George Kanahele designed the Waikīkī Historic Trail, a walking tour that traces the history and cultural legacy of this area where chiefs and commoners once lived.
It is seen as a way to enhance awareness of Waikīkī both as a sacred place to Hawaiians and a huge part of Hawaii’s history.
Bronze cast trail markers in the shape of surfboards (designed by Charlie Palumbo) describe a Waikīkī that few knew existed. Once part swamp, part playground for Hawaiian royalty, Waikīkī was for centuries a center of Hawaiian hospitality and seat of Oahu’s government. Following are brief descriptions of the sites along the trail.
Stewards of the trail are the folks from Native Hawaiian Hospitality Association (NaHHA.) Waikīkī Improvement Association supports and promotes the trail.
Marker 1 (Kapiʻolani/Waikīkī Beach)
This section of Waikīkī Beach contains four distinct areas: Outrigger Canoe Club (founded in 1908,) Sans Souci (1890s,) Kapi’olani Park and Queen’s Surf (demolished in 1971.)
Marker 2 – (Kapahulu groin)
From ancient times Waikīkī has been a popular surfing spot – it’s one of the reasons chiefs of old make their homes and headquarters in Waikīkī for hundreds of years (he‘e nalu, surfing.)
Marker 3 (Ala Wai/Lili‘uokalani Site)
Waikīkī served as a marshy drainage basin for the Koʻolau Mountain Range; in 1927, the Ala Wai Canal reclaimed the land for the development of today’s hotels, stores and streets. Here was Queen Lili’uokalani’s home, the last reigning monarch of the Kingdom of Hawai’i.
Marker 4 (Kuhio Beach)
This stretch of beach (from the Kapahulu groin to the Beach Center) is Kuhio Beach Park. It is named for Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalaniana’ole, Hawaii’s second Delegate to the United States Congress (1902-1922.)
Marker 5 (Kuhio Beach)
Duke Paoa Kahanamoku statue – Duke was known as the “Father of International Surfing;” he introduced surfing to the Eastern Seaboard of America, Europe and Australia. He has been recognized as Hawaii’s Ambassador of Aloha since 1962.
Marker 6 (Kuhio Beach)
The Healing Stones of Kapaemahu statue These stones were placed here in tribute to four soothsayers with famed healing powers, Kapaemahu, Kahaloa, Kapuni and Kinohi, who came from Tahiti to Hawaii in the 16th century.
Marker 7 (King’s Alley Entrance)
King David Kalakaua (1836-1891) had a residence here, in Uluniu, in the late-1800s; it was a two-story, frame structure, situated in a grove of towering, very old coconut trees. The house was big enough for hosting large parties, which he was fond of giving.
Marker 8 (‘Ainahau Park/Triangle)
Nani wale ku’u home ‘Ainahau I ka ‘iu – So beautiful is my home ‘Ainahau in a paradise. These are the words from a popular song honoring ‘Ainahau (“land of the hau tree”), once described as “the most beautiful estate in the Hawaiian Islands.”
Marker 9 (International Marketplace, Under Banyan Tree)
King William Kanaʻina Lunalilo (1835-1874), the first elected king in Hawaiian history, had a summer residence here in the area known as Kaluaokau. Here he enjoyed “the quiet life of Waikīkī and living simply on fish and poi with his native friends.”
Marker 10 (Courtyard, next to Banyan Tree, Moana Hotel Restaurant)
The first hotels in Waikīkī were bathhouses, which began to offer rooms for overnight stays in the 1880s. The Moana Hotel, the “First Lady of Waikīkī,” which opened in 1901, established Waikīkī as a resort destination.
Marker 11 (Next to Patio, Duke’s Restaurant)
Overlooking favored surf spot for some of Waikīkī’s famed beach boys. This elite group got their start sometime in the 1930s when the first Waikīkī Beach Patrol was organized. They have been called “Waikīkī’s ambassadors,” serving the needs of royalty, Hollywood celebrities, and the general public alike.
Marker 12 (Back Lawn, Royal Hawaiian Hotel)
The royal coconut grove known as Helumoa once stood here, nearly 10,000 trees. Kamehameha the Great and his army camped as they began their conquest of O’ahu in 1795. They returned victorious from the battles in Nu’uanu Valley and made Waikīkī the first capital of the Kingdom of Hawai’i.
