Honolulu, Hawaii, is home to Waikiki Beach, one of the world’s leading tourist destinations. Located near the southern tip of Oahu, the region boasts some of the world’s most beautiful beaches and pristine warm waters.
Waikiki is built for walking, with numerous shops, restaurants, and cafés lining the famed Waikiki Beach Walk, easily accessible from most hotels.
Visiting Waikiki Beach
A considerable portion of Honolulu’s economy is based on tourism, and the locals do an outstanding job of making everything easy for their visitors. There are tiny offices throughout Waikiki that sell the various tours offered in the area. You can stop by any of these offices and book something different for every day of your trip. The tours range from luaus to snorkeling, moped rentals to surf lessons and Pearl Harbor trips to boat rides. There is something for everyone.
The best part about these activities is that they arrange all transportation for you. You just have to sign up and pay, and the company will take care of everything else. They have busses that pick you up at meeting places in front of various hotels. In many cases, the meeting point will be at a nearby hotel since there are so many hotels in Waikiki, but you will rarely have to walk more than a block to meet your bus.
Once on the bus, they will take your tickets and reference them with the list to ensure that they haven’t missed anyone. They will then give you all the information you might need and provide you with any equipment you might need. It’s the most accessible system I’ve ever encountered!
I chose three activities that I felt epitomized Hawaii: snorkeling in Hanauma Bay, Germaine’s Luau, and visiting one of the most famous landmarks in Hawaii, Pearl Harbor. I booked a tour for every other day of my trip, so I had some relaxation time between each activity. If you have enough time for a bit of a more extended stay, I recommend using this method.
Snorkeling Hanauma Bay
Hanauma Bay is a pristine nature reserve and reef on the southeastern tip of Oahu. It’s about a 30-minute bus ride from Waikiki beach.
The tour provides you with a facemask and snorkel, but I recommend bringing sunscreen and applying judiciously. Unfortunately, I didn’t consider that you could get sunburned while snorkeling and spent the rest of my trip with a toasty burn.
It was well worth it, though. The bay is home to a wide variety of sea life, including tropical fish, eels, and even sea turtles. I wasn’t lucky enough to see any of the turtles, but the fish and reef were spectacular.
One word of caution – please be wary of the currents. It’s easier to snorkel out to the far reaches of the bay than to swim back in. I didn’t realize how far out I had drifted until it was time to swim home. I wasn’t in any real danger, but you can never be too careful with currents and rip tides. Life jackets are advised if you aren’t a strong swimmer.
A luau is a celebration of Polynesian culture and a must-see event if you are visiting Hawaii. I chose Germaine’s Luau because I wanted to become ohana with one of the island’s biggest and most celebrated luaus, though there are many to choose from.
During the bus ride to the Luau, a staff member will regale the guests with tales of Hawaiian history and culture. Upon arrival to the beachfront property, you will be welcomed with a Hawaiin shell lei, the traditional “aloha” gift. When the giant conch shell sings its song, you should make your way to your seat for the start of the festivities!
The night includes dinner and entertainment. It’s an all-you-can-eat buffet featuring the best of Hawaiin and American cuisine. The star of the show is the kalua pig, cooked using the traditional underground oven. There are various other menu options available for those with dietary restrictions, including fish and vegetarian options.
The rest of the evening features an array of dances from around the Pacific. There are Tahitian dances showcasing traditional costumes and headdresses, the traditional graceful hula dancers, and of course, the star of the show, the Samoan fire dancers. Each dance represents a unique culture found across Polynesia, and it’s a beautiful introduction to the array of cultures found in the region.
As a veteran who shares a birthday with the day that will live in infamy, I had to see Pearl Harbor on my visit to Hawaii. The easiest way to visit Pearl Harbor is with a tour company, as they will take care of the transportation and pay any necessary fees in advance.
The most iconic part of the tour is visiting the USS Arizona memorial. According to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA), nearly 2000 crewmen were killed when aerial bombing caused an explosion and sank the vessel. The majority of them are still entombed in the USS Arizona. Oil from the wreckage is still leaking, and you can see it bubbling to the water’s surface. This memorial is a somber reminder of the lasting horrors of war.
I booked the Pearl Harbor and Honolulu sightseeing tour, which included a trip to the ‘Iolani Palace and King Kamehameha statue in downtown Honolulu. It was an excellent opportunity to see learn about the history of the city, including the history of Queen Kapiolani, one of the last royals of Hawaii before its annexation by the United States.
More Activities in Waikiki
There is far more to do in Waikiki than I had time for. One of the most iconic adventures that I missed was a hike up Diamond Head, one of the tallest mountains on the island. Although I didn’t hike up it, I did have a fantastic view of it and the beach from my hotel room.
Other top-rated activities included taking an Atlantis submarine tour, snorkeling at turtle canyon, visiting the Bishop Museum, and shopping at the Ala Moana Center.
Hanging Out on The Beach
I spent seven days in Hawaii, so the days that I didn’t have an activity planned, I spent hanging out on the beach, drinking fruity mixed drinks, checking out the local shops, and hitting the local bars.
I did the traditional thing and ordered a drink in a pineapple, but my favorite drink was the tropical take on a mimosa – guava juice and champagne.
I even used one of the free days to try my hand at surfing! I quickly learned that surf lessons are available for a reason. Unfortunately, I couldn’t stand up even one time on the surfboard! But hey, trying is part of the fun, right?
Travel to Hawaii for Less
The biggest drawback to vacationing in Hawaii is that it can get expensive. I got a great deal on my flight and hotel, but the tours, food, and drinks were costly. If you are looking to do it on a budget, it can be done by taking a red-eye flight, finding a hotel off of the main strip, and spending most of your time on the beach (for free!).
If you want the whole luxury experience though, you should stay at the Hilton Hawaiin Village. It’s located right on the beach and has all the amenities you could need!
If you have some money to play with, a Hawaiian vacation on Waikiki Beach is a tourists paradise.
Melanie launched Partners in Fire in 2017 to document her quest for financial independence with a mix of finance, fun, and solving the world’s problems. She’s self educated in personal finance and passionate about fighting systematic problems that prevent others from achieving their own financial goals. She also loves travel, anthropology, gaming and her cats.