As one of the most (if not the most) popular places to travel to in Hawaii, Waikiki packs a huge variety of restaurants, shops, hotels, attractions, and landmarks into just three and a half square miles of space. Considering that it's the main tourist hub of the bustling island of Oahu, a fair majority of the state’s 10 million annual visitors will likely find themselves in Waikiki at some point or another. Read on to discover the 10 best things to do in Waikiki.
The iconic crater that helps characterize Oahu’s skyline is also one of the island's most visited destinations. With its stunning views that sweep across the city and into the ocean, the well-maintained trail to Diamond Head provides the perfect way to start your vacation. The 1.4-mile roundtrip hike isn’t too difficult, and there are handrails present most of the way, along with a few benches for breaks. Plenty of parking is available for $5 per car, though visitors are more than welcome to walk in for $1 per pedestrian. Get there early and don’t forget the sunscreen; the trail doesn't allow much shade and it tends to heat up in the afternoon.
Catch a Hula Show
Thanks to its dense tourist population, some of Oahu’s best luaus can be found in Waikiki. This can come in handy for those who have decided not to rent a car while on vacation, since practically everywhere in Waikiki is walkable. If you want a more luxurious experience, head to Aha’Aina Luau in front of the pink Royal Hawaiian Hotel, or pair your show with a ticket to the aquarium at Diamond Head Luau in east Waikiki. There are plenty of budget-friendly options, too, like the free Kuhio Beach Hula every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
View a Fireworks Show
Waikiki features several large fireworks shows throughout the year for holidays like July 4th and New Year's Eve, but visitors will still have the chance to view a spectacular display outside of these dates. The Hilton Hawaiian Village puts on a free fireworks show by the Hilton Lagoon every Friday at 7:45 p.m. It's open to the public, so come early and grab a spot on the beach in front of the hotel to get the best view.
Take a Ride on a Catamaran
There’s no better way to see Waikiki than from the water, and there are many different ways to do so. You can always book a swanky dinner cruise, but to get a true taste of Hawaii’s laid-back vibe, hop on a catamaran. These boats are super casual, budget-friendly, and always offer a great time. Berthed right in the heart of Waikiki Beach, the Na Hoku II and the Kepoikai II are hard to miss with their brightly colored sails. You can often book a 60-minute or 90-minute cruise on the same day during the slow season.
Don’t let Waikiki Aquarium’s small size fool you. This facility is the second oldest public aquarium still operating in the United States, and is home to a massive family of exotic tropical fish, live coral exhibits, and unique animals like Hawaiian Monk Seals. The aquarium is especially fun if you’re traveling to Waikiki with kids, and always a great option for a rainy day.
Take a Surf Lesson from a Beach Boy
Waikiki’s beach boys, a group of watermen who offered surfing lessons and outrigger canoe rides to some of Hawaii’s first visitors, are nothing short of legendary among Oahu locals. Although many of the original beach boys have passed, a new generation continues to honor them with stands outside of resorts still specializing in stand up paddleboarding, surf lessons, and canoe surfing. Perhaps the most recognized is Aloha Beach Services, opened by a first generation beach boy in 1959 and now the longest running beach service business in the area.
Sip a Mai Tai in the Sand
Waikiki’s favorite drink is best enjoyed with your feet in the sand. Royal Hawaiian's beachfront Mai Tai Bar is not to be missed (the historic hotel hired the original inventor of the mai tai, Trader Vic, to come up with the Hawaiian version of the recipe here), but Duke’s and Hula Grill nearby certainly give it a run for its money. Also, be sure to check out House Without A Key—a classic spot tucked away inside the Halekulani Hotel—for a mai tai and a piece of their famous coconut cake.
Go Shopping on Kalakaua Avenue
In between all the restaurants and bars along Waikiki’s main strip, you'll find small shops and big name brands selling everything from cheap souvenirs to designer clothes. The neighborhood's International Market Place was renovated in 2013 into a higher-end shopping mall, but those in the know can still get a taste of 1950s-era Waikiki at Duke's Marketplace, the adjoining open-air market. The Royal Hawaiian Center offers another great inclusive shopping option, while those looking to spend more money can check out Luxury Row.
Hawaii might be the last place you’d expect to find a local jazz club, but the Blue Note Waikiki located inside the Outrigger Waikiki Hotel is a venue that caters to all musical tastes. Whether you’re into local reggae, rock, blues, or even famous comedians, be sure to check out the Blue Note schedule while you’re in the area.
Watch the Sunset on Waikiki Beach
Sometimes the best things to do are the most simple. Plan your dinner reservations around sunset at one of Waikiki’s beachside restaurants, or claim a place right on the sand to sit back, relax, and enjoy the view. Taking the time to watch a Hawaiian sunset from famous Waikiki Beach is one of the most unmissable experiences in Waikiki.