The name Waikiki translates as spouting fresh water, referring to the days when freshwater springs, swamps and streams dominated the landscape. Hawaiians chose this white sand beach early on as a playground for the rich and royal. The first two hotels were built in the late 1800s, including the Sans Souci, followed by the stately white Moana Surfrider, in 1901. In the late 1920s came the famous pink Royal Hawaiian, coinciding with construction of the Ala Wai Canal and subsequent draining of the wetlands, opening this one and a half square mile swath of land for development. Visitors to Waikiki come from all over the world; it's not uncommon to hear many different languages spoken within earshot.
Considering over 73,000 people visit Waikiki every day, my favorite time is dawn. Except for a few tourists wrestling with their own wacky time change, I usually have the beach to myself, and the calming rhythmic lapping of the waves prepares me for the day ahead when I will have to share the beach with thousands of strangers. As a child on the windward side of Oahu I saw Waikiki as the shiniest, loudest, happiest place on earth. This impression was gleaned through the car window when our family cruised Kalakaua Avenue en route to the Outrigger Canoe Club. As an adult living on the mainland, I've returned every chance I get–often with my girls in tow. We've taken surf lessons with Hans Hedemann Surf School, returning home with photos of us tandem surfing (somehow we look a lot goofier with our hands in the air, than we felt at the time). We've rented paddle boards to look for dolphins. And we shop. Sadly the shabby, kitschy International Marketplace –heaven for a nine-year-old with $20 to spend– is gone. But there are still plenty of places to buy mementos. Besides the variety of high end retail shops lining Kalakaua Avenue or found along the Waikiki Beach Walk, the Ala Moana shopping center, the world's largest outdoor mall is a longish walk or short drive from the hotels.
And then there are my food fixes: Morimoto at Modern Honolulu and Chef Mavro for the big night, Alan Wong's, Beach House at The Westin Moana Surfrider and Japengo's at the Hyatt for any other night, top my list. If you don't want a long sit down breakfast, Honolulu Coffee Company is our favorite. While my iPhone told me there were 14 Starbucks nearby, I was more than happy to discover the açai bowl and fresh banana bread at HCC -and the Kona coffee was good, too.
Waikiki is not a quiet getaway–it is big, bold, busy and one of my favorite spots on the planet.