Things to do in Honolulu

Festive Honolulu Christmas Celebrations

Christmas without snow is divine when you’re in a dreamy tropical paradise. Celebrate the season island-style.

Hang 10 with Santa this holiday season as you enjoy Christmas in Honolulu. Leave those slippery snow-covered streets behind. Dig your toes in the soft, white sand and move to the beat of a different drum.

This tropical paradise blends unique Hawaiian traditions and classic holiday celebrations. From royal performances to spectacular light displays, you don’t want to miss a thing. There are plenty of things to do in Honolulu at Christmas, but these events will surely put the holiday spirit in the biggest bah humbugger’s soul.

Festive Light Displays

The holiday light displays at these venues blaze brighter than the brilliant Pacific sun—no sunscreen required!

1. Honolulu City Lights

Witness the lighting of a 50-ft. Christmas tree at Honolulu Hale (City Hall) to kick-start your seasonal celebration. The first Norfolk pine was decorated in 1985, but the official Honolulu City Lights began in 1987.

The bare-chested and sun-bronzed Shaka Santa entered the scene in 1989. Mrs. Claus joined him in 1994 but soon received an aloha-inspired makeover when she majestically transformed into Tutu Mele. Her hair is now adorned with hibiscus, and she dons a traditional muumuu and kukui nut lei.

The opening night celebration falls on the first Saturday in December and includes an electric light parade you don’t want to skip. This event is free to attend as a gift to the community. The entire display remains throughout December, with the tree and other decorations lit nightly.

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2. Chinatown Winter Walk

Explore the Chinatown area this holiday season. Over 40 merchants compete to have the brightest and most festive decorations in their shop windows during the annual Chinatown Winter Walk. Add a tour of this marvelous light display to your calendar and mark a few items off your Christmas shopping list while you’re here.

It’s free to enjoy the neighborhood's transformation into a holiday wonderland. The entire walk spans a nine-block radius on the western side of downtown Honolulu. Displays remain throughout December.

3. Festival of Lights Boat Parade

Nothing beats a festival of lights floating across the ocean. Merrily adorned boats cruise around the Hawaii Kai Docks, allowing everyone to enjoy the show.

It’s much more than a few whimsical lights attached to the side of a pontoon — prepare to be awestruck by vessels decked out in elaborate themes, sometimes set to music. Boaters take this competition seriously, much to the benefit of the spectators. They energetically vie for a great place to watch and cheer for their favorites.

The dazzling display will leave you breathless, just like our heart-pounding performances.

Holiday Markets and Shopping

From the wearable to the edible, find that perfect holiday gift you’ve been looking for at these marketplaces.

4. Mele Kalikimaka Marketplace

Shoppers wanting authentic made-in-Hawaii crafts for someone on their gift list can’t go wrong at Mele Kalikimaka Marketplace. It takes place at Blaisdell Exhibition Hall every year, and it's a one-stop shop for loads of local goodies.

From handcrafted jewelry to local apparel, you can find something out-of-this-world for that special someone. Over 240 vendors displayed their wares in 2023, and the entertainment lineup throughout the day made the experience unforgettable.

If you're curious, “Mele Kalikimaka” translates to “Merry Christmas.” In 1949, the term was made famous following the release of the popular Bing Crosby tune written by R. Alex Anderson. Singer-songwriter Jimmy Buffet recorded a version in 1996, keeping the good vibrations going for a new generation.

5. Hawaii Holiday Craft & Gift Fair

When you're down to the wire trying to complete your Christmas shopping before the big day, head to the Hawaii Holiday Craft & Gift Fair. It's the perfect place to find a one-of-a-kind present while supporting local crafters and small businesses in Honolulu and beyond. Vendors from other islands often attend this popular holiday market.

Shopping at this fair is a great way to spread the aloha to the seller and your gift's recipient. With over 250 sellers, you might even find something for yourself.

Cultural Celebrations & Performances

Honolulu Christmas events aren’t complete without soaking up a little island culture.

6. Royal Hawaiian Center Holiday Performances

Special holiday events at the Royal Hawaiian Center include live performances that create a memorable Waikiki Christmas. In 2023, Storybook Entertainment put on numerous shows filled with enchanting characters. Following each performance, kids got a free picture with Aloha Santa and peppermint cookies from Honolulu Cookie Company.

The center has a storied history. The “Royal” in its name is a nod to the historic land it sits on, which Hawaiian royalty once called home. It’s now a premier destination offering entertainment and authentic cultural events, with over 90 shopping and dining venues covering three city blocks.

7. Holiday Concert Series at the Waikiki Beach Walk

At Christmas, the Waikiki Beach Walk offers an inspiring place to hear a fantastic lineup of seasonal entertainment, including renowned hula performers and storytelling through chant (oli).

In 2023, this week-long celebration touted everything from traditional music and dance to a dazzling holiday showcase highlighting the future of Hawaiian culture. Each performance mesmerized guests with the beauty of the holiday spirit and an extra dose of aloha on Christmas night.

Festivities include the Honolulu Marathon Aloha Night, which features a torch-lighting ceremony. Local merchants host a Shop, Sip & Stroll! with special deals, prizes, and shopping surprises marked with giant red bows.

8. ‘Iolani Palace Christmas Concert

Built in 1882, Iolani Palace was the primary residence of Hawaiian royalty until the monarchy was overthrown, and the Provisional Government took over in 1893.

