Oahu’s Honolulu Harbor

History, Weather, & Things to Do

The island of Oahu, also known as The Gathering Place, is Hawaii's most populous island and has something for everyone to enjoy- from beach lovers to history buffs to shopaholics and everything in between. And if your cruise plans have you headed to this gorgeous destination, you'll likely be headed into Honolulu Harbor, the state's main seaport.

Honolulu Harbor is located in the state capital of Honolulu, on Oahu's southern coast. To say that the harbor has been key in the development of the city of Honolulu is an understatement; as the city grew and developed around the seaport.

Honolulu Harbor History

The first European known to have entered Oahu was Captain William Brown, of England, in 1794 (although some sources cite the year as 1793). Captain Brown dubbed the protected harbor Fair Haven, which later turned into Honolulu, a name that translates to 'Sheltered Bay'. After his journey, more foreign ships began to arrive and Honolulu Harbor became the hub of cargo traffic between North America and Asia. Shops that sold provisions to the sailors soon began to spring up along the waterfront.

1809 saw Kamehameha the Great move his royal court from Waikiki to Honolulu in order to ensure Hawaiians were getting fair trade deals. Kamehameha traded valuable sandalwood in exchange for luxury goods and weapons. As the trading expanded, the area continued to grow. By the time Kamehameha the Great passed away in 1819, Honolulu's population had reached 3,500 and was rapidly growing. Honolulu Harbor was undisputedly Hawaii's commercial center.

By 1820, commercial whalers began frequenting the harbor and a multitude of shops, brothels, and taverns began operating to meet their demands. That same year, Christian missionaries arrived in an attempt to 'save' the whalers from their vices. Needless to say, the two opposing groups quickly found themselves at odds with one another. Missionaries influenced Hawaiian royalty to enact laws against prostitution and drunkenness, and by the mid-1800's most whalers were conducting their business on the island of Maui.

Around the same time the whalers began to arrive, the sugar industry took hold in the area by leasing land from royalty and using native Hawaiian laborers (Hawaii was still a feudal society). Sugar cane would now be grown and sold for profit, thus marking the arrival of both capitalism and wage labor in Hawaii. The sugar and whaling industries became the foundation for the economy in the islands.

The harbor area was in continual expansion and, in 1850, Kamehameha III named Honolulu the capital of the Kingdom. This declaration spurred rapid development of trade and brought an economic windfall for the area. A harbor entrance was constructed, the waterfront continued to be developed, and schools, churches, and shops were erected.

Honolulu Harbor Image

In 1926, a lighthouse known as the Aloha Tower was inaugurated at Honolulu's Pier 9. Recognized as one of Hawaii's most prominent landmarks, the lighthouse still serves as a beacon for ships coming into Honolulu. It also welcomed thousands of new immigrants to the city, much like the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor.

Honolulu Harbor continued to flourish and the population grew rapidly throughout the next several years. The 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor saw military activity dominate the region. At the war's conclusion, Honolulu Harbor continued to develop economically once again.

Hawaii became a state in 1959, and Honolulu Harbor was a hot spot for the ever-growing tourism industry. Since that time, it has established itself as a favorite port for those looking for beaches, shopping, history, culture, and entertainment; and the cruise line industry is at the ready to meet the demands of visitors from around the world.

Honolulu Harbor Weather

And if you're one of the lucky visitors to Honolulu Harbor, you can pretty much expect what many refer to as 'perfect weather'. Temperatures tend to vary little throughout the year, with average highs of 80–90 °F and average lows of 65–75 °F. Rainfall averages just over 17 inches a year, most of which falls from October-April. Expect those rainfall amounts to be light showers in the summer and heavier rains during the winter. Be sure to check out our Oahu Weather page for more specific information. 

A dinner cruise ship out for a ride in the Honolulu Harbor.

A dinner cruise ship out for a ride in the Honolulu Harbor.

Honolulu Harbor Things to Do

Your ship will dock at the Aloha Tower, in downtown Honolulu (about halfway between Waikiki Beach and the Honolulu International Airport). If you're in the mood for a little shopping, look no further than that same Aloha Tower- there are a number of shops, as well as restaurants there. Venture a little more and you'll hit the Ward Warehouse and the Ala Moana Center (once the world's largest shopping center). Keep going into Waikiki and you'll find a vast array of boutiques, stores, and kiosks.

There are a seemingly infinite number of things to do once you arrive. Of course, there's the world-famous Waikiki Beach, as well as SCUBA diving, sailing charters, luaus, city tours, Waimea Park, the Polynesian Cultural Center, submarine rides, fishing charters, and much more. And, it goes without saying that there are fabulous restaurants and bars all around.

There are many cruise lines that can whisk you away to the tropical paradise of Oahu via Honolulu Harbor. They include Holland, Norwegian, Princess, Carnival, Cunard, P&O, Celebrity, Silversea, Royal Caribbean, Disney, Oceania, Crystal, Ponant, Hapag-Lloyd, and Costa. With such a wide selection of cruises to choose from, we're certain you'll find the perfect way to set sail to Honolulu Harbor and explore the spectacular island of Oahu.

Our Suggestions for Oahu Things to Do

Oahu is a wonderful place to explore, as there are a myriad of activities for every type of traveler in every type of environment. Soar through the air on a helicopter tour or even a skydiving adventure. Tour Pearl Harbor, hike, or zip along on a fun Segway tour. Rather dive right in, so to speak? Snorkel, SUP, or raise a glass on a romantic Oahu dinner cruise. Sound good? Then book your favorite Oahu adventure today!

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