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My friend Nori from New York (originally from Japan) shoots documentaries for a living and he happened to be in Oahu, Hawaii working on a documentary about tandem surfing. He was shooting the whole time in Waikiki during the annual Duke Kahanamoku surfing contest so I decided to drive out to meet him for dinner. Most locals who live outside of Waikiki tend to avoid this area since it’s crowded (me included), but there’s no doubt that Waikiki attracts so many people because the place is just beautiful!
Check out Nori’s film skills at his website – his short films are amazing! You can also follow him on his IG @norimizukami.
I headed toward the Duke Kahanamoku statue since I knew he’d be filming there and the view was spectacular! The sun was just beginning its descent past the horizon and surf contest participants were still relaxing and talking story all over this area. The waves were still going strong and even this stray wave impressed this kid to screaming delight as it overtook their surfboard.
Local Tip: In Hawaii, instead of street names or cardinal directions, we’ll often use landmarks for meeting places or directions. The Duke Kahanamoku statue is a popular meeting place for local beach-goers. You’ll hear us referring to this statue as “Duke’s”, which means we should meet at the statue, not at Duke’s the restaurant.
There were still quite a few surfers out even with the setting sun trying to catch that one last magical wave in. Behind me, the surfing contest banner and “Duke” himself was still attracting plenty of tourists who were lucky enough to catch the action after the last surfing competition.
I spent around an hour walking around in Waikiki and I can tell you that this place is constantly changing. There is plenty to do, see and eat here and as old businesses get torn down, new ones are always springing up. The scenery and architecture is also pretty cool. Fire torches and tropical plants line the pathways and the buildings are beautiful to look at. Paired with Waikiki’s beautiful sand just a few steps away, it’s a match made in heaven.
My final stop was actually meeting up with Nori at his hotel. He stayed at Aqua Bamboo, which had an intimate lobby that led to outdoor seating where you can eat, drink and talk story. I also got a quick tour of a few of the rooms his crew occupied and they’re decently-sized, furnished with beds, a couch, chairs and a desk. The hotel wifi was free, which is always a plus! Everything seemed clean and tidy, so if you’re looking for a “normally” priced hotel that’s close enough to the beach, you might want to check out Aqua Bamboo out since it’s less than a 10 minute walk to Duke’s and to the sand.
Plus, I think the beach near Duke’s is one of the best spots throughout the whole Waikiki shore. There’s a great view of the shoreline, Sunset on the Beach (huge movie screen on the beach) is held in this general area, the surf rental booth is right here and a police office is just a few steps away. The best part is that one of my favorite musubi shops, Musubi Cafe Iyasume, is right around the corner, which is soooo good!
Are you looking to visit Waikiki when something big is happening? There are a ton of festivals in Waikiki that are popular (and recommended!)
Spam Jam Hawaii: We don’t just eat spam in Hawaii…we consume it. We have those 101 spam recipe cookbooks and you can find spam as a breakfast meat at McDonald’s and local breakfast stops. Spam musubi stores sell out on a daily basis. We love spam so much that we have a festival for it…and it’s glorious!
Aloha Festival: It’s the parade that you really have to see. Find a shady spot on the side of the road, bring an ice cold drink and enjoy the Hawaiian culture, entertainment and music.
Local Tip: Aloha Festivals are held statewide so check your island’s dates for this cultural event.
Lantern Floating Festival: This is a somber festival to say goodbye to loved ones and to help the process of closure. It’s been growing every year and is often an emotional, haunting and beautiful moment.
Local Tip: Eat andagi – it’s a traditional Okinawan donut that is popular in Hawaii and is only often sold at Japanese/Okinawan festivities.
Ukulele Festival: If you love music and ukuleles, you are in for a treat! We have a strong ukulele culture here and you’ll get to listen to local celebrities and famous ukulele teachers perform. There are a ton of ukulele booths here and you’ll be able to enter contests, compare ukuleles and get all your ukulele questions answered.
Local Tip: Want to know my favorite local ukulele brand?
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- Hilton Hawaiian Village – Luxurious and popular resort
- Moana Surfrider – Historical and personal favorite
- Aqua Ohio Waikiki – Budget-friendly and affordable
- The Beach Waikiki – Boutique hostel
- Waikiki Beachside Hostel – Convenient location at a good price
- Prince Waikiki – Highly rated on TripAdvisor
- Hotel LaCroix – Good value for price
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