Above: Waimea Bay
O’ahu, Has Something For Everyone
Banzai Pipeline, Waikiki Beach, Pearl Harbor, Diamond Head – these are all names we associate with Hawaii and they all are found on O’ahu. There are numerous reasons to visit all the Hawaiian islands but O’ahu is the real star. This island offers the excitement of Honolulu and Waikiki Beach, the laid-back island style of Hale’iwa on the North Shore and historical sights at Pearl Harbor and a number of Hawaiian and Polynesian cultural centers around the island.
Thinking of a trip to the Hawaiian Islands? We recommend you start with O’ahu. There is just so much to see and do on this island while getting to other islands takes time and can get costly. Hotel rates aren’t as outrageous as you might think and you should plan on renting a car (oddly our rental car costs have been lower than average in O’ahu), you will save a lot by getting around the island on your own. Besides getting to see more of the island, having a car can help with finding economical places to stay, eat and shop.
The way we see O’ahu is to think of it as a number of regions:
- Honolulu and Waikiki Beach – All the excitement of a major city with restaurants, nightlife and great shopping and it all stretches along one of the world’s greatest beaches. Nearby is also the Honolulu Zoo and the Waikiki Aquar
- Pearl Harbor – Visit American history at the Visitors Center, the USS Missouri and the USS Arizona Memorial (as of this writing the Arizona is closed for repairs).
The North Shore – This stretch of coast has a laid-back feel (maybe with a few tourists thrown in) with small towns like Waialua and Hale’iwa (be sure and visit Matsumoto Shave Ice), along with a few of the world’s most famous surfing beaches including Waimea Bay and the Banzai Pipeline. Further to the east there is also Sharks Cove Park with great snorkeling and just across the street is a lot full of some of the best food trucks on the island. If you are looking for a nice hike visit Waimea Valley Park with a nice nature trail getting to Waimea falls.
- Southwest Coast – West out of Honolulu about fifteen miles is the recently developed area of Kapolei with new shopping centers, several good golf courses, and the Wet n’ Wild park. Just four miles further out on the west coast is Ko Olina with another golf course, the Ko Olina Beach Park and a stretch of beach with resorts like The Four Seasons, and Disney’s Aulani.
- East Coast – East out of Honolulu along the Kalanianaole Highway (Rt 72)
is Diamond Head Beach Park, KoKo crater and some of the most spectacular coastline anywhere (stop at Lanai Lookout to take in the scenery). Continuing on are a few more great beaches and the Sea Life Park of Hawaii.
- Island Center– If you’re up to hiking the central island has a number of good trails and a couple of nice waterfalls like Manoa Falls and Likeke Falls. Be sure and check out the Dole Plantation and Visitors Center (try a Dole Whip) along with the nearby Green World Coffee Farm where they grow and roast their own coffee. Also not far away are the Wahiawa Botanical Gardens.
Lush tropical landscapes, a mild climate and the Pacific Ocean make this island a true American paradise. Make the best of your visit and try learning to surf or at the very least go snorkeling, there is nothing like swimming thru the coral reefs, tropical fish and Hawaii’s crystal clear waters. In the winter the islands are home to a number of species of whales and there are several whale watching boats available. Aloha…
O’ahu is a destination where we strongly advise getting a car. Hawaii has a good road system and while O’ahu has just a few major highways we find Hawaiian names difficult to follow. If you are not able to navigate using your cell phone be sure and get a GPS in your car.
If you are going to the North Shore be aware that traffic congestion is a major issue when the big waves come in (usually around October). We had spent a couple of days visiting the area with one morning spent at Waimea Valley Park and another day having lunch at the food trucks at Sharks Cove wand there were no traffic delays. A few days later we returned with a specific restaurant as our destination and didn’t realize that the surf was up. That afternoon it took us four hours to get back to the highway along coast road. Most cars were carrying surf boards and beach parking lots were so full they were stopping traffic from getting past on the road.
We were concerned about visiting Waikiki Beach and how difficult parking would be. A number of the beach resorts advertise really high rates for using their garages. Our first trip was late in the morning and we discovered that it wasn’t that difficult to find metered parking on the side streets, often only a block off the beach.
The Asian culture has a very strong presence in the islands and with that comes some really interesting finds in restaurants. There are a number of noodle and seafood fast food places that offer really good dishes at very economical prices. Look for Ramen Bones, Ramen-Ya, Sushiman and Original Roy’s. The well known American hamburger chains are everywhere but there are a number of Hawaiian fast food places that are favorites with locals like Painacafe and Fatboy’s.
We spent one day in the island center visiting the Wahiawa Botanical Gardens followed by a stop at the Dole Plantation. While Dole is a merchandising operation disguised as an attraction, it’s worth the stop just to get a Dole Whip. We were also impressed with the miles of pineapple fields lining the roads. Earlier we had stopped at the Green World Coffee Farm for coffee and pastries and would recommend a visit if you’re in the neighborhood. They’re only a few years old and their roasted coffee is worth packing a pound or two in your suitcase if you’ve got the room.
Another side trip that is worth consideration is a trip up Round Top Drive to the Tantalus Lookout. You climb up hairpin turns thru residential neighborhoods to a park with spectacular views of Honolulu and the south shore.
Also be sure to put at least a half day on your itinerary for a visit to Pearl Harbor and the Arizona Memorial and Visitors Center. The exhibits, movies and displays really bring WWII into sharp focus. You can also visit the WWII era battleship USS Missouri where the Japanese surrender was signed along with a number of other historic ships.