Activity Finds: Waikiki

1) U.S. Army Museum of Hawaii

For history buffs looking to take a step back in time, march on over to the U.S. Army Museum of Hawai‘i housed on the grounds of Fort DeRussy in Waikiki to experience stories from early Hawaiian warfare through the Vietnam War. Today the museum salutes visitors with a piece of Hawai‘i history without ever having to leave Waikiki.

Constructed in 1911 as a coastal artillery battery known as Battery Randolph, part of the experience of paying a visit to the U.S. Army Museum of Hawai‘i is simply seeing the museum itself -- a massive concrete building with a 12-foot thick roof. Built as part of a coastal defense system with 14-inch guns it was transformed into a museum in 1976.

If you've got a free afternoon carve an hour out of your day to check out the museum's exhibits including the Gallery of Heroes -- which honors local soldiers who have been recognized with the nation's most prestigious military awards - or the popular General Eric K. Shinseki exhibit which features information on General Shinseki's bright military career. For those looking to turn the volume up on their visit, the museum now offers audio tours (available in Japanese and English) for rent for $5 each.

 

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2) Kaimana Beach

Washing up on the shores of Waikiki, Kaimana Beach is splashed out between the New Otani Kaimana Beach Hotel and the War Memorial Natatorium. Popular amongst beachgoers who call O‘ahu home, Kaimana Beach is the perfect part of Waikiki to float away the day building sandcastles with the kids, snorkeling in the shallow reef or sunbathing along the beach's wide and sandy shores.

In 1902 Kaimana Beach was the historic site for the state's first submarine cable providing a telegraphic link between Hawai‘i and the U.S. mainland. Today, the remnants of that cable still rest on the ocean floor along Kaimana Beach's channel.

For those who aren't strong swimmers, keep your wits (and fins) about you since the current here can be particularly strong, especially after high tide. Make sure to check in with the lifeguard before getting into the water and if you're a weak swimmer or with young children make sure to keep close to shore.

 

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Food Finds: Waikiki

1) Marukame Udon

An easy stroll along Kuhio Avenue, Marukame Udon is steaming up Waikiki with their bowls of simple and tasty, fresh, house-made udon noodles. This cozy eatery has crowds of kama‘aina (local residents) and visitors lining up to order "cafeteria style" and load their trays with delicious Japanese comfort food.

If you're craving something warm and savory, Marukame Udon is the place to dip in for an affordable meal-on-the-go. "Splurge" and help yourself to a large bowl (for $6.25 a pop) which comes in seven different types including curry, niku (with thinly sliced beef), ontama (with a soft poached egg), kamaage (with a dipping sauce of sesame and ginger, and zaru (cold udon with a light dipping sauce). Our personal favorite is the zaru udon (perfect for a Hawaii's hot humid days) with a side of kakiage (thinly diced vegetables and tempura) and a soft boiled egg.

While you're waiting in line to pick your udon, musubi and tempura, you can get a taste for how your food is made. As entertaining as it is delicious, at Marukame you can watch the chefs roll out your udon noodles, fry tempura and roll musubi with deft hands as you work up your appetite. Grab a tray and get it udon!

 

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2) House Without a Key

Drink in the beach-chic ambiance of House Without a Key, a popular restaurant at the Halekulani, the Waikiki Parc's sister hotel. Perched at the edge of Waikiki Beach, House Without a Key's ambiance transforms like the colors of a chameleon from a quiet breakfast nook to catch the softly, lapping waves, to a hot and stylish hot spot at sunset.

Arrive early to keep from getting locked out of this popular pau hana place. Get decked out and skip across the street to partake in one of the Halekulani's prized traditions, mai tais and Hawaiian music under the Kiawe tree. While "mai tai" means good in Tahitian, Halekulani's special spin on this exotic drink takes this beverage to a whole new level. What's Tahitian for unbelievable?

Between sipping and savoring (House Without a Key also has an exceptional menu of mouthwatering appetizers) you can drink in the sunset, paired with Hawaiian music and the graceful dancing of former Miss Hawai‘i's Kanoe Miller, Debbie Nakanelua and Lauren Cheape. And make sure to save room for House Without a Key's signature coconut cake - it's the icing on a perfect day.

