Getting There: From Waikiki, walk toward Diamond Head on Kalakaua Avenue. If you're coming by car, the cheapest parking is metered street parking on Kalakaua Avenue adjacent to the park. TheBus: 19 or 20.
Start: Waikiki Beach Center, Kalakaua Avenue, Diamond Head side of the Moana Surfrider hotel, across the street from the Hyatt Regency and Uluniu Avenue.
Finish: Kapiolani Beach Park.
Time: 4 to 5 hours. Allow at least an hour each for walking around the park, wandering around the zoo, and exploring the aquarium, plus all the time you want for the beach.
Best Time: Weekday mornings.
On June 11, 1877, King Kamehameha Day, then-king David Kalakaua donated some 140 acres of land to the people of Hawaii for Hawaii's first park. He asked that the park be named after his beloved wife, Queen Kapiolani, and he celebrated the opening of this vast grassy area with a free concert and "high stakes" horse races (the king loved gambling) on the new horse-racing oval he had built below Diamond Head.
The horse races, and the gambling that accompanied it, were eventually outlawed, but the park -- and the free concerts -- live on. Just a coconut's throw from the high-rise concrete jungle of Waikiki lies this 133-acre grassy park (the Paki playground and a fire station make up the remaining acreage) dotted with spreading banyans, huge monkeypod trees, blooming royal poincianas, and swaying ironwoods. Throughout the open spaces are jogging paths, tennis courts, soccer and cricket fields, and even an archery range. People come to the park to listen to music, watch ethnic dancing, exercise, enjoy team sports, take long meditative walks, picnic, buy art, smell the roses, and just relax. The park is the site of international kite-flying contests, the finishing line for the Honolulu marathon, and the home of yearly Scottish highland games, Hawaiian cultural festivals, and about a zillion barbecues and picnics.
Start at the:
1. Waikiki Beach Center
On the ocean side of Kalakaua Avenue, next to the Moana Surfrider hotel, is a complex of restrooms, showers, surfboard lockers, rental concessions, and the Waikiki police substation.
On the Diamond Head side of the police substation are the:
2. Wizard Stones/Healing Stones
These four basalt boulders, which weigh several tons apiece and sit on a lava rock platform, are held sacred by the Hawaiian people. The story goes that sometime before the 15th century, four powerful healers named Kapaemahu, Kahaloa, Kapuni, and Kihohi, from Moaulanuiakea in the Society Islands, lived in the Ulukoa area of Waikiki. After years of healing the people and the alii (chiefs) of Oahu, they wished to return home. They asked the people to erect four monuments made of bell stone, a basalt rock that was found in a Kaimuki quarry and that produced a bell-like ringing when struck. The healers spent a ceremonious month transferring their spiritual healing power, or mana, to the stones, so the natives could access it after the healers departed.
The great mystery is how the boulders were transported from Kaimuki to the marshland near Kuhio Beach in Waikiki. Over time a bowling alley was built on the spot, and the stones got buried beneath the structure. After the bowling alley was torn down in the 1960s, tourists used the stones for picnicking or drying their wet towels. In 1997, the stones were once again given a place of prominence with the construction of a $75,000 shrine that includes the platform and a wrought-iron fence. Since then the stones have become something of a mecca for students and patients of traditional healing.
Further down the beach in the Diamond Head direction you'll find the:
3. Duke Kahanamoku Statue
Here, cast in bronze, is Hawaii's most famous athlete, also known as the father of modern surfing. Duke (1890-1968) won Olympic swimming medals in 1912, 1920, 1924, and 1928. He was enshrined in both the Swimming Hall of Fame and the Surfing Hall of Fame. He also traveled around the world promoting surfing. When the city of Honolulu first erected the statue of this lifelong ocean athlete, they placed it with his back to the water. There was public outcry, because no one familiar with the ocean would ever stand with his back to it. To quell the outcry, the city moved the statue closer to the sidewalk.
Continuing in the Diamond Head direction, you'll come to:
4. Kuhio Beach Park
The two small swimming spots here are great, but heed the warning sign: Watch out for holes. Deep holes are in the sandy bottom, and you may suddenly find yourself in over your head. The best pool for swimming is the one on the Diamond Head end, but the water circulation is questionable -- there sometimes appears to be a layer of suntan lotion floating on the surface. If the waves are up, watch the boogie boarders surf by the seawall. They ride toward the wall and at the last minute veer away with a swoosh.
