Hi Frugalistas! Are you planning a trip to Honolulu? I know it’s a popular place to visit as part of an Hawaii itinerary. On a recent trip to Honolulu I got to check out some great Waikiki hotels, Waikiki things to do as well as some great Oahu day trips. Flying the enjoyable Hawaiian Airlines Business Class, I spent a fabulous 12 day stay in Hawaii, including Honolulu.
Go to the beach
I spent a lovely time walking along the beach (even though it was quite crowded), but there are other things to do in Waikiki Beach. If the mood takes you, you can take a surfing lesson, or an outrigger canoe ride – certainly one of the fun things to do in Waikiki.
Despite the beach being very busy and quite developed, I was thrilled to spy a turtle swimming in the water right in front of the Sheraton Waikiki Hotel – what a lovely surprise!
Pearl Harbor and Arizona Memorial
Pearl Harbor and the Arizona Memorial are the most visited attractions in Hawaii. While it is quite possible to do a visit to Pearl Harbor yourself (there is a bus), I decided to take a tour and was pleased I did – at the end of the day I had done so much walking I was grateful to just hop on the bus and be taken back directly to the hotel. The tour I chose included a visit to the USS Missouri and the Aviation Museum as well as Pearl Harbor and the Arizona Memorial. When I visited, the Arizona Memorial was not receiving visitors onto the pontoon.
You can book the same tour we did here:
Visits to the Arizona Memorial are by timed entry ticket. After I arrived I had plenty of time to look around the Pearl Harbor site, and learn about the history of the war in the Pacific. I was thrilled to be able to watch the ceremony as a young Coast Guard reservist received her promotion – what a special moment and a real treat.
Arriving for the Arizona Memorial visit you first enter a theatre to watch a short film regarding the attack on Pearl Harbor. The film includes actual footage from the attack, which shows how devastating it was to the US Pacific Fleet. Once the film concludes, your group is escorted onto tenders for the actual Memorial visit. Although we were unable to step onto the site itself, the young sailors who took us out made sure everyone on the tender was able to take in the sunken ship as they pointed out the various aspects of the ship and contextualized what we were seeing.
We were out at the Memorial for around 15-20 minutes. When we returned to the Pearl Harbor Visitor Centre I was a bit surprised, but touched, to see the young sailors who had taken us out pose for pictures with visitors.
A visit to Pearl Harbor and the Arizona Memorial is both sobering and inspiring and is definitely one of the best things to do in Honolulu. It is well organized to move large numbers of visitors efficiently, without diminishing the emotional experience of such a tragic site.
After the Pearl Harbor and Arizona Memorial visit I hopped on the shuttle bus that runs between the tourist sites on the base and headed for the USS Missouri. The Missouri is famous for two things: it was the last US battleship, and it was the ship where the treaty to end the war in the Pacific was signed. To be able to visit both the beginning and the end of the war in the Pacific in one trip is a special experience in Honolulu.
When you arrive at the USS Missouri you are first taken through a safety briefing before boarding the ship. You are free to wander around the ship and explore alone or you can take a free guided tour that leaves regularly from the visitor’s desk.
There is a lot to see on the USS Missouri. Throughout the ship volunteer guides are stationed to explain key things, and answer questions. In addition to the obviously impressive guns (which are enormous), I really enjoyed exploring below decks, where I was able to get a good appreciation of life on the ship. It was also interesting to read the notices on the noticeboards, setting out the ship’s activities for the day.
The deck where the treaty to end the war was signed is small, and truth be known, a little underwhelming. There are a number of photos and documents from the time, and a plaque. All the countries who were a party to the treaty are represented.
Finishing at the USS Missouri I again hopped on the shuttle bus and went around to the aircraft museum. The museum is quite a large site on the base, and there are two separate hangars of aircraft about 5 minutes walk apart. The first hangar is dedicated to aircraft used during the Second World War, while the second hangar contains aircraft from after the war from all over the world, as well as a workshop where the work in restoring old aircraft continues. It was fun to get up close to the aircraft, and while I did not do it, it is possible to actually sit in the cockpit of a number of planes. As an Australian I was thrilled to see the F18 Fighter Jet that had been donated by the Royal Australian Air Force.
There are many tours available to Pearl Harbor and the Arizona Memorial. The tour I chose was good because once we arrived at Pearl Harbor and had a brief orientation we were able to explore independently at our own pace until it was time to leave. There are fully escorted tours available if that is your preference.
Book my tour here:
Iolani Palace and downtown Honolulu
Many visitors to Honolulu don’t bother with the downtown Honolulu business area so, is it worth visiting downtown Honolulu? I say a resounding yes. Our Pearl Harbor & Arizona Memorial Tour had included a brief visit to the downtown area (to see the King Kamahameha statue) and I had noticed a number of attractive older buildings.
While there are a number of tours to the downtown, including the Iolani Palace, it is an easy half day trip from Waikiki just by taking the local bus.
The Iolani Palace was built in the 19th Century to house Hawaiian Royalty. A visit to the Palace includes an informative audioguide which charts the history of the Palace and the Royal Family, including the decline and subsequent dissolution of the Royal Family after the US annexed Hawaii.