 

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3) Waiola's Shave Ice

For a quick and cool treat after a day getting barreled in the surf and baking in the sun, look no further than Waiola Shave Ice, a family owned and operated shave ice stand off Kapahulu Avenue just outside of Waikiki (they also run another stand in Honolulu in McCully). An island favorite since 1940, many an O‘ahu keiki (child) has grown up frequenting this local hot spot.

On a humid day in O‘ahu you'll find dozens of families and kama‘aina (locals) lining up to latch sticky fingers on their favorite shave ice flavors. In the islands the "d" has been shaved off, so in Hawai‘i its shave ice, not "shaved ice" or "snow cones."

When ordering at Waiola you'll want to perfect your cup combo before stepping up to the register (they've got their preferred ordering method clearly placed at the front of the shop in case you forget). We like ours with the works - ice cream on the bottom and condensed milk and mochi balls to top it off.

And make sure to hit up the ATM in advance to shave some time off your schedule - Waiola Shave Ice only takes cash.

 

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4) Duke's Waikiki

Duke out the long lines of O‘ahu diners and you'll find yourself handsomely rewarded with a seat at the award-winning Duke's Waikiki. This landmark Waikiki restaurant has been serving guests from around the world for dozens of years, evoking redolent reminders of Hawai‘i's brilliant sunsets, Waikiki Beach's gentle waves, swaying palm trees and healthy helpings of Duke's equally unforgettable Hula Pie.

Make a reservation early and kick off your slippers (flip flops) with a drink or two and a few pupus (appetizers) at the Barefoot Bar. Their lineup of live entertainment and parade of patrons makes it the perfect place to people watch, while digging into your dinner of fresh fish and their miles-long salad bar (if you're craving something on the lighter side).

And make sure to save room at the end for Duke's Waikiki's world-famous Kimo's Original Hula Pie (this pie-mazing dessert is one which travelers still wax poetic about years later). Whipped up with macadamia nut ice cream on a cookie crust with fudge, whipped cream and chopped macadamia nut to top it off, it's no wonder that Duke's serves up dozens of these pies daily. We call it our own little slice of Hawai‘i dessert heaven.

 

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5) Mai Tai Bar

Considered "my bar" by many kama‘aina (locals) the Mai Tai Bar at Ala Moana Center's Ho‘okipa Terrace is an award-winning happy hour hot spot. If you're looking for a happening hangout to rub shoulders with the local crowd, head on over to the Mai Tai Bar after 9 p.m. where the pitchers of beer will be flowing and the bar's lanai (patio area) will be pulsing with shorts, tank top and slipper clad residents looking to let loose.

Thanks to Ala Moana Center's plentiful parking, the Mai Tai Bar (just across from California Pizza Kitchen and Bubba Gump's) is almost always packed. Grab a group of friends to enjoy their $5 appetizers, like firecracker shrimp and onion rings, and $9 beer pitchers. With two happy hours daily (early and late) it's a dead tie on the best time to grab a mai tai.

At night, the Mai Tai Bar takes it up a notch, so if you're sensitive to sound, this isn't the place for you. Here, local groups jam away to island favorites, so throw on your favorite dress or aloha shirt, let down your hair and get ready to skank and skip your way over to the dance floor.

 

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6) Shirokiya

If you're looking for a taste of Japan in the islands, dip into Shirokiya at Ala Moana Center for a quick bite and beer. The perfect layover after a long day strolling through the world's largest outdoor shopping center, rest your bags (and weary feet!) in the cool comfort of their newly remodeled Yataimura food court. The eatery is a popular meeting place for kama‘aina getting together with friends and coworkers after a day at work and for visitors looking to peck and pick from Shirokiya's selection of freshly made ramen and bento.

Breaking the preconception that mall dining can be pricey, Shirokiya's Yataimura festive beer garden pours out pitchers on special from 5:30 - 10 p.m. We all cheer for $1 draft beer! For those looking for something a little more substantial for lunch or dinner, Shirokiya's rotating ramen vendors feature new noodles every two weeks. We recommend going with a group of friends and dining "family style." Nothing completes a day of retail therapy than sharing a selection from sushi to soba over an ice-cold pitcher of beer.

