When you think of Waikiki, it’s easy to imagine Diamond Head crater towering over the ocean and beach. Perhaps an Elvis tune comes to mind, or visions of surfers at play in front of the iconic Duke Kahanamoku statue. Or maybe you can taste the sweet sensation of a classic shave ice. Yes, Waikiki is a beach bum’s paradise, but if you’re only sticking to the sights along Kalakaua Avenue, you may be missing out. Did you know Waikiki is made up of eight distinct beaches? Throughout these little palm tree districts you’ll find real-life royalty, architecture dating back to the mid-1800s, and local flavors you simply can’t find anywhere else. If you’re ready to experience the aloha spirit of Waikiki, add these top to-dos to your next vacation.
Done something on this list and loved it? Share it with the hashtag #TimeOutDoList and tag @TimeOutEverywhere.
Find out more about how Time Out selects the very best things to do all over the world.
Best things to do in Waikiki
What is it: Moana Surfrider, a Westin resort, began its history 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.
Why go: You needn’t book a room to explore the architecture of the iconic Moana Hotel. Free guided tours are available Mondays and Wednesdays, and the docent 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.
What is it: Built 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.
Why go: There’s nowhere else in the country 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, see the first jury chair, and hear the remarkable history of Hawaii’s monarchy.
What is it: Half a dozen food trucks make up Pau Hana Market, an outdoor casual eatery serving up regional treats ranging from ramen bowls to fish tacos to shave ice.
Why go: This tucked-away food truck park is a must-visit for authentic, affordable local fare. Popular favorites include savory garlic shrimp plates at 5 Star Shrimp and mouthwatering plate lunches at Loco Moco Ohana. Hidden behind towering resorts, this foodie nook is lit with tiki torches and twinkle lights.
What is it: 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.
Why go: Fan of TV’s Hawaii Five-O? Visit Kahanamoku Beach for possible star sightings. Scenes are regularly filmed along this beachfront, beside Duke Kahanamoku Lagoon, and on the resort greenery. Just remember: quiet on the set! Insider tip: the lagoon is a calm inland destination to paddle board if you need practice before hitting open waters.
What is it: Island Vintage Coffee is an unpretentious, but elegant Hawaiian coffee roaster with seven locations throughout Oahu.
Why go: Sampling Hawaiian-grown coffee is an absolute must while visiting the area and Island Vintage Coffee serves up 100% Kona beverages. Their 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 their Acai and Poke bowls are super popular. For local flavor on the go, try a taro bagel with coconut peanut butter.
What is it: Honolulu Zoo is home to mammals, reptiles, and amphibians, along with a host of species native to Hawaii, like Pueo (Hawaiian short-eared owls). The zoo is a short walk from Waikiki beach resorts, though free parking is available at the Waikiki concert shell.
Why go: The land making up Honolulu Zoo is bestowed royal 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.
What is it: This rooftop patio is a hot spot for enjoying local live music and dance, award-winning chef creations, and happy hour specials.
Why go: 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. No matter how full you are, a must-try dessert is their Haupia Crepe Cake which has twenty layers of unbelievably light crepes sandwiched with house-whipped coconut creme.
What is it: Hawaii’s military history is documented at this waterfront museum. Admission is free, though donations are welcome.
Why go: Exhibits span from ancient to modern times, detailing the manpower, technology, and social elements involved in Hawaii’s defense. You’ll find rich details and artifacts to complement a Pearl Harbor visit, but without the tourist lines. Plan to meet at least one veteran docent willing to share a personal story.
What is it: Kuhio Beach offers free hula shows three times weekly. Just east of the Duke Kahanamoku statue, look for the performance mound tucked between a majestic Banyon Tree and the ocean waves.
Why go: Local dance troupes and musical performers of all ages take to the stage on Kuhio Beach for a free sunset concert. The evening begins with the sound of a conch horn blowing and torches being lit. This is a laid-back venue with grass seating, while ocean waves lap in the distance.
What is it: Lucoral is a museum, jewelry shop, and artisan workshop rolled into one little-known venue. Go to the second floor and plan for an hour visit.
Why go: Discover this hidden gem of a museum and examine the local diamonds that led to Diamondhead’s naming. Or learn about Hawaiian pearls and other native gemstones. If you’re hands-on with a flair for crafts, sign up for a jewelry making workshop to make your own unique creation. Plus, the kids will rave about the dinosaur egg fossil on display.
What is it: You’ll find all your drink and snack items here without mega mark-up pricing, but these bright, busy shops also offer local foods and clothing. They’ve been a part of Hawaii since 1949!
Why go: It’s not every day you’ll find a corner store on a must-visit list, but the ABC Stores chain in Hawaii 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 market oasis for all things Hawaiian, with great prices and friendly staff, too.