Lots of flights arrive into Honolulu early in the morning but most Waikiki accommodation have an afternoon check-in time between 3-4pm. Sadly, most won’t be able to provide an early check-in because they’ll be busy cleaning the rooms of guests who just departed. But don’t worry, I’ve pulled together a list of things do in Waikiki while you wait.
Please note, most of these ideas will work on the flip side when you check-out of your Waikiki accommodation and have time to kill before your flight. But first, let’s chat about the logistics of luggage.
If you’re staying at a hotel or resort, you can head straight to the reception desk and check-in at any time. They’ll check you in and if your room isn’t ready, they’ll offer to store your luggage while you wait. Easy.
Visitors staying in a vacation rental property won’t have the privilege of storing luggage onsite. However, they can ask their Host if they can drop off their luggage early (perhaps it can be left inside with the cleaner).
Alternatively, there are a few luggage storage options in Waikiki. Waikiki Baggage Storage provides a safe place to store luggage in Waikiki. For a minimum charge, Your Connection Hawaii will pick up and drop off luggage from anywhere in Waikiki.
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From the Airport
- Book a Private Tour Departing From the Airport. Maximize your time on Oahu by arranging a private tour company to pick you upon arrival to Honolulu’s Airport, whisk you away on an island adventure for a couple of hours, and drop you off at your accommodation afterward. Book Your Private First/Last Day Tours.
- Pit-Stop for Groceries. If you’re staying in an Apartment you’ll want to stock up on groceries and picking up these essential items first-thing is a good use of time. For those hiring a car from the Airport, stop for groceries en route to Waikiki at Whole Foods Kakaako or Foodland Farms Ala Moana. For those without wheels, you can pre-arrange a Private Transfer. Some Drivers will be open to adding an extra hour or so to the transfer time (for a price) so that you can stop and buy groceries.
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At the Hotel
- Pre-Book the Night Before Your Arrival. Sorry to state the obvious, but you could just pre-book the night before you arrive to guarantee an early check-in and smooth start to your Hawaii vacation.
- Gain Exclusive Club Lounge Access. Some Waikiki hotels and resorts have an exclusive Club Lounge area with special amenities including complimentary refreshments. Consider booking a room with Club Lounge access so you can use these facilities to chill out as soon as you get there.
- Secure a Day Pool Pass. If your Waikiki accommodation has a pool it’s highly likely you can use the pool facilities while you wait. Score! For everyone else, check out Resort Pass. It gives you the opportunity to access the pools, spas, and amenities of Waikiki’s most luxurious hotels and resorts without being a guest. Purchase a day pool pass, spa pass or even hire a cabana ahead of time, for your first day on the island.
- Dive into Hawaii’s Hotel History. The Moana Surfrider was the first hotel built in Hawaii followed by the Royal Hawaiian resort, also known as the ‘Pink Palace of the Pacific’. Both properties played an important role in shaping Waikiki and their historic displays should be fully explored.
- View Cultural Artefacts at Outrigger Resorts. Wander through the Outrigger Waikiki Beach Resort to see an authentic hand-crafted Hawaiian outrigger canoe.
- Take a Photo at the Duke’s Statue. Nothing screams welcome to Waikiki more than a photo with the Duke! The Duke Kahanamoku statue stands front and center on Waikiki Beach, drawing thousands of excited travelers every day, who wait patiently for the opportunity to snap a photo.
- Meander Waikiki From One End to the Other. There’s no better way to discover the seaside neighborhood of Waikiki than with your own two feet. It doesn’t matter where you start or finish, just follow your curiosity. Wander in and out of hotels, up and down side-streets, along the beachfront, and through the parks.
- Walk the Waikiki Historic Trail. If you’d prefer to explore Waikiki by following an itinerary, walk the Waikiki Historial Trail. It features 21 points of interests, starting at Kapiolani/Waikiki Beach and ending at Kalakaua Park, at the intersection of Kalakaua and Kuhio Ave.
- Jump on the Waikiki Trolley. The Waikiki Trolley is a hop-on-hop-off bus and trolley system that shuttles passengers throughout Waikiki, Honolulu, and East Oahu on three routes (as at Jun 2021): Red = City Arts District, Blue/Green = Ocean/Diamond Head and Pink = Ala Moana Shopping. Pick up a 1-Day All-Line Ticket from $45.00 per adult, $25.00 per child (3-11 years old), a 4-Day All-Line Ticket from $65.00 per adult, $40.00 per child (3-11 years old) or a 7-Day All-Line Ticket from $75.00 per adult, $49.00 per child (3-11 years old).