And once you've finished, you can work off your meal exercising your wallet exploring Shirokiya's selection of Japanese products. Their Sanrio collection - which include everything from stationary and pens to candies and bags - make the perfect gift for your niece or still-young-at-heart friends back home!

 

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7) Wasabi Bistro

Just a stone's throw from the Waikiki Parc, Wasabi Bistro has made itself at home in the heartbreakingly charming Breakers Hotel. The hotel's indoor-outdoor oasis is at once contemporary, casual and cool, blocking out the loud throngs bustling just outside its doors for the perfect dining escape.

Route your way to this retro restaurant to partake in sushi, sake and some serious teishoku specialties (like chicken katsu, hamburger steak and shrimp tempura). If you're still full from lunch you can dabble in Wasabi Bistro's appetizers (starting at about $5-$7) and share a sushi set, like their signature Wasabi Sushi Roll Platter. Can you say "oishi?"

A popular escape for local Waikiki workers, Wasabi Bistro is a nice escape from the traditional lunch routine. We love treating ourselves to their very reasonable daily lunch special whenever we can take a longer-than-average lunch break.

 

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8) Kiwami Ramen

Anytime the temperature in Hawai‘i dips, our cravings for ramen rise. And Kiwami's new location on Ke‘eaumoku Boulevard across from Walmart is satisfying our need for noodles with perfectly portioned bowls of fresh ramen.

Ever since their original location at Waikiki Shopping Center closed, we've suffered through many a Kiwami craving. Day dreaming of Kiwami's fat, chewy noodles and their tsukemen ramen (also known as their "dipping ramen" where the noodles and concentrated dipping sauce are served separately) has helped us bide our time. The noodles are traditionally served cold but can be ordered hot upon request -- perfect for those trying to warm up on a rainy day.

Now reunited with her favorite Honolulu lunch spot, Waikiki Parc's Melissa O. recommends their miso ramen. And for under $10 for a bowl of noodles and a complimentary bowl of char siu and rice, how can you go wrong? Because street parking is hard to find in this neck of town, there is parking underneath the building. With validation it's just $1 an hour.

 

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9) Ramen Nakamura

When the Hawaiian Islands experiences a rainy day nothing hits the spot quite like a steaming bowl of Ramen Nakamura's noodles. And because they're conveniently located along Kalakaua Avenue you don't have to go far for a satisfying meal that will warm you up without burning a hole in your wallet.

If you're looking for something filling, Ramen Nakamura is known for their ox tail ramen, which is numero uno on Waikiki Parc's general manager, Julie A's list of favorite noodles. We like to order the full combo set, which at $18.99 may seem a little pricey but includes a bowl of oxtail ramen, small plate of fried rice and three pieces of gyoza.

While you're slurping up your meal you can scan through Ramen Nakamura's walls lined with autographed boards. And because they are open till 11:30 p.m. it's the perfect way to end the evening after night club or bar hopping through Waikiki.

 

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10) Yotekko Ya Kyoto Ramen

Despite a number of new ramen shops steaming up Oahu’s noodle scene, to kama‘aina connoisseurs Yotekko Ya Kyoto Ramen still noodles out the competition. Rolling out bowls of ramen so good you’ll feel like you’ve been transported to Kyoto, Yotekko Ya is a kamaaina staple on a cool day. In fact, anytime the temperature dips below 70 we call it a Yotekko Ya night.

Tucked into the second floor corner of McCully Shopping Center, Yotekko Ya Kyoto Ramen is a cozy ramen shop known for their popular Paitan broth and fresh noodles which you can choose to order “local style” (softer) or “Japanese style” (chewy). For those who like to pig out on pork, we’d recommend ordering their Kakuni Ramen – Yotekko Ya’s version of char siu but so soft, it almost melts in your mouth. 

