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Skyline of Hawaii and Waikiki beach

13 Things to Know About Living in Honolulu

Thinking about a move to Honolulu? Home to some of the best beaches and outdoor recreation in the world, Hawaii’s capital city offers residents beautiful views, incredible weather, a booming job market, and more. Here are 13 things to know about living in Honolulu!

Enjoy Island Living

Living in Honolulu is an amazing experience, but it also comes with a hefty price tag—what locals call a “paradise tax.” Not only are the shipping costs between Hawaii and the mainland understandably more expensive—but the cost of living in Honolulu is 77% higher than the national average, with housing costs 171% higher than the national average. In other words, Honolulu is right up there with cities like San Francisco and NYC. To help offset these costs, though, Honolulu’s median salary is 15% higher than the national average. And homeowners in Honolulu benefit from Hawaii’s steady real estate market, so their long-term investment is pretty insulated from economic change, and can even earn equity before move-in. Many locals will tell you the city’s higher cost of living is worth it to live near the beach and have gorgeous weather year-round!

A Thriving Job Market

Aerial view of Honolulu at sunset. Photo by Instagram user @churavis

Photo via @churavis

It’s no secret that Honolulu is one of the top U.S. tourist destinations, with the Hawaiian islands attracting as many as 10.4 million visitors in a year. To accommodate that sort of tourist volume, the booming tourism industry accounts for the largest sector in Honolulu’s job market. It’s also a large part of the reason why the city’s unemployment rate is so low, holding steady around 3.5%. While tourism provides the most job opportunities, healthcare is another large employer in Honolulu, thanks to organizations like Altres Medical, Queen’s Health Systems, and Hawaii Pacific Health. Some of the biggest employers in the city also include Obayashi, the University of Hawaii Foundation, the Hawaii State Department of Education, and Temenos AG. Another key player in the local job market is the U.S. Department of Defense, as the city is home to Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.

Travel Easily On & Off the Island

A plane departing from Honolulu to Maui. Photo by Instagram user @diecastryan

Photo via @diecastryan

Honolulu offers a variety of ways for residents to get around the city! With an average weekly ridership of 113,000, TheBus is the most reliable mode of Honolulu public transportation. Many Honolulu neighborhoods in the downtown area are considered very walkable, with several straight-line routes along Ala Moana Boulevard, King Street, and Beretania Street. The Big Pineapple is also a very bike-friendly city, with several miles’ worth of bike lanes stretching around the island of Oahu. For Honolulu residents needing to reach further destinations, Daniel K. Inouye International Airport is a fantastic option. Hawaii island hopping is common, with average flight times ranging from 20 to 50 minutes on Hawaiian Airlines, Southwest Airlines, or Mokulele Airlines.

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Immerse Yourself in the Culture

Young girl going the hula on the beach. Photo by Instagram user @aloha_avenue

Photo via @aloha_avenue

From maintaining the beautiful Iolani Palace—home to the last reigning Hawaiian kings and queens—to hosting luaus featuring traditional Hawaiian dishes and performances, residents of Honolulu truly embrace their home’s native culture. Be sure to get better acquainted with the hula and local terms and customs before moving to Honolulu! You’ve undoubtedly heard of the hula, but it’s so much more than just a dance—it’s about passing on stories of Hawaiian culture and making spiritual connections. And Pidgin? It’s a unique language spoken by locals that blends Hawaiian, Japanese, Filipino, Chinese, and Portuguese into words and phrases like “howzit” and “aurite.” Seeking out local, Hawaiian-owned businesses like Bubbly & Bleu and Yoga Under the Palms is a great way to support native culture and industry while living in Honolulu. Thankfully, finding these businesses is easy through Kuhikuhi, a directory created by the Native Hawaiian Chambers of Commerce and the Native Hawaiian Hospitality Association.