On the same street as the Iolani Palace are a number of nineteenth century buildings, including the oldest building still standing in Honolulu, which dates back to the 1820s:
Kualoa Ranch is a popular day trip from Honolulu. Originally (and officially, still) a working cattle ranch, Kualoa Ranch is now one of the most popular filming locations in the US, with over 50 films and TV shows under its belt. I visited there because it is the location of the Jurassic Park film franchise, of which MissG is a massive fan.
You can book a visit to Kualoa Ranch two ways – either as part of a general tour of Oahu via a tour operator, or directly on the Kualoa Ranch website. Unless you only want to see the main Jurassic Park valley (and the fallen tree with the sign), you need to book a visit directly with Kualoa Ranch. This is easily done on the Kualoa Ranch website. Just choose your activities, add whether you want lunch (a simple, but decent lunch is offered at a reasonable price). And whether you want a transfer from Waikiki included.
Although it is famous for its association with film and television, Kualoa Ranch also offers a range of adventure and beach experiences. I booked the movie location location tour (of course) and a range of other activities of a cultural/historical basis. What I didn’t expect was that references to the Jurassic Park franchise would pop up in all of them. It seems that at Kualoa Ranch all roads lead to Jurassic Park. MissG was so thrilled. If you want the “money ball” shot at the Jurassic Park fallen tree in the Jurassic Park valley you need to book the film tour.
Visiting Kualoa Ranch is an interesting experience. It is mass tourism, on a grand scale, yet it is very small scale and personal. We booked a Waikiki Beach transfer to Kualoa Ranch. The transfer departed from the International Marketplace on Kuhio Ave. One hundred and fifty visitors were transported that morning. When we checked in we were given individual wrist bands (all colour coded) and then were given our individual itinerary for the day. This set out our schedule of activities, when we were expected for lunch and when our bus would depart for Waikiki at the end of the day.
All activities leave from, or are based at, individual locations across the ranch. Everything was well labelled and easy to find. Individual activities departed on time, and were hosted by chatty and enthusiastic driver-guides. Transport was fun, utilising old school buses, old jeeps etc all in Kualoa Ranch livery. Despite the high degree of organisation it was fun, relaxed and lowkey.
Shopping in Waikiki
There are, of course, people who travel to Honolulu, and Waikiki specifically, just to shop. There are shopping tours available, but really, you don’t need to book one. For tourists there are three main shopping options: Waikiki shops, the Ala Moana Shopping Centre and the Waikele Outlets. I was planning on going to the outlets, as they had been highly recommended by a friend of mine, but travelling to Honolulu in January I found end of season sales in full swing. With massive reductions on offer I didn’t bother. I did, however, spend a fantastic day’s shopping at the Ala Moana Shopping Centre, which comes complete with a Bloomingdale’s outlet. There were some high end designer brands at excellent prices. Mr Frugalfirstclass scored the deal of the day at Macy’s though – 80% off Ralph Lauren.
In downtown Waikiki there are a myriad of souvenir shops as well as the high end designer stores. One store (where I didn’t buy anything, but which looked fun) was a Christmas shop, selling Hawaiian inspired Christmas decorations which could be personalised. (Just near the Moana Surf Rider Hotel).
There are so many places to visit in Oahu that you could spend all your time outside Honolulu just visiting Oahu attractions. I elected not to do any tours beyond Kualoa Ranch, but if you want to spend your time exploring you certainly have plenty of options. Visiting the waterfalls in Oahu is particularly popular.
If you are planning on seeing a lot of Oahu attractions, the GoOahu Card may be a cost effect option for you. You can compare different card options here:
Waikiki accommodations run from the ultra budget to the ultra expensive, from boutique hotels in Waikiki all the way through to vast Waikiki resort hotels.
Where to stay in Waikiki is very much a personal decision. A work colleague of mine stayed at a fun and funky refurbished 1960s hotel – very Hawaii 5-O. I stayed at two different hotels in Waikiki – the Hyatt Regency Waikiki and one of the best hotels in Waikiki, the Royal Hawaiian.
The Hyatt Regency is a very large hotel with over 2000 rooms spread across two separate towers. It’s a good hotel if you want a Waikiki beachfront hotel without the hefty price tag. My ocean view room was large and very comfortable. The only downside for families was the bathroom was particularly small. For the quality of the food at both breakfast and dinner I thought the restaurant was quite expensive, but with three ABC Stores in the complex and multiple restaurants nearby this is not a problem. Staff at the hotel were absolutely delightful, and I received exceptional service everywhere, at every turn.
My second Waikiki hotel was very different. The Royal Hawaiian (often referred to those in the know as the Pink Palace) is a Waikiki institution. Built in the 1920s it retains its traditional character and charm. I wanted to book an ocean front room, which was easy at the Royal Hawaiian, given its absolute beachfront location. The only downside was that rooms in the traditional pink wing of the hotel don’t have balconies – just windows. What the Royal Hawaiian does have though, is the more modern Mailani Tower with balconies and uninterrupted ocean views – and a great view of the older, pink wing.
Booking the Mailani Tower gives you more than just a balcony though. With a separate check in area, and free continental breakfast and happy hour (complete with drinks and generous snacks) I felt the Mailani Tower represented good value for money.
Resources for your trip to Honolulu:
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