 

While there are more than 14 different broths the Paitan Ramen is their most popular. The milky-looking soup has a delicate flavor of fresh pork, chicken, vegetables and spices that have simmered on Yotteko Ya’s stove for more than 10 hours. Available only for dine-in guests, there is only a limited amount each day so arrive early to get your Paitan fix. And unlike most ramen broths you’ll encounter, Yotekko Ya’s Paitan soup isn’t just tasty – it’s also good for you. In fact its chock full of collagen which is said to prevent aging in the skin and joints so you can get your ramen fix while turning back the hands of time. I’d say that’s a bowl full!

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11) Sikdorak

Sick of traditional Korean? Those who love yakiniku can't stop yakking about Sikdorak, a yakiniku spot as hot as the grills you cook your food on.

Here, your meat is cooked to perfection. Why? Because you've cooked it! Take control of the grill (and quiet complaints from your significant other that you haven't cooked for them recently!) by serving up perfect, sizzling pieces of their favorite meat. If you're with a large group graze from Sikdorak's meaty selection, which includes tongue, barbeque chicken, short ribs, rib eye, brisket, tripe and spicy pork.

For less than $20 you can pork out on all the meat you can eat, plus your favorite Korean sides. Carry in a case of your favorite cold brew or bubbles (did we mention it's BYOB?) and you've got the perfect place to chill out. The best part is it doesn't even matter what time of day your craving yakiniku. Sikdorak is open 24 hours a day to meet your meat munchies.

A word of advice? This isn't your upscale yakiniku restaurant. Dress down in jeans and a tank. Not only do the grills heat this place up but your clothes will be soaked in Sikdorak's deliciously smoky essence.

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12) Sushi ii

For sushi connoisseurs looking for some of the freshest sushi and a fin-tastic selection of fish, swim over to Sushi ii. Tucked away in the old Samsung Plaza less than a block from Ala Moana Center, Sushi ii (pronounced ee, ii translates "good" in Japanese) serves up sushi that more than lives up to its name.

Owned and managed by local boy Garrett Wong who has some serious sushi street cred, here you'll find a selection of fish that will have you in a raw-food rapture. Enjoy everything from traditional favorites like maguro (tuna) and sake (salmon) to unique fish finds like live baby abalone - still wriggling in the dish - fresh moi, grilled anago (freshwater eel) and more.

If you're looking for a true fish feast order the omakase, which is considered by many the only real way to splash out. The chef's choice, omakase translates in Japanese to "I'll leave it to you," and starts at $60 for 10 pieces. Trust us, after a meal here you'll be happier than a clam.

Oh, and don't forget to tell Garrett we sent you.

 

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13) Tonkatsu Ginza Bairin

If you're craving katsu treat yourself to an authentic Japanese meal at Tonkatsu Ginza Bairin. Conceivably the best katsu in Hawai‘i, here even the pricey menu can't keep away pork-loving locals and tourists who continue to come in crowds.

With the taste and feel of a family-owned restaurant, this Tokyo-based restaurant chain offers a thoughtful menu with different takes on tonkatsu (a Japanese style fried pork cutlet). Here everything is steeped in quality, from the rice, which is cooked to the perfect consistency with Bincho charcoal and purified water, to the fresh pork and rich sauces. And no matter which pork you pick - whether its it's the thick cut pork loin katsu, katsu curry, katsu don or katsu loco moco - you'll squeal with delight at the crispy breading and mouth-wateringly most meat middle.

Reservations here are recommended. The compact restaurant can pack a two-hour wait on weekends. Plus, you'll want to arrive early for a chance to dig your snout (errr mouth) into their Kurobuta pork loin katsu. Made with premium-grade pork from Canada, Tonkatsu Ginza Bairin only makes 25 servings of this dish each day. When we can get our hoofs on it we're in hog heaven!

 

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14) Goofy Cafe + Dine

We don't goof around when it comes to the most important meal of the day. If you're serious about breakfast, fuel up at Goofy Café & Dine in Waikiki, which brings a local twist to the standard breakfast menu. And it's a menu you can enjoy any time of day since Goofy's serves breakfast from 7 a.m. - 11 p.m. daily!

While the name "Goofy" may have you channeling the popular Disney character, the café is actually named after the "goofy" foot surfing stance. And its location, just off Ala Moana Boulevard near Kobe Steak House, means that it's close to many popular south shore surf spots so it's easy to surf on in after catching a few waves.

