Waikiki, Spouting Fresh Water
Waikiki, named from the Hawaiian word for “spouting fresh water,” refers to the springs that once fed into swamp lands separating Waikiki from the rest of Honolulu. Located on the south shore of Honolulu, Waikiki Beach is Oahu’s as well as Hawaii’s primary and most popular resort area. Today, Waikiki still holds true to its name, as it is a spring for fresh new expressions of island traditions.
Waikiki History and Fun Facts
During the 1800’s, Waikiki was a retreat for Hawaiian royalty, who enjoyed escaping to its then secluded white sand beaches. There, Hawaiian royalty would relax by surfing on wooden surf boards, venturing out on moonlit horseback rides or enjoy canoe racing competitions.
In 1901, the historic and still operating Moana Surfrider Hotel was built in Waikiki in anticipation of more visitors coming to the islands fueled by increased worldwide awareness of Hawaii as tourist destination. Both the Moana Surfrider Hotel, known as the First Lady of Waikiki, and the The Royal Hawaiian Hotel, called the Pink Palace of the Pacific, were popular Waikiki recreational locations for soldiers and sailors during WWII. In January of 1942, the Royal Hawaiian Hotel was leased exclusively to the United States Navy as a rest and recuperation center for those serving in the Pacific.
The Waikiki Reclamation Commission in 1907 led efforts to drain the surrounding swamps, improved roads and built new bridges to Waikiki an effort to increase commercial growth, tourism and travel to Oahu. Such efforts were instrumental in enabling hotel and resort development throughout Waikiki.
Waikiki is world famous for its beach which has served as an iconic symbol of Hawaii’s natural beauty. But due to encroachment of hotels that were built too close to the beach with adjoining sea walls and groins that altered natural wave action, Waikiki has long contended with beach erosion since the 1800s. Sand erosion in Waikiki was even more problematic because the original beach area in Waikiki was relatively narrow. The nagging forces of nature prompted a number of beach restoration and erosion control measures in the 1920s and 1930s when enormous amounts of sand from Los Angeles’ Manhattan Beach was shipped to Hawaii and then deposited onto Waikiki’s shoreline in an effort to restore as well as enlarge the beach area. Since 1939, the Army Corp of Engineers have built additional seawalls and groins to counter erosion that was initially caused by the original seawalls and groins built by the first hotels in the area. Ever since then, it has been an ongoing battle with the forces of nature to maintain sand on Waikiki Beach. It’s truly ironic that most of Hawaii’s most famous beach, in a place most known for its natural beauty, is man-made.
The beaches along Waikiki are white and picturesque, but for reasons previously explained, are generally not very wide. There are designated areas along Waikiki beach where visitors can enjoying the ancient Hawaiian sport of surfing. Waikiki’s waves are known for their long rolling break, providing the optimal long boarding experience for novice visitors and veterans of the sport alike. Here, Olympic gold-medal winning swimming and iconic Hawaiian waterman, Duke Kahanamoku, taught surfers and canoe paddling in the early 1900’s and was called the “father of modern surfing.” A statue of Hawaii’s Duke can be found in Waikiki.
There are two primary thoroughfares through Waikiki, named in honor of major figures in Hawaiian royalty. The most luxurious set of high-end hotels and designer shops are lined on Kalakaua Avenue which is named for King Kalakaua, the last reigning king of the Hawaiian Kingdom. He was known to be a patron of music, the arts and Hawaiian tradition. As this is the endearing term that historians have bestowed upon him, the spring-time Merrie Monarch Festival hula festival is also named in his honor.
The second major thoroughfare is Kuhio Avenue and is named for Prince Kuhio. The areas along this avenue are known for quaint cafes, sophisticated restaurants, clubs and vibrant nightlife. Every year, the Hawaii honors him by commemorating his March 26 birthday as a State holiday, called Kuhio Day, as well as by draping a lei on his statue at Kuhio Beach.
Waikiki Beach is set beneath iconic Le’ahi Crater or Diamond Head, arguably one of Hawaii’s most famous natural landmarks. Diamond Head is an extinct volcanic tuff cone that offers an excellent venue for relatively short, but exhilarating, hike to its summit that offers the best commanding views of the Waikiki area.
Must-see Waikiki Attractions
Check out the Honolulu Zoo, where you can see a wide variety of animals as well as beautiful native Hawaiian flowers and vegetation.
Visit the Waikiki Aquarium, where you can see a wide range of fish and marine wildlife that populate Hawaii’s offshore environment. Here you can also find the Hawaii’s State fish, which just might be the most difficult fish name to say, the humuhumunukunukuapua’a.
Arrange to take lessons for the time-honored Hawaiian tradition of hula dancing. Places like the Royal Hawaiian Center can provide these at short notice.
Waikiki also hosts numerous cultural events, outdoor performances, hula dancing and concerts at varying times throughout the year. A number of these events can be found at Kapiolani Park, a 500-acre park created by King Kalakaua in the 1870’s and is the largest park in Waikiki as well as in all of Honolulu. Within the park is the Waikiki Shell where you can attend concerts by various musical groups as well as those performed by the Honolulu Symphony.
A Taste of Waikiki
What can you expect to taste around Waikiki? From high-end restaurants to proverbial hole-in the-wall joints, eating in Waikiki can be rich, varied and sometimes, even quite simple. For example, you can’t avoid the popular Spam musubi in Waikiki. A Spam musubi can be described as fried spam (often in teriyaki sauce) that has been held in place with a sheet of nori (seaweed) on a rectangle-shaped molded bed of rice. The people of Hawaii love it so much, they host the Waikiki Spam Jam every year. A very popular and casual place for locals and visitors alike with cravings for everyday Japanese food is Marukame Udon on Kuhio Avenue. If your taste buds prefer something fancier, you might want dine at the award-winning Orchids restaurant located within the understated elegance of the historic Halekulani Hotel. If you like to enjoy fine Chinese cuisine for dinner or traditional dim sum for lunch, we highly recommend Beijing Restaurant, which is conveniently located in the Royal Hawaiian Center.
And you always want to top off a dish in Hawaii with some hot malasadas (hole-less Portuguese-style donuts) at Leonard’s Bakery located next door to Waikiki in Kapahulu. Other famed local eateries can be conveniently found in Kapahulu, like Ono Hawaiian Food or Rainbow Drive Inn, where you can get one of Hawaii’s best plate lunches. The best part is, if you run out of food options in Waikiki, food-lovers can opt for the eventful and award-winning Culinary Tours in Honolulu.
So whether you surf, hike, canoe, swim, eat or relax in one of the luxurious resorts or restaurants, Waikiki is a guaranteed hit, full of activities and culture for everyone in the family to enjoy.