Planning your next trip to Hawaii? Block out plenty of space on your itinerary for the best things to do in Waikiki. The Big Island may be the largest Hawaiian island, but Oahu is the center of Hawaii. Waikiki, a neighborhood in the Hawaiian capital of Honolulu, is home to famous beaches, towering volcanoes, and fun for young and old.
The top tourist attractions in Waikiki will allow you to explore Hawaiian heritage as much as indulging in vacation bliss. Spend your time learning about local culture through dance and music before kicking back on the lounge chair and enjoying golden hour.
Not sure what to do in Waikiki? Start planning your vacation with our guide to the best places to visit in Waikiki, HI.
Best places to visit in Waikiki, Honolulu
Waikiki Beach is the centerpiece of Oahu’s tourist industry. The main streets, resorts, restaurants, and bars of Waikiki emanate from the famous beach. Its scintillating blue water will be a welcome sight for those dreaming of a picturesque beach vacation in Hawaii.
You may often seek to avoid the crowds on your trips, but it’s all part of the experience at Waikiki Beach. The atmosphere here is electric. It’s a prismatic cocktail of fun, freedom, and a sense of relief from the nagging hand of 9-to-5 jobs. It’s easy to see why spending time on its golden shores is one of the best things to do in Waikiki.
When you aren’t lazing under the sun or wading in the warm waters, you’ll find plenty to do at Waikiki Beach. Sign up for surf lessons, go snorkeling or fly high on a parasailing adventure.
To enjoy Waikiki Beach to its fullest, spend a night at the Moana Surfrider Resort. Waikiki’s first hotel and one of the best hotels in Honolulu, the Moana Surfrider is the perfect base for digging into the area’s buzz.
Steps away from the soft white sands of Waikiki Beach, Kapiolani Park is one of the oldest Waikiki attractions. It’s lost none of its opulence and grandeur over time, remaining a lush garden and a great way to enjoy a breather.
King Kalakaua founded the park, the oldest in Oahu, back in 1877. It now carries the name of his wife, Queen Kapiolani. The park is a sprawling green space that’s the perfect relaxing alternative to a day at the most beautiful Honolulu beaches.
The highlight of the park is the Queen Kapiolani Garden. The vibrant garden features an array of colorful flowers, including rare native species and plants from around the world. In the foothills of Diamond Head, visitors will also have fabulous views of the natural monument.
Duke Kahanamoku Beach
Waikiki Beach curves along the coast for two miles. It’s broken up into three main sections, the biggest of which is Duke Kahanamoku Beach. You’ll find this part of the famed beach at the western end, right in front of the Hilton.
With two wave breaks, the swimming here is calm and inviting. Visitors will have access to the full range of beach amenities, including lifeguards and water sports. Its location in the heart of town allows easy access to restaurants and bars.
For families, behind the beach is the Duke Kahanamoku Lagoon. The man-made beach is perfect for younger kids as the water remains flat all day long.
While you’re enjoying your day at one of the most popular Oahu beaches, don’t forget to check out the Duke Kahanamoku Statue, one of the coolest things to see in Waikiki.
Discover the distinct marine life found around Hawaii at the Waikiki Aquarium. One of the top places to go in Waikiki with kids, the aquarium captivates young and old with its fun exhibits, offering a hearty focus on the island’s coral reefs.
The Waikiki Aquarium offers great value for money, with the inexpensive attraction allowing you to get up close to a range of exotic and endangered fish. Within the many coral reef exhibits, you’ll come across a coral reef farm, an abundance of tropical fish, and even sharks!
However, one of the most memorable parts of the aquarium is the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands exhibit. Here, you’ll see the endangered monk seal among other hard-to-find marine life.
Diamond Head Crater
As you fly into Hawaii, one part of the island chain that sticks out like a sore thumb is Diamond Head. When you walk around the Waikiki, its mix of orange, brown, and green hovers above, tempting you to put away the beach gear and go for a hike.
