destinations oahu

Waikiki, Oahu – The Playground of the Pacific

Waikiki – The Playground of the Pacific

It’s exciting. Its very name—Waikiki—is enough to transport you to another world…a lively place of pristine white sand beaches, tropical sunsets, upscale hotels, fine dining, shopping, and nightlife. Waikiki is truly the playground of the Pacific. And to think that it was once just swampland.

Overlooking Waikiki Beach
Overlooking Waikiki Beach

The History of Waikiki

In early Hawaii, Waikiki was a much larger area than the 1.5 square miles it encompasses today. Old Waikiki included the neighboring valleys of Manoa and Palolo. Translated, Waikiki means “spouting water,” a reference to the rivers and springs that richly flowed into the area. It’s said that in the 1400s, Chief Kalamakua designed an irrigation system to take advantage of Waikiki’s abundant resources. Fishponds were built and taro patches were planted. In the 1450s, Waikiki was established as the governmental center of Oahu.

Old black and white of waikiki
Waikiki before all of the high rise buildings

Waikiki was the setting for one of Hawaii’s historic battles. In 1794, Kamehameha I arrived from the Big Island with a fleet of canoes. His army stormed Waikiki Beach and then set out for Nuuanu to take on Oahu chief Kalanikupule and his men. Kamehameha’s forces proved superior, and the Oahu warriors were forced to retreat up the valley, where they were pursued and driven off the steep Pali cliffs to their deaths.

Honolulu‘s population and its importance as a harbor and business center grew. In 1812, King Kamehameha moved his court from Kailua-Kona on the Big Island to Honolulu.

In the mid to late 1800s, Waikiki served as a vacation retreat for the kingdom’s royalty. Kamehameha IV, Kamehameha V, Lunalilo, Kalakaua, Liliuokalani, and Princess Kaiulani were among the dignitaries who maintained residences in the area, enjoying moonlight horseback rides, thrilling canoe races and carefree romps in the ocean.

Overlooking Waikiki from Diamond Head
Seen here from Diamond Head, Waikiki means “spouting water”

Waikiki Vacation – Hawaii’s #1 Visitor Destination

The first half of the 20th century saw Waikiki become a visitor destination. The Ala Wai Canal was built in the 1920s to drain the area of its swamps and rivers, clearing the way for expansive hotel construction. The construction boom was stifled only temporarily, during World War II, when hotels were closed to visitors to accommodate servicemen.

waikiki at night
Waikiki in full bloom

Today, Waikiki is in full bloom. There are world-class hotels with familiar names like Hilton, Sheraton, and Hyatt, and there are smaller operations that still provide plenty of aloha. Waikiki also boasts Waikiki Beach and the iconic slopes of Diamond Head Crater. There’s 500-acre Kapiolani Park, the Waikiki Aquarium, Honolulu Zoo and the International Marketplace (a shopper’s bonanza located in the heart of Waikiki). Waikiki is also home to some of Hawaii’s finest restaurants and hottest nightspots. Best of all, everything is within walking distance. Waikiki is yours to discover, block by block, beach by beach. Welcome to the playground.