hit. The line moves slowly because the malasadas are made to order, but that means they’re always served hot and fresh; you won’t find them just sitting in the bakery’s glass cases. They now come in a slew of flavors with all kinds of fillings, but the original is just coated with plain sugar and costs only $1.15*.
What better way to cap off the day than by having an afternoon massage? I would go to the Moana Lani Spa since it is Waikiki’s first and only beachfront spa located in the Moana Surfrider. It features 14 treatment rooms, including two couple’s massage rooms. They are open late (until 10 pm) so services can be booked from 9 am to 8 pm.
For dinner, I suggest going to Duke’s Waikiki just before sunset. Get there early and ask for a table along the railing; it’s worth the wait! Duke’s Waikiki is probably the most “touristy” restaurant in all of Hawaii but it’s also the one where locals go for special occasions and to bring out-of-town guests. Why? Because it’s just steps from the Pacific Ocean, with one of the most beautiful, sweeping views you’ll ever see. Duke’s Waikiki, 2335 Kalakaua Ave.: Tel: 808-922-2268. Check out more great food options here.
I would walk off dinner by strolling along Kalakaua Avenue to people watch and see all the shops. One of my favorites is the Honolulu Cookie Company since they make great gifts and people really seem to love their Hawaiian flavored shortbread cookies.
Now that you know how to make 24 hours in Honolulu an exceptional visit, see what sights can’t be missed in Natalie DiScala’s 24 hours in Toronto: https://www.barclaycardtravel.com/t5/Travel-Blog/24-Hours-in-Toronto/ba-p/2263340
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Johnny Jet has traveled over 100,000 miles a year since starting his newsletter in 1995 and has visited close to 100 countries. On his website, he writes about travel deals and travel tips, everything from how to find cheap flights to credit card points. He has hosted a television special on The Travel Channel and was recently named one of Forbes’ Top 10 Travel Influencers for 2017. He now travels the world with his wife Natalie DiScala, who writes the travel + style blog Oh! Travelissima, and their son Jack.
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