Oahu is where America’s love affair with the Hawaiian Islands began. Home to the largest harbor, it has long been a favored port of call. Today, Oahu is not only the Pacific’s primary air hub for transcontinental travel, but also a prime destination itself, drawing travelers from around the world. They come not only for the beaches and scenery, but also for the cultural and commercial activities of the region’s most cosmopolitan destination.
1 Picture Perfect
When the first postcards came back from Hawaiian vacations, they were likely emblazoned with images of Waikiki Beach, with the distinct profile of Diamond Head in the distance. This is where generations have come to lay in the sand and play in the surf, and to this day, Hawaii’s most famous beach remains a favorite with vacationers and residents alike.
2 Capital Attractions
Honolulu is a vibrant, cosmopolitan capital known for its diverse cultural influences. As would befit a major international city, it also offers a range of performing arts, including the symphony, ballet, opera and theater, along with a wealth of museums and fine art galleries. Among the most popular art-centric places are the Honolulu Museum of Art and the Hawaii State Art Museum. All told, there are more than 100 museums and art galleries in the Honolulu area.
3 Authentic Eats
Honolulu’s dining scene is as eclectic as its population, offering everything from five- star chefs’ tables to food trucks and native fare, plus a variety of Asian cuisines. Kapahulu Avenue is ground zero for dining diversity. For an authentic local taste, try a plate lunch, and sample some traditional dishes such as laulua pork served with a side of poi. Finish up with another Hawaiian favorite: shave ice.
4 Surfing Roots
Oahu’s wave riders launched the modern sport of surfing. Today, the world’s best challenge the mammoth wintertime waves of the North Shore. You can enjoy a vicarious stoke by catching the pros in action at events such as the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing. Meanwhile, on the other side of the island, the smaller and kinder swells of Waikiki delight first-timers and more casual wave riders.
5 Pineapple Ice Cream
Though no longer one of the world’s pineapple powerhouses, Oahu still grows the succulent fruit, which finds its way into the island’s tastiest frozen concoction. Some repeat visitors to Oahu will make the pilgrimage to the Dole Plantation just to savor a scoop of the signature pineapple ice cream. However, while strolling Waikiki you can stop at HU-LA-LA’S Ice Cream for a cone.
6 Service Center
Oahu is not only an R&R favorite of troops and sailors on leave, it is also home to nine military bases representing all five branches of the U.S. military service. No trip to the island would be complete without a visit to Pearl Harbor to pay homage at the USS Arizona Memorial and the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument.
7 The Diversity District
Though it’s known as Chinatown, the area of downtown Honolulu centering around South Pauahi Street is now home to a diverse blend of Southeast Asian cultures. Like the Chinese immigrants who settled here when they first arrived in the islands, new arrivals and native Hawaiians of Vietnamese, Laotian, Japanese, Thai, Filipino and Korean descent have also established roots in the neighborhood. Their heritages meld in the eclectic shops and eateries that offer every manner of goods and services, along with a mouth-watering array of ethnic dishes. A favorite is the food hall at the Maunakea Marketplace.
8 Island Designs
The Hawaiian-print or Aloha Shirt is tourist kitsch to some, a passion for others. Like modern Hawaii itself, this iconic design is the result of a melting pot of styles and fabrics borrowed from Japan, China and the Philippines, which melded with the local Palaka work shirt to emerge as an island icon. Today, Honolulu is home to some of the best tailors and designers of the genre, which include names like Tori Richard and Reyn Spooner.
9 Legendary Luaus
When the sun goes down, the torches light and the drums resound across the island at dozens of sites getting ready for a luau. The party’s been going on since the early 1900s, when some of the first tourist hotels on Waikiki Beach began staging their own versions of this traditional island feast for the benefit of visitors. Today, the best luau performances are far more than just a hotel sideshow; they are cultural celebrations wrapped in a party.
10 The Wild Side
There’s more to Oahu than the city of Honolulu. Just a few miles away, wild areas with green valleys and cascading waterfalls await hikers. The family-friendly Waimea Falls Park is an easy visit, while a trip to the remote Maunawili Falls requires a muddy trek through the Koolau Mountains. A favorite closer to town is the mile-and-a-half hike to the summit of Diamond Head for sweeping views of the island.