Honolulu is the epicenter of the Hawaiian Islands.
There’s no hiding the fact that it’s a large, urban-centered city, but due to its supreme location on the island of Oahu, overlooking the beautiful vistas of the Pacific Ocean, Honolulu is a city that is very much livable – and perfect for a vacation.
City life in Honolulu is slow, it’s easy to escape the streets by simply walking down to one of the many beaches to spend the day relaxing in the sun or exploring the shoreline by paddleboard or boat.
The days will fly by in Honolulu, and that’s before you even head further afield.
Climb the iconic Diamond Head Crater for incredible views over the city or travel to the North Shore to explore some of Hawaii’s best beaches.
If you fancy, you could even travel to the other islands in the archipelago, chasing volcanoes and waterfalls as you go.
Honolulu is the perfect base from which to explore Hawaii; Here are the best day trips you can make from the city:
1. Waikiki Beach
Honolulu might be a city, but it’s also the perfect beach getaway destination, complete with sandy scenery and all the amenities you could ever need right on your doorstep.
Many tourists will find themselves staying on Waikiki Beach, on the south shore.
If you aren’t booked into a hotel there, you will find that your first day trip needs to be to Waikiki Beach.
Waikiki is what most people imagine when they think of a holiday to Hawaii.
This is the most famous beach in the state and it’s complete with bars, restaurants, and outdoor activities to keep you occupied for weeks if you desire.
White sands contrast starkly with the glimmering skyscrapers of Honolulu.
Spend the day drinking cocktails, snorkeling, surfing, paddle boarding – the options here are absolutely endless.
Available tour: Waikiki Sunset Cocktail Cruise
2. Diamond Head Crater
The hike to the summit of the iconic Diamond Head Crater could well be the best day trip possible from Honolulu.
As soon as you land on Oahu, and as soon as you begin your journey through the streets of Honolulu or along the beach at Waikiki, you’ll notice the towering presence of Diamond Head Crater.
The crater itself is a huge volcanic cone which dominates the horizon.
The hike to the top takes you along some of the best scenic viewpoints overlooking the shoreline and Honolulu.
Be sure to start your trek to the top early – much of the trail is steep and the weather here is always hot.
Although many parts are now concreted with steps, the hike is still demanding.
The earlier you start, the fewer people there are and the cooler it’s going to be.
Suggested tour: Diamond Head Crater Adventure Hike
3. Pearl Harbor
It might be a rather somber day trip from Honolulu, but a visit to Pearl Harbor will certainly be a moving day trip.
This is the scene of the infamous Japanese attack on Hawaii that threw the United States into World War II. It’s a dramatic piece of history and one that many visitors to Honolulu will find themselves immersed in at some point during their trip.
Visit the harbor itself to see the site of the attack and to learn more about it.
Then travel to the USS Arizona, where the sunken battleship still rests on the harbor floor after its sinking and a visitor’s center allows you to walk out over the wreck.
Finally, visit the Punchbowl Cemetery, to pay your respects to all those who died fighting during World War II, not just at Pearl Harbor but across the Pacific.
Recommended tour: Pearl Harbor & USS Arizona Memorial Tour with Pick-Up
4. Doors On, Doors Off Helicopter Rides
Oahu is a truly spectacular island to visit, but to really experience the vast, wild nature and beautiful shorelines found here, the ultimate day trip from Honolulu is to take to the skies.
What better way to see Oahu than from the air? Many tour companies provide helicopter rides to meet the ever-increasing demand from tourists and travelers looking to get airborne.
These small helicopters even have the option to have the doors on or off.
Don’t worry, you are safely strapped in, but removing the doors gives you the opportunity to really see what’s below you and take some awesome photos.
5. Learn to Surf or Paddleboard
Hawaii is where surfing was invented.
The Hawaiian tradition began centuries ago and was first recorded by Europeans when Captain Cook sailed through in the late 18th Century.
This ancient Polynesian tradition has very much become a worldwide phenomenon, but this is where it all began.
While in Honolulu, take the day to travel out to the numerous beaches around Oahu to hit the famous breaks.
If you have never surfed, there are plenty of companies offering instruction – a good place to start is Waikiki.
