The Top 9 Things to Do in Waikiki, Honolulu

Waikiki is one of the top vacation destinations in the world
Waikiki is one of the top vacation destinations in the world | © incamerastock / Alamy Stock Photo
Honolulu’s Waikiki neighborhood has been a vacation spot for centuries – in the 1800s, even Hawaiian royalty spent their time here. And it continues to be a favorite among travelers and surfing enthusiasts worldwide. Explore all there is on offer with our list of the top nine activities.

Diamond Head Summit Trail

Hiking Trail, Natural Feature
Ariel views of Diamond Head, Oahu | © GE Keoni
© GE Keoni
Diamond Head is part of a dormant volcano that is a defining feature of the Waikiki landscape. In fact, it is a US State Monument. The hike to the top typically takes about 45 minutes, but even though it’s short, it’s also very steep, with an elevation gain of 560ft (170m) in a quick period of time. But once you reach the observation platform at the summit, you’ll realize that the trek was worth it. From here, travelers enjoy unforgettable panoramic views of Waikiki and the Pacific Ocean.
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Waikiki Beach

Natural Feature
There is no doubt that Waikiki’s most popular tourist attraction is its spectacular white-sand beach. Along this 2mi (3.2km) stretch, there are a number of great spots to sunbathe, cool off in the gentle surf, or take in a beautiful Hawaiian sunset. With the Diamond Head crater looming in the background, the scenery doesn’t get much better. When you’re finished at the beach, the nightlife of Waikiki is just steps away.
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USS Arizona Memorial

Memorial
USS Arizona Memorial, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii
© James Nesterwitz / Alamy Stock Photo
Pay your respects to the departed at the USS Arizona Memorial, a 184ft-long (56m) structure that commemorates those who lost their lives during the Pearl Harbor attack on December 7, 1941. The memorial, 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, you can 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.
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Iolani Palace

Building, Historical Landmark
Built in 1882, the Iolani Palace was once the official residence of Hawaii’s monarchy. Today, visitors can experience the grandeur of the place, thanks to meticulous restoration work. The throne room, in captivating crimson and gold, is where King Kalākaua entertained guests, and on the second floor, you can check out the private suites. The palace grounds are thought to have been an ancient place of worship. Highlights include the royal tomb and the coronation pavilion, where the Royal Hawaiian Band often performs.
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Honolulu Zoo

Zoo
© Wanphen chawarung / Shutterstock
Animal lovers will no doubt venture over to the Honolulu Zoo, between Waikiki Beach and Diamond Head. Here, you’ll find 42 acres (17ha) home to more than 900 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, because the lush gardens feature an array of plants and flowers, many of which are indigenous to Hawaii.
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Royal Hawaiian Center

Shopping Mall

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 and Hawaiian quilting and weaving courses.

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Shangri La

Historical Landmark
Playhouse, fountain and pool with view of Diamond Head at Shangri La, Doris Duke's home, in the Kahala neighborhood.
© Charles Crust / Alamy Stock Photo

Shangri La is the impressive estate of Doris Duke, heiress to 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, she 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.

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US Army Museum of Hawaii

Museum

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.

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Kalakaua Avenue

Cafe, Contemporary, Coffee, $$$
© Jeff Whyte / Shutterstock

Known as the heart of Waikiki and named after King David Kalākaua, 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.

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These recommendations were updated on August 17, 2020 to keep your travel plans fresh.