World Facts Index > United States > Honolulu

Honolulu is an ultra-modern city full of enormous diversity. This port is home to many ethnic groups that live, work and play amid modern skyscrapers, rugged mountains and tropical beaches. The heart of the city is directly across from the historic port area, which ships of all kinds have called for more than 150 years. Honolulu has government offices and historic buildings going back to the days of Hawaiian royalty and a Chinatown with a mix of Pacific Rim cultures. The main tourist draw is famous Waikiki, four miles to the east.

Honolulu's International Airport is located about 10 minutes from downtown and 15 minutes from the beach at Waikiki. Honolulu city and county is home to 800,000 people of all races and cultures. It is, as the island of O'ahu is known, "The Gathering Place."


Chinatown is one of Honolulu's most colorful and exciting neighborhoods. Located in the historic downtown district, this unique area has long been a popular gathering place for visitors and locals. The Chinese were originally brought to Hawaii in 1852 as indentured laborers for the pineapple and sugarcane plantations. After their three to five year contracts were up, many opened shops and restaurants in the area of Honolulu now known as Chinatown. The area has been a major gateway for immigrants to Hawai'i for over 120 years. Chinatown is an eclectic mixture of Asian and Southeast Asian peoples boasting a unique range of food, art, and social relationships.

As you stroll though Chinatown, you will find Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Laotian, Filipino, Thai, Korean, and local stores and restaurants, selling their wares and proudly displaying their cultural traditions. Chinatown is one of the most popular places to buy fresh produce, fish, meat, fruits, and vegetables. The list of Asian delicacies here goes on forever including tea, noodles and duck eggs. At lunchtime, the downtown business community crowds the area for Cantonese, Shanghai-nese, Mandarin, dim sum, pho and other Asian fare at mostly inexpensive prices.

Shopping is a rich experience here, and Chinese medicine flourishes. Religion is also ever-present with Taoist, Buddhist and Shinto temples sandwiched between the herbalists, shops, and restaurants. Great places to visit include the Maunakea Marketplace. With entrances on both Hotel and Maunakea Streets, this colorful shopping area has fresh produce, meat, and fish in a traditional Asian market environment. There is also a wonderful food court here with every kind of Asian delicacy. Another good bet for fresh produce is Paradise Produce Company on King Street. For specialized ethnic foods, visit Sun Fat Cheong, also on King Street. If you're looking for Vietnamese items, head to Than Lan on Kekaulike Street.

Other worthwhile restaurants include Legend Seafood Restaurant on Beretania Street, Indigo Eurasian Cuisine on Nuuanu Avenue, and a great Vietnamese place called Pho 97 on Maunakea Street.


The name Waikiki means 'spouting water' in Hawaiian. The area was literally once a man-made swamp, a highly productive agricultural and aquacultural site with an elaborate irrigation system built by native Hawaiians. The swamp was filled in; however, to prevent the spread of mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria and yellow fever, and Waikiki became one of the top tourist destinations in the world.

Waikiki Beach stretches from the slopes of Diamond Head to Ala Moana and the Ala Wai Boat Harbor. Millions of guests visit this beautiful white sand beach to enjoy the Hawaiian sun, sand, and especially the surf. The beach is a great spot for the whole family. There is a near-shore break for the children, while the more experienced swimmers surf the waves outside. Take a surfing lesson and an outrigger canoe ride, or rent a surf or body board and teach yourself. Catamarans sail right up to the beach and offer wonderful cruises.

As for accommodations, Waikiki hotels are some of the best in the world. You can find everything from upscale, five-star establishments such as the Halekulani Hotel, Sheraton Moana Surfrider and Royal Hawaiian Hotel to much more modest and less expensive places to stay. All of the hotels are either right on the beach or no more than two short blocks away.

The main thoroughfare of Waikiki is Kalakaua Boulevard. Most of the hotels, shops, and restaurants are gathered along this well populated strip. The Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center is a must-see for anyone who likes to shop. With nearly 200 specialty shops, designer boutiques and restaurants, this mega-complex offers hours of retail therapy. For inexpensive souvenirs, haggle your way around Duke's Lane, a cramped and raucous gathering place for local vendors and tourists on the bargain prowl.

