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Waikiki Beach Sunset
Sunset – Waikiki Beach – Honolulu

Imagine an area of less than one square mile that has over 30,000 hotel rooms. Imagine that this area is blessed with one of the most user-friendly beaches in the world. Where just about anyone can take a surfing lesson and ride their first wave. A place with more restaurants than most decent-sized towns. A place with limitless shopping. Well, this place actually exists. Waikiki is the essence of carefree. Visitors here tend to feel safe, warm and happy.

Waikiki is about walking and gawking, eating and shopping, surfing and soaking up the sun. You don’t come to Waikiki to get away from the action; you come here to get a piece of the action. This is the place where you and 4 million of your closest friends each year embrace the tropics and each other. If you’re looking for a quiet, out-of-the-way destination, look elsewhere. Waikiki is a humming, happening visitor mecca.

Waikiki – Oahu Map

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Waikiki Things To Do

Tantalus Drive

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No matter how long you stay in Honolulu, at some point you should take a drive along Tantalus and Round Top.

This 10-mile-long road wiggles and winds up the mountains through a pretty forest above Honolulu to the 1,610-foot level, and in the process you’ll gain an appreciation of Honolulu’s beauty you never really expected.

This is a great road to drive in a convertible. Leadfoots may be tempted to take the winding road fast, but you’ll actually want to drive this road slowly, or it’ll be over too soon, and you’ll miss some of the scrumptious scenery. Keep an eye out for pullouts along the way. Several have fantastic views of the leeward side of O‘ahu below you, though sometimes bad elements may give you second thoughts about stopping.

Sunset Walks

Early evening is our favorite time to experience Waikiki, when the intensity of the sun is replaced by the joy of people-watching. Stroll along the sidewalks of Kalakaua Avenue (or Lewers, which is also pretty alive at night and considered part of the “Beachwalk” area) and shop, snack and enjoy the warm, secure feeling that dusk in the tropics provides. Incidentally, the main street, Kalakaua, has surprisingly few signs verifying that it’s the street you’re on.

If you want to stroll along the beach, you can walk from the Hilton at one end of Waikiki all the way to Kapiolani Park at the other. Those few areas that lack sand have other means of traversing the shoreline that will keep you dry. A sunset walk along Waikiki Beach is always a dreamy experience as you listen to music often spilling from the various resorts. If you walk from the Diamond Head side toward Honolulu, you’ll be walking toward the sun. During part of the summer, the sun doesn’t set over the ocean from most of Waikiki.

Waikiki Restaurants

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A Waikiki restaurant receives an Ono in our books when they stand out from the rest.

Hula Grill Waikiki

On the second floor of the Outrigger Waikiki hotel, the restaurant has seating that mostly overlooks the beach. The atmosphere is breezy and relaxed, with bamboo and koa wood everywhere. A great spot to get breakfast if the buffet line at Duke’s downstairs is too long. (And it probably is….) All the classic meat, eggs and pancakes with a local twist. They don’t churn you through the way so many other Waikiki restaurants do, and they serve breakfast late, which is great if you want to start your day by going to the beach first. Breakfast and lunch prices are reasonable for what you get and where you’re getting it. Dinner (steak, seafood, salad) is far pricier. Good vegetarian options. Excellent service.

Chart House

Dinner is a real treat here. Not part of the national Chart House chain, they have a classic steakhouse style (gas lamps on each table, polite service and high prices) with great seafood and a killer pupu menu. Their prime rib borders on perfection and sells out nightly. Some worthy alternatives are the stuffed ‘ahi or the famous garlic steak. For more intimate seating, try to get one of their booths. We like to sit on the lounge side with the soft live Hawaiian music nightly. Seating is first-come first-served and has the same elevated view of the harbor. They have an enormous pupu menu, plus they offer some of the expensive entrées in a smaller portion size and price.

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Waikiki beach weather

Waikiki has an embarrassingly equable climate. The average high is 84 °F, and it has never gotten above 95 °F since thermometers have been in the islands. Waikiki gets only 20 inches of rain per year, and when it does rain, it’s often in the form of short, intense showers.

Waikiki beach hotels

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Picking where to stay in Waikiki is daunting. Price is presumably a factor, and generally, the closer you get to the water, the higher the price. Distance to the heart of Waikiki is also a consideration. If you don’t want to walk great distances whenever you want to experience what Waikiki has to offer, the best location is on the ocean side of Kalakaua Avenue between Saratoga Avenue and the Waikiki Beach Center. The area around the Royal Hawaiian and the Moana Surfrider hotels is usually considered to be the center of Waikiki life. The following Waikiki beach hotels are real gems compared to others.

Halekulani

Wow, where do we start? This is an awesome and relaxing resort. It started as a private home back in late 1800s and has been a hotel since 1907 when rooms went for about $6, but it opened in its current form in 1984.

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Services are unmatched here. For instance, the check-in: Forget the desk—the greeter will take you on a tour, then to your room and give you a box of chocolates and an excellent fruit platter. They track your preferences and try to anticipate your future needs. If you order coffee first thing in the morning, next time you stay, they’ll already have it covered. This is the way a resort should be run. You want it; you’ll get it. Don’t like your pillow? They’ll get you a different kind. They are there for every guest’s needs.

Room amenities are high and include deep soaking tubs. The motif is white and pale blue—designed to resemble their name: Halekulani means house befitting heaven.

New Otani Kaimana Beach Hotel

This hotel consists of two buildings: an oceanfront high rise and their Diamond Head wing (3-story walk-up). Their oceanfront category rooms are extremely intimate with the beach—they look straight down onto the sand—and since the tallest room is nine stories up, you’ll never feel completely detached.

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Rooms are clean and modern. The bathrooms have hand-held showerheads, which come in handy to clean your sandy feet because it’s on lovely Sans Souci Beach. The beach is the reason for the Real Gem rating. Though still expensive, you won’t get rooms like that for this price in more centrally located Waikiki resorts. And there’s the reason for the lower prices—it’s a fairly long walk to the heart of Waikiki, and many will opt to drive and pay to park. But you’re also away from the buzz of Waikiki. This is a smaller, quieter resort than others you’ll find on the beach. Rooms ending in -17 have wrap-around lanais and grand views of the entire Waikiki coastline. We’re told those book out for 4th of July and New Year’s fireworks shows.

Waikiki Shopping

If you’re looking for gifts to bring back home for family and friends (or maybe something for yourself), you came to the right island. Daytime in Waikiki is all about the beach and water activities; nighttime is all about the food and shopping. Opportunities to spend money are everywhere, but don’t be surprised if the retail clerks at the more upscale places largely ignore you—they know from experience that most vacationers from the mainland are just browsing. The salespeople prefer to instead focus their attention on the overseas tourists, many of whom come here specifically to shop. (Believe it or not, Hawai‘i’s outrageously high prices are a steal compared to Tokyo). It’s not practical to list and evaluate every store, so here’s some general guidance on where on O‘ahu you’ll want to shop.

The obvious place to start your Waikiki shopping spree is Kalakaua Avenue (the main drag running through Waikiki.) Tons of high-end stores line the street (although for the most part, they are the same kinds of stores you’d find in any major metro area of nearly a million people.) The nearby Ala Moana Center, just outside the boundaries of Waikiki, is the largest mall in the state.

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