Take Advantage of Beautiful Weather & Outdoor Activities

Tropical Honolulu offers residents average temperates between 68 and 87 degrees—with April to October being Hawaii’s dry season and November to March the area’s rainy season. Hawaiian residents should make a plan for the possibility of natural disasters in Oahu, like hurricanes or tsunamis. But usually, Hawaiian weather allows for endless outdoor activities in Honolulu—and Oahu’s inactive volcanoes provide incredible hiking opportunities. Spend an afternoon hiking at Diamond Head State Monument, which was formed by a volcanic eruption and has spectacular views of the surrounding area. Jog the scenic trails or check out the famous Manoa Falls at the Honolulu Watershed Forest Reserve. Shop for fresh produce, pastries, and local goods at the Honolulu Farmers’ Market. Experience the thrill of zip-lining or climb the Adventure Tower at Coral Crater Adventure Park. Ride horseback through the Hawaiian countryside at Gunstock Ranch. Or jump from 9,000 to 15,000 feet with the Pacific Skydiving Center.

Check Out Honolulu’s Surfing Scene

You can’t talk about Honolulu without surfing entering the conversation! Surfing was brought to Hawaii by its Ancient Polynesian settlers, and over the course of its long history, the sport became an international obsession. When Hawaii became an official U.S. state in 1959, tourists flocked to the area to catch waves, and surfing has been a huge aspect of Hawaii tourism ever since. Looking for the best surf spots in Honolulu? Find a great surfing spot for easy surfing and bodyboarding at Sandy Beach. Visit Ala Moana Bowls, where the waves can crest around 12 feet. Test out the waves on Oahu’s northern shores with other beginner surfers at Sunset Beach. Snorkel, paddleboard, or surf on the tranquil waters at Queens Beach. Or stop along the North Shore, and challenge your skills on the barreling waves of the world-famous Banzai Pipeline of ‘Ehukai Beach Park.

Hit the Beaches

Aerial view of the beach and ocean in Waikiki. Photo by Instagram user @tburt50

Photo via @tburt50

Protected and maintained by many conservation efforts, Hawaii is known for its gorgeous beaches. The Hawaii Department of Public Health runs a program to monitor beach water quality, helping protect the health of residents while at the beach. The City and County of Honolulu also utilize barriers to protect the area and shoreline from off-roading vehicles and preserve the beaches’ ecosystems and beauty. Looking for the best beaches in Honolulu? Find some of the best year-round swimming and surfing that Hawaii has to offer along the two miles of gorgeous Waikiki Beach. Swim, wade, or kayak on the clear waters of Kailua Beach. Check out the many types of colorful fish in calm waters while snorkeling at must-see Hanauma Beach—a local favorite and protected nature reserve created by a collapsed volcano crater at Hanauma Bay State Park. Looking for beaches in Honolulu that are good for kids? Make your way to the family-friendly Mother’s Beach for calm swimming, beautiful white sand, and easy access off Kamehameha Highway.

Spend the Day at Pearl Harbor

All white USS Arizona Memorial building hovering on water. Photo by Instagram user @dcarlo7

Photo via @dcarlo7

Honolulu’s Pearl Harbor was the site of the infamous 1941 Japanese attack on the U.S. during WWII. Make the trip north to see the harbor’s historical monuments, honor the victims of the attack, and learn more about the U.S. military presence on the island. Visit the USS Arizona Memorial, where you can stand over the sunken battleship and pay tribute to its crew. Explore the enormous Battleship Missouri, the last warship of its kind to be built, or tour the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park. And don’t forget to view WWII-era airplanes, vintage aircrafts, and walk-through exhibits at the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum.

Honolulu’s Museums & Gardens Don’t Disappoint

An exhibition at the Honolulu Museum. Photo by Instagram user @honolulumuseum

Photo via @honolulumuseum

Some of Honolulu’s best attractions are its museums! Take advantage of free admission to the Hawaii State Art Museum in the heart of Downtown Honolulu, which showcases modern and conceptual artwork from local artists. Explore the Honolulu Museum of Art, the largest of its kind in Hawaii featuring Asian, European, and American collections. Looking for history and science? See shows at the Planetarium, explore the Science Adventure Center, or discover the history of Ancient Hawaii at the Bishop Museum. Soak up more history and culture in a 14-acre garden founded in the 1850s—and still features some of the original trees—at the Foster Botanical Garden in Downtown Honolulu. Or see a variety of rare and endangered dryland plant species at Koko Crater Botanical Garden.

