Couples all over the world dream of visiting Waikiki on their Hawaiian honeymoon or romantic vacation. Why is Waikiki so popular? While Waikiki is technically a waterfront neighborhood of 1.5 square miles in Honolulu, on the island of Oahu in Hawaii, its fans will tell you it’s much more than that.
What is so special about Waikiki? Waikiki Beach is the answer that first comes up when you ask many people. Not only is it breathtaking, offering a 2-mile-long wide stretch of white sand along the turquoise blue water, but it’s also world-famous as the home of modern surfing.
While surfing originally began as the sport of Hawaiian royalty, Waikiki-born Duke Kahanamoku brought it to the world’s attention in the early 1900s. He won multiple Olympic gold medals as a swimmer, then would put on surfing exhibitions whenever he traveled to international swimming competitions. After he moved to Hollywood, California, he ignited the surfing craze there. People began to flock to Waikiki Beach to give it a try, and the area’s popularity soared.
Besides the world-famous Waikiki beaches, there are plenty of top-rated tourist attractions in Waikiki like Diamond Head and the Waikiki Aquarium. Plus, the Pearl Harbor National Museum is just a short drive away.
If you’re wondering what to do in Waikiki without a car, the good news is that the neighborhood is walkable, and most activities can easily be reached on foot or by the trolley system that runs throughout Honolulu.
This article will tell you all about the best things to do in Waikiki, Hawaii, including things to do in Waikiki for couples, things to do in Waikiki at night, and things to do in Waikiki on a budget, and unique things to do in Waikiki.
Surf on Waikiki Beach
Probably one of the most popular things to do in Waikiki is go surfing. The protected waters and long rolling waves at Waikiki Beach are perfect for beginners, so if you’ve never surfed, this is a great place to learn. There are plenty of professional instructors available.
You can also go snorkeling, paddleboarding, and outrigger canoeing. You can get in the water year-round at Waikiki without a wetsuit, as the water temperature ranges from mid-70s to low 80s.
Hang out on Waikiki Beach
If you don’t want to surf, enjoy watching others master the waves from a comfortable seat on the soft sand. Sip a refreshing drink as you relax in the sun and take in the incredible view of Diamond Head, the magnificent volcanic crater. This is one of the best things to do in Waikiki on a budget.
Snorkel off Waikiki Beach
You can find excellent snorkeling in the Waikiki Marine Conservation District at the southern end of the beach. It’s easily accessible from the Queen’s Beach or Kapiolani Park Beach sections (you can see the reef from there).
Walk the Waikiki Historic Trail
Follow the 21 surfboard markers throughout the area to learn about Waikiki’s fascinating history.
Absorb Hawaiian culture
Gain an appreciation for traditional Hawaiian hula and music at the free Kuhio Beach Hula Show, each Saturday night at Kuhio Beach Hula Mound. The authentic ceremony begins with the blowing of a conch shell and features top local dancers performing the sacred ancestral dances. This is one of the top things to do in Waikiki, and also one of the best things to do in Waikiki for free.
Hike Diamond Head
This impressive and famous volcanic crater towers 762 feet above Honolulu and frames the edge of Waikiki Beach. Hike up to the top and marvel at the amazing view of the city and Waikiki Beach. You can check out a World War II bunker along the way. This is not only one of the top attractions to visit in Waikiki, it’s also one of the most unique things to do in Waikiki.
Tour Iolani Palace
Head just outside the Waikiki area to visit Iolani Palace, the completely restored royal residence of Hawaii’s last reigning monarchs. Built in 1882 by King Kalakaua, it now serves as the “spiritual and physical multicultural epicenter of Hawaii.”
Visit this incredible landmark, the only official royal residence in the United States, and marvel at the stunning architecture, original furnishings, and fascinating history. The grounds are also wonderful to explore; thought to have been the site of an ancient “helau,” or place of worship, this is where King Kamehameha III established his official residence in 1845.
Explore Bishop Museum
Bishop Museum, or the Hawaii State Museum of Natural and Cultural History, was created to preserve the legacy of the founders of Hawaii and to educate visitors about Hawaii’s natural environment. It features fascinating exhibits and is another unique thing to do in Waikiki.
Visit the Honolulu Zoo
Sitting on just 42 acres, this zoo—created in the 1800s by the Hawaiian king—is an intimate and interesting place to visit. It features a wide variety of birds, reptiles, and animals, including some that are native to Hawaii, as well as a gorgeous array of native tropical plants.
Wander Kapiolani Park
Hawaii’s oldest public park, Kapiolani stretches over 500 acres at the eastern edge of Waikiki. Here you can walk, run, or bike; play tennis; have a picnic; and attend concerts. The Waikiki Aquarium is also located here.
One of the most romantic things in Waikiki to do for couples is to explore the Queen Kapiolani Garden. The park was created by her husband the king, and named for her; this garden features a fabulous assortment of flowering plants, including many that are native to Hawaii and some that are rare.
Visit the Waikiki Aquarium
This is a great thing to do in Waikiki when it’s raining, or you want to get out of the sun for a bit. You can see all sorts of marine life here, including rare deep-sea creatures, giant clams, endangered monk seals, and species that are found only in certain parts of Hawaii. It has excellent coral reef exhibits as well, including a coral farm where they grow coral colonies for other aquariums.
Fun fact: this is the second oldest aquarium in the U.S., having opened in 1904.