After watching the surfers, walk down Kalakaua Avenue (toward Diamond Head) to the entrance of Kapiolani Park, where you'll see the:
5. Kapiolani Park Kiosk
On the corner of Kalakaua and Kapahulu avenues, this small display stand contains brochures and actual photos of the park's history. It also carries information on upcoming events at the various sites within the park (Aquarium, Zoo, Waikiki Shell, and Kapiolani Bandstand). An informative map will orient you to the park grounds.
Continue up Kapahulu Avenue to the entrance of the:
6. Honolulu Zoo
The city's 42-acre zoo is open every day from 9am to 4:30pm, but the best time to go is as soon as the gates open; the animals seem to be more active then, and we agree -- it is a lot cooler than in the hot midday sun.
Trace your steps back to Kapahulu and Kalakaua avenues and head mauka down Monsarrat Avenue to the:
7. Kapiolani Park Bandstand
Once upon a time, from 1937 to 2002, the Kodak Hula Show presented the art of hula to visitors, with some 3,000 people squeezed into the bleachers around a grassy stage area every day. The Kodak Hula Show is gone now, but the bandstand is still used for concerts and special events.
Back on Monsarrat Avenue, on the fence facing the zoo, you'll find the:
8. Art on the Zoo Fence
Formerly known as Art Mart or the Artists of Oahu Exhibit (www.artonthezoofence.com); local artisans hang their artwork on a fence for the public to view and buy. Not only do you get to meet the artists, but you also have an opportunity to purchase their work at a considerable discount from the prices you'll see in galleries. Exhibits are Saturday, Sunday, and Wednesday 10am to 4pm.
Cross Monsarrat Avenue, and you'll see the:
9. Waikiki Shell
This open-air amphitheater hosts numerous musical shows, from the Honolulu Symphony to traditional Hawaiian music.
Continue walking down till the end of the block (corner of Monsarrat and Paki aves.) to the:
10. Queen Kapiolani Garden
You'll see a range of hibiscus plants and dozens of varieties of roses, including the somewhat rare Hawaiian rose. The tranquil gardens are always open and are a great place to wander and relax.
Across the street, on a Wednesday morning, you'll find the:
11. People's Open Market
Open from 10 to 11am on Wednesdays, the farmers' market with its open stalls is an excellent spot to buy fresh produce and flowers.
After you make your purchases, continue in the Diamond Head direction down Paki Avenue to the:
12. Diamond Head Tennis Courts
Located on the mauka side of Paki Avenue, the free city and county tennis courts are open for play during daylight hours 7 days a week. Tennis etiquette suggests that if someone is waiting for a court, limit your play to 45 minutes.
After watching or playing, turn onto Kalakaua Avenue and begin walking back toward Waikiki to:
13. Sans Souci Beach
Located next to the New Otani Kaimana Beach Hotel, this is one of the best swimming beaches in Waikiki. The shallow reef, which is close to shore, keeps the waters calm. Farther out is good snorkeling in the coral reef by the Kapua Channel. Facilities include outdoor showers and a lifeguard.
After a brief swim, keep walking toward Waikiki until you come to the:
This huge concrete structure next to the beach is both a memorial to the soldiers of World War I and a 100-meter saltwater swimming pool. Opened in 1927, when Honolulu had hopes of hosting the Olympics, the ornate swimming pool fell into disuse and disrepair after World War II, and was finally closed in 1979. The last mayor of the City and County of Honolulu wanted to reopen the saltwater pool and poured $4.4 million into restoring the outside arches to the building, construction of modern restrooms and showers, and refurbishment of the bleacher seating. The subsequent administration balked at spending the estimated $6.4 million more needed to make the saltwater swimming pool usable again, and the money was released back into the city's general fund -- though volunteers continue to fight for its restoration. Stop by and take a peek at this once-magnificent site.
After a brief stop here, continue on to the:
15. Waikiki Aquarium
The Aquarium is located at 2777 Kalakaua Ave. Try not to miss this stop -- the tropical aquarium is worth a look if only to see the only living chambered nautilus born in captivity.
Your final stop is:
16. Kapiolani Beach Park
Relax on the stretch of grassy lawn alongside the sandy beach, one of the best-kept secrets of Waikiki. This beach park is much less crowded than the beaches of Waikiki, plus it has adjacent grassy lawns, barbecue areas, picnic tables, restrooms, and showers. The swimming is good here year-round, a surfing spot known as "Public's" is offshore, and there's always a game going at the volleyball courts. The middle section of the beach park, in front of the pavilion, is known as Queen's Beach or Queen's Surf and is popular with the gay community.