Don't Miss These Waikīkī Landmarks: A Rich History Along America's Most Famous Beach

Posted in: Culture & History, Things to Do


By Fern Gavelek

Legendary Waikīkī Beach is home to two historic hotels — and you don’t have to check in to check them out! Free public tours are available at both properties and they each have been beautifully restored. Another popular landmark is the Duke Kahanamoku Statue, which stands sentinel right on the beach and is often adorned with lei, especially during the annual Duke’s OceanFest.


Moana Surfrider 

Moana Surfrider, A Westin Resort & Spa

Known as the “First Lady of Waikīkī,” the Moana opened in 1901 as Waikīkī's first, sizeable tourist hotel. It had 75 rooms in the original central section; the Italian Renaissance-styled concrete wings were added in 1918 to create the hotel’s signature H-shape. Additional wings were added in later years. Meaning “open sea,” the Moana boasts a South Seas Victorian charm with its iconic columns and intricate woodwork. For over a century, it has housed heads of state and Hollywood celebrities. 

Shaded by a large banyan tree, the hotel’s oceanside courtyard was the location of the “Hawaii Calls” live radio broadcast from 1935-1975. The tree appears on Hawai‘i’s Rare and Exceptional Tree List, while the hotel is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. 

Flanked by both Kalakāua Avenue and Waikiki Beach, the stately Moana Surfrider is easy to find. Guided tours are 11 a.m. Mondays and Wednesdays; meet on the second floor of the Banyan Wing in the historical room.


Royal Hawaiian Hotel 

The Royal Hawaiian, A Luxury Collection Resort

Fondly called “The Pink Palace of the Pacific,” the Royal Hawaiian stands out among Waikīkī’s beachfront accommodations with its bright pink, stucco facade and Moorish-style architecture. Its design was supposedly influenced by screen star Rudolph Valentino of Arabian movie fame and included cupolas to resemble Spanish Mission-style bell towers. The hotel opened in 1927 with a lavish gala. Its 400 rooms offered luxury, each equipped with a bath and balcony, while a lush, 15-acre garden greeted arriving guests.

The Royal Hawaiian was a favorite stomping ground for Hawaiian Olympian Duke Kahanamoku and his Waikīkī Beach Boys, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, numerous statesmen and Hollywood elite. It was the filming location of several movies and TV shows.

Enlarged over the years, the hotel is nestled between the sprawling Royal Hawaiian Center on Kalakāua Avenue and Waikīkī Beach. It is a member of the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Historic Hotels of America. Tours are 1 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays; meet by the Royal Hawaiian Bakery at the Lobby Level.


Duke Kahanamoku Statue 

Duke Kahanamoku Statue

Facing Kalakāua Avenue on the Kuhio Beach section of Waikīkī Beach, the bronze Duke Kahanamoku Statue remembers Duke Paoa Kahanamoku 1890-1968. The legendary Hawaiian waterman was a master of swimming, surfing and outrigger canoe paddling and he earned Olympic medals in 1912, 1920 and 1924. He is considered the “father of modern surfing” and photos of him and his memorabilia can be viewed at Duke’s Canoe Club restaurant in Waikīkīi’s Outrigger Waikiki Beach Resort.

The annual Duke’s OceanFest in Waikīkī honors the waterman’s athletic contributions with two dozen competitions encompassing the sports of surfing, paddleboarding, swimming, polo and beach volleyball. As part of the festival, organizers will festoon the Duke Kahanamoku Statue in colorful lei, as seen in the above photo.


[This article originally appeared in print in Pleasant Hawaii Magazine, published by This Week Publications]


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