Oahu

Oahu is one-stop Hawaii—all the allure of the Islands in a plate-lunch mix that has you kayaking around offshore islets by day and sitting in a jazz club 'round midnight, all without ever having to take another flight or repack your suitcase. It offers both the buzz of modern living in jam-packed Honolulu (the state's capital) a
Oahu is one-stop Hawaii—all the allure of the Islands in a plate-lunch mix that has you kayaking around offshore islets by day and sitting in a jazz club 'round midnight, all without ever having to take another flight or repack your suitcase. It offers both the buzz of
Oahu is one-stop Hawaii—all the allure of the Islands in a plate-lunch mix that has you kayaking around offshore islets

Oahu is one-stop Hawaii—all the allure of the Islands in a plate-lunch mix that has you kayaking around offshore islets by day and sitting in a jazz club 'round midnight, all without ever having to take another flight or repack your suitcase. It offers both the buzz of modern living in jam-packed Honolulu (the state's capital) and the allure of slow-paced island life on its northern and eastern shores. It is, in many ways, the center of the Hawaiian universe.

There are more museums, staffed historic sites, and guided tours here than you'll find on any other island. And only here do a wealth of renovated buildings and well-preserved neighborhoods so clearly spin the story of Hawaii's history. It's the only place to experience Islands-style urbanity, since there are no other true cities in the state. And yet you can get as lost in the rural landscape and be as laid-back as you wish.

Oahu is home to Waikiki, the most famous Hawaiian beach, as well as some of the world's most famous surf on the North Shore, and Hawaii's best-known historical site—Pearl Harbor. If it's isolation, peace, and quiet you want, Oahu might not be for you, but if you'd like a bit of spice with your piece of paradise, this island provides it.

Encompassing 597 square miles, Oahu is the third-largest island in the Hawaiian chain. Scientists believe the island was formed about 4 million years ago by three shield volcanoes: Waianae, Koolau, and the recently discovered Kaena. Recognized in mid-2014, Kaena is the oldest of the three and has long since been submerged 62 miles from Kaena Point on Oahu's northwestern side. Waianae created the mountain range on the western side of the island, whereas Koolau shapes the eastern side. Central Oahu is an elevated plateau bordered by the two mountain ranges, with Pearl Harbor to the south. Several of Oahu's most famous natural landmarks, including Diamond Head and Hanauma Bay, are tuff rings and cinder cones formed during a renewed volcanic stage (roughly 1 million years ago).

The northern and eastern sides of Oahu—and of each Hawaiian island—are together referred to as the Windward side, and generally have a cooler, wetter climate. The island's southern and western sides are commonly called the Leeward side, and are typically warmer and more arid. The island's official flower, the little orange ilima, grows predominantly in the east, but lei throughout the island incorporate ilima. Numerous tropical fish call the reef at Hanauma Bay home, migrating humpback whales can be spotted off the coast past Waikiki and Diamond Head December–April, spinner dolphins pop in and out of the island's bays, and the 15 islets off Oahu's eastern coast provide refuge for endangered seabirds.

Oahu is the most visited Hawaiian island because early tourism to Hawaii started here. It's also the most inhabited island today—69% of the state's population lives on Oahu—due to job opportunities and the island's military bases. Although Kilauea volcano on Hawaii was a tourist attraction in the late 1800s, it was the building of the Moana Hotel on Waikiki Beach in 1901 and subsequent advertising of Hawaii to wealthy San Franciscans that really fueled tourism in the Islands. Oahu was drawing tens of thousands of guests yearly when, on December 7, 1941, Japanese Zeros appeared at dawn to bomb Pearl Harbor. Though tourism understandably dipped during the war (Waikiki Beach was fenced with barbed wire), the subsequent memorial only seemed to attract more visitors, and Oahu remains hugely popular with tourists—especially the Japanese—to this day.

