Historic Honolulu Harbor, the state’s original hub for commerce and immigration, stretches from Honolulu’s downtown business district in the east to Ke’ehi Lagoon in the west. A center of activity even prior to European contact, the harbor today—a series of dredged channels and basins encircling the less-than-a-square-mile Sand Island—is picturesque in parts and downright commercial in others. Despite a massive molasses spill that occurred here in Sept. 2013, there are those who say the harbor is among the cleanest commercial ports in the nation. To see for yourself, head down to Pier 7 where modern cruise ships still occasionally dock (if you didn’t arrive by boat, look for the giant wooden Falls of Clyde sailing ship fronting the now-shuttered Hawaii Maritime Center). There, just along the concrete harbor wall, is a veritable open-air aquarium: coral, tropical reef fish and the occasional reef shark can be seen making a living just steps from downtown skyscrapers.
Among the best places to watch the big cargo ships that supply the city with cars, groceries, goods and commodities are from the harbor-facing restaurants in the Aloha Tower Marketplace
Complex, or from the bars and restaurants located directly on Sand Island. During the 1800s, the harbor was the main point of entry into the state for visitors and immigrants, while Sand Island was used as a quarantine checkpoint for sick passengers. Also worth a visit are Piers 36-38, home to the Honolulu Fish Action—the largest tuna auction in the United States—several
notable seafood restaurants and moorings for the state’s largest commercial fishing fleet.
Visit the harbor in three publicly-accessible spots: Aloha Market Place fronting Pier 7 (1 Aloha Tower Drive), on Sand Island, or Piers 36-38 (the fishing piers). All are located along Nimitz
Highway. The Aloha Tower Center has its own (paid) parking; some center restaurants validate. To visit the harbor by public transit (TheBus $2.50 one-way), take routes 55, 56, 57 and 57a to
Aloha Tower, or, routes 19 & 20 to reach the Sand Island Access Road and the fishing pier from Waikiki Beach.