As far as tropical vacations go, Hawaii is tops in the United States. Everyone knows about the beauty and splendor the island has to offer. Out of the 50 states, Hawaii’s history stands alone as unique. Its location in the southern Pacific Ocean is unmatched. Many travelers from the contiguous 48 states look to the island state for much-needed getaways at all times throughout the year.
One of Hawaii’s best destinations is the neighborhood of Waikiki, a southeastern extension of the capital, Honolulu. Located on the picturesque island of Oahu, it’s a place with a lot to do, from sparkling beaches to fine dining to cultural and educational experiences. Waikiki has been a vacation town since the mid-1800s when the royal family of Hawaii put in the resources to build it up for fun and recreation. But what about vacationers who may not quite have a royal budget?
Those folks can rest easy because there is no shortage of things for people to do in Waikiki that won’t break the bank and won’t put vacation spending over the top. Waikiki can lend itself to a savings-friendly trip if you know where to look. Here, you will find out a list of 22 exciting things to do in Waikiki.
Table of Contents:
- 1. Walking in Waikiki Beach
- 2. Visiting Diamond Head State Monument
- 3. Attending Free Hula Shows
- 4. Visiting Iolani Palace
- 5. Taking Waikiki Trolley Hop-on Hop-off tour
- 6. Visiting Waikiki Aquarium
- 7. Attending in Hilton Hawaiian Village Fireworks Show
- 8. Aloha Stadium Swap Meet and Marketplace
- 9. Attending Free Waikiki Concerts
- 10. O Na Lani Sunset Stories
- 11. Free Cultural and Historical Tours
- 12. Pearl Harbor National Memorial
- 13. Duke Kahanamoku Lagoon
- 14. Honolulu Chinatown
- 15. Honolulu Museum of Art and Shangri-La
- 16. Makapuu Point Lighthouse Trail
- 17. Manoa Falls Trail
- 18. Magic Island Lagoon
- 19. Hanauma Bay State Park
- 20. Foster Botanical Gardens
- 21. Fort DeRussy Beach Park
- 22. Bishop Museum
- Bonus: What is the best thing to do in Waikiki, Hawaii at night?
1. Walking in Waikiki Beach
It seems obvious, but the first thing anyone should try and do upon arrival in Waikiki is head straight for the beach. When translated from Hawaiian, Waikiki means “spouting waters,” named by the Hawaiian royal family for its ideal surfing conditions.
The beaches in Waikiki offer miles of white sand and churning surf ranging from the Hilton Hawaiian Village in the west to Kapiolani Park in the east. Restaurants, high-rise hotels, parking, B.B.Q. Grills, surfing, and boating vendors line the whole strip, and there’s so much activity for anyone to enjoy, no matter the budget.
2. Visiting Diamond Head State Monument
Diamond Head is Hawaii’s most famous natural monument. It’s a 475-acre crater formed 300,000 years ago from a massive volcanic eruption. Today it’s best known for its beautiful hiking trail, stunning views, and military history. It costs $5 per person to enter the park, and children get in for free. Just be aware that reservations are required and can be made on the Diamond Head website.
3. Attending Free Hula Shows
Hula may not seem all that complex to outsiders. Still, the dance is actually a very intricate storytelling method and an essential cultural touchstone for the people of Hawaii. Historically it was used to entertain royals, pass down historical knowledge, celebrate special events, and practice religious rituals.
Waikiki is home to multiple sites where hula entertains audiences nightly or weekly at no cost. Vacationers and tourists can check out the dance shows at Kuhio Beach, Royal Grove, and the International Market Place. Anyone who isn’t familiar will want to see these shows to experience the islands’ history and the people’s deep cultural roots. Times will vary, so do some research before showing up.
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4. Visiting Iolani Palace
Before it became part of the United States, Hawaii was an independent kingdom with its own royal family. Iolani Palace was the home of King Kalakaua and his sister, Queen Liliuokalani. The palace is beautiful and grand, showing off the rich resources the Hawaiian royal family once possessed.
After the overthrow of the royals, Iolani remained the seat of government for many years, going through many changes. Today it has been restored to its original look. While guided tours can be a bit pricey, those vacationing on a budget can walk the halls for under $25.
5. Taking Waikiki Trolley Hop-on Hop-off tour
The trolley in Waikiki is the perfect way to get around and see all of the city’s sites while getting to know the area. Each of the four separate lines is built around a specific type of attraction. There’s one for the beaches and coastline, one for the historical sites, one for shopping, and one for the best dining in the city.