Here guests can dine al fresco on fare focused on "local first organic whenever possible." In fact, their menu takes local one step farther, featuring a traceability report so that guests can see where their breakfast comes from. Many customer favorites like the Big Island Honey French Toast, Big Island Beef Loco Moco and Goofy's French Toast, all feature local ingredients.

Because Goofy Café doesn't have parking it's best to make the 15-minute stroll from the Waikiki Parc or hele over to the harbor for street parking. And since diners have gone, well, goofy for Goofy Café, prepare to wait for a table (which is also the perfect excuse for a morning stroll along the beach).

 

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Shopping Finds: Waikiki

1) Mahina

Life's a beach. Or, at least it is when you're shopping at Mahina. This locally owned boutique originated on Maui but has since flown the coop and washed up on the shores Waikiki.

Ditch Waikiki's big box retailers and take advantage of Mahina's effortless cotton dresses, wearable tops, comfy rompers and accessories all at affordable prices. Owners Jody and Joe also operate stores in Kihei and Paia on Maui, and their Waikiki shop continues the tradition of striking just the right balance between on-trend items and effortless island style.

If you have time (and more gifts to pick up for friends and family back home!) be sure to check out the other shops at Waikiki Beach Walk. Here, there are more small shops and boutiques, which offer treasure troves of finds - such as Island Sole and Oasis. And you won't be able to help tipping your hat to the new cap specialty store, Truffaux.

 

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2) Genius Outfitters

It doesn't take a genius to fall in love with Genius Bar Outfitters, a local boutique tucked away on Lewers Street. After losing yourself in their unique selection of trinkets, stylish apparel and adorable accessories make the smart move and head upstairs where you can kick up your feet and sip on their selection of sake or shochu from their full-service bar.

The team behind Genius Bar Outfitters are, well, geniuses (at least in our minds). In true blue boutique fashion, here you'll find a mix of familiar brands as well as kama'aina (local) designer favorites. We make regular runs here to stock up on their easy breezy dresses and rompers, ooh-inducing accessories and great gift ideas.

After you've exercised your credit card, tote your bags upstairs to the Genius Lounge for Japanese-inspired dishes and drinks. All in all, we consider this place a fashionable find.

 

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Event Finds: Waikiki

1) Spam Jam

In Hawai‘i residents consume the most spam per person than anywhere else in the United States. So it's no surprise that the state that consumes close to seven million cans of Spam each year also has its own festival for it, and the annual Waikiki Spam Jam -- held every April along Kalakaua Avenue -- is a food festival like no other.

Your opu (belly) will be singing a new tune as you sample spam dishes from some of the island's top eateries who take a local twist on Hawai‘i's favorite canned meat. Our taste buds were abuzz with Spam Jam twists like the loco moco spam burger, spam siu mai, spam street tacos and more. Spam-a-licious.

After filling your stomach on spam, you can jam out at one of the event's two entertainment stages or check out the Spam-themed merchandise tents and Hawaiian craft booths. And while there is no cost for admission to Spam Jam, attendees can make a donation of canned spam (or any other canned food) to the Hawai‘i Foodbank. Because we can all do something to can hunger!

To make plans for next year's spam-a-jama visit www.spamjamhawaii.com.

 

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2) Okinawan Festival

Celebrating Japan's southernmost prefecture for more than 30 years, Waikiki's Okinawan Festival has been bringing together people from all ethnicities and walks of life to honor the Uchinanchu (Okinawan) culture in Hawai‘i. From local Okinawan favorites like the Anda Pop (because very few things in life are as good as andagi - a deep fried dessert - on a stick dipped in chocolate) to getting up close and personal with the Okinawan dragon dog -- this festival offers something for everyone.

If you attended the Okinawan Festival years ago you may remember it at Ala Moana Park's McCoy Pavilion but it has since grown out of those digs and is now held every September at Kapi‘olani Park in Waikiki to accommodate the more than 50,000 guests it attracts annually.

If you can, make plans to check out the Okinawan Festival Bon Dance which is traditionally held on Saturday night, and allows participants of all ages and ability levels to get their bon dance on. In between sets grab a fundagi (or two) for the fam. The Okinawan-style funnel cake, lightly dusted in sugar is only available during the Saturday bon dance and will have you doing a special fundagi-inspired jig.

