First Impressions of Waikiki, Honolulu (HI)

After decades of reading about Waikiki and Honolulu in surf magazines I finally landed in the all mighty Honolulu international airport. Unsure about what to expect I did think that  arriving passengers would be welcomed with traditional Polynesian music, a hula dance, and certainly a lei- one of those flower necklaces so popular on TV and movies. To my surprise though only the music could be heard, and the airport was much older and poorly kept than what I expected. But hey, who cared, I was in Hawaii!

photo of waikiki

First things first Liza and I grabbed a bunch of vouchers for ideas on what to do and hopefully save some money. We knew we wanted to swim with wild dolphins (we did), join a shark cage swim tour (oh yeah), visit and hopefully surf in the north shore and Waikiki (somewhat accomplished), swim with wild turtles, trek to the top of Diamond head, and so much more.

I imagined Waikiki as a laid back surf town where tourists and hippie surfers mingled politely amidst tall building and a narrow beach, with dozens of surf shops, restaurants and cafes. Yet what I first saw shocked me in disbelief: as I looked out the window all I could see were chick stores for the posh: Louis Vuiton, D&G, Channel,… they literally cover a good portion of Kalakaua Avenue, easily recognizable by the torches you’ll see along the sidewalk. It looks nice, yes, but expensive too, very expensive.

 honolulu from diamon head

That first night we dropped our luggage in our condo (a cheaper alternative to hotels), had a simple sandwich for dinner and after a brief stroll went to sleep.

Things looked different the following morning. I was surprised to learn that the sun is up before 6 am, but with it came all the action we had not seen the night before. The Japanese tourists were up early, surfers were carrying their boards to the beach and Honolulu did not look as expensive or shady, but quite the opposite.

Not knowing what to do we decided to walk East towards Diamond Head. We spotted Duke Kahanomoku’s statue while checking the surf, a trendy McDonald’s with a great view of the boardwalk (though not as cool as the McDonald’s in Kuta, Bali) and as we kept walking we noticed that here were more homeless people than we could have imagined, overlooking the great Pacific Ocean.

waikiki beach

Reaching Diamond Head sooner than expected we decided to hike to the top- which turned out to be easier said than done, as the only path is on the eastern side of the hill. We eventually made it (a 6 hour walk from the International Market Place)- but wait, this is isn’t where I want to lead you to. The point of this article is to introduce you to the world of modern Waikiki, not as magical as I thought it is but certainly fun, exciting and invigorating. There’s skyscrapers everywhere, yet homeless people too. Kuhio Avenue and Kalakaua Boulevard might have traffic 24/7, yet just around the block you can easily spot a green turtle while cooling off in the Pacific’s turquoise waters. There are expensive shops and fancy restaurants, yet 10 USD will get you a fantastic dinner at the International Market Place’s food court or at Duke’s Cafe, right on the beach. What I’m trying to say is that Waikiki (read Honolulu) is a city of contrasts. It sure can be expensive, but there are tricks to visit Oahu on a budget making it surprisingly affordable. And best of all everything is within walking distance or a short drive awayñ but  if you want to get away from it all head over to the North Shore, where quaint Haleiwa is still sleepy and the best beaches are to be found.

Have you been in Honolulu, Hawaii? Do you remember how you felt when you first arrived to Waikiki? Was it what you expected, better, or did it seem a bit shady if you arrived after sunset? Please share the feelings this post has provoked in the comments section below, and this post too if you liked it.

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