If you’re a first timer to Hawaii, it is extremely likely you’ll be spending a few days at the start or end of your trip, or perhaps even the entire trip, in Waikiki. Hawaii’s most famous beach is conveniently located just 45 minutes drive from Honolulu Airport, the major international airport. Most Aussie travellers spend 3-5 nights in Waikiki, that’s enough time to get the lay of the land, and the sand. Here’s our guide to your first trip to Waikiki:
Beach front bliss
If you have your heart set on waking up to the sight of Waikiki’s aquamarine water, you’ll need to stay at one of the hotels right on the beach. And to see the beach in all its glory, with the dramatic Diamond Head volcano crater in the background, opt for one of the hotels on the southern end of the sand. The Sheraton Waikiki sits right on the edge of the beach, and its high rise rooms have one of the best views in town as it looks out over the other hotels and down across the beach. Looking out across the iconic pink palace, The Royal Hawaiian, the hotel has a sprawling resort pool that is just metres back from the sand itself, and a swanky adults only infinity pool around the back of the building that looks out to the harbour but also back to Diamond Head. Walk past a Hawaiian Cookie Company store (an essential Waikiki must try), hat shops, mini marts, trendy local art galleries and homewares stores before hitting the actual lobby, then zip up the lifts to your rooms, a well equipped gym, a 26,000 square foot ballroom, conference rooms and a large Sheraton Club Lounge where members can pop in for breakfast or canapes and drinks (and a good dessert selection) every day. The Club Lounge has views out across the beach and the harbour so you won’t be disappointed.
Get the blood pumping
Although Hawaii is so far behind Australia, it’s actually three hours ahead (the day before), the best way to beat jet lag is to get your blood pumping. The Diamond Head Summit Trail should be one of the first things on your to do list. Hop in a cab or Uber for the 15 minute drive out to the base of the trail – the super fit, or super eager, start their hike at Waikiki – pay the $1 entry fee and start walking. The volcanic crater is officially a US National Natural Monument, hence the entry fee, and was home to Fort Rugur military base. The trail that winds up around the interior edge of the crater was built back in the early 1900s by the military and is well maintained today, especially given each day thousands of tourists make the 30-45 minute hike. The views at the summit are simply spectacular. The trail isn’t too taxing if you take your time, and there are interesting tunnels, buildings and lookouts along the way. Grab a fresh coconut or pineapple once you’ve made your way back down at the small stall just inside the entrance.
Shop till you drop
Waikiki has long been known as a shopper’s paradise. The main strip of shops has all your big American and international brands – Sephora, Victoria’s Secret, H&M, Coach to name a few – but a lot of visitors choose to hit to the outlets or to Ala Moana. The largest outdoor shopping mall in the world, Ala Moana has more than 350 different stores and restaurants, that’s including full size Macy’s, Bloomingdales and Nordstrom department stores. Hotels like the Prince have shuttles out to Ala Moana, the local bus and the Waikiki Trolley all make stops out there too.
Off the eaten track
Head to downtown Honolulu for a taste of new age Hawaiian cuisine. Fete is the brain child of a Brooklyn/Hawaiian couple who have attracted an almost cult following for their fusion menu. The twice-fried Ludovico chicken is golden, juicy and too good to leave any behind, the local market fish literally comes off the boat in the morning and straight into the kitchen, and the house made pastas are simply dreamy. The menu also features a long list of the local farmers and producers that supply the restaurant so you’ll know exactly where your food came from. Save room for dessert, because the pastry chef works magic on drool worthy dishes like pumpkin cheesecake, banana jam chocolate tarts and a “Rocky Road to Hana Ice Cream” you won’t want to share.
Sleek and chic
If you’re after somewhere to rest your head that’s a little removed from the hustle and bustle that is downtown Waikiki, head down to the harbour and check into the Prince Waikiki. An Expedia VIP Access Hotel, the Prince recently underwent a 55 million dollar renovation and has emerged as one of the trendiest spots around town. Expect to see TV shows like Hawaii Five-O filming at the rooftop infinity pool during the week. Excellent business centre, shuttle in to town or the Ala Moana Shopping Centre (actually walking distance, no more than 10 minutes walk)
A must bite
You can’t go to Waikiki without walking past the towering bronze statue of Duke Kahanamoku just back from the beach. Usually bedecked with leis, the statue commemorates the man considered the “father of surfing”. An Olympic gold medalist in swimming, Duke travelled the world with his surf board and was instrumental in spreading the sport. These days, Dukes Waikiki is almost as famous. We did say almost. The restaurant, which has venues on other islands and other American beach spots like Malibu, takes Duke as its patron and has become world famous for its beachfront locations, big servings, hearty ribs and the gigantic Hula Pie. In Waikiki, the original restaurant is still booked out weeks in advance, but if you’re not that organized, walk through to the bar, where its open seating so anyone can walk in and grab a table. The menu features smaller servings of the restaurant classics and more casual fare, but you definitely won’t be disappointed. The nachos are epic, and the Hula Pie is the stuff of legends. Ice cream cake covered in hot chocolate fudge sauce, with an Oreo cookie base, dollops of whipped cream, and macadamias, its not for the feint hearted.
Feel the heat
Fans of Mexican fare should make a beeline to Buho Cantina. This rooftop restaurant and bar is hidden at the top of Waikiki Shopping Plaza, right in the heart of the busy strip. Take a lift from the street and emerge on a trendy, urban rooftop where the margaritas are cold and the burritos are out of this world. We’re not talking classic bean and cheese either – try spicy mole wings or kale-wrapped vegan burritos.
If you’re staying on the main strip of Waikiki, it’s likely you’ll spend most of your time walking between the beach, the restaurants and the shops. But if you’re heading to Ala Moana or further afield, try the hop on hop off Waikiki Trolleys. Just $2 a ride, cash only, the trolleys are colour coordinated for different routes and run on loops throughout the day and evening. There’s also local buses, Uber and plenty of taxis.
If you’ve got a sweet tooth, head to the Royal Hawaiian Bakery, where the hotel’s pastry chefs are busy whipping up banana bread, muffins, cookies and their famous Snow Ball coconut cake every day. The grab and go café is located right in the hotel’s entrance and you don’t have to be a guest to pop in. If you’re after a guilt-free treat, try Banan. The banana-based soft serve ice cream is served with plenty of different toppings, including strawberries, pineapple, macadamia nut butter, local honey, puffed quinoa and granola. There’s a few different soft serve flavours, including acai, but they’re all pretty good for you. There are small pop ups located around Waikiki, but beachgoers flock to the Waikiki Beach Shack right between the Outrigger Resort and The Cheesecake Factory.
The beach might be the big draw card, but there’s a lot more going on around Waikiki than the waves!