Downtown Honolulu often gets overlooked by visitors to Oahu. It’s not surprising given that there are so many great places to visit when you come to Hawaii. Most visitors come to Waikiki and then if they are a bit adventurous they had to the North Shore, Kailua, or go to see the South shore sites like Hanauma Bay or the Halona Blowhole – but by not heading into Honolulu’s downtown they are missing a vibrant part of Honolulu and in a way – not seeing the beating heart of one of the world’s most beautiful cities.
Our downtown isn’t big. You can walk most of it in an afternoon. The downtown financial district is bordered by Chinatown on the West, Vineyard Boulevard on the North, the Historic District on the East, and Honolulu Harbor and Aloha Tower to the South. All told it takes up about four big city blocks. One thing that visitors from the mainland always remark on is how clean it is. There are statues lovingly placed at the corners, a couple of historic buildings, and what you would expect of any financial district of a city of a million people – banks and high rises.
Running right through the center of it is Fort Street Mall – a pedestrian street filled with cheap eateries, convenience stores catering to office workers, and benches for them to have their lunches on. Hawaii Pacific University has it’s campus on the former Aloha Tower Marketplace, so there is a collegiate element which adds to the feel along with plenty of trees, an outdoor farmers market, and a couple of department stores for those who need to grab things before they head home.
There aren’t a lot of residential units in downtown and there are no real tourist attractions – but there are some great restaurants, a couple of cool shops, and great people watching. The Hawaii State Art Museum, the Aloha Tower, and the Hawaii Theatre are the only big attractions in downtown – but there are plenty of historic buildings, and photo worthy spots to capture while you are there…and did I mention all the little eateries that cater to office workers looking for cheap and fast lunch? Every ethnic food you can think of…but mostly just for lunch.
Fort Street Mall is a pedestrian road through the center of the Financial District…mostly it works because of the proximity to Hawaii Pacific University…but there are a lot of little lunch restaurants and some interesting sculptures there. Opened in 1968, it takes about ten minutes to walk and will take you from HPU on one side to HPU on the other. On the mall you will find the Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace…the olderst Cathedral on Oahu – built in 1843. It’s beautiful and off the beaten path.
There’s an old metal gate and a cannon along the mall…they’ve been there since 1899…I’m not sure why.
Usually you can find vendors and open market on Court Street Mall during the weekdays. It’s a good place to buy veggies and flowers and bread. The big problem with downtown and all of Honolulu, actually, is the huge numbers of homeless who are there. A recent study concluded that 1 of every 10 homeless in Honolulu has recently come here from a mainland city. The new arrival homeless congregate in the downtown area along with Chinatown, Iwalei, and Kaka’ako. More recently, large numbers of them are moving to Kailua and Kapolei. The truth is, if you are going to be homeless it might as well be in Hawaii – but the problem is that the more homeless who come here, the less enjoyable this is as a place where if you don’t want to be homeless – you have to work harder and harder to survive.