Things to Do in Waikiki, Hawaii: Iconic Spots, Hidden Gems, & Thrilling Activities

Discover the best things to do in Waikiki, Honolulu. From iconic spots to hidden gems, thrilling activities, and serene beaches, your Hawaiian adventure awaits.

Welcome to the tropical paradise of Waikiki, a destination filled with iconic spots, hidden gems, and thrilling activities. This bustling area, located on the south shore of Honolulu, is well-known for its stunning white sand beaches, phenomenal surf spots, and phenomenal nightlife.

However, dig a little deeper, and you’ll find there’s so much more to Waikiki – an array of activities that cater to every taste and preference. Whether you’re planning a trip filled with adventures or a leisurely vacation soaking up the sun, prepare to be amazed by the plethora of Hawaii Waikiki activities that are waiting for you.

From free activities right on Waikiki beach, to discovering Hawaiian culture at the Royal Hawaiian, to swimming alongside sea turtles, or taking surf lessons – the options are endless.

This guide is your perfect companion, providing you with a comprehensive list of the best things to do in Waikiki, ensuring that your Hawaiian vacation is truly unforgettable.

Top 10 Things to Do in Hawaii Waikiki

Bask in the Sun on the Famous Waikiki Beach

As one of the top Waikiki activities, lounging on the famous stretch of sand known as Waikiki Beach is an experience not to be missed. Whether it’s to relax, sunbathe, or simply feel the warm Hawaiian sand between your toes, this place is a true paradise.

If you’re in the mood for some action, you can try your hand at surfing, an iconic activity in Waikiki Honolulu. In fact, Waikiki Beach is well known as one of the best places in the world for beginners to learn surfing.

You’ll find numerous surf schools along the beach that offer lessons for all skill levels. Some well-established schools, like the ones in Pacifica State Beach and Cowells Beach in Santa Cruz, ensure a safe and non-threatening environment for novices with lifeguard-certified and expert coaches. Additionally, all needed gear is usually included, taking away any worries about renting equipment.

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The surf schools at Waikiki Beach offer a comprehensive curriculum that covers important facets like ocean awareness, wave breaks, ocean conditions, safety, wave etiquette, paddling, push-up and pop-up techniques, riding waves, and balancing. This ensures you learn the right way to surf while having a blast.

Aside from surfing, you might also spot sea turtles and a host of marine life while snorkeling at Waikiki Beach. With myriad things to do in Waikiki for free, spending a day at the beach offers a variety of thrills!

Aerial view looking over Waikiki Beach towards Diamond Head State Monument on a sunny day with bright blue water in Oahu, Hawaii, USA

Diamond Head Hike

Sure to be a highlight on your list of things to do in Waikiki Honolulu, the Diamond Head State Monument, also known as Leahi, boasts spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean and the Honolulu cityscape.

While it’s a popular hike in Hawaii, the trail remains one of the best things to do in Waikiki for its breathtaking vistas and historical importance.

The 1.6-mile roundtrip trail starts at the center of the crater, gradually ascending a series of switchbacks, stairways, and tunnels until you reach the summit. The hike to the top takes around 1.5 – 2 hours to complete, but remember, the journey is just as important as the destination.

While the trail is relatively steep, it’s manageable even for novice hikers, making it one of the top Honolulu Waikiki activities for adults and children alike. Along the way, you’ll encounter a plethora of flora and fauna, surrounded by the sound of chirping birds, providing a respite from the hustle and bustle of city life.

Once you reach the summit, you are greeted with 360-degree panoramic views of Waikiki and the Pacific Ocean – an Instagram-worthy shot indeed! It’s advised to start your hike early morning or late afternoon to witness a mesmerizing sunrise or sunset, making it a unique Waikiki activity.

Related Post: Diamond Head Crater Hike – In-Depth Guide

No matter your fitness level or hiking experience, Diamond Head offers an unforgettable adventure, serving as a reminder of why it’s one of the top 10 things to do in Hawaii Waikiki.

Make sure to bring plenty of water, sunscreen, and a camera to capture the stunning scenery. Note that there is a $5.00 entrance fee per person plus a $10.00 parking fee for vehicles.

