The residing capital of Hawaii, Honolulu is also the largest city in not just the Island of Oahu, but the whole state of Hawaii. Honolulu is where the bulk of Oahu residents live, and where most Hawaii visitors stay (specifically Waikiki). Honolulu stretches along Oahu's south shore and includes many must-see neighborhoods like Waikiki, Chinatown, the Waterfront District, and the Historical District.
Waikiki is both a beach and a neighborhood, and the most visited destination in Hawaii. Waikiki is bordered by the Ala Wai Canal to the north and Kapiolani Park to the east. Within this two and a half mile stretch is an array of hotels, shops, restaurants, activities, entertainment, and of course, the beach. With so much variety packed into a walkable neighborhood, it is unnecessary to rent a car if you plan to vacation in Waikiki. Many activity providers outside of Waikiki include transportation, or offer transportation services at an additional charge.
An eclectic neighborhood of Oahu, Chinatown has several personalities depending on when you visit. An emerging arts district, Chinatown is where artists, galleries, and bars showcase local art on First Friday followed by a huge block party that fills the streets until closing time. During the day the streets of Chinatown are filled with locally grown produce and stores carrying Asian-style foods and cooking oils.
The main walkable area of the Waterfront includes Aloha Tower and nearby piers where cruiselines dock for both arrivals and departures. A piece of history, Aloha Tower was once the tallest building in Hawaii and greeted immigrants and visitors alike before the rise of air travel. Today, Aloha Tower is the Aloha Tower Marketplace, filled with restaurants, shops, and host to several festivals and activities throughout the year.
About a mile south of the Aloha Tower Marketplace is another area of note, the Kewalo Basin. Located next to Ala Moana Beach Park and and 2 miles outside Waikiki, the Kewalo Basin is a commercial harbor that has several activity providors including sport fishing tours, paragliding, jet ski rentals, catamaran charters, scuba and snorkeling excursions and cruises.
Just south of Chinatown is the historical district of Oahu, also known as the capital district. Roughly bordered by Beretania St, Fort St, King Street, and Alapai St, the historical district of Oahu includes the Iolani Palace, State Library, Hawaii State Art Museum, the Mission Houses, and several other historical buildings of interest, marked by a Kamehameha Image.
Once the most beautiful harbor in Oahu and now home to Pearl Harbor Naval Base, Pearl Harbor will always be an iconic emblem of American History. Known for the infamous day in 1941, Pearl Harbor has several memorials open to the public for viewing. The USS Arizona is the most visited memorial within Pearl Harbor, where you can view the sunken ship from a floating view-station. Other attractions within Pearl Harbor include the USS Bowfin, USS Missouri, and the Memorial Museum.
A great snorkeling spot inside of a protected cove is Hanauma Bay. Located on the edge of Honolulu, just before crossing over to the Windward side of the Island. Hanauma Bay is different from other Oahu beaches in that there is a nominal charge to visit. This is because Hanauma Bay is a nature preserve and the funds collected support the preservation of reefs, fish, and sea life as well as educating the public on keeping our oceans healthy.
Centered on Oahu's North Shore, Haleiwa is a funky surfing village that turns bustling during winter when the major surf competitions are held. The opposite of bustling Waikiki, Haleiwa is a small surfing village with some eclectic shops, restaurants, and art galleries that are fun to explore. Haleiwa Harbor has several boating activities, including shark tours, while Dillingham Airfield offers skydiving and gliding activities.
Turtle Bay Resort is a secluded paradise on Oahu's North Shore. As the only resort or hotel in the area, Turtle Bay spans across five miles of beachfront and has several coveted amenities including horseback riding, shopping, a championship golf course, tennis courts, spa facilities, several dining options, and beach access.
Oahu's North Shore is most famous for surfing. Winter brings large swells which only the most experiences surfers should attempt to surf. The surfing coast spans from Haleiwa Beach Park to Turtle Bay and includes several famous beaches like Waimea, Sunset, and Pipeline where several surfing competitions are held each year. These beaches are generally safe to swim during the spring and summer, and fun to visit as a spectator during the winter. Orange warning flags will be posted when conditions are unsafe for novice swimmers.
