Things to do in Honolulu

Famous Landmarks to Visit In Hawaii

Forget the beach. Hawaii’s greatest landmarks cast the islands in a new light.

When people think of Hawaii, images of picturesque beaches immediately come to mind. But there are plenty of things to do in Honolulu beyond surfing. Centuries of history and natural marvels have left trails of adventure across the state. Historical landmarks await for curious minds eager to taste another side of island life.

Let us take you on a tour of our favorite landmarks in Hawaii. These are some of the sights you don't want to miss.

Historical Landmarks

Historic sites abound in Hawaii. Step into the past as you visit these time-tested monuments.

1. Iolani Palace

First constructed in the 1870s, Iolani Palace housed Hawaiian royalty in decadent rooms with then-modern amenities. Although the monarchs are long gone, the palace still stands as a testament to Hawaii’s storied past. Today, the search continues for much of Iolani’s original artifacts and furnishings, lost to time but not forgotten.

What remains is a breathtaking trip into another era. A series of unique tours give visitors an intimate look at the clothing, architecture, and cultural landscape of the era. At the same time, old photographs preserve prominent figures who made their mark on Hawaii’s history.

Photographer: 12019

2. Pearl Harbor

In 1941, a devastating attack on a U.S. Naval Base at Pearl Harbor prompted the country to enter World War II in earnest. Today, the site is a national park, and its memorials make up some of the most moving Hawaii museums.

The USS Arizona Memorial is popular among visitors. Its building was erected on top of a sunken ship. Inside the white stone walls, you'll find a moving tribute to the lost lives, including a marble wall carved with the names of the fallen.

If you look out over the ocean, you might be able to catch a glimpse of the sunken USS Arizona. Oil continues to seep from the wreckage, distorting the surf with shiny, slick patches.

Photographer: wojoan

3. King Kamehameha Statue

Monuments to the first ruler of the Kingdom of Hawaii stand proudly across the islands. One of the most notable is the King Kamehameha Statue, which sits across from the state’s Supreme Court.

The bronze statue is draped in gold. It rises notably above the surrounding gardens, with one arm outstretched, gesturing toward the vast expanse of what was once his kingdom. Visitors flock to the monument to take photographs and reflect on the winding course of history.

If you’re in town in June, you might find the king adorned with flowery leis in observance of Kamehameha Day.

4. Ala Moana Center

History meets modernity at the Ala Moana Center. One of the largest shopping malls in the United States, the marketplace is a present-day landmark, notable for its architecture and delightfully relaxed atmosphere.

A shopaholic’s wonderland, Ala Moana boasts high-end brands and American mall classics. An open-air layout gives visitors a taste of sunny skies as they stroll from store to store.

With quaint, garden-like touches, rock ponds, and decorative vegetation, no shopping spree is too far removed from Hawaii’s natural elegance. Come prepared to shop or enjoy a day of lounging in this exquisite environment.

5. Aloha Tower

From its place on the pier, Aloha Tower was once a shining beacon for sailors at sea after dark. No longer the island’s tallest building, the lighthouse remains a cherished city landmark.

Today, the Aloha Tower has transformed into a bustling marketplace. Visitors gather here to visit the shops and dine at the delectable restaurants. It also hosts the Ka Moana Luau, a nightly celebration with daring feats reminiscent of our own. It's an excellent place for a shopping spree or to take in the city’s dynamic history.

Photographer: Michelle_Raponi

Natural Wonders

Ringed by rainforests and the ocean, Hawaii is filled with ecological splendor. See for yourself with a trip to these landmarks.

6. Diamond Head State Monument

One of Hawaii’s most beloved natural attractions sits on the edge of its capital city. A massive volcanic explosion formed the Diamond Head State Monument about 300,000 years ago. The broad crater left in its wake has since settled. Curious visitors love to check out its craggy outer ridges.

The trail to this summit is steep, paved, and dotted with historic tunnels and military bunkers. The experience is an outdoor adventure and a historical journey through time. Keep walking to find it all pays off at the summit with a dynamic coastal view.

You might even see a humpback whale cresting above the waves on a clear day.

7. Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve

A volcanic cone carved this curved stretch of coastline into a place of pure, natural beauty. Today, Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve protects this biological wonder, which draws countless visitors to its glimmering golden sands.

Fans of marine life love visiting this site to look for the dazzling reef, teeming with fish and corals. Snorkeling newbies and experts get a close-up view of the ocean's ecosystem. For land lovers, the beach and its plush green surroundings make a picturesque place to lounge in the sun.

8. Manoa Falls

Just up the road from Waikiki Beach, you'll find a jungle trail with a stunning surprise at its end. Follow in the footsteps of ancient Hawaiian adventurers to reach the misty, booming base of Manoa Falls.

Brightly colored birds chirp above dripping foliage as mud squelches under your hiking shoes. To nature lovers, it sounds almost like an unforgettable rainforest symphony. This trail is more of a hike than a walk. It's suitable for beginners and seasoned hikers who want to view its natural splendor.

Your thighs will burn as you journey along the slight uphill grade until you see Manoa Falls in all its majesty. The trail is less than 2 miles out and back and can be completed in a few hours. Of all the things to do in Honolulu, this is one you don’t want to miss.

