WITH ENOUGH NATURAL beauty to be revered as the jewel of Hawaii, Oahu ranks among travelers’ favorite Pacific destinations. The third largest island in this tropical archipelago, Oahu only measures 44 miles long by 30 miles wide, but it’s packed with a multitude of extraordinary attractions and activities.
Oahu is called “The Gathering Place,” because its diverse people peacefully blend East and West cultures with indigenous Hawaiian traditions. To gain an appreciation for the unique island customs, visit the Polynesian Cultural Center, where you can explore authentic villages that represent the Pacific island way of life through music, dance, foods and hand-on activities. Attending a Luau at Paradise Cove starts with a fresh Mai Tai cocktail and takes you on an unforgettable journey through traditional Hawaiian arts, crafts, music, fishing, a fantastic feast and dance performances. More current history includes tours of the imperial Iolani Palace, Pearl Harbor Museum and the sunken USS Arizona, and the state capital of Hawaii.
To understand the lay of the land, many visitors hike up Diamond Head, a colossal volcanic glacier that presents a breathtaking view of Oahu’s dramatic black volcanic mountains sloping down into turquoise waters. The walk only takes an hour roundtrip, but be sure to allow extra time for taking photos and soaking up the scenery.
The island’s 125 beaches encourage you to enjoy any water sport that strikes your fancy. Snorkel in vibrant reefs at Hanauma Bay, learn how to hang ten or get tips from world-class surfers at the North Shore, live the life of a green sea turtle at Laniakea Beach, sunbathe on the soft sands of Lanikai Beach, or watch a sunset (and a menagerie of tourists) at the famous Waikiki Beach and stay late to enjoy the bustling urban nightlife.
Moving inland on Oahu for adventures, you find 50 hiking trails through rainforests, above spectacular coastlines and amidst plush tropical gardens. Don’t miss a trek to the Makapu’u Point Lighthouse where you can climb to its 500-foot peak then cool down at the beach below. Kualoa Ranch is a 4,000-acre dreamland of activities such as zip lines, off-road bikes, horseback rides and movie tours of locations where Jurassic Park, Godzilla, Jumanji and other flicks were filmed. Local golf courses, including Turtle Bay, Hawaii Prince, Ko Olina Golf Course and Olomana, are kept in pristine condition.
Wherever you go, try the unique native dishes that are a fusion of Asian, Polynesian and American cuisine. From food trucks to top chefs, Oahu’s food scene is like no other. A trip here would not be complete without Matsumoto’s shave ice (a snow cone with fresh fruit juices), Hawaiian poke (usually tuna marinated in soy sauce, sweet onion, sesame oil and seaweed), and island plate lunches (teriyaki beef, BBQ chicken or fried mahi mahi with steamed rice and macaroni salad). You’ll be glad you did.
WHERE TO DOCK
Ko Olina Marina
This full-service, 344-slip marina and resort is a slice of paradise on the Leeward coast of Oahu. Boasting state-of-the-art Bellingham floating docks for up to 200-ft. vessels, amenities include a fuel dock, pump out, activity building, dive shop and a market, where you can get everything from jewelry and novelty items to food and beverages.
Ala Wai Boat Harbor
Located at the Ala Wai Canal, this is the largest small boat harbor in Hawaii. Complete with 699 berths with docks, 22 dry storage spaces, pump-out service and fuel dock, the harbor is also home to the Hawaii Yacht Club and Waikiki Yacht Club. Excursions including isle sailing, adventure boats and catamarans.
Rainbow Bay Marina
Rainbow Bay’s quaint marina is a complete sailing facility located in Pearl Harbor next to the USS Arizona Memorial and visitors center. With 132 slips, only seven are transient, but they also offer 30 moorings, dry storage, a fuel station, sailboat, kayak and windsurf rental and fishing/scuba charters.
WHERE TO DINE
Helena’s Hawaiian Food
Since 1946, Helena’s has been the go-to place for authentic Hawaiian cuisine. Enjoy traditional dishes from kalua pig to lomi salmon in a family-friendly, casual setting.
The chefs at this modern gem marry regional American food with the bounty of fresh Hawaiian ingredients to create a unique dining experience, enhanced with craft cocktails and wine.
The Pig & the Lady
Enjoy downtown Honolulu’s haven for Vietnamese- inspired comfort food in an upbeat, contemporary setting. An extensive menu allows guests to sample a variety of treats.
Tucked away in an industrial area near the docks, this family-owned eatery has served classic Asian/Hawaiian dishes in a rustic space since the 1960s. Expect huge portions and big flavors.
Diamond Head Market & Grill
This is the perfect place to gather provisions for a day at Waikiki Beach or hiking excursion on Diamond Head. In one location, the market, bakery and grill will pack up edibles from blueberry scones to teriyaki chicken and hamburgers.