Here is Hawaii's only true metropolis, its seat of government, center of commerce and shipping, entertainment and recreation mecca, a historic site, and an evolving urban area—conflicting roles that engender endless debate and controversy. For the visitor, Honolulu is an everyman's delight: hipsters and scholars, sightseers and foodies, nature lovers and culture vultures all can find their bliss.

Once there was the broad bay of Mamala and the narrow inlet of Kou, fronting a dusty plain occupied by a few thatched houses and the great Pakaka heiau (shrine). Nosing into the narrow passage in the early 1790s, British sea captain William Brown named the port Fair Haven. Later, Hawaiians would call it Honolulu, or "sheltered bay." As shipping traffic increased, the settlement grew into a Western-style town of streets and buildings, tightly clustered around the single freshwater source, Nuuanu Stream. Not until piped water became available in the early 1900s did Honolulu spread across the greening plain. Long before that, however, Honolulu gained importance when King Kamehameha I reluctantly abandoned his home on the Big Island to build a chiefly compound near the harbor in 1804 to better protect Hawaiian interests from the Western incursion.

Two hundred years later, the entire island is, in a sense, Honolulu—the City and County of Honolulu. The city has no official boundaries, extending across the flatlands from Pearl Harbor to Waikiki and high into the hills behind.

The main areas (Waikiki, Pearl Harbor, Downtown, Chinatown) have the lion's share of the sights, but greater Honolulu also has a lot to offer. One reason to venture farther afield is the chance to glimpse Honolulu's residential neighborhoods. Species of classic Hawaii homes include the tiny green-and-white plantation-era house with its corrugated tin roof, two windows flanking a central door and small porch; the breezy bungalow with its swooping Thai-style roofline and two wings flanking screened French doors through which breezes blow into the living room. Note the tangled "Grandma-style" gardens and many ohana houses—small homes in the backyard of a larger home or built as apartments perched over the garage, allowing extended families to live together. Carports, which rarely house cars, are the island's version of rec rooms, where parties are held and neighbors sit to "talk story." Sometimes you see gallon jars on the flat roofs of garages or carports: these are pickled lemons fermenting in the sun. Also in the neighborhoods, you find the folksy restaurants and takeout spots favored by the islanders.

  • Kapahulu

    Walk just a few minutes from the eastern end of Waikiki, and you’ll find yourself in this very local main drag... Read More
  • Kalihi

    North of downtown Honolulu, just off H1, is the tightly packed neighborhood of Kalihi. It’s home to large industrial... Read More
  • Nuuanu

    Immediately mauka of Kalihi, off Pali Highway, are a renowned resting place and a carefully preserved home where... Read More
  • Salt Lake

    There’s no longer a lake, salty or not, in this suburb of Honolulu. Instead, you’ll find a largely residential... Read More
  • Kaimuki

    Ten minutes beyond Kapahulu is this commercial thoroughfare that runs through an old neighborhood filled with cool... Read More
  • Diamond Head

    Besides hiking Diamond Head, visitors will enjoy the eclectic shops and restaurants along Monsarrat Avenue like... Read More
  • Chinatown

    Chinatown's original business district was made up of dry-goods and produce merchants, tailors and dressmakers,... Read More
  • Moiliili

    Packed into the neighborhood of Moiliili are flower and lei shops, restaurants (Spices, Fukuya Delicatessen, Sweet... Read More
  • Kahala

    Oahu's wealthiest neighborhood has streets lined with multimillion-dollar homes. At intervals along tree-lined... Read More
  • Downtown Honolulu

    Honolulu's past and present play a delightful counterpoint throughout the downtown sector, which is approximately... Read More
  • Waikiki

    A short drive from downtown Honolulu, Waikiki is Oahu's primary resort area. A mix of historic and modern hotels... Read More