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Oahu is the third largest of the islands of Hawaii (the Big Island and Maui are both larger), located in the United States of America, and the most popular tourist destination. As the location of Honolulu, the state capital, and as home to over 85% of the state's population, the island is appropriately nicknamed "The Gathering Place."
Nicknamed "the Gathering Place," and home to the only real metropolitan area in the Hawaiian Islands, Oahu is truly at the heart of Hawaii. This has been both a blessing and a curse for the island.
On the plus side, visitors to Oahu share in all its amenities and conveniences...bustling nightlife, much more cultural events, and a wide variety of lodging, dining, and shopping options. On the minus side, Honolulu does not embody the vision that most visitors have of Hawaii...peace, serenity, and relaxation. Indeed, with airlines increasing non-stop service to other islands in the chain from the West Coast, many visitors from the U.S. Mainland choose to enjoy their Hawaiian vacation without even setting foot on Oahu.
However, peace, serenity, and seclusion can be found on Oahu; you just need to know where to look. There are many resorts located outside of Waikiki that offer less crowded surroundings. Natural beauty can be found in the two mountain ranges (the Koolau and Waianae ranges) that make up Oahu...some great hikes are located just a 15-minute drive into the mountains from Waikiki. Secluded white sand beaches, funky beach towns, pounding winter surf on the North Shore...all of this can be found on the other parts of Oahu.
So, enjoy Honolulu and all it has to offer. But if you don't see the North Shore, if you don't take a drive through miles of pineapple fields, if you don't take time to visit some of the white sand beaches outside of Waikiki, you really haven't seen Oahu.
Most visitors to Oahu stay near the capital city of Honolulu and the beaches of Waikiki. The rest of the island is less visibly touched by tourism, with only a few B&B's among the houses and natural sites on the Windward Coast and the endless beaches and small local towns of the North Shore.
Flights land at Honolulu International Airport just outside of downtown Honolulu. Free Wiki-Wiki (Hawaiian for 'quick') shuttle buses operate between the Main Terminal and Interisland Terminal every 15 minutes.
The Bus routes #19 and #20 run between the airport and the Waikiki. Fare is US$2.00 for adults, exact change, and space for baggage is limited.
Car rentals are available at the airport and various locations downtown. A car is worth having for visits to the North Shore or if you are staying outside of Honolulu/Waikiki.
The Oahu bus system, officially called TheBus, runs between almost all towns and to most tourist destinations. Fare for TheBus is US$2.00, for adults, exact change is compulsory, which will get you anywhere on the island TheBus goes.
There is a 4 day TheBus 'Tourist' pass available that can be purchased from most ABC Stores (like a 7/11) for US$20.00. Make sure you 'scratch' it correctly before getting on the first TheBus.
Also available from ABC Stores is a very handy guide to TheBus for US$2.95, highly recommended.
The following are some of the more important major highways on Oahu. Both the common name and the state route number are given here. Unlike many areas of the U.S., locals refer to state highways by name rather than number.
- Interstate H-1 runs from Kahala in East Honolulu west, through downtown Honolulu, past the airport and out to the western suburb of Kapolei where it joins Farrington Highway.
- Interstate H-2 runs from the town of Waipahu through Mililani to the town of Wahiawa in Central Oahu.
- Interstate H-3 runs from the suburb of Aiea, through the windward communities of Kaneohe and Kailua, to the gate of Marine Corps Base Hawaii.
- Nimitz Highway/Ala Moana Boulevard (state route 92) runs from Pearl Harbor to Waikiki; it is the main route from the airport to Waikiki.
- Pali Highway (state route 61) runs from downtown Honolulu to the Windward town of Kailua.
- Likelike Highway (state route 63) runs from the Kalihi district of Honolulu to the Windward town of Kaneohe.
- Kalanianaole Highway (state route 72) starts from the east end of H-1 and runs through the East Honolulu suburbs around Makapuu Point, and through the rural community of Waimanalo, ending in Kailua.
- Kamehameha Highway (state routes 99, 80, and 83) is the main highway on Oahu, starting from Pearl Harbor, going through the leeward communities of Aiea and Pearl City, then through Central Oahu, around the North Shore, and along the Windward coast ending at the town of Kaneohe.
