On a recent trip back from Tokyo, I had an 8 hour layover in HNL. After reading several post here at TA, I saw lots of suggestions, but very few follow-ups about the experience, so here is my report.
Flight landed around 10:00 on a Friday morning. Immigration was super quick (only US passport holder in line!) and customs was uneventful. My bags had been through checked to my final destination, so all I had to do was drop them at the recheck counter and I was out of the airport by 10:30.
Since I only wanted to go to the beach, I chose to take a taxi to Waikiki. Driver dropped me off at a public access across from the Pacific Beach Hotel. Cost was $40 w/tip, and took about 30 minutes.
Based on recommendations here, I walked up the beach to the Royal Hawaiian for lunch outside. If I did it again, I wouldn't go here. I had a $14 Mai Tai that had way too much rum in it, and the cheapest thing on the lunch menu was $20. I had a French Dip that was made with very gristly rib meat - almost inedible - and several glasses of water to choke it down. So lunch wasn’t great but the view was; I’d say I broke even!
Spent the rest of the time on the beach enjoying the sun and the surf, and went back up to the Royal Hawaiian at around 4:00 to catch a cab back to the airport. Due to traffic, this ride took about an hour and cost $45 w/tip. Already had my boarding pass, so I just breezed through security and caught my 6:00 flight.
All in all, I’d say it was a good way to pass 8 hours in HNL.