Things to Do in Oahu - page 2
Welcome to one of the most iconic places on O’ahu Island! Combining popular culture, history and extreme sports, Waimea Bay simply does not disappoint. Its stunning panoramas alone, as seen from the Kamehameha Highway, are sufficient reason to visit the island’s northern end! The area’s international reputation emerged in 1779, when famous Captain James Cook was killed by native villagers after he tried to make the King of Hawaii captive. Staples of this period are still visible today at the Pu'u o Mahuka Heiau State Monument, the largest of its kind on the island.
Many years later, Waimea Bay beach once again gained popularity by becoming the top surfing destination in the world and officially starting the 1950s now-iconic surf phenomenon (as demonstrated by the Beach Boys’ famous song!). In fact, surfing is still very much in fashion in this neck of the woods, with numerous surfing events taking place throughout the year, especially during big wave season between November and February. Alternatively, it is a very nice place to swim and sunbathe during the calmer summer months. Waimea Bay beach even made it to the small screen as a filming location for acclaimed seriesLost.
Historic Honolulu Harbor, the state’s original hub for commerce and immigration, stretches from Honolulu’s downtown business district in the east to Ke’ehi Lagoon in the west. A center of activity even prior to European contact, the harbor today—a series of dredged channels and basins encircling the less-than-a-square-mile Sand Island—is picturesque in parts and downright commercial in others. Despite a massive molasses spill that occurred here in Sept. 2013, there are those who say the harbor is among the cleanest commercial ports in the nation. To see for yourself, head down to Pier 7 where modern cruise ships still occasionally dock (if you didn’t arrive by boat, look for the giant wooden Falls of Clyde sailing ship fronting the now-shuttered Hawaii Maritime Center). There, just along the concrete harbor wall, is a veritable open-air aquarium: coral, tropical reef fish and the occasional reef shark can be seen making a living just steps from downtown skyscrapers.
Among the best places to watch the big cargo ships that supply the city with cars, groceries, goods and commodities are from the harbor-facing restaurants in the Aloha Tower Marketplace
Complex, or from the bars and restaurants located directly on Sand Island. During the 1800s, the harbor was the main point of entry into the state for visitors and immigrants, while Sand Island was used as a quarantine checkpoint for sick passengers. Also worth a visit are Piers 36-38, home to the Honolulu Fish Action—the largest tuna auction in the United States—several
notable seafood restaurants and moorings for the state’s largest commercial fishing fleet.
A not-so-well-kept local secret, Mt. Tantalus (Puʻuohiʻa) looms behind Honolulu offering stunning skyline panoramas. The nine-mile Round Top and Tantalus Drive loop snakes up its side with attractive pull-offs overlooking the city’s high rises, Punch Bowl Crater, iconic Diamond Head, the homes dotting Manoa Valley, as well as the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in the west.
The scenic drive to the top drive lingers in lush forests but is not for the faint of heart—steep and narrow passages are frequent and sheer drops loom around abundant curves. Trailheads for a handful of hikes begin along this route and lead into valleys often shrouded in mist and topped by Honolulu’s famous rainbows. At the summit, Pu'u Ualaka'a State Park has a small cement walkway with commanding views of all of southern Oahu. There’s also a grassy lawn popular with picnickers. Though the drive is equally spectacular when buildings cast shadows and city lights glow at night, the summit park closes at sundown.
Tantalus is the first in a series of peaks that form the imposing green wall of the Koolau range, which hugs the Windward coast. Near the mountain’s base on Makiki Heights Drive, the Spalding House museum and galleries features local and international artists and boasts similar views from its trellised café.
Koko Crater is where locals head when they’re in need of a really good workout, and it’s also a popular visitor attraction thanks to the stunning views from the top. In order to reach the summit, however, you’ll first need to conquer the 1,048 steps that run in a straight line up the mountain. The steps themselves are actually railroad ties left over from WWII, and while the first half of the steps are moderately steep, it’s the final push to the 1,100-foot summit that make your legs really start to burn.
The reward for reaching the top, however, is unobstructed, 360-degree of the southeastern section of O‘ahu. Gaze down towards Hanauma Bay and the turquoise waters of the crater, and watch as waves break along Sandy Beach and form foamy ribbons of white. Neighboring Diamond Head looms in the west and is backed by Honolulu, and the island of Moloka‘i—and sometimes Lana‘i—float on the eastern horizon. To explore Koko Crater’s dry interior instead of hiking to the top, the Koko Crater Botanical Garden offers self-guided tours of the 60-acre basin and its colorful dryland landscape.
