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6 Walking Tours That Explore O‘ahu’s Rich History and Culture

Feel like a tourist in your own city by learning about O‘ahu’s historic neighborhoods.


Hawai‘i Theatre



We walk through our historic neighborhoods every day, but do we really know about the history and culture that shaped and molded them? I know I didn’t, that is, until I got a glimpse into O‘ahu’s past by trying historic walking tours in downtown Honolulu, Chinatown, Waikīkī and Hale‘iwa, all offered by established nonprofits. From historic buildings, ancient stories, old traditions and timeless architecture, these tours (plus a few extras) will give you a better sense of the history of this place we call home.


1. Downtown Honolulu

Downtown Honolulu Tour



This popular 2.5-hour walking tour takes you across downtown Honolulu—from Fort Street Mall, to Kawaiaha‘o Church, Honolulu Hale, the Capitol and loops back to Hawai‘i Theatre. You hit all of the main sites (a total of 23), as well as a bunch of off-the-beaten track places with architects providing a narrative about the unique buildings along the route.


2. Chinatown

Chinatown walking tour


Two-hour tours are run by volunteer docents, who have been leading groups around Chinatown for years. The Hawai‘i Heritage Center has been offering the historic walking tours since it was founded in 1980, giving people a way to learn and eat their way through Chinatown.


3. Waikīkī

Waikiki walking tour



Offered by the Native Hawaiian Hospitality Association, this tour takes you on a journey back to a time when Waikīkī was home to the ali‘i. The stories are interesting, but the real color comes from the tour guide—a 73-year-old fast walking, wise-cracking entertainer and historian who has been teaching people about this destination for two decades.


4. Hale‘iwa




Sites along the two-hour tour include the Waialua Courthouse, Hale‘iwa Shingon Mission, the former site of the Hale‘iwa Theater (now a McDonald’s) and the famous Rainbow Bridge. You can drive part of the way or walk the entire route.


5. Mānoa

Mālama Mānoa has offered its popular historic Mānoa Valley neighborhood tour every few years since 1996. Tours feature historic homes open for viewing, including several that are listed on the Hawai‘i Register of Historic Places. The 2016 tour featured nine homes open to the public, attracting about 650 people. Mālama Mānoa plans to offer another tour in June 2019, with additional details forthcoming.


Visit malamaomanoa.org for more details.


6. Self-Guided Tours

For locals and tourists who prefer venturing out on your own, the Historic Hawai‘i Foundation has self-guided historic walking tour maps of Waikīkī, downtown Honolulu and historic churches.


You can download copies of the brochures and maps at historichawaii.org/tourism.   





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Honolulu Magazine May 2020
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