Waikiki, Honolulu, Hawaii

Living in Waikiki

Iyna Bort Caruso

For some, the island of Oahu is the gateway to Hawaii’s other islands, but for those who prefer to be in the heart of the action in Waikiki, it’s the final stop.

Waikiki is on the south shore of Honolulu, the capital and largest city in the state.

Its location is a sweet spot between the Ala Wai Canal and the Pacific Ocean. Diamond Head, the volcanic saucer-shaped crater that is its most recognizable landmark, dominates the view.

In the Hawaiian language, Waikiki means “spouting waters,” for the springs and streams that flowed through the area. In the 1920s, the Ala Wai Canal was built to drain the wetlands. The coral, sand and rock dredged up became landfill for what had been the swamplands of Waikiki. The canal is on Hawaii’s Register of Historic Places.

Waikiki has a royal history. For a century, the locale was the retreat for King Kamehameha, the leader who would go on to unite the Hawaiian islands under one kingdom in 1810. When resorts opened at the turn of the 20th century, Waikiki found itself on the radar of European elite. Development and tourism followed and, later, boomed after World War II when regularly scheduled airline service was introduced between Oahu and the West Coast of the United States. Today, markers along the Waikiki Historic Trail shed light on its past.

Local, pan-Asian and Mainland influences meld into Waikiki’s distinctive culture. Kalakaua Avenue is the main thoroughfare for dining, resort hotels, shopping and entertainment but its collection of beaches is where the action for concerts, outrigger canoe races and, of course, surfing.

In the real estate market, while some examples of tropical mid-century modern architecture exist, Waikiki is mainly a dense district of high rise apartments and condominiums, the most coveted of which enjoy mountain and sea views.