Honolulu and Oahu Feature

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Top Things to Do in Honolulu and Oahu

That Beach

Kailua is the beach you came to Hawaii for—and the reason why many have never left. This popular stretch of white, sandy beach on Oahu's windward side is wide and inviting, with several small offshore islands perfect for exploring on kayaks. The waves are gentle and forgiving, and the beach is within walking distance of small convenience stores and friendly eateries.

Finding Shangri La

Built atop the cliffs of Diamond Head, Shangri La is the lavish oceanfront home of American philanthropist Doris Duke. It houses an extensive collection of Islamic art, much of which was collected during her world travels. But the sprawling 5-acre estate—with its sweeping views, exotic gardens, and 75-foot saltwater pool—is an architectural wonder in its own right. It's open to the public for small group tours.

Oahu After Hours

Nightlife in Hawaii may conjure up visions of mai tais by the hotel pool at sunset. But in the multicultural metropolis of Honolulu, there's so much more to it than that. Sip one of 17 different sparkling wines at Brasserie Du Vin in downtown Honolulu. Nosh on deep-fried potato cakes at Genius Lounge Sake Bar & Grill in Waikiki. Sing karaoke and munch on fried pork chops at the Side Street Inn near the Ala Moana Center. Or listen to jazz with a glass of wine—and maybe some artichoke-and-crabmeat fondue on crostini—at Formaggio Wine Bar.

Hiking to Kaena Point

On the westernmost point of the island, magical Kaena Point is one of the last intact dune ecosystems in the Hawaiian Islands and is home to a growing population of wedge-tailed shearwaters and other rare and endangered seabirds. Hawaiian green sea turtles and monk seals often rest along the shore, and in winter you can often see migrating humpback whales offshore. While you can't access all 850 acres of this culturally significant place—this area has long been known as the leaping place of souls—you can walk or bike along the coastline. A trek through this protected area may change your mind about Oahu being "too crowded."

Catching a Wave

Since the turn of the 20th century, Waikiki beach boys like the famed Duke Kahanamoku have been teaching visitors how to ride the waves. Even today you can walk the beach along Kalakaua Avenue and find a tanned instructor to get you up on your board. Waikiki is one of the best spots to catch that first wave. The surf here is rolling and gentle (except during south swells in the summer). You might forget the name of the break, but you'll never forget the feeling of catching that first wave.

Exploring Chinatown

Over the past few years, Chinatown has been transformed into the center of Oahu's arts scene. This vibrant neighborhood, which pours into downtown Honolulu, boasts art galleries, eclectic restaurants, hip bars, trendy boutiques, and the historic Hawaii Theatre. There are a few guided tours of the cultural attractions, but you can easily wander the area on your own. Every first Friday of the month there's a block party of sorts, when art galleries and restaurants stay open late and bars feature live music. It's well worth the cab fare.

Hula with Heart

Professional hula dancers—the ones in poolside hotel shows and dinner extravaganzas—are perfection: hands like undulating waves, smiles that never waiver. But if you want to experience hula with heart, scan the newspapers for a hula school fundraiser or ask the activities desk about local festivals. You may see some missteps and bumbles, but you'll also experience different hula styles and hear songs and chants deeply rooted in the culture, all the while surrounded by the scents of a hundred homemade lei.

A Sail on the Wild Side

Who wouldn't want these memory snapshots to take home: the unblinking and seemingly amused eye of a spinner dolphin as it arcs through the wake of the catamaran in which you're riding; the undulating form of an endangered Hawaiian green sea turtle swimming below you; the slap and splash and whoosh of a humpback whale breaching in full view on indigo seas. Wild Side Specialty Tours can't promise these specific encounters, but their ecologically conscious daily excursions in a quiet, uncrowded catamaran do guarantee good memories.

A Day on the North Shore

Head north along Oahu's eastern coastline toward the famed North Shore, where professional surfers nab some of the world's best waves. You'll pass through quaint residential areas and fruit stands on the side of the road. (Stop and buy bananas in Kahuku.) While you'll be tempted to try one of the famous shrimp trucks—plates of garlic shrimp hover around $20—consider the variety of eats on the North Shore, from old-school bakeries to burger joints to sit-down restaurants. In Haleiwa town, cool off at Matsumoto Shave Ice or Aoki's Shave Ice. If you're visiting in the summer, head to Three Tables or Shark's Cove for some stellar snorkeling. Or spend a lazy day at Sunset Beach, good book optional.

A Trip to Japan

Little known outside Oahu's growing community of Japanese nationals is a class of small restaurant-bars called izakaya, or Japanese taverns. Grilled, fried, and raw dishes are perfect with beer, sake, or shochu (a liquor distilled from barley, sweet potato, or rice). Even newer on the scene are okonomi, hip spots that specialize in Osaka-style grilled omelets and potent Japanese spirits. Both are like a visit to Japan, minus the long plane ride. They are a must-notch in any foodie's belt.

A Plate-Lunch Picnic

Grab a plate lunch—typically meat with two scoops of macaroni salad and two scoops of white rice—and head to the nearest beach or park. Eat, talk story (local slang for chatting), and relax. You can find plate lunches at restaurants or from lunch wagons all over town. Some options: Rainbow Drive-In on Kapahulu Avenue; Sugoi on Kalani Street in Kapalama; Dean's Drive-Inn in Kaneohe; and Diamond Head Market and Grill near Kapiolani Park.

Walking in the Rain Forest or to a Waterfall

Wend your way through the hillside neighborhood of Aiea, northwest of Honolulu, and suddenly you're in a cool, green park, scented with astringent eucalyptus. This is the 3½-mile Aiea Loop Trail, and if you're committed to squeezing a hike into a short Oahu stay, you couldn't do better for glimpses of hidden valleys and the experience of an island forest.

If waterfalls are more your speed, then head straight to the back of Manoa Valley, 3 miles mauka (toward the mountains from Waikiki) and you'll find a 1½-mile trail along a well-worn path following Manoa stream through native trees and flowers to the Manoa Falls.

Updated: 04-2013

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