Participate in a Variety of Family-Friendly Activities

Looking for fun Hawaiian things to do with the family? Honolulu has you covered! Visit the Honolulu Zoo, where you can see over 900 animals or stroll through the botanical garden. Peruse exhibits like Rainforest Adventures, Hawaiian Rainbows, or Fantastic You with the family at the Hawaii Children’s Discovery Center. Spend a day swimming at the beach or play a game of pickleball at Fort DeRussy Beach Park. Stop by one of the largest parks in Oahu to have a picnic with the family or go for a scenic jog at Kapiolani Park. Challenge each other to arcade games for family game night at Jungle Fun Island. Let the kids play on the indoor playground at Kids City Adventure. Or go swimming with the little ones at Magic Island Beach, a man-made lagoon that’s sheltered from big waves.

Check out The Big Pineapple’s Local Events

Children participating in the Honolulu Festival. Photo by Instagram user @honfestival

Photo via @honfestival

Honolulu has a variety of annual events that are worth checking out! Celebrate local art, live music, and dance that turns into a parade throughout Waikiki at the Honolulu Festival, a great free thing to do in Honolulu. Take part in Lei Day, a celebration of Hawaiian culture that culminates with hula performances and giving leis to one another. Pop into the Honolulu Night Market to enjoy a night full of fashion, live music, and delicious food. Share the Aloha Spirit with more than 100,000 attendees at the Aloha Festival, which showcases Hawaiian music and dance. Compete with athletes from across the nation in the fourth-largest marathon in the country, the Honolulu Marathon in December. Watch the world’s best surfers ride the waves on the North Shore of Oahu at the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing. Or see world-class golfers play at Waialae Country Club’s Sony Open in Hawaii, the largest charity golf event in the state.

Prepare Your Taste Buds

Plate of tropical fruit and eggs benedict from Dukes Waikiki. Photo by Instagram user @dukeswaikiki

Photo via @dukeswaikiki

Where are the best places to eat in Honolulu? All around you! There are many foods that you’ll hear Hawaiians raving about, but one of the most widely known is the delicious, belly-filling plate lunch. They can be found everywhere—from roadside stands to hole-in-the-wall restaurants—with each venue putting its own spin on this classic dish. Experience luau fare and plate lunches like Short Ribs Pipikaula Style, Kalua Pig, or Lomi Salmon at Helena’s Hawaiian Food. Begin your morning indulging in Eggs Benedict or Made-To-Order Omelets at beachfront restaurant Duke’s Waikiki. Check out Musubi Cafe Iyasume, a local Japanese chain known for its Spam Musubi and RiceBalls. Fill up on dishes like the Chaz Burger, Kualoa Pork Ragu, or Korean Bavette at Fete. Enjoy bay views while dining on the Surf and Turf or Salmon a la Vizcaina for dinner at 53 by the Sea. Listen to live music while feasting on seafood favorites like Fresh Fish Tacos or Fresh Fish & Shrimp & Chips at Merriman’s. And for dessert, head to Uncle Clay’s House of Pure Aloha for shave ice smothered in artisanal fruit syrups and homemade Hawaiian ice cream.

Revel In Honolulu’s Unique Nightlife

Cocktail being poured into a glass. Photo by Instagram user @artofpoison

Photo via @artofpoison

Want to hit Honolulu hot spots at night? Try WorkPlay, a craft cocktail and cigar lounge that transforms into a live music venue with performances at night. Feel right at home with happy hour specials and a pool room in the back at local watering hole, Honolulu Tavern. Experience one of the best bars in Honolulu and taste classic cocktails with unique spins—like the Japan Old Fashioned or the Garden Negroni at Bar Leather Apron. Laugh the night away while seeing comedy shows from comedians like Tyler Smith or Kitty Pineapple at Jose Dynamite & Friends. Sample specialty cocktails like the Peach Please, Sereni-Tea, or Cable Car during happy hour at the Amuse Wine Bar, connected to the Stage Restaurant. Or pop into tiki bar Skull & Crown Trading Co. with some friends and sip on one of their delicious tropical drinks, like the Painkiller or the Dagger Mai Tai!


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Honolulu, HI - 13 Things to Know


About Mike Beutler

Mike Beutler is a writer and digital content specialist who transitioned to self storage in 2020 after several years in the airline industry. His travels cultivated a passion for exploring cities across the U.S. and abroad and inspired him to learn more about practical insights for urban living. With 14 moves under his belt, both locally and cross-country, he also has a passion for minimalism and organization, and sharing tips to help others make any space feel like home while staying organized.