Aloha! I’m back with the final post in my three-part series recapping my trip to Waikiki Beach, Oahu, Hawaii earlier this year. As a reminder, you can also read my posts about where to stay in Waikiki and where to eat in Waikiki.
As I mentioned previously, when we booked this trip to Hawaii, Emma and I agreed we wanted a relaxing vacation with lots of beach + pool time. We both had a crazy 2021, and while we definitely like to explore, we’re equally as content to sit by the beach with a book in-hand while sipping on a cocktail. That’s why we chose to stay on Oahu for this inaugural trip to Hawaii instead of island hopping, and it’s ultimately why we chose not to rent a car for our visit. This was something we debated a lot, as many people recommend visiting the less populated North Shore of Oahu, or Ko Olina—the area where Disney’s resort is, or the Dole Pineapple Plantation, all of which are farther away than your standard Uber ride. While we had interest in all of those things, we ultimately decided that for this trip, we wanted to prioritize relaxing on the beach with a few “field trips” sprinkled in—and trying to add on any of those day trips to our itinerary would have been time away from our beach loungers. While I’d love to explore more of Oahu on a future trip—as well as visit other islands!—we had a blast on the itinerary we built sans rental car.
As we were planning our trip to Hawaii, one thing I thought was interesting was the amount of pressure I felt to “do Hawaii perfectly.” I think this feeling came up for me since, unlike many of the other trips I’ve taken, Hawaii is so far away and very cost + time prohibitive to visit often—at least for where I am in life—that, in many ways, it felt like I had one shot to do this trip right. Now that I’ve been to Hawaii and experienced just how magical it is, I know this is a place I want to prioritize visiting again in my travels. All that to say, I’m confident you’ll fall in love with Hawaii like I did and want to return. So, if you are feeling pressure to plan the perfect first trip to Hawaii, I totally relate—but am here to say that part of being on island time is embracing what comes your way and letting go of the control. This was, hands down, one of the best vacations I’ve ever been on, and looking back, I didn’t need to stress so much when planning it.
For this particular trip, we kept our whole first and last day planned as a true beach day where we got up and were down to the beach by 9am and hung out until 5:30pm or so. The other days of the trip, we did one activity and spent the rest of the day by the pool or beach—it was the perfect pace for us, and I’m excited to share all the cool things we did on this trip with you today.
ENJOY WAIKIKI BEACH —
If you’ve read my guide on where to stay in Waikiki Beach, you know that I absolutely fell in love with Waikiki Beach. I think it would be fair to say that it might be the best beach I’ve ever been to. For one, there has never been a confirmed shark attack in Waikiki Beach, so all you nervous swimmers can get in the water with less worry. For another, the water is so clear and warm, it’s truly magical. It also is extremely shallow for quite a distance, so there is ample room for everyone to spread out—unlike the East Coast beaches where there’s a huge drop off a few yards from shore, that was not the case here. We bought floats at a nearby ABC Store, which is an amazing convenience store chain they have throughout Waikiki, and they were so fun to have in the water.
While we mostly hung out on the beach near our hotel, there are quite a few public beach access points and plenty of places where you can rent an umbrella and chairs for the day. We took quite a few walks up and down Waikiki Beach, and one of the coolest spots was the Waikiki walls—they put up a sea wall to create, essentially, a huge swimming pool protected from the the wider ocean. While I found Waikiki Beach’s waters to be extremely calm overall, the walls would be a great spot to take kids since it’s really protected from any big waves or currents.
One of the coolest things about Waikiki Beach that I did not take for granted the week we were there was that when you’re in the ocean, you have an amazing view of Diamond Head, the volcano that rises above the skyline. It was stunning and an ever-present reminder of the beauty of Oahu.
VISIT PEARL HARBOR —
When we decided we were going to do a trip to Oahu, visiting Pearl Harbor’s sacred grounds was a top priority for us. It was such an overwhelmingly moving experience to see the site of the surprise Japanese Attack on December 7, 1941—and think of the 2,400 brave Americans who lost their lives that day that will forever live in infamy. And, seeing firsthand just how beautiful Pearl Harbor and the island of the Oahu are and imagining what the the massive attack and loss of life must have looked like was such a jarring contrast.
Anyone can visit the Pearl Harbor National Memorial’s Visitor Center and Museums for free and without a ticket. However, if you want to take a shuttle boat ride out to the USS Arizona Memorial like we did, you will need to reserve a ticket. They are free, and you can do it online, like we did, or there may be standby tickets available the day of your visit. Since this is a very popular memorial, I highly recommend reserving your ticket in advance here. (Another word to the wise—make sure you’re on time! The shuttle is run by the Navy and, pun intended, they run a tight ship. We saw several people who missed their scheduled shuttle and so they had to wait for the next boat with extra space in the standby line.)
We reserved tickets for the 11:30am shuttle over to the USS Arizona, so we arrived at the Pearl Harbor National Memorial around 10am to take in the other memorial offerings. There were several museums, wayside exhibits along the shore next to Pearl Harbor, and a great documentary on the history of the Pearl Harbor attack. Like many other memorials, it was a somber, quiet, reflective place—I definitely was overwhelmed by emotion during my visit.
The shuttle ride over to the USS Arizona Memorial is quick, but impactful. We had about 30 minutes to take in the Memorial, which was built over the remains of the sunken aircraft carrier, and there was a National Park Service Ranger on hand to answer any questions. Because the ship was a total loss and the final burial place of many of the 1,117 crewmen who were killed in the surprise attack, the Navy decided to leave the ship where it sank. It still leaks oil to this day, and the US Navy thinks it will take 100-150 years before the ship starts to collapse under water. Across Pearl Harbor from the USS Arizona Memorial is the USS Missouri where the Japanese ultimately surrendered the war in 1945.
