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.
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.
Source: Go Hawaii
Waikiki Beach is one of the most popular beaches in the world, welcoming more than four million visitors every year.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
We started at Hilton's Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort, which faces Kahanamoku Beach and Fort DeRussy Beach.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
This was about as densely packed as I ever saw Waikiki Beach — and I visited in August during prime summer.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I still hope to explore more remote areas of Hawaii, but when budget and convenience are key, you'll find me on Waikiki.
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