Those of you who follow me on instagram know that I was recently in Hawaii. Yes, it was as tropical and dreamy as you’ve dreamt. But, yes—it also lives up to its reputation of being a quite pricey destination! So, join me as I share how I was able to explore the tourist neighborhood of Waikiki with a budget in this Waikiki Travel Guide.
Also, don’t forget to check out the travel vlog I made with footage from my trip! It gives a visual image of almost all of the places in the guide.
Orientation to Waikiki
Waikiki is a beachfront tourist district of Honolulu (the city on the south shore of the island of Oʻahu, Hawaii).
Most famous for Waikīkī Beach, where it’s rumored that anyone can successfully surf the sea’s perfect waves, Waikiki is home to the majority of Oahu’s hotels and resorts.
Image screenshotted from Google Maps.
Located a mere 15-minute car ride east of the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport, Waikiki is a good home base for exploring the South and Eastern shores of Oahu.
I limit the areas of focus to this section of the island because there’s a whole other world in the North Shore of Oahu that’s definitely worth checking out!
The first thing you should do is analyze your budget and decide what kind of accomodation makes the most sense.
Hotel rooms in Waikiki start at about $110/night and climb steep and fast. You can also try your luck at finding an Airbnb. But, be warned—these can be just as expensive as a hotel room and sell out FAST. If you do manage to snag one, purchase with this link for a $40 travel credit.
Alternatively, you can book a bed in a hostel for about $30/night. I had the pleasure of staying in two of Waikiki’s best during my stay so I’ve outlined the pros and cons of each below!
These are both located on Lemon Road (a side street across from the Honolulu Zoo) and are a 5-minute walk from the beach.
The Polynesian Hostel was by far my favorite in Waikiki. The three phrases that describe this place are pancakes, colorful corridors and community.
Every morning there are free pancakes prepared by the staff in the guest kitchen located in the common area. This area also features painted surfboards, plants, a TV, hammock and patio seating.
On the way up to your room, the color continues as you’re entertained by beautiful hand-painted murals on almost every wall. Not to mention the spectacular view the top floors have!
There are also surfboard rentals for $12/day and a collection of free beach chairs and floats by the front desk for guest use.
The only downsides of this hostel are: the small kitchen and the lack of outlets.
Waikiki Beachside Hostel is the runner up. This hostel is located down the road from the Polynesian.
The interesting thing about this hostel is that there is no communal kitchen—the dorm rooms are actually old apartment units and so have kitchens built in. Though this can be convenient, I feel it takes away one of the best opportunities for meeting others in the hostel.
Two perks of this hostel are: the keyless entry bracelets that are virtually impossible to lose and the free change converter located in the common room next to the ATM. This turns any bills into quarters without a fee which is helpful for the bus.
There are no pancakes here but a breakfast of toast and peanut butter starting at 10:00AM in the common area downstairs.
I DO NOT recommend staying in the Pacific Ohana Hostel located between those previously mentioned.
The island of Oʻahu has one of the best public transportation systems in the U.S. This is cleverly named TheBus.
A one-way fare on TheBus is $2.75 and an all-day pass is $5.50 — this is the price of one round trip but is valid for an entire day of riding!
To purchase an all-day pass: ask your driver for a pass and then insert your money in the collector. Note: no change is given on any of TheBus routes and cards are not accepted.
Stops are made all over the island but it is important to know that TheBus doesn’t stop unless you pull the cord to request the stop! This applies even to scheduled stops along the route.
→ To request a stop: after departing from the stop before yours (or passing it if no stop was made), simply pull the cord located along the top of the window. Stops are announced on the speaker but I found that following along on Google Maps was helpful.
Because TheBus is a main mode of transportation for so many locals and tourists, luggage is not permitted. TheBus’ website states that only, “bags and other carry-on items that can be stored under the passenger’s seat or on the passenger’s lap” are welcomed.
This means that you definitely shouldn’t count on transportation by TheBus from the airport if you are carrying more than a backpack and a purse.
Don’t be intimadted by TheBus—it is a fantastic and fast way to get around the island and the drivers are extremely kind and helpful with questions.
For destinations that TheBus doesn’t have any stops near (like hikes), order an Uber or Lyft. There are an abundance of these on Oʻahu and the drivers tend to be willing to share his or her knowledge about the area.
Be sure to click the link of each for a credit with the respective company!
You can also rent a hop-on hop-off Biki bike to explore Waikiki and downtown Honolulu. Prices are $3.50 for a single ride or $20 for a bank of 300 minutes to use whenever and however you like.
It is also good to note that Hawaiian Style Rentals located directly next to Waikiki Beachside Hostel rents out scooters, mopeds and bicycles. Though these are a bit of a splurge, they may allow you to beach hop on the East coast which is fun! Check out Sandy, Waimanalo and Kailua Beach Parks.
Because of the stellar public transportation and private tour companies, a rental car is absolutely not necessary to get around Oahu. However, if you do choose to get one, you can find 24-hour parking for $1/hour at the Honolulu Zoo in Waikiki.
Okay, now let’s talk about what you’re really here for—the beach!
Practically the entire neighborhood of Waikiki is bordered by beach. These beach parks (Kahanamoku, Waikīkī, Kuhio and Queen’s Beach) are all free to access and open to the public.
A view of Queen’s Beach from the Waikiki Wall.
My favorite swim spot is Waikīkī Beach directly behind all of the hotels. You can walk on right from Kalakaua Ave or the neighboring beach park.
Unfortunately, the beach chairs and umbrellas are reserved for hotel guests but plenty of shade is provided from the buildings and palm trees that surround the area! There are also a number of stands setup on the beach that rent out umbrelllas and chairs for the day.
