Oahu, Hawaii’s third largest and most populated island may not always be a traveler’s first pick when island hopping around the 50th state, but it should be. Home to the state capital, (Honolulu), Oahu offers the perfect combination of big city amenities and idyllic hideaways. For some great visuals, catch a glimpse of the island in Hollywood hits like Jurassic Park, The Descendants, and Pearl Harbor, or classic films such as Tora! Tora! Tora! and From Here to Eternity.
Our recent trip to Hawaii included a stop on Oahu, and in four days, we managed to squeeze in all manner of sightseeing, snorkeling, sun, and surf.
HERE IS A LIST OF OUR ISLAND FAVORITES:
Pearl Harbor: The bombing of Pearl Harbor (December 7, 1941) propelled the U.S. into WWII, destroyed twelve American warships and 188 aircraft and killed 2,335 American servicemen and 68 civilians. Explore on your own (go early or reserve a spot online) or hire a guide to escort you through memorable and moving sites like the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial.
Keawe Adventures: We used this company to give us a personal and educational day tour of Pearl Harbor (they will purchase entry tickets for you in advance). A Keawe guide can meet you at your hotel and escort you on a variety of other island tours—snorkeling, fly fishing, historic tours, and surfing lessons, to name just a few.
Byodo-In Temple: Take scenic Pali Highway north and visit this Buddhist temple located at the foot of the Ko’olau Mountains in the Valley of the Temples Memorial Park. Built in 1968 to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of the first Japanese immigrants to Hawaii, it’s actually a replica of a 950-year–old temple in Japan. Even on a rainy day, we enjoyed the lush grounds stopping to feed the 10,000 Japanese Koi, studying the (nine-foot) meditation Buddha, and taking a turn ringing the (three-ton) brass temple bell—it brings good luck!
Kailua: After a visit to the temple, head east to Kailua Beach where you can rent a kayak or paddle board or just run your feet through the fine, white sand. Take a lunch break on the deck at local favorite, Buzz’s Original Steakhouse, right across the street. Afterwards, pick up Highway 72 and head south along the windward coast—it takes you on a dramatic and winding ride to the southern coast with views of Mānana Island, also known as Rabbit Island.
Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail: It may be a little narrow, but this one-hour trail hike can be handled by most people. The trail takes you around the 646-foot-high sea bluff on which the lighthouse is perched and offers you gorgeous views of the Pacific Ocean.
Diamond Head State Monument: Hike to the summit for perfect 360-degree vistas of Honolulu and Waikiki. This .8-mile trip takes you to the top of this (750-ft.) volcanic cone, which once served as a military installation. The hike includes several switchbacks and some almost vertical steps; it’s steep but not too difficult. Wear rubber soled shoes and download a flashlight app to light the way through some dark tunnels. Get there early for a spot in the parking lot and allow an hour for the complete hike (plus extra time to stop and take gorgeous pictures from the bunkers and lookout points).
Kahala Hotel: This lovely beachside resort is a good place to stop for lunch after a rigorous hike up Diamond Head. Treat yourself to a Mai Tai, and sit outside on the terrace at Plumeria Beach House and enjoy the stunning coastal views and Pacific breezes.
Polynesian Cultural Center: We did not get a chance to go, but many recommended this destination, sort of a cross between a theme park and a living museum. If you are unfamiliar with Polynesian island culture, or have never been to a luau, this would be a good option.
Waikiki: Honolulu’s bustling oceanfront neighborhood is chock-a-block with resorts, hotels, shops, restaurants and nightlife. Click here to read my article on where to stay, where to eat, and what to do in Waikiki.
NORTH SHORE POINTS OF INTEREST:
Although Oahu’s North Shore has become synonymous with surfing, it offers so much more. It’s easy to spend a long day meandering along its coastal route, stopping to visit the tiny towns, coves, and beaches along the way. If you prefer an extended stay, check into tranquil Turtle Bay Resort.
Haleiwa: This famous North Shore rustic beach town, 34 miles from Waikiki, features a honkytonk main street lined with boutiques, cafes, crafts, and Hawaiian shaved ice stands. There’s also plenty of fishing charter boats and tackle shops. Stop at one of the famous retro shrimp trucks for a plate of succulent garlic and butter shrimp. Our favorite truck? “Big Wave” on Kamehameha Highway.
Sharks Cove: Rated by Scuba Diving Magazine as one of the “Top Twelve Shore Dives in the World,” this small, rocky bay’s blue waters host an impressive amount of sea life. Make sure to wear sturdy water shoes since the bottom is lined with large smooth boulders and coral, which form small caves making perfect habitats for fish. Just to the south of the cove is Pupukea with its child-friendly tide pools. Go EARLY to beat the crowds. Across the way is Sharks Cove Grill, a “no-frills roadside food truck.” Order a plate of tasty shrimp skewers and rice and take a seat at their outdoor picnic tables.
Waimea Beach Park: This expansive and deep, bowl-shaped beach features gentle waves in the summer, great for little kids, and good for snorkeling near the reefs. In the winter, when the waves are rough, it attracts big wave surfing. Make a day of it and explore the nearby botanical gardens and Waimea Falls.
Dole Pineapple Plantation: On the way up to the North Shore or on your way back to Waikiki, stop here for a tour and a bit of island heritage and savor what fresh pineapple really tastes like.
Spending time in Waikiki? Click here to read my article on where to stay, where to eat, and what to do in Waikiki.
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