18 Mistakes to Avoid on Your Waikiki Vacation

April 10, 2023

18 Mistakes to Avoid on Your Waikiki Vacation

Are you planning your next Waikiki vacation? Here are a few mistakes that you should try to avoid during your trip – according to a Hawaii local!

Mistakes to avoid on your Waikiki vacation Diamond Head

But to make sure that your Waikiki vacation is the best that it can be, there are a few mistakes you’ll want to avoid. From using chemical sunscreen to missing out on the local brunch scene, here are some of the biggest mistakes to avoid on your Waikiki vacation.

Disclosure: This article is written in partnership with House of Mana Up. All opinions are from Borders & Bucket Lists.

reusable bag filled with locally made goodies from House of Mana Up mistakes to avoid on your Waikiki vacation
Photo Courtesy of House of Mana Up

Not Buying from Local Businesses

In Waikiki, you’ll be surrounded by renowned international brands – from Harley-Davidson and Oakley to Miu Miu and Chanel. Many visitors set aside some time to simply stroll down Kalakaua Avenue and pop into these shops.

But the flip side to this is that these same visitors forget to buy from local businesses! And, in my opinion, the local shops have the coolest finds.

That said, even visitors who intend to buy from local businesses can be stumped. After all, it’s common for companies to use Hawaii-inspired names and not actually be connected to Hawaii. (Hawaiian Tropic, I’m looking at you.)

The easiest way to make sure that you’re buying from Hawaii’s best local businesses is to visit one of House of Mana Up’s two Waikiki locations. This 100% locally owned business showcases products exclusively from Hawaii entrepreneurs, so it’s perfect if you’re trying to shop local.

There, you’ll find all sorts of fun Hawaii gifts and treats, including decadent chocolate bars from Manoa Chocolate, adorable beach toys from Ava + Oliver, and tropical candles from Jules + Gem. There really is something for everyone at House of Mana Up!

Spending All of Your Time in Waikiki

While Waikiki is definitely a cool spot for Hawaii visitors, there’s so much more to the islands. On Oahu alone, you can catch surfers on the North Shore, go for epic hikes in Kailua, or visit some kid-friendly lagoons in Ko Olina.

And that doesn’t even touch on all of the cool things to do on the other islands. If you have time to make it a multi-island vacation – in other words, if you have more than a week – you won’t regret visiting another beautiful island.

Fine dining seafood dish with green puree mistakes to avoid Waikiki vacation

Missing Out on Fine Dining

We don’t have a whole lot of fine dining opportunities in Hawaii, but the ones that we do have are located in Waikiki and Honolulu.

While there are many fine dining restaurants owned by renowned international chefs — La Mer, Azure Waikiki, Morimoto Asia are just the beginning — I recommend checking out establishments owned by incredible local chefs.

Head to MW Restaurant for a menu filled with upscale local flavors. Pop by Merriman’s Honolulu for farm-to-table goodness. Or savor a decadent chocolate souffle at Roy’s.

*Note: Roy’s Hawaii locations are different from the Roy’s locations in the continental U.S. So even if you’ve visited another location, I recommend visiting a Roy’s location in the islands.

breakfast dumplings from Koko Head Cafe
Photo Courtesy of Koko Head Cafe

Missing Out on Great Brunch Spots

Just like Oahu’s fine dining scene, most of the island’s best breakfast and brunch spots are located in Waikiki and Honolulu. Devour flaky pastries at Kona Coffee Purveyors, enjoy trendy avocado toast at ARS Café, or savor local flavors at Koko Head Café. You won’t regret it!

Fixating on Waikiki Beachfront Hotels

Many visitors to Waikiki want to stay RIGHT on the famous Waikiki Beach. And that’s definitely a cool option. But there are a few important things to note about this choice.

First, there aren’t that many hotels ON Waikiki Beach, in particular. Yes, there are quite a few beachfront hotels in Waikiki, but the vast majority aren’t on the popular Waikiki Beach or they’re across the street from the beach.

Rather, there are only six hotels on the famed beach: The Moana Surfrider, Hilton Hawaiian Village, the Royal Hawaiian, the Outrigger Waikiki Beach, the Waikiki Shore by Outrigger, and the Outrigger Reef.

