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:
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!
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.