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11 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions & Things To Do in Waikiki

Written by Lana Law and Lura Seavey

Waikiki enjoys a reputation for being the world's most famous beach resort, blessed with South Sea magic. This small, flat area of Honolulu is where the majority of visitors to Hawaii spend their holidays. Waikiki is the heart of Honolulu, if not of the whole of the Hawaiian islands. Located in this small area is the state's largest choice of hotels. They can be found either on the beach or in the Kalakaua Avenue vicinity, which runs parallel to the beach and is loaded with restaurants, shopping, entertainment, and other things to do. The beach has been a favorite bathing place for Hawaiians long before tourists began to flock to the area, and Waikiki beach was once used to receive royal guests. Find the best things to see and do in the area with our list of the top attractions in Waikiki.

1. Waikiki Beaches

Waikiki Beach, Oahu

Waikiki Beach, Oahu

The main attraction of Waikiki, by far, is the sand strip along the oceanfront. Waikiki has a series of beaches, almost all of which are ideal for swimming and water sports. The beaches begin in the west with Kahanamoku Beach, named after the famous Olympic swimmer, immediately in front of the Hilton Hawaiian Village, and extend to Sans Souci Beach at Diamond Head in the east. They overlap one another so smoothly that tourists find them indistinguishable. Kahanamoku Beach is separated from Gray's Beach by a narrow channel. This is followed by the Royal Hawaiian Beach, without a doubt the most famous and crowded part of Waikiki. Next comes Kuhio Beach Park, with the stone built Kapahulu Wall in front of a portion of it. This is the only part of the beach unsuitable for swimming. Beyond this is Kapiolani Beach Park and Sans Souci Beach.

Additional beaches, located outside of Waikiki proper, include the small Kaluahole Beach; Diamond Head Beach Park; Kuilei Cliffs Beach Park, made somewhat dangerous because of high waves; Kaalawai; Kahala Beach, where The Kahala Hotel & Resort is located; and Wailupe Beach Park, on the western side of the artificial peninsula of the same name.

2. Kapiolani Park and Queen Kapiolani Garden

Kapiolani Park with a view of Diamond Head

Kapiolani Park with a view of Diamond Head

This beautiful park, which King Kalakaua gave to the city and now bears the name of his wife, divides Waikiki from the small residential area on the southwest side of Diamond Head. Kapiolani Park is Honolulu's oldest public park and also the best loved. It contains family attractions, including the Waikiki Zoo and Waikiki Aquarium, but the main highlight for adults is the Queen Kapiolani Garden, which is home to a beautiful assortment of flowering plants. The garden contains plants from Hawaii and other parts of the world, including rare Hawaiian species.

The park is a pleasant recreational area with a large selection of leisure activities available, including tennis courts, picnic areas, and jogging paths. The Queen Kapiolani Bandstand is the finishing point of the Honolulu Marathon held each December.

Address: 3672-, 3698 Paki Ave, Honolulu, Hawaii

3. Waikiki Aquarium

Waikiki Aquarium

Waikiki Aquarium | swimfinfan / photo modified

The Waikiki Aquarium educates visitors about Hawaii's unique sea life and the marine communities of the South Pacific. Exhibits feature both habitats and specific animals, with a large portion of the aquarium dedicated to the ecology and residents of coral reefs. Within several coral reef exhibits, kids will love to learn about the relationship between clownfish and sea anemones; get an up-close look at reef predators like sharks and groupers; and view the aquarium's coral farm, which produces colonies that are used by other aquariums around the world. Visitors also come to see the aquarium's Northwestern Hawaiian Islands exhibit, home to two critically endangered monk seals, as well as several other unique marine species only found among these uninhabited islands. Other exhibits include the underwater habitat in a mangrove forest, giant clams, jellyfish, and an assortment of rare deep-sea fish and invertebrates.

Address: 2777 Kalakaua Avenue, Honolulu, Hawaii

Official site: www.waikikiaquarium.org

4. Diamond Head Crater

Aerial view of Diamond Head crater

Aerial view of Diamond Head crater

Diamond Head Crater, known in Hawaiian as Le'ahi, is the extinct volcano on the east end of Waikiki and is a symbol of the city. What you see from the beach is only a profile; the best place for viewing the crater is at Diamond Head State Monument, where the crater itself can be visited. A historic hiking trail leads up from the floor of the crater to the summit, following a rather steep path, which eventually turns into stairs and leads to a viewpoint overlooking Waikiki. The road to Diamond Head Crater drives up the eastern side of the rock and then passes through a tunnel cut to connect the inner and outer sides of the rim.

