Waikiki Beach with tall resort buildings in the backdrop and ocean in the front

23 Best Things to Do in Waikiki, Hawaii (2024)

Affiliate Disclosure for Destination Checkoff

Oahu was the first Hawaiian island I visited with my family, and I fell in love with it. It had the perfect mix of city life, iconic beaches, cultural attractions, epic hikes, rainforests, waterfalls, and mind-blowing views!

Since then, I have visited the Big Island and Maui, but I have planned a second trip to Waikiki in Oahu, as there are so many amazing things to do here!

We stayed in Waikiki during our visit to Oahu and discovered that it’s much more than just a beautiful beach destination.

Waikiki is full of life and offers something for everyone. From the iconic Diamond Head views to the lively streets with great food and shops, there’s so much to explore.

Whether you’re surfing for the first time or just enjoying the parks and beaches, Waikiki has a unique charm.

I’ll share the top things to do in Waikiki, from well-known spots to some hidden gems.

Top Attractions and Things to Do in Waikiki 

Waikiki is a vibrant neighborhood in Honolulu, and Honolulu is the capital city of Hawaii, located on the island of Oahu.

Waikiki is known for its world-famous beach, lined with palm trees, luxury hotels, and retail stores. It’s a hotspot for surfing, dining, and entertainment, making it a favorite for tourists seeking a lively beach experience.

Most of the attractions and activities in this list are in the Waikiki neighborhood, and some are nearby in Honolulu. We explored a lot of these in our 5 day Oahu itinerary.

You might need to either rent a car or use rideshare services like Uber or Lyft to get to some of them. We found Uber to be very convenient to get around Waikiki. For some attractions, we booked tours for transportation and entry.

1. Waikiki Beach 

One of the top things to do in Waikiki is visit the famed Waikiki Beach, right next to the world-famous Kalakaua Avenue. During our visit to Oahu, we stayed at Hilton Hawaiian Village, right on Waikiki Beach!

Waikiki Beach was once a playground for Hawaiian Royalty. These days, no royal blood is needed to enjoy the sparkling waters.

With powder-soft sand and crystal-clear waters, this is a great place to lay out in the sun. I also love walking along the boardwalk next to the beach.

Watching the sunset at Waikiki beach is one of the best things to do in Waikiki
Watching sunset at Waikiki beach

Swim in the shallow waters with the iconic Diamond Head in the background, and take a picture with the iconic statue of Duke Kahanamoku.

“Duke” shared the values and sport of surfing with the world. Why not follow his lead and hit the waves? 

With consistent surf, Waikiki Beach is a great place to learn how to surf or canoe. 

Rent a board from one of the many shops nearby, or book this highly-rated surfing lesson in Waikiki

Other popular Waikiki Beach activities –

  • Take an Oahu sunset cruise. This was hands down the best experience on our trip, and the views of the Waikiki coast from the boat are amazing!
  • Explore the ocean in a submarine ride – My entire family loved this experience. We saw so many sunken ship artifacts and marine life.
  • Try a parasailing adventure. – We have done parasailing before, and it is just such a thrill!

2. Pearl Harbor

On December 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. This singular event caused the United States to enter into World War II. 

While you’re on Oahu, make sure to go honor this significant site and honor those who lost their lives. 

The Memorial has exhibits, a documentary film, a memorial program, and much more.  Reservations are highly recommended for the USS Arizona Memorial program, as it’s one of the most visited attractions in Honolulu.

You can book reservations in advance online on the National Park Service website to ensure your spot, as walk-in availability is limited and can fill up quickly.

You can also book a tour of Pearl Harbor USS Arizona Memorial, which includes transportation and a boat ticket to the memorial.

Pearl Harbor is not located directly in Waikiki but only a quick 25-minute drive. 

3. Diamond Head Summit Trail 

One of the most popular hikes in Oahu is the summit trail to the top of Diamond Head Crater.

The crater itself is iconic and viewable by the majority of Waikiki. To get to the trail, head to the Diamond Head State Monument. You’ll go 1.7 miles out and back on this trail.

Don’t be fooled by the low mileage. With a total ascent of 515 feet, you’ll be putting in some work.

I recommend doing this hike early in the morning, as it can get very hot during the day, and there is no shade on this hike.

Panoramic views of Waikiki skyscrapers and ocean from the top of Diamond Head crater. Diamond Head hike is one of the top Waikiki activities.
We saw panoramic views of Waikiki skyscrapers and the ocean from the top of Diamond Head

The views at the top are worth it, as you’ll get panoramic views of downtown Honolulu and the surrounding area. 

You’ll need to make reservations up to 30 days in advance for parking and entry into the Diamond Head State Monument.  

Alternatively, you can book a tour to the Diamond Head that takes care of transportation and entry tickets.