On Ford Island in the heart of infamous Pearl Harbor, the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum’s two massive hangars totaling more than 120,000 square feet house military aircraft from the WWII Vietnam and the Korean War. Given its setting, the highlights here are Pearl Harbor related: Hangar 37 houses Japanese Zero planes, a civilian plane that was shot down during the Pearl Harbor attacks, and a P-40 fighter plane similar to those that took flight on Dec. 7th, 1941. On the door of Hangar 79, it’s still possible to see bullet holes left from that day. But there are plenty of other planes to pique the aviation-enthusiasts interest including an authentic F4F Wildcat, the actual Stearman N2S-3 piloted solo by former President George H.W. Bush and several MiG planes from the Korean conflict. You can even learn about ill-fated aviator Amelia Earhart, who visited the airstrip here on several occasions, including during her Round-the-World Flight—each year, the museum hosts a birthday party in her honor. Additionally, incredibly popular combat flight simulator experiences are available for an additional fee; the experience lasts 30-minutes including a flight briefing.
The lagoons, white-sand beaches, and resorts of Ko Olina together create one of Oahu’s most sought after vacation destinations. Set on the island’s dry and sunny leeward side, Ko Olina is separated from the bustle of Honolulu and Waikiki, making it ideal for a relaxing Hawaiian vacation filled with sunbathing, snorkeling, and sunsets.
Filled with lush tropical plants and a waterfall, Waimea Valley is a secluded valley turned botanical garden and cultural hub. Visit to learn about native Hawaiian species, take part in workshops, and stroll to Waimea Falls. The 45-foot (13-meter) waterfall offers photo opportunities and the chance to cool off.
Although never a recognized country, Polynesia was once considered the largest nation on Earth, with the island nations in the Polynesian Triangle all tracing their roots to the same ancestral homeland and connected by language and lore. You can experience many of these cultures at the famous Polynesian Cultural Center, set on the North Shore of Oahu. Explore some of the eight island village exhibitions; discover Maori facial tattoos, experience the “ha,” or breath of life, and how it helps connect all cultures across the Polynesian chain; enjoy a canoe tour; and stay for an evening luau.
In the heart of downtown Honolulu, just across the street and two blocks west of Hawaii’s largest mall, is the small boat harbor of Kawalo Basin and the starting point for a number of popular Honolulu water-based adventures. Deep sea charter fishing vessels moor alongside snorkel and scuba charters, parasailing vessels, winter whale watch pontoons, underwater submersible tours and even an 83-foot pirate galleon complete with water-firing cannons for daytime family fun or evening debauchery. If you’re looking to get beyond the beaches of Waikiki and out into the big blue, a stroll along its street-side dock will, at the very least, display your varied options.
Though there is no beach access here, a gentle but ridable wave that breaks left of the harbor channel is a popular surf spot with local groms (kids in surf speak). In addition to hosting the Rip Curl GromSearch competition, the break is a training ground for the Kamehameha High School surf team.
On land, the adjacent hipster enclave of Kakaako, and shopping strips in the Ward area, afford plenty of options for hungry (or thirsty) sailors and surfers.
With soft white sand and water a rich shade of turquoise, Lanikai Beach is one of the most attractive beaches in the Hawaiian Islands—and, indeed, the world. Located on Oahu’s windward shore, it has the additional benefit of far fewer crowds and development than the better-known beaches of Waikiki and the North Shore.
More Things to Do in Oahu
What locals refer to as Waimanalo Beach Park could easily be described as paradise by most visitors; what with its three miles of soft white sand flanked by Hawaii’s famous Koolau Mountains, soaring ironwood trees and dreamy azure and emerald sea, one can hardly argue that Waimanalo Beach Park is nothing short of heaven on earth. In opposition to more famous and more active Waimea Bay Beach, Waimanalo Beach Park is infinitely more tranquil. A silent retreat during the week, it shifts into a family-friendly, chill picnic and barbecue spot for locals.
Waimea’s waves are neither too high nor break far from the beach, making it the ultimate body boarding and body surfing spot on O’ahu, in addition to being perfect for lengthy tanning sessions. Early-risers will be pleased to learn that Waimanalo Beach Park is also an excellent place to catch a good sunrise, thanks to its unbeatable eastward location. Not one to be shy of the spotlight, Waimanalo Beach Park was used as a filming location for Magnum P.I. and Baywatch Hawaii.
Because nothing is perfect, visitors should be very careful with Portuguese man-of-war, a painfully stingy jellyfish found in abundance in the area, especially on windy days.
Known for its big waves, sandy beaches, and sunset views, Sunset Beach is one of Oahu’s most popular beaches. In summer, the beach is a family-friendly spot for swimming and snorkeling. During the winter months, the beach is famous for its huge surf and big wave surf contests that draw the world's best surfers.
