Home blog Hawaii Travel The Waikiki Aquarium: The Best of the Underwater Treasures in Honolulu!

The Waikiki Aquarium: The Best of the Underwater Treasures in Honolulu!

The Waikiki Aquarium: The Best of the Underwater Treasures in Honolulu!

The Waikiki Aquarium, located on the shores of Waikiki Beach in Honolulu, Hawaii, is one of the top attractions for tourists visiting Oahu. Established in 1904, it is the second oldest public aquarium in the United States.

The Waikiki Aquarium provides an immersive experience into the marine life of Hawaii and the greater Pacific region. Read on to learn about the history, exhibits, events, and educational programs that make the Waikiki Aquarium a must-see for families, marine biology enthusiasts, and ocean lovers.

The Waikiki Aquarium – Key Ideas

Sections Key Points
Introduction – Located on Waikiki Beach, Honolulu.
– Second oldest public aquarium in the U.S.
– Immersive marine experience.
History and Establishment – Opened in 1904 as the Honolulu Aquarium.
– Taken over by the University of Hawaii in 1919.
– Current structure opened in 1955.
Exhibits and Display Areas – Over 3,500 organisms.
– Displays include giant clams, living reef, ocean drifters, seahorses, and more.
Unique Features and Attractions – Green sea turtle conservation.
– Native Hawaiian monk seal habitat.
– Outdoor gardens and coral farm.
Hawaiian Monk Seals – Home to Maka onaona and Ho’ailona.
– Educates visitors on conservation and seal behavior.
– Critical species with ~1,200 in the wild.
Events and Annual Programs – Includes summer concert series, Earth Day celebration, World Oceans Month, and more.
Waikiki Aquarium Luau – Hosts Diamond Head Luau.
– Features dishes from top local restaurants.
– Traditional Hawaiian entertainment.
Educational Value and Conservation Efforts – Offers school field trip programs.
– Public programs and volunteer opportunities.
– Pioneer in captive breeding and coral propagation.
Waikiki Aquarium Field Trip – Offers docent-guided and self-guided trips.
– Provides educational resources.
– Benefits include hands-on learning and exposure to marine science.
Is Waikiki Aquarium Ethical? – Propagation and breeding for threatened species.
– Engages in research and conservation.
– Sustainable and ethical animal care practices.
– Some concerns about captivity.
Waikiki Aquarium Reviews – Positive visitor feedback on exhibits, location, and affordability.
– Emphasizes educational value and diversity of marine life.

History and Establishment

The Waikiki Aquarium first opened on March 19, 1904 as the Honolulu Aquarium, founded as a commercial venture by the Honolulu Rapid Transit and Land Company. In 1919, the aquarium was ceded to the University of Hawaii, which has managed it ever since. The current Waikiki Aquarium structure opened in 1955 on Kalakaua Avenue facing Waikiki Beach. Some key milestones:

  • 1904: Honolulu Aquarium opens with 35 tanks and 400 marine organisms
  • 1912: C.M. Cooke Estate donates funds for adjoining marine biology lab
  • 1955: New Waikiki Aquarium building opens at its current location

Exhibits and Display Areas

The Waikiki Aquarium contains over 3,500 organisms and has numerous indoor and outdoor exhibits showcasing different marine species and ecosystems:

  • Outdoor Giant Clam Display – 8 species of giant clams over 3 feet wide
  • Living Reef – 7,500 gallon coral reef habitat with over 100 fish species
  • Ocean Drifters – Rotating jellyfish species like moon jellies
  • Edge of the Reef – Recreation of a Hawaiian reef environment
  • Seahorses and Seadragons – Whimsical syngnathid fishes like weedy seadragons

Unique Features and Attractions

Some special highlights that make the Waikiki Aquarium stand out include:

  • Sea Turtle Exhibit – Green sea turtle hatchling conservation program
  • Hawaiian Monk Seal Habitat – Endangered native Hawaiian monk seals
  • Outdoor Gardens – Native Hawaiian plants like loulu palms
  • Coral Farm – Pioneer of coral propagation techniques

Waikiki Aquarium Seal – Hawaiian Monk Seals

Waikiki Aquarium Monk Seal
Waikiki Aquarium Monk Seal

The Waikiki Aquarium is home to two Hawaiian monk seals, Maka onaona and Ho’ailona, that serve as ambassadors for this critically endangered species.