So, if you’re looking for activities in Waikiki Beach that mix a dose of nature with a dash of history, lacing up your hiking boots and discovering the Diamond Head State Monument needs to be on your itinerary.

Aerial View of Diamond Head Crater - Oahu, Hawaii, USA

Sunset Catamaran Cruise

One of the most thrilling activities in Waikiki is a sunset Catamaran cruise. As the sun begins its descent towards the horizon, there’s simply no better way to experience the chromatic spectacle than aboard a catamaran.

Embrace the soothing, warm winds and gaze out over the sapphire waters as the skyline of Waikiki transforms into a silhouette against the orange and pink hues of the setting sun.

During the cruise, you’ll be treated to breathtaking views of the spectacular coastline, including iconic landmarks like the Diamond Head and the eponymous Waikiki Beach. Some cruises also offer a glimpse of marine life, such as dolphins and sea turtles, adding an extra dash of enchantment to your maritime adventure.

Many catamaran cruises also include traditional Hawaiian music along with cocktails and light snacks to make your journey even more enjoyable. An evening cruise on the serene waters of the Pacific is undoubtedly among the best things to do in Waikiki, Honolulu.

Explore Kapi’olani Park

Looking for a day out in Waikiki? Consider exploring what Kapi’olani Park has to offer. Surrounding the park, you’ll find numerous attractions like the Honolulu Zoo and Waikiki Shell, perfect for those interested in experiencing Honolulu’s unique blend of culture and wildlife. If you have younger family members with you, these places will undoubtedly keep them entertained.

For those who appreciate Honolulu outdoor activities in Waikiki, the park becomes a haven with plenty of options. You can stroll along several paths shaded by towering trees, jog around the track, play tennis, or simply relax on the green grass while soaking up the Hawaiian sun.

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Whether you’re traveling solo or with a group, Kapi’olani Park is among the best things to do in Waikiki for free. Kapi’olani Park is not just for daytime activities Waikiki. During the evening, it transforms into one of the best spots for Waikiki night activities.

You can partake in local festivals and concerts and even enjoy food fairs when they take place. The hustle and bustle during these festival nights often create a kaleidoscope of experiences that visitors find charmingly irresistible.

Close up photo of a giraffe at the Honolulu Zoo in Honolulu, Hawaii, USA
photo credit: The Honolulu Zoo via Facebook

Shop & Dine at the Royal Hawaiian Center

Searching for “things to do Waikiki”? Without a doubt, Waikiki’s Royal Hawaiian Center is a shopper’s paradise and a foodie’s delight! This captivating dining and shopping center offers more than 110 shops and restaurants spread over four levels. It is the perfect place to escape from the hustle and bustle of the lively Waikiki Beach.

If you’re a shopping enthusiast, you’ll find an array of retail paradises that offer anything from high-end fashion brands and unique Hawaiian crafts to an assortment of unique keepsakes. Include the Royal Hawaiian Center in your list of Waikiki activities, and take home a piece of Hawaiian culture, fashion, or art.

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The center gives you the chance to dive into the rich Hawaiian culinary tradition. Experience a perfect mix of authentic local cuisine, traditional meals, and international dishes by treating yourself to the eateries at the center.

You’ll find a global melting pot of cuisine options, including American, Asian, Italian, and Hawaiian. Whether you’re in the mood for a quick snack or a lavish dinner, there’s something for everyone.

If you’re looking for things to do in Waikiki for free, the Royal Hawaiian Center offers a range of cultural classes. You can learn everything from hula dancing and ukulele lessons to lei-making. It’s a fun way to immerse yourself in the local culture and create lasting vacation memories.

exterior of the iolani palace in oahu
Be sure to visit Iolani Palace while in Oahu.

Step into Hawaiian history at Iolani Palace

Enveloped in the hustle and bustle of Honolulu, the Iolani Palace offers you a journey back in time to Hawaii’s royal past. You can’t miss out on this activity when gathering your list of things to do in Waikiki, Honolulu. With its deep cultural significance and its impressive architectural detail, the palace is a significant symbol of Hawaiian identity.

Built in 1882 by King Kalakaua, Iolani Palace housed the Hawaiian Kingdom’s monarchs until the overthrow of the monarchy in 1893. Today, it stands as the only royal palace on US soil.

