By Kent Coules, Publisher
O‘ahu, known as “The Gathering Place” is home to the State Capitol, Honolulu. It is where the royal family settled following the consolidation of Hawai‘i into one kingdom in 1810. There is something to be said for that. They could have settled anywhere; they chose Honolulu
O‘ahu is the second oldest and third largest island in the chain and is home to the majority of the state’s population
When considering which island is the best fit for your next vacation, here are ten reasons why O‘ahu might be your best choice:
Waikīkī is the most popular vacation destination in the State. It is also regarded as the world’s most famous beach. Defined by the surrounding Ala Wai Canal, Waikīkī is a bustling mixture of high rises, shopping, restaurants and nightlife. It is bookended by two huge parks. It is the ideal beach to learn how to surf, a sport invented by the ancient Hawaiians. And Waikīkī is not complete without acquiring an addiction for ABC Stores.
2. Pearl Harbor
O‘ahu’s most popular tourist attraction is Pearl Harbor. Most people think of the Arizona Memorial when considering a visit, but there are actually four distinct destinations that make up the park, officially known as Pearl Harbor Historic Sites.
The USS Arizona Memorial is built over the remains of the sunken battleship USS Arizona, the final resting place for many of the 1,177 crewmen killed on December 7, 1941, when their ship was bombed by the Japanese Imperial Navy. This loss of life represents over half of the Americans killed during the worst naval disaster in American history.
After you’ve toured the Arizona, get on a bus to visit three more historical landmarks.
The first stop is the Battleship Missouri Memorial. The “Mighty Mo” represents a bookend to the war, along with its sister ship, the Arizona, as the Battleship Missouri was the site of the formal Japanese surrender that ended World War II. It was the last American battleship ever built and the last to be decommissioned after an illustrious 50-year career.
Next up is the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum. The visitors’ experience begins in Hangar 37, a 42,000 square foot former seaplane hangar that survived the December 7, 1941 attack. After arrival in Pacific Aviation Museum’s lobby, guests enter a 200-seat theater where they view a 12-minute movie covering the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, including historic footage. Hangar 79 is an 80,000 square foot seaplane hangar. At each end, the hangar doors’ blue glass windows are still riddled with bullet holes left by the Japanese attack.
Your day at Pearl Harbor isn’t complete without a visit to the USS Bowfin.The Bowfin is a fleet attack submarine that fought in the Pacific during WWII, and helped make famous the term “Silent Service.” Bowfin was launched on December 7, 1942, exactly one year after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
3. Polynesian Cultural Center
Visitors to the Polynesian Cultural Center are taken on an interactive tour of multiple Pacific cultures through eight villages and exhibits and hands-on fun. Here you’ll delve into the lifestyle skills and performing arts of Samoa, New Zealand, Tonga, Fiji, Tahiti and Hawai‘i. Evening entertainment includes the show “Hā: Breath of Life” and the Aliʻi Luau Buffet.
4. North Shore
One of the only beaches to rival Waikīkī in terms of popularity is O‘ahu’s North Shore. The North Shore is actually a collection of world-famous surfing beaches with a premiere snorkeling area sandwiched in between.
The three most well-known surf beaches are Sunset Beach, Pipeline and Waimea Bay. There are three major surf competitions held every December on Pipeline, and Waimea Bay is home to the iconic Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational, held only when minimum wave height requirements are met, which can be infrequently. During the winter months, you will find no swimmers in these waters; they are strictly for expert surfers and bodyboarders. During the summer, however, the beaches are tamer and are popular swimming spots.
Just east of Waimea Bay is Pupukea Beach, also known as “Shark’s Cove,” one of the best snorkeling beaches on the island.
The North Shore has a different cultural feel to it than the rest of the island with a natural, laid back vibe heavily influenced by the surfing culture. It is well known for its food trucks, and shrimp farms.
If nightlife the most important factor in your decision, then one needs to look no further than O‘ahu. Honolulu, in particular, is flush with clubs and bars, some of which stay open until 4 a.m. Waikīkī is the mecca for nightlife, but in recent years Honolulu’s Chinatown district has become a popular spot as well.
If you want to start your night in Waikīkī with an affordable beer or cocktail, check out Moose McGillicuddy’s on Lewers Street. It’s right in the center of Waikīkī and you can go in any direction and see bar after club from this well-known watering hole.
6. Hanauma Bay
Voted the Best Beach in the United States for 2016, Hanauma Bay State Park offers a pristine marine ecosystem encounter to the millions of visitors who snorkel within this extinct volcanic cone. A marine education center, as well as volunteers on the beach, teach visitors about conservation of the reef and the types of fish that live there. First-time visitors are required to watch a 9-minute video before entering the park so they can learn about the marine life, preservation and safety rules for the park. Furthermore, all visitors are required by law to refrain from mistreating the marine animals and from touching or walking on the coral (a rule to follow on all Hawai‘i beaches).