Maka onaona, meaning “soft eyes” in Hawaiian, was rescued as an orphaned pup in 1984 and has lived at the aquarium since then. Ho’ailona, meaning “sign from the sea”, was rescued as a newborn in 2008 but developed vision problems that prevent him from being released to the wild.

These seals can be seen swimming and lounging in their special habitat at the aquarium. Hawaiian monk seals are endemic to Hawaii and their wild population is estimated at only around 1,200 animals. They face threats from fishing, sharks, marine debris, and habitat loss.

The aquarium’s monk seals help educate visitors about the seals’ natural history, including their hunting behaviors, adaptations like deep diving, and the need for beach rest time. Their presence brings attention to conservation efforts to save the species. Guests can learn how to positively interact with seals in the wild and avoid disturbing them when hauled out on beaches.

Seeing these rare and charismatic animals up close is a highlight for many aquarium visitors. The monk seals serve as compelling ambassadors that inspire appreciation and support for protecting their wild counterparts.

Fact Description
Primary habitat – Found primarily in the remote Northwestern Hawaiian Islands
Endemic to Hawaii – Endemic to the Hawaiian Islands, found nowhere else in the world
Supports conservation – Non-releasable seals at the aquarium help with research and education to support conservation of wild monk seals
Renovated habitat – Aquarium recently renovated the monk seal exhibit habitat for the seals

Weedy Seadragons

Weedy Seadragon
Waikiki Aquarium Weedy Seadragon

The Waikiki Aquarium is home to several weedy seadragons, a rare fish species related to seahorses and pipefish. Native to southern Australia, weedy seadragons have leafy protrusions that provide camouflage among seaweed and kelp beds.

The aquarium’s weedy seadragons can be viewed in a special exhibit replicating their natural rocky reef habitat. Weighing up to 2 pounds and reaching 18 inches long, their tan and yellow bodies blend into the artificial seaweed. Visitors can observe their unique hovering swimming motion and tubular jaws adapted for sucking up plankton.

In 2022, the Waikiki Aquarium achieved the first-ever breeding of weedy seadragons in its 118 year history. This accomplishment highlights the aquarium’s commitment to studying and propagating rare marine species. The delicate juvenile seadragon can be seen on a special live camera feed.

Weedy seadragons are listed as Near Threatened due to habitat loss and limited range. By displaying these cryptic fish, the Waikiki Aquarium helps bring attention to their conservation and showcases the diversity of Hawaiian waters and beyond.

Fact Description
Camouflage and appearance – Reach up to 18 inches long
– Weigh up to 2 pounds
– Tan and yellow coloration resembles seaweed
– Leafy protrusions provide camouflage
Feeding habits – Use tubular jaws to suck up plankton
– Ambush small crustaceans and fish larvae
Habitat and range – Found in rocky reefs and kelp beds
– Native to southern Australia
– Listed as Near Threatened due to habitat loss

Events and Annual Programs

The aquarium hosts special events and programs year-round:

  • Ke Kani O Ke Kai Summer Concert Series
  • Mauka to Makai Earth Day Celebration
  • Annual World Oceans Month Activities
  • Seasonal Events like Halloween Creepy Critter Scavenger Hunt

Waikiki Aquarium Luau – Diamond Head Luau

The Waikiki Aquarium hosts the popular Diamond Head Luau on its grounds several evenings per week. This Hawaiian luau offers a unique “foodie” dining experience showcasing dishes from top local restaurants like Nico’s Pier 38, Chart House Waikiki, and Tiki’s Waikiki.

