Insider’s Guide to Waikiki, Honolulu

It may be freezing where you live, but a warm vacation is still possible without scrambling for your passport. The average winter temperature is 78 degrees in Waikiki and airfares to Oahu are often lowest from January through March, so pack your flip-flops and head for the beach.

Waikiki, located on the south shore of Oahu, is known for its long and calm beach, views of Diamond Head, and a high concentration of hotels. But just because it’s a tourist destination doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it like a local. Waikiki is a great place to find hotel bargains, great food, drinks, and entertainment for the whole family. Making the trip even more affordable, you can easily enjoy Waikiki without a car.

Shoreline Hotel Waikiki

Big beachfront resorts are expensive, but if you’re willing to sacrifice being on the water, you can find a room for a fraction of the cost. The Shoreline Hotel Waikiki is a perfect example, and it’s just a short walk from the beach. The 1970s building features a hip yet tropical aesthetic that’s easy on the eyes. It’s a smaller, boutique-style hotel with perks like pineapple iced tea in the lobby, free WiFi, and no pesky resort fees. Right now, book a “Choose Your Own Adventure Package” and enjoy a four-night stay with rates starting at $596. Then choose an activity, such as a tour by small plane or pedal bike, at a 20 percent discount.

Marukame Udon

When it comes to dining, skip the familiar chains and follow the Japanese tourists who line up at Marukame Udon for freshly made noodles at bargain basement prices. Bowls of udon start at just $3.75 and you can add different toppings and sides, such as tempura shrimp or fried chicken. Enjoy your noodles hot or cold with soup or a dipping sauce. Kids will particularly enjoy watching the noodles being made to order.

Tiki’s Grill and Bar

Another pick popular with those in the know is Tiki’s Grill and Bar. It has great views of the beach and a menu of local favorites prepared by chef Ronnie Nasuti, who boasts considerable fine dining chops. At lunch, try the perfectly seared Hawaiian ahi salad or loco moco, an island favorite consisting of a Big Island beef patty over rice with fried eggs, topped with a rich brown gravy and crunchy onions. There’s a kid’s menu, too, and happy hour with live music.

Top of Waikiki

Watching the sunset is a favorite for visitors and locals alike. If you head to Top of Waikiki, the revolving bar and restaurant, you’ll get a view of the ocean and views of the city as the bar slowly spins 360 degrees. The exciting new bar menu that launched in January offers classic cocktails with a tropical twist, like a gin basil gimlet, Hawi Wallbanger, a Harvey Wallbanger with passionfruit, or tradewinds Manhattan with whiskey, dark rum, and cinnamon infused vermouth. Featured cocktails are bargain priced from 4:30 to 7 pm and from 9 to 11pm. 

Wai’olu Ocean View Lounge

Every Friday at 7:45 pm there is a fireworks show over Waikiki. Though the show is sponsored by the Hilton Hawaiian Village, the best viewing is at the chic Wai'olu Ocean View Lounge on the sixth floor of the Trump Hotel Waikiki. Snack on sushi rolls from their sunset menu and indulge in one of their special cocktails for $9 every evening from 3 to 6 pm, and be sure to stick around for a front-seat view of the fireworks.

Royal Hawaiian Center

Sunburned? If you want an activity away from the beach, the Royal Hawaiian Center offers a wide variety of cultural classes all for free. Here you can learn lomilomi massage or how to make a lei. Each ukelele class offers 25 instruments available for students to borrow and is appropriate for adults and kids alike. Most evenings, you’ll also find local entertainment in the early evening.

Kuhio Beach Torchlighting and Hula Show

Another place to enjoy local entertainment with hula and music from top performers is at the Kūhiō Beach Torchlighting and Hula Show. The free shows are held every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, from 6:30 to 7:30 pm (6:00 to 7:00 pm in January). Bring a beach chair or a towel to sit on. Like the rest of Waikiki, the show will leave you feeling full of aloha.