Waikiki Beach is one of the most famous beaches in the world, earning its place as a dream destination for anyone craving for a tropical island adventure. They can enjoy this kind of adventure without leaving the comforts of a modern lifestyle. In the old days, those with Hawaiian royal blood romped on its golden shore and took a dip in its turquoise waters. With a holiday in Waikiki, visitors will get to re-trace the path of ancient and contemporary royalty, from Kamehameha the Great to Prince Charles, as well as King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia of Spain.
Waikiki has always been associated with luxury, where the historic Moana Hotel still stands as the Moana Surfrider. If you’re planning a trip to Oahu, make sure that you drop by Waikiki. Miss it, and it will be like you’ve never been to Hawaii at all. Since the whole of Oahu has so much to offer, here are the top picks for the must-see sites in the neighborhood of Waikiki in the capital city, Honolulu.
Long before it came to be known as a royal retreat since the 19th century, the Waikiki area used to be a wetland. In fact, its name “Waikiki” is translated in English as “sprouting fresh water,” referring to the springs and streams that flowed into the wetlands that used to cut off the Waikiki neighborhood from other parts of Honolulu. Waikiki stretches from the Ala Wai Canal, which was intended solely for draining its wetlands, to the Diamond Head on the east.
Although Waikiki Beach itself is not very long compared with other beaches in Oahu, it has a remarkable panorama featuring the Diamond Head cone, and is well loved for its balmy weather. Waikiki is famous for its beach breaks, making it a popular haven for surfers. It is no wonder that the statue of Duke Kahanamoku, the person credited for making surfing popular as a modern sport, is among the most visited and photographed landmarks in Waikiki. Long ago, Hawaiian royalty rode Waikiki’s waves on the early versions of longboards, although Duke himself does not come from the royal bloodline.
Duke Kahanamoku statue on Kuhio Beach Park
In a stance that seems to say an eternal “Aloha,” the statue of Duke Kahanamoku stands on Kuhio Beach, welcoming first-time and returning tourists with open arms. Duke Paoa Kahinu Mokoe Hulikohola Kahanamoku was an Olympic swimming champion. Although not a nobleman, he was named “Duke” after his father, Halapu Kahanamoku, following the custom of having the eldest son inherit his father’s name. Halapu was christened “Duke” because he was born at the time Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, went to visit Hawaii.
Duke Kahanamoku was raised in the area where the Hilton Hawaiian Village now stands. Because he lived close to Waikiki Beach, Duke Kahanamoku spent his childhood swimming and surfing there. He used wood from a koa tree and fashioned it after the olo boards of ancient Hawaiians. He then called his surf board his “papa nui” (which is Polynesian for “big papa” or “big place”).
He broke an Olympic record in swimming in 1912 and was also in the US Olympic water polo team in 1932. Being a true “waterman,” he traveled to other countries, such as Australia, and introduced surfing as a sport. He also brought it to Santa Cruz, California, where surfing was first known in the US Mainland. Before then, surfing was only known to native Hawaiians, which is why he was hailed as the surf king, and the statue on Kuhio Beach was erected in his honor. The Kuhio Beach Park is situated somewhere between the Diamond Head side of Waikiki Beach and the Moana Surfrider, which, in itself is a must-see for its grandness and historical significance.
The Moana Surfrider (The First Lady of Waikiki)
The Moana Surfrider is regarded as “the flagship of tourism in Hawaii.” Built during the latter part of the 19th century on Kalakaua Avenue, it was officially launched in 1901, making it the first ever hotel in Waikiki. It was known then as the Moana Hotel due to its location. The Hawaiian term “moana” means “open sea” when translated in English. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Moana Hotel came to be known as The First Lady of Waikiki. It boasts of European architecture, with Ionic columns and elaborate woodwork, which were very characteristic of the period when the hotel was built. Its defining feature is its majestic verandas facing an equally regal view, the Pacific Ocean.
The Moana Hotel was originally the brainchild of Walter Chamberlain Peacock, an affluent landlord in Honolulu. It was sold to the Matson Navigation Company in 1932, which then turned over all of its Waikiki operations to Sheraton Company in 1959. The Moana Hotel came to be known as “Sheraton Moana Surfrider" in 1989, when a restoration project turned the Sheraton Surfrider Hotel into a wing of the Moana. It was not until 2007 that the Moana Surfrider became “Moana Surfrider – A Westin Resort,” following a rebranding done by its management company, Starwood Hotels & Resorts.
The Waikiki Beach Walk
Regarded as the epitome of the new Waikiki, the Waikiki Beach Walk is eight acres of entertainment and colorful displays highlighting the unique blend of ethnicity and modernism. As if to mimic the beautiful contrast of Waikiki’s landscape, the Walk is lined with a wide variety of retail stores where you can buy authentic Hawaiian handicraft or the latest fashion finds.
If shopping and culture are your passion, then you’ll love Mana Hawaii - Spirit of Hawaii Nei. Located at the second level of the Walk, it is a one-of-a-kind store with an authentic native Hawaiian theme and operated jointly by small-scale local entrepreneurs. The best thing about Mana Hawai’i is that it allows you to get a Hawaiian lomi lomi massage, books on Hhla and Hawaiian literature, ukuleles, as well as art, decor, and jewelry pieces made by Hawaii’s finest artists and craftsmen. All these in just one store.
The Diamond Head Crater
The tuff cone, which now serves as a Waikiki icon, is known to Hawaiians as Le’ahi, meaning “brow of the yellowfin tuna,” because of its ridgeline that is shaped like that of the fish’s dorsal fin. Its English name “Diamond Head” came from the 19th century British seafarers who visited Hawaii and thought that the calcite crystals the volcanic rocks were encrusted with were diamonds. Today, the volcanic tuff cone is a US State Monument and a landmark that defines Waikiki.
The crater is home to Fort Ruger, the first US military reservation built on Hawaii in an effort to maintain strong defense of the US harbors. A portion of the crater is closed to the general public, because it serves as a platform for antennas used by the US government. However, its proximity to Honolulu’s beaches and hotels add to its popularity as a tourist attraction. A trek up Diamond Head’s rim offers an amazing view of the cone’s interior, the Hawaii Kai district of Honolulu, and the Pacific Ocean.
The trail, although challenging, can be handled by a moderately fit person. The Diamond Head State National Monument park is open from 6:00 in the morning to 6:00 in the evening. The admission fee is only $1, and parking space is also available for a fee of $5--a very small price to pay for a fulfilling adventure.
These are just some of the must-sees in Waikiki. Each destination can be a gateway to more interesting spots in the island.