Honolulu for the Solo Traveler

by Gray Cargill on October 2, 2013

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Is Hawaii a travel destination you’ve dreamed of, but never been to? I can relate. It was on my lifelong travel list, but I never actually made it there until 2012. What took me so long?

When I was growing up, Hawaii was where everyone wanted to go on their honeymoon. I had this image of Hawaii in my head as being nothing but lovey-dovey couples holding hands while walking on the beach at sunset and canoodling in dimly-lit restaurants. Not the most comfortable environment for a solo traveler, eh?

But after I visited Paris–another destination that had always seemed like a “romantic” city for two to me—I realized that our impressions of a place aren’t always accurate. Most places are just as comfortable for the solo traveler as for anyone else. Because guess what? Honolulu wasn’t just filled with lovey-dovey couples holding hands and canoodling in restaurants. It was also packed with families, groups of friends, and other solo tourists. Not to mention all the people who actually, you know, live there. It’s a city, just like any other, that also happens to be a popular tourist destination.

Of course, there are several Hawaiian islands and which one you choose to visit will depend on your tastes, preferences, and travel style. I can’t speak for the solo-friendliness of the others. I chose Oahu because of the variety of things to do in Honolulu and around the island (I’d die of boredom just sitting on a beach all day and am not strictly what you would call “the outdoorsy type”). Honolulu is a city setting with good public transportation, beautiful beaches and natural wonders, museums, history, shopping, culture, great food, and lots of places to explore.

If you think you might like to visit Honolulu by yourself, here are a few things to know:

Waikiki

There are hotels at all price ranges across Waikiki.

Where to stay

Waikiki is where most of the hotels are, so that’s probably where you’ll stay. If money is no object, book a hotel on the beach (one of the Outriggers would be my choice). But if you’re on a tight budget, look for a hostel or a hotel a few blocks away from the beach. Try to find one with a kitchenette so you can cook some meals for yourself.

All the beaches are public, so you don’t have to stay at a beach hotel to enjoy the beach. You may not get that dreamed-of ocean view from your hotel room, but how much are you going to be in your hotel room anyway? You’re in Hawaii! Get out there and enjoy it!

Waikiki tourist trolley

The tourist trolley

How to Get Around

If you prefer traveling at your own pace, rent a car. It’ll cost you, though. Or you can do what I did and rely on a combination of your own two feet, public transportation and tours to get to outlying areas of the island you want to see. The public buses are clean and easy to use, and there’s also a tourist trolley. For more information, see my article on Using the Bus in Honolulu.

Prime rib poke

Prime rib poke at the Tiki Bar and Grill

Dining Solo

Before my trip, I’d read a thread in a message forum by a guy who claimed he’d been discriminated against repeatedly at restaurants in Hawaii because he was alone. That was always in the back of my mind during my trip, and I had braced myself for it. But it never happened. I was welcomed everywhere I went.

I always recommend two options for dining solo: Bar seating for socializing or a table with a view (in Waikiki, you can dine overlooking the beach, the ocean and Diamond Head). Assuming the restaurants aren’t so jam-packed that you have to take whatever seating you can get, you can’t go wrong with either of those options. And be sure to try some of the local specialties; there is some amazing food available here.

The most important tip I can give you is: Unless you want to go hungry, make dinner reservations. You can’t count on finding a single seat at a restaurant bar any time after 5pm in Waikiki. For more about my dining experiences in Honolulu, check out Dining Around Honolulu.

Waikiki

Walking along Waikiki Beach

How safe is Honolulu for the solo traveler?

Honolulu is not one of those places where you have to worry about violent crime or pickpockets (though I wouldn’t leave valuables unattended in a public place, like the beach, or even locked in your rental car). As always when you’re traveling solo, the most important thing you can pack is your instincts. And employ safe solo travel practices, like not drinking to excess.

The only uneasiness I ever felt was when I was walking to a restaurant using the route Google maps had suggested. The street was very dark and I quickly realized there was no one else around. I immediately backtracked and found another route with more foot traffic. (Always make sure you stick to well-traveled streets, especially after dark.)

Surfer

Surfer

Being Solo in Honolulu

Meeting people in Honolulu is as easy as meeting people in Las Vegas, and for the same reason. People are happy to be here, so they’re in a good mood and are approachable. And of course, the locals have what they call “the Aloha spirit,” meaning they’re very warm and welcoming.

If you want to meet people, try sitting at a bar; taking the bus; or taking a day tour. Offer to take someone’s photo for them and ask them if they’ll take yours as well. If you’re spending time at the beach, try to make friends with a nearby family and offer to watch each other’s stuff while swimming. Go to the Royal Hawaiian Center and take a lei-making class or a ukelele lesson. Or get involved on the TripAdvisor Honolulu forum and set up a meet-and-greet while you’re in town.

At Iolani Palace

You’d be surprised how many people you’ll see in Honolulu who are just taking advantage of photo opps–just like you.

What if you’d rather be alone? No problem. Yes, Waikiki can be crowded. But you can still find ways to go off and do your own lone-wolf thing. Hop on the bus or rent a car to explore other parts of the island. Go for a hike up Diamond Head. Sit on your lanai and read a good book. Wander the beach until you find a less busy spot and claim it as your own.

