Chat with us in Facebook Messenger. Find out what's happening in the world as it unfolds.
We won't promise seclusion in Waikiki, but romance in the shadow of Diamond Head is still one of Honoulu's great thrills.
CNN Insider Guides are thoroughly checked for accuracy. Given the fluid nature of the travel industry, however, some listings may fall out of date before guides can be updated. The best practice is to confirm current information on official websites before making plans to visit any business or attraction.
(CNN)Four of the most glorious words in the travel lexicon? "We're going to Hawaii!"
For many travelers to America's 50th state, that means at least a stop in the capital of Honolulu, a city of nearly a million residents on the lush island of Oahu. Despite its epic popularity, the best of Honolulu still fulfills the Pacific promise of easy breezes, slow days, perfect beaches and lots of flowery drinks and shirts.
What may come as a surprise are the twists recently added to some familiar island icons. Recent years have seen major refurbishments at many hotels along the famed beach of Waikiki.
New decor. New bathrooms. New spas. Some beachfront hotels have even built new pools.
And the visitors?
While the usual travelers from North America and Asia still crowd the beaches, a recent influx of Aussies means you just might hear the guy on the next beach towel say, "Mate, can you chuck us me thongs?" (In Australia, flip-flops are called "thongs.")
The world's busiest holiday playground is offering an updated approach to sand and surf, and the best of Honolulu is the gateway to it all.
Built in 1901, the Moana Surfrider is the oldest hotel in Waikiki.
Its beaux-arts architecture makes it the only hotel in Honolulu with the feel of a plantation mansion, complete with rocking chairs on the verandas and staff in historical dress.
This best of Honolulu hotel has kept up with time though, with recent refurbishments and a new spa.
Free history tours run three times a week; visitors are welcome to join, even if they're not staying at the hotel.
Moana Surfrider, A Westin Resort & Spa, 2365 Kalakaua Avenue, Honolulu, Oahu, HI 96815; +1 808 922 3111
The Halekulani is another lovely old-timer.
It's known for opulent style, with the Halekulani Suite famously decorated by Vera Wang and the heated pool's floor set with 1.2 million pieces of glass tile to form an orchid-shaped mosaic.
Most rooms offer exclusivity -- private gardens, plunge pool, butler, even interactive cooking lessons with a Halekulani chef.
Outrigger Waikiki on the Beach is located on the sands of the original Beach Boys Club -- this is Hawaiian Olympic and surfing king Duke Kahanamoku's patch.
With the ever-growing resurgence of Hawaiian culture included in hotel design and ethos, the Outrigger still holds daily cultural activities, such as lei-making and ukulele lessons. Lessons are often held in the lobby next to the authentically carved koa wood outrigger canoe.
Rooms have been completely refurbished, including extra soundproofing for honeymooners.
Still the most popular visitor destination in Hawaii, lines to enter the visitor center at Pearl Harbor start forming as soon as the sun rises.
The centerpiece of this best of Honolulu tour is the USS Arizona memorial, which floats above the sunken vessel aboard which 1,177 sailors were killed in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.
Docked next door is the Mighty Mo -- the USS Missouri is the only ship to have fired her guns in both World War II and the First Gulf War.
The Empire of Japan formerly surrendered on her decks on September 2, 1945, in Tokyo Bay.
Transport to this Pacific Historic Park can be arranged from most hotels.
Plan at least two to three hours for all the sites.
Pearl Harbor / WW II Valor in the Pacific National Monument, 1 Arizona Memorial Place, Honolulu, Oahu, HI 96818;
Diamond Head Summit Trail
Not bad for a morning workout.
Depending on the heat, most people hike the Diamond Head crater first thing in the morning.
The park and trail to the top open at 6 a.m.
Part of Oahu's State Parks, the trail is only 1,200 meters long, but it winds steeply upward, gaining 170 meters.
You'll need either plenty of energy or plenty of time to make it to the top.
Along the way are some observation bunkers dating from World War II.
A rewarding breeze and sweeping island views from Koko Head to Wai'anae await at the summit.
Diamond Head, Diamond Head Road at 18th Ave. Waikiki, Honolulu, Oahu, HI 96815; +1 808 587 0300
The first Marine Life Conservation District in the state of Hawaii, Hanauma Bay hosts hundreds of snorkelers daily.
Cradled in a volcanic crater, these waters are calm enough for beginners and children.
Plenty of tours, shuttle bus options and even the local bus can get you there.
Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve, 100 Hanauma Bay Drive ueber Kalanianaole Highway, Honolulu, Oahu, HI 96825;
The fall that launched a thousand postcards.
Without too much effort, Manoa Falls is reached via a 1,200-meter hike with shoulder-height vegetation akin to Jurassic Park.
That's no coincidence: scenes from the third movie in the franchise were filmed here.
Once in the rainforest, hikers are surrounded by wonderful, fresh smells and thick vegetation.
Online government websites have advice for clearing programs, landslides, rock falls and pig control hunts.
Manoa Falls, End of Manoa Road, Honolulu, Oahu, HI 96822;
Makapu'u Beach Park
Calm before the storming sea.
Makapu'u means "bulging eye."
You'll understand the significance when you see the surf.
You can only bodyboard here while the area is being patrolled and that's not a bad thing.
A hollow shore break can rocket you and your board straight into the sand, so this place is strictly for experienced extreme sport enthusiasts.
If you arrive and the hairs on your neck stand up, take it as a message from the ancestors to practice photography from the lookout up top instead.
Makapuu Point, Kalaniana'ole Hwy. turnout above Makapu'u Beach, Oahu, HI;
Ko Olina Golf Club
Considered by many to be the best golf course on Oahu, Ko Olina is a Ted Robinson-designed course that hosts an LPGA tournament.
The golf academy can help you with your swing or just keep your kids busy while you enjoy a day at the Ihilani Spa.
Ko Olina Golf Club, 92-1220 Ali'inui Drive, Honolulu, Oahu, HI 96707; +1 808 676 5300
If you're on a Hawaiian beach and think you can see a large smooth gray rock in the distance, chances are it's the Hawaiian monk seal.
An endangered species -- there are just more than one thousand left in the wild -- the monk seal is endemic to Hawaii and found nowhere else.
The Waikiki Aquarium is home to two rescued monk seals.
It also holds more than 500 marine species and maintains more than 3,500 marine specimens.