Manoa Valley

Manoa Valley, where the University of Hawaii is situated, is typical of the valleys resulting from the erosion caused by lava flows in Hawai'i. Some of the island-chain's most spectacular scenery is found in such valleys. One of the most spectacular places to view Honolulu and the Koolau mountain range is from the Manoa Cliff Trail. This trail follows the upper edges of the cliffs around a portion of the west wall of Manoa Valley. The main attraction of the valley itself is the University of Hawaii, a research university founded in 1907 and the only one of its kind in the state. Considered the premier institution of higher learning in the Pacific region, it belongs to an international community of research universities offering a comprehensive array of undergraduate, graduate, and professional degrees through the doctoral level, including law and medicine. It carries out advanced research programs through its colleges, schools, and organized research units. Located in the middle of the entrance to Manoa valley, the campus is attractive and has a number of well-equipped theatres and meeting rooms. The East/West Center at the university regularly brings together people of Asia, the Americas, and the Pacific for conferences and events.

Manoa is also a very desirable bedroom community for Honolulu. It's a lush, green area with lots of trees, making it a very nice and cool place to live. You can find all sorts of dwellings here from plantation-style to bungalow to colonial revival. Many of the homes date back to early part of the last century, around the time when the university was getting started. The lovely shopping center in the middle of the valley has a supermarket, shops of all kinds, and great restaurants and bistros. Manoa Falls, at the very end of the valley, is a popular visitor location. The Manoa valley has the feel of a college town mixed with a relaxed suburban neighborhood set in a tropical garden.

Ala Moana/Downtown

This a very diverse area that contains world-class hotels, hostess-bars, many corporate headquarters, and of course, the world famous Ala Moana Shopping Center, the Hawaiian Islands' premier shopping mall. There are also older Honolulu neighborhoods that are quite well maintained as well as a vast collection of ethnic shopping and dining establishments. The two main thoroughfares are Ala Moana Boulevard and Kapiolani Boulevard. Both run from Waikiki through Ala Moana to downtown. The Ala Moana Beach Park and Magic Island are a favorite place for locals and visitors alike. The long stretch of beach is considered to be one of the best and safest natural swimming areas in the world due to the fact that an equally long natural reef protects it. Restaurant Row, stomping ground for the corporate lunch and Happy Hour crowd, is known as the 'gateway' to downtown Honolulu. The Ala Moana Shopping Center, which has just gone through a major renovation, faces the sea and has every conceivable shop and food choice on three beautifully laid-out levels. The Ala Wai boat harbor and famous Ilikai/Hotel Nikko Waikiki are on Ala Moana's southern border as is The Westin Hawaii Prince and several other major tourist accommodations. Another popular shopping destination is the Victoria Ward Center, which is comprised of five individual shopping centers spanning a block of Ala Moana Boulevard.

History of Honolulu

Prehistoric Hawaii

Hawaii began 60 million years ago as what geologists call a hot spot: a bulge of hot, molten rock about 250 miles wide running down 1900 miles to our planet's iron core. It is the biggest hot spot in the world. The hot bulge, measured at about 2,370 degrees Fahrenheit, rose to the Pacific Ocean plate, where it melted the rock and turned to magma, breaking out of the Earth's crust as lava, eventually turning to land. This process happens more frequently and with more power in Hawaii than any place else on Earth.

The island chain is anchored by Hawaii, crowned by the highest volcano in the world, Mauna Kea. It's sister, Mauna Loa, is still pouring out 2,000-degree lava along its flank and is the world's most massive volcano. The two peaks rise from the swell of the Hawaiian Ridge, which itself is a colossal platform, 500 miles wide and a half-mile above the surrounding ocean floor. On that huge swell, the islands are staging their life cycle.

Today on Honolulu's home island, Oahu, there are the remnants of two huge volcanoes, Waianae and Ko'olau.

Ancient Hawaiians and their Volcanoes

The early Hawaiians were closely linked with the volcanoes that formed their home and helped shaped their lives. God and Goddess, heroes and heroines associated with the peaks are to be found throughout Hawaiian mythology. Pele, the fire goddess, is one of many deities that Hawaiians speak of through their chants and stories. Others are Lono, Kane and Kanaloa, but Pele is the deity most associated with the volcanoes and thought of as both destructive and creative. The beautiful legends of Pele describe her search for a home, moving down the island chain from Kauai, digging her fire pits but always striking water until she came at last to the crater of Kilauea on the big island of Hawaii where she remains today. The story of Pele's route through the islands, from the oldest to the newest, shows that the original Hawaiians understood volcano science with a great deal of sophistication. Another popular ancient Hawaiian myth concerns Maui, the hero of Haleakala, known throughout Polynesia as a rascal and a trickster. He is famous for creating the islands by bringing them up from the sea with a magic fishhook. Maui was very popular because of his superhuman strength and his ability to invent ways to make life easier.

