From resort-studded boardwalks to city lights illuminating Honolulu’s glittering coastline, Waikiki is a mix of uptown chic and carefree island living set against the Pacific Ocean. With an energetic, busy waterfront and cosmopolitan thoroughfares lined with upscale retailers and boutique stores, this South Shore neighbourhood is the place to eat, breathe, and party like the locals.
Here are the top 15 things to do and check out while you’re there:
Find the best Beaches
Waikiki’s three-kilometre-long (almost two miles) beach is a bustling playground for surfers, sunbathers, and a wide variety of water sports activities. Spend the day lounging on the beaches, or try parasailing and paddle boarding. Take an outrigger canoe out into the ocean, and enjoy the day paddling across the gentle waves. At night, look for hula dances and beach parties scattered across the shore.
Walk down Kalakaua Avenue
From high-end shops to contemporary restaurants, this main thoroughfare in Waikiki is the place to shop, eat, and get across downtown Honolulu. With hundreds of stores and Hawaiian-style eateries sprinkled along the avenue, Kalakaua is the beating urban heart of Waikiki. Go designer shop-hopping, pick out a ukulele, grab quick bites and cups of Kona coffee at the market, or spend the day strolling down the avenue to experience authentic city life in Hawaii.
Kayak in Duke Kahanamoku Lagoon
Set along the western edge of Waikiki’s beach, this artificial lagoon by the Hilton Hawaiian Village features a crystal blue pool of water encircled by soft white sand. A paradise within a paradise, the lagoon was named after Hawaiian native and Olympian swimmer, Duke Kahanamoku, who popularized modern surfing. Getting inside this cove requires a bit of navigating around the enclosure, but once inside, it’s an idyllic spot for kayaking, paddle boarding and canoeing.
Hike Diamond Head
The remnants of an extinct volcano, Diamond Head is an iconic natural landmark in southern Waikiki with an impressive view of the coastline from the top of its crater. The U.S. Army claimed the site for its coastal defence strategy in the early 1900s and built tunnels and stairs that became the main hiking trail today. It’s a rough 30 to 40-minute hike to the top with steep sets of stairs, but the panoramic view of the gleaming Waikiki skyline from the lookout point is more than worth the effort.
Luaus and Hula shows
There’s nothing quite like watching fire-knives twirling in the night air above thundering drum beats, acrobatic dancers, and the festive roar of Hawaiian music. In Waikiki, oceanside luaus are nighty events to be experienced. Beachfront luaus and live shows can be found in popular resorts like the Ahaaina Luau at The Royal Hawaiian, the Ka Wa’a Luau at Aulani Resort, and Waikiki Starlight Luau at the Hilton Hawaiian Village. Relaxing open-air venues like the Diamond Head Luau by the Waikiki Aquarium and Germaine’s Luau near Ala Moana Center are also popular choices.
Visit Kapiolani Park and Gardens
Donated to the public by King Kalakaua in 1887, Queen Kapiolani Park possesses 300-acres of grassy picnic areas, tennis courts, soccer fields, and a venue for outdoor concerts, the Waikiki Shell. The park, along with centuries-old ironwood and banyan trees surrounding a tranquil duck pond, features a hibiscus and rose garden named after the queen. With rows of colourful tropical shrubbery dappled with fragrant flowers, the garden is a romantic corner in the shadow of Diamond Head Monument.
Stop by the Aquarium
With thousands of tropical ocean lifeforms on display, the Waikiki Aquarium is one of the oldest in the world. First opened in 1904, this historic aquarium evolved over the century from a modest 35-tank exhibit to its current scale. The aquarium contains more than 4,000 species of fish, 7,000 forms of marine life indigenous to northwestern Hawaiian islands, and a mesmerizing collection of native coral reef species.
Check out the Zoo
Located near the northern edge of Kapiolani Park, Honolulu Zoo is a slice of African Savanna on the Pacific coast. Within its 42-acres of land are giraffes, elephants, and lion enclosures a short walk away from flamingos and nenes (Hawaiian geese). Spend the day wandering both parts of the world or have a picnic by the zoo’s tropical gardens and lawns.
A Moorish oceanfront villa overlooking the radiant Waikiki coastline, Shangri La was once the private residence of illustrious socialite Doris Duke. Inspired by her visits across the Islamic world and Asia, Duke commissioned the villa to include rooms modelled after Moroccan, Iranian, and Indian style architectures. From the Mughal Room styled after the Taj Mahal to a playhouse designed to resemble a miniature Chehel Sotoun, the worldly theme of the property is as fascinating as its globetrotting owner. Over a 60-year span, Duke amassed an immense collection of Islamic art and they are on display here.
Museums and Cultural Stops
Just a few steps away from its lively boardwalks, Waikiki offers glimpses into Hawaii’s diverse modern history and Polynesian culture. At Fort DeRussy, the U.S. Army Museum displays a wide-ranging artifact of modern warfare. From light armoured tanks and the combat helicopter parked in front of the compound to an array of rifles and machine guns behind glass displays, the exhibit delves deep inside U.S. Army’s history, military campaigns, and its influence on the islands.
Shopping and Eating
From outdoor markets to sleek modern malls, Waikiki is a shopper’s paradise. The largest outdoor mall in the world, the Ala Moana Center, houses over 300 shops and is home to popular local bars, cafes and restaurants, and the place to grab authentic Hawaiian cuisine. Similarly, the Royal Hawaiian Center is also a major stop for designer shops, restaurants, and live performances. While near Kalakaua Avenue, there are a handful of farmer’s markets to check out. Stop for plated gourmet lunches at one of the stalls, browse local produce, or discover your favourite flavour of handmade mochis and malasadas.
From Sunrise to Sunset
Oahu offers stunning coastal views, day-in and day-out, and catching the sunrise and sunset in Waikiki is a simple reminder of another day spent in paradise. At night, watch the stars light up the beach, or swing by the torch-lit statue of Duke Kahanamoku to enjoy the tranquil ocean view after dark.
Friday Night Lights
Every Friday, Waikiki kicks off the weekend with volleys of fireworks by the beach. The weekly light show is hosted by the Hilton Hawaiian Village and start at 7:45 pm, right after the live music and hula performances (8:00 pm, from June to August) and last for 10 minutes. Catch the display anywhere along the western parts of Waikiki Beach. Other great vantage points include the pier of Outrigger Reef, Ala Moana Beach Park, or farther out by the Diamond Head Monument.
Hop on Atlantis Submarines
Tour Waikiki’s underwater wonders by hopping onboard an Atlantis Submarine. Departing from the Hilton Pier, the submarines dive 30 metres (100 feet) below the surface and sweep across Waikiki Bay’s ocean floor. Journey through the depths of the Pacific to find wreckages of sunken ships and fuselages of storm-battered airliners. Onboard, the glass windows provide a panoramic view of underwater marine life, schools of kaleidoscopic fish, sea turtles and unbroken stretches of coral reefs.
Pick out a Ukulele
A few simple, lilting twangs of this iconic Hawaiian instrument is enough to make anyone a fan, and where else to pick up your own than in Waikiki, where hundreds of unique, handcrafted ukuleles are found on the racks of boutique shops. Although the Hawaiians did not invent the ukelele, rather it was introduced to them by the Portuguese in the 19th century, this guitar-like instrument’s playful sound is now closely associated with the islands.