It was extremely moving to visit this hallowed ground, and I would highly recommend a trip to the Pearl Harbor National Memorial to anyone visiting Oahu.
VISIT QUEEN EMMA’S SUMMER PALACE —
After Pearl Harbor, before we headed back to Waikiki Beach, we stopped by Queen Emma’s Summer Palace, the summer retreat in the mountains of Queen Emma of Hawaii in the late 1800s. The home itself now is currently a museum run by the Daughters of Hawai’i and houses a collection of Queen Emma’s belongings, antiques, furnishings and royal regalia. There’s also a small gift shop with some beautiful locally made pieces. We walked around the grounds and it was beautiful—such a calm oasis from busy Honolulu.
TAKE A SUNSET CRUISE —
Of all the things we did in Hawaii, this sunset catamaran booze cruise was my favorite!
Since we were visiting Hawaii, we knew wanted to get out on the water some—but we wanted to be able to sit back, relax, and enjoy it versus doing something super active like kayaking. I’ve been on several sunset booze cruises in my day, and figured doing one in Hawaii would be a great memory of our time in the islands. We were so lucky that our cruise was scheduled for a day with unbeatable weather, and so we got to see the most amazing sunset.
I searched around for a while when comparing which catamaran cruise I wanted us to take, but ultimately settled on the Maitai Sunset Sail & Booze Cruise with an open bar for a few reasons. For one, it left from the Sheraton Waikiki right next to our hotel, so it would be easy for us to get there and allow us to maximize our beach time that day. For another, it was longer than most other catamaran cruises I saw being offered—it was a full two-hour cruise, whereas most others I was looking at were 90 minutes. (And I would say, in actuality, our cruise was closer to two-and-a-half hours because the captain was awesome!) And most importantly, for just $80 a person, it offered an open bar! We figured that would be a more seamless experience for us than some of the BYOB cruises that were just $10-20 less than this option.
To board the catamaran, we walked a few feet out into the ocean and then kept our shoes off for the rest of the sail—talk about being on island time. The first mate served everyone Mai Tais right as we got on board, and they had all sorts of wine, beer, bubbly, and spirits available as well. Eventually, we switched over to a Mai Tai x champagne “mimosa” of sorts that was so, so good. Our captain took us out far enough that we got a great view of Honolulu and Diamond Head, and it was actually the end of a whale migration season, so we saw several whales. There was great music going and we made friends with some of the other guests on board.
If you’re looking for a really fun way to spend an evening in Waikiki Beach, I can’t recommend this sunset catamaran cruise enough—I’d do it again in a heartbeat!
HIKE DIAMOND HEAD —
If you’re in Waikiki, I highly recommend you take a morning a hike Diamond Head, the famous volcano that rises above Waikiki Beach! I’ll also preface this recommendation by saying, I am not an outdoorsy person, and hiking is not something I normally prioritize on a vacation. But, the hike up to the summit of Diamond Head was very manageable—it took us about 45 minutes to go up, and was largely a paved, or well defined, path. (You don’t need to wear hiking boots or special shoes—we both wore Nike sneakers and workout clothes and were fine!) You are going up hill, but they’ve done it in a way that it’s a lot of shallower climbs versus one steep elevation to the top. Coming down, of course, was a lot easier!
We wanted to beat the heat, so we headed over to Diamond Head around 7:30am via Uber. There is an area where they drop off and pick off guests going to Diamond Head, but there was also ample parking if you do have a rental car. We had to pay a $5 fee to get on the trail, which you can pay via cash or credit card. At this entrance point, there’s also a gift shop where you can buy water, snacks, and souvenirs or use the restroom.
When we hiked, there were plenty of other people around, but it didn’t feel too crowded. As we got closer to the top, the views became even more spectacular! Hawaii is so gorgeous, and this hike really shows off all its beauty. There’s a lookout point at the top where you can get a great view of Waikiki Beach and snap some photos.
Once we were back down, we took advantage of the Honolulu Pineapple Company food truck set up in the parking lot—Emma went for some shaved ice and I treated myself to a Dole Whip. When in Waikiki, right?! We earned it.
SHOP ON KALAKAUA AVENUE —
One of the things I noticed about Waikiki Beach is how clean—and classy!—it is for a beach town. I sometimes feel like beaches that cater to tourists tend to feel a little bit gritty, and that was not the case here at all. Kalakaua Avenue has pretty much every designer brand you could want—from Louis Vuitton to Hermes to Rimowa, they’ve all got an outpost in Waikiki Beach. Given Hawaii is a hot market for tourists from Asia, these designer brands do really well here.
And, even if you’re not ready to drop several thousand on a handbag, there are plenty of your classic beach town souvenir shops to be had—but even those feel elevated compared to the beach towns I’m used to frequenting! And, like I mentioned before, we were big fans of the ABC Stores—this is where we grabbed sunscreen, wine and snacks for our room, our floats we took into the ocean, and some souvenirs to bring home. They have similar offerings to a CVS or convenience store, so you can also get any first aid needs there as well. The pricing was really reasonable, especially when compared to what things were selling for at our hotel gift shop.
If you have any questions about our trip, don’t hesitate to drop me a comment below or shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This trip to Hawaii was truly a bucket list item for me, and will always hold a special place in my heart—mahalo for everything, Hawaii. I can’t wait to return one day—hopefully sooner rather than later!—and explore even more of these beautiful islands.