Blake Walsh

15 Best Things to Do in Waikiki, HI

  • Published 2022/10/26

Waikiki is a famous neighborhood in Honolulu on the southern tip of Oʻahu.

It has six beaches: Gray’s Beach, Kuhio Beach, Queen’s Beach, Fort DeRussy Beach, Kahanamoku Beach, and the famous Waikiki Beach.

The Hawaiian word “Waikiki” means spouting fresh water.

The origin of the name can be connected to Waikiki’s landscape, which was mostly marshland until the 1920s.

The neighborhood served as a vacation place for Hawaiian royalty in the 1800s, and in the latter part of the century, small hotels opened to accommodate tourists.

Most of the beaches in Waikiki resulted from shoreline development over the past years (the sand was even imported from Manhattan Beach).

Today, it’s a paradise for nature lovers looking for a world-class beach getaway.

Here are the best things to do in Waikiki, Hawaii:

Stay at the Luxurious Moana Surfrider

Exterior of the Luxurious Moana Surfrider

Jeff Whyte /

Located on Kalākaua Ave, the Moana Surfrider is a luxury beachfront hotel that first opened in 1901.

Walter Chamberlain Peacock founded it to revive the previously neglected area of Waikiki.

The hotel’s architecture has influences from European styles popular at the time of construction.

In 1989, the Sheraton Surfrider Hotel incorporated the restored Moana Hotel and rebranded it as the Sheraton Moana Surfrider.

Pathway at the Luxurious Moana Surfrider

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It was again rebranded in 2007 to its present name.

The Moana Surfrider’s porte-cochère with Corinthian columns will welcome you upon entering.

Its lobby houses Vintage 1901, a wine-centric bar and lounge with a wide selection of local liquors and spirits.

Experience oceanfront dining at the Beachhouse at the Moana Surfrider, where you can try the finest seafood and steaks prepared using fresh local ingredients.

Pool chairs at the Luxurious Moana Surfrider

Jeff Whyte /

Get Umbrella Drinks at Duke’s Waikiki

View of the beach from Duke's Waikiki

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Duke’s Waikiki was named after local sports hero Duke Paoa Kahanamoku, a five-time Olympic medalist in swimming.

It’s famous for the Hula Pie, a chocolate cookie topped with macadamia nut ice cream, hot fudge, whipped cream, and toasted macadamia nuts.

The salad bar is also a hit for those who want something lighter.

Enjoy a breakfast buffet with a beachfront view where you can enjoy made-to-order omelets with Hawaiian-style spicy Portuguese sausages.

At night, try the Coconut Mojito and other umbrella drinks that will make you feel the tiki vibe.

Drop by Duke’s Waikiki on Kalākaua Avenue for the authentic Waikiki dining experience.

Shop till You Drop at International Market Place

Exterior of the International Market Place

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Located on Kalākaua Avenue, International Market Place is an open-air shopping center with over 90 specialty stores and restaurants.

It was opened by businessman Donn Beach in 1956, bringing the tiki culture to the area.

At the main entrance, you’ll be greeted by a centuries-old banyan tree where Beach once built an office treehouse.

The grounds of International Market Place


Today, International Market Place is home to big international brands and hosts events promoting the Waikiki culture, like live music, hula shows, and more.

Inside the complex are a pearl shop, a Japanese market, and bakeries selling freshly baked pastries.

Hawaiian shirts for sale at International Market Place

Jose Gil /

Grab Acai Bowls at Banan

Have you really been to Hawaii without trying acai bowls by the beach?

Located on Kalākaua Ave, Banan is your go-to place for healthy snacks.

The beach access to the store is lined with colorful surfboards that add to the tiki vibe.

Banan has a dairy-free and gluten-free menu, so no worries if you have dietary restrictions.

With a mission to revive Hawaii’s banana industry, the ice cream shop serves banana-based smoothies and acai bowls and sources its fruit toppings from local farmers.

Try the Acai-Banana twist topped with chunks of fresh fruits and a dollop of macadamia butter.

Enjoy guilt-free desserts at Banan while supporting local farmers.

Go Surfing at Waikiki Beach

A surfer walking along Waikiki Beach

Lynn Yeh /

The centerpiece of this neighborhood is the white sand shoreline of Waikiki Beach.

