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The 10 best things to do Waikiki

Get to know Honolulu's southern shore with our guide to the best things to do in Waikiki

Written by
Lori A May

The first thing you notice is the cerulean ocean water. It is difficult not to, and Waikiki is the sort of place that brings home the enormity of the Pacific Ocean. That mighty body of water covers some 30% of the planet, but this Honolulu neighborhood might just have claimed its most charming face. Are you looking for the best things to do in Waikiki? Look no further.

Hawaii’s most famous district is a head-turner, a living museum of history that serves as a great base for exploring everything this place has to offer. Diamond Head waits patiently nearby, a most-scenic crater that has become a pilgrimage for first-time visitors to Hawaii. Not looking to hike? Waikiki is home to great restaurants and cafes, as well as arguably Hawaii’s most electric night out.

But everything comes back to the water. Waikiki’s beaches are Hall of Fame-caliber, as perfect for adventure as they are for relaxation. Waikiki is made up of eight distinct beaches, so there’s no shortage of choice. After all, there are no bad options in Waikiki.

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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 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 iconic architecture. 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.  

2. Kahanamoku Beach

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? 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 be to watch firework celebrations along the shore. 


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’s beach resorts.

Why go? 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.

What is it? Hawaii’s military history is documented at this waterfront museum. Admission is free, though donations are welcome.  

Why go? 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.  


What is it? Island Vintage Coffee is an unpretentious, but elegant Hawaiian coffee roaster with six locations throughout Oahu.

Why go? Sampling Hawaiian-grown coffee is an absolute must while visiting the area and Island Vintage Coffee serves up 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.

6. Waikiki Surf Lessons

What is it? A rite of passage when visiting Waikiki.

Why go? Look for the iconic Duke Paoa Kahanamoku Statue on Waikiki Beach and you’ll find a huge 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 basically 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!


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 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.

What is it? This rooftop patio is a hot spot for 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. Pair your beverage of choice with volcano wings, kalua pig quesadillas, and guava glazed baby back ribs. 


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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? You’ll find all your drink and snack items here without mega mark-up pricing, plus local foods and clothing. They’ve been a part of Hawaii since 1949!

Why go? 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, too.

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