Walk the Manoa Falls Trail
This gorgeous natural attraction has been featured in a variety of movies including Jurassic Park. It’s an easy, roughly 2-mile out-and-back hike through the rainforest, ending at the lovely Manoa Falls waterfall, where you can cool off.
People watch from a historic perch
The Moana Hotel opened in 1901 as the first hotel on Waikiki Beach. It’s now part of the Moana Surfrider, and you can hang out in a rocking chair on the hotel’s front porch, relaxing as you watch people strolling the neighborhood’s main drag.
This is a fun thing to do in Waikiki for free. You can also get free guided tours of this grand hotel, which is on the National Register of Historic Places and offers a swanky and sophisticated vibe. It even features Waikiki’s only oceanfront spa, if you feel like splurging.
Golf with a view
Even experienced golfers may have trouble concentrating at the Ala Wai Golf Course, which has incredible views of Diamond Head, mountains, and the Honolulu skyline.
Take a catamaran cruise
One of the most romantic things to do in Waikiki for couples is to take a leisurely daytime or sunset cruise around the area and enjoy the spectacular views while you snuggle up—and perhaps sip something special.
There are plenty of cruise options off the shores of Waikiki Beach; the longest running catamaran is the Kepoikai II. You can also take a glass bottom catamaran cruise to see below the water as well as above it.
Take the trolley
A double decker bus that runs throughout the area, the Waikiki Trolley offers a hop-on, hop-off tour so you can check out all the sights. If you’re in Waikiki without a car, this is an easy way to get around. Choose from a variety of routes, including historic sites and the coastline.
Go below the sea
To check out the vibrant marine life around Waikiki without getting wet, take a ride on a submarine! Atlantis Submarines provides guided tours of the area, including shipwrecks, for a fascinating glimpse under the sea. This is definitely a unique thing to do in Waikiki.
Climb to the top of the Aloha Tower
Built as a lighthouse in 1926, this tall tower offers fantastic panoramic views of Waikiki and the whole island of Oahu. Climb it for incredible pictures and a lasting memory as you say Aloha to Waikiki (whether it’s hello or goodbye!).
Hit the shops
Waikiki has a ton of great shopping, from ritzy international boutiques to fun local shops. Top places to shop are the International Market Place, the Royal Hawaiian Center, Ala Moana, and the Waikiki Beach Walk. You can stroll along Kalakaua Avenue, the main street in Waikiki, for all sorts of shops as well.
Learn something and have fun for free
Looking for fun things to do in Waikiki for free? The Royal Hawaiian Center features all sorts of free live entertainment, from hula shows to concerts by local musicians, as well as free classes on lei making, ukulele, and hula dancing.
You can also explore this fascinating huge mall and relax where the Hawaiian royals used to, in the tropical garden at its heart.
Another fun and free thing to do in Waikiki is to take a tour of the historic Royal Hawaiian Hotel.
Salute the sunset
Waikiki faces southwest, providing the perfect setting for spectacular sunsets. You’ll have your choice of beachfront bars from which you can toast the sun’s glorious descent into the Pacific Ocean; two recommended spots are the Moana Surfrider Beach Bar and Duke’s. Watching the sunset from the sand is a top thing to do in Waikiki on a budget.
Enjoy an authentic luau
A luau is on the “must-do” list of most Hawaiian visitors. The Queens Waikiki Luau at the International Market Place is considered to be the most authentic luau on Oahu and is one of the top attractions to visit in Waikiki. It features traditional Polynesian dances, hula lessons, and a feast of authentic Hawaiian dishes.
Enjoy the nightlife
There are plenty of things to do in Waikiki at night, from luaus (see above) to live shows to fun nightclubs and bars. Popular spots include Duke’s Canoe Club, Tiki’s Grill and Bar, Arnold’s Beach Bar, Rum Fire, Mai Tai Bar, Play Bar, and Sky Waikiki. An iconic thing to do in Waikiki is to have a Mai Tai at the famous House Without a Key restaurant at the Halekulani Hotel.
A fun and free thing to do in Waikiki at night is to walk along the beach and admire the brightly lit resorts along the edge. On Friday nights, the Hilton Hawaiian Village Resort puts on a fireworks display.
Pay your respects at the Pearl Harbor National Memorial
Just outside of the Waikiki area, the Pearl Harbor National Memorial is one of the most significant—and solemn—stops in Honolulu. Commemorating the devastating surprise Japanese attack on December 7, 1941, this memorial site includes the USS Arizona Memorial, which you can tour, as well as other exhibits about this vitally important moment in American history.
Try local cuisine
Hawaii’s cuisine is innovative, healthy, and delicious. A fun thing to do in Waikiki is sample all the local specialties like poke, kalua pork, spam musubi, and loco moco, and lau lau. Take a food tour, or create your own by asking locals for their favorite dishes and dining recommendations.
Popular local restaurants include Rainbow Drive-In, Sam’s Kitchen, Me’s Bar-B-Que, Maguro Brothers, and Marugame Udon. You can also find all sorts of dining options at both the Royal Hawaiian Center and the International Market Place.
For dessert, be sure to try a malasada, which is like a doughnut without a hole. One of the best spots in Waikiki for these is Leonard’s Bakery, which has been selling them since the 1950s. Chase it with a cup of the world-famous Kona coffee.
We hope you’ve enjoyed reading about our picks for the 25 best things to do in Waikiki Hawaii. Are you planning to visit there soon? Have you been and have more suggestions for best things to do in Waikiki? Let us know in the comments!