There is no doubt that Waikiki’s most popular tourist attraction is its spectacular white sand beach. Along this world famous, two-mile stretch of sand, there are a number of great spots to go tanning, cool off in the gentle surf, or take in a beautiful Hawaiian sunset. With the stunning Diamond Head crater looming in the background, the scenery can’t get much better. When you’re finished at the beach, the nightlife of Waikiki is just steps away.
Diamond Head is part of a dormant volcano that has become a defining feature of the Waikiki area and of Hawaii in general. In fact, it is a US State Monument. The hike to the top is not very long, it typically takes about 45 minutes or so. While it is not particularly demanding, the walk is a steep one, involving an elevation gain of 560 feet in just a short period of time. As you reach the observation platform at the summit, you’ll realize that the trek was worth it. From here, travellers enjoy unforgettable panoramic views of Waikiki and the Pacific Ocean.
Pay your respects to the departed at the USS Arizona Memorial, a 184-foot long structure that commemorates those who lost their lives during the Pearl Harbor attack on December 7, 1941. The memorial, which was built in 1964, straddles the sunken battleship and includes a marble wall bearing the names of all 1,177 sailors and marines who were killed. Prior to a boat ride to the memorial, visitors watch a documentary about the Pearl Harbor attack. Millions of people visit the site each year; as has every US President since Franklin D. Roosevelt and Japanese Emperors Hirohito and Akihito.
Built in 1882, the Iolani Palace was the official residence of Hawaii’s monarchy. Today visitors can experience the grandeur of the property, thanks to meticulous restoration work. The Throne Room, with its captivating crimson and gold colors, is where King Kalakaua entertained guests. On the second floor, you can check out the royal family’s private suites. The palace grounds are thought to have been an ancient place of worship. Highlights to see here include the royal tomb and the coronation pavilion, where the Royal Hawaiian Band often performs.
Take a break from the sun and head to the Royal Hawaiian Center, one of the largest shopping malls in Hawaii. With more than 100 shops and restaurants, you’ll find almost everything here, from luxury brands and upscale dining to surf shops and ice cream. Located in the center of the mall is a lush garden, as well as a bronze statue of Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, the great-granddaughter of King Kamehameha. The Royal Hawaiian also offers daily cultural programs, such as hula dancing, Hawaiian quilting, and weaving courses.
The waters of Waikiki have been a veritable playground since the 1800s, when Hawaiian royalty used longboards to surf the waves. Because it is a protected bay, Waikiki is a prime spot to learn the sport, the waves are typically gentle rollers that provide surfers with a smooth, long ride. There are plenty of outfits that offer lessons for beginners too, and if surfing doesn’t sound appealing, there are plenty of other adventurous options, from jet skiing to kayaking.
Animal lovers should carve out time to venture over to the Honolulu Zoo, located between Waikiki beach and Diamond Head. The 42 acres are home to 905 different animals from the tropics, including some rare ones: Komodo dragons, giraffes and many different types of turtles and tortoises. Animals aren’t the only draw here either because the zoo’s lush gardens feature an array of plants and flowers, many of which are indigenous to Hawaii.
Just a short walk from the beach, the US Army Museum of Hawaii was originally built to protect the islands from invading forces. Today it is home to a museum that traces the military story of Hawaii, from ancient times to the Vietnam War. History buffs and anyone with an interest in the military will find this free museum fascinating. Plus, you’ll get a chance to see old helicopters, tanks and other military equipment.
Shangri La is the impressive estate of Doris Duke, heiress to the fortune her father had amassed as the founder of the American Tobacco Company and Duke Energy Company. She became interested in philanthropy and experiencing different cultures through travel, eventually becoming enamored with Islamic art after seeing the Taj Mahal in India. Over a period of nearly 60 years, Duke amassed a vast collection of Islamic art, now on display at Shangri La. Admire the intricate mosaics, tile work, carpeting and architecture of the house itself. Outside, the ocean views and beautifully maintained gardens are magnificent.
Known as the heart of Waikiki and named after King David Kalakaua, this bustling thoroughfare is home to the area’s most prominent hotels, restaurants and shops. There is no shortage of places to stock up on Hawaiian specialties like Kona coffee, macadamia nuts and fruit preserves. You can also check out some of Waikiki’s historic hotels, like the elegant Moana Surfrider and the bright pink Royal Hawaiian. On Kalakaua Avenue, you’ll be in the middle of all the action.