Oahu may not be Hawaii’s biggest island, but its nickname as “The Gathering Place” is well deserved as it is home to over 85 per cent of the state’s population – and the destination of choice for tourists.
It’s easy to see why. Honolulu, the state capital, provides a host of historic and cultural venues, and world-class accommodations and cuisine. Waikiki beach, the former playground of Hawaiian royalty, is perhaps the world’s most famous stretch of sand. And of course Pearl Harbor provides a visit to a somber period of American history.
Honolulu is not the place to go for a tranquil retreat, as it is a busy, world-class city. This can be good news for the traveller, however, as restaurants and attractions provide a feast for the senses.
The beautiful ‘Iolani Palace’, built in 1882, served as the residence of the last two Hawaiian monarchs. It is also the only royal palace on American soil. The Palace offers a variety of intriguing activities beyond a simple tour: quilting classes on Saturdays, Hawaiian language clases, and genealogy workshops among them.
The Bishop Museum was built in 1889 to honour Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, the last heir of the Kamehameha dynasty. The museum includes a planetarium and the Hawaii Maritime Center. The Hawaiian Hall boasts over 76,000 artifacts. (It is closed until 2008 for renovations, but other areas of the museum remain open and many artifacts remain on display.)
The Honolulu Academy of Arts was founded in 1927. It now contains a collection of over 50,000 works, with a particular strength in the arts of Asia. Education is at the heart of the Academy’s mission. Of particular note are its East meets West galleries, which feature artwork that incorporates cross-cultural influences initiated by trade.
Diamond Head State Monument is an ancient volcano crater and a former US military site, with portions open to the public. There is a well-maintained hiking trail that winds up the inside of the crater, with handrails all along the way. At the top there is a spectacular 360-degree view of Oahu.
Waikiki is probably the most familiar image of Hawaii, popularized by Bing Crosby’s Waikiki Wedding in the 1930s. Resorts and world-class hotels populate the coast, providing excellent accommodation.
Waikiki Beach is perhaps a little touristy, but it remains nonetheless a beautiful place to experience the sand and surf of ocean coast, and participate in activities like windsurfing and trying out the Hawaiian outrigger canoes.
The Waikiki Aquarium focuses on the aquatic life of Hawaii and the tropical Pacific. Founded in 1904, and a part of the University of Hawaii since 1919, it is located next to a living reef.
Other Oahu attractions
Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona Memorial remain top tourist destinations in Hawaii with over 1,500,000 visitors annually. The Arizona Memorial is particularly somber, as visitors stand over the site where 1177 individuals lost their lives. It’s best to visit early in the day.
The Polynesian Cultural Center is a cultural theme park operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints where seven native villages have been recreated in order to educate and entertain visitors.
The Waimea Valley Audubon Center offers an entirely different experience, offering a self-guided nature walk to the 40-foor Waimea Falls.
And of course the North Shore of Oahu is an attraction in itself, with beautiful (and more secluded) beaches.