The 1.6-mile round trip up the Diamond Head Crater makes you work for the vistas, but ultimately it remains a trail for everyone. As you walk along the Diamond Head rim, you’ll look down into the now distinct volcano, with the forest slowly taking over the crater.
Adventurous travelers wondering where to go in Waikiki, should pencil in Diamond Head at the top of the list. The iconic volcanic cone brings you to panoramic views of Waikiki, Honolulu, and the vast deep blue Pacific Ocean.
Spanning over 42 acres, the Honolulu Zoo is home to over a thousand animals from 900 species. The zoo first opened in 1877 but didn’t officially become Honolulu Zoo until the 1940s. It’s continued to expand and is now home to an exciting range of reptiles, birds, animals, and all your favorite amphibians.
The number of well-developed habitats allows you to see the animals in a more natural setting. This gives the zoo an “open-range” feel rather than just being a series of enclosures. Visitors will have a great opportunity to further explore native wildlife, from geese to hawks and nenes, all among native plant life.
Other highlights include giraffes, elephants, komodo dragons, and tigers. Each section is split into geography, such as the African Savannah.
The zoo is located within Kapiolani Park. Combine your visit with the aquarium and a day at the park.
For sightseeing in Waikiki, it’s hard to beat a stroll along Kalakaua Avenue. It’s the beachfront town’s main drag, stretching for 3.5 miles. The avenue is named after King David Kalakaua and has grown to be the center of shopping and entertainment in Waikiki and one of the top Honolulu attractions.
The one-mile section behind Waikiki Beach has a heavy concentration of coffee shops, restaurants, bars, and souvenir shops. You’ll find everything you need for a day at the beach, time in the mountains, or simply a spot to sit and enjoy a drink.
Tiki’s Grill & Bar is the perfect place to do just that. Come to Tiki’s Grill & Bar for the tropical cocktails and stay for the live music with beautiful ocean views.
Island Vintage Coffee
Another spot to stop on your stroll down Kalakaua Avenue is Island Vintage Coffee. Since 1996, Island Vintage has been providing locals and travelers with 100% Kona coffee, some of the finest beans in the world.
Their small-batch approach to their Kona coffee allows for a hands-on approach and a great dedication to their product. The coffee shop has continued to use traditional methods, with each batch roasted daily.
The result is fresh and aromatic coffee. It’s the best way to start your day and the perfect companion as you walk along the bustling avenue.
Beyond fabulous coffee, Island Vintage Coffee has a farm-fresh breakfast, lunch, and dinner menu.
Hanauma Bay is a part of a preserve that features some of the most thriving marine life around the island of Oahu. From the moment you arrive, you’ll be taken in by the prismatic colors of golden sand, blue-green ocean with the colorful reef streaming through.
Hanauma Bay is one of the best places to see near Waikiki. But its popularity and the preserve’s restriction of daily numbers means you should arrive early. The bay is protected from swell thanks to the nearby reef. It makes for both a pleasant beach day and great swimming.
But the real prize goes to snorkelers, who can explore the incredible underwater world teeming with native fish.
If you’re in the mood for a bit of shopping, indulge your inner tourist and hop along to ABC Stores. These popular souvenir shops are found throughout Waikiki, including along Kalakaua Avenue.
Once inside, you’ll be inundated with souvenirs, mementos, key chains, and shirts. Each is inspired by Hawaii and its tropical surroundings. You’ll find it hard to walk out without making a few bargain buys, including for your friends and family back home.
ABC Stores also hosts a convenience store. If you don’t feel like a full meal, you can pick up a to-go snack or sandwich and drinks before getting right back to your beach day.
Kuhio Beach Park
Another section of Waikiki Beach is Kuhio Beach Park. It’s a popular place to enjoy a low-key beach day. Towards the end of Prince Kuhio Beach, you’ll find the Waikiki Walls which produce great beginner surfing and boogie boarding.
