Hawaii’s biggest city may evoke images of laid-back luaus, nonstop surfing, and amazing natural beauty. But is that all you have to expect when you visit the city of Honolulu? We think not! For the first time visitor to this island paradise, there are plenty of surprises in store, and while we love a good surprise in a country we visit, we also love giving travelers the down low on what to REALLY expect in a destination. So here are a few important tips you’ll need to know before packing your surfboard and floral-print shirt for your adventure in Honolulu!

Ditch the Rental Car & Take Public Transport

The Bus's Bench Oahu Hawai'i

While getting a rental car in Honolulu might seem like a good idea, the truth of the matter is you’ll be stuck in congested roadways, especially during the hectic morning and evening rush hours. The number of tourists in cars adds to the traffic woes, so come prepared to walk around the city’s neighborhoods (trust us — it’s very much compact and walkable) and to use the local buses that can cost as little as $5.50 for a day pass.

Spa Treatment Is Much Cheaper Outside Your Hotel

Woman in spa salon

If you’ve got yourself a stay in a great all-inclusive resort, you may think about booking yourself in for the spa treatment. But if you want a great spa treatment for almost half the cost (yep — you read right!), all you have to do is leave the opulent confines of your resort and head to spa treatment centers in the city. We highly recommend Laka Skin Care and Spa or Aisawan Thai Spa & Massage for excellent value for money.

Stay in a Hotel That’s More Inland Than Beachfront

Palm trees on Maui along the Kaanapali beach front walking path with luxury hotel and condos in view.

While the ideal beach holiday in your head may involve a great view of the ocean and golden sands, it doesn’t hurt to consider getting a hotel that’s a bit more inland. Other than saving you a ton of money, you’ll realize that, due to the compact nature of the city, you’re only a short walk away from the beach in any case. If you’ve got money to splurge, go for the room with a view, but if on a tighter budget, go for the hotel that’s just a hop, skip, and a jump from the ocean.

Bring an Appetite for Hawaiian Plate Lunch

Hawaiian Shrimp Plate Lunch

A popular dish that can found almost everywhere you go in Honolulu, the Hawaiian Plate Lunch, is a hearty dish that consists of meat (pork, chicken, seafood, beef, or spam), two scoops of rice, and one scoop of macaroni salad. While we’ve tasted quite a few great plates over the years, our favorites remain the ones you can dig into at Rainbow Drive-in or Yama’s Fish Market.

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Remember to Pack Your Hiking Shoes

Travel photographer takes a shot of Honolulu and Waikiki beach, Oahu in Hawaii from Diamond Head State Monument.

Anyone booking flights to Honolulu surely expect to admire its amazing natural beauty. Truth is, a vast majority of it can be experienced for next to nothing. In addition to its wonderful beaches (most of which are free to visitors), you can also explore its lush national parks free of charge or for a reasonable fee. Diamond Head State Park — which has one of the most beautiful hiking trails in the state — is only a 20-minute drive from downtown Honolulu, making it super convenient to squeeze in on your itinerary.

Forget the Luau & Pile on the Poi

traditional dancers in hawaii

The dances and meat-heavy food at luaus are all usually part of an elaborate show put on by resorts to entertain visitors. How authentic are they? As most locals will tell you — not very much. If you want a big slice of the real Hawaiian culture, then head to the Polynesian Cultural Center, which offers an amazing sample of the various island cultures that have influenced Hawaii’s history. You’ll learn traditional dances and learn about traditional tattooing practices. Taste some poi — the staple taro root dish, and dig into a proper barbecue done the right way. You’ll leave having a much more fulfilling experience that you will treasure for years to come!

Have you visited Honolulu recently? Share your tips and experiences with us in the comments.

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Socialite, philanthropist, costumed crime fighter by night...no wait...that's Batman...my bad ... Musician, writer, travel junkie, dog lover, and database of useless information. I love to learn about new cultures, experience new cuisines, meet new people, and have a few laughs along the way!