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"Honolulu is a place of wonderful lights. The ever recurring and oversweeping clouds and gentle showers, the sunlight breaking through, mist and rainbow and passing shadows over a landscape of marvelous greens and blues." — George S. Roorbach, The Aloha Guide, 1915 (p. 67)

Cities > Honolulu > 7 Things Tourists Do in Honolulu That You Should Do Also...

1) Walk Waikiki

Waikiki Beach, Kahanamoku Lagoon, Kalakaua & Kuhio Avenue & More

 

2023 Travel Update: As of 2023, Hawaii is open for tourism by both vaccinated and unvaccinated US citizen travelers without Covid-specific documentation or testing. It also essentially is open to vaccinated non-US citizen travelers with proof of vaccination but no additional testing although some exceptions apply. Nevertheless, be sure to double check the official state of Hawaii requirements and national CDC requirements for up-to-the minute details.

Waikiki — "spouting water" in the Hawaiian language — with its white sand beaches kissed by warm aquamarine waves is the reason tourists the world over flock to Honolulu.

Waikiki was a surfing retreat for Hawaiian royalty in the 1800s, but it began its modern life as a significant tourist locale starting in the 1920s with the dredging of the Ala Wai Canal and the creation of a proper street grid. Although these changes dried up the many streams and springs that once were in the area and caused irreparable environmental and cultural damage, the beginning of a world class urban resort destination was the end result.

Where to Stay in Waikiki

In 1927, the famed pink Royal Hawaiian Hotel joined the earlier Moana Hotel — now Moana Surfrider — and to this day, these remain two of the best hotels in Waikiki. In subsequent decades — perhaps reaching its apex in 1968 with the construction of the iconic Rainbow Tower in Hilton's Hawaiian Villagehundreds of other highrise hotels and condos have mushroomed in the district. There are newer towers as well, but much of Waikiki still has a bit of a 1960s vibe. These days, among US cities, only New York City, Chicago, and Miami have more highrises than Honolulu, despite Honolulu's much smaller population of fewer than a million residents in its metro area. This density very much makes Honolulu, in general, and Waikiki, specifically, feel like a bigger city by American standards than its population implies.

Booking.com

If the five-star Royal Hawaiian Hotel or four-star Moana Surfrider are within budget, go for it; either offer a proper historical experience and are about as nice as hotels can be, but if you have tighter purse strings, accommodations get less expensive away from the beach and toward the canal. Waikiki only is a few blocks across at its widest point, so even the furthest options are not that far away from the district's legendary sand and sea. For example, on one visit to Waikiki, travelgasm.com was based at the comparatively inexpensive, three-star Coconut Waikiki Hotel. With freshly renovated rooms and a lovely view over the canal and golf course toward the mountains, Coconut Waikiki is a good option if you would like to save some money and do not mind a tiny swimming pool. The Pacific Ocean down the street is a rather large pool, after all.

Seven Waikiki Attractions

Regardless of where you choose to stay in Waikiki, we have selected seven of the most notable attractions for strolling, shopping, and savoring the sun. These destinations are organized on our map below:

  1. Kahanamoku Lagoon & Beach - Named after the legendary Duke Kahanamoku — five-time Olympic medalist and "father of surfing" — this section of the beach with its shallow lagoon is particularly photogenic. Also, this beach and nearby harbors are the starting point for a number of boat tours. In peak season, these activities almost always sell out well in advance, so early booking is essential if you want to get out on the water rather than just admire it from the shore. Well-regarded daytime and sunset glass bottom boat tours as well as whale watching, snorkeling, and scuba diving excursions are on offer.
  2. Fort DeRussy Beach & Park - Perhaps because vehicle parking is furthest from this stretch of beach and access requires the most walking, this section is the least trafficked and our personal favorite to relax away from the largest crowds. Curiously, the park en route to the beach does not allow bikes, but the grounds are well manicured by the US military; it is a nice place for a picnic under the palm trees in its own right.
  3. Waikiki Beach - The most famous stretch of sand behind the Royal Hawaiian Hotel and Moana Surfrider. You probably can find someone in Waikiki to give you a basic surfing lesson at any time, but well-regarded individual, couple, and small group surfing lessons also are available on this beach for advance booking.
  4. Kuhio Beach - Named after Hawaiian Prince and US Congressman Jonah Kuhio Kalaniana'ole, this beach has a long breakwall to deflect larger waves and accordingly provides calm waters for swimming. During peak season, this section is the most crowded.
  5. Kalakaua Avenue - Named in honor of David Kalakaua — Hawaii's last king — this is Waikiki's main street. Following improvements in 2011 and 2019, Kalakaua Avenue provides a largely pleasant stroll along always wide and often beautiful hand-cut stone sidewalks, even if you're not especially interested in the gauntlet of luxury shops. If luxury brands are your bag, so to speak, just about every luxury brand from Armani to Valentino has a store hawking its wares.
  6. Royal Hawaiian Center - Established in 1980 and renovated several times since, this is Waikiki's best known luxury mall. In addition to 90 shops, it has an extensive events calendar with free Hawaiian dance performances and free classes you can take to learn how to make a lei, hula dance, and play the ukulele. The similar International Market Place mall down the street also has free live music and performances on a regular basis.
  7. Kuhio Avenue - This parallel street behind Kalakaua Avenue — mauka, or toward the mountains — is a bit more local, at least by the standards of a resort district. There are more residential towers than hotels, restaurants are significantly cheaper, and the majority of TheBus routes pass through the area. It has pretty hand-cut stone sidewalks, as well. If nothing else, it is well worth the walk for better quality and more affordable food during your stay.

Because of its orderly grid, Waikiki largely is straightforward to explore and find your own favorites, too.

Where to Eat in Waikiki

To eat in Waikiki, the most famous restaurant probably is the beachfront Duke's inside the Outrigger Waikiki Beach Resort. Although Duke's now is a chain, locals commonly recommend it for visitors because of its history connected to the famous surfer — although that connection appears increasingly vague and mired in legal disputes these days — and it isn't the kind of place a local likely would go themselves. With a quick look at their lunch menu — which is cheaper than the dinner menu but still has fish and chips for US$27 — it isn't hard to see why Waikiki has the reputation for being so expensive. If you go, you will need a reservation, as well.

More affordable places in the US$10-US$15 range in the neighborhood that we enjoyed at one time or another include Steak Shack for cheap steak and organic salad on the beach, Meguro Spot for fresh poke (queues can be long around lunch time, plan accordingly), and the Island Country Markets Deli for a convenient takeaway mix of American and Hawaiian dishes (our favorite is the Ultimate Hashbrown breakfast, but their poke and loco moco are good, as well). Our preferred ice cream in Waikiki is the local chain Lappert's Hawaii, although it has a selection of respectable coffee and loose leaf teas, also.

Below, in addition to the mentioned attractions, hotels, and restaurants, we have mapped out the main streets in Waikiki — Kalakaua Avenue and Kuhio Avenue — as well as a couple of cross streets that are most straightforward on foot — Lewers Street and Ka'iulani Avenue/Kanekapolei Street. We have mapped out our favorite route through Fort DeRussy Park to the beach, too.

How to Get Here: Waikiki is well served by TheBus routes — the 20 and 42 connect the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport to Waikiki. Other bus routes that connect Waikiki to other locations in the city and are most likely are to be of interest to tourists include the 2, 2L, 13, and 23 on Kuhio Avenue and the 14 on Kalakaua Avenue. In general, Kuhio Avenue is the best street to catch a bus in Waikiki; it often has multiple options with decent frequency. Stand on the mauka side of the street — toward the mountains — to go toward downtown Honolulu; stand on the makai side of the street — toward the sea — to go toward Diamond Head.

travelgasm.com's Waikiki Map (Full Screen)


Cities > Honolulu > Honolulu Best 7 > Next: (2) Hike the Diamond... >>

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All 7 Things Tourists Do in Honolulu That You Should Do Also:

  • 1) Waikiki Beach
  • 2) Diamond Head
  • 3) Kapahulu Avenue
  • 4) Pearl Harbor
  • 5) The Bishop Museum
  • 6) Capital Historic District
  • 7) Downtown Honolulu

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  • Writing & Photos By Brock Kyle. All Rights Reserved. Update Published 9 January 2023. Feedback.