9. Nu’uanu Pali Lookout

Drive up Honolulu’s Pali Highway, where the rainforest lines the road. Soon, all traces of the city will disappear behind the tree line. Before long, the Nu’uanu Pali Lookout comes into view. Tucked onto the mountainside, this perch is home to some of Hawaii's best views.

More than 1,000 ft. above the coastline, this height-heavy landmark is right up our alley. From your wind-blanketed place on the lookout, Oahu comes back into view in a panorama of far-off buildings and beaches. The site of the historic Battle of Nu’uanu, this cliffside roost, is as culturally enlightening as it is breathtaking.

10. Waimea Canyon

Hawaii is chock-full of dramatic views, and the one from Waimea Canyon’s outer rim is no exception. Although it's not as large as the Grand Canyon in Arizona, Waimea boasts a magnificent 14-miles-long, 3,600-ft.-deep gorge. From there, you get great views of the Pacific Ocean.

Channel your inner acrobat to take your place at the lookout point. Suspended high above the canyon, panoramic views engulf viewers in a sea of buttes, crags, and deep-seated ravines.

Seasoned hikers might decide to venture onto the park’s tricky hiking trails. But for the stationary admirer, bird’s-eye views and close-drifting clouds are more than enough to astound.

Photographer: MonicaVolpin

11. ʻĪao Valley

Streams crisscross the length of the ʻĪao Valley, one of Hawaii’s grandest state parks. Heavy rainfall keeps this scenic spot lush with leafy vegetation, draping its shades of green and emerald.

A peaceful botanical garden offers a taste of the surrounding rainforest, although daring visitors can strap on their hiking boots and venture deeper into the wild. Half a mile up the mountain is the perfect point to view Kuka’emoku — the 'Iao Needle.

From here, the needle rises high from the valley below. As you stand there, take a moment to reflect on the area's ancient battles. The past shaped the space into what it is today.

12. Kehena Black Sand Beach

Hawaii’s shores are dotted with a handful of black sand beaches, products of active volcanoes and the char-colored fragments they leave behind. While many of these volcanoes have long gone dormant, the beaches remain. These sandy shores offer a novel change from their neighboring pristine coasts.

Kehana Black Sand Beach is a secluded place to view this natural phenomenon. These shadowy sands are soft and toasty when they soak up the morning sunlight. Palm trees offer plenty of places to relax as the day warms.

As you dip in the ocean, look back to see the full length of the unique beachfront.

Cultural Landmarks

Hawaii’s rich culture runs strong through its communities. Experience authentic Hawaiian life at these notable spots.

13. Byodo-In Temple

At the foot of the Ko’olau Mountains lies a pristine picture of Japanese culture. The Byodo-In Temple is a slightly compact replica of its centuries-old twin in Uji, Japan. Built to commemorate the first arrival of Japanese immigrants to the island, Byodo-In remains a beloved attraction on both sides of the globe.

The temple itself is an architectural feat. Smooth red lines pop against the lush green mountains beyond, while ornate adornments affirm the spot as a sacred space. The warm, tropical air outside makes for a pleasant stroll through the temple grounds. Nestled into the gardens are awe-inspiring statues and pavilions ripe for viewing.

Photographer: David Groves

14. Pu’u O Mahuka Heiau State Historic Site

As a state backed by millennia of history, Hawaii has its fair share of historical sites, but few are as fascinating as Pu-u O Mahuka Heiau.

A layer of mystery shrouds this storied stretch of hillside. Thought to have been constructed in the 1600s, this ancient temple was once the crux of Oahu’s social, political, and religious spheres.

Though cracked and crumbling, the outline of each rocky wall remains today. For visitors, the site marks a step back in time. Traverse the path that weaves through the ruins and try to imagine the ancient culture and people who once spent time there. It's a place to reflect on nature and the past.

15. Polynesian Cultural Center

The Polynesian Cultural Center offers a slice of true Hawaiian life. This spot is one of the most popular attractions in Oahu because it provides insight into local history. Visitors are made to feel as welcome as the locals.

Strap on your hiking shoes for a guided tour through six Polynesian villages, each with a unique culture to explore. Along the way, partake in ancient games, fish like the locals, and learn the steps to an authentic dance.

At the end of the day, partake in a lively luau celebration. Surrounded by waterfalls and lush garden groves, you’ll get an intimate look at the rituals that comprise this key piece of Polynesian heritage.

Enjoy some traditional island fare beneath the stunning Oahu sunset. When you’ve had your fill of island delights, an evening show after our own hearts awaits, complete with fire dancers and special effects.

Embracing the Spirit of Hawaii: Your Gateway to Adventure Awaits

Hawaiian landmarks are places for people to reflect on times long past. Come down to the theater when you're ready to return the present. Our shows in Honolulu take you on an emotional journey as our thrilling storylines play out.

Marvel at our dancers as they leap across the stage, and admire the prowess of our acrobats as they perform gravity-defying feats. Stunning visuals, clever technology, and moving musical scores create a fully immersive experience. When you come to our shows, you can make fantasy a reality — at least for one night.

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