Ala Wai Canal on Oahu was dredged a hundred years ago, draining a swamp and setting the stage for the canyons of high-rise hotels, designer shops, and eateries that draws millions of sun-seekers yearly from the Mainland. It all seems so artificial, yet Waikiki is in its own way the Real Hawaii.
On the north end of the two-mile-long, world's-most-famous beach resort is the Duke Kahanamoku Lagoon, set in the shadow of the Hilton Rainbow Towers. The the family of The Duke—an Olympic swimming champion and renowned surfer—owned 40 acres in the heart of Waikiki.
WKK is jammed with people, for sure, but most visitors are on foot, rather than in cars, so you can always find a place to call your own. Saving money on a rental car is one way that makes Waikiki less expensive than other Hawaiian destinations. Cheap hotel rooms are also available—but shop carefully to avoid a dive.
Diamond Head Crater is one of the world's most recognizable landmarks. Trolleys serve the area, from the beaches to the hugely entertaining Ala Wai Moana Shopping Center and downtown Honolulu (a fantastic walking city.)
The south end of the resort area is backed by the huge greenspace that is Kapiolani Park, given to the people by Hawaii's last monarch.
History and tradition run deep at Waikiki. Every evening at sunset, torches are lit to begin a free hula presentation.
Though today hemmed in by the buzz of new development, the Royal Hawaiian Hotel (a.k.a. The Pink Lady) still exudes the relaxing charm it offered when built in 1927 to welcome tourists on the Matson Line cruise ships.
Go ahead. Sit a spell.
The statue of Duke Kahanamoku is in the heart of things. You can see it along the Waikiki Historic Trail which weaves a tale of history through the glitz of modern times.
Waikiki is a complex place. Make it simple by picking up a copy of Oahu Trailblazer before your visit.