The most populous of the Hawaiian Islands, Oahu is home to nearly one million people. As the capital city of Hawaii, Honolulu pulses with big city energy and purpose, and showcases the diversity of lifestyles in this island state.
More than 450 high-rise buildings compete for views along Waikiki Beach. Shopping can sometimes be a full-body contact sport along Kalakaua Avenue, as well as in the five-story Waikiki Shopping Plaza and the International Market Place.
Yet that overt energy of Honolulu belies the laid-back, free spirit attitude that is born and bred in the sand, sun and surf. At 2 miles long, the golden sands of Waikiki Beach dominate any visitor experience to Honolulu. Everyone has their favorite section of the beach, but if you want to sign up for a surf lesson, ride in an outrigger canoe or other activities, settle in at the Waikiki Beach Center, located near the Waikiki Police Station.
While on Waikiki Beach, your eye is naturally drawn to Diamond Head, the remains of a volcano that erupted 300,000 years ago. While it is impressive from the beach, to really appreciate it Diamond Head, visit the state park and climb to the top. It’s a challenging hike along a rugged path cut through sheer granite, but there is no better place on Oahu to catch the sunset.
This island is also home to Pearl Harbor and the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial. It’s now officially known as the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument and a must for any visit to Oahu. Go with reverence for the lives lost here and plan several hours to fully appreciate this unit of the National Park Service.
Oahu’s north shore is also a popular destination. Once a sleepy little surfing town, Haleiwa is where some of the world’s best surfers can be found, especially in January when the waves are big on the north shore. Make sure you visit Matsumoto’s Shave Ice. (Remember there is no “d” at the end of shave.) Order yours with the azuki beans for an authentic experience.
Other worthwhile destinations on Oahu are the Dole Pineapple Plantation Tour, the Polynesian Cultural Center and Kualoa Ranch. The latter is known as Hollywood’s “backlot of Hawaii,” and has served as the filming locations for several movies and TV shows, including Hawaii Five-0, LOST and several Jurassic Park films.
When deciding on where to stay on Oahu, you must first decide which part of the island you want to visit. The main resort area is centered around Waikiki Beach, with a plethora of accommodation options to choose from.
The pricier resorts here will be located directly on the beach, but affordable hotels can be found if you’re willing to stay a few blocks away. You’ll also find more beach resorts along Oahu’s north shore, away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
From strolling the famed Waikiki Beach to watching surfers hang ten on the north shore, there’s no shortage of things to do in Oahu. Oahu delivers more action, more entertainment, more nightlife and more golf courses than any other Hawaiian Island, and there are plenty of ways to stay entertained for your entire vacation.
The island offers 227 miles of coastline, meaning there are beaches to suit all types of travelers, from families who want easy parking and full facilities, to nature types willing to hike in to a quieter piece of paradise.
Book a snorkeling excursion to take in the underwater sights, from a sea turtle “cleaning station” to playful spinner dolphins to colorful coral formations. Hike to a secluded waterfall or the top of Diamond Head crater, go on a whale-watching tour or visit Pearl Harbor. And save a few days to venture beyond Waikiki and go off the beaten path.