48 Hour Guide to Honolulu

Make the most out of your quick trip to Honolulu with our guide to can’t miss experiences and hidden gems. From hikes, memorials and parks to local food, shopping and, of course, beaches, Honolulu has something for everyone.

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Your plane has landed in Honolulu and you’ve got only 48 hours — ready, set, hurry. Just kidding — relax. Slow down. You may be in Hawaii’s biggest city, but you’re on island time now. Even with just two days to work with, you can still experience a mix of popular spots and hidden gems. There are a few places you shouldn’t miss, especially if you’re visiting Honolulu for the first time. But don’t just stay on the tourist route. Get into the water or off the main road, and make the most of the time you have — without zooming around the island like a crazy coconut.

Get Your Heart Pumping

It looks really, really high, but climbing Diamond Head isn’t too difficult. Little known fact: the 0.8-mile path to the volcanic crater rim was actually built for coastal defense. As a peacetime visitor, you benefit; the view from the top is spectacular. Pack some snacks in case your stomach rumbles and you need quick energy. (Hint: Spam musubi, which is like sushi, is a big hit in Hawaii and is even sold at convenience stores.) If you want to beat the crowds and the heat, get to the trailhead early. You’ll get a closer parking spot too, which is helpful when you come down from the trail and your legs are shaky.

Pay Your Respects

You don’t have to be a history buff to appreciate Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona Memorial. This is one of those “shouldn’t miss” sites. America’s involvement in World War II started here, when Japanese bombers struck the harbor on December 7, 1941, “a date which will live in infamy,” as stated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Check the calendar before you go. The National Park sometimes hosts military concerts, film screenings, and commemorative events, and you might want to bring some tissues.

Woman in green dress holding a spoon up to an orange and red Hawaiian shave ice dessert in a green cup

Eat Local Foods

You already checked Spam musubi off your list, right? For traditional Hawaiian meat and seafood — kalua pig, lomi-lomi salmon, and pipikaula short ribs — go to Helena’s Hawaiian Food. Bring cash. The hole-in-the-wall restaurant is a James Beard winner and has appeared on “Man v. Food.” For dessert, or just an afternoon snack, it’s shave ice time, and no, it’s not missing a “d” at the end. Although it may look like your everyday snow cone, the ice isn’t chunky; it’s silky smooth. Ask for it with adzuki beans and vanilla ice cream on the bottom and traditional Hawaiian lychee, guava, or mango syrups on the ice. Fortunately, there are a ton of places you can get it. Try Waiola Shave Ice in Waikiki.

Shop Local

Whether you want a meal or a memento to bring home, wander through one of Oahu’s farmers’ markets and pick up some tropical flowers, fresh bread, local honey, fruits, and vegetables. You can bop to live music or hole up in one of the dining stalls. It can be more fun than a sit-down, white-tablecloth dinner. The markets run weekdays and weekends, depending on the location, and hours vary too.

Get a View of Paradise

It’s kind of embarrassing to drive through a park and not be able to pronounce its name. So start working on it now. Pu’u ‘Ualaka’a State Wayside is the park, but the mountain is also known as Tantalus, and that’s easier to say. By the time you figure out the pronunciation, you’ll be at the overlook. And you won’t have to sweat to get there if you decide to drive. The view includes Diamond Head, the city below, the green volcano, and the big blue ocean.

Aerial photo of snorkeling paradise Hanauma Bay in Oahu, Hawaii on a sunny day with beachgoers lounging in the sand and swimming on the shore

Be a Beach Bum

Yes, Hanauma Bay is touristy, but lots of locals go there too, and for good reason. This is a prime snorkeling location and one of the top beaches in the world. Bring your own snorkeling gear, or rent there. If you don’t have time to grab food, there’s a snack bar and a little gift shop to snag last-minute souvenirs. Get there early because parking is limited, and don’t forget the sunblock.

Get more inspiration for your Honolulu trip on our Pinterest page.

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