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With its beautiful beaches, luxury resorts, and world-famous Waikiki coastline, Waikiki is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Hawaii. But what island is the vibrant neighborhood of Waikiki actually located on?

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: Waikiki is located on the south shore of the island of O’ahu.

In this comprehensive guide, we will provide a deep dive into the location of Waikiki, its history and development into a tourism hotspot, as well as detail on the island of O’ahu and how to best experience all it has to offer.

Waikiki is Officially a Neighborhood on the South Shore of O’ahu

The iconic Waikiki Beach stretches along the south shore of the island of O’ahu in Hawaii. With its picturesque backdrop of Diamond Head crater, world-famous Waikiki Beach attracts over 5 million visitors every year.

Though many people use “Waikiki” as shorthand to refer to the beaches and resorts in the area, Waikiki is actually one of 9 official neighborhoods that make up the district of Waikiki.

The neighborhood of Waikiki spans around 530 acres along the coast, running from the Ala Wai Canal on the west to the zoo and Kapiolani Park on the east. It encompasses the majority of the famous Waikiki Beach coastline and the shoreside resorts and hotels.

Just inland, you’ll find dining, shopping, and entertainment in an area often referred to as the Waikiki “strip.”

Some key features of the Waikiki neighborhood include:

  • Iconic Waikiki Beach – With its crescent shape, Waikiki Beach stretches about a 1/2 mile along the shore.
  • Famous resorts like the Royal Hawaiian Hotel and Hilton Hawaiian Village.
  • High-rise hotels and resort towers right along the beach.
  • Luxury shopping at the DFS Galleria.
  • The main “strip” along Kalakaua Ave with shops, restaurants and entertainment.
  • Kuhio Beach Park, Duke Kahanamoku Lagoon Beach, and Queen’s Surf Beach within Waikiki.
  • Proximity to Honolulu attractions like Diamond Head, Kapiolani Park, Honolulu Zoo, and the Waikiki Aquarium.

So while tourists tend to use “Waikiki” as a catch-all term for the beach resort area, remember that Waikiki is specifically one of several neighborhoods you’ll find in that district. It’s the shoreside neighborhood packed with hotels, shops, restaurants and iconic Waikiki Beach – the jewel of Oahu island.

O’ahu: The Gathering Place

Size and Population

O’ahu is the third largest island in the Hawaiian archipelago, with an area of approximately 600 square miles. However, it is by far the most populous island, home to about 980,000 residents as of 2019 according to census data. That’s around 70% of Hawai’i’s total population packed onto O’ahu!

The island’s main city and state capital, Honolulu, drives much of this concentrated populace. Nearly 350,000 Honolulu residents dwell around the famous Waikīkī Beach area. With tall buildings and heavy traffic, Honolulu offers a stark contrast to Hawai’i’s typical chill island vibe.

Still, many locals embrace the diversity and amenities O’ahu’s size supports.

Economy and Tourism

O’ahu boasts a strong economy centered around tourism, military defense spending, and exporting agricultural products like pineapple, sugarcane, coffee and macadamia nuts. Though no longer the islands’ largest industry, agriculture still contributes over $600 million to O’ahu’s GDP.

However, tourism brings in the real money for O’ahu, generating around $18 billion annually pre-pandemic. From hiking trails to world-class surfing to Pearl Harbor memorials, the island offers countless sights and activities to entice visitors.

Luxurious resorts dot the coasts, especially in Honolulu and on the famous North Shore. Even with tourism slowed the past few years, estimates show O’ahu welcomed about 4.5 million visitors in 2022.

The U.S. military also funnels billions of dollars into O’ahu’s economy each year through contracts and salaries at bases like Pearl Harbor and Schofield Barracks. Altogether, O’ahu’s diverse economic drivers will likely continue powering its standing as Hawai’i’s commercial and population hub for decades to come.

A Closer Look at Waikiki’s Development and History

Pre-Tourism Era: A Calm Agricultural Community

Prior to becoming a popular tourist destination, Waikiki was once a quiet agricultural area dotted with fish ponds and taro fields farmed by native Hawaiians. Several streams flowed from the mountain valleys into the Waikiki wetlands and irrigated the nearby farms.