If you prefer to drive, the Hawai‘i United Okinawa Association - which hosts the event each year and is the beneficiary of all proceeds -- hosts a shuttle bus that runs continuously from Kapi‘olani Community College to the festival. To get all the latest and greatest details on this year's Okinawan Festival, visit www.okinawanfestival.com.

 

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3) Ukulele Festival

Strumming along since 1971, the Ukulele Festival Hawaii has been bringing the joy of Hawaiian music to island residents and visitors for dozens of years. Striking the perfect note every July, Ukulele Festival Hawaii is the largest ukulele festival of its kind in the world, attracting thousands of spectators as well as guest artists and an enormous ukulele orchestra of more than 800 ukulele students. The complimentary concert at the Kapiolani Park bandstand in Waikiki is now an annual summer tradition for local families who make a day out of it, grabbing their blankets, lawn chairs and coolers for a picnic at the park.

A member of the guitar family of instruments, the ukulele (pronounced oo-koo-leh-leh) is a 19th century instrument brought to Hawaii by Portuguese immigrants where it quickly gained popularity. Ukulele Festival Hawaii organizer and well-known ukulele musician Roy Sakuma and his wife Kathy have dedicated their lives to sharing the joy of this local instrument through lessons, festivals and community events.

Follow your ears and the sweet sounds of the uke to enjoy internationally and well-known celebrity musicians, food booths, ukulele displays, giveaways and lessons. Grammy award-winning artist James Ingram is a regular face at the festival since 1994 when he and Roy Sakuma met and collaborated on the Ukulele Festival Hawaii's theme song, "Come and Join Us," which was later honored with the Hawaii Music Award's single of the year award. While the Ukulele Festival has since taken to the road to include shows on Hawaii Island, Kauai and Maui, the original is still considered by many - the best.

 

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4) Lantern Floating Hawaii

Each Memorial Day, Ala Moana Beach Park lights up with Lantern Floating Hawai‘i - a longstanding local event which invites participants to celebrate the lives of those who have passed. Hosted by the Shinnyo-en Buddhist Order the event typically attracts tens of thousands of kama‘aina and visitors from around the world who float through Magic Island to participate in the local tradition.

Arrive early to lock in your own lantern. The "lantern tent" opens at 10 a.m. on Memorial Day, but the line lengthens quickly to snap up the paper lanterns, which share handwritten notes of remembrance. For those who hope to share a message or memory of a loved one, all notes submitted online at www.lanternfloatinghawaii.com at least one week prior to the event will be included on the lanterns released during the ceremony. Lanterns are free but donations are accepted on behalf of the City and County of Honolulu.

Pack a picnic and some lawn chairs and spend the day sunning and surfing as you wait for the main event at dusk. Leading up to the lantern ceremony participants also enjoy a bright lineup of entertainment including song and dance. As the sun sets participants release more than 5,000 lanterns inscribed with messages to their loved ones into the Pacific Ocean.

 

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Waikiki PARC: Waikiki

1) Waikiki Parc Hotel

If you're looking for a different kind of hotel experience, park yourself at the Waikiki Parc, a boutique hotel folded into the streets of Waikiki.

This affordable oasis is the perfect place to plant yourself for a few days to get a true blue "visitor's experience" snuggling up to Waikiki's sandy shores (the beach is just a stone's throw away) and getting swept up in the hordes of visitors hitting the pavement to check out some of the best of O‘ahu's shopping, dining and entertainment.

We love Waikiki Parc's unpretentious island hospitality, which offers a vibrant alternative to traditional national hotel brands. This new address in Waikiki has it all - from culture and cuisine, to recreation and relaxation. Rooms are dressed in rich mahogany and bold art and European-influenced bed dressings. For those who need 24/7 internet access to load their latest vacation pics, complimentary high-speed WiFi is available property-wide

One of the best perks? You can take advantage of all the fabulous amenities at sister hotel, Halekulani, which is just across the street - including their pool and room signing privileges at their spa, boutiques and award-winning dining options.

 

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