Its small and long-lasting wave break makes it a perfect spot to learn surfing and canoeing.

It fronts the Royal Hawaiian Hotel and Moana Surfrider, so you’re lucky if you’re staying at any of these two.

Stacked surfboards at Waikiki Beach

McDow Photo Inc /

Get your tan lines and lounge by the beach beds, or take surfing lessons from one of the many schools in the area, such as the Kahu Surf School.

Bring your surfboards out and ride the waves of Waikiki Beach.

Aerial view of the stunning Waikiki Beach

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Get Sunset Drinks at Mai Tai Bar

A cocktail at Mai Tai Bar

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Located on Kalākaua Avenue, Mai Tai Bar is Royal Hawaiian Hotel’s beachfront bar that prides itself on handcrafted umbrella cocktails and fresh poke bowls.

Its outdoor setting is ideal for sipping cocktails while watching the sunset on the beautiful waters of Hawaii.

The bar serves lunch and dinner with the signature Royal Hawaiian Mai Tai.

Mai Tai is a rum-based cocktail with orgeat syrup, lime juice, and Curaçao liqueur and is one of the usual cocktails in tiki culture.

Some must-tries are truffle fries, ahi poke, and pina colada.

Enjoy traditional tiki drinks at Mai Tai Bar.

Swim at Magic Island

Daytime view of Magic Island

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Located on Ala Moana Boulevard, Magic Island is a manmade peninsula and lagoon that was created in 1964.

It was originally intended as a resort complex but was converted into a park where people can have picnics, go fishing, and swim.

The shallow lagoon filled with crystal clear water is perfect for a relaxing swim, while trees give shade to the picnic tables.

Aerial view of Magic Island

Mana Photo /

Every 4th of July, the Ala Moana Center puts on a fireworks display over the island, and concerts featuring local bands are held in its parking lot.

It’s one of the best spots in Waikiki to catch the sunset.

Swim in the calm waters of Magic Island while admiring the beautiful scenery.

Catch the Kūhiō Beach Hula Show

The Kūhiō Beach Hula Show is an authentic Hawaiian hula dance performed at the Kuhio Beach Hula Mound on Kalākaua Avenue.

The show opens with torch lighting and the traditional blowing of a conch shell, followed by an hour of hula dancing.

It’s free and is very casual, with grass seating.

The shows are conducted every Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday if the weather permits, while cancellations can happen if there are parades and street fairs.

Witness traditional hula dance and music at the Kūhiō Beach Hula Show.

Climb the Diamond Head Summit

Aerial view of Diamond Head Summit

Jordan Tan /

Located on Diamond Head Road, Diamond Head is a volcanic cone formed around 400,000 to 500,000 years ago.

Locals refer to it as Lē’ahi, which translates to “brown of the tuna,” referencing the ridge’s shape resembling the fins of ahi (tuna).

Its English name was given by the British soldiers who found diamond-like calcite crystals on the neighboring beach.

Diamond Head was a defensive lookout because of its 360-degree views of Waikiki.

People at Diamond Head Summit

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You can hike to the volcano’s edge and admire the 350-acre crater from 560 feet above.

A pillbox at the top of the volcano served as a guard post for the US Army.

See Waikiki from a different view at the Diamond Head Summit.

People hiking up to Diamond Head Summit

Roaming Panda Photos /

Try Snorkeling at Kaimana Beach

The waters of Kaimana Beach

Eric Broder Van Dyke /

If you’re looking for lesser crowded shorelines, Kaimana Beach is the perfect spot for you.

Located on Kalakaua Avenue, it’s known for its shallow and calm waters great for snorkeling.

Locals call it San Souci, the name of a nearby lodge built in the 1800s.

The beach has a grassy lawn lined by coconut trees where you could hang a hammock and chill on a lazy afternoon.

With a wide reef protecting it from violent waves, Kaimana is a go-to for families and their kids looking for a safe spot to swim.

Test your endurance and swim the 200-meter distance from the beach to the iconic red windsock.

Swing by Kaimana Beach for a relaxing day of snorkeling.

See Animals from All over the World at Honolulu Zoo

Exterior of Honolulu Zoo

Molly NZ /

Located on Kapahulu Avenue, Honolulu Zoo is a 42-acre sanctuary boasting more than a thousand animals from different parts of the world.