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  • Battleship Missouri Memorial

    1. Battleship Missouri Memorial

    Memorial/Monument/Tomb

    Together with the Arizona Memorial, the USS Missouri' s presence in Pearl Harbor perfectly bookends America's World War II experience, which...Read More

    Battleship Missouri Memorial
  • 2. Bellows Beach Park

    Beach–Sight

    Bellows is the same beach as Waimanalo, but it's under the auspices of the military, making it more friendly for visitors—though that also limits...Read More

  • Bishop Museum

    3. Bishop Museum

    Kalihi | Museum/Gallery

    Founded in 1889 by Charles R. Bishop as a memorial to his wife, Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, the museum began as a repository for the royal...Read More

    Bishop Museum
    View Tours and Activities
  • Byodo-In Temple

    4. Byodo-In Temple

    Religious Building/Site/Shrine

    Tucked away in the back of the Valley of the Temples cemetery is a replica of the 11th-century Temple at Uji in Japan. A 2-ton carved wooden...Read More

    Byodo-In Temple
    View Tours and Activities
  • 5. Fort DeRussy Beach Park

    Waikiki | Beach–Sight

    This is one of the finest beaches on the south side of Oahu. A wide, soft, ultrawhite beachfront with gently lapping waves makes it a family...Read More

  • Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve

    6. Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve

    Beach–Sight

    Picture this as the world's biggest open-air aquarium. You go here to see fish, and fish you'll see. Due to their exposure to thousands of visitors...Read More

    Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve
  • 7. Honolulu Museum of Art

    Downtown | Museum/Gallery

    Originally built around the collection of a Honolulu matron who donated much of her estate to the museum, the academy is housed in a maze of...Read More

    View Tours and Activities
  • Iolani Palace

    8. Iolani Palace

    Downtown | Castle/Palace/Chateau

    America's only official royal residence was built in 1882 on the site of an earlier palace. It contains the thrones of King Kalakaua and his...Read More

    Iolani Palace
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  • Kailua Beach Park

    9. Kailua Beach Park

    Beach–Sight

    A cobalt-blue sea and a wide continuous arc of powdery sand make Kailua Beach Park one of the island's best beaches, illustrated by the crowds...Read More

    Kailua Beach Park
  • Pearl Harbor Visitor Center

    10. Pearl Harbor Visitor Center

    Information Center

    The Pearl Harbor Visitor Center reopened after a $58-million renovation and is now the gateway to the World War II Valor in the Pacific National...Read More

    Pearl Harbor Visitor Center
  • 11. Pupukea Beach Park/Shark's Cove

    Beach–Sight

    Surrounded by shady trees, Pupukea Beach Park is pounded by surf in the winter months but offers great diving and snorkeling in summer (March...Read More

  • 12. Shangri La

    House/Mansion/Villa

    In 1936 heiress Doris Duke bought 5 acres at Black Point, down the coast from Waikiki, and began to build and furnish the first home that would...Read More

  • Waimea Bay Beach Park

    13. Waimea Bay Beach Park

    Beach–Sight

    Made popular in that old Beach Boys song "Surfin' U.S.A.," Waimea Bay Beach Park is a slice of big-wave heaven, home to king-size 25- to 30...Read More

    Waimea Bay Beach Park
  • Waimea Valley

    14. Waimea Valley

    Nature Preserve/Wildlife Refuge

    Waimea may get lots of press for the giant winter waves in the bay, but the valley itself is a newsmaker and an ecological treasure in its own...Read More

    Waimea Valley
  • White Plains Beach Park

    15. White Plains Beach Park

    Beach–Sight

    Concealed from the public eye for many years as part of the former Barbers Point Naval Air Station, this beach is reminiscent of Waikiki but...Read More

    White Plains Beach Park
  • Ala Moana Beach Park

    16. Ala Moana Beach Park

    Ala Moana | Beach–Sight

    A protective reef makes Ala Moana essentially a ½-mile-wide saltwater swimming pool. Very smooth sand and no waves create a haven for families...Read More

    Ala Moana Beach Park
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  • 17. Aloha Tower Marketplace

    Downtown | Viewpoint/Scenic Overlook

    In fall 2015, the 89-year-old Aloha Tower, opened in 1926, became the new home to Hawaii Pacific University students. The Aloha Tower Marketplace...Read More

  • 18. Diamond Head Beach Park

    Diamond Head | Beach–Sight

    You have to like a little hiking to like Diamond Head Beach. This beautiful, remote spot is at the base of Diamond Head crater. The beach is...Read More

  • Diamond Head State Monument and Park

    19. Diamond Head State Monument and Park

    Diamond Head | Geological Site

    Panoramas from this 760-foot extinct volcanic peak, once used as a military fortification, extend from Waikiki and Honolulu in one direction...Read More

    Diamond Head State Monument and Park
  • 20. Dole Plantation

    Educational Institution

    Pineapple plantation days are nearly defunct in Hawaii, but you can still celebrate Hawaii's famous golden fruit at this promotional center...Read More

    View Tours and Activities

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