Waikiki has a reputation for being touristy, kitschy, and overdone. But in recent years, a flood of boutique hotels, insta-worthy coffee shops, world class restaurants, and hip bars have breathed new life into Honolulu's south shore. Gone are the days of mega-resorts, over done luaus, and (for the most part) blatant cultural appropriation. Instead, the new Waikiki pays homage to the neighborhood's trademark vintage vibes while developing a new, decidedly modern scene. Whether a local or a tourist, a trip to Waikiki should be in your future.
To make things easy, below are my recommendations for a perfect weekend in Waikiki.
Arrive in Waikiki and check into The Laylow Hotel. A luxury boutique hotel with mid-century modern charm, The Laylow boasts playful rooms, a fresh take on the tiki bar, and easy access to all Waikiki has to offer. What the hotel lacks in views, it makes up in character. (For example: all 251 rooms are equipped with a ukulele.)
Grab a towel from the gift shop and take a short walk to the world famous Waikiki Beach for a quick swim before heading to Duke's Waikiki for lunch. Order a Mai Tai (the first of many) and nibble from the assorted offerings of Duke's lunch buffet while taking in the iconic views of Diamond Head and the Waikiki surf.
Then its back to the room for a quick change of clothes and a trip downstairs to the hotel bar, The Hideout, for pre-dinner drinks. Choose from a selection of craft cocktails, but make sure to start with the No. 115-- the perfect combination of Pau Maui Vodka, fruit juice, mango, and boba. The Hideout hosts live music and DJ's each Friday night from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m., so expect the bar to get more and more crowded as the evening progresses.
Cross the street (literally!) for dinner at Marukame Udon, a Japanese artisanal noodle shop. Don't be discouraged by the long line out front; it's the natural consequence of a restaurant which freshly rolls, cuts, and boils the noodles in the traditional Sanuki style. Once your stomach is satisfied, retire back to the room or explore the neighborhood bars--you'll find plenty!
Wake up before the sun rises! Saturday morning is dedicated to Waikiki's number one pastime: surf. With beginner friendly breaks like Pops and a plethora of shops offering both rentals and lessons, there's no excuse not to try your hand at the ancient sport.
Of course, for locals or more experienced surfers, Waikiki's crowded waters may prove more frustrating than exhilarating. If that's the case, or if surfing is simply not your thing, take an early morning stroll down to the Duke Kahanamoku statue to pay your respects to the father of modern surfing.
When it's time to eat, hit up Bill's for an Aussie style breakfast, or "brekkie". Start with the sourdough toast and homemade Vegemite before choosing between the ricotta hotcakes and the kahuka sweet corn fritters (although, you can't go wrong with anything on the menu).
On your way back, indulge in some serious retail therapy on Waikiki's famed Luxury Row on Kalakaua Avenue. Looking for something a little more local? Pop into the legendary Newt's at the Royal for a custom fitted Panama hat. Other local favorites include: Kai Luxe for swimwear featuring several Hawaiian designers and Bailey's Antiques and Aloha Shirts for the world's largest collection of aloha shirts (and the most unique souvenirs!)
Wear something you just bought (which you should naturally refer to as "this old thing" if anyone asks) for pre-dinner drinks on the Holokai catamaran. The sunset sail shoves off at 5 p.m. and ends just in time for dinner at the House With Out a Key. Pro tip: A popular spot for tourists and locals alike, call ahead for a reservation and request a table near the front for the best view of the century old Kiawe tree and hula performances.
Saturday nights in Waikiki are a bit of a "choose your own adventure". In the mood to do it big? Head to Sky, a top notch nightclub which overlooks all of Waikiki. Wanna lay low? Go bar hopping throughout the many beach side hotels. Don't miss The Beach Bar or The Reef Bar and Market Grill.
Sleep off last night's escapades until it's time for your brunch reservation at the "Pink Palace of the Pacific"--the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. Upon arrival, order a guava mimosa and take a few insta-worthy snaps featuring the sea of pink umbrellas. When its time to order, go with the Royal Loco Moco for yourself and split the Pink Palace Pancakes with a friend.
Take a detour on the way back to walk along the beach. Soak in the views one final time before packing up, checking out, and heading home.
Until next time, Waikiki.