With a cosmopolitan population of 950,000, Honolulu is Hawaii's largest city. It also is the hub of cultural, educational, political, dining, shopping, business and entertainment activities in the Aloha State.
After Captain James Cook put the Hawaiian Islands on the map of the world in 1778, Honolulu became an increasingly important stop for ships traveling between America and Asia. First came fur traders, who made fortunes exchanging otter pelts from the Pacific Northwest for teas, spices and silks from China. Later, fragrant sandalwood became such a prized commodity that Island forests were nearly stripped clean of it. Then came the whalers, who plied the seas relentlessly in search of the gentle giants that were the source of rich oil.
Around 1843, recognizing the importance of the harbor to local commerce, King Kamehameha III moved the capital of Hawaii from Lahaina, Maui to Honolulu, and it has held that designation ever since.
Honolulu Harbor bustles with activity every day of the week. Fishing boats, tugboats, tour boats, container ships, cruise vessels and barges berth at its piers. A mega-ship, NCL's Pride of America, even homeports year-round in the harbor (at Pier 2). Its centerpiece, Aloha Tower Marketplace, is a trendy shopping, dining and entertainment complex that sprawls over 11 waterfront acres. This is your jumping-off place for an unforgettable Oahu stay.
Honolulu Cruise Port Address: Pier 2 Cruise Terminal, 521 Ala Moana Boulevard, Honolulu, HI 96813
Most cruise ships visiting Honolulu dock at Piers 10-11, adjacent to Aloha Tower Marketplace. Norwegian Cruise Line's Pride of America, which is based year-round in Honolulu, cruises from Pier 2, about a quarter mile south of the marketplace. As a general policy, Aloha Tower Marketplace management will provide courtesy shuttle (trolley) service to port call visits at Pier 2.
With almost 30 stores and 8 restaurants, Aloha Tower Marketplace is a great place to pass some leisure hours. In addition, you can check out the following activities and attractions, all located at Honolulu Harbor, just a short stroll from your ship.
Aloha Tower: The 10-story tower was the highest building in Honolulu when it opened in 1926. On the top floor, the observation deck reveals a breathtaking view of Honolulu Harbor. It's open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily and admission is free. Piers 10 and 11 (808-566-2337).
If you're up for more cruising, The Majestic (800-548-6262) and Star of Honolulu (808-427-1637) offer memorable excursions off the coast of Waikiki. From December through April, humpback whales are an additional attraction. The boats are docked at Piers 6 and 8, respectively.
Taxis line up curbside at Aloha Tower Marketplace adjacent to Piers 8 and 9. Rental cars are available, too. Companies that run shuttles between the pier and their lot include Enterprise, Thrifty, Dollar, Hertz and others.
TheBus, Oahu's excellent mass transit system, covers just about the entire island of Oahu. Fares are $2.75 for adults, $1 for seniors (65-plus) and $1.25 for kids from age 6 through 17 (older teens may be asked to show their high school identification card as proof of age). Visitor passes, allowing unlimited travel for four consecutive days, cost $25. Transfers discontinued in 2017; if you need to transfer to another bus you must buy a day pass ticket for $5.50. Boarding locations will vary, depending on your destination; call for more information (808-848-4444).
Reminiscent of San Francisco's famed cable cars, the Waikiki Trolley operates more than 50 trolleys on three lines. The Red Line stops at 13 sights in Honolulu, including Chinatown, Iolani Palace and the Aloha Tower Marketplace. The Green Line travels along the eastern coast to Waikkiki Aquarium, Diamond Head Surf Lookout and other scenic stops. Green and Red sandwich the smaller Pink Line, which emphasizes shopping and dining. Free brochures detailing the routes are available online or at the Waikiki Trolley's information kiosks at the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center and Ward Warehouse. Daily fares are $41 for adults and $23 for children aged 4 through 11, including unlimited reboarding. Four- and seven-day passes are also available (808-593-2822).
Numerous banks are located in downtown Honolulu. Hours are generally 7:30 or 8:30 a.m. to 3 or 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday, with hours extended to 6 p.m. on Friday. Most offer foreign exchange services.
English is spoken everywhere.
Note: Be aware that some of these establishments are only open on weekdays; call ahead before going.
At the Port: Set pierside, the Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant (Aloha Tower Marketplace, 808-599-4877) offers salads, sandwiches, pizzas and pastas all washed down with German-style lagers brewed on site. Not to be missed: hummus and goat cheese salad with salmon served over warm herb flatbread; beer battered fish and chips with malt minegar and spicy remoulade -- and wake-up-your-palate garlic fries. Also serves dinner.
In Downtown Honolulu: Legend Seafood Restaurant (100 North Beretania Street, 808-532-1868) is a popular Chinese eatery known for its dim sum, which loyal customers swear is as good as anything you'll find in Hong Kong. Servers roll carts filled with steamed, baked, fried and roasted delicacies by your table, and you select whatever strikes your fancy. Also serves dinner.
