Oahu Travel Guide
Welcome to Oahu. Variety is the spice of life, and nowhere else in Hawaii can you find the variety that infuses this island. Oahu, aptly nicknamed “The Gathering Place,” is an unparalleled melting pot ripe with many cultural influences. As Hawaii’s most populated island, Oahu is diversity personified. Here urban and rural communities exist side by side, offering visitors and residents the best of both worlds.
Visit the well-known Oahu beaches offering plenty of activities and then trek to the pristine and secluded tropical beaches surrounded by waterfalls, lush greenery and mountain hiking paths. Snorkel at the well-known Hanauma Bay, frolic with dolphins, or take a deep-sea fishing trip. Play a few rounds at some of the most coveted golf courses in the world, surf Waikiki where the sport of kings originated, or hike up Diamond Head for world-famous views.
During your pleasantly cooled evenings, take a short cocktail cruise around the South Shore, eat at one of Honolulu’s five star restaurants, try an Oahu luau, or enjoy one of the many evening events, from intimate local music shows to entertaining Broadway plays. Whatever your island passion may be, Oahu can accommodate. Oahu is the political and economic heart of Hawaii, the location of the capital of Honolulu and home to nearly 900,000 residents.
Geography and Climate
Oahu has a land area of 607.7 square miles and 112 miles of coastline. Situated just below the Tropic of Cancer, Oahu is 2,390 miles west of San Francisco, California and one of the most remote spots on the globe. Oahu is the 3rd largest island in the chain of 8 major Hawaiian Islands, but it is home to 75% of the state’s total population.
Oahu’s temperatures stay mild year round between 68 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit (20-29.4 C). Winter months (November to April) are a bit cooler with more frequent precipitation. Cooling trades work wonders to keeping the island pleasantly comfortable. Visitors love the warm temperature of the coastal waters, which average around 76 to 78 degrees (24.4-25.5 C). Oahu is home to two monumental mountain ranges, the Koolau Mountains, which reach along the northeastern side, and the Waianae Mountains which lay to the west.
One of the factors that draws people to Oahu is the broad range of diversity in the beaches. Choose from 139 beaches on Oahu, each with its own flavor and unique appeal. Whether you’re into surfing, windsurfing, boogie boarding or snorkeling, you can find the perfect outlet here. The world-famous North Shore of Oahu features a number of beaches that are destinations for people from all over the world. Banzai Pipeline and Sunset Beach are big surf locations in the winter months. The gorgeous Waimea Bay is a perfect example of Oahu’s duality – this beach can be as calm as a kiddy pool in the summer, but may boast 20- to 40-foot (6-12 m) waves in the winter.
Waikiki, a one-and-a-half-mile stretch of beach on Oahu’s South Shore, is undoubtedly the most famous Hawaiian destination. Stroll through the bustling avenues of Waikiki, where one can find everything from fresh sushi and surfing lessons to five-star dining, glamorous night clubs and world-class shopping plazas. Catch the top Elvis impersonator on stage, or dance along with a hula halau. Art lovers can find everything from handcrafted koa bowls and Hawaiian heritage jewelry at Waikiki’s International Marketplace to giant bronze statues and historic architecture in nearby Honolulu.
As the most famous landmark visible from anywhere at Waikiki Beach, Diamond Head is a 760-foot (231 m) extinct volcanic peak that is hiked by hundreds daily. Follow the path leading up to the top, or explore on your own. Once you reach the top, you’re rewarded with incredible 360-degree views.
Oahu boasts more shops and restaurants than all the other islands put together. Variety is endless – from the upscale Ala Moana and Royal Hawaiian Shopping Centers to the funky International Marketplace that features arts and crafts from throughout the Pacific Rim, Oahu is a shopper’s paradise. From affordable souvenirs to one-of-a-kind fine island art, visitors will have no trouble finding gifts for friends back home and unique mementos of their Hawaii trip. Visit Haleiwa town on the North Shore for an eclectic mix of trendy boutiques and local laid-back shops.
What better place to surf than in Hawaii where the sport of kings was born? The ancient Hawaiians used to surf on long, heavy boards of solid wood, but then the sport almost died out after Western contact. The famed father of surfing, Hawaiian Olympic medalist Duke Kahanamoku epitomized Hawaiian surfing aptitude and is credited with popularizing the sport worldwide in the 1920s. The surfing culture that sprung from Duke and other notable “Beach Boys of Hawaii” was unstoppable and continues to thrive today.
The North Shore is a Mecca for hardcore surfers looking to push the envelope. The winter ground swells are larger than life, drawing thousands of daredevils annually. Drive up to the North Shore in November or December to catch the famous surf competition named Triple Crown of Surfing, which is held at Banzai Pipeline. For surfers who prefer milder, less intimidating waves, Waikiki Beach, Ala Moana and Diamond Head beaches are your best bet. Bodyboarders and bodysurfers love the shallow breaks at a popular local spot called Sandy’s, but this beach is not for beginners. Windsurfers and kitesurfers stick to Kailua Beach on the island’s lower windward side for its plentiful breezes and tame conditions.
The world remembers the tragic day in 1941 when Japanese war planes dropped bombs at Pearl Harbor, killing many American soldiers. As the most visited spot on Oahu, the Pearl Harbor museum pays tribute to the souls who lost their lives that day. Tour the USS Arizona Memorial to honor over 1,100 American fighting men killed, visit the USS Missouri, the site where the Japanese surrender documents were signed, and tour the USS Bowfin, one of only 15 World War II submarines in existence.
What makes Oahu unique?
Oahu is an island that caters to all people. As the 11th largest city in the U.S. and the only big city in Hawaii, Honolulu hosts the gamut of activities from simple to sophisticated. Whatever destinations you choose to visit on Oahu, you are guaranteed stunning beauty, tropical views and cultural infusion. The historic and cultural attractions are plentiful and unmatched by the other islands.
Visit Oahu for its unique mix of sand, surf, art and culture. Whether you are touring Iolani Palace, the only royal palace in the country, having dim sum in Chinatown, cruising in a catamaran off Diamond Head, or taking a romantic stroll under the beach and stargazing, Oahu delivers a unique and unforgettable vacation experience. Choosing Oahu as your Hawaiian destination is not only because it is fun, but economical. Oahu is also considered your best bet for successfully pulling off an inexpensive vacation.