Modern Hawaii History

The earliest inhabitants of these islands were likely royal navigators from the Marquesas Islands, the strongest, most knowledgeable people in their villages. They found their way to Hawaii sometime around 900 A.D. Later came seafarers ranging from New Zealand, Tahiti and other Pacific islands. When the star navigators reached these islands, the Big Island's southern points were the first areas settled.

British Capt. James Cook started the "modern era" of Hawaii on Jan. 18, 1778 on his third Pacific voyage. At first, he and his HMS Discovery and HMS Resolution crews got along well with the island's inhabitants, but that turned sour within a year and he and most of his men were killed on the Big Island of Hawaii in 1779. Ships from America, Britain and other European countries continued to find their way to the islands with few other altercations.

In 1810 Kamehameha the First was king of the Big Island, and other kingdoms on Oahu, Maui, Molokai, Lanai and Kauai swore allegiance to him after he slaughtered all of the opposition on each island. During the next 20 years, the Hawaiian Islands became a beacon for voyagers in an era of international imperialism. For the most part, Hawaiians welcomed the foreign crews, not knowing they brought diseases deadly to the native population. During the next 100 years, 80 per cent of the native Hawaiian population succumbed to these illnesses. Kamehameha the First died in May of 1819 just as the first of the American Christian missionaries proclaimed their goal of "raising up the people of Hawaii to an elevated state of Christian civilization." The influx of missionaries over the next 40 years was to change the island chain forever.

The Molokai Leper Colony

In 1885, an isolated area on Molokai was chosen by King Kalakaua, as a place of quarantine for those who had contracted leprosy (Hanson's Disease). Kalupapa had been a small village of native Hawaiians. Most often leprosy victims were literally dropped off the ships into the sea, along with their possessions and had to swim ashore. Those who made it to shore lived in terrible conditions. There was little food and no housing or nursing care. As the leper population grew, the locals slowly moved away. In 1873 a Belgian priest, Father Damian, arrived at the settlement to minister to the sick and brought law and order to the community. He worked among the patients until he himself contracted the disease and died in 1889. With the advent of sulfa drugs in the 1940s, the disease was controlled and remaining patients were given the option to leave or to stay as long as they wished. Some are there still.

Honolulu Becomes a Pacific Hub

Foreigners created the village of Honolulu beside the tiny harbor of Kou in the first half of the 19th century. By 1850, Honolulu Harbor was full of masts as more than a hundred fifty whaling ships and merchants crowded the harbor at any given time. This meant that more than 3,000 seamen were ashore, looking for liquor and other entertainment. There were numerous drunken brawls leading to arrests. Honolulu's jails were always filled to capacity. The town, for better or worse, had become the hub of commerce for the entire northern and central Pacific. With the whaling industry came the demand for many things: wood, rope, water, salted beef, pigs and chickens, tools and cloth. Whalers shipped supplies and whale bone and rendered whale oil through Honolulu. This caused a boom economy to which Honolulu became accustomed. Sugar production took hold in the 1840s and by 1884, production soared to 10 million pounds a year, transforming Hawaii from a traditional, insular, agrarian, and debt-ridden society into a city that was multicultural, cosmopolitan and prosperous. In the center of this world was Honolulu.

England, France, and the United States, the Pacific's contending maritime powers in the 19th century, were keenly aware of the Islands' and Honolulu's strategic importance. By the early 1840s, intrigues by British residents led Rear Admiral Richard Thomas, commander of the British Squadron in the Pacific, to send Lord George Paulet to Honolulu to protect British interests. He arrived in the winter of 1843 and issued a series of threatening ultimatums. King Kamehameha III had sent emissaries to Europe to resolve all disputes but to no avail. The king was forced to yield to British guns. On February 15, 1843 Paulet ordered the Hawaiian flag lowered and the British flag raised to start an occupation lasting five months. Protests mounted in the Islands and since Great Britain had already recognized Hawaii's independence, and France had promised to do likewise, the provisional cession to Paulet was received with concern in London, Paris and other foreign capitals. Admiral Thomas came to Honolulu on July 26 and declared Paulet's act to be unauthorized. On July 31, the Hawaiian flag was again raised.

