Honolulu is the destination that has it all. This busy capital city has the famous Waikiki Beach, historic landmarks, world class shopping, and fine dining. This is the home to most of Oahu's population and it stretches along the entire southeastern coast of the island. Waikiki is home to the majority of Oahu's hotels and resorts and was once the playground for Hawaiian royalty. Today it is the gathering place for visitors from around the world. It is famous for its beaches because of the calm waters which are perfect for surfing. But there is more to Waikiki than just the beach. Honolulu Zoo and the Waikiki Aquarium are fun for the entire family. Waikiki Beach Walk and the newly renovated International Market Place offer the island's best shopping. After the famous sunset, the fun continues with plenty of nightlife and live music. Waikiki is also very close to a variety of other attractions, including Leahi (Diamond Head), Pearl Harbor, Iolani Palace, and Hanauma Bay. Ala Moana Center, Chinatown, and Bishops Museum are also places of interest.
A trip to Honolulu is not complete without a hike to the top of Leahi where you get an amazing panoramic view of Honolulu. The iconic silhouette of Diamond Head sits along the Honolulu skyline just beyond Waikiki. The crater is one of Hawaii's most famous landmarks. It only takes a short drive or bus ride to get to Diamond Head Crater from Waikiki and the trail includes two sets of stairs totaling 175 steps, as well as dark, underground tunnels and old military bunkers that require a flashlight. The stunning views that greet you at the top of Diamond Head are well worth the effort.
Downtown Honolulu is just 15 minutes west of Waikiki and is home to some of Oahu's most historic places. Next to the skyscrapers of the island’s main business district you’ll find important landmarks like the Iolani Palace, the King Kamehameha I statue, the Kawaiahao Church and the Aloha Tower. This area is also the seat of Hawaii’s government, home to the Hawaii State Capitol, Washington Place (the governor’s mansion) and Honolulu Hale (Honolulu’s City Hall). Clustered within blocks of each other, these cultural landmarks can be experienced on a leisurely walking tour.
The National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific Oahu, located north of downtown in an extinct volcano called Punchbowl Crater, is the national cemetery honoring American Veterans. The memorial, placed on the National Register of Historic Places, honors the achievements of the American Armed Forces and commemorates the soldiers of 20th century wars, including those who were lost during the attack at Pearl Harbor. The memorial also offers a panoramic view of Honolulu from the top of the Punchbowl’s crater rim. Informative, free walking tours are led by Veterans of the American Legion.
The most important landmark in Central Oahu is historic Pearl Harbor, the largest natural harbor in Hawaii. This active naval base is home to five Pearl Harbor Historic Sites that you can visit: The Pacific Historic Parks, the USS Battleship Missouri Memorial, the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park, the Pacific Aviation Museum and the USS Oklahoma Memorial. These special monuments commemorate the historic events that changed the course of history during World War II. In Central Oahu, you can also take a tour of the famous Aloha Stadium, home of the University of Hawaii Warriors as well as many other events throughout the year.
The sunny and dry Leeward Coast of Oahu lies at the foot of the Waianae Mountain Range just 30 miles from Waikiki, but the contrast between the regions is striking. The Leeward side of Oahu is less developed, with picturesque towns, beautiful off-the-beaten-path beaches, and rural landscapes to explore. This 43 acre marina offers stretches of postcard-worthy shoreline with plenty of opportunities for water sports and championship golf. Other fun and family-friendly attractions in the area include the Paradise Cove Luau and the Wet n’ Wild Hawaii Water Park. Local beaches include Makaha Beach, one of the first spots where surfers began big wave surfing, and Yokohama Bay. At the very end of the road, you can hike to Oahu’s western-most point at sacred Kaena Point for incredible Pacific Ocean views. If you hike to Kaena Point, be sure to stay on the trail because the area is also a bird sanctuary, and bring water and other supplies with you because the remote area doesn’t offer amenities. Leave no trace, and pack up whatever you brought with you in order to respect the land and maintain the pristine natural area for others.
The Windward Coast is full of lush valleys and country landscapes. Exiting the tunnels east of the Koolau Mountain Range, it feels as if you’re entering a different world. A trip to the Windward Coast reveals a slower-paced side of Oahu, and some of the most stunning natural beauty anywhere in Hawaii. Drive north and spend a day exploring the Windward Coast toward the North Shore. You'll find one of Hawaii's most photographed areas- Kualoa Ranch. This scenic valley has provided the backdrop for countless movies and TV shows, including Jurassic Park and Lost. Visitors to the ranch can enjoy horseback riding, ziplining, ATV tours and many other activities.
Oahu's North Shore is legendary in the surf world. It attracts the best surfers and hosts premier surfing competitions during the peak months including the biggest of them all, the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing. Waimea Bay, Ehukai Beach (Banzai Pipeline), and Sunset Beach are great places to sunbathe and stroll along the shore—just leave surfing the huge waves to the pros because they can be very dangerous for inexperienced surfers. The months between November and February are the best times to see big wave surfing. The massive waves can sometimes swell up to thirty feet or more, so always heed warning signs. From May to September, the waves subside, creating a calmer atmosphere for surfing and swimming. About a one-hour drive from Waikiki, the North Shore is also home to a variety of accommodation options, including condo rentals and the exclusive beachside Turtle Bay Resort. Take a road trip to the charming surf town of Haleiwa Town, where you can shop, eat like a local, and cool off with rainbow-flavored shave ice. Continue your drive to Laie to visit the Polynesian Cultural Center and the old plantation town of Kahuku.
Try to plan your visit to Oahu during one of its many special events. There's nothing like experiencing the culture by attending a festival, musical event, or sports competition.
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Ann Jones, CTC, MCC