Oahu has it all: wide, sandy beaches; year-round surf; breathtaking ridge hikes; and, in Honolulu, a vibrant urban city. Home to Pearl Harbor and the only royal palace in the United States, Honolulu is imbued with history. Always deeply mindful of its past, it is also streaking into the future. The revitalization of old neighborhoods has sprouted trendy boutiques and attention-grabbing cuisine, and Waikiki, the world-famous vacation playground, gets more cutting-edge luxe every day. Sure, Oahu may be Hawaii’s most crowded island, but its rich human tapestry—locals of myriad ethnic mixes, wealthy Japanese expats, Mainland sunseekers, surfers from around the globe—makes it unlike any other place in the world.
Things to Do
Sun lovers will find much to worship on Oahu, especially Waikiki Beach. Take a sightseeing boat, where you can observe the island rising out of the cobalt sea. Trek into virgin rainforest in the Makiki Valley, or venture to the North Shore for unparalleled surf. A hula performance is a popular way to get a taste of traditional Hawaiian culture; the best is performed every weekday at the Bishop Museum. A visit to Pearl Harbor is a sobering reminder of this island's place in America's history.
From posh European to locally made, avant-garde to unspeakably tacky, Oahu's offerings are wide-ranging. Among the designer boutiques on Waikiki's Kalakaua Avenue plenty of booths hawk airbrushed T-shirts, gold by the inch, and tasteless aloha shirts. Instead, surprise your friends with patterned aloha shirts and sarongs. Buy bowls and baskets made of pandanus leaves or stock up on local Kona coffee. No trip is complete without purchasing a lei, and on Maunakea Street, Hawaii's finest floral creations go for as little as $3.50.
Nightlife and Entertainment
Nightlife in Hawaii begins at sunset, and there are few more pleasing spots in Waikiki than the benches at the water's edge at the Diamond Head end of Kalakaua Avenue, where everyone stops to see the sinking sun. Afterward, revelers head for Waikiki and Honolulu, where clubs and bars are strung along the illuminated shoreline.
Restaurants and Dining
Choose among chef-owned restaurants, neighborhood eateries, fast-food joints, ethnic spots, and restaurants in shopping malls. Don't miss a traditional luau on the beach. Savour succulent kalua pig (slow roasted underground) and fried rice, accompanied by cold lomi-lomi salmon (salad with salt-cured salmon). If you're up on the North Shore, visit a shrimp truck for the sweetest, juiciest shrimp.