This jut of land or head was named Diamond Head when 19th-century sailors thought some of the crystals found here were diamonds.

Official site: http://dlnr.hawaii.gov/dsp/parks/oahu/?park_id=15

5. Honolulu Zoo

Honolulu Zoo

Honolulu Zoo

The Honolulu Zoo is a 42-acre zoo featuring hundreds of animals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians. The grounds also include a huge variety of tropical plants, creating a botanical garden setting, which includes native Hawaiian plants. There are also native Hawaiian animals in residence, including the Hawaiian Goose, Nene, and the Hawaiian Hawk, 'Io. Additionally, there are many favorites such as tigers, elephants, monkeys, and Komodo dragons. The Honolulu Zoo is the only zoo that sits on a royal land grant. Today, the zoo represents three tropical zones: the African Savannah, tropical rainforests, and island ecosystems. There is also a children's zoo and playground.

Address: 151 Kapahulu Avenue, Honolulu, Hawaii

Official site: http://honoluluzoo.org/

Popular Tours

6. Kalakaua Avenue

Kalakaua Avenue

Kalakaua Avenue

Waikiki's main street, named after King David Kalakaua, stretches for one mile from Beretania Street to the end of Kapiolani Park. Kalakaua Avenue is considered the heart of Waikiki, running parallel to the beach. Here, you will find countless hotels, restaurants, and shops. If visitors are looking for a change from the beach, they need never be bored in this always lively street. Very close by are the Waikiki Shopping Center, on the corner of Seaside Avenue; the International Market Place, between Seaside Street and Kanekapolei Street; and the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center, which stretches from Lewers Street as far as Seaside Avenue. Many shops can also be found in the hotels and resorts that line Waikiki beach.

7. Atlantis Submarines

Atlantis Submarines

Atlantis Submarines

Atlantis Submarines offers tourists the opportunity to stay dry in one of their passenger submarines while taking in the wonders of the undersea world. While exploring beneath the surface, guides provide fascinating details about the numerous fish and other sea creatures, as well as commentary on the various man-made objects that can be seen offshore. Among these are ships and airplanes that have been sunk intentionally to help create barriers and protective places for the reef and fish to re-grow after destruction by both weather and human activities.

These submarines can be a good option for families or those who are not interested in scuba diving but would still like a truly immersive underwater experience. If you are lucky, a whale might even meander by to inspect the sub.

Address: 252 Paoa Pl, Honolulu, Hawaii

Official site: www.atlantisadventures.com/waikiki

8. International Market Place

International Market

International Market | Loren Javier / photo modified

The International Market Place is a long-established collection of open-air shops in Waikiki, which take shelter under huge banyan trees strung with twinkly lights at night. Retail shops include internationally-renowned names like Saks Fifth Avenue, Burberry, and Swarovski, as well as locally famed products like Kona Coffee. Even if you aren't in the mood for shopping, this is a lovely area for a stroll and to people-watch, landscaped with tropical plants accented by water features.

This is also where you can find nearly any type of food you are craving, with a huge selection of both quick food and full-service restaurants, which represent everything from Asian cuisine to Tex-Mex. The International Market Place also hosts a wide variety of events and activities, including food festivals, concerts, Lei-making classes, and more. This can be a fun thing to do at night in Waikiki.

Address: 2330 Kalakaua Avenue, Waikiki, Hawaii

Official site: www.shopinternationalmarketplace.com

9. Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center

Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center in Waikiki

Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center in Waikiki | Bert Kimura / photo modified

The Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center, located in central Waikiki, is a modern shopping complex with all kinds of stores, from international chains to Hawaii-specific names. It is situated on the south (seaward) side of Kalakaua Avenue and contains clothing stores, boutiques, souvenir shops, jewelers, and restaurants.

The Royal Hawaiian Center also offers a wide variety of free things to do for couples, families, and everyone else. Kumu (teachers) conduct hula lessons, as well as ukulele classes and instruction in lauhala weaving and lei making. There are also regular hula shows, which feature traditional dancers in full costume, as well as an explanation of the art form's history and significance in Hawaiian culture. The center also provides live entertainment in the evening and frequent musical events featuring both traditional and contemporary Hawaiian music.