Soaking up the sun at Waikīkī Beach / Book: Oahu Revealed: The Ultimate Guide to Honolulu, Waikiki & Beyond / Lunchbox: Vera Bradley Lunch Bunch Bag / Photo taken by: Rebecka Nyberg
Before you get used to lounging on the beautiful beaches, there’s a few places you should be sure to head to!
Diamond Head Make your way over to Diamond Head State Monument located to the East of Waikiki.
This 300,000 year old extinct volcanic crater was historically used by the U.S. military as a post for preventing attacks against Honolulu and is now a major tourist attraction.
A partial view of Diamond Head State Monument from Waikīkī Beach.
The monument features a steep stair-hike that transports you to the edge of the crater and boasts beautiful views of Waikiki and Honolulu.
Looking out on Waikiki and downtown Honolulu from the Diamond Head trail summit.
The park is open from 6:00AM to 6:00PM though no one is allowed enterance after 4:30PM. Admission is $2 and there are bathroom and water facilities.
You can take the bus or walk up to the park from Waikiki’s hostels.
Koko Head For a challenging start to your day, hike the Koko Head Crater Trail at sunrise. I ordered an Uber from the hostel at about 4:30am to make it for the magnificent view.
Though this level hard hike is a steep treck it isn’t too long.
The entire hike is up an abandoned train track which was used by the military during World War II to transport supplies to a lookout post at the summit.
The view at the top is unreal. Looking out at the sunrise, you’ll see the island of Molokai in the distance and if you turn around on the hike, you’ll have a spectacular view of Waikiki and Hanauma Bay.
Fellow hikers enjoying the sunrise at Koko Head Summit.
Manoa Falls This 150-foot waterfall located in the Manoa Falls Trail is a must in my book.
Though there are clear signs and barriers marking the waterfall as closed for swimming, tons of tourists swim at their own risk daily.
I recommend bringing a pair of sandals like these if you plan on fulfilling your lifelong fantasy of taking a dip in the falls.
This 200-acre arboretum and botanical garden managed by the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa is open to the public.
Admission is free (encourages cash donations) and the gardens boast astonishing foliage and panaromic views of the southern region of the Ko’olau mountain range.
More hikes There are countless other beautiful hikes and walking trails to explore in the area. Browse through the All Trails app and download offline trail maps, time your hike and post your own review/pictures. Let other THHP readers know which hikes you enjoy in the comments of this post below!
In my opinion, getting back down is the hardest part . . . so don’t be afraid to sit on your bum and use your hands to guide you back down the tracks!
Photos from the Lyon Arboretum / Top: Tadasana (Mountain Pose) at Inspiration Point / Bottom Left: Neomarica northiana (Walking Iris) / Bottom Right: Calatheas (Various Varieties)
Last but certainly not least on this list is food!
Waikiki has a surpising amount of good food options for the health-conscious traveler. I’ve rounded these all up from the best poke bowls to vegan desserts . . . so there’s definitely something for everyone!
Made with organic açaí, this picnic food style shop offers a large serving complete with house-made gluten-free granola, honey (optional for vegans), chia pudding and fresh fruit for $10.50.
In addition, the shop has pre-made salad and noodle bowls that are labelled for allergies available in their grab & go fridge. They also list gluten-free bread on their menu for a substitute in sandwiches!
Though its appearance is a little misleading (it’s a convenience store), Coco Cove is home to an entire poke bar that offers huge delicious portions of poke with a range of flavors.
One scoop of poke served over white or brown rice is $7.99 and two scoops is $11.99. The only flavors that contain gluten are the Wasabi and Shoyu.
Make sure you go after 9:00am as the poke bar doesn’t open until then!
Their bowls are definitely the most “instagram-ready” as they are served up in a rainbow of mismatched pastel bowls.
Note: the Health Bar is cash only and does not label anything on their menu as gluten-free so be cautious of the granola.
Banán After a meal, hike or day at the beach, make a pit stop at Banán for dairy-free soft serve made entirely from farm-to-table fruit and topped with more local goodies!
There are four locations but the most convenient for downtown Waikiki is located in the rainbow surfboard-lined alley leading to the beach. This is right before the garage to the right of the Cheesecake Factory.
Enjoy your frozen treat on the beach or bring it to the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center’s outdoor tropical courtyard.
Pictured is the Riss Moore bowl with added local dark chocolate.
Here you’ll find all of your organic and natural speacialty essentials and treats.
This little grocer is also complete with a deli, cold salad bar, hot prepared foods, fresh juices & smoothies, a made-to-order sandwich menu and grab-and-go desserts. There are tons of gluten-free, vegan and dairy-free options.
Dukes Yup, Waikiki’s own surf legend, Duke Kahanamoku, has his own restaurant chain. Head to Dukes on Waikiki Beach for a full on meal with a beautiful ocean view and fun historical decor.
Dukes has one menu item that is labeled as “gluten-conscious” and offers gluten-free buns that are pretty darn tasty!
The most cost effective method of food shopping when traveling is to do a grocery shop and cook a couple of meals at your hostel/airbnb!
Here you’ll be able to get fruit, vegetables, snacks and other essentials at a discounted price.
Note that there is a parking garage for those with rental cars.
Mitsuwa Marketplace This Japanese Supermarket (the largest in the U.S.) is located right in the International Market Place in Waikiki and offers some great deals on specialty foods.
Head here for premade sushi, rice-based gluten-free goods, asian candy and more!
There is a grocery section, deli, ramen bar, specialty cafes and dessert bar.