- Farrington Highway (state route 93) is two separate roads: the south side starts where H-1 leaves off in Kapolei and leads to the Leeward coast communities of Nanakuli, Waianae, and Makaha, ending at the south end of Kaena Point State Park. The north side starts from Waialua on the North Shore through the community of Mokuleia to the north end of Kaena Point State Park. (The road used to go around the point but the part that actually rounded the point has eroded away.)
This is a sampling of attractions on Oahu. For more detail on attractions in Honolulu proper, see the Honolulu article.
- Polynesian Cultural Center. Daily cultural shows and demonstrations.
- Arizona Memorial
- The Bishop Museum
- 'Iolani Palace. The only royal palace on US soil and the seat of the Hawaiian government until the 1960s.
- Queen Emma's Summer Palace
- Kailua Beach Park for great Wind-surfing and Kite-surfing
- Kualoa Regional Park
- Kahana Bay Beach Park
- Lanikai Beach, small stretch of beach, good for snorkeling, kayaking
- Sunset Beach, home of every surfers' dream -- the Banzai Pipeline
- Waikiki Beach, do not forget to see the Duke Kahanamoku statue
- Waimea Bay Beach
- Sandy Beach Park, generally has higher surf levels year round, and is well suited for body boarding.
- Bellows Air Force Station
Gardens and views
- Diamond Head State Park (excellent view of Honolulu and the surrounding area)
- Round-Top Forest Reserve (excellent view of Honolulu and the surrounding area)
- Ho'omaluhia Botanical Garden, in Kane'ohe
- Nu'uanu Pali Lookout.
- Hale'iwa Historical town.
- Pu'u O Mahuka. National historical sight and Hawaiian holy site.
- Lyon Arboretum - located in the Manoa Valley. Operated by the University of Hawaii.
- Byodo-in 47-200 Kahekili Highway, Kaneohe, HI 96744 (about 5 minutes from Kaneohe town). 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM daily. Situated against the backdrop of steep green cliffs is a recreation of the 900-year-old Byodo-In Temple in Kyoto. The temple grounds include a nine-foot Buddha statue and the three-ton Peace Bell. Byodo-in is located in the back of the Valley of the Temples cemetery. Admission $2.
- Waimea Valley Audubon Center 1 (http://www.audubon.org/local/sanctuary/Brochures/Waimea.html), 59-864 Kamehameha Hwy., Haleiwa, HI 96712 (across Kamehameha Hwy. from Waimea Bay Beach Park). 9:30 AM to 5:00 PM daily except Jan. 1 and Dec. 25; 9:30 AM to 3:00 PM on Thanksgiving Day (4th Thurs. in Nov.) and Dec. 31. Formerly known as Waimea Falls Park, the National Audubon Society received a contract from the City and County of Honolulu to operate the site as a nature preserve. The preserve is home to endangered moorhen and a botanical garden with both endemic Hawaiian plants and other plants from around the world. A 0.75 mile hike on paved trails leads to the centerpiece of the park, Waihi Falls, where visitors can swim in the pool at the base of the falls. Admission $8 adults; $5 seniors, military, and children (4-12); discounts for Hawaii residents.
- Windsurfing, surfing and body-boarding at Waikiki and (less crowded and more scenic) North Shore and Kailua Beach.
- Snorkeling and diving trips leave from Waikiki and most hotels.
- Horseback riding on the North Shore and Windward Koolau Range
- Hiking all over the island: in particular, Diamond Head State Park (excellent view of Honolulu and the surrounding area). Also visit Lanikai's Pillbox (leftover from WWII sitting above Lanikai). Gives spectacular view of Waimanalo, the Koolau Mountains, Kailua and the Mokulua Islands sitting in the distance.
- Kayak on the Windward side to the Mokulua Islands which are a bird sanctuary and also offer encounters with turtles which have made a huge comeback in the Windward bay area. It should be noted that it is against state law to violate the sanctuary area. The beach on the islands is not part of the restricted zone, however.
- Driving tour around East-side of island gives spectacular views. Stop several times along the route to see blowhole, swim in secluded cove, hike up to the Lighthouse for amazing views or check out ancient Hawaiian drawings and Heeiaus.
- Driving tour over the Pali Highway; be sure to visit the Pali Lookout.
- Drive up to the Round-Top Forest Reserve. (excellent view of Honolulu and the surrounding area)
Shopping malls are mostly everywhere in the major districts. Here are some better-known shopping malls on Oahu that are easily accessible by car or bus.
