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Best things to do and places to eat, shop and stay in Waikīkī, Hawaii

Hawai‘i’s best-known neighbourhood makes the ideal base for a family holiday, writes ANGELA SAURINE

A family playing in the sand at Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort
A family playing in the sand at Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikīkī Beach Resort

There are few places on the planet that can rival the vibe of Waikīkī, with its world-famous beach, surf culture and multitude of shops, restaurants and hotels. On Honolulu’s south shore, just 20 minutes’ drive from the airport, it has been a holiday hotspot since the first hotel, Moana Surfrider, was built on the beachfront in 1901. Set against the dramatic backdrop of Mount Lē‘ahi (Diamond Head State Monument), Waikīkī Beach is where Duke Kahanamoku, known as ‘the father of modern surfing’, grew up riding the waves. It’s the perfect place to hop on a board, ride an outrigger canoe or try stand-up paddleboarding. Hit the shops along the vibrant Kalakaua Ave strip, and dine with your toes in the sand at one of the many beachfront eateries.

THINGS TO DO IN WAIKĪKĪ

Children watching fish at Waikiki Aquarium. Image Hawaii Tourism Authority Tor Johnson
Children watching fish at Waikīkī Aquarium. Image: Hawaii Tourism Authority Tor Johnson

Spending as much time as possible on the beach is a given, but there’s oodles of other fun stuff to do in Waikīkī. Animal lovers can get their fix of marine life, including monk seals, sharks and rays, at Waikīkī Aquarium. You can also see native species, such as the Hawaiian goose, and endangered animals, including black rhinos, Asian elephants, cheetahs, chimpanzees and Sumatran tigers, at Honolulu Zoo, which lies between Waikīkī and Diamond Head in Queen Kapiʻolani Park. During summer, the park also hosts free Sunday afternoon performances by the Royal Hawaiian Band. It’s also worth hiking Diamond Head to take in the panoramic view over the coast – approximately a two-hour round trip, depending on your family’s fitness levels.

An aerial view of Waikiki. Image Hawaii Tourism Authority Tor Johnson
An aerial view of Waikīkī. Image: Hawaii Tourism Authority Tor Johnson

From Waikīkī, it’s also easy to do day trips to visit other attractions across the island of O‘ahu, including Pearl Harbor National Memorial, which is around a half an hour away. Spend a day splashing about at Wet’n’Wild Hawai‘i, head underwater in a submarine with Atlantis Adventures, ride the vintage-style Pineapple Express train at Dole Plantation and see where Jurassic Park and countless other movies and TV shows were filmed at Kualoa Ranch and Private Nature Reserve. A road trip to the North Shore is also a must so dad can check out the legendary Banzai Pipeline surf break, and the whole clan can learn about the traditions of islands throughout the South Pacific wandering through the villages at the Polynesian Cultural Center before watching the spectacular Hā: Breath of Life evening show.

SHOPPING IN WAIKĪKĪ

Waikiki Beach Walk 2
Waikīkī Beach Walk

Waikīkī is almost as famous now for its shopping as it is for its iconic beach, with plenty of places for mum to update her wardrobe. Spanning three blocks on the beach side of Kalakaua Ave, the Royal Hawaiian Center has more than 110 stores and restaurants across four levels, offering everything from fun-in-the-sun-wear to designer apparel, costume jewellery to high-end pieces, and street food to fine dining restaurants. There’s also art and craft stores, surf shops and free lei-making classes and hula and ‘ukulele lessons on weekdays, as well as live entertainment from Tuesday to Saturday.

The International Market Place is home to Hawai’i’s first Saks Fifth Avenue and shops including Abercrombie & Fitch, Banana Republic, Honolulu Cookie Co., Kona Coffee Purveyors, Pandora, Seafolly Australia, Sunglass Hut and Swarovski.

The stylish two-level, open-air Waikīkī Beach Walk has more than 40 stores, eateries and an outdoor plaza where live performances are held, while T Galleria by DFS in Royal Hawaiian Ave is a luxury duty free retail outlet. Affordable Burberry, Bvlgari, Cartier, Coach, Dior, Emporio Armani, Kate Spade, Marc Jacobs, Michael Kors, Prada and Ralph Lauren? Yes, please!

