I went to one of Hawaii's most popular beaches and thought it would be crowded and touristy. I couldn't have been more wrong.

I went to one of Hawaii's most popular beaches and thought it would be crowded and touristy. I couldn't have been more wrong.
  • I visited the world-famous Waikiki Beach in Honolulu for the first time on the island of Oahu, Hawaii.

  • Before arriving, friends told me I wouldn't like it and it would be crowded, pricey, and touristy.

  • I thought they were wrong, and it was a beautiful, accessible beach with fewer crowds than expected.

Welcome to Waikiki Beach in Hawaii's capital of Honolulu, on the island of Oahu.

White sand beaches of Hawaii with towering hotels
The famous Waikiki Beach on the island of Oahu.M Swiet Productions/Getty Images

Located on the south shore of Honolulu, the beach was introduced to the world when its first hotel, the Moana Surfrider, was built in 1901. It's still open today and surrounded by new hotels, shopping, dining, and entertainment.

moana surfrider
The exterior of Moana Surfrider, A Westin Resort and Spa.Moana Surfrider, A Westin Resort and Spa/ Yelp

Source: Go Hawaii

Waikiki Beach is one of the most popular beaches in the world, welcoming more than four million visitors every year.

People sitting under blue umbrellas on a beach with a catamaran boat in the shore.
Waikiki Beach is one of the most popular beaches in the world.Emily Hochberg/Insider

Source: Go Hawaii

The area's only two miles long and actually comprised of a few beaches, including Kahanamoku/Hilton Hawaiian Village, Fort DeRussy, Gray's Beach, and Royal Hawaiian Beach (also known as Waikiki Beach).

A screenshot of a map area of Waikiki in Hawaii with red border.
The area of Waikiki outlined in red that makes up Waikiki Beach.Google Maps

Source: Love Oahu, Go Hawaii

As one of the best-known beaches in the world, I — wrongly — assumed Waikiki might be less desirable than more remote parts of Hawaii. Friends and family who had visited even suggested I skip Waikiki, saying I'd find it overcrowded and touristy.

A woman standing in front of a green lawn with a white tank and a tropical skirt.
Author Emily Hochberg in Honolulu.Emily Hochberg/Insider

So when I went on a family vacation to Waikiki Beach this summer, I wondered if I'd be disappointed. Even a waiter at a restaurant in Honolulu told me Waikiki was his least favorite beach in Hawaii.

A woman and her child sitting on a lifesize colorful Aloha sign.
Hochberg and her daughter upon arriving in Honolulu.Emily Hochberg/Insider

Read more: I made 9 mistakes when I took my 1-year-old to Hawaii for our first big family trip. If I could do it all again, here's what I'd do differently.

I worried if he was right. While Waikiki Beach was included on lists like Tripadvisor's top 25 beaches in the US, it came in last place behind several others in Hawaii.

Waikiki in Honolulu
Waikiki Beach in Honolulu, Hawaii.Jeff Whyte/Shutterstock

Source: Tripadvisor

But my intel was wrong. I stayed in two hotels on Waikiki Beach for my first trip to Honolulu, and both experiences were so much better than I thought they would be.

A man and a woman take a selfie on a beach.
Hochberg and her husband in front of an empty Waikiki Beach in the morning.Emily Hochberg/Insider

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We started at Hilton's Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort, which faces Kahanamoku Beach and Fort DeRussy Beach.

A view of the beach in front of Hilton's Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort, as seen from a balcony.
A view of the beach from a hotel room at Hilton's Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort.Emily Hochberg/Insider

The area in front of the Hilton is a calm cove with gentle waves. I noticed people fill in on the sand throughout the day, but it never felt overcrowded. And first thing in the morning, it was empty.

An empty beach in the shade with palm trees.
A mostly-empty Waikiki Beach in the morning.Emily Hochberg/Insider

I actually noticed the most people in the ocean bobbing on floats with drinks in hand. I thought the low-key party vibe gave the beach a fun vacation feel.

Someone walking into the ocean with a float while other people swim.
Everyone on Waikiki seemed like they were there to relax on vacation.Emily Hochberg/Insider

I thought Kahanamoku Beach and Fort DeRussy Beach were beautiful for sitting in the sun or swimming in peaceful, warm water without huge waves.

A man wearing a hat with his child sitting on the sand at the beach.
Hochberg's husband and daughter on the beach in front of the Hilton.Emily Hochberg/Insider

A chair in front of the Hilton cost $25 to rent, which I thought wasn't bad considering you could use it all day. Though, the addition of an umbrella at nearly $40 seemed pricey.

A stand with towels and prices for beach rentals.
The price of beach rentals from the vendor located in front of the Hilton Hawaiian Village.Emily Hochberg/Insider

Adjacent to this beach area was the 5-acre, manufactured Duke Kahanamoku Lagoon. It's part of the Hilton but open to the public, and beach chairs, umbrellas, and water toys like an aqua cycle or stand-up paddleboard are available to rent.

A beach lagoon with an island with palm trees in the middle and large aqua cycles on the water.
Aqua cycles for rent at Duke Kahanamoku Lagoon at Hilton Hawaiian Village.Emily Hochberg/Insider

Source: Hilton Hawaiian Village

I didn't rent anything and instead plopped down on my hotel towel to save money. I thought it was a great place for families like us since there were no waves and even fewer crowds than on the main beach.

