On another day, visit Pearl Harbor to see the Arizona Memorial and the Battleship Missouri, then drive up the Manoa Valley, behind Honolulu, to tour a tropical botanical gardens and take a rain forest hike to Manoa Falls. Spend a day at the famed North Shore, which has a surfing culture all its own, and sample a "plate lunch." For a midday dessert try a "shave ice," a deluxe Hawaiian version of a snow cone - but remember, at night in Honolulu you can taste your way through this culinary crossroads of the Pacific.
Steep yourself in Hawaiian culture for a day. Spend the morning at the renowned Bishop Museum, where the unmatched Polynesian collections include the feathered capes of Hawaiian royalty - including one that contains nearly 500,000 feathers from an estimated 80,000 birds and was worn by Kamehameha the Great. Then visit the Honolulu Academy of the Arts, where the 32 galleries and the landscaped gardens offer a welcome respite from urban Honolulu. Finally, tour I'olani Palace, a beautifully restored architectural gem that was the home of Hawaiian royalty in the late 19th century ... and a prison for Queen Lili`uokalani after her monarchy was overthrown in 1893.
Climb Diamond Head at daybreak to watch the city come to life, then head for Hanauma Bay to fin over the blue-green mosaic of reefs that make it the island's most popular snorkeling site. Travel the wave-wracked Halona coast (the island's most dramatic shore) to Sandy Beach. (No matter how much fun the bodysurfing looks there, leave it to the locals.)
Beginners should head for Waikiki, where the surf is usually gentler than at other Hawaiian breaks. But the real action takes place every winter on Oahu's North Shore, where seasoned veterans take on the mountains of water at Waimea Bay and Sunset Beach. The best place to watch? Ehukai Beach Park (just south of Sunset Beach), where big, thick waves break close to shore at the notorious Banzai Pipeline.
NightlifeIn a Waikiki of karaoke bars, comedy clubs, and Hard Rock Cafes, you'll find a more tranquil Hawaii at the House Without a Key, the open-air oasis at the Halekulani hotel, where sunset cocktails and Hawaiian music under a century-old kiawe tree are a longtime tradition. Or stop in at the Moana Surfrider's Banyan Veranda, where traditional Hawaiian music recalls the days when the famed "Hawaii Calls" radio show was broadcast from the same spot.