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Destination Guide

Since Hawai'i, the island of O'ahu, and Honolulu are all major tourist areas, the availability of tours and places to visit abound. We'll start this part of the Honolulu City Guide with places to visit in the center of Honolulu and expand outward to cover the whole city and county of Honolulu, which is the lovely island of O'ahu.

Tour One?Downtown

Iolani Palace
There is no better way to begin your tour of Honolulu than with a look at the famous Iolani Palace, a 19th-century showplace structure that has been carefully restored to its 1880s glory, when it was home to Hawai'is last king and queen. Located on King Street in the heart of a park-like area that hosts other magnificent city and state buildings, this is a place that is full of mana (spirit). The hallway, which runs the width of the building, has impeccably polished wood and bright, crystal chandeliers. An interesting fact is that the Iolani Palace had electric lights before the White House.

The high spot of you visit here will be the throne room. Appointed in gold and maroon, it displays crowns with precious gems commissioned from Europes finest craftsmen of the day. When the Hawaiian monarchy was overthrown in 1893, this room also saw the trial of the last queen, Liliuokalani.

For bad or for good, this structure is steeped in Hawaiian history and is the only royal palace in the United States. The Iolani Palace is open to the public Tuesday through Saturday from 9am to 3:30pm.

The Mission Houses
Close to the Iolani Palace on King Street, you will find some of Hawaiis oldest structures, the original Mission Houses. The missionaries began arriving in the islands in 1820 and Hawaii was changed forever by their actions. The cluster of buildings includes the Frame House, prefabricated and shipped from Boston in 1821. You can see that the designers were from a different, much colder climate. The windows are tiny and the place gives one a feeling of claustrophobia. The Chamberlain House is the propertys largest structure. This building was constructed in 1831 as a storehouse and bunkhouse to relieve the crowding of the Frame House.

The grounds are very well kept and descendants of the original missionaries conduct the Tuesdays through Wednesday tours.

Lunch and some shopping in Honolulus Chinatown is a perfect pause in your tour of downtown. This colorful area has a wide choice of Asian restaurants and ethnic specialty shops. Its borders are the harbor, Nuuanu Avenue, and River Street, and it is within easy walking distance of everything in the downtown area. You can start your quest for lunch or dinner on Chinatowns very distinctive Maunakea Street. Here you will find the Maunakea Marketplace, probably the most popular place in the area. Stalls of fresh produce, meats, and fish abound at prices that are very reasonable. Nearby on Maunakea Street, sits one of the best Vietnamese dining establishments in town, A Little Bit of Saigon. The prices are moderate, the selection large, and the decor very colorful. Many other dining opportunities present themselves as you walk this small area.

There are a couple of temples that are worthy of a visit, the Izumo Taishakyo Mission Cultural Hall on Nu'uanu Street and the Kuan Yin Temple on Vinyard Street. For a formal tour of Honolulus Chinatown, you can choose between the Hawaii Heritage Center or the Chinese Chamber of Commerce.

Bishop Museum
After your luncheon in Chinatown, a visit to the nearby eclectic Bishop Museum is a recommended stop. Located on Bernice Street this interesting place contains more than 20 million artifacts of Pacific history, making it the largest collection of its kind in the world. The Bishop Museum also has a planetarium that features daily shows, produced mostly by the Big Island of Hawaiis famous Keck Observatory.

Aloha Tower & Marketplace
This is probably the best know Honolulu landmark after Diamond Head. Built in 1926 to welcome Hawai'is burgeoning tourist industry, it has a very traditional ten-story spire meant to convey the Hawaiian tradition of "Aloha,? meaning love, welcome, a fond good-bye, and a plea to come back. The observation tower at the top has some of the best views of Honolulus harbor and waterfront available. The marketplace that sits around the tower has fine restaurants and all kinds of shops from T-shirts to fine jewelry. The tower is open from 9am to 6pm. The shops and restaurants stay open well into the evening hours.

Nuuanu Lookout
One of the best places to get an overall view of Honolulu and the surrounding areas from Pearl Harbor to Waikiki is this promontory reachable from the Pali Highway?one of three roadways over the Koolau Mountains to the windward side of O'ahu. You'll be more than 1000 feet above sea level and witness a breathtaking vista of the blue Pacific, the gleaming towers of Honolulu, the rich green valleys, and the navy ships at Pearl Harbor. From this height, you will see exactly how the harbor got its name.

