Honolulu, Hawaii, gives the visitor a slice of tropical paradise alongside all the offerings you'd expect to find in a major city. The beaches are the big draw, of course, but the city's multi-ethnic diversity — a vibrant mix of Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Filipino, Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders — gives Honolulu a truly cosmopolitan atmosphere, with a wealth of culinary options to experience. And while Honolulu might be the largest city in the state, it's also pleasantly laid-back, encouraging you to slow down and take it easy; you're on "Hawaiian time" now.
Must see in Honolulu
Waikiki Beach is the first stop for most visitors, a gorgeous mile and a half stretch of sand set against the backdrop of Diamond Head. The Pearl Harbor Visitor Center commemorates a dramatic event in American history, the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. The Bishop Museum boasts the world's best collection of Hawaiian artifacts offering a great insight into Hawaiian culture (and there's also a planetarium).
Where to stay in Honolulu
Most visitors stay in Waikiki, which has an abundance of hotels for every budget and family size; plus, wherever you stay, you'll only be a few blocks from the beach. If you want something a little more restful, hotels in Ala Moana are close to the mammoth Ala Moana Shopping Center and Ala Moana Beach Park, the beach locals are more likely to frequent. Hotels in the downtown area are a good option for those less interested in the beach, given its proximity to Honolulu's historic district and the Aloha Tower Marketplace.
Best and worst time to go to Honolulu
The best time to visit is during the off-seasons, mid-March through May and September through November; rates for everything are cheaper and there are fewer crowds. During high seasons, December through March and June through August, the rates go up. The summer is especially crowded, and the temperature can reach into the 90s.
Where to get lost in Honolulu
Chinatown is a fascinating neighborhood to explore, with its markets, antique stores, galleries, and restaurants, not to mention the Foster Botanical Garden and Kuan Yin Buddhist temple. Maunakea Street, between Beretania and King streets, is home to numerous lei shops. The first Friday of every month galleries stay open later, with the more low key "Slow Art Friday" happening on the third Friday of every month.
The best deal in Honolulu
Everyone visiting the islands wants to have that genuine Hawaiian experience, and there are plenty of ways to hear first-rate Hawaiian music at little or no cost: free shows are offered at the Kuhio Beach Hula Mound, the Royal Hawaiian Center, and Waikiki Beach Walk, while most beachfront hotels offer Hawaiian music and performances each evening, for the price of a few cocktails.
Transportation in Honolulu
If you're staying less than a week, and especially if you're staying in Waikiki, you may not need to rent a car in Honolulu. There's a great public transportation system, The Bus, as well as shuttles and taxis, and tour operators often provide transportation (for a fee). Or, consider renting a car for just part of your stay.
Getting in from Honolulu International Airport
Numerous taxis and shuttles service the airport, as does The Bus (though it only allows luggage that will fit on your lap or under the seat). Flat rate taxis are a good option; cheaper than a metered taxi and more direct than a shared shuttle.
Local tip for visitors to Honolulu
Farmers markets in Honolulu not only have local produce, but also ready made meals to go, as well as free samples. They're also a great place to meet the locals.
Author's bio: Gillian G. Gaar is a Seattle-based freelancer who writes about music, entertainment, and travel. Hawaii is one of her favorite destinations.