Honolulu Summer Bucket List 2021: The 41 Best Things to Do This Summer on O‘ahu
We rounded up your must-do list for the season so you can plan the best summer ever.
The first official day of summer is this year June 20. Then, there are just 94 days until fall sets in. Don’t panic. But don’t waste any of that additional sunlight (on average, about two hours more than the winter). We’re on it.
1. Go Art-Hunting in Your Neighborhood
We want you to have the best summer ever, starting with a ton of painted electrical boxes in Kaimukī, Waikīkī and Wai‘anae. Above, Gemma Hazen’s art can be found outside Mud Hen Water and you can read about the artists adding color to Farrington Highway on the Leeward Side on valleyofrainbows.org.
2. Beyond Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience
The exhibit is one of the biggest Beyond Exhibitions has done. For six weeks, you can walk through the whorls of one of the world’s greatest artists. Did we mention the air conditioning?
For more information visit vangoghhonolulu.com
3. Ride a Bike Over to Waiola Shave Ice for a Rainbow Cone with Mochi and Ice Cream.
4. Hit Farmers Markets Islandwide for the Best Lychee. A North Shore Country Market vendor won (sticky) hands down last summer.
- Farmers Market Finds: Funky Fresh Spins on Spring Rolls at Kaka‘ako
- Here’s the Secret to Shopping Chinatown’s Markets Like a Chef
- Kapi‘olani Community College’s Farmers Market Celebrates 15 Years on O‘ahu
5. Try an O‘ahu Walking Tours
Many of the tours across Oʻahu were canceled in 2020. As things open up, make your reservation to feel like a tourist in your own city by learning about our historic neighborhoods.
6. 24 Hikes We Like
We’ve rounded up our top picks for the best hikes on our island.
7. Our Guide to Honolulu’s Comic Conventions
Comic Con Honolulu is on hiatus until 2022. But others, including Kawaii Con and the Amazing Comic Con Aloha are planning to bring fans and stars together again in person in 2021. Here’s a guide to help you sort through the events this year.
8. The Ultimate Kaka‘ako Brewery and Beer Bar Crawl
From breweries to bottle shops to hard to find brews and beyond, discover the best bars this Honolulu neighborhood has to offer with our new beer crawl guide.
9. 8 Public Swimming Pools on O‘ahu
The city pools are only open for lap swimming right now, with a limit of an hour per person. But it’s still a great way to cool off. From Wahiawā to Kāne‘ohe, from the hidden to the new, we searched O‘ahu for the best public pool.
10. Get a Scoop of Something Cold
A whole new batch of ice cream makers have been churning out frosty, sweet and surprising frozen treats in the past year. As the temperature soars, scoop up a pint of Chadlous Vietnameses Coffee from Sage Creamery, a crack seed sundae topped with kaki mochi from Double Fat Ice Cream, ice cream-and-cake pies by the slice from HB Baking or one of these other chilly ideas.
- Try These New DIY Gelato Cakes from Kaimukī’s Via Gelato
- HONOLULU Staff Favorites: The 12 Best Frozen Treats for a Boiling Hot Day on O‘ahu
- Best Soft Serve Ice Cream: Our Top 5
11. Hawaiʻi Symphony Orchestra-Sheraton Starlight Series
First two weekends of June, July and August
The Waikīkī Shell is open for a refreshing return to concerts with the symphony. Go classic, Broadway or a little rock with compositions ranging from Mendelssohn and Rachmaninoff to pieces by Queen Liliuoʻkalani, Led Zeppelin and Leonard Bernstein.
$80 for a group of four. The first two Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays of June, July and August at 7 p.m. Waikīkī Shell, 2805 Monsarrat Ave., myhso.org
12. Friends of the Library of Hawai‘i Book Store
Great news! The pop-up that was slated to close the first week of June has been extended to stay open at Ward Village through the summer. Stop by to nab books, art, movies and more at discount prices. Prices start from about $2 for kids books and $2–$3 for DVDs.
Open 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday. Closed Monday. Ward Village, 1142 Auahi St., friendsofthelibraryofhawaii.org/villagebooks
13. Buy Gabe Sachter-Smith’s Bananas
At the Saturday morning Kaka‘ako farmers market in the Counter Culture farm’s tent. You can also occasionally buy Banana Source variety boxes through Farmlink Hawaiʻi.
14. Go Neon Sign-Hunting at Night
SEE ALSO: O‘ahu in 2010: The Neon Signs of Honoulu
15. Hit the Beach for 10 Hours
The longest day of the year, the summer equinox, falls on a Sunday this year. On June 20, expect 13 hours and 18 minutes from sunrise to sunset. Pack a few of our 50 essential Hawai‘i books and extra reef-safe sunscreen.
16. Join a Sunset Cruise
The catamarans are heading back into the water. With new safety guidelines in mind, you’ll likely have more elbow room than in years past. And though we’re not exactly talking about top-shelf pours, there is something very carefree about sipping multiple drinks while lying on netting just a couple of feet above the ocean.
