Urban Honolulu | World’s Best Cities

Urban Honolulu

America’s best midsize city simply dominated our categories in 2020. It’s hardly surprising, given that urban Honolulu is just a few planeloads shy of one million inhabitants (and so also just shy of qualifying as a “large city” in our rankings). It’s also a global vacation destination, visited by more than six million tourists last year—up 16.2% in five years, according to local numbers. Things were going in the right direction for the state at the beginning of 2020, with visitation and spending up 5% year-over-year as late as February. But with the pall of COVID-19 falling swiftly and mercilessly, local estimates are now warning of a 40% drop in tourism for this year, with 6,000 jobs lost as a result. But Honolulu will be back. It’s simply too coveted as both a destination and a hometown not to be. It ranked first in the nation in our layered Place category, with its verdant, knife-edge topography exploding into the blue sky from rolling hills every few miles, creating microclimates and hypnotic scenery. The city rules our Parks and Outdoors subcategory, led by its powdery beaches, some of the best and safest ocean swimming in the state (often with sea turtles and dolphins) and the option to head for the emerald Ko‘olau Range before or after work.