The island of O’ahu boasts a diverse range of regions, each offering unique features and insight into Hawaiian culture. Honolulu, the state capital and largest city, brims with bustling businesses, restaurants, museums, landmarks, nightlife, and shopping. From government and business hubs, such as impressive skyscrapers and Honolulu City Hall, to historically significant sites, including Washington Place, ‘Iolani Palace, and the Kawaiaha’o Church, visitors will be awed by the city’s rich history. Culture enthusiasts can explore the Honolulu Museum of Art and Hawaii State Art Museum, while history buffs should check out Pearl Harbor in Central O’ahu. Other attractions in Honolulu include surfing at Waikiki, whale watching tours, hiking Diamond Head, and snorkeling at Hanauma Bay.
On the North Shore, visitors can experience the laid-back “country” vibe while witnessing the iconic surfers who tackle the massive waves, including the tubbed swells of Banzai Pipeline and Waimea Bay. Must-visit excursions in the area include the verdant Waimea Valley and charming town of Hale’iwa, home to surf shops, art galleries, boutiques, and shave ice stands.
The Windward Coast is renowned for its picturesque ocean views and lush landscapes, including the stunning Ko’olau Mountain Range, Makapu’u Lookout, Kualoa Ranch for horseback riding, Mokoli’i Island (aka Chinaman’s Hat), serene Valley of the Temples, home to the Byodo-In Temple, and Kailua for a bite to eat or shopping. For a unique experience, the Polynesian Cultural Center is a must-visit attraction farther north.
The Leeward Coast, featuring the rural and less-developed Ko Olina, is home to the kid-friendly Aulani, A Disney Resort and Spa, as well as luxurious Four Seasons Resort Oahu at Ko Olina. Visitors can take the kids to the popular Wet’n’Wild Hawaii water park, attend the must-do Paradise Cove Lu’au or explore the sacred and scenic Ka’ena Point. For a comprehensive tour of the island, a helicopter ride offers an unparalleled view of O’ahu’s valleys, mountains, and historical sites.
For those seeking the thrill of kite surfing or windsurfing, or simply looking to relax and watch these exciting sports in action, Kailua Beach on the Windward Coast is a top destination. Its expansive 2 1/2-mile white sand beach, shaded areas, and picturesque turquoise waters appeal to families and adventure seekers alike. Amenities such as picnic tables, restrooms, and free parking further enhance the beach’s appeal. Visitors rave about the beach’s calm waters and stunning sand. Weekdays are ideal for those seeking a crowd-free atmosphere. Please note that parking can be challenging due to ongoing road construction until 2024, and weekends may experience traffic congestion and delays.
Kailua Beach is conveniently located within walking distance of Lanikai Beach, and a selection of shops, eateries, and bed-and-breakfast accommodations. To reach the beach, simply drive 15 miles east of Honolulu, or hop on the No. 70 bus and disembark at several stops on Kalaheo Avenue, Lihiwai Road, or Kawailoa Road. For those using public transportation, a transfer to the No. 70 bus in Maunawili is required. Notably, Kailua Beach is accessible 24 hours a day free of charge. Make Kailua Beach your next beach day destination for a quintessential Hawaiian experience.
Waikiki Beach, a renowned destination for relaxation and surfing, has been attracting visitors since the nineteenth century. The string of several beaches dotting the island’s southwest coastline offers soft, honey-colored sand and high waves during the winter months. However, one does not have to be a surfer to have a good time at Waikiki Beach. Simply lying on a beach towel and gazing at the majestic Diamond Head State Monument from afar is a sublime experience.
Providing respite from the beach, Kalakaua Avenue is lined with numerous shops and restaurants. Some of the world’s most exclusive designer boutiques, including Kate Spade, Harry Winston, Salvatore Ferragamo, and Louis Vuitton, are located on this street. Waikiki Beach is also home to some of the best O’ahu hotels, providing a luxurious stay for discerning travelers.
Previous visitors have appreciated the convenience of accessing this beautiful and clean beach, along with countless water activities such as snorkeling. While sea turtles and colorful fish are a common sight, visitors are cautioned about jellyfish and are advised to check the beach’s warnings. However, some reviewers have expressed disappointment regarding the beach’s commercialization and large crowds.
Waikiki Beach, located less than 4 miles southeast of the city center, is accessible via the Waikiki Trolley. While parking at the beach is limited, free spots are generally available on Monsarrat Avenue by Kap’Iolani Regional Park and the Honolulu Zoo. Waikiki Beach is open 24 hours a day, every day. For more information about Waikiki Beach and the surrounding area, visit the Hawaii Tourism Authority’s Waikiki page.
Located in the Central O’ahu region just under 10 miles northwest of bustling downtown Honolulu, the Pearl Harbor National Memorial houses the USS Arizona Memorial, a poignant tribute to the over 900 sailors and marines who died in the infamous 1941 Pearl Harbor attack. The somber sight of the sunken battleship is poignantly visible from the memorial. Widely considered a top attraction, we recommend booking your free ticket well in advance as the high demand often leads to limited availability. While admission to the USS Arizona Memorial is free, reserving a spot through Recreation.gov ahead of time is necessary to join the 45-minute program that runs every half hour from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. daily. Inclusively, the boat tour covers the shuttle to the memorial, a 15-minute tribute, and a return trip to the visitor center. You may enjoy a complimentary educational historical film at any time behind the center’s airy lanai. Nonetheless, it is crucial to keep in mind that restrooms are not available on the USS Arizona Memorial or the boats. Moreover, you may opt for a detailed hour-long audio tour, narrated by esteemed actress Jamie Lee Curtis alongside first-hand accounts from USS Arizona survivors at a cost of $7.99 plus a $1 booking fee. Tickets to this exemplary tour are available on Recreation.gov. Rest assured, a visit to the Pearl Harbor National Memorial will surely be an unforgettable experience.
For those seeking an idyllic retreat from the bustling beaches, a visit to the Valley of the Temples Memorial Park is highly recommended. Within the park lies the Byodo-In Temple, a Hawaii State Landmark that was established in 1968 to honor the first Japanese immigrants to Hawaii. This non-practicing Buddhist temple cordially welcomes visitors of all faiths to experience its profound beauty, offering opportunities for worship, meditation, and admiration alike. Gracefully situated at the foot of the Ko’olau Mountains on the Windward Coast, approximately 15 miles to the north of downtown Honolulu, the lush temple grounds boast a vast reflecting pond, meditation niches, small waterfalls, the golden Amida buddha, bon-sho sacred bell, and serene koi ponds.
To fully embrace the sacredness of the Valley of the Temples, visitors are kindly advised to uphold respectful behavior and maintain a tranquil atmosphere. Removing one’s shoes before entering the Byodo-In Temple is customary and appreciated. Ringing the sacred bell is a tradition that many visitors have enjoyed and highly suggest. The peaceful surroundings of the temple offer an exquisite backdrop for stunning photography, playing a mesmerizing contrast against the majestic backdrop of the Ko’olau Mountains.
Guests are encouraged to arrive early when visiting the Valley of the Temples Memorial Park. This allows ample time for peaceful introspection and exploration before the midday crowds arrive, often disembarking from tour buses. In summary, a visit to the Byodo-In Temple in the Valley of the Temples, with its serene and awe-inspiring surroundings, is an experience that one should not miss.