In addition to its role in reverse cholesterol transport, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol has direct action on numerous cell types that influence cardiovascular and metabolic health. Cellular responses to HDL entail its capacity to invoke cholesterol efflux that causes signal initiation via scavenger receptor class B, type I, and plasma membrane receptor activation by HDL cargo molecules. In endothelial cells and their progenitors, HDL attenuates apoptosis and stimulates proliferation and migration. HDL also has diverse anti-inflammatory actions in both endothelial cells and leukocytes. In vascular smooth muscles, HDL tempers proinflammatory, promigratory, and degradative processes, and through actions on endothelium and platelets HDL is antithrombotic. There are additional actions of HDL of potential cardiovascular consequence that are indirect, including the capacities to promote pancreatic β-cell insulin secretion, to protect pancreatic β cells from apoptosis, and to enhance glucose uptake by skeletal muscle myocytes. Furthermore, HDL decreases white adipose tissue mass, increases energy expenditure, and promotes the production of adipose-derived cytokine adiponectin that has its own vascular-protective properties. Many of these numerous actions of HDL have been observed not only in cell culture and animal models but also in human studies, and assessments of these functions are now being applied to patient populations to better-elucidate which actions of HDL may contribute to its cardioprotective potential and how they can be quantified and targeted. Further work on the many mechanisms of HDL action promises to reveal new prophylactic and therapeutic strategies to optimize both cardiovascular and metabolic health.