The white sand beach and turquoise waters may have brought you here, but you should stick around for the sunset hula show. When the sun falls and the sky turns shades of auburn, the tiki torches are lit and the conch shell is blown.
Come along for the fun, and discover the traditional Hawaiian dance alongside a lively atmosphere and plenty of great music.
Once home to King Kalakaua and Queen Liliuokalani, Iolani Palace is a former royal palace, the only one of its kind in the United States. The beautiful building was completed in 1882 but became the state capitol when Hawaii was annexed.
Minutes from the heart of Waikiki, Iolani Palace offers amazing insight into the Kingdom of Hawaii and is one of the top places to check out on Oahu. The neoclassical building is no longer the capitol. Instead, it’s a wonderful museum that’ll guide you through Hawaii’s heritage and royal past.
Visitors can embark on self-guided and guided tours of the palace, where you’ll discover the throne room, historic artifacts, and vintage clothing, including the King’s coronation suit.
Royal Hawaiian Center
After enjoying the entertainment at Kuhio Beach Park, you may be intrigued to learn more about Hawaiian music and dance. The Royal Hawaiian Center offers a range of cultural programs including hula lessons, creating leis, and luahala weaving.
Before and after your lessons, you may spot one of the many hula dancing shows. Watch amazing dancers in full traditional garments. The dancers will also take the time to dive into the art form and how important it is to local culture.
At night, the atmosphere at the Royal Hawaiian Center kicks up a notch with live Hawaiian music and entertainment. There are also regular events held at the center.
International Market Place
Enveloped by huge banyan trees, the International Market Place is an enormous outdoor shopping center. If you’re in need of some serious retail therapy, then this is one of the best places to see in Waikiki. Shoppers will find a wide range of local, national, and international brands to explore, with delectable on-site restaurants when you need to refuel.
Some of the notable brands at the International Market Place include Swarovski, Burberry, and Saks Fifth Avenue. Add in lots of charming boutiques and you’ll be spoiled for choice. Aside from resting at full-service restaurants, you can also explore spacious gardens with towering plants and beguiling water features.
Although there’s never a bad time to shop, come at night when the trees are lit up and the evening breeze sweeps through.
Duke Kahanamoku Statue
A dual Olympic champion and the father of modern-day surfing, Duke Paoa Kahanamoku is a revered figure in Hawaiian history. At first, it was his prodigious swimming ability that brought him around the world. But on his travels, he was able to showcase his second passion, surfing.
Now known as the man who popularized the sport around the world, he’s honored in Waikiki with the Duke Kahanamoku Statue, located on the beach that also carries his name.
The glorious bronze statue stands proudly atop a mound of golden sand, with the glistening blue ocean in the background. Getting a photo with “Duke” is a must on your day at Waikiki Beach.
Ala Moana Beach Park
Ala Moana Beach Park is a local favorite. It’s the perfect mix of the opulence of Waikiki Beach without the crowds. From its sandy shores, you’ll be able to look out onto the ocean and the more famous local beaches without a care in the world.
It’s further along the bay towards the center of Honolulu, with its central location making it easy to reach. The bright blue water close to shore is calm and relaxing. But if you’re chasing some thrill, you’ll find waves further out.
The crescent-shaped Ala Moana Beach is lined with palm trees offering plenty of shade. Just behind the trees is another great place to shop: the Ala Moana Center.
Honolulu Museum of Art
Fans of art and history can’t pass up a trip to the Honolulu Museum of Art. The vast collection features over 50,000 works of art, hailing from all over the world. The Honolulu Museum of Art hosts the largest collection in Hawaii, with some pieces dating back as far as the early 1700s.
As you admire works from the 18th century to now, you’ll discover a huge range of genres, including sculptures, artifacts, and indigenous dolls. Many help to highlight the Pacific Island culture and lifestyle.
A large part of the museum’s art repository can be found within the incredible Asian Art Collection, home to 23,00 works of art. Additionally, you can explore the European section that features works from Rodin, Monet, and Van Gogh.