Waikiki Beach Oahu

Photo: Catherine Toth Fox

Visitors are Back in Hawaiʻi: What Does Waikīkī and Haleʻiwa Look Like Now?

Beaches are still fairly empty, businesses have reopened and parking isn’t a nightmare—yet.

This summer, a couple of months after the state issued the first shutdown to control the spread of COVID-19 in the Islands, our team visited Oʻahu’s most popular neighborhoods to see how the lack of visitors had affected these areas.

There were no surprises: Lots of businesses were shuttered—mostly temporarily, some permanent—the beaches were empty and pristine and the streets were quiet.

But on Oct. 15, the state launched a pre-arrivals testing program, which allows visitors to bypass the state’s mandatory 14-quarantine with a proper negative COVID-19 test. In that first weekend, more than 31,000 people landed in the Islands, most of them visitors.

So we wondered what these Oʻahu neighborhoods—popular visitor destinations—looked like now that the state has reopened to tourism.

Here’s what we found:

Waikīkī

Duke Kahanamoku Beach, which fronts the iconic Hilton Hawaiian Village, isn’t as packed as it used to be.
But there are more beach-goers now than there were back in March.
Photo: Catherine Toth Fox
 
In the middle of the day, this was what Kalākaua Avenue looked like. Hardly anyone walking around.
There are definitely more delivery trucks on the street, now that hotels and restaurants have reopened.
Photo: Catherine Toth Fox
 
There are more visitors admiring the popular Duke Kahanamoku statue on Kūhiō Beach.
Most locals walk right past it.
Photo: Catherine Toth Fox
 
With fewer visitors, many residents took advantage of the empty beaches and flocked to Waikīkī to swim, fish and surf.
Surf breaks have been extra crowded lately, even without visitors. Now that the state has reopened,
there are more travelers sitting on the beaches and paddling out on rented surfboards.
Photo: Catherine Toth Fox
 
For the past few months, Kona Coffee Purveyors at the International Market Place
wasn’t busy at all, and I often walked right in and got my favorite kouign amann.
Recently, though, there have been lines again at the popular coffee shop—and a shortage of tables.
Photo: Catherine Toth Fox
 
Even on the gloomiest of days, visitors set up beach chairs and umbrellas
to watch the surf on Kūhiō Beach.
Photo: Catherine Toth Fox
 
More than half of the people we saw in Waikīkī—walking on the sidewalk or along the beach—wore face masks.
Photo: Catherine Toth Fox
 
October is typically a slow month for tourism in Hawaiʻi. But it seems like, since the launch of
the pre-arrivals testing program, there are noticeably more visitors on Oʻahu. But it’s not pre-pandemic level yet.
Photo: Catherine Toth Fox
 

Haleʻiwa

The sandy streets of Haleʻiwa are once again feeling the footsteps of both visitors and locals.

While the beachside visitor hub was nowhere close to the pre-pandemic level of hustle and bustle during our recent visit, the town has definitely seen a small resurgence of travelers. Parking lots are filled to half-capacity, a smattering of towels and bags dot beaches, and more and more businesses have once again opened their doors. Here are a few snapshots of what Haleʻiwa looks like now. 

If there is a single clear indication of whether or not visitors are returning to Haleʻiwa, this is it.
Photo: Kevin Allen

 

Surf n’ Sea, which was closed during our last Haleʻiwa update, has reopened for business. 
Photo: Kevin Allen

 

The plaza of Haleʻiwa Store Lots was not bustling during our visit, but tables were filled by both kamaʻāina (locals) families and visitors.
Photo: Kevin Allen 

 

To combat COVID-19, every shop, restaurant and café in Haleʻiwa is
requiring facemasks and proper social distancing.
Photo: Kevin Allen

 

Fortunately for visitors, and locals, parking is not hard to find ... yet. 
Photo: Kevin Allen

 

The last time we visited Haleʻiwa, even Coffee Gallery—one of the town’s most popular cafés—was having a hard time finding customers.
But now, people are back, and they want their coffee!
Photo: Kevin Allen

 

While most businesses have opened, restricted hours and days of operation are not uncommon.
So it’s worth doublechecking whether or not the restaurant or boutique you want to visit will be open on the day you plan to visit Haleʻiwa. 
Photo: Kevin Allen

 

Still no major lines at some of the state’s most popular shrimp trucks, so get that garlicky goodness while you can!
Photo: Kevin Allen

 

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