17. Shop a Limited-Edition Summer Collection
18. Slide into a New Favorite Pair
19. Pedal the Pearl Harbor Bike Path
20. Try Every Frozen Boozy Drink You Can Find
Flavors and availability change with the season, but we’ve sipped some of our favorites at: Piggy Smalls and Encore Saloon (each have rotating slushy flavors); The Counter (spike the milkshake of your choice); Bevy; Harry’s Hardware Emporium; and Easy Que.
21. Lose Your Shadow
Here’s a bit of trivia. Hawai‘i is the only state located between the Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn. Why does this matter? It’s the only place in the U.S. where the sun shines directly above us. The phenomenon, locally called Lahaina Noon (a moniker from a Bishop Museum naming contest in 1990), creates a moment when shadows disappear. It only happens twice a year—once in May, once in July. O‘ahu’s last chance to experience the “cruel sun” this year will be July 14 at 12:38 p.m. in Hale‘iwa, July 15 at 12:37 p.m. in Kāne‘ohe and July 16 at 12:38 p.m. in Honolulu.
22. Go Zip Lining!
Because zip lining in the rain is nowhere near as fun.
SEE ALSO: We Tried It: Coral Crater Adventure Park
23. Visit Shangri La
The striking museum of Islamic art, culture and design is reopening to public tours this summer. So reserve a spot early to see the intricate architecture and décor influenced by Doris Duke’s travels around the world.
Go to shangrilahawaii.org for updates.
24. Tailgate at a Polo Game
Even if you’ve never seen a single chukker, there’s no shame in simply opening a bottle of wine on the sidelines at this game of kings. The Hawai‘i Polo Club in Mokulē‘ia is scheduled to open its 2021 season on June 6. On the North Shore, start early with a day pass to set up beachside and stick around for live music after the match. With season passes going for just $250 and $100 per person respectively (and kids free), you won’t go broke spending the summer in the country. The Honolulu Polo Club in Waimānalo has not yet scheduled any matches.
Matches are weekends through Labor Day in Mokulē‘ia, hawaii-polo.org
25. Learn to Surf From a Waikīkī Beachboy
It’s OK to admit you’ve never paddled out before. The beachboys have been helping people catch their first wave since about 1901. Seek out a city-run concession for the best range of services (and prices) and be sure to opt in to the photography services offered at some of the stands. You’ll want that snapshot to back up your surf sesh stories.
26. Surf With Your Pet at Duke’s OceanFest
Like most other events, the festival was canceled in 2020. We’re hoping for a return in August 2021 to watch pets hang four at the Going to the Dogs surFUR comPETition, keiki rip up the south swell in the Menehune competition and the always acrobatic tandem contest.
Check for updates at dukesoceanfest.com
27. Sign Up to Go Over the Edge
Every October, dozens of people rappel more than 400 feet down the Hyatt Regency Waikīkī Beach Resort to raise money for Special Olympics Hawai‘i. Early-bird sign-ups open this summer and with only about 100 spaces, spots disappear quickly. It’s $100 to register and you are asked to raise at least $1,000 for the charity. But it’s the only way to indulge your inner Spider-Man, legally at least, and help local athletes.
Check for updates at sohawaii.org
28. Go Shrimp Truck Hopping on the North Shore
Bring hand wipes, breath mints, cans of local brews and get ready for the epic garlic-shrimp-plate battle.
29. Take a Photo in Front of the Hale‘iwa Wings Mural
We won’t get into the whole North Shore shave ice debate (Aoki’s vs. Matsumoto’s has the potential to hit Montague/Capulet-esque status), but another shop has this Instagrammable pair of wings adorning its wall. Los Angeles artist Colette Miller—who lived here as a child—brushed the wings on Anahulu Shave Ice’s wall in 2015, one of about 100 interactive paintings she did across the world. Avoid the big surf gridlock of the winter and head north during small swell months to have someone snap your photo (selfies of the entire painting are impossible).
62-620 Kamehameha Highway, Hale‘iwa
30. Visit All the Botanical Gardens
From desertscapes to a family-friendly fishing spot with a Ko‘olau backdrop, Honolulu’s five botanical gardens offer vastly different landscapes to explore. All offer classes, ranging from shibori (indigo dyeing) to ti-leaf lei making. The best part: With the exception of Foster Botanical Garden, admission is free.
Foster, Ho‘omaluhia, Koko Head, Lili‘uokalani and Wahiawā botanical gardens, honolulu.gov
31. Pick up an ‘ukulele
Play a-longs and lots of live music will be part of the celebration for one of our favorite stringed instruments at ‘Ukulele Festival Hawai‘i, presented virtually on July 18, starting at 9 a.m. ukulelefestivalhawaii.org. Or, take advantage of the complimentary daily lessons offered at The ʻUkulele Store at Waikīkī Beach Walk, at 4:30 p.m.