The luau features an open-air setting where guests can visit different chef stations and sample signature dishes like ahi poke nachos, kalua pig sliders, and venison yakisoba noodles. There are also traditional luau entertainment and activities like hula dancing, live Hawaiian music, lei making, and fire knife dancing.

The intimate venue accommodates less than 300 guests, allowing for a relaxed atmosphere. The luau operates from 5:30pm to 8:00pm and takes place outdoors on the aquarium lawn. Luau tickets include admission to the Waikiki Aquarium during luau hours. Shuttle transportation from Waikiki hotels is available for an additional fee.

The combination of Hawaiian culinary delights and cultural entertainment makes the Diamond Head Luau a one-of-a-kind experience for visitors. It brings the flavors of the islands together with the beauty of the aquarium setting for a memorable Hawaiian evening.

Educational Value and Conservation Efforts

The Waikiki Aquarium has many educational programs and is dedicated to marine conservation:

  • School field trip programs for over 20,000 students annually
  • Public programs like biologist-guided reef walks
  • Volunteer program with over 300 volunteers
  • Pioneer in captive breeding and coral propagation
  • Research partnerships with organizations like NOAA and IUCN

With its rich history, diverse exhibits, immersive experiences, and educational programs, the Waikiki Aquarium is an essential destination for visitors to Oahu looking to discover the marvels of Hawaiian marine life.

Waikiki Aquarium Field Trip

Waikiki Aquarium Field Trip
Waikiki Aquarium Field Trip

The Waikiki Aquarium is a popular destination for school field trips, offering immersive marine science programs for students from preschool through college. Field trips provide many benefits for students, including:

  • Hands-on learning outside the classroom
  • Exposure to new environments, animals, and concepts
  • Inspiration for future education and career paths related to marine biology
  • Building an appreciation for marine life and conservation

The Aquarium provides both docent-guided and self-guided field trip options. Docent-led programs last 75 minutes and allow students to participate in interactive presentations and discovery tours led by Aquarium educators.

For self-guided visits, teachers can explore exhibits at their own pace with students. Popular stops include the outdoor Edge of the Reef exhibit, Hawaiian monk seal habitat, and the shark and jellyfish galleries. Reservation are required for groups to ensure availability.

In addition to exhibit exploration, the Aquarium provides supplemental educational resources to enhance field trips. Options include pre- and post-visit lesson plans, virtual learning content, and video resources. Marine-themed activities, crafts, and presentations can also be arranged.

Field trips to the Waikiki Aquarium create lasting memories while supporting classroom curriculum and student growth. The hands-on experiences spark curiosity and passion for the ocean.

Is Waikiki Aquarium Ethical?

The Waikiki Aquarium has a long history dating back to 1904 as one of the oldest public aquariums in the United States. Its mission is to “inspire and promote understanding, appreciation, and conservation of Pacific marine life”.

Some key points on the aquarium’s ethics:

  • Propagation and Breeding Programs: The aquarium has extensive propagation programs for threatened species like Hawaiian corals and seahorses. Breeding animals in captivity reduces need to collect from the wild.
  • Research and Conservation: The aquarium conducts research on marine species like monk seals and nautilus that informs conservation efforts. They rescue and rehabilitate animals.
  • Sustainability Efforts: The aquarium has taken steps to reduce plastic use, install solar panels, and promote sustainability.
  • Animal Care: As an AZA-accredited aquarium, they follow standards for ethical animal acquisition and welfare focused on each animal’s nutritional, health, behavioral and mental needs.
  • Community Outreach: Educational programs, events, and volunteers help share knowledge and promote conservation.

However, some criticize zoos and aquariums for keeping animals in captivity. There are also debates around breeding programs and deformities seen in some captive fish.