On top of that, just because you’re staying at a beachfront hotel in Waikiki, that doesn’t mean you’ll get a beachfront – or even ocean view – room. That’s often an upgrade you’ll have to splurge on, and sometimes that option isn’t available.

Finally, Waikiki is a relatively small area. No matter what hotel you stay at in Waikiki Beach, you’ll be just a few blocks away from Hawaii’s golden sandy shores. So don’t feel like you HAVE to get a hotel RIGHT on Waikiki Beach.

fireworks lighting up the night sky mistakes to avoid on your Waikiki vacation

Skipping the Hilton Hawaiian Village Fireworks

One of the most iconic things to do in Waikiki is catch the Hilton Hawaiian Village fireworks every Friday night. Watch this colorful light show either from the shores of Waikiki Beach or from the Hilton Hawaiian Village pools.

Interchanging “Hawaiian” and “Local”

This is a tip that I put in every single one of my “mistakes to avoid” articles, because it’s so important. Unlike Californians, Floridians, and residents of just about every other state, people living in Hawaii will never call themselves Hawaiian.

There’s a lot of history and nuance behind this, but, to boil it down to the basics, the term “Hawaiian” refers to an ethnic group with a culture, a language, and a history. For someone who is from Hawaii but not native Hawaiian to say that they are “Hawaiian,” they would be ignoring all of that.

Instead, we like to use the term “local” to indicate that someone is from Hawaii. Of course, this isn’t that straightforward either – how long does someone have to live in Hawaii before they are considered a local? – but it’s a lot less problematic than calling someone from Hawaii “Hawaiian” if they are not ethnically Hawaiian.

group of hula dancers in green attire and yellow lei mistakes to avoid on your Waikiki vacation

Forgetting About Hawaiian Culture

When visitors come to Waikiki, they’re excited for the beach and the sunshine. And that’s all well and good, but it’s a little sad that they often totally forget that Hawaii comes with its own beautiful culture: Hawaiian culture.

There are a few easy ways for you to experience Hawaiian culture in Waikiki (and the nearby area). Head to Iolani Palace, explore the Bishop Museum, or participate in one of the many Hawaiian festivals that take place throughout the year.

By my personal favorite way to experience Hawaiian culture is through the food. There are so many fantastic, authentic Hawaiian restaurants in the islands for you to choose from. But Highway Inn in Kakaako is the best and closest Hawaiian restaurant to Waikiki.

Leaving Valuables in Your Car

First rule to avoiding petty theft: don’t leave valuables in your car. Leave them at your hotel or vacation rental – or better yet, just reduce the number of valuables you’re taking on your Waikiki vacation in general.

On the same lines, don’t leave anything that looks like it could hold or hide something valuable. While bags and towels aren’t necessarily valuable items, a would-be thief may think that they are hiding something much more costly.

If you need to stash your valuables somewhere, in the trunk, in the glove compartment, in the center console, or under the front seats (airplane-style) are all pretty good options.

endangered Hawaiian green sea turtle lounging on algae-covered rocks

Disturbing the Animals

Waikiki isn’t really known for its animal sightings (you’ll have better luck in other parts of the island), but this information is still important for the rare turtle or monk seal that wiggles its way up Waikiki Beach.

If you see a turtle or monk seal on the beach (or any other animal, for that matter), give it space! Don’t feed it, don’t pet it, don’t sit on it. These animals are WILD and can be violent if provoked. And if that wasn’t enough of a deterrent, you can also face a hefty fine for getting too close to these endangered animals.

row of three bowls of shave ice mistakes to avoid on your Waikiki vacation
Photo Courtesy of Ululani’s Hawaiian Shave Ice

Calling It “Shaved Ice”

In the islands, there is a treat that’s basically minuscule ice pieces soaked in fruity syrup. Many people incorrectly call this local food “shaved ice.” But every local calls it “shave ice” (or “ice shave,” if you’re from the Big Island.) If want to call it shaved ice, you better add “iced cream” to your vocabulary too.

Plus, any place that says shaved ice isn’t making it right. That terminology is a huge clue for where NOT to go. Instead, for the best shave ice around, head just outside of Waikiki to Ululani’s.

