In its heyday, 10-story Aloha Tower was the tallest structure in all of Hawaii. And even though it’s now dwarfed by downtown Honolulu‘s small jungle of office buildings, the tower still stands tall as one of the state’s most recognizable symbols of Hawaiian hospitality.
The tower was built in 1926 as a fitting welcome for the boatloads of tourists arriving at Honolulu Harbor. In the 1920s and ’30s, passenger arrivals, dubbed “Boat Days,” were lively celebrations that often involved the entire community. Many locals even left work early to take part in the festivities.
Tip: The Aloha Tower’s observation deck remains open to the public daily from 9:30 a.m. to sunset. Admission is free.
Aloha Tower is part of our self guided Honolulu walking tour→
“Boat Days” included hula dancers, thousands of colorful streamers and performances by the Royal Hawaiian Band. The entire harbor permeated with the smell of fresh flower leis.
Recalled Honolulu Star-Bulletin columnist Dave Donnelly, “‘Boat Day’ was indeed a big deal. I remember strolling to the tower where the ocean liners of the day docked. They were met by tutu stringing and selling lei, Island musicians playing and singing, and young men who dived for coins tossed overboard by tourists. Looking back, it wasn’t unlike feeding pigeons at the zoo, but the boys who did the diving didn’t mind, since a case of beer went for about $4 in 1956.”
The slender, square-shaped tower was topped by a domed cupola with balcony openings on all four sides, providing sweeping views of Honolulu. The large clocks (one facing the harbor, the other facing inland) serves as a distinguishing element, along with the letters “A-L-O-H-A.” The tower is topped by a 40-foot flagstaff.
The tower also served a practical function, as the observation deck doubled as a maritime communications and harbor control center.
“Boat Days” came to a quiet end as passenger airlines grew as the primary transportation option for incoming visitors. And as neighboring skyscrapers began sprouting up in the downtown district, Aloha Tower seemed destined to fall into a retired state of neglect and irrelevance.
Aloha Tower Marketplace
Aloha Tower Marketplace (downtown Honolulu in the background) from the harbor at sunset
Thankfully, that changed in 1994 with the opening of the Aloha Tower Marketplace, a popular shopping and dining complex fronting Honolulu Harbor. The tower stands proudly as the centerpiece of the complex.
The Aloha Tower’s observation deck remains open to the public daily from 9:30 a.m. to sunset. Admission is free.