Waikiki is one of the most popular destinations in the world. It features pristine beaches, unbeatable sightseeing, and a unique atmosphere that you can only find in Hawaii.
Visiting Waikiki should be a relaxing experience, so don’t pack your itinerary with nonstop plans. Instead, pick out some favorite things to do and then see where trade winds take you.
Need help choosing your must-do activities? Check out our list of the top things to do in Waikiki and get ready to say “Aloha” to an incredible vacation!
Where Is Waikiki? Waikiki is a bustling neighborhood on the Island of Oahu. It’s located on the island’s south shore in Honolulu, the state’s capital and most populated city.
RELAX ON WAIKIKI BEACH
Your visit to Waikiki will include a lot of time on the beach, and there are several sandy spots to choose from. Whether you are hoping to watch surfers, cool off in salty water, or sunbathe in the sand, there’s a beach in Waikiki calling your name.
KAHANAMOKU BEACH AT HILTON HAWAIIAN VILLAGE
On the west end of Waikiki Beach, you’ll find a gorgeous stretch of sand named after one of Hawaii’s most famous surfers. Duke Kahanamoku brought international attention to Waikiki when he became a world-renown athlete in the early 1900s. Today, families and surfers flock to Kahanamoku Beach for adventure and relaxation.
It fronts The Hilton Hawaiian Village – a fun family beach resort. A calm lagoon is nestled along the shoreline by the Hilton Hawaiian Village and is open to the public.
FORT DERUSSY BEACH
Fort Derussy is one of the more spacious and quiet spots in Waikiki. The 71-acre park is open to the public, and includes playgrounds, picnic tables, and volleyball courts. Stretch out and take in the beautiful scenery while enjoying the park’s shade or the beach’s sandy shore.
You can check out the onsite museum to learn about the park’s military history, and then rent a stand up paddle board from a nearby vendor.
There’s limited street parking at Fort Derussy Beach, so it’s best to walk or take the bus here.
Gray’s Beach is Waikiki’s smallest stretch of sand. It’s tucked away beside the Halekulani Hotel and can be accessed via a narrow walkway. The water here features bountiful coral and a sandy channel that’s great for swimming.
Kawehewehe is the Hawaiian place name for Gray’s Beach. It was a location of healing for Hawaiians, but today erosion and development have claimed most of its shoreline.
You may be able to claim a spot at Gray’s Beach at low tide, but if you hope to spend a day stretched out on the sand, you’ll have more space at other Waikiki beaches.
ROYAL HAWAIIAN BEACH
With its rows of pink umbrellas and sparkling water, the Royal Hawaiian Beach has a vintage postcard vibe that belongs on your Instagram grid. The most Insta-worthy section of this beach is in front of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, a historic and distinct resort that you should definitely check out.
Royal Hawaiian Beach runs in front of many of Waikiki’s top hotels, which makes it a busy beach, but also a lot of fun. Do some people-watching and sightseeing while swimming in the calm, blue ocean.
Kuhio Beach is an awesome swimming spot, thanks to the swim walls that calm the shoreline’s waters. The walls are so effective that it feels more like you’re swimming in a salt-water pool than the ocean.
In the distance, you’ll see two popular surf breaks: Queen’s and Canoes. Whether you decide to take on the waves yourself or simply watch surfers from the pools, it’s an incredible and energetic area that’s distinctly Waikiki.
You’ll find Kapiolani Beach at the edge of the resort strip. Kapiolani Park offers room to stretch out away from the city’s crowds, and offers incredible views of Diamond Head Crater. It was the first public park in Hawaii, and is also home to the Honolulu Zoo.
The Beach at Kapiolani Park is also called Queens Beach. It’s a popular spot for swimming, surfing, and snorkeling, though the shoreline gets narrow in places. There is some free parking at the park, along with paid lots that you’ll likely have to use if you arrive on the weekend or later in the morning.
SANS SOUCI BEACH
Sans Souci means “without a care” in French, and that’s exactly the vibe you’ll embody as you relax in this idyllic location. A wide reef keeps the water at Sans Souci Beach calm, and the soft sandy ocean floor makes this the perfect swimming spot.
The beach here is pretty spacious and is often less crowded than other Waikiki spots. However, weekends can get busy, as local families come to enjoy one of Oahu’s most kid-friendly beaches.
There’s limited street parking available on Kalakaua Avenue, so you should plan to walk or catch a bus if you’re visiting from a Waikiki hotel.
Sans Souci Beach is also called Kaimana Beach, and it’s the last stretch of sand in the Waikiki area. The Kaimana Beach Hotel marks this popular spot at the base of Diamond Head Crater.
Plan to spend a few hours relaxing at Kaimana Beach. Come near sunset to watch mother nature put on a spectacular show.