Overall, the Waikiki Aquarium seems to make serious efforts towards ethical operations, conservation, and animal welfare. But there is always room for improvement as knowledge evolves on how to best care for captive aquatic life. Ongoing assessment and high standards are key.

Waikiki Aquarium Reviews – Visitor Reviews

The Waikiki Aquarium receives overwhelmingly positive reviews from visitors highlighting its diverse marine exhibits, educational value, beautiful beachside location, and affordable admission.

Visitors consistently praise the aquarium’s wide array of fish, coral reefs, sharks, and other marine species representing Hawaii and the greater Pacific. Favorites include the monk seals, jellyfish, and the large outdoor exhibits. Many note that while compact in size, the aquarium houses an impressive diversity of sea life.

Many reviews mention learning a great deal from the informative signage and displays about the species as well as marine biology and conservation. Visitors emphasize the educational, yet still entertaining, experience the aquarium provides, especially for children.

The aquarium’s beachfront location and outdoor exhibits draw rave reviews for providing beautiful views and a lovely setting to enjoy the exhibits. The convenient location right near Waikiki Beach makes it easy to access for visitors.

Finally, the affordable entry fee receives positive feedback for offering great value. Visitors feel they get an enriching experience for a reasonable price.

In summary, the Waikiki Aquarium earns outstanding reviews for its diverse marine exhibits, educational programs, scenic location, and affordable admission delivering an exceptional overall visitor experience.

Plan Your Visit

Opening Hours & Scheduled Closures

Opening/Closure Events Date Hours Additional Information
Regular Hours Daily, 7 days a week 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Facility closes at 5:00 p.m.
Special Hours
Thanksgiving Day Thursday, November 23, 2023 9:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Facility closes early at 3:00 p.m.
New Year’s Day Monday, January 1, 2024 11:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Facility opens late morning and closes at 5:00 p.m.
Honolulu Marathon Day Sunday, December 10, 2023 Closed Facility closed all day
Christmas Day Monday, December 25, 2023 Closed Facility closed all day

Directions & Parking

The Waikīkī Aquarium is located at 2777 Kalakaua Avenue, on the shoreline in Kapi‘olani Park.

The Waikīkī Aquarium is within walking distance of Waikīkī Beach, across the street
from the Kapi‘olani Park Tennis Courts in the shadow of Diamond Head State Monument.

The Waikīkī Aquarium can also be reached by TheBus (Route 14, 19, 20, or 22) and Waikīkī Trolley’s Green line.

Parking is available through metered street parking on the left-hand (park) side of Kalakaua Ave. A very limited number of free parking stalls are located in front of the Waikīkī Aquarium entrance. Those stalls are available only to visitors of the Waikīkī Aquarium. Parking passes for two hours are available at the admission desk on busy days.

Driving from the West part of the island to the Aquarium on H1 Eastbound

Take exit 25A – King Street /Waikīkī/Honolulu Zoo
Stay in second lane from the right (about 0.1 miles)
Turn right onto Kapahulu Ave. (just past Market City Shopping Center)
Drive South on Kapahulu Ave. (about 0.8 miles until reaching ocean)
At the T junction, turn left on Kalakaua Ave. (about 0.3 miles)
The Waikiki Aquarium will be on the right-hand (beach/ocean) side of Kalakaua Ave.

Driving from the East part of Honolulu to the Aquarium on H1 Westbound

Take exit 25A – King Street
Stay in left lane (less than 0.1 miles)
Immediate sharp left onto King St. (less than 0.1 mile)
Stay in second lane from the right (about 0.1 miles)
Turn right onto Kapahulu Ave. (just past Market City Shopping Center)
Drive South on Kapahulu Ave. (about 0.8 miles until reaching ocean)
At the T junction, turn left on Kalakaua Ave. (about 0.3 miles)
The Waikīkī Aquarium will be on the right-hand (beach/ocean) side of Kalakaua Ave.