Tour Two?Pearl Harbor Memorials

Home to the United States Pacific Fleet, Pearl Harbor is rich with sights and history. The main tour attractions are the Arizona Memorial, The Battleship Missouri, and the USS Bowfin, a WW II submarine, that is open to the public daily. All three memorials are a proud tribute to the US Navy and all the armed forces that gave so much to protect the freedom of the Pacific in the middle of the last century.

You need to plan a full day to take in all three sights and a short tour of the Pearl Harbor base itself. We advise you to see the Arizona Memorial first. The lines in the morning are shorter than the ones later in the day. Shirts and shoes are required and although shorts are okay, no bathing suits are permitted. You can bring along your own picnic lunch or avail yourself of the sandwiches and snacks that are offered for sale.

Tour Three?Waikiki

The Great Hotels of Waikiki
This is another walking tour that you can do on your own. Start at the "First Lady" of Waikiki, the Sheraton Moana Surfrider. Operating since 1901, this grand old structure has aged beautifully and a stroll though the lovely lobby and other public interior spaces will take you back to another time of leisure, money, and cocktails on a verandah that overlooks the Pacific waves. Continuing north on Kalakaua Avenue, Waikikis main street, you can visit the many other tourist hotels and shopping areas, finally coming to the other great lady of the strand, The Royal Hawaiian Hotel.

The Honolulu Zoo
Strolling through this shady, park-like zoo makes a nice break from the rather hectic world of Waikiki. There are many benches on which to relax while you listen to the huge variety tropical birds and watch the antics of chimps in their large home. The whole zoo complex takes up 42 acres and the species include hippos, cheetah, scared ibis, zebra, giraffe, and many others. If you are traveling with children, this is the place to bring them when and if they tire of the beach. The Honolulu Zoo is within easy walking distance from anywhere in Waikiki and is open from 9am to 4:30pm. The entrance fee is $6 for adults and $1 for children under 13.

The Waikiki Aquarium
Close to the Zoo and opposite Kapiolani Park, you will find the Waikiki Aquarium, situated on a living reef. Founded in 1904, it is one of the three oldest aquariums in the US. It is small by some mainland standards but very well stocked. You can view sharks cruising back and forth in the large tanks. This is home to over 2000 sea dwellers representing 350 different species and, as one might expect, the heaviest concentration of species is in tropical fish of the Pacific category. There are several special exhibits that range from the endangered Hawaiian monk seal to a fascinating look at the Reef Machine, which has been devised to help simulate nature. The Aquarium is open every day from 9am to 5Ppm and costs $7 for adults. Children under 13 are free.

Tour Four?A Visit to Punchbowl Crater

Above downtown Honolulu sits dramatic Punchbowl Crater, home to the National Cemetery of the Pacific. Native Hawaiians call this place Puowaina, which translates to "hill of sacrifice." The view from the rim of the crater is dramatic. Outward, you can take in a vista from Diamond Head on the right all the way to Barbers Point on the left. In between, you can see Waikiki, Ala Moana, the skyscrapers of downtown, the airport, Pearl Harbor, and the beaches of the Eva and Kapolei area of leeward O'ahu. In the crater is a verdant resting place for more than 25,000 victims of World War II, Korea and Vietnam. Most of the military personnel that perished in the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941 are buried here. The Court of the Missing is dedicated to those whose remains were never recovered from the WW II. There is also a monument to Ellison Onizuka, Hawaiis astronaut who perished in the Challenger space shuttle disaster in 1986. A visit to this impeccably maintained memorial to dedication and sacrifice is a moving experience.

Tour Five?Polynesian Cultural Center

One of the most popular tours on O'ahu is a visit to the Polynesian Cultural Center located at Laiie near the northwest tip of the island and the famous North Shore surfing beaches. This large reserve is devoted to the many (poly) peoples that inhabit the lush islands and atolls of the Pacific, from New Zealand in the south, to Easter Island in the east, to Hawai'i in the north. Exhibits and events include art, history, archeology, and entertainment from Hawaii, the Marquesas, Tahiti, Fiji, Samoa, and Tonga. The main show each evening is titled "Horizons, Where the Sea Meets the Sky.' This extravaganza has a cast of a hundred extremely talented dancers, singers, and storytellers from all over the Pacific. It weaves the stories and legends of this charismatic region into a delightful tapestry. There is also a very popular Canoe Pageant that specifically celebrates the migrations of the peoples of Polynesia throughout the region. The center is beautifully landscaped with several opportunities to sample the cuisine of Polynesia. It takes about an hour by car or tour bus to get to the center from Waikiki or Honolulu, but the trip is well worth the time. Call +1 800 293-3333 for information on the Center.

Rodger Layng