Stepping on Coral

There’s a good chance that you’ll be going snorkeling during your Waikiki vacation. And there are a couple of common mistakes that visitors to Hawaii make while diving below the surface. Luckily for you, we’ve got you covered.

When on snorkeling adventures, many visitors don’t feel like swimming the whole time, so they’ll stand on the coral. But don’t do this! This actually harms the coral, and, consequently, the rest of the marine environment. Plus, there’s usually some algae – a major food source for our sea creature friends – growing on top of the coral, which you can also kill when you step on it.

To avoid this damage to the marine world, try to swim when you’re over coral or simply avoid going over coral at all. If you need a break, a few seconds of searching will likely show you a patch of sand that you can land on instead.

woman holding out tin of Little Hands Hawaii reef-safe sunscreen
Photo Courtesy of Little Hands Hawaii

Using Chemical Sunscreen

I have to start this section by saying please wear sunscreen. Every week, I’ve seen tourists burned so badly that they can’t move. That’s definitely not the way you want to spend your Waikiki vacation.

That said, there are two different types of sunscreen to choose from: chemical sunscreen and reef-safe sunscreen. And for the sake of the oceans, reef-safe sunscreen is the way to go.

Many of the chemicals in traditional sunscreen are very harmful to coral and other marine life. As a matter of fact, some of these chemicals have been proven to be harmful to humans too. These consequences are so vast that we wrote an entire article about reef-safe sunscreen to help you learn more.

If you’re looking for recommendations, Little Hands Hawaii (also available on Amazon) is a fantastic reef-safe sunscreen brand. It’s made with all-natural ingredients and comes a range of shades, so you can avoid that white tint that sometimes comes with reef-safe sunscreens.

For more options, here are many of the best reef safe sunscreen brands in Hawaii.

man surfing large wave in Hawaii mistakes to avoid on your Waikiki vacation

Ignoring the Power of the Ocean

In Waikiki, the water is typically quite calm, but that doesn’t mean to throw caution to the wind. You’ll still want to avoid large waves, hidden riptides, sharp coral, and jagged rocks.

It’s important to remember that the ocean is powerful and potentially dangerous. If you understand it and respect it, it can be incredible. But if you don’t take the time to educate yourself about the ocean, it can be a dangerous force.

We have a few key ocean safety tips to get you started:

  • Know how strong of a swimmer you are – and don’t overestimate your abilities. It’s better to be honest with yourself and safe than the alternative.
  • Don’t go into the water if the waves are big!
  • Do a bit research on the specific beach in advance. This will tell you about location-specific safety hazards, like rip currents.

Disregarding Warnings and Advice from Locals

Advice from locals is a precious commodity in Hawaii. We don’t give out our favorite spots and tips to everyone, because we want to keep them special.

So if a local gives you advice, listen to them! We know where people take wrong turns on hikes and where to find sea turtles. These local tips will inevitably take your Waikiki vacation to the next level.

Overlooking Warning Signs

As you can tell, many of the tips on this list are all about keeping you safe on your Waikiki vacation. After all, tourists are injured (and worse) at significantly higher rates than locals – and many times, that’s because they don’t follow the warning signs. So please don’t ignore them!

hand holding kimchi musubi across the street from Waikiki Beach

Only Eating Familiar Foods

Food from Hawaii is unlike food from anywhere else in the world. It seamlessly blends together ingredients and techniques from Asia, Europe, and of course Hawaii. The result is an array of delicious dishes, like malasadas, manapuas, and musubis, that will make your mouth water.

For a full list of must-eat Hawaii foods, check out our Hawaii food bucket list.

Disrespecting the Land and the Ocean During Your Waikiki Vacation

Respecting the land and the ocean is a huge part of local culture in Hawaii. I’ve already talked about a few ways that you can do so – using reef-safe sunscreen and giving animals their space, for example – but this is just a good mindset to have while you’re in the islands.

Then, you may find yourself embracing additional ways to care for the land. You can pick up trash on the beach or use a reusable water bottle on your hikes. While simple, these acts definitely add up and help to keep the islands beautiful!

What makes have you made on your past Waikiki vacations? Let me know in the comments!

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