TAKE A SURF LESSON
How can you visit Waikiki without surfing? Even beginners can ride the world-famous waves of Waikiki – the waters here offer an incredible surfing experience for beginners and pros alike.
Surf lessons are not only a fun activity, but also a unique way to experience the island. Enjoy a unique vantage point of Waikiki, become one with the ocean, and accomplish a new skill.
Many newbies become surfing addicts after riding Waikiki’s waves, so be prepared for your kid (or even you) to become obsessed with the sport.
Try a group lesson or hire a private teacher to get the most out of your surfing experience.
SAVOR A SUNSET MAITAI AT DUKE’S WAIKIKI
It’s the quintessential Hawaii experience: Sipping a Maitai at sunset. The best place to find this cocktail is at Duke’s Waikiki.
They create their Mai Tai with a blend of fresh juices that perfectly complement the rum. Sip it as the sun slips down into the turquoise water, painting the Waikiki skies with hues of oranges and reds.
The restaurant honors famed surfer Duke Kahanamoku and is as lively as the surrounding beaches. Make reservations for dinner well in advance, or try your hand at the bar area, which is available first-come-first-serve.
GO BEHIND THE SCENES AT WAIKIKI AQUARIUM
The Waikiki Aquarium will allow you to take a break from the sun while still enjoying a unique Hawaii experience. Have you been to more impressive aquariums? Probably. But the Waikiki Aquarium will earn a place in your heart thanks to its quaint charm, educational displays, and passionate staff.
One of our favorite things about the Waikiki Aquarium is its Behind-the-Scenes Tour. It’s an affordable educational program they offer once a week. Kids will love seeing the back of the exhibits and learning how the aquarium runs.
The Behind-the-Scenes Tour closed during COVID, so you should call the aquarium in advance to see if they will offer the program during your visit. Even if you don’t make the special tour, general admission to the aquarium is a fun way to spend a couple of hours.
Waikiki Aquarium is located in Kapiolani Park, across the street from the tennis courts.
HIKE DIAMOND HEAD CRATER
Diamond Head Crater is one of Hawaii’s most iconic landmarks. You are sure to enjoy its sight as you relax in Waikiki, but you can also hike the crater to get up close to this unique spot.
Diamond Head’s Hawaiian place name is Leahi, and it’s a spot rich with history. Your hike here will begin at the parking lot at Diamond Head Road and take you 0.8 miles to the summit of the crater, which features panoramic views of Honolulu.
Out-of-state visitors need to make a reservation in advance to access the hike. It’s a 560 foot elevation gain over less than a mile, so be prepared for that climb in the Honolulu heat. Wear plenty of sun protection and carry extra water.
LEARN TO HULA AT THE WAIKIKI STARLIGHT LUAU
The Hilton Hawaiian Village offers an incredible outdoor luau that’s perfect for families and honeymooners alike. Sip a tropical cocktail as the sunsets over Waikiki. Before dinner, you can participate in a group hula lesson and enjoy live music.
The highlight of the evening will be the Waikiki Starlight Show, a unique showcase of Polynesian entertainment, including a jaw-dropping fire knife dance. Premier seating will give you the best experience at this unforgettable luau.
ENJOY THE FREE KUHIO BEACH HULA SHOW
Did you know you can catch a free hula show each Saturday right in Waikiki? Bring a beach chair or blanket to sit back and enjoy the authentic performances. It opens with a torch lighting and blowing of conch shell (or pu) and continues as the sun sets.
It’s a fun gathering that will bring you closer to Hawaii’s rich culture and history. The show is presented on an authentic Hula Mound and lasts about an hour. Look for it near the Duke Kahanamoku Statue on Kalakaua Avenue.
MEET THE ANIMALS AT THE HONOLULU ZOO
The Honolulu Zoo features fun and memorable animal exhibits with Waikiki and Diamond Head as its backdrop. This is a municipal zoo at Kapiolani Park, and it’s a great activity if you want to get a break from the beach and shopping, while still enjoying Waikiki’s fun atmosphere.
You’ll see giraffes, monkeys, reptiles, and birds. At 42 acres, it’s not the most expansive or impressive zoo you’ll ever visit, but it’s still worth the admission.
Their Twilight Tours are an especially unique way to experience the zoo, so check that out if you want a fun evening activity in Waikiki.
PADDLE IN AN OUTRIGGER CANOE
The outrigger canoe is an integral part of Hawaii’s history and culture. Waikiki outrigger canoe rides allow people of all ages and abilities to experience this exciting activity under the guidance of experienced captains.
The ride requires teamwork and energy, but you’ll be rewarded with unique views of sea life and the chance to surf a wave.
Polynesian voyagers traveled thousands of miles on outrigger canoes. Your adventure will take you to the surf breaks of Waikiki, allowing you a small glimpse into their way of life. It’s one of the best things to do in Waikiki.
