Downtown Honolulu is where everything happens. It is the center for financial and economic growth. Here you will find a blend of old and new, of history and progress, marked by Fort Street Mall, which is where the division of the old and new sections of town happen.


In the Honolulu financial district, you will find mostly banks, business towers, and insurance businesses. The First Hawaiian Bank is the newest tower and the tallest in this area. It stands tall at 470 feet. The old merchant district is situated in the area that sits between the ocean and King Street, going ahead towards the Aloha Tower.


Before becoming a state of the United States of America, Hawaii was running under five big corporations that were called the Big Five. These corporations handled land, agriculture, insurances, and the industries of sugar, pineapple, and other. All major commerce went through these industries, until the year 1960. After statehood, tourism became more of the leading industry.


There is much to see in Honolulu, and guided tours are the best way of seeing it all. You will be able to enjoy the culture, rich history, and modern sights as well. Mostly, sights tours will take you from west to east, from Chinatown to downtown Honolulu, to the Aloha Tower and right to the Iolani Palace.


Part of the Honolulu historical district are the Palace, the mission homes of the past, The State Capitol, and the governor's residence - known as the Washington Palace. If you do not want a guided tour, another option is to take the Waikiki Trolley, which will stop frequently and you will be able to go in and out during the day. The trolley drivers will also give some information of the area and historical significance. The mission homes, the law museum, and the Iolani Palace are great places to visit. This gives you a more flexible way to enjoy the area and learn about its rich culture and history. You can sight see the entire day.


The lunch hour in Honolulu is full of activity as everyone comes out to eat at the many eateries throughout and ethnic restaurants. However, do not expect rush hour or the frenzy pace of big cities, as the pace here is still relaxed and slow. There is such a thing as Aloha Friday, where everyone dresses down and get ready to enjoy the weekend.


The Iolani Palace


Iolani translates to Royal Hawk. The construction of this palace started in 1879, when King Kakakaua was ruling. It ended in 1882. The palace was built boasting the elegance and luxury of the European imperialism, which King Kalakaua was fond off; therefore constructing a very impressive residence. It was also the first building on Oahu to receive electricity. What is amazing is that this occurred four years before the White House was electrified. It also had a phone line directed to the Royal boathouse. There were other impressive features - for the time - such as flushing toilets, and expensive grand crystal chandeliers and gold decor designed specifically for the grand throne room. Other features included ironwork and glass brought from San Francisco and columns of Corinthian design. It is testimony of the old days when Hawaii was a kingdom; later it became a USA territory, and then a USA state.


King Kalakaua died in 1891 and Queen Liliuokalani, his sister took over. This was the last empress that desperately tried to keep her kingdom, but was overtaken by businessmen, the military, and held prisoner for nine months in the palace. The Royal dining room ended up as a conference room for the Senate and the House of Representatives. Later, the State Capitol was built and the palace went through some renovations. Today, you can take a guided tour; however, pictures are not permitted. Tours are available Wednesday through Saturday from the hours of 9 am until 2 pm. You need a reservation for the tour - 522-0832.




Situated between River Street and Fort Street Mall, Chinatown came about to be as a result of the immigration of Chinese laborers in the nineteenth century. These laborers were brought under contract to work the sugar plantations and pineapple farms. They ended up staying in this section and opening shops and markets, after their contract was up. Here you also found gambling, prostitution, and drugs, especially in Hotel Street, a center for these activities. Even that the police and neighborhood board has tried to do more to revitalize this street, it is not considered a safe area, especially at night.


Chinatown is of Asian influence, and its customs, culture, and language are made very evident to the visitor throughout the entire area. One famous place is a restaurant called Old Wo Fat, which has a colorful appeal and considered a landmark of the area. Unfortunately, in 1907 a fire destroyed many of the buildings in this district, taking with it some history. Here you will enjoy strolling through the many small grocery shops, bakeries, tattoo parlors, noodle factories, lei stands and much more. The Mauna Kea Marketplace is a great place to taste delicious Asian cuisine. If you go towards the ocean, you will find some interesting galleries that sell aloha collectibles. A guided two-hour tour can be booked through the Chinese Historical Society, starting at the Asian Mall around the hour of ten in the morning. Phone is 521-3045.


The Aloha Tower


The Aloha Tower Marketplace is situated at the end of Bishop Street. This high tower is nine stories. It is considered a landmark and was built in 1926. It was remodeled when they remodeled the harbor front. This building has significance. When immigrants and laborers came to work in the plantations, this was the first sign of life in the island. At that time, the residents received the visitors from the ships by dancing a hula and performing music and flower leis. You can still see this building from afar, if you are at sea, and if you go to its top floor, you can enjoy gorgeous views of the Honolulu skyline.


This is a stop for many cruise ships, and the area has been restored, offering visitors shops, restaurants, and a brewery. You can access it also by car, trolley, and bus, from Waikiki.


The Gardens and Parks


Despite being a big city, Honolulu has much greenery and many botanical attractions coexisting with the tall buildings and the buzz of city life.


The Foster Gardens


The Foster Gardens are located at 180 N. Vineyard Blvd, to the north of Chinatown.


This is an exotic garden, boasting many old trees and flower, which may date back over one hundred years. This was Royal land, and William Hillenbrand, a German botanist and physician planted one single tree here. The area has grown to be as large as fifteen acres and has twenty-four types of Hawaiian trees and rare trees, herbs, flowers, and spices that came from Asia. Today the federal law protects these species.


The garden is open every day from the hours of 9am-4pm. Guided tours are offered on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday at around 1:30 pm. There is a one-dollar fee.


