Believe it or not, before the rows of beachfront resorts and spectacular wealth of shopping, the golden sands of Waikiki Beach were flanked by fields of rice. While the beach and its famous waves were still a haven for royalty, there was frightfully little else to do than splash and play in the sand. Today—fewer than 100 years after the Ala Wai Canal helped drain the surrounding swamp—there are so many things to do in Waikiki that it can seem a bit overwhelming. To help sift through the staggering amount of Waikiki activities, here are some things to do in Waikiki, even if you only have the weekend.
When you arrive on Friday, you check in to the Outrigger Reef Beach Resort in the heart of Waikiki. Once you’re settled, showered, and unpacked, you cross the Ala Wai into Honolulu for dinner at Alan Wong’s. The famous chef is one of the founders of Pacific Rim cuisine, and the culinary genius that appears on your plate is a succulent, grandiose welcome. Each dish feels local and wholly original. You start with the Hawai’i Island Dairy Fried Goat Cheese Tomato Salad, and the Lilikoi mustard vinaigrette is like a dream. For your entree, you know it has to be seafood here, and the Ginger Crusted Onaga does not disappoint.
Rising early on Saturday morning, you head downstairs for the breakfast before walking across town for a surfing lesson at famous Waikiki Beach. This stretch of sand is arguably the most famous of anywhere on the planet, and the gentle waves are the perfect setting for learning to pop up and ride. Sure, you aren’t going to be the only person there, but the crowds create a festive atmosphere rife with top-notch people-watching.
Having successfully stroked into a Waikiki wave, you’ll hop in a cab for the two-mile drive to Ono Hawaiian Foods. This is some of Oahu’s best Hawaiian food—authentic, “broke da mouth” Hawaiian food like chicken long rice, lomi-lomi salmon, laulau, and kalua pig. This is as close to a luau you can get without actually attending a luau, and it’s a favorite hole-in-the-wall for locals.
Having stuffed your opu (stomach) with local grinds, you walk off some of your filling lunch with an afternoon of shopping. The Ala Moana Center offers high-end, luxury shopping, but if you want an authentic experience that’s paired with a helping of culture, head to the stalls of Chinatown in neighboring Honolulu. While you still find traditional Chinese markets selling herbs and exotic seafood, you also spot new, hip boutiques full of trendy local artists. And, while Chinatown has coffee shops where you might be tempted to snack, save some room for dinner at Town—one of Honolulu’s most celebrated restaurants for its fine, locally sourced cuisine. By now you should be tired of seafood, but you order the mahi mahi and don’t regret it.
You start the day on Sunday with a morning walk through Kapiolani Park. This 500-acre historic park was commissioned in the 1870s, and is listed on the National Historic Register for its groves of century-old trees. If you’re feeling particularly keen for a workout—or simply want to get a great view—continue walking up the steep slopes of famous Diamond Head Crater. The trail itself is a strenuous undertaking that takes three hours, and also requires passing through a narrow claustrophobia-inducing tunnel. More power to you if you make the climb, but you can also set eyes on panoramic views from the gentler walk up Diamond Head Road.
Back on the beach after the morning hike, you grab some lunch at Duke’s Waikiki and pair it with an order of Mai Tais. And then, for a touch of tropical Waikiki class you visit The Veranda at Moana Surfrider for afternoon tea with a view. To bring the Waikiki weekend to a close, you take a lesiurely afternoon dip in the lagoon at Kahanamoku Beach, and book a spot on a sunset cruise aboard the Na Hoku II. For the best sunset view in Waikiki, head to neighboring Ala Moana Beach Park and walk to Magic Island, where you’re met with an unforgettable view of the sunset and Waikiki lights. While here, you toss a flower in the water—an old ritual that signifies you’re destined to one day return.