The world-famous Waikiki Beach is a 2-mile-long expanse of beautiful soft white sand and azure blue ocean, backed by the globally famous, towering resorts and hotels of the travel hotspot. Located on the south shore of Hawaii’s third largest island Oahu, it is a global travel destination hotspot, drawing millions of travelers every single year and 72,000 visitors on any given day, accounting for 42 percent of the entire state’s tourist industry revenue and for good reason. Waikiki is the most popular destination in Hawaii for relaxing on the beach, dining, shopping, and entertainment, whilst also being the number one destination on the island for luxury resorts and hotels.
Waikiki Beach is located within Honolulu city limits and bordered by the Pacific Ocean to the south, the Ala Wai Canal to the north and west, and has the beautiful Kapi’olani Park to the east, acting as the true epicenter of tourism in Oahu.
History of Waikiki Beach
Waikiki means spouting waters in Hawaiian. The name arose from the rivers and springs that once fed into the neighborhood before the waters were diverted into the canal. As early as the 15th century, Chief Kalamakua set up irrigation and farming systems in the area to plant taro patches and create fishponds. Because of its abundance of natural resources, it became the governmental center of Oahu by the middle of the century.
The first Europeans arrived with British explorer Captain James Cook and Honolulu began to establish itself as a small fishing village for foreign settlers in the early 1800s. The area soon became a vital merchant center for those seeking respite whilst trading furs with the east and fishing or whaling in the area.
The waterfront area itself became home to the royal court of King Kamenhameha in 1809 so as to allow him to gaze over the blossoming trade and provide himself a place to watch ships coming and going from the island. This led to the development of the area into a retreat for the royalty of the Kingdom and the dignitaries living nearby and they used Waikiki beach as a spot for horseback rides, canoe races and swimming in the ocean. However, soon foreign visitors wanted in on the delights that the beach had to offer, they began visiting the area in the 1830s, with transport infrastructure including a road, tramway and tramcars being built soon after. These developments and increase in popularity of tourism in the area came, in part, because the United States built military bases at Pearl Harbor and in central Oahu. These led to an influx of tourists into the area and the beginning of the vibrant trade it sees today.
The true birth of Waikiki as the travel destination it is known and loved as today, occurred in 1901 with the construction of The Moana Hotel. An historic architectural treasure, boasting 75 guest rooms with telephones, private baths, a billiard room, parlor, library, salon, and ground-breaking electric-powered elevator. After the draining of the wetlands and construction of the Ala Wai Canal the era of the luxury resort center of Waikiki hit full steam, with The Moana right at the heart of it.
The building of the Waikiki Natatorium War memorial was a key point in the history of Oahu. The memorial took the form of a 100-yard swimming pool, uniquely located on the beach and fed by seawater. It became the training ground for several Olympic swimmers over the years, most notably Duke Kahanamoku, the man responsible for the introduction of surfing to the modern world and honored by a statue present on the beach today.
Another important part of the history of Waikiki is the area’s relationship with music the world over. In the 1930s Hawaiian music became hugely popular with Harry Owens and his band taking over as the face of the island’s music. This led to the launch of the globally renowned Hawaii Calls radio show, broadcast from the Moana Hotel itself and with the sound of the waves breaking in the background of its broadcasts. Visiting celebrities such as Bing Crosby, Shirley Temple and Frank Sinatra helped cement Waikiki as a hub of pop culture for years to come.
Tourism through the 1900s only continued to grow and grow, with the construction of many more world-famous hotels such as the Hilton, Sheraton and Hyatt, as well as an explosion in the construction of many beautiful and boutique offerings, Waikiki Beach continued to grow and tourism infrastructure continued to boom in the region, providing a base for travelers, surfers, trekkers and wanderers to enjoy the beauty of Kapiolani Park, the intriguing Waikiki Aquarium, the Honolulu Zoo and the International Marketplace, as well as Hawaii’s best restaurants and nightspots. The historical significance of Waikiki combined with its rapid expansion in tourism industry has drawn countless to its ivory sands for hundreds of years now, creating the vibrant and internationally recognized beach destination that it is today.
