Waikiki was once a vast marshland whose boundaries encompassed more than 2,000-acres (as compared to its present 500-acres we call Waikiki, today.)
Originally, the ahupuaʻa of Waikiki included all the valleys “from the west side of Makiki valley away to the east side of Wailupe”.
The name Waikiki (which means “spouting waters”) was well adapted to the character of the swampy land of ancient Waikiki, where water from the upland valleys would gush forth from underground.
The early Hawaiian settlers gradually transformed the marsh into hundreds of taro fields, fish ponds and gardens. Waikiki was once one of the most productive agricultural areas in old Hawai‘i.
From ancient times, Waikiki has been a popular surfing spot. This is one of the reasons why the chiefs of old make their homes and headquarters in Waikiki for hundreds of years.
Waikiki, by the time of the arrival of Europeans in the Hawaiian Islands during the late eighteenth century, had long been a center of population Royal Center on O‘ahu. Kamehameha’s decision to reside there after taking control of O‘ahu by defeating the island’s chief, Kalanikūpule.
However, drainage problems started to develop in Waikiki from the late-nineteenth century because of urbanization, when roads were built and expanded in the area (thereby blocking runoff) and when a drainage system for land from Punchbowl to Makiki diverted surface water to Waikiki.
The dredging of the Ala Wai Canal (which became a demarcation of what we call Waikiki today) and the filling of the Waikiki wetlands spurred a building boom in the district. Hundreds of residential lots were created; then, many of the properties were consolidated into resort use.
Waikiki is now most often defined as the area bounded on the north and west by the Ala Wai canal from Kapahulu Avenue to the Ocean (including the Ala Wai Boat Harbor), on the east by Kapahulu Avenue and on the south by the ocean shoreline.
Today, tourism is the largest single source of private capital into Hawai‘i. Tourism is Hawaiʻi’s biggest generator of jobs among the major economic sectors. Tourism contributes over $1-billion of total state tax revenue.
Oʻahu has roughly 50 percent of the State’s visitor unit inventory, the vast majority of them in Waikiki (nearly 78,000-units statewide; nearly 32,000-units in Waikiki.)
It has a dense collection of independent hotels, condominiums, time-shares, restaurants and nightclubs, shopping complexes, etc and attracts and accommodates a range of types of visitor, from high-spending to the budget-conscious.
On any given day, there are as many as 127,000-people in Waikiki, making it a sizeable city by any account. This population includes 20,000-residents, 32,000-workers and 75,000-visitors.
While the city government provides the general public services and infrastructure for this city within a city, many businesses and residents also contribute to its betterment through various resort and visitor-related associations.
The visitor industry is more than hotels, visitor attractions and airlines. A successful tourism industry requires the collaboration of businesses, government and others, all working together toward common goals that contribute to the greater good.
Today, Waikiki is the primary visitor destination, and hotel and resort area not just for Oʻahu, but also for all of Hawaiʻi. It is a gathering place for residents and visitors from around the world.
Famous for its beaches, every room is just two or three blocks away from the beach and surf. But there’s more to Waikiki than just the beach. Nearby (walkable) attractions of Waikiki include the Honolulu Zoo and the Waikiki Aquarium, and for the adventuresome, Lēʻahi (Diamond Head) is a short walk that leads to a trail offering panoramic views of Waikiki.
In addition, Waikiki is within a half hour of a variety of Oʻahu attractions, including Pearl Harbor, ʻIolani Palace, the Nuʻuanu Pali Lookout and Hanauma Bay.
While Waikiki is considered “built-out,” recent revitalization activities, including multi-million dollars of expenditures for a new sidewalk promenade with landscaping and fountains and numerous other improvements, have added freshness and convenience to the Waikiki experience.
One of Waikiki’s new and signature attractions is the tradition of torch-lighting ceremonies that occurs most evenings throughout Waikiki.
Likewise, a recent sand replenishment project expanded the beach in the core of Waikiki. Other landscaping and sidewalk improvements added convenience and safety, while also enhancing a rejuvenated feel.
Long been cultivated in the minds of worldwide visitors as a destination of exotic allure and Aloha spirit, Waikiki is a unique mix of ancient tradition, history, beautiful land, breathtaking seascapes and a blend of strong cultures—the backdrop that has framed the world-renowned beach as one of the premier tourist destinations on the planet.
More of an experience than a destination, Waikiki provides residents and visitors with a unique experience found only on its shores, to take and keep with them wherever they are. Waikiki is poised to stand the test of time as one of the most iconic beach locations in the world.
We prepared a corridor management plan for the Waikiki – Kauhale O Hoʻokipa Scenic Byway for the Native Hawaiian Hospitality Association. We were honored and proud when the Scenic Byway received a Historic Preservation Commendation from Historic Hawaiʻi Foundation.