A special magic fills the air in Hawaii. Oahu, home to the island-state’s capital and largest city, Honolulu, is also a mecca for brilliant beaches, deep blue waters, and stunning natural beauty. This is where you’ll find world-famous Waikiki beach, iconic places like Diamond Head, and a garden-full of colorful orchids and leis. Whether this is your first visit to the rainbow state or your thirty-first, it’s time to say aloha to Oahu!
Most visits to Hawaii begin with a trip to the beach. On Oahu, there’s no more famous beach than Waikiki, a place where Hawaiian royalty used to relax and play. Today, visitors will find a cosmopolitan scene on the beach, with visitors from every corner of the globe. You’ll see the statue honoring the Father of modern surfing and Olympic athlete, Duke Kahanamoku. Duke is known for having brought Hawaiian culture to the rest of the world through his swimming victories and Hollywood films.
There’s plenty to do on Waikiki Beach. You can take a surfing lesson, swim in the surf, or head to Kalakaua Avenue for a tour of the boutique shops, fabulous restaurants, and cafes. In the evening, Kalakaua is a hotspot for nightlife.
Just beyond Waikiki lies the iconic silhouette of Diamond Head, a 760-foot tuff crater that has become a famous landmark. The crater is covered with sparkling calcite crystals that twinkle like diamonds in the sun. Ancient Hawaiians called the crater Leahi, or “brow of the tuna.” Today it’s a popular hiking destination that offers breathtaking views of Oahu’s south shore. With its stair-step trail and underground tunnels, Diamond Head is an excellent day trip destination. Just remember to bring a flashlight for the tunnels!
If you’re ready to try some serious surfing—or you’d like to watch surfers riding the waves—head to the Oahu’s North Shore, a seven-mile beach that’s famous for hosting surfing competitions. The best surfing waves roll in during the winter between November and February. These thirty-foot waves can be dangerous for amateurs, but when the pros go to work, it’s fun to watch. In the summer months, the calmer waves make this a perfect place for swimming and sunbathing.
For a bit of inland fun, head to the Iolani Palace where King Kalákaua and his successor, Queen Lili’uokalani, conducted the affairs of the kingdom. Tours include the lavish Blue Room, the State Dining Room, the Throne Room, and other restored state apartments. You’ll hear the moving story of how Queen Lili’uokalani was imprisoned in the upper rooms of the palace after the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy.
Satisfy your taste buds with a trip to Kapahulu Avenue, home to specialty shops and some of Honolulu’s best food. You’ll find a wide range of international flavors here, from Asian and Mexican to Mediterranean and local Hawaiian. Try the malasadas at Leonard’s Bakery or cool off with some Waiola shaved ice. With all the restaurants to choose from, this is a terrific place to enjoy meal after meal.
One of Oahu’s great historic sites is Pearl Harbor, the port that was bombed by the Japanese on December 7, 1941. Named for the pearl oysters that were once harvested here, this is the largest natural harbor in Hawaii. Today, it’s a National Historic Landmark that honors the 2,390 people who died during the attack. Films at the visitor center help explain the sequence of events on that fateful day. The landmark includes five different sites, all related to this tragic event.
Visitors can take a boat shuttle to the USS Arizona Memorial, a floating monument that’s built over the sunken hull of this battleship. You’ll see the poignant shrine room, where a marble wall displays the names of all the men who lost their lives on the Arizona. Next, visit the memorial to the Battleship Missouri, also known as the “Mighty Mo.” It was on the decks of the Mo that General MacArthur accepted unconditional Japanese surrender on September 2, 1945, ending World War II. Mighty Mo is filled with exhibits that cover three different wars and fifty years worth of history.
The USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park lets visitors board one of the 288 submarines that went to war in the Pacific during WWII. The Bowfin was also known as the “Pearl Harbor Avenger” because of its action in the Pacific theater. The Bowfin offers tours of an actual torpedo room, engine room, and submarine sleeping quarters as well as a 10,000-square-foot museum. Airplane aficionados will want to tour the Pacific Aviation Museum for a look at an actual airplane hangar and war planes. Last, but not least is the USS Oklahoma Memorial, dedicated to the crew of “The Okie,” a 35,000-ton battleship that capsized within twelve minutes after the December 7th bombing.