It’s part of the 300-acre Kapiolani Regional Park dedicated by King Kalākaua to his consort Queen Kapiolani.

It was in 1914 when the first park director Ben Hollinger, with the help of the City of Honolulu, began collecting animals, starting with a monkey, a bear, and an African elephant.

An elephant in Honolulu Zoo

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The modern Honolulu Zoo was the result of the master plan created by Ken Redman.

Today, it’s home to animals from Asia, the African Savannah, and Hawaiian natives such as the Nene geese and Koloa or Hawaiian ducks.

Visit Honolulu Zoo and see animals from all over the world.

Turtles in Honolulu Zoo

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Have Breakfast at Basalt

Located on Kuhio Avenue, Basalt is a contemporary casual restaurant serving comfort-style food made with local ingredients.

The restaurant was opened by ABC Stores in 2017, with Chef Keith Steel Kong developing the menu.

Basalt is a two-time finalist at Honolulu Magazine’s Hale’aina Award for Best Breakfast and bronze medalist for Best Outdoor Dining.

One of the bestsellers is the Charcoal Buttermilk Pancakes, served with a unique guava-strawberry sauce.

Duck empanadas are also a must-try, as well as the Mixed Seafood Paella made with the freshest local seafood.

Grab breakfast at Basalt and fill up before heading out to your day tour.

Go under the Sea at the Waikiki Aquarium

Exterior of the Waikiki Aquarium

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The Waikiki Aquarium on Kalākaua Avenue was founded in 1904 and is the second oldest public aquarium in the country after the New York Aquarium.

It started as a gimmick by the Honolulu Rapid Transit Authority to attract tourists to ride the trolley, which ends at Queen Kapi’olani Park.

It moved to its present-day location near a living coral reef in 1955.

Giant clam surrounded with fish in the Waikiki Aquarium

Dr. Victor Wong /

Today, the Waikiki Aquarium houses more than 490 species of marine plants and animals.

It was home to the world’s oldest giant clam in captivity until it died in June 2022 at age 40.

See jellyfish swimming gracefully at the Waikiki Aquarium.

Spotted jellyfish in the Waikiki Aquarium

Png Studio Photography /

Admire the Architecture of Iolani Palace

Exterior of the Iolani Palace

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Located on South King Street, Iolani Palace was once the seat of power of the Kingdom of Hawai’i.

It was built in 1879 during the reign of King Kamehameha III and served as the official residence of monarchs until the Kamehameha Dynasty was overthrown.

The palace was reopened to the public as a museum with displays of tableware, furniture, military accessories, paper collection, royal orders, and historical photographs.

The top half of Iolani Palace

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The building features a unique architecture known as American Florentine, which was influenced by traditional Roman style with a Hawaiian flare.

Upon entering, you’ll be greeted by the grand staircase made of koa wood and ornamental plaster decorating intricately applied to the walls and ceiling.

Admire the unique architecture of Iolani Place and learn about the history of Hawaii.

The columns of Iolani Palace

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Other Things to Do Nearby

Commemorate the Pearl Harbor Attacks at the Pearl Harbor National Memorial

Exterior of the Pearl Harbor National Memorial

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Located on Arizona Memorial Place in Honolulu, just 24 minutes outside Waikiki, is the Pearl Harbor National Memorial.

The 21.3-acre memorial commemorates the Pearl Harbor attacks on December 7, 1941, which sparked World War II.

The attacks killed more than 2,400 soldiers and sank 12 ships.

The park includes the USS Arizona, which serves as the resting place of 1,102 sailors killed in the attacks.

People inside the Pearl Harbor National Memorial

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It’s built near the sunken hull of the ship and is only accessible by boat.

Also part of the site are the USS Utah, USS Oklahoma, and the visitor center at Halawa Landing.

Located nearby are the USS Missouri, USS Bowfin, and the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum.

Commemorate the fallen heroes of World War II at the Pearl Harbor National Memorial.

Aerial view of the Pearl Harbor National Memorial

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Final Thoughts

Waikiki is one of the top destinations for tourists looking for world-class beaches.

With its gorgeous shorelines, it’s not surprising that it’s dubbed Honolulu’s Gold Coast.

The neighborhood’s tiki vibe will make you feel like you’re on an endless vacation.

Come spend your holiday trying the best things to do in Waikiki, Hawaii.

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