1. For a tourist trap, Waikiki is pretty chill. It’s packed with people and chain stores, but as tourist traps go, Waikiki – Honolulu’s central beach and hotel area – is about as easy-going a place as you’ll find. People walk slowly, traffic is mostly orderly, and the nightlife – so far as I could tell since I crashed by 11 p.m. every night – was relatively tame. The tourists are happy to be spending time in paradise, the merchants are pleasant, and even the dogs are relaxed and friendly.
2. The ABC Store is a triumph of chain retailing. You probably haven’t heard of it unless you’ve been there, but the ABC Store, or stores, are as common as Hawaiian shirts in Honolulu. In fact, they sell Hawaiian shirts, in addition to just about everything else you can think of: Groceries, coffee, souvenirs, snorkeling gear, fresh fruit, dresses, jewelry, Zippo lighters, medicine, etc. I could go on and on. It sounds like I’m describing the Hawaiian version of a roadside gas station, and I suppose I am. But the ABC Store is geared toward filling just about every single need or want of the Waikiki-based tourist or local. Not only that, but it’s open 24/7 and can be found literally – and I’m using the word ‘literally’ here in its intended manner – on every block in Waikiki, and every half-block in some cases. I’ve lived amidst 7-11s in LA (and now, NYC), and PDQs in Wisconsin, but I’ve never seen anything – not even Arby’s in Minnesota – approaching the ubiquity of the ABC Store.
3. For a more relaxed swim, visit Sans Souci beach. It’s maybe half a mile from the packed beaches around Waikiki, but it’s worth the walk through a beautiful beach park (with one of the best “concession stands” I’ve ever eaten at). The beach seems private because it’s small and adjacent to a hotel, but it’s public. Sans Souci is quiet with mostly adult sunbathers. The water can be chilly, but you can spot some good fish near the reef if you bring your snorkeling gear.
4. The city buses are cheap and efficient. Municipal buses actually go all around the island of Oahu, and you can take them to major tourist spots, including Hanauma Bay, Manoa Falls, even the old Dole plantation on the other side of the island. Private tour buses can charge $30 per person or more to take you to places like that, but the bus costs $2.50 per adult with a free transfer. It’s also a relaxing way to sight-see outside of Honolulu.
5. You can eat on the cheap if you know where to look. It’s easy to spend money on a fancy restaurant with a beach view if that’s what you want to do. But staying in Waikiki does not mean you have to blow your budget on meals. For one, most hotels have kitchenettes. Although grocery store prices in Hawaii are high (and especially around Waikiki), it’s still much cheaper than dining at Nobu. As I said, there’s a decent park concession stand where you can enjoy Portuguese sausage with eggs, fresh pineapple, and amazing coffee (among other offerings) for a fraction of the price at a restaurant – and you’re still sitting beachside! I also recommend joints like Me’s BBQ (thanks, Lonely Planet guidebook), where a container of rice, meat or fish, vegetables, and bean sprouts will run between $7-$10 and can last for two meals (again – using your kitchenette to store and reheat).
6. The weather is perfect and the sunsets are stunning. Temperatures rarely climb higher than 90 or lower than 65, the humidity is just right, and the trade winds are soothing and refreshing. The water isn’t Caribbean-warm but it’s comfortable. And the sunsets are remarkable. But to really appreciate it, you’ll just have to see for yourself.