- Scoot Coupe Around Town. Hire a Scoot Coupe (see cover image), a two-person three-wheel moped, from Hawaiian Style Rentals to get acquainted with the local area. There’s no need to travel too far, do a few laps of Waikiki including a cruise down the main street, Kalakaua Ave, through Kapiolani Park and around Diamond Head. While you’re out and about stop into Leonard’s Bakery and try Hawaii’s famous malasadas (Portuguese donuts). Use promo code ADMIRER for an exclusive discount when booking online.
On the Water
- Sail Away off Waikiki Beach. A catamaran sail is a fantastic introduction to Waikiki. Various catamaran operators offer morning and afternoon sails straight off the sand on Waikiki Beach including the Turtle Canyon Snorkel Cruise by Catamaran who offer a 2-hour morning tour or a 3-hour midday tour.
- Ride an Outrigger Canoe. Catch a few waves to shore on an Outrigger Canoe, Hawaii’s original rollercoaster. This exhilarating canoe surfing activity is unique to Hawaii. With the whole experience lasting around 30-minutes, it’s a great way to experience one of the world’s most famous beaches.
Eat & Drink
- Enjoy Breakfast or Lunch With a View. Start your trip with a fulfilling brunch with an epic ocean outlook. Barefoot Beach Cafe is the place to enjoy a casual meal on picnic tables by Waikiki’s sandy shore. Try local favorites like Hawaiian Sweetbread French Toast, Royal Loco Moco or Fluffy Buttermilk Pancakes.
- Indulge in a Shaka Boom. Why not tick one of Waikiki’s most Instagramable sweet treats off your Hawaii to-eat list? The Kokoro Cafe in the Paina Food Court at the Royal Hawaiian Center has a ‘Shaka Boom’ signature dessert. They also have Dole Whip Floats and POG (Passion Orange Guava) Frozen Slushie.
- Cool Down With a Shave Ice. This beloved Hawaii dessert is sweet and refreshing. Head to the Island Vintage Shave Ice hut on Kalakaua Ave outside the Royal Hawaiian Center for shave ice made with fresh fruit ingredients. Alternatively, for shave ice with a Taiwanese twist head to Ice Monster on Kuhio Ave. It’s a non-dairy dessert blending fresh fruits with ice, with a melt-in-your-mouth texture and no added sugar.
- Seek Out a Cup of Kona Coffee. Chances are you haven’t had a good night’s sleep on the plane. Head to Honolulu Coffee by the Moana Surfrider entrance for a caffeine hit. Enjoy your coffee in a rocking chair on the hotel’s verandah or relax beachside under the historic banyan tree.
- Sit Down for a Cuppa and Sweet Treat. If you’d prefer to rest over a nice cuppa head to Halekulani Bakery & Restaurant or Kona Coffee Purveyors. These cafes have a menu full of sweet treats. I recommend Halekulani’s Signature Coconut Cake or Kona Coffee Purveyors Pineapple Coconut Almond Croissant.
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- Welcome Drinks With a View. It’s always 5 o’clock somewhere! Find an oceanfront bar with a killer view of Diamond Head and cheers to the start of your Hawaii holiday. Three prime venues options include RumFire at Sheraton Waikiki, The Beach Bar at Moana Surfrider or Mai Tai Bar at Royal Hawaiian.
- Some Mornings Call for a Bloody Mary! If the morning you land in Hawaii is one of those mornings, make your way to The Hideout at The Laylow. It has a beautiful open-air rooftop with sun-soaked seating and one of the best Bloody Mary’s in town (it comes adorned in bacon).
- Find an Activity Desk to Book Tours. If you haven’t booked all of your tours, find an Activity Desk (there are plenty dotted around Waikiki) and make reservations. Note, we personally recommend pre-booking your activities and here’s why.
- Mingle With Animals. Family-friendly attraction Honolulu Zoo on the east end of Waikiki is a prime venue for learning about Hawaii’s indigenous species. Surprisingly compact, the zoo can easily be explored in one to two hours.
- Sign Up for a Cultural Class. Most shopping centers in Hawaii provide complimentary Hawaiian cultural activities (first come, first serve). Check the event schedule at the Royal Hawaiian Center and International Market Place to see what’s on. There could be a perfectly-timed lei making class waiting for your attendance.
- Learn to Play Ukulele. The Ukulele Store on Waikiki Beach Walk presents Free Ukulele Lessons daily. Use your ‘spare time’ as an opportunity to learn to play one of Hawaii’s iconic instruments.
- Visit the U.S. Army Museum of Hawaii. Discover Hawaii’s military heritage at the U.S. Army Museum, housed inside a former coastal artillery battery in Waikiki. Admission is free (donations welcomed) and it’s open Tue-Sat (10am-5pm).
- Get a Pedi Mani with Hawaii Nail Art. When you get your nails done in Hawaii it’s only right to get Hawaii-inspired nail art. Ask your nail technician for options, most Hawaii nail salons offer icons like hibiscus flowers, palm trees and pineapples. Check out Nail Zone on Seaside Ave, Nail Salon Ai in T Galleria by DFS or Tami-A Nails Salon on Kaiulani Ave.