WHERE TO EAT IN WAIKĪKĪ

An aerial view of Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort. Image Hilton Hotels and Resorts
An aerial view of Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikīkī Beach Resort. Image: Hilton Hotels and Resorts

One of Waikīkī’s most enticing elements for families is the row of restaurants that line the beach. Duke’s Waikīkī, at Outrigger Waikīkī Beach Resort, is a standout. With its thatched umbrellas, tiki torches, barefoot bar and live music, it embraces the Aloha Spirit like few other venues. At the same resort, Hula Grill Waikīkī is a great place to experience Hawai‘i Regional Cuisine – a culinary movement created by a group of a dozen chefs in the early 1990s that blends the islands’ many multicultural food influences, flavours and cooking styles with local ingredients.

If you’re missing a taste of home, head to Bill’s Waikīkī, where Australian restaurateur Bill Granger serves up a full Aussie breakfast, baked goods, ricotta hotcakes and homemade sodas, including hibiscus and lime. Or grab a sanga or wrap and a smoothie from the Aussie café-inspired Tucker and Bevvy in the Hyatt Regency, or from the Park Shore Hotel outlet, across the road from the zoo.

FAMILY-FRIENDLY WAIKĪKĪ HOTELS

Enjoy the free fireworks show at Waikiki. Image Tor Johnson Hawaii Tourism Authority
Enjoy the free fireworks show at Waikīkī. Image: Tor Johnson Hawaii Tourism Authority

With more than 100 hotels, choosing where to stay in Waikīkī can feel a bit overwhelming. Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikīkī Beach Resort is a firm favourite among Aussie families – largely thanks to the fact it has six pools, the longest waterslide in town and a manmade lagoon ideal for trying water sports such as stand-up paddleboarding. Famous for its Friday night fireworks extravaganza, the mega hotel almost feels like a city in its own right, with 18 restaurants and bars, including Tropics Bar & Grill, CJ’s New York Style Deli and the super fun ROCKY Japanese Steak Teppan Restaurant. There’s also a rooftop lū‘au twice a week, and a Camp Penguin children’s program offering activities such as lei-making and hula and ‘ukulele lessons for kids aged five to 12.

The waterslide at Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort. Image Hilton Hotels and Resorts
The waterslide at Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikīkī Beach Resort. Image: Hilton Hotels and Resorts

If you’d rather be a bit closer to the action, Embassy Suites by Hilton – Waikīkī Beach Walk is next to the shopping centre that features in its moniker, just steps from the beach. It has spacious suites with a separate living room area and a micro-kitchen, while the Grand Lanai Pool Deck boasts a heated pool, whirlpool spa, kids’ pool and a large sundeck with stylish cabanas, covered-pavilion seating and the poolside Pakini Bar.

A refurbished room at Waikiki Beachcomber by Outrigger. Image Brent Shiratori
A refurbished room at Waikīkī Beachcomber by Outrigger. Image: Brent Shiratori

Beside International Market Place, Waikīkī Beachcomber by Outrigger has just undergone a major refurbishment, with a modern, coastal look and cool Hawaiian-inspired works by local artists, including an extreme surf photographer, chalk artist and a fiber artist, dotted throughout. The revamped streetfront is reminiscent of a contemporary beach house, replete with driftwood cedar, sea glass tiles, native puka stone and basalt lava rock framed by a multi-storey green-wall. Then there’s the farm-to-table eatery Maui Brewing Co., Hawaiian Aroma Caffe, and the pool deck, with infinity-style hot tub, overlooking Kalakaua Ave.

If it’s luxury you seek, check into the new ESPACIO THE JEWEL OF WAIKĪKĪ. Each of the hotel’s nine floors houses a single two- or three-bedroom suite, with full kitchens, 24-hour butler service, Italian-marble bathrooms, a balcony, dry sauna and a jacuzzi. The hotel, which is managed by Aqua-Aston Hospitality, also has a restaurant, rooftop infinity pool and spa. Access to a luxury car is included  – a perfect excuse to get out and explore the rest of the island!

GETTING THERE

Hawaiian Airlines, which recently celebrated its 90th birthday, flies direct to Honolulu’s Daniel K. Inouye International Airport from Sydney and Brisbane.

hawaiianairlines.com.au

MORE INFORMATION

gohawaii.com/au

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