32. Pack Popcorn for an Outdoor Movie
Drive-in movies were definitely a thing in 2020. Some are still bound to pop up through the summer. Wet’n’Wild Hawai‘i’s Dive’n’Movie every Saturday from June 12 through Aug. 21. Even if you’re not a big fan of the films scheduled, the rides stay open for after-hours sliding and admission is discounted after 4:30 p.m.
33. Eat, Dance and Explore at an Ethnic Festival
We’re on watch to see if some of our favorite festivals will return, virtually or in-person. The summer months usually brings us the Mōʻiliʻili Summer, Korean and the Okinawan festivals.
34. Join a Bon Dance
Rookies, follow everyone else. If you get confused, don’t stop moving forward—it can mess up the rest of the line. And be ready to wait for andagi. Bon dances run June through September. In 2020, most went online, but we’ll check for signs of its return this summer.
35. Eat Local Oysters at Kualoa Ranch
You may need to spend a few hours watching YouTube videos to learn how to open it, but once you’re slurping an icy-cold, fresh Kualoa Ranch oyster off the half shell, regrets will be few. The ranch only sells its briny, kelpy and overall delicious oysters (12 for $15) to customers at its visitor center. Sales are Thursday through Sunday, but we suggest getting there before the weekend, before supplies run out, or you’ll be left just saying shucks. (We couldn’t resist.) And if you plan to pick up the ranch’s saltwater shrimp—why not—make sure to order 24 hours in advance.
Kualoa Ranch, 49-560 Kamehameha Highway, Kāne‘ohe, call to check on availability, (808) 237-7321, kualoa.com
36. Watch the Warriors’ Season Opener
The UH Mānoa football team is welcoming fans back—well, some of them, at least. The Warriors, with newish head coach Todd Graham, will open the season at home Sept. 4 against Portland State. This is also the first season the team will hit the artificial turf in the new Clarence T.C. Ching Stadium which has fewer seats than Aloha Stadium. So tickets will only open to the general public after season ticket holders get their shot.
See the full schedule at hawaiiathletics.com
37. Watch Shakespeare in the Park
Two of this year’s Hawaiʻi Shakespeare Festival performances will be online: the comedy Twelfth Night and Short Cuts, a series of sonnets and one-act plays. But bring a picnic blanket and snacks (and an English major if iambic pentameter is not your thing) for the sunset performance of Henry IV, Part One on the lawn at Hawaiian Mission Houses.
Runs Tuesday through Wednesday, from Aug. 13 to 21, hawaiishakes.org
38. Pick and Pickle a Mango
There are hundreds of types of mangoes, but the local favorites largely peak in June (Haden, Mapulehu) and July (Pirie, Rapoza). You know the rule: If it’s over the fence it’s fair game; reaching over a fence is not allowed. But if things are still green, it’s time to pickle. The most basic recipes call for one-part rice vinegar, two-parts sugar and ¼-part Hawaiian salt combined, boiled and poured over sliced green mango. Toss in some li hing if you like, then let sit for 24 hours.
Other local fruit in season during the summer include loquat, lime and liliko‘i. We have the ultimate guide to local fruit.
39. Go on a Hike
Don’t go hiking after sunset. That’s pretty much a rule. But summer lets you tackle those longer, challenging treks up the mountain by giving you a few more hours. One suggestion from Mike Algiers, a member of the Hawaiian Trail & Mountain Club, is the Kealia trail just behind Dillingham Airfield. A series of switchbacks leads up the steep cliff, with Instagrammable ocean views all along the way. “For the more ambitious hikers, there is an option after reaching the top to continue walking up the dirt firebreak road,” Algiers says, “which takes you to the rim of Mākua Valley [with] the panoramic view of the valley and the south shore beaches and ocean below.” Or, take on the Kuli‘ou‘ou Trail in Kuli‘ou‘ou Valley, which leads to a vantage point of Waimānalo. Take water, snacks, a rain jacket, cell phone and map, and do not, the club says, go on trails that are off-limits.
Find more information about trails at hawaiitrails.hawaii.gov
40. Set Your Alarm to Look Up
There’s a reason the Perseid Meteor shower is one of the most popular. As many as 80 shooting stars streak across the sky every hour. The Bishop Museum says the almost-full moon will make spotting meteors tricky during the shower’s peak on Aug. 11 and 12, so wake up after the moon sets on either day for the best view.
41. Cook Something New
- We Tried It: 9 Recipes from Sheldon Simeon’s New Cookbook
- A Step-By-Step of Our Attempt at Making Chef Morimoto’s Udon Noodles
- Learn an Exclusive Vegetarian Recipe From “Chef’s Table” Star Jeong Kwan
- What to Expect From an Environmentally Friendly Cooking Class in Honolulu