Look between the resorts and boutique hotels to discover Waikiki’s more offbeat and quirky side.
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Waikiki is the most popular vacation spot in Honolulu, and at first glance, the district appears to live up to its tourist-focused reputation. Located on the southeast coast of Oahu, Waikiki’s streets are lined with resorts, big-box clothing stores, and chain restaurants. At times, the main beaches and sidewalks are so packed with visitors that they’re difficult to navigate.
However, if you look beyond the commercial attractions, you’ll realize that Waikiki has an unexpectedly bizarre and beautiful side. It’s hidden between the luxury retailers are cute character boutiques and mid-century modern hotels. Wander the side streets, and you’ll encounter ancient healing stones and Japanese hole-in-the-wall cafes. If you’re looking for alternative experiences in Waikiki, then these 10 lesser-known spots are sure to delight you.
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The Laylow Hotel
Step into The Laylow Hotel, and you’ll feel as if you’ve time-traveled back to Waikiki circa the 1960s. The lobby evokes mid-century modern tropical nostalgia with kitschy hula figurines and black-and-white surfer photos. Each room has a curving lanai and a statement wall, bursting with turquoise and pink monstera leaves. Lounge on the refurbished furniture, including pin-leg chairs and surfboard-shaped tables, and strum on the little wooden ukulele provided to each guest.
INSIDER TIPAnyone can enjoy the vintage design vibes of The Laylow’s common areas and The Hideout Restaurant, which serves mai tais and poke bowls on an open-air patio.
Miffy x Kira Kids
Bypass the chain clothing stores at Royal Hawaiian Center and look for a seven-foot-tall white rabbit with a flower garland around her neck. Once you’ve spotted the rabbit, you know you’ve arrived at Miffy x Kira Kids, a standalone boutique dedicated to artist Dick Bruna’s cute minimalist character. Take a selfie with the giant Miffy statue, and shop for exclusive Hawaiian collections featuring the X-mouthed bunny, such as tropical totes and tie-dyed tees for all ages.
The ‘Alohilani Resort
The ‘Alohilani Resort is located right across from Waikiki Beach, but there’s no need to leave the hotel to encounter Hawaiian sea life. The lobby has a dramatic two-story saltwater Oceanarium, containing more than 1,000 marine and coral species in a 280,000-gallon aquarium. Sip on an ocean-themed cocktail at the adjoining O Bar, and be dazzled by the bright creatures that swim by. At 10:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m., you can watch the staff feed the fish and ask them questions about the impressive Oceanarium.
Musubi Cafe Iyasume
Honolulu has an enormous Japanese population, which has led to creative fusion foods such as Spam musubi. This popular local snack consists of a slice of grilled Spam on top of sushi rice wrapped with dried seaweed. Try it for lunch at Musubi Cafe Iyasume, a tiny takeout joint with a smiling rice ball mascot wearing a ribbon. The inexpensive combos include avocado bacon Spam and plum shiso Spam musubi. You can also pick up Bentos, ahi poke bowls, and onigiri stuffed with unusual ingredients like tiny jako fish or spicy cod roe.
The Wizard Stones
You may be puzzled to come across a cluster of four gigantic stones not far from Waikiki’s Duke Kahanamoku Statue. This historic landmark is connected to a legend about four wizards who supposedly sailed to the island around 400 AD and shared their healing powers with the locals. Before departing, the quartet placed their “mana” energy into these boulders, which weigh over a ton each. Today, residents visit the Wizard Stones and place flower leis as offerings to the four ancient healers.
Hang loose with Hawaiian drag queens at Wang Chung’s, a small and spirited karaoke bar that attracts a regular “ohana” or family. Every Sunday, the venue hosts a Drag Queen Brunch. Feast on mimosas and breakfast dishes while the ladies perform witty lip-syncs and comedy routines. At night, you can get tipsy on cocktails inspired by local drag queens while belting out karaoke tunes on-stage next to the Godzilla and geisha murals.
Pick up cute-faced snacks at Mitsuwa, the Japanese grocery store located in the International Market Place. As you walk through the aisles, you’ll encounter dozens of adorable character products from Japan. Try the dorayaki pancakes decorated with Doraemon’s face, and take home limited edition Hawaiian collaboration products, such as pineapple cookies in Hello Kitty tins. Mitsuwa Marketplace also sells items starring their own mascot, the big-eyed mochi fairy Mi-Tan.
The Banyan Tree at Moana Surfrider Hotel
Banyan trees, which are associated with the Buddha’s enlightenment, are found throughout Honolulu. One of the oldest and most dramatic specimens takes up the entire courtyard of Waikiki’s Moana Surfrider Hotel. This banyan tree has multiple trunks with twisting roots and branches that hang dramatically over a view of the ocean. Planted as an infant in 1904, the tree now rises over 75 feet high, with offshoots spreading 150 feet wide. Cool off under its leaves in the daytime, and gaze up at the filtered moonlight after dark.
INSIDER TIPYou can also spot a gorgeous banyan with a thick trunk of aerial roots at Kuhio Beach.
The Lava Tube
Get a kitsch fix at The Lava Tube, a local-owned restaurant that looks like the interior of a volcano. The outrageous decor includes rock walls that glow with red lava and a human-sized pineapple at the entrance. Trade jokes with the servers and sip on an authentic pina colada served in a hollowed-out pineapple. Afterward, dine on casual Hawaiian dishes made from home-grown ingredients, such as loco moco (a beef patty served with gravy, rice, and topped with sunny side eggs).
The “Greetings from Hawaii” Mural
Since 2015, artist Victor Ving and photographer Lisa Beggs have been traveling and creating murals for their “Greetings Tour” project. In 2019, they painted a 75 by 50-foot floor mural on an empty lot at the ‘Alohilani Resort. The artists completed the ground mural in three weeks, using 35 gallons of paint. You can see the vintage-styled “Greetings from Hawaii” postcard mural from Swell Pool Bar or one of the hotel rooms above.
INSIDER TIPTake a short drive from Waikiki to Kaka’ako and see dozens of vibrant murals. Most were painted during the annual Pow Wow Festival, which brings in local and international muralists.