There are beaches that are more beautiful, there are beaches that are more secluded, but there are no stretches of sand as iconic of Hawaii as Waikiki beach. The 1.5 mile coastline is the postcard image of tourism in the 50th state.
Some may criticize Waikiki for being too touristy, too built-up, and too crowded. Others see it as an upbeat and conveniently placed paradise. “This is the real Hawaii,” people would claim, virtually anywhere other than the famous resort area. But you simply can’t leave Oahu without seeing Waikiki for yourself.
Personally, I loved it. I was staying in the residential area of Hawaii Kai and was lucky enough to see almost every corner of Oahu, but Heather and I still found ourselves at Waikiki fairly often. I don’t think it’s hard to see why.
I’m all for the quiet, abandoned beach experience sometimes — it’s lovely to feel you’ve stumbled upon a private Eden. But it’s also nice to lounge in a hotel pool just steps from the sea water, or buy a shaved ice to eat on the sand, or rent a surfboard and join the masses at the breaks. Maybe it’s because I’m a city girl at heart, but something I enjoy the fun and camaraderie of a crowded beach. Especially when it looks like Waikiki.
Oahu is considered the “big city island” in Hawaii, but it’s still a tropical island at heart. The following photo is a juxtaposition that screams Oahu to me — high rises, palm trees and rainbows.
It’s a beautiful place to watch the sunset. After-work surfers paddle out into the darkening waves as the sky turns orange and the hotels light up behind it.
It’s also a great place to take a series of failed self-portrait jump shots.
Photo via Heather
But there’s more to Waikiki than sand and waves. The Waikiki Aquarium is the third oldest in the country, is partnered with the University of Hawaii, and focuses on marine wildlife specific to Hawaii and the Pacific. Being the aqua-addict that I am, Wim knew she had to take me here.
I loved this little aquarium — it was educational, it took only an hour to go through, and it had an informative audio guide that came totally free! Entrance is very reasonably priced at $9, $6 for residents/military/students/seniors, $4 for teens, $2 f0r children, free for those under the age of 5.
The aquarium’s main claim to fame is that it was the first in the world to breed the chambered nautilus in captivity. I would love to come eye to eye with one of these guys underwater diving, but until then I’m happy to see them through a bit of glass.
The aquarium is part indoors, part outdoors. Out in the sun lies the famous Hawaiian monk seal, an anti-social little mammal that happens to be one of the most critically endangered seal species in the world.
Waikiki has much to offer after the sun sets as well. The bars are pretty touristy and overpriced, but one alternative we loved was a sunset booze cruise. Lasting 90 minutes with an open bar the whole time, the $30 per person admission is actually somewhat reasonable. As Wim, Heather and I have quite the history with tropical booze cruises we knew we had to hit up this one.
The catamaran goes along the beach, curves around Diamond Head mountain and heads back in towards the bright lights of the city. Along the way we passed surfers, practicing longboat teams, and happy pods of dolphins. We also drank copious amounts of rum.
Of course there is much more to Hawaii, and to Oahu, than Waikiki Beach — and its a shame so many people don’t get to see that. But I love this little postcard perfect part of Hawaii, a little taste of urban paradise.
In my next post I’ll be trading the sights and sounds of the busy beach for the quiet peace of the underwater world.