Address: 2201 Kalakaua Avenue, Honolulu, Hawaii

Official site: www.royalhawaiiancenter.com

10. US Army Museum of Hawaii

US Army Museum of Hawaii

US Army Museum of Hawaii | Loren Javier / photo modified

Among the exhibits in this small military museum are weapons from the time of the Hawaiian wars in the 18th century to the Second World War and the Vietnam War. Also on display are American soldiers' uniforms from the last 200 years, as well as enemy uniforms. Most interest is doubtless aroused by the old Hawaiian weapons studded with sharks' teeth. These were used in battles between former Hawaiian tribes. The museum also features temporary exhibits. The collection is located in a 1909 building originally built to defend Honolulu and Pearl Harbor.

Address: 2131 Kalia Rd, Honolulu, Hawaii

Official site: www.hiarmymuseumsoc.org

11. Surfing

Surfboards on Waikiki Beach

Surfboards on Waikiki Beach

Waikiki was brought into the international spotlight as the surfing Mecca by Duke Kahanamoku, Hawaiian surfer, instructor, and Olympic swimmer. The protected bay of Waikiki makes this an ideal place for surfing, especially beginners. It is a must-do for anyone visiting Waikiki, and there are plenty of rental shops along the beach where you can grab a board and hop a wave. For those who have no experience, surfing lessons are a great option to help you get your feet wet. Professional surfing instruction on Waikiki Beach is tailored to your experience level, helping newbies try it out for the first time and learn the right techniques from the start or helping seasoned surfers hone their skills.

Where to Stay in Waikiki for Sightseeing

We recommend these wonderful hotels near great shops and restaurants and the famous Waikiki Beach:

  • Halekulani Hotel: Old Hawaii luxury, beachfront, understated elegance, ocean-front pool with orchid motif, gracious staff, Hawaiian live music and hula dancing.
  • Embassy Suites by Hilton Waikiki Beach Walk: mid-range rates, central location, helpful staff, spacious suites with mini-kitchens, free cooked-to-order breakfast.
  • Lotus Honolulu at Diamond Head: affordable boutique hotel, quiet location, comfortable beds, free yoga, complimentary use of bikes.
  • Hilton Garden Inn Waikiki Beach: budget hotel, opposite the International Market Place, two blocks from Waikiki beach, rooftop pool, fitness room.

Tips and Tours: How to Make the Most of Your Visit to Waikiki

  • Oahu's Highlights: The Oahu and Pearl Harbor Sightseeing Tour from Waikiki is an excellent option for those who have only one day to see the island's top attractions or tourists who would prefer to sit back and listen to a knowledgeable guide and leave the driving to someone else. This 10-hour guided sightseeing tour includes a visit to Pearl Harbor's Visitor Center and a tour of the USS Arizona Memorial followed by a scenic drive to the island's north shore. There are plenty of stops for photo-ops, including tourist favorites like the Nuuanu Pali lookout, Hanauma Bay, and the Halona Blowhole, as well as several beaches.
  • Scenic Soaring: The adventurous will not want to miss the Waikiki Parasailing Experience in Oahu, a one-hour excursion that includes an eight or 10-minute parasailing experience. Perfect for couples, passengers are paired up for the flight and can even purchase photographs of the exciting moments. While other passengers are taking their turn, you can relax on the boat and watch for marine life, including sea turtles, dolphins, flying fish, and even migrating whales in the winter and spring.

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Exploring Honolulu: Tourists who are enjoying a vacation at one of Honolulu's top resorts will not want to miss out on the opportunity to explore the city and the surrounding area. Among Honolulu's top tourist attractions are several excellent museums, and natural sites like Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve and Diamond Head State Monument. The most visited place, however, is Pearl Harbor. The complex is home to the USS Arizona Memorial, an excellent visitor center, and several other historic attractions that commemorate those who lost their lives in the 1941 attack.

Beautiful Oahu: Because of the area's many things to do, visitors often choose to stay in Honolulu, but the Island of Oahu is small enough that tourists can stay in any one of the island's top-rated resorts and still visit Honolulu's attractions easily as a day trip. Surfers may want to consider staying on Oahu's north shore, where the waves are particularly gnarly. Couples might want to savor each evening's unforgettable sunset over the Pacific from the western shore, and families might be looking for a less crowded option among Oahu's most popular beaches.

Island-Hopping: Tourists with enough time will want to explore beyond Oahu and visit more of Hawaii's most visited tourist attractions. To the east, a wide variety of beaches and beautiful scenery await visitors to Maui, a popular place for surfing, swimming, and snorkeling. If you want to see an active volcano, look no further than the Big Island, home to Mauna Loa in Volcanoes National Park. West of Oahu sits Kauai, an island which is home to a variety of natural attractions and things to do, including the impressive Waimea Canyon and the iconic Na Pali cliffs.

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