Kalakaua Avenue: Honolulu, Hawaii


Kalakaua Avenue is one of the most economically prosperous, yet environmentally vulnerable, streets in America. Located alongside the world-famous Waikiki beach, the street commands sweeping views of Diamond Head; provides the address for a number of the country's most opulent retailers; showcases a unique architectural fusion of Hawaiian, Gothic, Asian, Spanish, and Moorish designs; and is part of the repository of Hawaii's immense cultural heritage.

Designated Area

Kalakaua Avenue between Kapiolani Boulevard at the Hawaii Convention Center and Poni Moi Road at Kapiolani Park.

Surfers from Waikiki Beach at the intersection of Kalakaua and Lewers Avenue. Photo courtesy Paul Luersen.

Planning Excellence

With its overhead canopy of palms, Kalakaua is an avenue characterized by its constant movement and high energy. It is a place that brings together residents with out-of-state tourists and world travelers, those of wealth with those of more modest means. People come here to work, shop, eat, vacation, sunbathe, swim, surf, or take in any number of events throughout the year that transform Kalakaua into a thriving, urban gathering space.

Setting the stage for Kalakaua Avenue's tremendous success was construction of the Ala Wai Canal. Completed in 1928 after seven years of construction, it allowed the area's rice paddies and wetlands to be drained, which created Waikiki's expanse of developable land.

The high-rise hotel building boom along Kalakaua Avenue and Waikiki reached its peak during the late 1960s and early 1970s. In response, the city and county of Honolulu adopted a Waikiki Special Design District Ordinance in 1974 to restrict building heights and prevent the area from being overbuilt. To those who characterized the area as a "concrete wasteland," the damage was already done. Honolulu's new mayor, Eileen Anderson, responded with the "Waikiki 2000" plan in 1981. Despite her call for urgent action, the plan was not implemented. Honolulu's next mayor, Frank Fasi, guided the city through a high-profile planning process for Waikiki funded by the Queen Emma Foundation, a major land owner in the district.

The plan that resulted sought to make the experience of walking along Kalakaua Avenue "feel more like being in a park" rather than on a densely urbanized street, according to Honolulu Mayor Jeremy Harris who took office in 1994. During the next 10 years, the city and county would spend more than $100 million on Kalakaua Avenue for new sidewalks, landscaping, walkways, historic-style street lighting, street furnishings, and plazas. Also added was the Waikiki Historic Trail designed by native Hawaiian activist and historian George Kanahele. The trail's 23 sites, many of which are located on or within steps of Kalakaua Avenue, highlight Hawaiian culture and history.

Given the avenue's location between the Ko'olau Mountains and the Pacific Ocean, how the city and state address flooding in the Ala Wai watershed and sea level rise as a result of climate change will largely influence and shape the avenue's future. A plan under development by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is evaluating various options to protect Waikiki and Kalakaua Avenue from a 100-year flood.

In response to projected sea-level rise affecting not just Kalakaua Avenue and Waikiki but all coastal areas in Hawaii, the state is among the leaders in the U.S. establishing a framework that enables local governments to plan for and adapt to changes from climate change. Last year Governor Neil Abercrombie signed into law Senate Bill 2745 that amends the Hawaii State Planning Act to include priority guidelines addressing adaptation to climate change. The amendment recognizes that sea level rise in Hawaii will occur and that adaptation strategies must be adopted. The private sector also is responding. For example, the Kyo-ya Hotels and Resorts says the new, 300-foot-tall Diamond Head Tower hotel the firm is seeking approval to build next to Waikiki Beach will be constructed to withstand rising sea levels and other impacts caused by climate change.

Kalakaua Avenue's redesigned sidewalks make walking along the avenue more interesting and enjoyable, especially on a hot day. Photo courtesy Paul Luersen.

Defining Characteristics, Features


  • Long associated with Hawaiian Royalty and VIP visitors
  • Kalakaua serves as the main entryway into Waikiki since the 1800s; known as Waikiki road until 1908, the street is named in honor of King Kalakaua, the last king of the Kingdom of Hawaii
  • 1868 carriage replaced by horse-driven tramcar in 1888 and electric trolley in 1901; in 2004, Bus Rapid Transit System for Kalakaua is discontinued because of costs and low ridership
  • Ala Wai Canal (1921-1928) initially proposed by Lucius Pinkham, president of Hawaii's Territorial Board of Health; canal enables wetlands drainage, allows Waikiki development
  • Throughout World War II, several hotels along Kalakaua, including the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, served as a place of rest and relaxation for U.S. servicemen; tourism picks up after war ends


  • University of Hawaii study (2012) details state-wide sustainability milestones — greenhouse gas emission reductions by 2020 and adoption of 70 percent clean energy by 2030
  • Studies by geologist Charles "Chip" Fletcher and others predict sea level rise for Hawaii of 1 foot by 2050 and 3 feet by 2100; 3-foot rise would flood Kalakaua Avenue as it is built today
  • Without adaptation, losing Waikiki beach could cause $2 billion drop in annual visitor spending

Economic, Urban Development

  • Waikiki Livable Community project examines how public streets, sidewalks, rights-of-way are used and how they could be improved for better transport (2003)
  • During the past decade, private sector spent more than $3.4 billion upgrading infrastructure throughout Waikiki and along Kalakaua, refurbishing and redesigning hotels
  • Kalakaua Avenue is North America's fifth-most expensive retail market; luxury stores include Chanel, Prada, Tiffany's; as of 2004, storefronts along Kalakaua are nearly 100 percent occupied
  • Waikiki is the most-advertised tourist destination in state, contributing almost 44 percent of Hawaii's tourism revenue; accommodates approximately 85,000 visitors daily

Tourism, Local Attractions

  • Royal Hawaiian Hotel, also known as the Pink Palace of the Pacific, is icon of Hawaii's glory days; built in 1927, hotel was designed in the Spanish and Moorish style
  • Moana Hotel (1901), also known as the First Lady of Waikiki, listed in the National Register of Historic Places; hotel designed in a Hawaiian Gothic fusion style
  • Diamond Head is a volcanic tuff cone located right off Kalakaua; designated as a National Natural Landmark (1968); tuff cone resembles the shape of a tuna's dorsal fin
  • Waikiki Historic Trail designed in 1994; marked by bronze signs in the shape of surf boards, the trail leads tourists to important historic sights both on and off Kalakaua Avenue
  • Kalakaua Avenue often closed to traffic for parades, other significant events including Honolulu Marathon, Brunch on the Beach, Sunset on the Beach
  • Hawaii's largest and oldest public park, Kapiolani Regional Park, located along east end of Kalakaua; park serves as a natural border between Waikiki and Diamond Head
  • Fort DeRussy Military Reservation, located near Royal Hawaiian Hotel, was important American bastion of defense (1908); it is now a public park with the Hawaii Army Museum and a hotel and dedicated to the U.S. military

History and traditional Hawaiian culture are kept alive through floral parades and the Waikiki Historic Trail that showcases significant places throughout the famous beach district. Photo courtesy Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA)/Tor Johnson.