As you journey through the grand halls and stately rooms, you’ll encounter intricate woodwork, ornate furnishings, and personal effects of the royal inhabitants, all meticulously preserved.

As one of the best activities to do in Waikiki, you’ll gain a deeper understanding of Hawaii’s complex and rich history while exploring the palace grounds; you can’t help but feel the resounding echoes of the past. To get the most out of your visit, make the most of guided tours, available in both audio and docent-led formats.

This precious Waikiki activity offers a refreshing change of pace from the vibrant Waikiki beach activities and certainly ranks high in things to do in Waikiki for free, as exploration of the Palace grounds does not require an entry fee.

However, there is a small charge for the guided tours of the Palace interior. Don’t forget to check the opening times before you visit, and keep in mind that the palace is closed on Sundays and Mondays.

a beautiful staircase inside Iolani palace
photo credit: Iolani Palace via Facebook

Visit the Pearl Harbor Historical Sites

When you’re pondering over things to do in Waikiki, don’t miss embarking on a journey back in time at the Pearl Harbor historical sites. A visit to these significant pieces of history is an absolute must for every traveler, especially for those interested in the harrowing events of World War II.

The Pearl Harbor Visitor Center serves as the stepping stone for your exploration. You’ll be greeted with films, museum exhibits, and audio tours that immerse you in the historical events that transpired in this iconic naval base.

Your heart will quiver as you retrace the steps of the soldiers who fought during the darkest period of American history. The USS Arizona Memorial is a key landmark nestled within the historic Pearl Harbor.

A solemn monument that pays tribute to the soldiers who perished during the attack, it’s a reminder of the bravery and sacrifice inherent in the fight for freedom.

From there, venture to the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park, colloquially known as the “Pearl Harbor Avenger,” for a glimpse of life at sea during combat.

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The USS Missouri Battleship is another fascinating stop. Known as “Mighty Mo,” it served from World War II right through to Operation Desert Storm in 1991.

These historical sites give you a deeper understanding of why Pearl Harbor is a significant chapter in the story of America, making it one of the top activities in Waikiki. Guided tours are available, providing rich historical context and stories that bring the harrowing days of the past to life.

a photograph of the battleship in Peal Harbor from the side

Hike to Manoa Falls

If you are searching for things to do in Waikiki Hawaii that weaves together the beauty of nature with a bit of light exercise, the hike to the breathtaking Manoa Falls will be right up your alley.

Engage with the lush tropical scenery on this approximately 1.5-mile hike through the heart of the rainforest. Smell the enticing scent of eucalyptus and seek out the enchanting bird song that echoes throughout the valley to truly immerse yourself in the experience.

As you make your way through the verdant landscape, make sure to stay on the designated trail to preserve the fragile ecosystem. The hike is relatively easy, with a very gradual elevation gain, making it perfect even for novice hikers.

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The climax of the hike is the astounding 150-foot Manoa Falls, making it one of the best Hawaii activities Waikiki. The sight of water cascading over the cliffs into a small pool will leave you spellbound.

Don’t forget to bring along your bathing suit for a refreshing dip in the water to help you cool off. Please bear in mind, though, that swimming isn’t always allowed due to fluctuating water levels, so do respect any posted signs.

Before you embark on the hike, remember that the trail could get muddy and slippery when it rains, so sturdy footwear is recommended. While most Waikiki activities are bustling with the hustle and bustle, this serene escapade offers a welcome retreat into the tranquility of nature!

Experience a Traditional Luau

There’s no better way to get a taste of local culture than by experiencing the vibrant spectacle of a traditional Hawaiian luau, one of the most popular Waikiki things to do. Enjoy the atmosphere filled with delightful music, performance arts, and, of course, exquisite food!

The luai is a typical Hawaiian party or feast often accompanied by entertainment. A traditional luau features Hawaiian music, hula dancing, and foods such as kalua pig, cooked in an earth oven, and poi, a staple dish made from taro.

An evening at a luai is not just about satisfying your palate; it’s about integrating into a unique cultural experience and gaining an understanding of the island’s rich history.

The performances are not just dance routines; they often depict historical events, stories, or aspects of local culture, making the experience educational as well as entertaining.