The Royal Hawaiian Hotel or “The Pink Palace” was completed in 1927 and was touted as the “finest resort hostelry in America.”
Marker 13 (Beach, Next to Outrigger Reef Hotel)
From olden times Waikīkī was viewed not only as a place of peace and hospitality, but of healing.
One of Waikīkī’s places of healing was this stretch of beach fronting the Halekulani Hotel called Kawehewehe (or the removal). The sick and the injured came to bathe in the kai, or waters of the sea.
Marker 14 (Next to U.S. Army Museum)
On this site stood the villa of Chun Afong, Hawaiʻi’s first Chinese millionaire, who arrived in Honolulu in 1849. He was the inspiration for Jack London’s famous story, “Chun Ah Chun.” In 1904 the US Army Corps of Engineers purchased the property to make way for the construction of Battery Randolph and the no-longer-extant Battery Dudley to defend Honolulu Harbor from foreign attack.
Marker 15 (Kālia Road)
In 1897, Waikīkī’s largest fish pond (13-acres,) the Kaʻihikapu, was here. All of today’s Fort DeRussy on the mauka (toward the mountain) side of the road was covered with fishponds (growing mostly ‘ama’ama or mullet and awa or milkfish.) in 1908, the US military acquired 72 acres of land and started draining it in 1908 to build Fort DeRussy.
Marker 16 (Paoa Park)
Olympic swimming champion Duke Kahanamoku (1890-1968) spent much of his youth here in Kalia with his mother’s family the Paoas. The family owned much of the 20 acres which the Hilton Hawaiian Village now occupies; they grew their own taro and sweet potatoes and fished for seaweed, squid, shrimp, crab, lobster and varieties of fish.
Marker 17 (Patio of Ilikai Hotel)
The Pi’inaio was Waikīkī‘s third stream which entered the sea here where the Ilikai Hotel stands. Unlike the Kuekaunahi and ‘Apuakehau streams, the mouth of the Pi’inaio was a large muddy delta intersected by several small tributary channels.
Marker 18 (Diamond Head Corner of Entrance to Ala Moana Park)
In the late 1800s, Chinese farmers converted many of Waikīkī’s taro and fishponds into duck ponds. This area, including the Ala Moana Shopping Center, was covered with duck farms. In 1931, the City and County of Honolulu decided to clean up the waterfront. The new Moana Park was dedicated by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1934.
Marker 19 (Ala Wai Canal Side of Hawai’i Convention Center)
Ala Wai (freshwater way) Canal was at the heart of Waikīkī Reclamation Project launched in the early 1900s to “reclaim a most unsanitary and unsightly portion of the city.” With the canal’s completion in 1928, the taro and rice fields, the fish and duck ponds, vanished. Begun in 1996, the Hawai’i Convention Center is the largest public building of its kind in Hawai’i.
Marker 20 (Near Corner of Ala Moana and Kalakaua Avenue)
This green expanse in the middle of Waikīkī is Fort DeRussy. It was started in 1908 as a vital American bastion of defense, but today it serves as a place of recreation and relaxation for U.S. military personnel and their families.
Marker 21 (Intersection of Kuhio and Kalakaua Avenue)
Kalākaua Statue at Kalākaua Park, intersection of Kalākaua and Kūhiō Avenues. Kalākaua was the first king in history to visit the United States; he was often referred to as “The Merry Monarch” and was fond of old Hawaiian customs. Kalākaua died while on a trip to San Francisco on January 20, 1891.
Marker 22 (Hilton Hawaiian Village)
Ali’i (royalty) from all points came to Kālia to enjoy great entertainment along with lavish banquets with the freshest fish and shrimp from the largest fishponds in all the Hawaiian Islands. Here once stood the gracious Niumalu (coconut shade) Hotel; today, the Hilton Hawaiian Village continues the rich heritage of Kālia with a tradition of ho’okipa (hospitality.)
Marker 23 (Hilton Hawaiian Village)
In ancient Hawaii, the “Kālia” area where the Hilton Hawaiian Village is located was once swampland. Early Hawaiian farmers converted the marshes into ponds, lo’i, rich with taro, the staple food of the Hawaiian people. The Kālia area was also known for its abundant fishing grounds. It was also a favorite playground for the Ali’i (royalty).