- Pearlridge Center, on Kamehameha Highway in Aiea, is the main shopping mall in Leeward Oahu. It is actually composed of two separate buildings, one anchored by Sears and Macy's in the other, connected by the SkyTrain, a monorail that runs between the two malls and which is the only monorail in the state.
- Waikele Center, one mile west of the H1-H2 interchange, is made up mostly of big-box retailers such as CompUSA, KMart, Borders, Lowe's, and the Sports Authority. Across Lumiaina St. from the mall is the Waikele Outlet Center, made up of factory outlet stores from such names as Levi's, Oshkosh B'Gosh, and Calvin Klein, to name a few.
See the Eat section in Hawaii for more details on island food in general.
- Zippy's is a local chain of combination drive-inn and sit-down restaurants that are found in many areas on Oahu. (More details in Honolulu)
- Pah Ke's - located next to the Windward Mall in Kaneohe. Chinese fare.
- Cheesecake Factory on Diamond Head end of Wakiki
- Sam Choy's 2 (http://samchoy.com) Sam Choy's Diamond Head: 449 Kapahulu Ave. 2nd floor (about 2 blocks mauka of Ala Wai Boulevard, just outside of Waikiki), (808) 732-8645. Sam Choy's Breakfast Lunch and Crab & Big Aloha Brewery: 580 N. Nimitz Highway (about one mile Ewa of downtown near Honolulu Harbor), (808) 545-7979. Locals and tourists alike love Sam Choy's. Known for his hearty portions and unique blend of island flavors, this talented chef is a local celebrity, known as much for his friendly demeanor and large girth as his famous cooking. "Never trust a skinny chef."
- Roy's Restaurant 3 (http://www.roysrestaurant.com) Main location: 6600 Kalanianaole Hwy. (in East Honolulu about 6 miles east of Waikiki), (808) 396-7697. Also in Kapolei at Ko Olina Resort. Known as the "Wolfgang Puck of the Pacific," Roy Yamaguchi is known as one of the originators of Hawaiian fusion cuisine. This flagship restaurant of the Roy's Restaurant chain (which has since expanded to six Hawaii locations, 22 locations on the U.S. Mainland, and four overseas locations) overlooks Maunalua Bay with a perfect westward view.
- John Dominis (http://www.johndominis.com/) Perfect place to celebrate a special occasion. Posh atmosphere includes an indoor koi pond and beautiful Waikiki ocean views. Friday nights offer a special bonus- the sky over Waikiki is lit by fireworks.
- Alan Wong's (http://www.alanwongs.com/kingstreet/kingstreet1.html)
- Buzz's Original Steakhouse - 2 Locations: in Kailua across from the beach, and in Pearl City. Does not accept cr cards.
Outside of Honolulu there are very few hotels on the island. The Windward Coast has a number of B&Bs as well as Ohana Hale (literally "Family House"), guest houses rented out by local families.
- Backpackers Vacation Inn and Plantation Village 59-788 Kamehameha Highway, Haleiwa, Oahu 808.638.7838 (Fax 808.638.7515 Email firstname.lastname@example.org). Dorms, rooms, and cottages. Walking distance from three great beaches (Sandy, Wahamai Beach & Waterfalls, and Shark's cove) $17-$20 per person. http://www.backpackers-hawaii.com/
- Manoa Valley Inn, 2001 Vancouver Drive Honolulu, Phone: 808.947.6019 (Fax: 808.946.6168). 8 B&B rooms in a large cottage.
- Turtle Bay Resort, 57-091 Kamehameha Highway Kahuku, Oahu Tel: 800-203-3650, 808-293-8811 (Fax: 808-293-9147). One of the only large resorts on the North Shore, with two 18-hole golf courses. Within a short drive of the Polynesian Cultural Center. Note: since 2002, the resort has been involved in a prolonged labor dispute which has recently been covered in the Hawaii press; what effect this may have on the service you may receive is not entirely clear. $150-$300 doubles.
- Halekulani, one of the nicest (and most expensive) hotels on Oahu. Located right on Waikiki Beach in Honolulu.
- Ihilani, Ko Olina Resort, Kapolei. (808) 679-0079. Upscale resort on the leeward coast of Hawaii. $250-$450 doubles.