Little girl with a pink hat on sitting in a shallow lagoon with palm trees in the distance.
Hochberg's daughter at the lagoon.Emily Hochberg/Insider

Read more: Photos show why I need a vacation from my vacation after taking my toddler to Hawaii

As I explored the area surrounding the Hilton, I walked further along Fort DeRussy and thought it was one of the nicest, widest stretches of white sand on Waikiki. And it never appeared too crowded.

A white sand beach under a mostly sunny sky with wispy clouds.
An uncrowded Fort DeRussy beach.Emily Hochberg/Insider

Just past Fort DeRussy is Gray's Beach. Here, I was surprised to find a very narrow swath of sand due to erosion. Despite limited space, visitors sat on blankets or rented a chair from the on-site vendor.

A narrow beach with surf coming up almost to people and a building.
The narrow Gray's Beach.Emily Hochberg/Insider

Source: Love Oahu

I kept going past Gray's Beach to a dead-end walkway with almost no beach visible. According to a study by the University of Hawaii, billions of dollars in revenue from tourism could be lost if erosion on Waikiki Beach continues.

A concrete pathway with stairs leading into the ocean and a person wading into the water.
A walkway in between Gray's Beach and the Sheraton.Emily Hochberg/Insider

Source: University of Hawaii Sea Grant College Program

Later in my trip, I got to see what was on the other side of that walkway when we switched hotels to the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, which is located on Waikiki Beach proper, also known as Royal Hawaiian Beach.

The sand and water at a pretty, tropical beach with a boat visible.
On Waikiki Beach, also known as Royal Hawaiian Beach.Emily Hochberg/Insider

The waves were bigger here, and I saw more crowds than by the Hilton. But I found the lively atmosphere exciting and thought the color of the waves was gorgeous, especially framed by the famous volcanic landmark, Diamond Head, in the distance.

Groups of people on beach chairs and blankets with umbrellas on the sand facing the ocean.
Hochberg saw more beach crowds in front of the Royal Hawaiian than by the Hilton.Emily Hochberg/Insider

There was admittedly more activity on Waikiki Beach, but I never struggled to claim some sand for myself, and there seemed to be fewer people swimming than by the Hilton.

Waves coming onto the sand on a beautiful beach.
The ocean in front of the Royal Hawaiian Beach.Emily Hochberg/Insider

This was about as densely packed as I ever saw Waikiki Beach — and I visited in August during prime summer.

A crowded beach with blue umbrellas and a big blue beach towel.
Crowds on Waikiki Beach in the afternoon.Emily Hochberg/Insider

I was also surprised that renting a chair and umbrella on Waikiki Beach was cheaper than in front of the Hilton. An umbrella and two chairs were $60 for the day here, compared to the price I previously saw: nearly $65 for just one chair.

A beach vendor with signs displaying prices for rentals and lessons.
A vendor for rentals and lessons on Waikiki Beach.Emily Hochberg/Insider

Waikiki Beach felt like the exact type of place where I'd love to relax on a beach chair for the entire day. But I also thought it was conveniently close to the center of Honolulu.

A person walking down a sidewalk with a green lawn, palm trees, and beach on one side and tall buildings on the other.
Waikiki Beach is right across the street from the main commercial and tourist areas in Honolulu.Emily Hochberg/Insider

Should hunger or boredom strike, a main thoroughfare full of restaurants and shops was directly on the other side of the beach, though I never heard traffic on the sand.

A street lined with shops and tropical palm trees.
Emily Hochberg/Insider

One of my favorite times on Waikiki Beach, however, was sunset. I thought the beach had a jovial, community feeling as family and friends picnicked and gathered.

A woman taking a selfie at sunset while holding her child who is hiding behind her hair.
Hochberg on Waikiki Beach at sunset with her daughter.Emily Hochberg/Insider

And after the sun sank below the horizon, I enjoyed walking on the sand as music wafted from hotel restaurants and stars filled the night sky. It created the exact relaxed vacation feeling I love to savor.

A woman smiling for a photo on the beach while holding her child.
The author dancing with her daughter on the beach at night.Emily Hochberg/Insider

No, Waikiki isn't an untouched oasis where you won't encounter another soul in sight. But it's Hawaii, and it's beautiful. My Hawaiian waiter's worst beach is still better than most I've been to on the US East Coast, where I grew up.

A white surfboard on the beach next to bright blue ocean.
The author thought Waikiki Beach was beautiful.Emily Hochberg/Insider

Honolulu International Airport is Hawaii's largest travel hub, welcoming more than 20 million visitors yearly, with the most flights from the mainland. So while Waikiki might not be as remote as other parts of Hawaii, it's likely cheaper.

A woman walks holding hands with her child while wearing a backpack.
Hochberg walking in Honolulu International Airport with her daughter.Emily Hochberg/Insider

Source: TravelAge West

And hotels on Waikiki were less expensive than ones I considered elsewhere on Oahu and far more affordable than on any other Hawaiian island, based on my research.

A pink building with an arched entryway surrounded by lush trees.
The entrance to the Royal Hawaiian Hotel.Emily Hochberg/Insider

Source: Google

Overall, I was impressed by Waikiki Beach. Instead of a crowded, tacky tourist vibe, I found a stunning paradise that didn't feel any more crowded than other cities I've experienced, like Miami.

A woman coming out of the ocean, a float right at the shore, and rows of beach chairs with blue umbrellas.
The beach never felt too crowded to Hochberg.Emily Hochberg/Insider

I still hope to explore more remote areas of Hawaii, but when budget and convenience are key, you'll find me on Waikiki.

A woman sitting with her face against her toddler daughter on the beach at sunset
Hochberg loved her time on Waikiki Beach with her family this summer.Emily Hochberg/Insider

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