To get the most out of a trip to Hawaii you really should spend more than 48hrs exploring the islands. But, if you can only fit in a short stopover there’s more than enough to fill up a couple days on one of its main islands. Honolulu is a tourist hotspot so you can expect shopping, dining, beaching and entertainment galore.
The most central area to stay is around Waikiki Beach. It’s not cheap, especially if you want a view, but it’s worth it for the location and convenience. Once you’ve checked in find your bathers and sprint down to the beach. This is what you’re here for after all; perfect sun, sand and surf.
Feeling relaxed now? An afternoon coasting the waves is sure to build up an appetite. The dining options in the area are chains you’ve likely heard of but perhaps never tried. On the affordable side there’s Cheesecake Factory, California Pizza Kitchen and PF Chang’s. For a fancy meal try Roy’s Waikiki for Asian fusion stateside.
Set your watch and map your way to the beach by the Hilton Hawaiian Village for a fireworks show. Kicking off at 7.45pm each Friday night, it’s a free 10 minutes entertainment beneath the stars.
Every popular US store and luxury brand is within your reach. Browse as much as you want but save the big spending for later in the trip because there’s designer bargains coming your way. Shop your way through the major players like Victoria’s Secret, Urban Outfitters, Forever 21 and Sephora. For a Hawaiian specialty, check out the Honolulu Cookie Company. They’ve got buttery good shortbread in a range of flavours from island favourite Lilikoi (AKA passionfruit) to classic chocolate chip.
Depending on how you like to spend your Saturday there are two great options. So, are you an adventurer or a retail junkie at heart?
Option 1: Adventure
Adventurers can find themselves a birds’ eye view by booking in for one of the many parasailing tours run on the island. Most hotel concierges will have brochures and connections to help you select a reputable company.
I’ve been with Xtreme Parasail on one trip and would definitely recommend. They offer 3 heights – 500ft, 850ft and 1000ft. The lowest option is good for first timers but some find it anti-climactic. Having tried both the 850 and 1000ft sails I can tell you there isn’t much difference. At a certain point you just know you’re really high up. The main difference is how long you’re up in the air; the higher you go the longer the climb and descent so the more time you have to view.
The whole experience takes around half a day so you can finish off the afternoon back on the sand – drink in hand – staring up at the tops of buildings and reminiscing on when you were that tall.
Option 2: Shopping
Remember those designer bargains we talked about earlier? They’re hiding in the Waikele Premium Outlets. From Armani to Calvin Klein, Coach, Furla, Guess, Kate Spade, Banana Republic and even Levis – brand name is the aim of the game.
A round trip shuttle bus ticket is only $18 with pickup points out the front of many major hotels. The last return on the shuttle bus is at 4.30pm but the centre closes at 9pm most evenings. So, either plan to leave your shopping early on a round trip bus or get the one-way seat and use a taxi/Uber/regular bus network in the evening.
You can’t experience Hawaii to the full without experiencing a Luau. Sure, they’re pretty touristy but they’re also a great place to enjoy a nice meal, islander entertainment and community vibes. Chief’s Luau is highly recommended on TripAdvisor and has a great mix of feasting and traditional activities such as hula dance lessons. If you’re interested in the history of Hawaiian Luau’s check out this article.
It’s your last day in Honolulu so make the most of it. Diamond Head is a popular landmark and hike easily accessed by bus or taxi. Heading out early will help you beat the heat and the inevitable crowds. It’s a fairly easy hike and takes only 1.5-2hrs for a round trip. It’s open from 6am daily and is the perfect spot to watch the sunrise over the island. Find all the important details before you go here.
Head back beachside and straight to a tasty breakfast; you’ve definitely earned it. The Hula Grill along the main Waikiki strip has a mix of sweet and savoury dishes to satisfy any early morning cravings. Make sure to grab yourself a Kona coffee too, which for an Aussie in America is a blessing and a half. It’s still sweeter then you’ll be used to but it’s a darker, richer brew than most of those you’ll find in the US.
Soak up the last of the beach vibes. If you have any energy left give stand-up paddle boarding a try. Or find a viewpoint for some last-minute panorama shots before you head home.
You knew it was coming but it’s still bittersweet. With your time on Honolulu at an end it’s back to reality once again. At least you’ll be returning with an extra layer of tan so everyone knows you had a great holiday.
Good To Know:
- Tipping at restaurants, hotels and in taxis is customary. If you’re not used to it, it’s easy to accidentally overdo the gratuities. Keep a note on your phone with common percentages you should tip and hold onto your smaller notes so you’re not left with a wallet full of $20s for a short taxi ride.
- Tourist buses operate around the island; don’t hop on a JB tour bus (for Japanese tourists) unless you know the language. There’s colour-coded lines and maps so it’s pretty easy to get around.
- ABC stores are on every corner and have a range of convenience items from Band-Aids to inflatable pool toys and cheap beach towels if you forgot to pack one.
Keep up with all the 48hr itineraries here.
Julia is a Melbourne-based writer specialising in content marketing and digital content. When she’s not writing, you’ll usually find her sipping hot tea, reading a great book and planning the next big travel adventure. Visit Work With Me if you’d like to collaborate.