4. Kalakaua Avenue 

One of the best shopping destinations on Oahu, Kalakaua Avenue, is known as the “heart of Waikiki.” 

This bustling street stretches from Ala Moana down to the Kapi’olani Regional Park. It’s got hotels, restaurants, and shops on shops on shops. 

You’ll find everything from high-end designer stores, boutique shops, authentic Hawaiian apparel, and more. We found nice dresses and Hawaiian shirts here.

Even if you’re not interested in shopping, Kalakaua Avenue is still enjoyable to meander down. You can window shop or watch one of the multiple street performers.

5. Honolulu Zoo

The Honolulu Zoo has 42 acres and over 900 animals to enjoy. The animals come from three tropical ecological zones: The African savanna, Asian and American tropical forests, and Pacific Islands. 

You can see Komodo dragons, orangutans, elephants, lemurs, tigers, and more. This is a great attraction for families.

red tropical bird in a rainforest setting

There’s a wide variety of events and animal encounters happening daily. Check out the zoo’s calendar to know when to visit! 

It’s between Diamond Head and Waikiki and is open daily from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm. 

6. Aloha Stadium Swap Meet

Look no further than the Aloha Stadium Swap Meet for a unique and fun shopping experience in Oahu.

Happening every Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday, this is the perfect spot to get your souvenirs and gifts for home.

There are over 400 vendors, and they’re selling everything from local produce to handmade crafts and aloha shirts. 

Plus, many are willing to negotiate so you can get the lowest price possible. 

Make sure to bring cash! It’s a cash-only marketplace with a small admission fee to enter. 

Anu’s Pro-Tip: Aloha Stadium is near Pearl Harbor, so it can be combined in a single day; this is what we did.

7. Explore the Foster Botanical Garden 

When you get tired of the urban jungle, check out the Foster Botanical Garden in downtown Honolulu. 

This Botanical garden is the oldest one in the city and has an impressive collection of tropical plants. Some of the trees were planted in the 1850’s! 

With 14 acres to explore and 4,000 species of rare plants, you’ll want to have your camera charged and ready.

It’s a serene pit stop in the hustle and bustle of Honolulu. 

Sit in the peaceful gazebo, get a cold drink at the gift shop, and explore the many varieties of trees and flowers. 

8. Visit the Waikiki Aquarium

One of the most popular activities in Oahu is visiting the Waikiki Aquarium.  This aquarium is unique because it’s located next to a living coral reef. 

It’s also the 2nd oldest aquarium in the United States. 

The aquarium consists of 3500 marine animals and has a variety of programs focused on Hawaiian and Tropical Pacific aquatic life. 

Check out the variety of tropical fish, monk seals, reef sharks, and more. 

9. Swim with Sea Turtles

If you’ve always dreamed of swimming with sea turtles, there’s no better opportunity than a trip to Oahu.

Join a Waikiki snorkeling tour like this Turtle Canyons Snorkel Excursion from Waikiki to increase your chances of swimming with one of these cute creatures. Or just rent your own snorkeling gear and head to the beach. 

Make sure to keep a respectful distance from these endangered animals. A good rule of thumb is to stay 10 feet away to protect them.

The winter months in Hawaii are best for snorkeling, with calmer waters on the south shore. 

Views of Waikiki and Diamond Head Crater in Oahu
Views of Waikiki and Diamond Head Crater in Oahu

10. Take a surf lesson

Surfing is a must-do for any adventure lover visiting Waikiki! 

An important part of Hawaiian culture, many places in Waikiki offer surf lessons for any ability level.

You can always rent a surfboard without taking a lesson, but I highly recommend a class if it’s your first time on the water. 

Learn to catch waves, pop up on your board, and then practice in the steady waves off Waikiki Beach.

Plus, they’ll fit you with a surfboard perfect for your size and skill. 

You’ll be a pro in no time!

11. Shop at Ala Moana Center 

Ala Moana is the largest open-air shopping center in the world! 

Located at the southern end of Waikiki Beach area hotels, Ala Moana has tons of shops and food courts.

Hop aboard the Ala Moana Shopping trolley for convenient transportation between the center and ten different spots in Waikiki.

There’s an entire food court in Ala Moana dedicated entirely to Asian food. 

If you enjoy ramen, I highly recommend stopping by and getting a bowl (or two). My mouth is watering just thinking about it. 

Waikiki skyline Views from the water

12. Learn Hawaii’s history at Iolani Palace 

Iolani Palace is the official residence of Hawaii’s monarchy and the only palace in America. 

It’s a beautiful piece of preserved history well worth visiting. The palace paints a picture of the Kingdom of Hawaii with opulent designs, innovation, and political intrigue.

