With Hawaiian Airlines adding to its list of routes, such as the recent launch of its New York to Auckland service, chances are increasing that you might find yourself in Honolulu with some time to kill. Even if you can't take advantage of the airline's free stopover policy, you can still make the most of a short layover with our suggestions.
See Waikiki Beach
It is touristy, for sure, but the image of Waikiki Beach backdropped by Diamond Head is such an iconic one that you can't help but want to see it for yourself.
Upon arrival at Honolulu International, you can take your pick from the many shuttle services offering to take you straight to Waikiki. We recommend reserving in advance to maximize beach time. Companies like Go 808 Express meet passengers off their flights and transport them in private vehicles to Waikiki within around 30 minutes, depending upon Honolulu's notoriously choked traffic. After taking a stroll along the beach, a paddle in the water and, maybe, a cocktail at one of the hotel bars, your prearranged shuttle can take you back to your airport in time for your connection. Just try not to bring sand on the plane with you.
If the tourist scene of Waikiki is too much to bear, follow in the cooler kids' footsteps to Chinatown. This formerly shady area has been regenerated over the past few years and is now home to Honolulu's best bars, art galleries, and restaurants. Our favorites include the Little Village Noodle House Chinese restaurant and Thirtynine Hotel, a combined bar and art gallery that has one of the best lanais (patio) in town where you can take it easy with some cocktails and pupus (small bar snacks) .
Honolulu's public bus system, unambiguously named "The Bus," leaves from the main terminal's Ewa Concourse and can get you to Chinatown in 30–40 minutes. Take route number 19 or 20.
U.S.S. Arizona Memorial, Pearl Harbor
Although it is very close to the airport (around 35 minutes on the number 20 bus or 15 minutes by taxi), visiting the U.S.S. Memorial on such a tight time schedule can be hit or miss due to the massive amount of people that visit (up to 4,500) every day. The earlier you get there (preferably before the tour buses start showing up) the more likely you will be able to secure a ticket onto the Navy boat that transports visitors to the floating memorial over the sunken U.S.S Arizona battleship.
If you can't get tickets for the U.S.S. Memorial, take a short walk over to the U.S.S. Missouri Memorial, which commemorates the end of World War II, instead.
La Mariana Sailing Club
La Mariana Sailing Club, only about five minutes by taxi from the airport, is the last authentic tiki bar standing on O'ahu. The bar dates from the 1950s and its decor and vibe remain true to the era. You can sip a mai tai surrounded by carved tikis, tapa print tablecloths, blowfish lamps, and chandeliers made from shells, while admiring the yachts docked in the marina. You may also be lucky enough catch a sing-along session led by the bar's resident pianist.