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The best things to do in Waikiki

Get to know Honolulu's most famous neighborhood with the best things to do in Waikiki. Love the ocean? Get ready.

Written by
Lori A May

Life in Waikiki revolves around the Pacific Ocean. How could it not? It covers 30 percent of the planet, for a start. The Pacific Ocean stretches for 64 million square miles, and it isn’t a stretch to say that this beloved Honolulu neighborhood has claimed its most charming face. The best things to do in Waikiki are very much a celebration of its stunning setting.

Wonderful Waikiki is a showstopper, a living history museum with a thriving restaurant scene, thrilling nightlife, and some seriously splendid hotels. It all comes back to the water, but even aquaphobes will find themselves falling in love with Waikiki.

Best things to do in Waikiki

Moana Surfrider, a Westin resort, began in 1901 as Moana Hotel and is celebrated as the first-ever hotel in Waikiki. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the structure boasts European, Art Deco, and Bauhaus design elements. You needn’t book a room to explore the iconic architecture, as free guided tours are available Mondays and Wednesdays, and the guide is half the fun. Tours are meant to last one hour, but the guide tends to detour with juicy anecdotes and details that keep you lingering for more. 

Waikiki Surf Lessons
Photograph: Shutterstock

2. Waikiki Surf Lessons

Look for the iconic Duke Paoa Kahanamoku Statue on Waikiki Beach, and you’ll find a vast assortment of activity kiosks and surf instructors eager to share the local waves. Learning to surf at Waikiki Beach is a must-try activity for just about anyone, as this is essentially where surfing began, thanks to Duke Kahanamoku – a surfer, instructor, Olympian, and local legend. Plus, the protected bay waters here are ideal for novices, so go on and hang ten!

Kahanamoku Beach
Photograph: Shutterstock/Michael Gordon

3. Kahanamoku Beach

Kahanamoku Beach is the westernmost beach in Waikiki, located in front of Hilton Hawaiian Village Beach Resort. This quiet beach retreat is perfect for family outings and picnics. A fan of ‘Hawaii Five-O’? You’ll recognize several scenes filmed along Kahanamoku Beach, next to Duke Kahanamoku Lagoon, and on the resort greenery. These days, the saltwater lagoon offers a quiet and calm inland destination to paddleboard if you need practice before hitting open waters. This is also the place to watch fireworks celebrations along the shore. 

4. Fort DeRussy Army Museum

Hawaii’s military history is documented at this waterfront museum. Admission is free, though donations are welcome. Exhibits range from ancient to modern times, detailing the manpower, technology, and social elements involved in Hawaii’s defense. You’ll find rich details to complement a Pearl Harbor visit, but without the tourist lines. Plan to meet at least one veteran willing to share a personal story.  


Constructed in 1882 by King Kalakaua and once home to the Kamehameha Dynasty, Iolani Palace is the only royal palace you’ll find in the USA. There’s nowhere else in the US where visitors can so intimately walk in the footsteps of royalty. Self-guided tours are available, but a guided tour of the palace and residency is highly recommended for insider secrets shared by local guides. During your visit, you’ll see stunning Koa wood detailing, come across the first jury chair, and hear the remarkable history of Hawaii’s monarchy.

6. Island Vintage Coffee

Island Vintage Coffee is an unpretentious but elegant Hawaiian coffee roaster with seven locations throughout Oahu. Sampling Hawaiian-grown coffee is an absolute must while visiting the area, and Island Vintage Coffee serves 100 percent Kona beverages. Its espresso drinks are rich in flavor, but you can also fill up with a healthy breakfast or lunch at the Royal Hawaiian Center location. Be prepared to wait in line as its Acai and Poke bowls are super popular. For local flavor on the go, try a taro bagel with coconut peanut butter.


Honolulu Zoo is home to mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and a host of species native to Hawaii, like Pueo (Hawaiian short-eared owls). The zoo is a short walk from Waikiki’s beach resorts. The land making up Honolulu Zoo was royal-bestowed property, with the park at large named in honor of Queen Kapiolani. In addition to animals, the zoo offers interactive educational programming. Exploring the rest of Kapiolani Park is a bonus, with fabulous views of Diamondhead and free Sunday afternoon concerts performed by the Royal Hawaiian Band.

8. Tiki’s Grill & Bar

This rooftop patio is a hot spot for local live music and dance, award-winning chef creations, and happy hour specials. You’ll find an amazing sense of ohana (family) at Tiki’s Grill & Bar, with expansive ocean views perfect for sunset libations. Try the generous Mai Tai, served with Tiki’s signature Licor 43 passion fruit foam. Pair your beverage with volcano wings, kalua pig quesadillas, and guava-glazed baby back ribs. 


9. ABC Stores

You’ll find all your drink and snack items here without mega markup pricing, plus local foods and clothing. They’ve been a part of Hawaii since 1949! It’s not every day you find a corner store on a must-visit list, but the ABC Stores chain is so worthy of a mention. Looking for affordable souvenirs not found elsewhere? ABC has them. Want to pick up local coffee, macadamia nuts, and Hawaiian chocolates? This is your stop for all things Hawaiian, with great prices and friendly staff.

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