- Put Your Hair Up in Braids. Why not spend a couple of hours getting your hair braided? It’ll save you having to do your hair on vacation and makes for some unique snaps! Braids Hawaii has two locations in Waikiki. To avoid disappointment, book a Hair Braids appointment prior to arrival.
- Test Drive a (Henna) Tattoo. Get a temporary tattoo to show off in Hawaii. Henna tattoo artists like Honolulu Henna are ready to ink your body in creative designs. To avoid disappointment, book a Henna Tattoo appointment prior to arrival.
- Indulge in a Massage. Holidays are all about treating yourself, so why not get a massage in Waikiki. Book a familiar Deep Tissue, Swedish or Shiatsu massage or try Lomi Lomi, a unique form of Hawaiian massage that involves rhythmic motion and healing properties.
- Chill Out at a Beach Park. Fort DeRussy Beach Park is an oceanfront green space with shady trees, and a nearby outdoor shower and public restroom. It’s a very comfortable spot to spend time soaking up the beach atmosphere. Enhance the day with a picnic, pick up foods and beverages from Coco Cove in central Waikiki.
- Live the Dream under a Beach Umbrella. A number of operators along Waikiki Beach rent beach umbrellas and chairs, but they often sell out. Therefore, it’s best to pre-book a Beach Umbrella and Chair Set Rental in advance. Secure a set for your arrival day, just make sure you let them know what time you’ll be picking them up if it’s after 7am (add this info into the special requirements section of the booking).
- Float Your Worries Away. There are 30+ ABC Stores throughout the streets of Waikiki selling inflatable rings and air beds for a couple of bucks, they’ll even inflate them for you. Get your hands on one, hit the ocean and let your troubles float away.
Rest & Relax
- Hang Out at International Market Place. If all you feel like doing is flopping and dropping, the International Market Place has ample outdoor seating including cabanas on the Grand Lanai (Level 3). There’s also free WiFi and phone charging stations are available at most seating areas throughout the center.
- Sink Into a Sofa at O Bar. Another great area to kick back in is the O Bar in the lobby of Alohilani Resort. It’s a spacious and quiet venue with a three-story oceanarium backdrop filled with tropical fish. Order a refreshment, sink into a comfortable couch, and spot for Hawaii’s state fish, the humuhumunukunukuapuaa.
- Score Discounts at Nordy and Ross. Pass your time sorting through bargain racks at two awesome discount stores in Waikiki. Nordstrom Rack on Kuhio Ave is the ‘off-price’ retail division of the luxury department store Nordstrom and Ross Dress For Less on Seaside Ave is crammed with house brand name items at 20-60% off.
- Conquer Ala Moana Center. If you happen to get off your flight with a bucket load of energy to burn hit up the world’s largest open-air mall, Ala Moana Center, a 10-minute trolley ride from Waikiki. There are 350 stores to shop ’til you drop and plenty of restaurants and food courts to choose from when you need to refuel.
- Sort Out a U.S. SIM Card. If you didn’t get a chance to secure a U.S. Sim Card to use in Hawaii prior to your departure now is a good time to get this admin task out of the way!
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- Walk the Honolulu Zoo Fence. If you land on a Saturday or Sunday, stretch your legs after your long flight with a walk along the Art on the Zoo Fence exhibition (9am-3pm). Set up on Monsarrat Ave, within walking distance of Waikiki hotels, artists offer a wide variety of original works in a splendid outdoor setting.
- Hit Up a Weekend Farmers Markets. Weekends on Oahu overflow with Farmers Markets, presenting an opportunity to mingle with the locals, buy fresh island produce and support local small businesses. One of the biggest Farmers Market is KCC Farmers Market held in Diamond Head every Saturday (7-11am).
- Attend Church on the Beach. If you arrive early enough to Waikiki on a Sunday, Waikiki Beach Chaplaincy hosts a church service at 10:30am on Duke Kahanamoku Beach (next to the Duke Kahanamoku Lagoon at Hilton Hawaiian Village). This is a uniquely Hawaiian interdenominational service where everyone is welcome.
- Check the Island’s Expo Schedule. The Neal S. Blaisdell Center is a multi-purpose exhibition venue that hosts a year-round schedule of events. Always check what’s on during your stay, your trip could coincide with an interesting expo like the Mind, Body, Spirit Expo, Comic Con, or the Made in Hawaii Festival, to name a few.
TIP: Consider putting together an ‘Arrival Day Bag’ within your suitcase or as your carry-on bag. It should contain anything you’ll need for that period of time while you wait to check-in. This way you aren’t trawling through your bag trying to find what you want to get out of your luggage before storing it. It should basically be a pre-packed bag e.g. stuff for a beach day.