The HawaiianislandofOahu, with its iconic landmarks and unique history is where most tourists come when they visitHawai’i. Known as the ‘Gathering Place,’Oahuis packed with so many activities; visitors often have no idea where to begin their vacation. World famous beaches, must-see historical landmarks, and classic Hawaiian tourist activities—our top 10 list has them all.
Assuming you are beginning your vacation in Waikiki as most tourists do, begin your trip by watching a Waikiki tropical sunset. Steps away from busyWaikiki, you can find evening beaches nearly empty. It’s a perfect time to take in what’s quintessentially Hawaiian, bare feet and pearl white beaches that seem to stretch on forever.
Take a surf lesson.Hawai’i is surfing’s home, and has been since before Captain Cook first observed ancient Hawaiians riding the waves on wooden Wiliwili surfboards. For Hawaiians and locals alike, its a deeply spiritual practice that connects them to their history and home.Waikiki has a number of beginner friendly surf breaks, and plenty of beach side surf companies to get you started.
Hike Diamond Head Crater. Nothing is more iconic in Oahu, than the sunset lit outline ofDiamond Head. Called Le’ahi by the ancient Hawaiians,Diamond Head has been a military outpost since King Kamehameha times. The hike itself winds through tight stairways and concrete walls, passing long since retired gun placements and bunkers. The view from the top, offers stunning 360 degree views ofOahu’s south shore.
Hike Manoa Falls. Less than a 10 minute drive from downtownHonolulu, the Manoa Falls Hike feels like you’ve walked through a portal into an actual Hawaiian rainforest. Located behind Lyons Arboretum, you’re greeted by massive Banyan trees and an rich assortment of wildly colorful tropical plants and trees. The prerequisite number of feral chickens running around the parking lot, add to the time warp feeling. The hike follows along a boulder lined stream for approximately an hour before you arrive at the falls. Fans of the TV show Lost, may recognize some of the landscape, as much of the show was actually filmed in this area. John Locke anyone?
Pay your respects at Pearl Harbor. The USS Arizona Memorial, is an incredibly moving tribute to the American service men that lost their lives atPearl Harbor and the 1177 sailors buried with the USS Arizona. There are dozens of Pearl Harbor tours operating onOahu, or you can drive yourself. USS Arizona admission is free.
Visit the North Shore. Follow up your new found respect for surfing by visiting theNorthShore. 50 minutes north ofHonolulu, time seems to slow down. Locals call it the ‘Country,’ and with chickens roaming parking lots, you’ll probably agree. It would take you months to explore all the north shore beaches (there are dozens), but you can start with what’s referred to the 8 mile miracle. An eye-popping stretch of world class beaches and surf breaks all the way from Haleiwa to Sunset beach. If you are visiting during winter time, it’s worth a stop to watch the surfers up close and personal at Sunset Beaches, Bonzai Pipeline.
Snorkel at Hanauma Bay. When people think about Hawai’i snorkeling, more often than not, they are thinking about Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve. White sandy beaches and shallow reefs are surrounded by a picture perfect volcanic caldera. The bay offers year round protection from seasonal waves, and has tranquil, safe snorkeling year round. Because it’s a Nature Preserve there is an abundance and diversity of fish near the inner reefs, while the outer reefs offer a more challenging snorkel environment. Worth to mention here HopTours, the company I went yesterday for snorkeling at Hanauma Bay Oahu. Great people!
Visit Iolani Palace and Chinatown.BeautifulIolaniPalace is the only royal palace in theUnited States, and was home to the Hawaiian monarchy before the overthrow of Queen Liliuokalani in 1893. The $20 price for the docent guided tour is well worth it, as it places much ofHawai’i's history into its somewhat depressing context. Afterward, take a short walk over to the rambunctious, crumbling Honolulu Chinatown. The oldest Chinatown inAmerica is still a very alive and functioningChinatown. The Mao window portraits, and sidewalk stalls filled with standard Chinese fruits and vegetables, make it seem like you’ve stepped back into time.
Hike to Makapu’u Point. This mostly uphill 2.5 mile round trip walk/hike, has panoramic, spectacular Windward views ofWaimanaloBay, Sandy Beach, and Koko Head. During whale season (December to May), Humpback Whales can easily be spotted from the lookout.
Bishop Museum. If you’re a history enthusiasts or interested in Hawaiian and Polynesian history, don’t miss Bishop Museum. The states largest museum, it’s also one of the most respected and represented museums in all of the Pacific. Renowned for its cultural and scientific research, collections, and extensive library and archives,BishopMuseum is a trueHawai’i must see.