Manoa Falls is a beautiful, moderate, 1-hour hike close to downtown Honolulu on the Hawaiian island of Oahu. Thanks to a paid parking lot and gravel path, it is one of the island’s most accessible hikes—and with a 150-foot (46-meter) rushing waterfall at the end, it is well worth the effort.
There are only 15 American submarines that remain from World War II, and the most-heralded of them—the USS Bowfin—now sits in Pearl Harbor, where the war American’s war first started. Known as the “Avenger of Pearl Harbor,” the USS Bowfin was built in Maine and sailed the South Pacific. It set off on its mission exactly one year after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, and 44 different enemy ships would eventually succumb to her guns.
Today, visitors to Pearl Harbor can walk inside the submarine to see the cramped metal quarters, and get an authentic feel for the daily hardships of the boys in the “Silent Service.” In nine tours of duty only one crewmember died from injuries in battle, and when visiting today, you can stand in the chambers where these brave sailors celebrated a successful strike. Once finished with the tour of the ship, learn the fascinating history of submarines in the accompanying Bowfin museum, where exhibits range from a ballistic missile that was once housed on the ship, to a 54-foot, human-guided torpedo known as a Japanese Kaiten.
Hawaii’s Capitol building doesn’t have the grand golden domes of capitols in other U.S. states, instead its exterior is blocky and reminiscent of the 1960s postmodern era in which it was built. But, like other capitols, its features are rife with symbolism. Inside, the central courtyard opens to the sky via narrowing layers set to mimic the interior of the volcano; the two Legislative chambers also feature unique sloped walls to achieve a similar effect. The eight supporting pillars on the front and back of the building narrow toward the top to evoke the trunks of royal palm trees, there is one for each of the main Hawaiian Islands. A raised moat reflecting pool surrounds the building and is said to symbolize the Pacific surrounding the Islands. Visitors can wander through the courtyard and grounds, which has an appropriately blocky statue of Father Damien—a sainted priest who treated Hansen’s disease patients on a remote Molokai peninsula in the late 1800s before succumbing to the disease himself—an exact duplicate represents the state in the U.S. Capitol’s National Statuary Hall.
A sandy peninsula extending into Honolulu Harbor, Magic Island—more rarely referred to by its official name, Aina Moana—affords rare right-off-the-beach green space with a protected swimming lagoon across from the Ala Moana shopping center in downtown Honolulu. The park is popular for local family barbecues and picnics, and its open 30 acres (12 acres) are fronted by remarkable banyan trees and feature tall palms, picnic tables, and long grassy lawns.
Even as early 1877, the Hawaiian Royalty recognized the need for preserving open space. With the city of Honolulu rapidly growing, King David Kalakaua—the last reigning King of Hawaii—allocated 130 of Waikiki’s acres towards a park for the people of Hawaii. Naming it after his beloved wife—Queen Kapiolani—the park today offers sprawling green fields for locals, visitors, and families.
In addition to the soccer fields, tennis courts, and jogging paths, the park also houses the Honolulu Zoo and public art shows on the weekends. For special events, the Waikiki Shell is a performance venue set in the middle of Kapiolani Park, where some of the world’s largest musical acts will throw concerts, benefits, and shows just minutes from Waikiki Beach. The Honolulu Marathon—held every December—usually finishes at Kapiolani Park, and even during other times of the year, this is a happening place for Honolulu residents to escape the city rush.
Looming large over Honolulu Harbor, the Aloha Tower complex features several buildings including a 10 story clock tower, the (now closed) Hawaii Maritime Center and several dining establishments overlooking the large wooden and permanently-stationed Falls of Clyde sailing ship. The tower, built in 1926, housed a lighthouse and its clock was one of the largest in the United States at the time. It was first structure most immigrants and visitors to Hawaii saw when their boats docked here prior to the popularization of air travel. Today, cruise ships still pull into the nook alongside the building, and, regardless of whether you arrived on one, you can take a free elevator ride to the top of the tower and lookout over downtown, Waikiki and out across the ocean. While there’s little action at the marketplace today aside from a Hooters and a Gordon Biersch restaurant, Hawaii Pacific University has plans to revitalize the area in the coming years, converting the now largely-abandoned center into meeting space, shopping, dining and even residences.
A landmark stop on almost every organized Honolulu tour is the nine-foot-tall bronze statue immortalizing Hawaii’s original ambassador of aloha, Duke Paoa Kahanamoku. One of those guys who was seemingly good at everything, Kahanamoku wore many hats. He was a Hollywood actor, a full-blooded Hawaiian descended from alii (the royal class), an Olympic swimmer who won gold in both the 1912 and 1920 games, an Olympic water polo player, a 13-term sheriff of Honolulu and one of Waikiki’s first surf and canoe instructors. Kahanamoku used his charm and personable nature to popularize surfing and was later the first person to be inducted into both the Surfing and Swimming Halls of Fame.
Poised in front of a longboard and welcoming visitors with open arms, the Duke statue has enjoyed a prime seaside spot across from popular Waikiki breaks since it was installed on what would have been Duke’s 100th birthday in 1990. Many visitors honor Duke’s memory by draping floral and kukui nut lei around his neck and from his arms, or just pause long enough to take a shaka selfie. Making this stop even more popular is the fact that one of Honolulu’s live city cameras is constantly trained on the statue and the palm-lined sands of Waikiki behind it — a great tool for making family back home jealous in real time.
Each summer, Duke’s OceanFest honors the waterman’s memory with ceremonies at the statue and a series of ocean sporting events including longboard surfing, paddleboard racing, swimming, surf polo and beach volleyball.
With 100 acres (40.5 hectares) of public beach situated right between Waikiki and downtown Honolulu, Ala Moana Beach Park is a local favorite and top destination for Oahu visitors. There are paths for walking, calm water for swimming and stand-up paddleboarding, gentle waves for surfing, and plenty of soft, golden sand for sunbathing.
Just across the street from the tropical Pacific Ocean in downtown Honolulu, the four-story Ala Moana Center (often just called Ala Moana) is currently the world’s largest outdoor shopping mall. With 2.4 million square feet of retail space alone (that’s as much as 42 football fields!), the sprawling property boasts 340 shops and 80 restaurants including national and international name brands chains (Burberry, Cartier, Apple, Gap, Macy’s, Starbucks, California Pizza Kitchen and Barnes & Noble) as well as Hawaii-only outlets (Happy Wahine Boutique, Big Island Candies, Kahala Sportswear, Martin & MacArthur, Honolulu Coffee Co. and Sand People). Free live entertainment—from singing competitions to hula performances and fashion shows—often take place in its central corridor stage. Always bustling, Ala Moana Center is the place to see and be seen for residents and visitors alike.
The revamped Shirokiya Japan Village walk, the last stronghold of an otherwise extinct Japanese department store, is perhaps the mall’s most unique-to-Hawaii offering. The space was revamped in 2016 and boasts 32 different Japanese food vendors, shopping, artwork and a spirit garden all fashioned to look like the thoroughfares of a traditional monzen-machi village.
The Honolulu Municipal Building doesn’t have quite the ring of Honolulu Hale—though they are one and the same. The Hale, which means house in Hawaiian, is home Oahu’s city hall— government offices including the chambers of the Mayor and the Honolulu City Council. The Spanish Colonial Revival building—a popular style in Honolulu in the 1920s—was completed in 1928, and, in addition to being interesting architecturally, hosts regular city and public functions including the popular annual Honolulu City Lights. Each December since the mid 1980s, a giant 21-foot “Shaka Santa” (that is, Santa flashing his one-handed shaka sign) and Tutu Mele (Mrs. Claus) adorn the building’s fountain pool accompanied by a flurry of colored light displays and lawn ornaments. The public is welcomed inside the building to walk amongst ornately-decorated and -themed Christmas trees, which are judged for their creativity; original artwork from area school children lines the walls. The building is a place of community pride—occasionally lit with commemorative colors (pink for Breast Cancer Awareness Month; red, white and blue for Independence Day) and on the National Register of Historic Places.
La'ie Point State Wayside Park, a rocky promontory on Oahu's North Shore hidden behind a residential neighborhood, got its 15 minutes of fame in the 2008 comedyForgetting Sarah Marshall. It’s here where Peter (Jason Segal) and Rachel (Mila Kunis) cement their relationship by braving the cliff jump off its side. Many daredevils still attempt the jump, but, as the abundance of floral memorials and crosses attest, it might not be the smartest choice—particularly when the waves pound during winter, making the already-challenging climb back up the cliff’s lava rock face all but impossible. Besides, there’s plenty to see from land.
Between November and March, humpback whales are often sighted in the waters off La'ie Point and year-round local fishermen cast for dinner from the park's rugged edges. To the south, the greenery of the Windward Coast looms large with its backdrop of Koolau Range "foothills." Five small offshore Islands, one with a prominent puka (hole) through its center, and the wave-beaten texturized lava rock here make unusual and noteworthy subjects for photography enthusiasts. Read the plaque atop the boulder near the parking area to learn the Hawaiian creation story of the offshore Islands.
The shriek of the Honolulu Zoo’s population of endangered white-handed gibbons is a familiar morning sound to Waikiki’s regular surfing contingent. The sprawling 42-acre (17-hectare) zoo, located in Kapiolani Park, near Waikiki Beach, is home to more than 900 species, including many animals (and plants) found only in Hawaii.