Learn the history of Waikiki Beach

There are three ways to tell if a character in a movie is from Hawaii or if the setting is in Hawaii. One is when characters wear an “aloha shirt,” which is an open-collar shirt or dress made of lightweight fabric printed in colorful, bold designs of flowers; the next is the hula dance. They featured this dance in movies such as Lilo and Stitch, and The Lion King. Last but not least, the place has breathtaking white sand beaches, rainforests, cliffs, canyons, and waterfalls. The state of Hawaii is famous for all those things in reality. In fact, because of all those assets mentioned, especially the natural scenery, Hawaii was called the “Paradise of the Pacific.”

Hawaii’s beaches are one of the most visited tourist spots in the state. One of the most famous is Waikiki Beach, which is located on the south shore of Oahu in Honolulu. The word Waikiki means “spouting water.” 

Waikiki beach is a 2 mile long beach encompassing 8 sections of other beaches namely: Halekulani, Royal Hawaiian, Fort DeRussy, Duke Kahanamoku, Kuhio Beach, Kapiolani Beach, Queens Beach, and Kaimana.

The Wavy History of Waikiki Beach

Waikiki beach with people

Early Years: Waikiki Beach was once a swamp. There was a thin ribbon of carbonate sand lying between swamplands, mudflats, duck ponds, fishponds, and a slanted fringing reef a few thousand feet wide. Several small rivers streamed in the area. 

1400s: With its abundant water source, Chief Kalamakua (a High Chief and nobleman) designed an irrigation system. Waikiki served as a barrier beach between Ala Wai Moiliili (a canal northwest of Kapahulu Avenue along the length of Waikiki) and duck ponds and swamps.

1450: Waikiki became Oahu’s royal family center of government.

1794: Waikiki was part of the location for Hawaii’s historical battle: the Battle of Nu’uanu. This battle paved the way for uniting the whole archipelago of Hawaii, led by King Kamehameha I. 

1800s: Waikiki served as a vacation retreat for the Kingdom’s royalty, including those of the line of the blood of Kamehameha I. The royalties decided to build their residences in the area. Waikiki also became a resting place for sailors crossing the Pacific to do trade, fishing, and whaling.

1830s: Foreign visitors started to visit 

1860: Road construction began. 

1880s: Tramcars and tramways started to be used as transportation. Tourism in the Waikiki area started to bloom, and the government began to realize the importance of establishing strategic military bases. The military presence in Pearl Harbor and central Oahu improved tourism even more. The first beach resort, Sans Souci, was leased by a Greek American named George Lycurgus from owner Allen Herbert.

1898: Hawaii was successfully annexed by the United States under House Joint Resolution 259 known as the “Newlands Resolution. 

1901: The first luxury-trade hotel, the Moana Surfrider, was constructed by a wealthy Honolulu landowner, Walter Chamberlain Peacock, in anticipation of the growing tourism in the area. 

1907: Under the Waikiki Reclamation Commission, the territorial government planned for greater commercial and tourism development in the area. The development includes widening of streets, building bridges, draining duck ponds and rice paddy field, and taro patches that shaped Waikiki’s aquaculture. =

1909: The portions of the wetlands of Fort DeRussy (a beach section found in Waikiki Beach) were filled with sand, coral rubble, and reef rocks coming from the property of Queen Lili’uokalani. Queen Lili’uokalani was the last sovereign monarch of the Hawaiian Kingdom.  

1920: Waikiki undergos a huge re-development in order to adapt to the new age of urbanization.  

1927: The Natatorium was built from shore 200 feet onto the reef. At the same time, the Ala Wai Canal and Ala Wai Yacht were also constructed. Another hotel invested by the Matson Navigation co. was opened. It was named The Royal Hawaiian Hotel.

1941: The bombing of Pearl Harbor and the beginning of the second World War interrupted the flow of the abundant visitors coming to Waikiki.

Late 1940s to early 1950s: Marked another beginning of the tourism of Waikiki when airline services opened in the West Coast.  

1959: Hawaii was formally announced as the 50th state of the United States. 

Landmarks in Waikiki Beach

1. Moana Surfrider Hotel 

After the annexation of Hawaii, several improvements were made. One of these is the construction of the Moana Surfrider Hotel. The Moana Surfrider Hotel is a luxury hotel with countless water sports activities and amenities such as free wi-fi, massages, a hot tub, a spa and sauna, a library, a salon, and many others. From 1941 until 1945, when the Pearl Harbor attack happened, and the war continued in the Pacific, the hotel served as a breathing space for soldiers. 

2. Natatorium War Memorial Pool 

The memorial pool was built to pay tribute to more than 10,000 service members from Hawaii who served in World War I. The memorial pool was the epicenter of swimming and water sports events for many years.

3. International Market Place 

This was opened in 1956 as an open-air shopping center featuring luxury brands and local retailers, restaurants, and local shops. The place was closed for renovation in 2013 and reopened in 2016.

4. Royal Hawaiian Hotel 

Another hotel that contributed to the long history of Waikiki. The Hotel is part of the Luxury Collection brand of Marriott International. The pink-painted hotel with 400 rooms, is surrounded by a fifteen-acre landscaped garden.  

5. Kapiolani Park

 a 300-acre park that displays the beach and ocean at the eastern end of the high-rise district of Waikiki. The park has a public stadium and families with kids can play football.  

6. Waikiki Aquarium 

considered as the oldest still-operating public aquarium after New York Aquarium. The aquarium is home to more than 3,500 organisms of marine plants and animals. 

7. Honolulu Zoo

a 42-acre zoo in Queen Kapiolani Park. The zoo features 1,230 animals in uniquely designed habitats. 

What to do at Waikiki beach

two people in beach holding their surfing board

Due to shoreline development, Waikiki has eight other distinct beaches. Waikiki is one of the most recognized Oahu beaches. Here are some activities tourists can do in Waikiki:

1. Swimming

Swimming is the primary reason people go to the beach. Waikiki’s water is clear, blue, and usually calm, perfect for swimming. 

2. Surfing

If you want to learn how to surf, Waikiki is an excellent place to start. The island of Oahu offers different surf spots for all skill levels. You can choose and surf just about anywhere. The shallow waters of Waikiki and the reef offshore create gentle and long waves to give beginners plenty of time to stand up and adjust their ride. Waikiki offers rideable waves all year long, which makes it an excellent destination for surfing whenever you want. 

3. Canoeing

The long waves in Waikiki are a great place to try canoeing. There are several canoe-riding packages available in Waikiki that allow up to six passengers for tours. It can be an excellent experience for both beginners and experienced paddlers.

4. Snorkeling

Waikiki Beach also offers snorkeling activities as long as the water is calm. If not, other locations with calmer waves allow snorkeling at any time.

Final Thoughts

The beach is a perfect place to go during a vacation. There are tons of activities to do, and it is fun to spend time with family. If you are in Hawaii, Waikiki Beach is a must-visit place.