Aquarium Admission

Purchase at the Ticket Counter on Arrival
Pricing Schedule Display

Ticket Type Price Age/Condition Additional Information
ADULT $12.00 Ages 13 to 64
JUNIOR $5.00 Ages 4 to 12 Must be accompanied by an adult
CHILDREN FREE Ages 3 and under Must be accompanied by an adult
KAMA‘AINA $8.00 Ages 13 to 64 With current Hawaii ID
SENIOR $5.00 Age 65 and older, & persons with disabilities
FOWA MEMBERSHIP FREE Paid membership with current ID and membership card
MILITARY $8.00 Active duty with current military ID

The Waikiki Aquarium – Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) 

How long does it take to walk the Waikīkī Aquarium?

It takes about 1-2 hours to comfortably walk through and see all of the exhibits at the Waikiki Aquarium.

Is there free parking at the Waikīkī Aquarium?

There is no free parking at the Waikiki Aquarium. Metered street parking is available along Kalakaua Avenue near the aquarium entrance.

How do I get to Waikīkī Aquarium?

The Waikiki Aquarium is located at 2777 Kalakaua Avenue in Waikiki, Honolulu. It can be reached by TheBus routes 14, 19, 20 or 22, or the Waikiki Trolley’s Green line.

How big is the Waikīkī Aquarium?

The Waikiki Aquarium sits on 2.35 acres of land and houses over 3,500 organisms of 490 marine species in its exhibits.

What is The Waikiki Aquarium?

The Waikiki Aquarium is the second-oldest aquarium in the United States, located in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Where is The Waikiki Aquarium located?

The Waikiki Aquarium is located at 2777 Kalakaua Avenue in Honolulu, Hawaii.

What is the admission price for The Waikiki Aquarium?

The admission prices for The Waikiki Aquarium are as follows: Adult (13+ years) – $12, Junior (4-12 years) – $5, Children (3 and under) – Free.

What can I see at The Waikiki Aquarium?

At The Waikiki Aquarium, you can see a variety of marine animals such as tropical fish, octopus, sea dragons, and even green sea turtles. Additional highlights include monk seals, jellyfish, coral reef exhibits, and native Hawaiian plants.

Is there a gift shop at The Waikiki Aquarium?

Yes, The Waikiki Aquarium has a gift shop where visitors can purchase souvenirs and educational materials.

What is the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Exhibit?

The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Exhibit is a special exhibit at The Waikiki Aquarium that focuses on the unique marine life found in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

What is the significance of the Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle at The Waikiki Aquarium?

The Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle is an iconic species in Hawaii, and The Waikiki Aquarium is dedicated to the conservation and education about these turtles.

Is The Waikiki Aquarium affiliated with the University of Hawaii?

Yes, The Waikiki Aquarium is affiliated with the University of Hawaii and collaborates on various research projects and educational programs.

Can I visit The Waikiki Aquarium with children?

Yes, The Waikiki Aquarium is a family-friendly attraction and welcomes visitors of all ages, including children.


The Waikiki Aquarium, with its rich history and vibrant collection of marine life, stands as a testament to Hawaii’s incredible marine biodiversity.

For over a century, it has played an essential role in educating visitors about the wonders beneath the waves and the critical importance of marine conservation. While some debates revolve around animal captivity, the aquarium has shown consistent dedication to ethical practices, conservation, and sustainability.

For those traveling to Oahu, the Waikiki Aquarium is more than just a tourist attraction; it’s an opportunity to immerse oneself in the world of marine life and join in the shared responsibility of preserving these precious ecosystems for future generations.

Whether it’s the mesmerizing dance of the jellyfish or the curious gaze of the endangered monk seals, the Waikiki Aquarium promises an unforgettable journey through the Pacific’s underwater treasures.

For more information visit the Waikiki Aquarium website

Or contact the Waikiki Aquarium at:

2777 Kalakaua Avenue
Honolulu, HI 96815

(808) 923-9741


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