Ask any random person on the street about their dream getaway, and they'll probably mention Hawaii. Even among the other incredible destinations in Hawaii, Waikiki stands out. This world-famous beach playground probably conjures visions of partying the night away because its nightlife is famously unforgettable. However, from the majestic Diamond Head to the serene beaches, anyone can find something to love about Waikiki. Honestly, there's so much to experience that you could fill up an entire vacation itinerary and still find new ways to enjoy the area.
You haven't gotten the full Hawaii vacation experience until you've seen a live hula performance. Performers flock to Kuhio Beach in Waikiki from all over the island every week. Each show opens with the traditional blowing of the conch shell before exploding into an unforgettable display of stunning colors, music, and movements. It's not hyperbole to say that this show features some of the finest halau hula in Hawaii.
Oahu and Waikiki were home to one of the greatest surfers to ever grace the sport: Duke Kahanamoku. This legend won five Olympic medals in swimming and gave swimming exhibitions all over the world. During these exhibitions, he would also show off his surfing abilities, popularizing the sport. When visiting Waikiki, you would be missing out on a key part of its culture and history if you don't hit the water and give surfing a try in honor of Kahanamoku. Plenty of local businesses provide beginner surfing courses near Waikiki Beach.
Waikiki is so full of activities and events most people struggle with figuring out what to do first. If you can't decide how to spend your time, why not just see everything Waikiki has to offer? Local companies offer hop-on, hop-off tours that give you an entire vacation's worth of sightseeing in a matter of hours. The best part? The minute something grabs your attention; you can jump off the tour and enjoy yourself. When you're done, head back to the trolley route and resume your tour.
It should come as no surprise that Waikiki comes to life at night, especially on the weekends. If you want to start your weekend right, head to the Duke Kahanamoku lagoon and beach. Every Friday, the skies above the sands literally welcome the weekend with a bang as they fill with beautiful and wild fireworks. Though the show is relatively short, the finale is absolutely unforgettable, with fireworks synced to music.
A full, ceremonial luau is another one of those events on the checklist of "must-sees" of Hawaii. Thankfully, Waikiki is home to a luau that will have you missing the island long after you've returned home. Queens Waikiki Luau not only showcases authentic hula dancing but also adds extra fun with lessons, demonstrations, and, of course, live music from traditional performers. During the luau, you'll fill your belly with a feast that includes a whole sucking pig.
Waikiki's parks are just as lovely —if not more so— as the rest of the island. A perfect example of this is Honolulu's oldest and most beloved public park, Kapiolani Park. You can wander through the green fields and take in the distant views of mountains or enjoy leisure activities like tennis, jogging, or picnicking. Kapiolani Park is also home to both the Waikiki Zoo and Aquarium, so it's the perfect stop for families looking to fill their day.
The entire island of Oahu, including Waikiki, is full of natural beauty. However, it can be a little rugged and difficult to enjoy. The Foster Botanical Gardens bring all of the gorgeous plant life from around Hawaii to one place, creating a well-cultivated garden for you to experience. Watch butterflies flit from plant to plant as you take in the peace and tranquility of this spot of pure zen. Also on-site are temples, statues, and even themed gardens where you can sit and relax with a picnic.
Hawaii boasts a massive number of incredible snorkeling spots, and one of the best is right next to Waikiki Beach. The best place to enter is Kapiolani Park, where you can view the reef from the shore. Beginners can participate in an underwater tour that includes a ride to Turtle Canyon. Experienced divers can roam a bit more and discover all kinds of starfish, reef fish, and even octopi.
The Diamond Head Crater is one of the first things you'll be able to see from your plane's window as you arrive on Oahu. Its stunning silhouette has made it an iconic natural landmark and one of the island's most popular tourist destinations. Hit the hiking trail or take a segway tour up the volcanic crater that has become Waikiki's heart. The summit at the end of the 560-foot climb rewards you with a panoramic vista of Waikiki's most stunning beaches. On the way back down, treat yourself with some shaved ice from a local food truck.
If you're even slightly entertaining the thought of visiting Waikiki, its nightlife is probably one of the major factors. Once the sun sets, a new side of the island emerges. You can lounge with creative cocktails at RumFire or dance the night away at any of the bars along Kalakaua Avenue. Beyond that, it's worth revisiting some of the areas you saw while the sun was up. Check out the twilight tours at the Honolulu Zoo to meet the local nocturnal animals, as well as stargazing opportunities.