After a long 30 month hiatus, we had the chance to visit Oahu again and spend time in Waikiki, one of the places we’ve visited the most often during our travels. It was a quick trip but much longer than some of our previous visits too. In this post we share tips and information to plan your visit to Waikiki/Honolulu based on our recent trip.
Compared to other Hawaiian destinations, Oahu is still one of the most affordable option right now but prices for almost everything have increased. Pre-COVID, we were able to find accommodations for under $200 per night but that is no longer the case. In addition, the price to redeem hotel points in general has increased, but especially for Marriott Bonvoy that has implemented dynamic pricing. Car rentals were also about 2-3 times more than what we used to pay in the past: it was possible to find a car for about $20-$30 per day. Parking rates for parking garages have increased and there is much less street parking now as a result of the installation of more Biki bike share docking stations. Other things like food and drinks have increased as well but it is still possible to find good deals due to more low-key dining options and happy hours at places.
2) The vibe:
Waikiki is still Waikiki and things are still very busy. We may be wrong but it does seem there are even more ABC Stores now!?! If you didn’t like Waikiki before, you won’t like it now or until you make peace with what it is and find things to enjoy here.
For us, this last trip was especially memorable and gave us even greater appreciation for the place due to all the new things we found: more on that later! Yes, we were sometimes annoyed by the Waikiki scene but also appreciate how much convenience and freedom it offers compared to a remote resort or an all-inclusive resort compound. We can’t think of a more unique city to fall in love with than Honolulu do all it has to offer a large and modern city with access to stunning beaches, an interesting and diverse food scene, access to all kinds of fresh produce, and the ability to do all kinds of great activities outdoors in nature in very pleasant weather!
3) Getting Around Using Biki:
On past visits, we didn’t spend as much time exploring Honolulu outside of Waikiki due to how difficult it was to park and spending more time in other spots with our rental car but this time, we decided to purchase a 300 minute pass for $30 with Biki to get around this time. We mostly used Biki to get to Kaka’ako and even biked all the way up to Off the Hook Poke near the University of Manoa! Overall, it was very enjoyable to bike around and get to see and experience so much more! It was not always easy to bike as the bike lanes are scattered, end abruptly, and some of the hills are very steep but it was always an adventure. Also, Biki does not provide bicycle helmets so you need to bring/buy your own. Some of the challenges we experienced with Biki were: it was sometimes difficult to get the bike docked in or out, some of the stations were showing incorrect inventory of bikes, and some of the docking stations showing space were actually full. Overall, we would recommend using Biki and advise using King Street to get from Waikiki to the Ward Centre area and beyond.
4) Leave Waikiki – Visit Kaka’ako:
If the touristy chaos of Waikiki gets tiring, we recommend branching out and checking out Kaka’ako. We spent a lot of time exploring Kaka’ako and other areas this time and find so many new things to enjoy: from murals to a new farmer’s market, restaurants, and more! Kaka’ako is an up and coming neighbourhood known as the hip part of town, about a half mile away from Ward Centre. It’s a 30 minute Biki ride from Waikiki or about a $15 Uber/Lyft ride each way.
Here are some ideas of things to do in Kaka’ako:
- Saturday Farmer’s Market: On Saturday mornings, from 08:00-12:00, head down to the Kaka’ako Farmer’s market to find everything from stunning art and clothing, tasty treats like mochi, mocktails, specialty spätzle, Taiwanese bao buns, fruit, and more. We almost don’t want to say anything about this market as it currently doesn’t attract all the tour buses like the KCC Market does!
- Texas BBQ: Yes, you can get good Texas style BBQ in Honolulu and Sunset Texas BBQ is the place for that! The service was very friendly, prices reasonable and the food delicious.
- Beer Crawl: There are a few craft breweries in the area and you can visit one or all of them on a beer crawl! Aloha Brewing (has a patio and happy hour), Waikiki Brewing ((has a patio and happy hour) and Hana Koa (bar seating only if you are not eating): all have good food and beer, and a unique vibe. There is a good mix of tourists and locals, compared to Waikiki, which feels mostly like just tourists.
- Thai food: Have some Thai food for dinner at Elephant Shack. You can either eat there at their picnic tables near the truck or get it to go. You can also BYOB. Really good food in an open air setting. There is also a new location by the Kakaa’ko Farmer’s Market with a very nice setting.
- Tacos: You can find really good and cheap tacos at Thyda’s Tacos. Just order, grab a seat, and chat with other patrons.
5) COVID Protocols:
Canadians and other non-US residents still have to show proof of full vaccination (2 doses minimum, boosters not required) to board a flight to the United States (we foresee this requirement remaining forever at this point) but otherwise, there are no COVID restrictions in Hawaii. Masks are optional and not commonly worn. Most things are back to normal, like hotel restaurant buffets and luaus, hotels offer daily housekeeping, and no capacity limits are imposed to enter stores. Things have changed a lot from a little over a year ago when we shared tips for Canadians visiting Hawaii!
It felt like it had been way too long since we last visited Honolulu/Waikiki and it felt so good to be back. As we floated in the sea, on our backs, staring at the bright blue sky while big fluffy white clouds floated over us catching a glimpse of Diamond Head Crater in the background, we realized how much we missed our days here and how much we look forward to coming back. Getting to experience so many familiar favourites and finding new things to add to our recommendations list speaks to how vibrant and unique this city on the beach is.
People say that “it’s not the real Hawaii” but what makes a place “the real something”? Is it the beach resorts that insulate you from the area outside the resort but that remind you where you are with their logo embossed on a beach towel? Is it the language(s) spoken by residents? Is it the landscape? Is it the loca food? The local drinks? The art? Waikiki/Honolulu may not be the Hawaii you envisioned as a beach resort destination but it has the authenticity and beauty that is synonymous with Hawaii with its historical buildings, its art, its history, its multiculturalism, its topography, its fauna, its markets, and Kamaʻāina hospitality and culture…you just need to look for it and keep an open mind!
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