See where King Kalakaua and Queen Liliuokalani lived, the dramatic portraits of Hawaiian royalty, Hawaii’s first electric light system, and intra-house telephones.  

You can take a guided tour or walk through the palace on your own, Tuesday through Saturday.

Please note that you must dress appropriately- swimwear is not allowed. 

13. Visit the Honolulu Museum of Art 

The largest general fine arts museum in the state, the Honolulu Museum of Art, is close to downtown. 

It’s got over 60,000 pieces and gorgeous landscaping. Meander around the galleries, bright courtyards, and relaxing ponds.

There’s an open-air HoMA cafe if you need a bite to eat. 

Check out the Doris Duke Theatre if you want to watch a film. It’s got an impressive array of foreign and independent films. 

For a fun evening experience, check out HoMA nights on Fridays and Saturdays. It stays open until 9 pm and has live music, hands-on art experiences, and more. 

14. Attend a Luau on the beach 

In Hawaii, a luau is an important way to celebrate special occasions.  For a festive experience, check out a luau on the beach. 

Enjoy delicious food, listen to live music, and watch cultural performances from Hawaii and greater Polynesia. 

Try kalua pig (prepared in an underground oven or imu) and poi, pounded taro plant root. 

Hula dancers on a raft in a canal dancing, with spectators watching
Polynesian Cultural Center in Oahu

One of the popular luau dishes is laulau, which is meat wrapped in taro leaves and steamed.

Lu’au’s are a fun way to experience Hawaiian and Polynesian culture.

Below are some of my top Luau recommendations –

15. Take a submarine tour

For a unique perspective on the underwater world, take a submarine tour. This was an awesome experience for me, as I was very excited to see the bottom of the ocean. Spoiler alert: it’s sandy!

Atlantis Submarines allow you to explore as deep as 100 feet below the surface!

Sunken ship artifacts seen on the submarine ride. Taking a submarine ride is one of the top Waikiki attractions.
We saw sunken ship artifacts on the submarine ride in Waikiki

The submarine itself is comfortable and spacious. Settle down in your seat in front of an oval window to the outside.

At the Waikiki dive site, you’ll see artificial reefs installed to create self-sustaining habitats for the fish. 

I’ve taken this submarine tour, and seeing fish and turtles swirling around the reef is so cool. 

16. Friday Fireworks 

One of my favorite Waikiki attractions is the free Friday Fireworks show. Every week, courtesy of the Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort, there’s an impressive fireworks show. 

It’s completely free and lights up the sky over Waikiki Beach at 7:45 pm.

This tradition has been happening since 1988. It lasts 10 minutes, and you can see it from various vantage points.

If you plan on taking a sunset cruise like this Moana Sunset Cocktail Sail along Waikiki Coast, book it for Friday evening to see the fireworks from the water.

The view from Waikiki and Ala Moana Beach is fantastic. 

17. Bishop Museum

If you’re interested in learning more about Hawaiian history, check out the Bishop Museum.

It’s got the most extensive collection of Hawaiian artifacts in the state. 

When you visit, learn about the discovery of Hawaii and the island’s rich history.

The Hawaiian Hall immerses you in Native Hawaiian Culture. 

Check out the planetarium to learn how ancient voyagers navigated the Pacific using the stars.  

It’s open seven days a week from 9 am to 5 pm. 

18. Aloha Tower

The Aloha Tower is a historic landmark just 15 minutes east of Waikiki.

This iconic symbol was built in 1926 and was the tallest building in the state for four decades.

The tower is still a docking port for cruise ships. It’s been transformed into the Aloha Tower Marketplace. There are various restaurants to enjoy and unique shops around the area.

Check out the observation deck on the 10th floor of the tower. You’ll see gorgeous harbor views on one side and the Honolulu cityscape on the other. 

19. Mai Tai’s at Dukes

A mai tai at Duke’s is almost a rite of passage if you want a drink. 

This beachfront restaurant has a fun and casual vibe. No matter the time of day, it’s got a great atmosphere.

Named after the legendary Hawaiian surfer Duke Kahanamoku, you might find yourself going back more than once!

Mai-Tai drink in a glass, decorated with pineapple slice and a flower

The Duke’s Mai Tai has gold and dark rum, orgeat syrup, orange curaçao, and POG juice and is served in a fun tiki head glass.

Sip a delicious cocktail, and listen to the ocean waves. The hula pie here is legendary as well! I have had that pie on every island!

20. Outrigger Canoe

For a unique experience, go canoeing in an outrigger canoe!

Each canoe can carry between 4 and 6 people and is so safe you don’t have to wear a life jacket. 

Unless you know someone who owns an outrigger canoe, you’ll need to book a tour to go outrigger canoeing. 

There are various options, but I’d recommend this Outrigger Canoe tour if you want to try canoe surfing.