The most western point on Oahu, Kaena Point is a sacred spot where ancient Hawaiian believed that souls leapt from this point to enter into the spirit world. The point can only be reached by foot, and there are two trails; one from the North Shore and one from the Leeward side. Both trails allow for quite a hike, and without any natural shade it can get quite hot so be prepared with plenty of water and sunscreen.
Kailua Town is a hip, mostly residential beach-community on the Windward side of Oahu. There are a few restaurants to choose from and not much in the way of nightlife, but what makes Kailua special is a few miles of beautiful powder-white sandy beaches. Kailua Beach is often hailed as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, with scenic islands within kayaking distance, shallow blue waters stretching as far as the eye can see, and fewer crowds than Waikiki.
On your way to Kailua, the most convenient (and scenic) route is via the Pali. So why not make the most of your journey and stop at the Nuuanu Pali Lookout. Perched in the Koolau range overlooking Kailua and Kaneohe, the Nuuanu Pali Lookout provides a stunning view of Oahu jungle, valleys, and coastline. Be sure to stop at the Pali Lookout on a sunny day when visibility is best. Often, mountain mist will hug the cliffs on rainy and overcast days, preventing an ocean view. There is access to the lookout from either direction, just drive along the Pali (Hwy 61) and follow the signs that declare "Lookout" or "Scenic point."
Tucked away in a valley on the Windward side is a well-kept memorial park and Japanese temple, known as the Valley of the Temples. The main attraction here is the Byodo-In Temple, a scale replica of a temple in Japan made without a single nail. Byodo-In commemorates the first Japanese immigrants to Hawaii and sits far back in the valley with rising Koolau cliffs creating a striking background. Experience a slice of tranquility and peace at Byodo-In as you ring the welcome bell and admire the sheer size of the giant Buddha.
Sea Life Park offers visitors the chance to interact with and learn about Hawaiian sea life. Swimming with dolphins is one of Sea Life Park's most popular activities, followed by the dolphin and sea lion shows. Visitors also have a chance to swim with and pet sea lions and sting rays or dive in their 300,000 gallon salt water aquarium.
The West side of Oahu, also commonly referred to as the Leeward side spans from Makakilo all the way north of Makaha and is made up mostly of residential communities and residents of Oahu. There is little tourism on the West side of Oahu, save for one large resort area known as Ko' Olina.
Ko Olina Resort is a planned resort community spanning nearly 650 acres along 1.5 miles of sandy beach. Featuring a mix of residential and hotel accomodations, Ko Olina ameinities include numerous dining options, shopping, an 18 hole championship golf course, sports club, elegant wedding chapels, and a full service marina. In addition to a beach side location, Ko Olina has four man-made lagoons for protected ocean swimming and several pools and jacuzzies located throughout the property.
Ko Olina Hotel Accommodations:
- Marriott's Ko Olina Beach Club
- JW Marriott Ihilani Resort & Spa
- Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa (Opening August 29, 2011)
Central Oahu is mostly residents, military housing, and military bases. There is little tourism in this area, save for some shopping centers and there are no beaches to visit. One can see all the "sights" from the car on the drive up to the North Shore.
Tour the Dole Pineapple Plantation and learn how the history of Hawaii and the pineapple, different types of pineapple, and how to grow a pineapple. It's free to tour the grounds and there is a gift shop with an extensive collection of pineapple merchandise. There are a few paid activities available at Dole Plantation including navigating the world's largest maze, riding the Pineapple Train, and having a guided tour of the gardens.
- Go Oahu Card - get discounts on major attractions and activities throughout Oahu
- Oahu Itinerary - first time on Oahu? Try out this comprehensive itinerary
- Oahu Beaches - a great list of the best beaches to visit in Oahu
- Free in Waikiki - some fun and free things going on in Waikiki