Waikiki is part of Honolulu, the capital of Hawaii, and has long been a dreamy vacation destination. Ever since commercial flights started touching down here in 1935 – and even before – tourists have been enjoying the delights of this beachside destination.
However, if you’re here for the first time and you’re wondering where to start, you’re in luck: we’ve got a list of some of the best things you can spend your time doing in Waikiki. From lazing on the beach and learning to surf, to finding some of the best local eateries, you’ll have plenty to put on your itinerary.
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Here's what we're covering:
- The Best Things To Do In Waikiki
- 1. Hit the beach
- 2. Catch a wave (or learn how to)
- 3. Tour the Historic Moana Hotel
- 4. Do brunch, Waikiki style
- 5. Strut along Kalakaua Avenue
- 6. Kapiʻolani Park Bandstand
- 7. Grab Lunch at Rainbow Drive-In
- 8. Shop for Aloha Shirts
- 9. Chill with a view (and a drink) at a rooftop bar
- 10. Visit Waikiki Aquarium
- Frequently Asked Questions
The Best Things To Do In Waikiki
Waikiki, and Hawaii in general, is often touted as a beach destination, but there is so much more to this slice of the Hawaiian capital to sun, sea, and sand. Culture, food, history, architecture, even wildlife: Waikiki has it all.
1. Hit the beach
If you’re in Waikiki, chances are the first thing you’ll want to do is head for the beach. The eponymous Waikiki Beach is actually made up of eight gleaming beaches for you to spend your time lazing around on (or being active on – whatever suits you). It should actually be called Waikiki Beaches.
The whole thing is more than two miles long, and one of the most popular is Kahanamoku Beach. This is the westernmost part of Waikiki Beach, a stretch of sand that’s right in front of the Hilton Village Beach Resort. It’s a chilled-out spot for families, and chilling here is easily one of the best things to do in Waikiki with kids.
Fun fact: Kahanamoku Beach takes its name from Duke Kahanamoku, a legendary Hawaiian surfer.
Also there is Fort DeRussy Beach – perfect if you’re looking for a calm place to hang out in Waikiki. It’s also a good swimming spot.
Kaimana Beach is at the Diamond Head end of Waikiki, and trust me, of all the relaxing things to do in Waikiki, chilling here after a hike is dreamy. There’s even a shallow reef for snorkeling and lifeguards on duty.
2. Catch a wave (or learn how to)
Hawaii is synonymous with surfing – and it’s an awesome place to learn how to surf if you don’t know how already. Waikiki’s surf credentials are marked by a statue of Duke Kahanamoku, a pioneer of surfing. It’s here around his bronze statue that you’ll find a plethora of surf schools offering up lessons for all ages and abilities.
Find yourself one of the many kiosks, and head out with a surf instructor to catch a wave or two. One-on-one private lessons are available, or you could join a group lesson. Even if you’re a beginner and you’ve had lessons already, hitting the surf at Waikiki Beach by yourself is one of the most iconic things to do in Waikiki.
3. Tour the Historic Moana Hotel
This landmark hotel in Waikiki opened its doors on March 11, 1901. Now a symbol of the area, the Historic Moana Hotel was actually the first hotel in Waikiki and changed its reputation as a destination forever. Visitors flocked from overseas to spend their vacations sunning themselves on the beach and basking in tropical luxury.
Today, it’s still a hotel – though a very fancy one and called the Moana Surfrider by Westin. Don’t fret though: if you’re not lucky enough to be staying here, you can still visit on a tour and check out the intriguing architecture going on here. It’s a mix of Bauhaus, Art Deco and classic European architecture, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
File this one under things to do in Waikiki for free – it won’t cost you a dime. The Moana Surfrider offers an hour-long Historical Tour every Monday and Wednesday at 11AM. Meet at the second-floor lobby of the Moana's Banyan Wing. The guides are super knowledgeable and have a whole ton of interesting anecdotes to tell you.
4. Do brunch, Waikiki style
Brunch is fast making its way to being everyone’s new favorite mealtime, so what better way to laze around late morning on your Hawaiian vacation than with a brunch at one of its hallowed brunch spots?
Exploding across Oahu, with Waikiki not short of places to indulge and spend a long morning eating. Duke’s is one place. It’s right on the beach and is a Waikiki institution – the Sunday brunch here is famous, and involves a buffet.
The stylish Herringbone may be seafood-themed but has won awards for its brunch. Elsewhere, try the refined Basalt for its hearty brunch (try the charcoal pancakes). If you’re hungry, I’m sure you’ll agree brunch is one of the best things to do in Waikiki! Every Saturday they also have classes to make your own lei po'o.
5. Strut along Kalakaua Avenue
On your Waikiki vacation, chances are you’ll find yourself on Kalakaua Avenue at some point. Named after Kalakaua (the last monarch of Hawaii), it’s been the main thoroughfare through town since the 1800s; it’s edged with palm trees, places to eat and drink, and amazing shopping opportunities. You could even jump on a shopping shuttle to make life easier.
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Strolling along Kalakaua Avenue means stopping off at a collection of impressive locations. There’s the Royal Hawaiian Center – one of the largest malls in Hawaii, and jammed full with high-end retail. There’s also the International Marketplace – an open-air mall with chic restaurants. For beer lovers, you’ll also find Maui Brewing Company where you can cool down with one of the 36 beers on tap.
6. Kapiʻolani Park Bandstand
If you’re a music fan and you’re looking for things to do in Waikiki, you should head over to Kapi’olani Park. This park’s famous bandstand was built in the late 1890s, and marks a space where performers have been entertaining the community for decades.
Head down here on an evening, or a late afternoon, and most likely you’ll be able to catch a band playing at this open air venue. The most popular performers are the Royal Hawaiian Band, a troupe that performers classic music from the era of the Hawaiian monarchy.
Various cultural events take place here, too – not just music. For example, you can go and experience the Thai New Year festivities of Songkran here.
7. Grab Lunch at Rainbow Drive-In
Still hungry? The Rainbow Drive-In is a favorite for pretty much everyone in Waikiki, attracting people from all walks of life for its plate lunches (chilli dogs; spam and eggs; corn beef hash; the list goes on). It’s a neon-draped icon that’s been cooking up a storm since 1961, and was started by a U.S. Army cook who was born on the island.
It’s definitely an awesome thing to do in Waikiki if you’re just looking for somewhere local and tasty to hang out for the afternoon. All of the plate lunches come with two scoops of rice and a scoop of macaroni salad. Reportedly, even Barack Obama used to come here as a teenager!
When you're here, make sure to try their Mix Plate which is piled with beef, mahi mahi, chicken, macaroni, and rice.
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8. Shop for Aloha Shirts
You might think they’re cheesy, but aloha shirts are actually a part of Hawaii’s heritage. They were actually born from Japanese kimono makers who, unable to find a market for kimonos on the islands of Hawaii, repurposed the fabric into shirts instead.
One place that you must head to if you’re in the market for an authentic Hawaiian aloha shirt is Bailey’s Antiques & Aloha Shirts. While the store may not look like much from outside, once in the doors you’ll be greeted with an Aladdin’s cave of vintage aloha shirts – everything from classic kimono silk (1920s style) to ‘70s madness. Prices start at $10.
Now if those Hawaiian shirts aren't your thing and you're looking for trendy everyday shirts, a visit to 88 Tees in Honolulu is in order. Their t-shirts have always been popular but became even more well-known when Avian Ku joined the Japanese reality TV show, Terrace House: Aloha State.
9. Chill with a view (and a drink) at a rooftop bar
You may think Waikiki is all about the beach, but that’s not necessarily the case. So after a day hanging out at the beach, why not head skywards to check out one of Waikiki’s surprising number of rooftop bars?
One of the most trendy spots is SKY. Situated on the 19th floor of a skyscraper, this one boasts beautiful views out over the Pacific Ocean from a breezy open-air terrace. There’s also the beach-inspired Tommy Bahama Bar, with relaxing sofas and big fire pits for chilly evenings (it also has a great menu).
For something a bit different, there’s the Tchin Tchin! Bar. Situated in Waikiki’s Chinatown, this is more of a hipster hangout: think exposed brick walls and craft cocktails.
10. Visit Waikiki Aquarium
When it comes to things to do in Waikiki for kids, you should definitely make a beeline for Waikiki Aquarium. Founded in 1904, it is actually the second-oldest aquarium in the U.S. (after New York’s). It’s part of the University of Hawaii at Moana and works hard to recreate the underwater landscapes for the rare fish species that live across these Pacific islands’ shores.
The aquarium has a strong focus on breeding endangered species in captivity. Here you’ll be able to spot amazing otherworldly jellyfish, bioluminescent fish, and even endangered Hawaiian monk seals. There’s even a garden with native Hawaiian plants, too. Combine with an informative walking tours around Waikiki and you'll be in for a fun-filled day.
Frequently Asked Questions
Waikiki is great all year round but if you're looking to avoid the huge crowds, go during the shoulder season which is in the Spring from April to June and Fall between September and early December (minus Thanksgiving).
The word Waikiki means ‘spouting fresh water' in Hawaiian language.
Waikiki is a district in Honolulu and Honolulu is city on the island of Oahu.
Technically Waikiki is a district and not classified as a city.
Waikiki prices never really dip too much throughout the year but the cheapest time to visit Waikiki is in the off-peak which is in Spring (April-June) and Fall (September- first two weeks of December).
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Featured image via Flickr by Edmund Garman