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A few weeks ago I had the privilege to be on the final United 747 passenger flight. That final flight flew from San Francisco to Honolulu, the same route as the first United 747 flight in the 1970’s, which was a very nice full circle moment for the aircraft and airline…and a very top notch travel destination for me. Call me unoriginal, but Hawaii is one of my very favorite spots, so even a night there isn’t too short for me.
To be clear, Honolulu and the Waikiki area aren’t my #1 favorite spots on the Hawaiian Islands, but there is more than enough to keep me happy there for 24 hours, and I was determined to make the most of my time in paradise. If you find yourself with 24 hours or so to maximize on Waikiki, here are five of my suggestions.
1. Go Surfing in Waikiki
If you are in Waikiki, then there’s no better time and place to catch your first few waves. You don’t need prior skills or advance reservations to walk up to one of the many surf stations set up all along the beach and score yourself a private or group lesson. On this trip, I did no prior research and just walked to the closest surf lesson/rental hut to the Hyatt Regency Waikiki where I was staying (review to come soon) and asked for the next available lesson. I was told the waves would be best mid-morning, so I returned at that time, though I did have to head to the second closest hut as the first only took cash and I only had a credit card. Expect to pay about $50 – $100 for an hour, depending on what type of lesson you choose.
I wouldn’t say the instructor I had on this trip was the best I have ever had, but he was entertaining, I caught some waves, got some good exercise in the process, and am calling it a win and the perfect use of an hour on Waikiki. As is common, included in the one hour private lesson price was a second hour of board rental that I could use at any time, though sadly my trip wasn’t long enough to take them up on that part of the offer.
This might be number one on my Waikiki to-do list if I had ever done it, but sadly while it was my goal to hike Diamond Head at sunrise on my most recent trip to Waikiki, it was closed for repairs, so I still don’t have personal experience in this department other than spotting the base of Diamond Head off in the distance while enjoying sunrise from the shore.
I hear nothing but good things for this one to two hour hike to the edge of a 300,000 year old crater next to the ocean, so it remains a Waikiki recommendation of mine and something that I hope to do on my next trip to the area.
3. Eat Poke and Shave Ice
While I don’t have any Waikiki hiking experience quite yet, I do have eating experience, and my two Hawaiian favorites are poke bowls and shave ice, both of which you can get within reasonable walking distance of the Waikiki beach area.
On my most recent trip, I enjoyed poke from Ono’s Seafood at 747 Kapahula Avenue. Ono’s was a very unassuming place about a 15 minute walk from Waikiki. I took a quick Uber ride to get there, but walked back with friends.
There are a few tables outside that may have space for you to sit and eat, but otherwise, there is a Taco Bell a block away from Ono’s with more outdoor tables. Worry not, some in the group ordered items from Taco Bell to make us a legit table of paying taco customers.
Just two more blocks further away from Waikiki was the Waiola Shave Ice spot at 3113 Mokihana Street that was a little off the beaten tourist path, but well worth the trek.
You would never believe how many rules there are to ordering shave ice until you see it first-hand, but this cash-only spot knows their stuff, and everyone in the group thoroughly enjoyed their flavorful and smoother-than-ice Hawaiian shave ice. All of the flavors were great, but the Obama Rainbow shown below may have been the winner.
4. Head to Pearl Harbor
Pearl Harbor isn’t right on Waikiki, but it isn’t far away either. There are plenty of tours you can hop on that will take you there if you don’t have a car or don’t want to take a cab or Uber. If you haven’t ever been, I’d certainly put it on the list while you are on Oahu. Obviously, this isn’t a ‘fun’ attraction, but an important spot in the history of the world that I am thankful to have visited on my first trip to Hawaii in 2005.
There are same-day first come, first served free tickets available to visit Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona Memorial, but if you don’t want to deal with that line and uncertainty, then you can get tickets online for a specific time up to two months in advance. Tickets are still free, other than a $1.50 service charge online.
5. Just Stare Out at the Ocean
Waikiki is a fascinating place as it is flanked by high rises, bustling with tourists, but still peaceful and magical in its own way. If you go to Hawaii, please explore other places in addition to Waikiki, but while in Waikiki take a chance to soak it all in while gazing out onto the vast ocean.
This one may not be for everyone, but I am a sucker for the Moana Surfrider right on the beach of Waikiki and bookable with SPG points. Even if you don’t stay there, I think it is worth a walk-through as it is a grand hotel and indeed the “First Lady of Waikiki”. The rocking chairs out back that are placed among the banyan trees and facing out towards the Pacific are a favorite spot of mine, especially at sunrise or sunset.
Since Waikiki is only 30 minutes or so from the airport in Honolulu, it is a logical spot to spend a night or two on the front of back-end of a Hawaiian vacation. Contrary to what you may think on first glance, it offers much more than just the high rise buildings, chain restaurants, and expensive shops. I’m sure I’m still just scratching the surface of what to do while in the Waikiki area, so please feel free to add your suggestions below!
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