Although it fell into disrepair, it was fully restored to its former grandeur and registered as a National Historic Landmark. Today, it operates as a museum and is open to the public. It also holds special events, such as Christmas concerts.

On most Fridays in December, you can listen to the Royal Hawaiian Band play for free. The talented ensemble plays traditional music, including island songs from the past and present.

Source: Iolani Palace

Family-Friendly Activities

Family-friendly things to do in Oahu with kids mean little ones can have a blast, too.

9. Photos With Santa at Ala Moana Center

Every child wants to meet the big guy and tell him what they want for Christmas. Parents snap adorable photos to share with friends and family during this meeting. Luckily, several events provide more than one opportunity for a decent shot of the momentous occasion.

In 2023, Ala Moana Center offered several memory-making moments. For an added twist, children visited Santa at his surf shack, and parents could request pictures through Christmas Eve. Kids even had the opportunity to take selfies in front of his surfboard photo wall.

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10. Holiday Express Train Ride at the Hawaiian Railway Society

All aboard! Christmas in Oahu should include a ride on the Holiday Express at the Hawaiian Railway Society. Nobody can resist riding the bright red train full of holiday cheer. The round-trip route to Kahe Point takes about 90 minutes in total.

Since the society operates the only active historical railroad on the island, tickets for the Christmas event sell out quickly. In October, the Holiday Express morphs into the Haunted Train, offering one of many spooktacularly good Halloween events in Oahu.

11. Breakfast With Santa Events

Children love the opportunity to eat breakfast with Santa, making this one of Oahu's most popular Christmas events. Parents watch their kids enjoy a surreal moment with the jolly man who makes the season bright.

In 2023, the Hawaii Children’s Discovery Center, Dave & Buster’s, and Neiman Marcus were just a few of the venues that hosted Breakfast with Santa events. Consider brunch if your kids have trouble getting around in the mornings. Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort & Spa hosted a Brunch with Santa last year.

Special Events and Entertainment

Make Christmas even more special with exceptional entertainment. These events are as thrilling as the high-flying acrobatics in our majestic shows.

12. Waikiki Holiday Parade

Local bands, mainland marching bands, entertainers, and dignitaries gather for a heartfelt parade honoring Pearl Harbor survivors and the anniversary of the attack. The performance also ushers in the holiday season, leaving everyone on a high note.

Since 1998, the Waikiki Holiday Parade has hosted a week of events and performances on the islands. In addition to playing in the parade, bands perform in Pearl Harbor at the USS Missouri battleship and participate in a wreath-laying ceremony at the USS Arizona Memorial.

It's held on the Friday after Thanksgiving, and thousands of spectators attend annually. Leading up to the event, participants experience a whirlwind tour that begins with hula dancers and includes dinner, dancing, and a night under the stars.

The next day, hike up the pinnacle of Diamond Head, an extinct volcano, for an unobstructed view of Waikiki Beach and downtown Honolulu. Other stops on the week-long tour include the Polynesian Cultural Center, Dole Plantation, Paradise Cove, and Secret Island.

Visitors also take a fully narrated tour through historic Honolulu and set sail on a catamaran to see whales, dolphins, and sea turtles.

13. The Nutcracker at Ballet Performances

The magnificent costumes and choreography of Ballet Hawaii’s The Nutcracker could only be topped by the breathtaking synergy of one of our dance numbers.

This annual production of the cherished holiday tale is a treasured tradition you'll want to see again and again. The Hawaiian version of The Nutcracker takes place in the 1858 Kingdom of Hawaii. While it puts a new spin on the classical ballet, it still uses Tchaikovsky’s music.

To align with local history, this version mentions Captain James Cook and Robert Wilcox, who defended the monarchy in 1895. The updated battle scene pits the South Seas Pirate Rats against an army of Iolani Palace guards.

We'd tell you more, but don't want to ruin the ending. If you want to know how it turns out, you must see it yourself.

Source: Hawaii Ballet.

Religious and Spiritual Events

All the holiday hubbub might overshadow the religious aspects of Christmas Day in Honolulu and around the nation. When we're on the islands during the yuletide season, we attend these events to remind ourselves of what the holidays are really about.

14. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day Services

Word of Life Honolulu holds Christmas Eve services, including three in-person and online livestream programs in the morning and one online livestream in the evening. The programming includes worship services, a hula presentation, Christmas carols, and a presentation by its children’s ministry, Kidz Life.

The church also holds services at Kahului, Kona, Mililani, and West Oahu campuses, but service times vary. On New Year's Eve, Word of Life holds a service to usher in a fresh beginning.

15. Live Nativity Scenes

The birth of Jesus is one of the most beloved of Bible stories, making live nativity scenes especially popular at Christmas. The Salvation Army Hawaiian and Pacific Islands Division hosts a live nativity yearly.

It uses sign language, music, and dance to tell the story every half-hour. Other places may hold similar events, but they may not be held annually.

Photographer: Walter Chavez

Celebrate the Holiday Season With Aloha Through Honolulu's Enchanting Christmas Events

If you’re seeking a snow-free beach getaway, Christmas in Honolulu offers unforgettable experiences. After you've partaken in the island's festivities, stop by the theater, and we'll give you another reason to celebrate.

We’ll immerse you in evocative storylines and gravity-defying feats you must see to believe. The joy of the season matches the jubilance you'll feel when you watch one of our shows in Honolulu. Spread the Aloha and surprise your family with tickets in their stockings this Christmas. It's a present they'll never forget.

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