The “hop-on, hop-off” policy of the system is perfect for travelers looking to experience as many parts of the city as possible. There are all kinds of levels of pass packages. Whether your stay will be a few days or weeks, there’s an available package to suit your sightseeing needs.
6. Visiting Waikiki Aquarium
Founded in 1904, the Waikiki Aquarium is the best on the whole island for learning about the Pacific Ocean’s aquatic life. It has so much to offer, with dozens of exhibits dedicated to everything from coral reefs to marine life, seals, and drifters. It remains one of the best places for a vacationing family, even after a century of operation. Adults can get in for $12 and kids for $5, so it won’t break the bank.
7. Attending in Hilton Hawaiian Village Fireworks Show
Back in 1988, the Hilton Hawaiian Hotel did a complete renovation of its facility in Waikiki and, with it, instituted a new tradition of a weekly fireworks show every Friday night. While staying at the Hilton is not necessarily a budget-friendly part of a Waikiki trip, you can see the fireworks from various places along the beach if you know where to go. Free parking is available around the area. You can also park at the Hilton in a pinch for just $10. There’s nothing better than fireworks on a beautiful Hawaiian night.
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8. Aloha Stadium Swap Meet and Marketplace
Traveling to Aloha Stadium from Waikiki will take about 20 minutes, but the treasures you can find here and the savings you’ll get on them are well worth it. The swap meet has been known as Hawaii’s premiere outdoor market since its founding in 1979. People come from around the world to enjoy savings on souvenirs, clothing, accessories, food, and antiques. You won’t want to leave the island without something special to remember your trip. Whatever you’re looking for, you can find it at the Aloha Stadium Marketplace.
9. Attending Free Waikiki Concerts
It doesn’t take a lot of effort to find a free show in Waikiki. The Royal Hawaiian Band, founded in 1836 by King Kamehameha, typically performs for free every Friday and Sunday throughout the year.
Additionally, the Waikiki beach walk has a popular Sunday concert series where many of the island’s best acts perform for the public. It seems like all you’ll have to do is look up and see a free musical act somewhere along the beach.
10. O Na Lani Sunset Stories
Beginning nightly with ceremonial torch lighting, this storytelling event features hula dancing and historical recounting in honor of Queen Emma. It’s held at the International Marketplace, and anyone can come and enjoy the show at no cost. It’s another excellent way to learn more about the history of the Hawaiian people.
11. Free Cultural and Historical Tours
If paying to see the Iolani Palace isn’t within budget, Waikiki has some enlightening historical and cultural tours that anyone can join for free. These tours are designed to pass on the Hawaiian people’s rich history and keep the island’s spirit alive. Free tour options include the Moana Surfrider Historical Tour at the Surfrider Hotel and the Royal Hawaiian Historical Tour at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel.
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12. Pearl Harbor National Memorial
A short drive up the road in Honolulu will bring you to the site of one of America’s most infamous military events. The Pearl Harbor attack prompted the United States to join World War II and change the course of history. The memorial includes a visitor center, a museum, and the ability to take a boat ride out to the monument of the U.S.S. Arizona. This ship was destroyed in the bombing. Reservations are not even required to experience this dark slice of U.S. history.
13. Duke Kahanamoku Lagoon
The Kahanamoku Lagoon is run and maintained by the Hilton Hawaiian but is open to anyone in the beach area of Waikiki for free use. It’s a large saltwater lagoon with a state-of-the-art circulation system that keeps the waters clean and safe for sunbathers and swimmers alike. While it’s just 100 feet from the actual beach, the lagoon is a perfect place to bring kids. Parents can relax and feel secure while still enjoying the beautiful weather of Waikiki.
14. Honolulu Chinatown
Many U.S. cities have a Chinatown of their own, but Honolulu’s is one of the largest, featuring an open-air market, a bustling arts scene, and some of the best restaurants and bars on the island. Walking tours of the neighborhood are also available to check out the scene in more detail.
15. Honolulu Museum of Art and Shangri-La
The art museum aims to provide the community with educational and aesthetic experiences like no other. It was founded almost a century ago by a family who valued art and wanted to share that love with the rest of the island community. Today, it’s one of the best places on the islands for those who appreciate the visual arts. Shangri-La is the museum’s extension dedicated to the Islamic community’s art, culture, and history. These stunning attractions are both well worth the cost of admission, which varies according to the days of the week.
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16. Makapuu Point Lighthouse Trail
As another section under the jurisdiction of the state parks, Makapuu Point Trail accesses stunning ocean views that tourists name among the greatest in the world. The trail takes about two hours to complete but gets very hot and dry, so sunscreen and plenty of water are recommended.