If you would rather try a more relaxed version of the sport, give stand up paddle boarding a go.
Available class: Group Surf Lesson [4:1 ratio]
6. Snorkeling and Scuba Diving
Hawaii is a real paradise for those who love the underwater world.
The rich, coral-filled waters are awash with a diverse array of marine life, both small and large.
There are plenty of unique and exciting snorkel and dive spots for visitors to explore across the island, and many tours exclusively cater to people looking to experience the best that can be found in the water.
7. Hanauma Bay
Hanauma Bay is Oahu’s best preserved marine nature park.
It’s one of the ultimate destinations in Hawaii for snorkeling and diving, and one of the easiest to reach destinations from Honolulu.
Just a short walk off the beach into the calm ocean is a rich coral bed full of colorful and vibrant aquatic creatures.
The beach is stunning and the coastline here is the best that Oahu has to offer.
8. North Shore Beaches
The North Shore of Oahu makes for an exceptional day trip from Honolulu.
There are countless beaches in the north of the island just waiting to be discovered and explored, and it makes for a relaxing, quieter getaway than the usual outing to Waikiki.
The coastline here is wild and windswept and is a favorite amongst surfers and snorkelers looking to either ride the waves or spot some marine life.
There’s so much here to explore that you could keep returning day after day and still find a new spot every time.
Recommended tour: Half-Day Tour of Oahu’s Famous North Shore and Circle Island
9. Ko Olina Coastline
On the west coast of Oahu can be found one of the island’s most up and coming beach areas, the Ko Olina Coastline.
Previously just the domain of a few very upscale resorts, this quiet but beautiful area is becoming known to the rest of the island very quickly.
It’s an absolutely stunning stretch of coastline and is within easy reach of Honolulu.
Relax along the beaches, hike along dramatic cliffs or hit the water to experience the waves or coral.
There’s plenty to keep you coming back for more at Ko Olina.
10. East Coast Oahu
Oahu is the island that just keeps giving and giving when it comes to incredible scenery and coastlines.
The East Coast of Oahu is no exception and you will find that tour companies provide dedicated East Coast tours to take you on a full day’s exploration from Honolulu.
This is the ‘windward’ side of the island and it really is a wild and windswept place.
Less explored than the west and north shores, the eastern coast is home to the most typically volcanic and tropical scenery on Oahu.
There are fewer resorts and hotels here, but that’s just fine because it means the coast is a lot more relaxed and quiet, especially in comparison to places like Waikiki.
Available tour: Hawaii: Tour along the east coast of O’ahu
11. Pineapple Plantations
An unusual day trip from Honolulu but a much-loved favorite among visitors to the city is a trip to the surrounding pineapple plantations.
The most famous is the Dole Plantation, a family-friendly affair where you can enjoy the delights of some of the world’s sweetest and juiciest pineapples, grown in perfect conditions in the fertile volcanic soil that’s found here.
12. The Valley of the Temples
Found on the eastern side of Oahu, The Valley of the Temples is a green and verdant area of the island, framed by mountains and forest.
It’s an unusual attraction, in that throughout this protected park, hundreds of different temples, shrines, and churches have been constructed over the years.
You will find Christian cathedrals next to Buddhist temples, making for an enlightening experience.
13. Waimea Waterfall
Waimea Waterfall is hidden in the jungles of the North Shore and a hike to Waimea Waterfall is an epic day trip to make.
Strap on your boots and hit the trail to walk through the excellent and pristine natural surroundings of Hawaii’s landscapes and check out this beautiful, cascading waterfall.
14. Manoa Falls
Another incredible waterfall to see while staying in Honolulu is the Manoa Falls.
This rocky, green waterfall rises 150-feet from the jungle floor and the hike here is sweaty but not too challenging, making it an excellent, accessible day trip from the nearby city.
Suggested tour: Half-Day Hawaii’s Manoa Waterfall Hiking Tour
15. Volcanoes National Park
Take a trip to the Big Island, to Hawaii itself to experience the volcanic nature of this Pacific Archipelago.
This is one of the most incredible things to do while visiting the state, as this national park is full of craters, lava flows, and even active volcanoes.