This world-renowned beach is actually a series of beaches that, together, are widely considered to be one of the most iconic in the world. Waikiki Beach has eight distinct sections and they are Ft. DeRussy Beach, Duke Kahanamoku, Halekulani, Royal Hawaiian, Kūhiō Beach, Kapiʻolani Beach, Queens Beach and Kaimana. These 8 section provide visitors and travellers with a huge variety of options on what to do and see, giving explorers the chance to take in the local sights and surf history loungers, the opportunity to bath in the sun and enjoy fresh cocktails as the sun sets, while a variety of water sports and surf spots will entertain any adrenaline junkie for hours!
Duke Kahanamoku Beach
One of the first sections you will come across is the Duke Kahanamoku Beach, which is located at the beginning part of Waikiki near the Ala Moana channel and harbor. This beautiful beach section is named after legendary Hawaiian competition swimmer and father of modern-day surfing Duke Kahanamoku. He was a five-time Olympic medalist in swimming and popularized the ancient Hawaiian sport of surfing and you can see a statue to commemorate him located not far from the boardwalk area. There is a man-made swimming lagoon located at Duke beach and the beach itself is one of the more popular and busier of Waikiki Beaches because it offers a calm swimming area with a protected seawall.
Royal Hawaiian Beach
Another key section of Waikiki beach is the Royal Hawaiian Beach area which is also known as the center of Waikiki Beach, due much to the fact that it is the center for many activities and experiences focused around the beach and as such is the perfect spot to catch a Catamaran chartered ride or paddle out on a Hawaiian canoe, or you could even take on surfing the waves like the late great Duke Kahanamoku himself! This is the perfect spot to find a Beach Boy surf shack that will be willing to help set you up with renting a surf board, which generally range from $10 to $20 per ride or hour, or you can learn from a pro that will guide you along the way and teach you how to surf.
Fort DeRussy Beach Park
Another perfect section for those looking for a moment to relax is the Fort DeRussy Beach Park, which is the only section in the surrounding upper Waikiki area that provides a beautiful grassy park setting with palm trees, shade, and picnic tables, allowing families and solo travelers alike to lounge in the shaded area while taking in all the sites and sounds that Waikiki has to offer! This area also provides access to surfboard racks, beach volley ball nets, and tennis courts, meaning it’s a great spot for those with a little more activity in mind as well, providing groups of travelers an opportunity to get a few games in!
No matter which section you plan on visiting you will find something for everyone along the golden sand and palm lined sections of Waikiki Beach, why not work along the Pavilion which stretches much of the 2 mile long beach and take in the shops, restaurants and water sports that dot this picturesque landscape till you find the perfect spot to take in that golden Hawaiian sunset!
Kapiolani Park and Gardens
Kapiolani Park is a serene slice of natural paradise which was originally donated by King Kalakaua in 1876 so that a park could be built in honor of his wife, Queen Kapiolani. Today, the park houses the Waikiki Aquarium, Honolulu Zoo, tennis courts, an archery range, soccer field, and jogging track, providing countless activities for groups and solo travelers alike! Kapiolani Park gives you the chance to catch an art show, ancient Hawaiian music concert, or other fun events which are hosted throughout the park nearly all year round! Kapiolani Park is the perfect location to have a quiet and calming picnic or leisurely stroll among the greenery and the park is dotted with rare flower species and exotic birds such as the peacock, making the perfect place to experience Honolulu’s beauty.
The Waikiki Aquarium was founded in 1904 and has been an institution of the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa since 1919. The aquarium is the second oldest still-operating public aquarium in the United States, after the New York Aquarium and was built next to a living coral reef on the Waikiki shoreline. The Aquarium is home to more than 3,500 organisms of marine plants and animals and each year, over 330,000 people visit. The Waikiki Aquarium was designated a Coastal Ecosystem Learning Center and has won national awards for its exhibits and aquatic culture methods.
Diamond Head Crater
Diamond Head crater is the perfect sight for hikers and natural explorers, providing serene views at the top of an extinct volcano that lies at the eastern edge of Waikiki’s coastline. Should you chose to make the trek up its historic hiking trail, which was built in 1908 as part of the island’s coastal defense system you will arrive at the summit, where you will enjoy jaw-dropping views of the crystal blue waters and bustling beach traffic, giving you a chance to take in Waikiki in a way that simply cannot be appreciated from the beach. Plus, if you are there in winter, you just might see some humpback whales in the waters below.
This street is named in honor of King David Kalakaua and is considered the ‘Heart of Waikiki’, this street runs parallel to Waikiki Beach and is the main strip of Waikiki, it has a myriad of restaurants, hotels, and shops along its streets and here you can pick up some fabulous souvenirs such as macadamia nuts, Kona coffee, Hawaiian jewelry and apparel, art, books, and more. There are also sections with a variety of luxury brands and areas with dozens of eating options to choose from, making this avenue your perfect stop for shopping and eating!
Accommodation in Honolulu
- For travelers on a budget, the hotel LaCroix provides 191 spacious rooms, studios and suites which are freshly designed to provide a bright and comfortable island experience. Each room is equipped with separate split AC units and designed to have that bright white Hawaii style, giving you a comfortable experience for only around $100 a night!
- The Alohilani Resort provides premium comfort for those looking for a luxurious experience, with large comfortable rooms and an open-air lobby and captivating Oceanarium unique to Honolulu resorts. The resort pool deck with private cabanas offers a saltwater infinity pool, a shallow-water pool and club for kids, and a pool bar that seamlessly transitions from day to night. With a location steps from Waikiki Beach, it is where Hawaii vacations turn moments into memories and all for around $300 a night, providing luxury comfort for all styles of travelers!
- For an all-inclusive experience that takes in the sun, sand and surf on legendary Waikiki Beach, the Outrigger Waikiki Beach Resort provides premium comfort and offers all the amenities of luxury beach life inspired by the waves, with locally inspired dining, live music and entertainment, vibrant cultural events and programs, and provides comfortable and modern accommodations overlooking iconic Waikiki Beach and Diamond Head Crater. The Outrigger will provide you with a centrally located all-inclusive and activity filled experience for around $600 a night, season depending!
How to Get There
It takes approximately 13 min to drive from Honolulu Airport (HNL) to Waikiki Beach and is approximately a 10-mile drive, a taxi journey will most likely cost you around $30 and provides the fastest route to the beach! Check out the best flight deals.
For budget travelers willing to navigate public transport with luggage, the bus from the airport only costs $2.75 for a one-way ride. You can access the bus to Waikiki from the airports upper level, Main Terminal and the #20 bus comes every 20 minutes and takes about an hour to get to Waikiki.
Seasonal Events and Weather in Honolulu
Due to its tropical location most say that Honolulu only really has two seasons, summer and winter, with summer being mostly hot and dry while winter sees milder weather and a higher level of rainfall.
Honolulu experiences a mostly dry summer season and its summer months are between May and October. The best time to visit Honolulu is from September to November when temperatures are mild and less busy, while the central summer months are the hottest and by far the peak of tourist season, with highs of 90 Fahrenheit, however temperatures vary little throughout the year, providing visitors with the chance to enjoy tropical weather all year round! Summer months also see the most activities throughout the year with mini festivals, fairs, surf competitions and much more for travelers to experience! The Summer provides long dry months and the perfect opportunity to take in the bright colors and tropical blossoms of Hawaii, providing a perfect time of year to trek the trails of the national parks and hit the waves to take in the perfect surf!
Honolulu’s winter months run from November to April and sees average daytime winter temperature of 78 degrees Fahrenheit, meaning that it is still a perfect temperature to relax on the beach and enjoy Hawaii’s paradise like climate without fearing even a brisk chill! However, the Winter does tend to be a rainier time, so while you can safely leave your cold-weather gear at home, a light jacket and umbrella might be in order, to avoid getting caught out! Winter sees less visitors and provides travelers the opportunity to take in the beauty of the island without the crowds, as well as acting as a favorite wintering spot for humpback whales, which means you can look out to sea on any winter day and spot these majestic creatures. Hawaii is the only state in the U.S. where humpback whales’ mate, calve and nurse their young, and is one of the largest seasonal populations of North Pacific humpbacks in the world. Whale season lasts from November to May, with the peak of the season between January and March.
So, if it is that picture-perfect retreat you want at any time of the year, then the golden sand, crashing blue waves and surf culture of Waikiki Beach will call you to its postcard worthy views. Your trip to Waikiki Beach will drop you deep into a culture, focused on the natural beauty of its homeland and allow you to relax and unwind in ultimate comfort as you take in the sights, sounds and towering skyline of the birthplace of surf, soul and sand at Waikiki Beach!