The Hawaiian Monarchy

In 62 years, there were to be five individuals that carried the Kamehameha title with the last of the direct dynasty passing on in 1872. After one year, the new king, Lunalilo, died of consumption, leaving his estate to needy Hawaiians. David Kalakaua who was descended from a cousin of Kamehameha the Great succeeded him. In 1874, the King tried to increase the power of the monarchy, which threatened the interests of foreign businessmen. In 1887, several hundred foreigners formed a secret group called the Hawaiian League. By various means, they intimidated Kalakaua into accepting a new constitution, known as the Bayonet Constitution. It stripped him of many powers, making him a figurehead, and permitted only Caucasian foreigners to vote in elections, denying suffrage to the Japanese, Chinese and other Asian residents of Hawaii. In 1889, Robert Wilcox led an uprising against the new constitution. The uprising was put down by the king's troops, but Wilcox became a hero to native Hawaiians. An all-Hawaiian Jury at his conspiracy trial found him not guilty.

David Kalakaua was widely accused of squandering Hawaiian money in order to live like European royals. During his long absences from Hawaii, his sister Lydia Liliuokalani ruled as regent. He died of kidney disease in 1891 on a visit to California, leaving Lydia the distinction of becoming the last Hawaiian monarch. She was married to John Dominis, the son of an American sea captain. Queen Liliuokalani, as she was known, was a courageous and intelligent woman and a strong nationalist. She tried to replace the Bayonet Constitution with one that would favor native Hawaiians, but was pressured into letting the old constitution stand. In 1917, she had a stroke and died in Honolulu at the age of 79. Today she is remembered as the composer of over one hundred songs, including the famous "Aloha Oe."

The Office of Hawaiian Affairs was created as Hawaii became a state in 1959 to manage native lands ceded during the overthrow and U.S. annexation.

The Overthrow of the Monarchy

Hawaiian planters needed political help to keep their plantations profitable. Most of all, they needed a reciprocity treaty that gave them the ability to sell sugar in the United States without paying a tariff. Hawaiians opposed reciprocity, fearing it was the bait to give the United States exclusive use of Pearl Harbor. By the late 1800s, native Hawaiians, seeing clearly that their nation was coming increasingly under the influence of western businessmen, petitioned the Queen for the new constitution to restore more power to the Hawaiian monarchy. This was the catalyst and the call to action for the opposition and on January 17, 1893, Honolulu businessmen, supported by U.S. Marines, overthrew the Kingdom of Hawaii. A provisional government was declared and immediately recognized by John Stevens, the American Minister to Hawaii. Pineapple baron, Sandford Dole was appointed president of the provisional government. The years of The Republic of Hawaii lasted from 1893 to 1898 when the United States annexed Hawaii and it became a territory of the United States.

Honolulu Grows

Honolulu in 1920 was the capital of territory of Hawaii. There were several hotels in Waikiki and downtown, but the tourist industry was comparatively small. Waikiki's first luxury-trade hotel, opened in 1901, was the elegant Moana Surfrider, an exclusive paradise mainly for the rich. The same held true for the Royal Hawaiian, which opened in 1919. This would change greatly during the next 20 years as steamship companies, Hollywood and the Pan American Clipper discovered Honolulu. During the pre-tourist years, sugar planters and pineapple growers ran these islands with impunity and prospered, although strong, new cultural identities were emerging. The U.S. military was creating a strong presence in the Pacific. The Navy and Army both considered Honolulu, with its key asset in Pearl Harbor, as the most important place in the North Pacific. Unlike military bases on the mainland or in the Philippines, where military life was separated from civilians, Hawaii and the military grew up together. Military officers were at the top of Honolulu society.

Across the ocean, Japan was building warships, growing stronger and flexing its military muscle and with the seizure of Manchuria and invasion of China in 1937. It was to clear to Washington that Japan planed to dominate the Pacific The huge naval base at Pearl Harbor was at the top of list of U.S. bases and was struck by forces of the Japanese navy on December 7th, 1941. For America, World War Two began here. Hawaii became the 50th state in 1959. Honolulu is the country's 11th largest city and is permanent home to almost a million people. At any given time, there are about 100,000 visitors to Hawaii. Most all of them travel through Honolulu, The Queen of the Pacific.

The Weather

  Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Avg. High 80 80 81 82 84 86 87 88 88 86 84 81
Avg. Low 65 65 67 68 70 72 74 74 74 72 70 66
Mean 74 74 75 76 78 78 80 81 81 80 77 74
Avg. Precip. 3.6 in 2.2 in 2.2 in 1.5 in 1.1 in 0.5 in 0.6 in 0.4 in 0.8 in 2.3 in 3.0 in 3.8 in


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