Pro Tip: For the best snorkeling, stay on the left side of the beach.
7. Diamond Head
Hikers rejoice! Diamond Head State Monument, a short drive from Waikīkī, offers breathtaking views overlooking the Pacific Ocean and Honolulu. The view is so good, it was used by the US military as a post for preventing attacks against Honolulu.
The trail takes you to the edge of a 300,000-year-old crater. While the hike isn’t that long in terms of distance, it can be somewhat challenging due to its ascent. Parts of the trail are over uneven rock, and the 99 steps near the end of the hike are steep. Also, the only water fountains are at the beginning of the trail, so you’ll want to bring your own refillable water bottle to stay hydrated.
8. Cultural Attractions
O‘ahu has more cultural attractions than the other Hawaiian islands combined. Five of the best include Polynesian Cultural Center (detailed above), Honolulu Museum of Art, Dole Plantation, Bishop Museum and ʻIolani Palace. Watch the weather forecast and plan a rainy day at one or more of these spots.
The Honolulu Museum of Art is a world-class art museum and is the most expensive piece of real estate in Hawai‘i when you take into account the contents. From an initial gift of 4,500 objects from Mrs. Charles Montague Smith in 1927, the museum has grown to over 50,000 pieces. It is known for its Pan-Pacific collections but also houses the greatest European masters like Van Gogh, Monet and Gauguin. The museum is considered to have one of the most important Asian collections in American museums. Aside from their main facility, they also maintain a contemporary art museum known as Spalding House up along the winding slopes of Tantalus. And don’t miss out on visiting Shangri La, the former home of heiress Doris Duke, and current home to an impressive collection of Islamic art, including over 4,000 pieces from around the world.
Dole Plantation is a great stop on your way to or from the North Shore. It is a celebration of the pineapple, Hawai‘i’s “king of fruit.” Stroll the Plantation Garden, learn about the state’s love affair with pineapple aboard the Pineapple Express, and see if you can find your way out of the world’s largest maze.
Bishop Museum was founded in 1889 by Charles Reed Bishop in honor of his late wife, Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, the last descendant of the royal Kamehameha family. The Museum was established to house the extensive collection of Hawaiian objects and royal family heirlooms of the Princess and has expanded to include millions of objects, documents and photographs about Hawai‘i and other Pacific island cultures.
Hawai‘i is the only state in the U.S. to have royal palaces. By far the most prominent is ʻIolani Palace. ʻIolani Palace represents a time in Hawaiian history when King Kalākaua and his sister and successor, Queen Liliʻuokalani, walked the halls and ruled the Kingdom of Hawai‘i. The Palace halls contain beautiful memories of grand balls and hula performances, as well as painful ones of Liliʻuokalani’s imprisonment and eventual overthrow. Since the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy, the Palace has undergone many changes as it once served as the Capitol for almost 80 years and was later vacated and restored to its original grandeur in the 1970s.
9. Food Tourism
If eating is your passion then O‘ahu is hands down the best island to visit. What makes O‘ahu so unique in the foodie universe is the fusion of so many represented cultures. O‘ahu is the most culturally diverse population in the country and over the last 20 or so years, that diversity has found its way into the restaurant scene.
Japanese restaurants are a major influence on the islands. One of the best is located in the heart of Waikīkī, Tanaka of Tokyo. For those with less adventurous tastes, there are plenty of familiar, high-quality restaurants to choose from including P.F. Chang’s, Tony Roma’s and Rocky Japanese Steak Teppan Restaurant.
Finding a good pizza on the island can be tricky. Flour & Barley in Waikīkī will not disappoint. If you’re craving good old-fashioned comfort food, Big City Diner is a popular chain with locals.
10. Shop ‘Til You Drop
O‘ahu, quite simply, is the place for world-class shopping. This is partially due to the high demand from Asian tourists who enjoy advantageous pricing for designer goods and all things American. Kalākaua Avenue bears resemblance to Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills or Fifth Avenue in New York City. Oʻahu is also home to the world’s largest outdoor shopping mall, Ala Moana Center.
Royal Hawaiian Center is right in the center of Waikīkī and has an array of local shops sprinkled in with designer stores. They have great restaurants, a large food court and regularly scheduled events.
Bottom line: O‘ahu is the right island for you if you’re putting an emphasis on culture, food, nightlife or shopping. It has some of the best beaches and hiking you’ll find anywhere, but it’s the cosmopolitan elements of the island that separate it from the rest.