Beaches Photography Sights

The Aloha Tower Observation Deck: Four Unique Views of Honolulu

The Aloha Tower located at Pier 9 of Honolulu Harbor was completed in 1926 at the cost of $190,000. At the time, Aloha Tower was the tallest structure in Hawaii at 10 stories tall and measuring 184 feet (56 meters) in height. For 34 years the Aloha Tower was the tallest structure in Hawaii but has since been eclipsed by the First Hawaiian Center in Downtown Honolulu [1]. Although no longer the tallest structure, many still consider the Aloha Tower to be one of the most famous landmarks on Oahu. The tower was restored in 1994 and serves as both a welcoming point for incoming ships and as a fully functional traffic control center for the harbor located at Mamala Bay. I was able to pay a visit to the top of the enduring Aloha Tower following my recent tour on the Star of Honolulu Premier Whale Watch Cruise.

Entry to Aloha Tower Observation Deck is free from 9:30am to 5:00pm. A guard is present at the bottom of the tower and he will check your bags if you do plan to catch the elevator to the top. This minor inconvenience is a small price to pay for the amazing views that await you at the top of Aloha Tower.

A Vertical Panorama of Aloha Tower. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Though restored on the exterior, the interior of the tower still maintains it’s vintage feel. When you first step into the elevator you are greeted with a musky feeling that feels as if it’s coming to you straight from the 1940’s. It doesn’t help that both the elevator and the top floor are devoid of air conditioning. These things don’t matter. The elevator ride up is a relatively short one, definitely nothing like the ride up to the CN Tower in Toronto. And who cares that the top floor lacks air conditioning? You’ll be stepping out on the open balconies anyway. There’s natural air conditioning there.

When you step out of the elevator after you’ve reached the top floor, you will be greeted with some vintage Aloha Tower signage. The next step will be to determine which balcony to explore first. There’s a lookout balcony on each of the four sides of the tower. For what it’s worth, you’ll probably get the best views first if you work your way around the tower in a counterclockwise fashion. Or, if you prefer to save the best for last then start in a clockwise fashion.

As you exit the elevator, the balcony to your right is the best view in the house. Here you will get a mix of city and harbor landscapes. To your left will be downtown Honolulu while on your right will be Pier 8. Docked at the harbor will be the Falls of Clyde, which is currently being restored. In the distance you’ll be able to make out Kaka’ako and the John A. Burns School of Medicine.

A panoramic view looking toward Kaka’ako. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Continue counterclockwise to the mauka balcony (closest to the mountains) positioned facing downtown and you will get a city landscape featuring downtown Honolulu and Hawaii’s version of the Twin Towers. These twin towers is actually One Waterfront Towers, a pair of high-rise and high-priced condominiums.

The next balcony offers an excellent view west of the Aloha Tower. You will get views of the Kapalama Canal, the Harbor Turning Basin, and the Waianae Mountain Range in the far distance. The Kapalama Channel actually doubled the original harbor in size. Most cargo that travels between the Hawaiian islands go through the Young Brothers’ barges out of Pier 24-29.

A panoramic view of downtown Honolulu. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Finally, the makai balcony (closest to the ocean) offers an excellent view of the vast Pacific Ocean and any incoming ships. Here you will see Piers 1 and 2 which are used for loose cargo, and roll-on/roll-off cargo, such as automobiles. This balcony might be best to watch the sunset from. Since the Tower closes at 5:00pm, this should be done during the winter months when the sun sets earlier in the day. You might not be able to see the entire sunset, but you should be able to see a part of it.

The Aloha Tower offers a unique view of Honolulu that you really cannot get from any of the hikes that we’ve featured on Exploration: Hawaii. A short elevator ride up 10 floors will score you a sweet four perspective view of the city that is the soul of the State of Hawaii.

Tilt-Shifting Hawaii

While at the top of Aloha Tower, I played around with a photography technique called Tilt-Shift. Tilt-Shift shots like these can be achieved by using special lenses that allow you to manipulate depth of field. With the correct aperture settings and depth of field, you can achieve what looks like miniaturized landscapes.

Tilt-Shift Perspective of the View Towards Kaka’ako. Photo by Coty Gonzales.
Tilt-Shift Perspective of the View Towards Downtown. To the far right are the twin towers of One Waterfront Towers. Photo by Coty Gonzales.
Tilt-Shift Perspective of the View Towards The Harbor. Here you see the Harbor Turning Basin, Kapalama Channel, and the distant Waianae Mountains. Photo by Coty Gonzales.
Tilt-Shift Perspective of the View Towards Honolulu Harbor. There are some great restaurants there. Photo by Coty Gonzales.
The View Towards The Ocean. Here you can see Piers 1 & 2 used for bulky cargo as well as the Harbor Mouth or Main Ship Channel which was originally discovered by a Captain Brown in 1794. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Explorers: Coty Gonzales and Joel Sabugo

Estimated Time: < 1 minute elevator ride. You can spend as much time as you want at the top. You’ll probably spend about 20-30 minutes soaking up the views.

Directions: Aloha Tower is located at the Aloha Tower Marketplace at Pier 9 of the Honolulu Harbor. From Waikiki you will head southwest toward Kahanamoku Street. Turn right onto Kahanamoku Street. Turn left onto Ala Moana Blvd and drive 2.7 miles then turn left onto Aloha Tower Drive. For more information on directions please visit the official Aloha Tower Marketplace website.

1. I’ve been to the top of the First Hawaiian Center and it is amazing. It was 2001 and I was the recipient of the Walter and Diane Dods Scholarship (thank you for paying for my undergraduate education). As a scholarship recipient I was invited to meet then CEO, Walter Dods and his wife, Diane Dods. I was able to ride in one of the four exterior elevators that travel 1000 ft per minute, sit in his office and have lunch with him and his wife in the executive cafeteria. What a great experience that was.

By Coty

Founder of Exploration: Hawaii. Adventure, Minimalism, Vinyl, Typography, and Coffee + Matcha. A single space after a period, please.

4 replies on “The Aloha Tower Observation Deck: Four Unique Views of Honolulu”

Hey, thanks Sebastian! Yeah I’ve been a fan of Tilt-Shift for a while now. Sorry that we never got to plan that Botany hike. We still should though. I’ll shoot you an email sometime this weekend and maybe we can plan something. The only problem is that I’m not much of a fan of hiking in the rain! LOL. And lately, it’s been raining lots!

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