The Lyon Arboretum


This arboretum is located at 3860 Manoa Road, away from downtown. It is worth paying a visit, even that it will take you a good hour to get there by bus. It is in one of the most gorgeous residential areas of Honolulu - the Manoa Valley. This area is green and lush as it receives plenty of rain. The surroundings at the end of this valley are quite beautiful and peaceful.


The Lyon Arboretum was founded in the 1920s, thanks to Harold Lyon, a botanist. The area is considered semi natural, as it boasts many species from all over the world, thousands of them, all coexisting in 194 acres. The University of Hawaii uses part of the park for research. You can walk the park and reach an area called Inspiration Point. The park is open Monday through Saturday, from 9 am - 3 pm and the admission is free. You can take bus number 5 to it, and there are also guided tours available, but only twice a month, on a Saturday. There is more than one way to get there to enjoy this sight.


Queen Emma's Summer Palace


This palace is located at 2913 Pali Hwy. It is a New England style home that belonged to the Queen, the wife of King Kamehameha IV. The house was an inheritance from her uncle - John Young II. He constructed this home starting in 1843 and finishing it in 1847. The home almost was demolished after Queen Emma died, but was saved from this awful fate by the Daughters of Hawaii, and organization of women, who restored it and turned it into a museum - 1915. Here you will find many Royal paintings and artifacts that talk about the rich culture and history of Hawaii. Hundred-year-old trees surround the palace as well as beautiful gardens.


The Ala Moana Beach Park


The Ala Moana Beach Park is over one mile long, going from Kewalo Basin to Waikiki. It is very frequented by joggers and sports aficionados such as roller bladers, tennis players ... Although this beach is man made, it is beautiful, very clean, and offers many amenities to visitors and residents. You will find showers, bathrooms, picnic and BBQ area, and lifeguards on duty. It is packed on the weekends.


There is a peninsula to the side of the park that has a peculiar name - Magic Island. Here is where you go around six in the evening to enjoy the gorgeous colors of the sunset while sitting atop a wall - this is a must do activity if you are in the area - an astonishing natural show.


The Bishop Museum


The museum is located at 1525 Bernice Street. This museum was built around 1889. It was constructed in honor of the Princess -Bernice Pauahi Bishop. There is a magnificent collection of artifacts of Hawaiian, Polynesian origin that belonged to the princess. This museum is considered one of the world's scientific institutions, and nationally recognized as such. In addition, you will find much information about the history of the islands, the Hawaiian Kapu system, and items that belonged to several kings. You will also find pieces of history from the missionaries' time and the Asian and European cultures influence on the island. There is an impressive skull of a sperm whale and an original display of a Hawaiian grass hut. You will also find the Hawaiian Hall, which is three stories high and features a New England Style.


Although the entire collection is too large to be displayed all here, the museum highlights the most important and significant pieces. Thousands and thousands of flora, fauna, insects, birds, marine specimens, and artifacts complete the large collection.


This museum is ten minutes from Waikiki if you drive here. You can also take the Waikiki trolley or a bus locally, bus number two. Guided tours are also offered. The guided tour will be a rich source of information on culture and history. You can call 847- 3511for information. The museum is opened everyday from 9 am until 5 pm. This is a must see for any visitor who appreciates history and learning about the rich cultural background of Hawaii.


The Maritime Museum


The Maritime Museum is located at Pier 7 next to the Aloha Tower. For information, you can call Tel 523-6151. In addition, the local Bus #19 is the one to take to visit it. This museum was opened in 1989. This is where the Royal Boathouse of King Kalakaua was located. This is where the king liked to spend his time. The museum exhibits artifacts that date back to the first settlements of the Polynesians and from that point on, featuring maritime artifacts and items from the steamship days as well. There is a rich collection of history and culture displayed here.


The major attraction is a four-mast ship that dates back over one hundred years. This ship was named Falls of the Clyde. It is important because it is the only one in existence in the entire world. This was a cargo ship that was built in Scotland and sail from 1898 to the 1920. Destined to be wrecked by a Seattle cargo company, it was rescued by residents that brought it to the Honolulu Harbor. Later, it was restored and became the museum's precious treasure. Due to its uniqueness and rarity, it is considered one of the most important attractions here. No other ship like this one is found worldwide, therefore, making it a special piece of history, a great artifact that must be preserved for other generations.


Known as the Hokule'a, this reconstruction of one of the Polynesians canoes used for migration is another big attraction. This canoe became popular when a successful trip was completed starting in Honolulu and all the way to Tahiti. The trip covered six thousand miles in the Hokule'a. Twelve men were aboard and they navigated by looking at the stars and oceanic currents for guidance. They ate only traditional Hawaiian food to survive until they reached their destination. The food items included poi, dried fish, bananas. Since then, many trips as this one has been made to other places such as New Zealand, the Markesas, and other islands. This cultural revival has become popular and other trips continue to be planed using the Hokule'a.


The Honolulu Port


This is where many cruise ships dock, at the Honolulu Cruise Terminal at the Oahu Dock. Many of these excursions include a stop at the Pearl Harbor Arizona Memorial and at The Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl Crater. You can also take a cruise ship from Honolulu, for example the Pride of America from the Norwegian Cruise Line. Some of the stops that the Pride of America does are in Kahului-Maui, Nawiliwili-Kauai, Kailua Kona-Hawaii, and Hilo-Hawaii. You can take a seven-day cruise of the islands year round. Each stop will open the door to the beauty of Hawaii's culture and to many great spots around the area.