Family Friendly: Bring the family to Benihana of Tokyo (Hilton Hawaiian Village, 2005 Kalia Road, 808-955-5955) for a great teppan-yaki meal and show! Right at your table, as he prepares your meal, your chef will juggle salt and pepper shakers, flip gleaming knives and catch lemons in his apron with the confidence and charisma of a consummate showman. Benihana is open for lunch and dinner.
In or Near Waikiki: Hau Tree Lanai (New Otani Kaimana Beach Hotel, 2863 Kalakaua Avenue, 808-921-7066) is an alfresco restaurant with an idyllic setting -- beneath a spreading hau tree right on San Souci Beach. The food is also good. Choose from a nice selection of sandwiches, pastas, fresh island fish, and vegetarian dishes and salads. Also serves dinner; with lights twinkling in the branches of the hau and the rolling Pacific providing soft background music, it beckons to lovers.
Kakaako Kitchen (Ward Centre, 1200 Ala Moana Boulevard, 808-596-7488) adds a gourmet twist to standard lunchwagon fare. The venue serves hamburger steak, shoyu chicken, beef stew under the direction of Chef Russell Siu of 3660 on the Rise fame. Don't miss the daily specials or the desserts (we always make a beeline for the bread pudding and coconut mochi). The prices are reasonable, too; most plates fall in the $10 to $15 range. Also serves dinner.
Located in a congested Moiliili residential area, The Willows (901 Hausten Street, 808-952-9200) is a one-acre oasis brightened by lush gardens, tropical flowers, cascading waterfalls and koi-filled ponds. There's buffet dining only here. Lunch features prime rib; roast turkey; steamed fresh catch; a saimin station; Hawaiian mainstays like laulau, kalua pig and lomi salmon; and the restaurant's signature chicken or shrimp curry. Many of the desserts are cut in bite-size portions, so you can try as many as you want, guilt free! Also serves dinner.
Dinner: These acclaimed restaurants are all within a half-hour drive of Honolulu Harbor.
Chef/owner Russell Siu's food at 3660 on the Rise (3660 Waialae Avenue, 808-737-1177) has been described as "a delicate blend of European, Pacific Rim and Island-style cuisine." All you need to know is it's fabulous. Tip: If you can't decide on an entree after perusing the enticing menu, you can't go wrong with the 3660 medley, which combines beef tenderloin, chicken and a catch of the day. And whatever you do, don't miss the signature appetizer: ahi katsu, sashimi-grade ahi wrapped in nori (seaweed) and deep fried medium rare.
Only Alan Wong could turn an obscure Moiliili locale into a mecca for discerning diners. Winner of the 1996 James Beard Foundation Award for Best Chef in the Pacific Northwest/Hawaii, Wong is unquestionably one of the stars of Hawaiian Regional Cuisine, which promotes the use of fresh locally grown produce, seafood and meats. Menu highlights at the eponymous Alan Wong's (1857 South King Street, third floor, 808-949-2526) include seafood cakes; ginger-crusted onaga; chopped ahi sashimi & avocado stack; Maui Cattle Company rib steak.
In 2003, it was chef/proprietor George Mavrothalassitis' turn to snare the James Beard Foundation Award for Best Chef in the Pacific Northwest/Hawaii. Editors of Gourmet magazine singled out his eponymous restaurant, Chef Mavro(1969 South King Street, 808-944-4714), as "where we would eat if we had only one night in Honolulu." Dine here and you'll agree the accolades are well deserved. Menus change seasonally. Prix four- and six-course menus are available with or without wine.
La Mer (Halekulani Hotel, 2199 Kalia Road, 808-923-2311) is the epitome of fine dining in Hawaii; it is the state's longest consecutively ranked AAA's five-diamond restaurant. You'll enjoy spectacular views of Diamond Head and Waikiki and the soothing sounds of la mer, the sea, as you dine on dishes inspired by flavors from the south of France.
Popular choices include items handcrafted from native woods (from bowls to sculptures to jewelry); bags and baskets woven from coconut fronds and the leaves of the hala tree; Niihau shell and seed lei; Hawaiian quilts; Island attire (aloha shirts and muumuu for the ladies); coffee table books; CDs featuring the music of local performers; artwork; bath and beauty products imbued with tropical scents; and food (teas, jams, jellies, chocolate-covered macadamia nuts, and Island-grown pineapple and coffee). Stores in or near downtown Honolulu that specialize in made-in-Hawaii gifts include Native Books/Na Mea Hawaii (808-596-8885), Martin & MacArthur (808-524-6066) and Nohea Gallery (808-596-0074). If you're visiting Honolulu in August, you'll also find quality local products at the Made in Hawaii Festival at Neal Blaisdell Center (808-533-1292 x3).