17. Manoa Falls Trail
The 1.7-mile Manoa Falls Trail may look familiar to some. It’s been used in countless television and cinematic productions for its “essential Hawaii” look. Considered relatively challenging, the trail is open year-round and will usually be full of people looking for a view of the natural splendor of Hawaii. Affordable parking is available for under $10.
18. Magic Island Lagoon
Magic Island is a manmade peninsula featuring a shallow lagoon, perfect for young swimmers. People also frequent the area for fishing and scuba diving, as it’s a nice place to look at the tropical ocean life there. The park is shady with picnic tables, so families can enjoy a full day of fun at Magic Island.
19. Hanauma Bay State Park
Hanauma Bay is one of Hawaii’s most popular spots for snorkeling. For $25, guests can take part in some wonderful adventures where they’ll see coral reefs and diverse ocean life. The parking lot fee is just $3 but plan ahead because it tends to fill up very quickly.
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20. Foster Botanical Gardens
Back in the 1850s, a doctor by the name of William Hillebrand planted some magnificent trees directly in the center of Honolulu. Those trees became the centerpiece of what is now the Foster Botanical Gardens, a peaceful getaway and escape from the bustle of the city center. Admission is only $5 for adults and includes a conservatory, a butterfly garden, 14 acres of tropical plant growth, and a peaceful time for all nature lovers.
21. Fort DeRussy Beach Park
Fort DeRussy is a 71-acre park located directly on the beach in Waikiki. Despite being completely open to the public, it is a reservation of land maintained entirely by the military. The park has beautiful beach access, a children’s playground, public restrooms and showers, and affordable parking.
22. Bishop Museum
The Bishop Museum is dedicated entirely to the unique heritage of Hawaii and the Pacific islands. General admission for adults is under $30, and they host a wide variety of special events to attract visitors, such as after-hours events at night and multiple festivals throughout the year.
Bonus: What is the best thing to do in Waikiki, Hawaii at night?
Waikiki, located in Honolulu, Hawaii, offers a vibrant nightlife with a variety of activities and entertainment options. Here are some of the best things to do in Waikiki at night:
Enjoy Nighttime Beach Activities: Take a stroll along Waikiki Beach under the moonlight, or participate in beachside activities like night surfing or beach yoga.
Watch a Luau Show: Experience Hawaiian culture by attending a traditional luau, where you can enjoy authentic food, music, and hula dancing performances.
Dine at Oceanfront Restaurants: Waikiki offers a wide range of oceanfront restaurants and bars where you can enjoy delicious Hawaiian cuisine while overlooking the ocean.
Attend Live Music Events: Many bars and venues in Waikiki host live music performances, ranging from local Hawaiian musicians to international acts.
Explore Night Markets: Some nights, you might find night markets or street fairs featuring local artisans, crafts, and food vendors. These events offer a unique shopping and dining experience.
Take a Sunset Cruise: While not technically at night, sunset cruises departing from Waikiki provide stunning views of the sun setting over the Pacific Ocean.
Visit Bars and Nightclubs: Waikiki has a variety of bars and nightclubs where you can dance, enjoy drinks, and socialize with both locals and fellow tourists.
Watch a Fireworks Display: Depending on the time of year, you might be able to catch a fireworks display, often held in celebration of special events or holidays.
Explore Waikiki Beach Walk: This pedestrian-friendly area is lined with shops, restaurants, and entertainment options, creating a lively atmosphere in the evenings.
Attend Cultural Shows: Look for cultural shows that highlight traditional Hawaiian arts, music, and dance, offering an opportunity to learn about the local heritage.
Stargazing: If you’re interested in astronomy, consider heading to a stargazing tour or visiting a planetarium in the area.
Relax at a Rooftop Bar: Some of the hotels in Waikiki offer rooftop bars with panoramic views of the city and the ocean. It’s a great place to unwind and enjoy the night skyline.
Remember that activities and events can vary based on the time of year and local schedules. It’s a good idea to check ahead of time for any special events or performances that might be taking place during your visit.
When you’re taking a vacation to a place like Hawaii, Waikiki is a perfect spot. Its beaches, amenities, and attractions are perfect for bringing that much-needed break from the stress of everyday life. They can also provide you with some valuable cultural, educational, and relaxing experiences that won’t break your budget and keep you coming back to the island for more. So enjoy what makes Hawaii so unique, and keep it stress-free.