You’ll get to catch at least two waves and learn all about the history of Hawaiian outrigger canoes from your licensed captain.

21. Kuhio Beach Hula Show

Look no further than this authentic Hawaiian music and hula show for one of the best free activities in Waikiki.

You’ll enjoy a free show on the beach every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday from 6:30-7:30 pm (6-7 pm November through January).

The show is a little different each night, but it’s put on by the finest halau hula (dance troupes) and Hawaiian performers.

The show takes place at the Kuhio Beach Hula mound. 

I’d recommend getting there about 30 minutes early to secure a good spot. Take blankets or beach chairs for peak comfort. 

22. Magic Island Lagoon

This artificial peninsula at the east end of Ala Moana Beach Park is perfect for kids or anyone wanting to swim in calm, shallow waters. 

It’s genuinely one of the best things to do in Waikiki.

It’s got full park amenities—showers, restrooms, picnic tables, and a lifeguard. 

Take a packed lunch and make a day out of it!

Spend your time snorkeling, swimming, or soaking up the sun at this serene beach. 

23. Take a helicopter ride above Waikiki

Some of the best views of Waikiki are seen from the air! Take one of these best Honolulu helicopter tours to see spectacular views of the Waikiki coast and the Diamond Head crater.

Aerial views of Diamond Head carter, Waikiki and Oahu mountains.
Aerial views of Diamond Head crater, Waikiki, and Oahu mountains

I recommend this 20-minute Doors Off or On helicopter ride over Waikiki and Honolulu. Try the doors off if you haven’t before! It’s really thrilling!

Get the Oahu Go City Pass

We saved a lot of money on individual ticketed attractions with the Oahu Go City pass.

It includes over 45 attractions and tours and several premium attractions like the Kualoa Ranch tours and Catamaran cruises.

Where to stay in Waikiki

Choosing the right place to stay in Waikiki can greatly enhance your Hawaiian vacation. Here are some of my top recommendations –

Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Resort
Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Resort

Hilton Hawaiian Village (mid-range) – A sprawling resort with its own lagoon, multiple pools, and a wide range of dining options. Perfect for those looking for a comprehensive resort experience. This is where we stayed.

Moana Surfrider Resort and Spa (luxury): Known as the “First Lady of Waikiki,” this historic hotel with pink hues combines turn-of-the-century charm with modern luxury right on Waikiki Beach.

Outrigger Reef Waikiki Beach Resort: This beachfront location offers a touch of Hawaiian culture through its decor and activities. Great for families and couples alike.

Vacation Rentals: For those looking to stretch their dollars, consider staying at a vacation rental or a budget hotel just a few blocks from the beach. You’ll still be within walking distance of Waikiki’s attractions without the beachfront price tag.

How to get to Waikiki

Most travelers arrive at Daniel K. Inouye International Airport (HNL) in Honolulu, the main gateway to Hawaii. Waikiki is about a 20-minute drive from the airport, depending on traffic.

To reach Waikiki from the airport, you can rent a car, take a taxi or rideshare services like Uber or Lyft, or book advance transportation.

I recommend this shared transfer from HNL airport to your Waikiki hotel or this private transfer by luxury SUV.

Sunset views with an orange sky in Waikiki
Sunset views in Waikiki

How to get around Waikiki

Navigating Waikiki is easy thanks to its compact size of 3.4 square miles total area.

There are a variety of ways you can get around Waikiki.

  • Rent a Car. This can be helpful in exploring the rest of the island as well.
  • Rideshare services like Uber and Lyft are readily available in Waikiki and Honolulu.
  • Walking: Waikiki is pedestrian-friendly, with most hotels, beaches, shops, and restaurants within walking distance.
  • Public Transportation – Honolulu’s public bus service, TheBus, is convenient for longer distances within Waikiki or to other parts of Honolulu and Oahu.
  • Waikiki Trolley: Several ticketed trolley lines run through Waikiki, offering hop-on, hop-off service to popular attractions.

Conclusion: Waikiki tourist attractions and things to do

Waikiki is a treasure trove of attractions and activities, offering something for everyone.

From the historical significance of Pearl Harbor to the natural beauty of Diamond Head and the iconic sands of Waikiki Beach, there’s no shortage of things to do.

Whether you’re interested in exploring Hawaii’s rich history, hiking scenic trails, or simply soaking up the sun on the beach, Waikiki serves as the perfect backdrop for an unforgettable vacation.

Hopefully, my guide to the best things to do in Waikiki will help you experience the vibrant culture, stunning landscapes, and adventurous activities that make Waikiki a world-renowned destination.

Up Next, check out my perfectly curated Oahu itinerary that covers the entire island!

Visiting Oahu? Check out my other posts from my visit to Oahu and other Hawaii Islands: