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Oahu is one of my favorite Hawaiian destinations to visit, and you can’t leave a trip to the island without experiencing the iconic Waikiki Beach. Perhaps the best-known beach in all of Hawaii, it’s a bustling area complete with gorgeous views, standout dining, and no shortage of recreation options.

Waikiki is also home to several nice resorts, meaning it’s easy to stay in the center of the action. By doing so, you’ll have access to so many great things to do that span the natural world and the modern. The ability to seamlessly transition from a relaxing morning or afternoon spent in nature to a cultural or cosmopolitan city experience is one of the things that makes a trip to this area so special.

I had the chance to spend a long weekend in Waikiki last year with my family and loved our time there. The ease of staying there combined with so many good eats made it one of our favorite parts of visiting.

Below, I’ve compiled a list of the best things to do in Waikiki from our time. If you’ll be staying longer on Oahu and visiting other parts of the island, don’t miss my guide to the best things to do on Oahu.

Best Things to Do in Waikiki

Why Visit Waikiki?

While there’s an abundance of things to do all over Oahu, Waikiki is a special slice of the island that shouldn’t be missed. From top-tier restaurants to stunning vistas of Diamond Head to luxury hotels—not to mention easy access to the beaches and marine life Hawaii is famous for—it’s a convenient locale for experiencing some of the best the island has to offer.

Are there Free Things to Do in Waikiki?

Hawaii isn’t the cheapest destination, but the good news is that there are lots of free activities in Waikiki. You can easily pass your days on the area’s public beaches swimming, strolling, and admiring the scenery. While not completely free, hiking Diamond Head is also very affordable at just $5 for visitors arriving on foot.

Planning a Trip to Waikiki? Here Are My Top Picks for the Best Hotels and Things to Do in Waikiki:

Hotels

  1. The Royal Hawaiian, for the best luxury hotel
  2. Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort, for the best family-friendly hotel

Things to Do

  1. Visit Pearl Harbor National Memorial
  2. Take a Surf Lesson
  3. Go Whale Watching

For more on how to best spend your time in Waikiki, don’t miss my guide to the best restaurants in Waikiki and my toddler-friendly guide to Oahu!

Want to Explore Several Sights and Ticketed Experiences on Oahu?

Consider booking a Go City All-Inclusive Pass that includes 40+ Attractions!

The Best Things to Do in Waikiki


1. Take a Glass Bottom Boat Tour

Best Things to Do in Waikiki

Hawaii’s abundant and colorful marine life is a big draw, and one of the best ways to get up close and personal is to take to the water on a glass-bottom boat. I took a one-hour, family-friendly tour to view the local sea turtles, and it was awe-inspiring. Other animals you’re likely to see are eels, reef sharks, dolphins and several species of fish along the tropical reefs. The diversity is staggering and I can’t recommend this activity enough. Book the tour here.

2. Hike to The Top of Diamond Head State Monument

Things to Do in Oahu

Located near the eastern tip of Waikiki’s coastline, Diamond Head is one of Oahu’s most popular hikes, and for good reason. From the summit at 760 feet, you’ll get unmatched, postcard-worthy views of the island and ocean. To reach the top from the floor of Diamond Head’s 300,000 year-old-crater, you’ll travel just 0.8 miles, but at a serious incline, so be prepared for switchbacks and strenuous exercise. Don’t forget water and sunscreen, as these will be essential!

3. Spend an Afternoon on Waikiki Beach

Best Things to Do in Waikiki

Soft sand, warm water and impeccable Diamond Head views make it easy to spend half a day on world-famous Waikiki Beach. It’s home to several resorts and restaurants, as well as cultural and nature activities—like dolphin encounters and museums—that are great for kids. There’s also tons to do in walking distance either before or after your time on the beach itself.

4. Take a Surf Lesson

Hawaii has some of the best surfing in the world, and there are lots of options for trying out the sport during your stay. Multiple surf schools offer lessons on Waikiki Beach, whether you’re looking for instruction for children, families, adults, couples or solo travelers. Here’s a highly-rated option to consider. All necessary equipment is typically included as part of the lesson. This is a travel experience you won’t forget. Book your lesson here.

5. Tour the Pearl Harbor National Memorial

Things to Do in Oahu

The Pearl Harbor National Memorial is a top attraction on Oahu, and you shouldn’t leave without seeing it. You can tour the visitor’s center, which exhibits events that led to the U.S entering World War II. From there, you can head out by boat to the USS Arizona Memorial, which is managed and operated by the U.S. National Park Service. Pre-book your tickets here.

6. Go for a Scenic Drive to the North Shore

Best Things to Do in Waikiki

Near Pearl Harbor, you can pick up Kamehameha Highway, one of the main highways on the island, and take a stunning drive along the North Shore. This area has unbelievable views, many of which you can capture right from your car. If you do want to get out and explore more once you’re there, check out my guide to the best things to do on the island’s North Shore.

7. Stroll the International Marketplace

With more than 90 stores and 10 restaurants, the International Marketplace is a lively hub in the heart of Waikiki. What was a local landmark for generations became an open-air destination in 2016. Flowing water features, tropical landscapes, and a banyan tree that’s more than 100 years old make the marketplace feel distinctly Hawaiian.

8. Go on a Whale Watching Tour

Humpback whales visit Hawaii’s warm, tropical waters each year, and tours give visitors the opportunity to observe these majestic animals up close. There are lots of different tour options, making it possible to choose a length and time that works for you—or even to book a private tour. Here’s a highly-rated option to consider. December to April is considered the best time to go. Book the tour here.

9. Eat Your Way Through Downtown Honolulu

Honolulu is a culinary hotspot. Hawaii’s landscape and tropical climate make it a great place for fresh fruit, vegetables, and seafood, all of which make their way into the local cuisine. With many standout places to try, both in Waikiki and throughout the city, you’ll have no problem stringing together your own food tour. This guide to the best restaurants in Waikiki should be helpful for planning!

10. Visit the Honolulu Zoo

Toddler-Friendly Guide to Oahu, Hawaii

Tucked between the slopes of Diamond Head and Waikiki is the Honolulu Zoo. Open daily from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., it welcomes visitors to learn more about its bird, mammal, and reptile inhabitants from the Pacific and around the world. The zoo also offers special guided tours, including a morning safari tour and after-hours twilight tour, giving guests a chance to learn more about the animals they’re seeing.

11. Spend the Day at Kuhio Beach

Best Things to Do in Waikiki

Located within walking distance from many Waikiki resorts, Kuhio Beach is an ideal place to spend a day and a favorite of tourists and locals alike. Surrounded by two concrete walls stretching into the ocean, it’s a protected area, which makes it a calm place for children and families to swim. A public beach park also lines the street with palm trees for shade. For more great beaches, check out my guide to Oahu’s top beaches!

12. Get Drinks at the Moana Surfrider

Best Things to Do in Waikiki
image via booking.com

Known as the “First Lady of Waikiki,” this historic Honolulu hotel from 1901 is a fun place to stop for artisanal cocktail or glass of wine. Commanding 600 feet of Waikiki shoreline and done in a Victorian architectural style, the Moana Surfrider is beautiful both inside and out. Its beach bar has a great vibe and features live music.

13. Stroll and Shop Kalakaua Avenue

At the heart of the city, Kalakua Avenue is Honolulu’s main street. Buzzing with activity both day and night, it’s a hotspot for shopping, dining, and drinking in the city. Ala Moana Center, a sizeable shopping mall, is a key stop along the bustling thoroughfare. It’s packed with stores—both local and international, at all different price points—and places to eat.

14. Try the Musubi at Musubi Cafe Iyasume

Thanks to a large population of Japanese ex-pats and tourists, there’s a substantial Japanese influence on Oahu’s dining scene. While there are several amazing Japanese restaurants to try, rice ball specialist Cafe Iyasume is a can’t miss spot and a perfect place to try the local specialty: spam musubi. It’s made with premium rice and can be loaded with toppings including plum-cucumber and avocado-bacon-egg.

15. See the Iolani Palace

Best Things to Do in Waikiki

Built in 1882 by King Kalākaua, the Iolani Palace was the official royal residence until Hawaii’s monarchy was overthrown in 1893. In the late 1900s, it was carefully restored to its original grandeur, and today it’s a fantastic place for history buffs and visitors looking to learn more about Hawaii’s political and social past. Themed tours give special insight into particular topics, such as royal fashion and Hawaii’s connection to Japan.


Where to Stay in Waikiki

Best Things to Do in Waikiki

There are tons of hotel options lining Waikiki beach, including plenty of family-friendly options.

For a luxury stay, The Royal Hawaiian—known as the “Pink Palace of the Pacific”—has been welcoming travelers since 1927. It’s a large property with two buildings, each with a distinct style, and features something for everyone.

If traveling with kids, I recommend the Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort or Hilton Hawaiian Village. The Marriott’s spacious suites were perfect for our family on a recent trip with my daughter, and the Hilton—a huge property—provides non-stop activities and a lagoon that’s perfect for swimming with kids.


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Best Things to Do in Waikiki

PS — Are You Booking a Trip Soon? Use My Booking Checklist!

These are the sites I use most to book my own trips. Using the links below is a great way to support Bon Traveler’s travel journalism at no extra cost to you. If you need help organizing your itinerary, get my free travel itinerary template here.

1. Book Your Flights

Use Skyscanner to find the best flights. It searches 100s of airlines and websites across the globe to ensure you’re not missing out on any route options or deals.

2. Book Your Accommodations

Use Booking.com for hotels and guest houses. They have the biggest inventory and consistently offer the best rates.

3. Book Your Tours & Experiences

Use Viator or Get Your Guide to find the best tours and experiences. They are my favorite tour search engines. I always check both as their inventory varies depending on the destination.

4. Book Your Car

Use Discover Cars or Rentalcars.com to find the best car rental deals. I recommend comparing rental agency reviews on Google to ensure you are booking with the best company in that destination, as the reviews are often more accurate than the car rental search engines.

5. Don’t Forget Airport Lounge Access

Get a Priority Pass membership to gain access to 1,400+ VIP lounges and airport experiences worldwide. The Priority Pass app is the first thing I check when I have a layover. I’ve been a member for over a decade, and having a comfortable place to relax before and between flights makes air travel so much more enjoyable.

6. Don’t Forget Travel Insurance

I never leave the country without travel insurance. It provides comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong (ie. illness, injury, theft, and cancelations, etc.). I use it frequently for my travels to stay protected.

My favorite companies that offer the best coverage and rates are:


Xx,
Jessica

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