For Peter Apo, dawn is the best time to feel the mana
(spirituality) of Waikiki. “There is nothing better than to greet
the sunrise by walking the beach from the Waikiki Natatorium
Memorial, at the foot of Diamond Head, to the Royal Hawaiian
Hotel,” said Apo, director of the Hawaiian Hospitality Institute.
“Look out to sea in the morning calm, and witness the surfers
carrying on an unbroken ritual of wave riding that has occurred at
this place every day since before recorded history. It is a Waikiki
of quiet reflection that is amazing in its beauty and melancholy in
Wait a minute. Is Apo talking about Waikiki, home of traffic and
high-rise hotels? The bustling urban Honolulu resort, where 9,000
people from the mainland visited each day for the first two weeks
of December? Indeed he is. In fact, Apo and others of Hawaiian
ancestry are more dedicated than ever to helping visitors look past
the high-rises and appreciate the cultural value of Waikiki.
New activities are giving clients a chance to embrace Waikiki’s
days gone by. For the past three years, the Native Hawaiian
Hospitality Association has led walking tours that point out
important sites like the location of King David Kalakaua’s home in
the 1800s, and a royal coconut grove dating back to the 16th
At Na Mea, a two-year-old shop at the Hilton Hawaiian Village,
visitors can learn about and buy fascinating made-in-Hawaii
products. On Kuhio Beach, members of local hula halau (troupes)
share time-honored dances at sunset for free, near a statue of
Hawaiian surfing and swimming legend Duke Kahanamoku.
Similarly, a growing number of Waikiki hotels are instilling the
guest experience with the culture of the area.
Two years ago, Outrigger Waikiki on the Beach instituted a
series of Friday programs, when hotel employees talk about Hawaiian
medicinal plants, island music and localisms.
Sheraton Moana Surfrider, the first hotel in Waikiki, presents
free guided tours of memorabilia dating back to its 1901
Unexpectedly, while such changes are being made with visitors in
mind, residents are rediscovering Waikiki as well, said Maile
Meyer, a director of the Native Hawaiian Hospitality
“There’s a much better chance for Waikiki’s visitors to interact
with locals now,” said Meyer. “Just hanging out on the beach, a
local might show you how to catch a wave on a boogie board, or tell
you the best place to try plate lunch (fast food, Hawaiian-style).
This sort of interaction increases a visitor’s overall
understanding of Hawaii.”
Waikiki’s renewed sense of place extends to the entertainment
scene as well, Meyer said.
“More local musicians are coming back to perform in Waikiki,”
she said. “That’s a big change from 10 years ago.”
At the Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort and Spa, clients can sit on
the Moana Terrace and hear legendary falsetto singer Auntie Genoa
Keawe on Thursdays, and classic slack key guitar practitioners on
Tiki’s Grill & Bar at the newly renovated Aston Waikiki
Beach Hotel is booking established and emerging Hawaiian musicians
like Kapena and Kaala Boys. For three years, Aston has been hosting
free full-moon concerts at the Kapiolani Park bandstand, with local
favorites like Brothers Cazimero and Amy Hanaialii Gilliom.
Waikiki not only sounds more Hawaiian, but it looks the part as
well. On the heels of the Kalakaua Avenue beautification, Waikiki
Improvement Association is planning to revitalize Kuhio Avenue with
wider sidewalks and tropical landscaping.
The state has earmarked $700,000 for replenishing the shoreline
of Kuhio Beach in Waikiki, and Hawaii governor Linda Lingle is
asking for $2.4 million from the state legislature to continue
adding sand to eroding beaches in the area.
Last year, when Honolulu-based Honu Group opened an upscale
Waikiki retail center called 2100 Kalakaua, it built a hula mound
in front for Hawaiian music and dance. It is precisely that
blending of the past, present and future in one destination which
makes Waikiki a must-do for visitors, said Apo.
“I look beyond the built environment of Waikiki and appreciate
it as a Hawaiian place,” said Apo. “It has always been, since the
first migration of natives set foot on her beaches, a place of
respite and healing. It still emotes a spiritual energy for those
who have the sensitivity to see beyond the buildings.”