PAMPER YOURSELF AT WAIKIKI’S ONLY OCEANFRONT SPA
The calm waters and sea breezes are calling you to unwind. Why don’t you relax at the Moana Lani, an oceanside spa at the Moana Surfrider? Your time spent here will help you understand why Waikiki was once a place where Hawaiians came to heal their bodies and spirits.
Treat yourself to a massage, facial, or mani/pedi, and find yourself rejuvenated from the outside in.
TOUR IOLANI PALACE
Be transported in place and time by visiting Iolani Palace. Built in 1882, It’s the official home of Hawaii’s monarchy.
Today, the palace has been restored to its original grandeur and is open to the public. It tells the story of Hawaii’s royal history and stands as an icon for Hawaiian National Identity.
Iolani Palace is located at the corner of King St. and Richard St. in Honolulu. General admission allows for a self-led audio tour, though I recommend an upgraded experience with a professional guide.
VISIT THE HONOLULU MUSEUM OF ART
The Honolulu Museum of Art is the place to go to appreciate fine arts. Not only does HoMA include amazing art galleries, but you’ll also find the Honolulu Museum of Art School, Doris Duke Theatre, and the HoMA Café, Coffee Bar, and Shop here.
Enjoy perusing the art galleries, join a tour, or make plans to attend the museum during their Family Sunday, held on the third Sunday of each month. Family Sundays feature art making, gallery hunts, and story times.
HoMA also hosts artist lectures, film screenings, and adult and youth art classes too.
TAKE A GLASS BOTTOM BOAT TOUR
Enjoy Hawaii’s incredible marine life from above with a glass bottom boat tour. The laid-back adventure will be fun for the entire family as you track fish species and enjoy an hour or two out on the water.
Sea turtle and dolphin sightings are usually the highlights of these trips, which are BYOB and not crowded.
SHOP TILL YOU DROP
Waikiki has world-class shopping that features top retail brands, designer boutiques, and local artists. You could spend an entire day at each of the major shopping centers on Kalakaua Avenue, but they’re also easy to pop into if you’re staying in the area.
International Marketplace is an open-air shopping area steps away from the beach. Even non-shoppers will enjoy people-watching and exploring the gardens of this unique spot.
Waikiki Shopping Plaza features classic mall spots, like Sephora and Victoria’s Secret, and cute boutiques.
At Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center, you’ll find stores for all kinds of budgets, from Jimmy Choo to Island Slipper.
TAKE AN UNCONVENTIONAL HISTORY TOUR
Two hotels in Waikiki are so historic that you can actually take tours of them, whether you’re staying there or not.
The Royal Hawaiian Hotel Tour and the Moana Surfrider Tour allow you to immerse yourself in each hotel’s unique history and architecture. Get a taste of what Waikiki was like in the early 1900s, when tourists first began finding their way to this remarkable neighborhood.
SOUVENIR SHOP AT AN ABC STORE
It’s time to embrace the fact that you are indeed a tourist and you need all the souvenirs to go along with the status.
As you walk the streets of Waikiki, you’ll surely enter an ABC store once or twice. In fact, there are over 30 ABC stores in the area. It’s a staple here, and a great place to get all your souvenir shopping done in one place.
Not only can you get a fun Aloha Shirt and a few postcards, but you can also grab a cold drink, a quick snack, and some beach gear.
While there is so much to do in Waikiki, you may want to venture out of town and explore more of what Oahu offers. Oahu is a big island with a lot of sightseeing opportunities, so grab a rental car and take a day trip to some of Oahu’s other great adventures.
HISTORY BUFFS – PEARL HARBOR NATIONAL MONUMENT
Pearl Harbor National Monument commemorates the pivotal attack on the United States during World War II. It honors the lives lost in the attack and tells the story of Hawaii’s role in the war.
While at the memorial, check out the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum and Pacific Fleet Submarine Museum. History buffs will love all the education available here, but there’s enough to keep the entire family engaged.
Admission to the monument is free, but you must get a ticket online in advance.
WAVE SEEKERS – NORTH SHORE
To experience Hawaii’s authentic laid-back surfer vibe, you must visit Oahu’s North Shore. Haleiwa is a cute little surfer town with small shops, restaurants, and some of the world’s best surfing.
Waves here can reach 30 feet high in the winter, so come to watch the experienced surfers tackle incredible heights.
Life on the North Shore is a little slower and quieter. You’ll love the reprieve from Oahu’s high energy, plus the chance to see what life is like here away from the big resorts and tourist shops.
MORE INFORMATION FOR YOUR TRIP TO HAWAII
- MAUI WATERFALLS: 18 Maui Waterfalls On The Road To Hana And Beyond
- OAHU WATERFALLS: 13 Spectacular Waterfall Hikes Oahu Has To Offer
- OAHU BEACHES: 17 Best Beaches In Oahu You Definitely Can’t Miss
WHERE TO STAY IN WAIKIKI
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