The feast, too, is a part of the history you’ll be gorging upon – every item on your plate has a story to tell. The dishes commonly served at a luau, like pua’a (roast pig), poke (raw fish), and haupia (coconut pudding), are integral constituents of Hawaiian culinary heritage.

For those with dietary restrictions, luaus also offer excellent vegetarian and vegan options, making sure nobody misses out on this gastronomical journey.

Three hula dancers in bright red and yellow costumes dancing on stage at Chiefs Luau in Honolulu, Hawaii, USA
photo credit: Chief’s Luau via Facebook

Discover Local Produce at Farmers Markets

If you’re seeking to immerse yourself in a vibrant, colorful, and authentic Hawaiian experience, one of the best things to do in Waikiki, Honolulu is to explore the local Farmers Markets.

Known for its range of locally grown fresh produce and artisan goods, you’ll encounter a delightful array of fruits, vegetables, baked goods, and much more.

Still, wondering what things to do in Waikiki for free? Moseying around these markets doesn’t cost a dime unless, of course, some tropical fruits or island-crafted products catch your eye.

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In addition, you’ll get to meet the local farmers and artisans who pour their hearts into each item and understand their efforts in sustainable farming and craft.

To better plan your Waikiki activity involving the local markets, research which days and hours they operate, as each market has its schedule. Some markets to consider are the KCC Farmers’ Market, Waikiki Farmers Market, and Honolulu Farmers’ Market. Soak in the hustle and bustle of these marketplaces, mingle with the locals, and leave with more than just souvenirs – leave with memories.

people looking through stalls at KCC Farmers Market on a sunny day with welcome sign in the foreground in Oahu, Hawaii, USA
photo credit: ハワイ留学サポート via Facebook

Snorkel at Hanauma Bay

Discover the wonders of marine life and be captivated by the vibrant and magical underwater world that Hanauma Bay has to offer. This picturesque bay, renowned for its abundant coral reefs and diverse marine species, is a must on any aquatic adventurers’ list of Waikiki activities.

Hanauma Bay is a nature preserve, home to over 450 species including parrotfish, butterfly fish, and even the occasional sea turtle, fondly nicknamed ‘honu’ by locals.

Whether you’re a seasoned snorkeler or a beginner, you’re in for a treat. The bay’s shallow, clear turquoise waters offer excellent visibility, allowing you to appreciate the marine biodiversity with clarity.

Be sure to pack some sunscreen, a hat, a towel, and plenty of water as you make your way to Hanauma Bay. It’s recommended to arrive early in the morning to secure a parking spot and avoid crowds.

And remember, while there’s a small fee to enter the bay, the money goes exceptionally well in maintaining this paradise, proving that some of the best things to do in Waikiki are indeed priceless.

aerial view of crowd of people on beach on a sunny day at Hanauma Bay in Oʻahu, Hawaii, USA
photo credit: Armageddon Headquarters – Jon Paulien Ph.D. via Facebook

Plan a Hassle-Free Waikiki Vacation

Why not make your vacation planning stress-free? Discover the charm and wonder of Waikiki without the hassle by bundling discount tickets to your favorite tours and attractions alongside your choice of hotel accommodations on Tripster.

Experience the best of Honolulu’s Waikiki activities without breaking the bank or breaking a sweat. Start building your dream vacation today and create cherished memories in the breathtaking paradise of Waikiki!

Things to Do in Waikiki FAQs

Three days in Waikiki can certainly offer a good glimpse into the allure of this Hawaiian paradise. This gives you enough time to hit the major highlights, such as Waikiki Beach and Diamond Head, and even engage in the myriad of Waikiki activities, from surfing to indulging in local cuisine.

However, to truly soak in the experience and explore some of the hidden gems, a stay of more than three days would be ideal.

The iconic Kalakaua Avenue is the most famous street in Waikiki. Known as the "Rodeo Drive of the Pacific," this vibrant avenue is a hub for shopping, dining, and entertainment. It stretches along the coastline, offering breathtaking views, perfect for an evening stroll.

What Did We Miss?

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Written by Isis Maya Nissman

A New York native, Isis-Maya spent most of her professional life working in TV production until a vacation whisked her away to Central...

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