It was a largely self-sustaining village community centered around subsistence farming and fishing.

The Arrival of Tourism in Waikiki

The early roots of Waikiki’s tourism began in the late 1800s when wealthy businessmen from Honolulu built beach homes in the area. However, tourism exploded in 1901 with the opening of the elegant Moana Hotel overlooking the beach.

This sparked major hotel development in Waikiki over the next few decades. The famous Royal Hawaiian Hotel opened in 1927, cementing Waikiki as a glamorous tourist playground for the wealthy and celebrities.

Infrastructural improvements like paved roads and sewage systems transformed it into Honolulu’s tourist center.

Waikiki Today: A Global Destination

Present-day Waikiki is one of the most iconic resort destinations in the world, attracting over 5 million visitors per year. Famous for its stunning crescent beach and views of Diamond Head crater, Waikiki is lined with luxury high-rise hotels, fine dining restaurants, and designer shopping.

However, amidst the commercial development, Waikiki still retains some of its historical and cultural roots through preserved historic hotels and popular lū‘au shows featuring traditional Hawaiian music and hula.

Visiting Waikiki and Exploring O’ahu

Top Sights and Activities in Waikiki

Waikiki is filled with amazing sights and activities perfect for travelers. From world-class shopping and dining to beautiful beaches and surfing, there’s something for everyone.

No trip to Waikiki is complete without spending time on the beach. Popular spots include Waikiki Beach, Queen’s Surf Beach, and Kuhio Beach. Relax in the sun, go for a swim, try surfing or stand-up paddleboarding, or simply walk along the shore and take in the views of Diamond Head crater.

Be sure to check out the iconic Duke Kahanamoku Statue honoring the “Father of Modern Surfing.” You can also learn more about Hawaii’s surfing history at the Duke Kahanamoku Foundation.

Other top sights include the high-end shops and restaurants along Kalakaua Avenue, Royal Hawaiian Center, Honolulu Zoo, Kapiolani Park, Waikiki Aquarium, and Diamond Head State Monument. Enjoy Hawaiian music and hula shows in the park, marvel at sea creatures in the aquarium, or watch the sunset from Diamond Head.

Beyond Waikiki: Highlights of O’ahu

While Waikiki has plenty to offer, make sure to escape the busy tourist district to see more of what O’ahu is all about. Just a short drive takes you to some of the island’s top attractions.

One must-see destination is the North Shore. This legendary surfing mecca is home to some of the world’s most famous surf breaks like Pipeline, Sunset Beach, and Waimea Bay. From November to March, you can watch professional surfers catch huge winter swells.

The rest of the year, the North Shore has a more relaxed vibe with surf lessons and turtle watching.

Up the eastern coastline, don’t miss the scenic beauty of the Kahuku area. Stop to see the lush Byodo-In Temple, tour the Kualoa Ranch where Jurassic Park and other films were made, and feast on tasty shrimp trucks in the small town of Kahuku.

No trip to O’ahu is complete without visiting the Polynesian Cultural Center. At this top attraction, you can learn about different Polynesian cultures and traditions through live demonstrations, shows, and hands-on activities.

An entertaining canoe pageant takes you on a journey across the South Pacific.

On the eastern tip of the island, Makapuu Point offers more stunning volcanic views on Oahu. Hike up the Makapuu Lighthouse Trail for sweeping coastal vistas. You might even spot humpback whales during winter.


As we’ve covered, the vibrant beach town of Waikiki that welcomes millions of visitors every year is located right along the south shore of O’ahu. While Waikiki deserves its reputation as a world-famous coastal resort, there is so much more to explore across O’ahu.

From iconic landmarks like Diamond Head and Pearl Harbor to the island’s natural wonders and local culture, O’ahu has something for every type of traveler. Use this guide to help better understand the storied history of Waikiki and make the most out of your Hawaiian getaway!

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