There is perhaps no more famous beach in the world than the one in Hawaii known as Waikiki. Meaning something akin to "spouting water" in the Hawaiian language, this beach on the South Shore of Oahu had humble origins as a tourist mecca. Hawaiian royalty, called Ali'i, favored it because of its good weather and great surfing conditions-still favored by beginners and experts alike, there being so many different locations with varying different degrees of difficulty for the surfer-and indeed surfing was once regarded by native Hawaiians as the sport of royalty. Prowess in the sport gave rise to the enhanced social status accorded the practitioner thereof. King Kamehameha I was an able and highly-regarded surfer and, once he had united the Island chain back in 1795, he soon moved the seat of the Hawaiian government to Waikiki, where he could practice the sport, when not involved in his Kingly duties.
The notion that Waikiki had humble origins, however, lies in the fact, that, prior to draining it into the newly-finished Ala Wai Canal, much of what we now call Waikiki was a swamp. The canal would be finished in 1928 and would usher in the tourist era for this most well-known of Hawaii's many beaches. Prior to this time, there was a single world-class hotel situated on Waikiki Beach, that being the Moana Hotel, completed in 1901 with such room amenities as working telephones, which were barely available anywhere in the Islands, outside of government offices at the time. The hotel was a success, with many of the worlds well-knowns staying there. It is still an operating and prestigious hotel to this day. Shortly following the canal's completion, the "Grand Dame", The Royal Hawaiian Hotel, would open its doors and cater to the elite from around the world.
From the 1930s until 1975 the Moana played host to Webley Edwards' "Hawaii Calls" radio show. This show would serve as a beckoning to countless tourists over the years and would help cement the vision of Waikiki as a Shangri-la in the minds of millions the world over. This, back in the days when Hawaii was only served by cruise ships such as the Lurline, probably the most famous of such. Hawaii's status as a destination of choice for tourists would receive a boost when the first of Pan-Am's Clipper Ships reached the Islands in the mid-1930s. For the first time, an air option for reaching the Islands was available, albeit short-lived, as the Japanese would bomb Pearl Harbor in 1941, and bring the US into World War II by so doing. The US would requisition all of Pan-Am's flying boats for the war effort and so end the tourist air service for the duration of the war.
The mid-'30s would see the blossoming of another tourist-related enterprise, that being the manufacture and sale of that signature Hawaiian garment, the aloha shirt. Initially made by hand in individual tailor shops, demand for the item soon gave rise to the founding of the Hawaiian apparel industry, with the Kamehameha Garment Company and Branfleet, creators of the Kahala label, both opening their doors in 1936. This garment would find its way to the US mainland on the backs of legions of tourists, creating a demand for them there that was boosted when celebrities such as Arthur Godfrey and Elvis Presley would appear in them. This only served to enhance Hawaii's 'mystic'.
Though during the war years, the number of recreational tourists dwindled, their numbers were supplanted by the arrival of more than 1 million military personnel on their way either to or from the Pacific war effort and Waikiki would receive many of them as guests during 'leave' periods. Indeed, the Army's Fort DeRussey is still situated on Waikiki Beach adjacent to the Hilton Hawaiian complex, one of Waikiki's largest tourist enclaves. Ft. DeRussey features a fine hotel that caters exclusively to military personnel and there, a nice room can be had for around $80 per night for servicemen and vets, a rate that is half or less the prevailing rates of hotels in the area.
Through the years, Waikiki has played host to literally millions of tourists and appears set to do so for decades into the future. It truly can be called, as it has been on thousands of Tee-shirts, "Life's Greatest Beach".