What can you do as a solo traveler in Honolulu? The shorter list would be “what can’t you do”–and I’m not sure what would be on that list, if anything. I was only in town for 5 days and struggled with the 5 hour time zone difference for most of that time. I could barely keep my eyes open past sunset and my energy levels were low. Otherwise, I might have been able to do more than I did.

Byodo-In Temple

For some peace and quiet away from the crowds of Waikiki, head to Byodo-In Temple

Even so, I climbed Diamond Head alone, took a day-long Circle Island Tour, visited Pearl Harbor and Iolani Palace, hung out on Waikiki Beach—and walked the length of it more than once–went shopping in the International Marketplace, and ate my way around Honolulu. I wanted to go on a whale watching cruise, but ran out of time. If you’re more of a water baby than I am, you could go snorkeling or diving at Haunama Bay Nature Preserve or take a surfing or paddle boarding lesson. You could sign up for a tour hike to one of the island’s beautiful waterfalls. You could go to a luau or take a day tour to one of the other islands. Visit the Waikiki Aquarium and Honolulu Zoo. And the list goes on and on.

The variety of activities, the friendly people, the laid-back atmosphere and gorgeous weather all combined to put Honolulu right at the top of my favorite solo vacation destinations. And you know what? The sunsets—and sunrises—are just as beautiful here when you’re traveling solo as they would be if you weren’t. So much for that “Hawaii is just for honeymooners” stereotype.

Sunrise Waikiki

Sunrise over Waikiki

Lucy June 1, 2015 at 3:16 pm

what kind of camera was the 3rd picture taken with?

Gray Cargill June 1, 2015 at 4:22 pm

A DSLR, Lucy. My Nikon D40.

Christine April 4, 2015 at 12:22 am

I’m going to Honolulu as a solo traveler. Took my son with me 12 years ago and always wanted to go back. Thanks for the encouragement, I need it! Did you ever meet and talk to people while you were there alone? Hope so!

Gray Cargill April 5, 2015 at 10:15 am

My pleasure, Christine. Glad to share my love for Honolulu. Yes, I met lots of people to talk to while I was there. Check out this article here: https://solofriendly.com/next-seat/

Carol October 20, 2014 at 11:35 pm

Thanks for your tips. I have been to Honolulu several times but always with a friend, but she isn’t able to travel so far now. I would love to go back next year but am worried the single accommodation is too much. Any advice on that would be appreciated, we usually stayed in a hotel one block back from the beach, but being alone that would probably be too expensive.
Honolulu has everything including great shopping.
Looking forward to some ideas.

Gray Cargill October 23, 2014 at 3:10 pm

I hear you, Carol. Paying for a hotel room by yourself in Honolulu is expensive. But look at some of the budget properties by Aqua (Palms and Queen Kapiolani are the 2 I’ve stayed at) as well as the Outrigger’s budget properties (Ohana East and Ohana West). Hotels along Ala Wai Canal are cheaper than those closest to the beach but still have a nice view (if facing the canal or Diamond Head). There is at least one hostel in Honolulu (my airport shuttle picked up a couple there on the way back to the airport); I don’t know if they have private rooms, but it’s worth checking. The only other thing I can suggest is that if you’re flexible, try to go during the slow season, when hotel prices are cheaper. Good luck!

Eve July 22, 2014 at 8:13 pm

Hi Gray,

You don’t know how good it was to read you. I am about to go to Hawaii by my own and was a bit scared of the place being «reserved» for lovers ! It just helped me to focus on the beautiful things I am about to discover.

Thank’s again !

Gray Cargill July 22, 2014 at 9:38 pm

Hi, Eve – I’m so glad I could help! It absolutely is not reserved for lovers. Hawaii is a great place for all of us. Have a fantastic trip!

A.H. October 7, 2013 at 11:14 pm

Oh, how I’d love to get up from my desk and hop onto a plane and get to that beach with the deep-blue water! Someday!
Btw, those travel tips are great, whether travelling to Honolulu or anywhere else.

Gray Cargill October 8, 2013 at 9:19 pm

Thanks, A.H.! And you know, once you put it out there to the universe that you want to go to Hawaii, you never know…the universe might just bring it all together for you. 🙂

Lauren (@BonVoyageLauren) October 2, 2013 at 3:27 pm

I absolutely loved this post! Just because Hawaii markets itself as an ideal place for honeymooners and families (which I’m sure it is) doesn’t mean it’s any less enjoyable for a solo traveler. Growing up, I went to Honolulu almost every other summer and I’ve always loved how you can get the best of both worlds there. Sure you can spend a day relaxing on a beach but the next day can be filled with plenty of other attractions to explore. I’d also lose my mind just lounging on a beach all day. No thanks.

Happy travles 🙂

Gray Cargill October 2, 2013 at 6:21 pm

Oh, man, I envy you all those trips to Honolulu, Lauren. I wish I lived closer, that’s for sure. I agree, you can change up how you spend each of your travel days, which makes it a very versatile destination.

Maria Falvey October 2, 2013 at 12:42 pm

Nice tips for the solo traveler, or one with a companion. I’d only add that when solo if the restaurant you visit has a bar, ask if you have access to the full menu – even 4star venues usually offer this and then you can drink, dine and converse with others without having to be part of a group or feel isolated at a table alone.

Gray Cargill October 2, 2013 at 6:24 pm

Thanks, Maria. Totally agree about the bar–it’s the best place to eat when you’re feeling social. I usually only ask for a table if I’m feeling low energy and just need to be alone.

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