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Honolulu Travel Guide

Honolulu at a glance

Honolulu City is the capital Hawaii. Located on the southeastern shore of the island of Oahu, Honolulu's 375,000 people make it the largest city in the state. Honolulu is also home to one of World's most famous tourist destinations: Waikiki Beach.

The word Honolulu means "sheltered bay" in the Hawaiian language and the city takes its name from the large harbor it sits around - Honolulu Harbor. Honolulu became the capital of the Hawaiian Kingdom in 1845, when King Kamehameha III moved the capital from Maui Island.

Honolulu is now a busy and modern city full of high-rise buildings, international restaurants, and some of the best hotels in Hawaii and the world.

Honolulu Hawaii
Photo of Honolulu, Hawaii © Senor Ryan


Honolulu is part of Honolulu County, but commonly refers to the area along the southeastern shore of Oahu. While Honolulu City covers the urban part of southeastern Oahu, Honolulu County encompasses the whole island. Officially, the city and county are one entity called the City and County of Honolulu.

Honolulu's roads often follow the flow of the natural landscape and can be confusing for people who are used to the perpendicular intersecting streets of cities like New York City on the mainland. The first thing to learn when trying to figure out how to get around Honolulu are directional words often used to describe location.

  • Mauka (MOW-kah) means "toward the mountain" or inland. It refers to north when you are in Honolulu as the city lies on the southern coast.
  • Makai means "toward the ocean" and refers to south when you are in Honolulu.
  • Ewa (EH-va) means west and refers to the town of Ewa. Not surprising, the town lies west of Honolulu.
  • Diamond Head is located east of Honolulu and is used to mean towards Diamond Head, or east.

While these words can seem confusing at first, becoming familiar with them will make it easier to find your way around Honolulu, especially for long-term visitors.

Honolulu Districts

As with the rest of Oahu, Honolulu is made up of many districts. Some the common ones people talk refer to are:

  • Waikiki – Tourists center home to shopping, hotels, restaurants, bars, nightclubs, and Waikiki Beach.
  • Downtown Honolulu – Commercial and financial center is home to the city and state governments, Aloha Tower, and the Hawaii Pacific University campus.
  • Chinatown – Historic downtown area is heart of Chinese culture in Hawaii, home to great restaurants, wholesale noodle shops, and Honolulu's cheapest groceries.
  • Kaka'ako – Home to large shopping areas of Ward Warehouse and Ward Center, Dave and Busters, and University of Hawaii's John A. Burns School of Medicine.
  • Manoa – Residential area home to University of Hawaii's main campus.
  • Kahala/Waialae – Home to Kahala Mall, luxury homes, The Kahala Hotel and Resort, and the Wailae Country Club.
  • Hawaii Kai – East Honolulu residential community of homes for the upper-middle class and the super rich.

How to get to Honolulu from the Airport

Honolulu Airport is the main gateway to Hawaii and serviced by many domestic and international airlines from the Asia-Pacific region.


The easiest way to get to Honolulu from the airport is by taxi. Taxis to Waikiki cost about $30-$40 and can be a convenient way to get to the city after a long trip, especially for groups of 3 or more people. Expect to pay about $15-$20 for a taxi to Chinatown and downtown Honolulu.

Airport Waikiki Express

The Airport Waikiki Express is a shuttle service that takes passengers from the airport to most of the major hotels in Waikiki; it will take you within close walking distance if not right to the hotel doorstep. The Airport Waikiki Express costs $9 one-way and $15 for a round-trip ticket.


TheBus is Oahu's public bus systems and it runs two lines with service between the airport, downtown Honolulu, and Waikiki. Lines 20 and 19 both run every half-hour and stop on the second floor of the domestic and international terminals. Fares are set at $2 per ride and include one transfer included. Light luggage is allowed on the bus as long as it fits under your seat, but visitors with more than a backpack or shoulder bag should use another option.

Rental Car

Take the H-1 highway east 2 miles to exit 18A for Waikiki/Nimitz Highway. Get on the Nimitz Highway and take it straight into Waikiki. Be sure to note that it will turn into Ala Moana Boulevard after about 5 miles (8 km), when you get past downtown Honolulu.


For travelers to Hawaii looking for something more classy, a ride to Waikiki in a standard stretch limousine starts at around $60 for up to 8 people and $130 for a 16-person Hummer or Escalade limo. Limo rides from Honolulu Airport to Waikiki and other parts of Oahu require advanced reservations.

Getting Around Honolulu

Honolulu Buses

Oahu's bus network, TheBus, is cheap, easy to use, and services all parts of Honolulu and major areas of the island. Buses are also wheelchair accessible and bicycle friendly, with most having bike racks that hold up to 2 bicycles. Bikes racks are on the front of the buse and passengers should put their bike on the rack before getting on the bus. As a courtesy to other bike riders that may get on after you, make sure to put your bike in the back of the rack if it is empty.

Bus Fares

TheBus fares are $2 (half-price for children and seniors) and can be purchased from the bus driver when you get on the bus. Make sure to have coins or dollar bills as no change is given. Fares include one free transfer ticket good for 60 minutes from the time you get on the bus. Transfer tickets are not automatically given so remember to ask the bus driver for a transfer when you get on the bus.

4-Day Discovery Bus Pass

Visitors planning on taking 3 or more bus rides per day should consider getting a 4-Day Discovery Pass. The pass costs $20 is good for 4 days of unlimited rides in Honolulu and around Oahu. When you first use the card, scratch off the month and day before getting on the bus - the pass will be good for unlimited travel on that day. The card is good for 4 days of travel and the days do not have to be consecutive. 4-Day Discovery Passes can be purchased at ABC convenience stores around the island.

Monthly and Yearly Bus Passes

Monthly and yearly bus passes are the best option for Oahu residents and long-term visitors. Monthly bus passes cost $40 and yearly passes go for $400. Both can be purchased at 7-Eleven stores and supermarkets around the island.

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Honolulu From Diamondhead

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