Aloha! Have you ever dreamed of visiting Hawaii? Or, perhaps you’ve already visited the Islands and long to return?
No one can hold these daydreams against you. The Hawaiian Islands are like no other place in the U.S. Hawaii’s eternally sublime weather, breathtaking landscapes, friendly charm, and laidback way of life are practically irresistible to natives and tourists alike. It’s no wonder that Hawaii is such a hot destination spot.
There’s something there for everyone.
This article will focus on traveling throughout Oahu, which is the most popular Island for tourists, and home to the capital city of Honolulu.
Traveling to Hawaii seems like a bit of an under-taking, but it’s really not as arduous as you might fear. United Airlines offers numerous daily one-stop routes from Cleveland Hopkins to Honolulu, typically connecting through Chicago O’Hare (ORD), Los Angeles (LAX), Newark (EWR), Denver (DEN), and San Francisco (SFO). Once you’re aboard your Honolulu flight, you’ll notice that the atmosphere aboard the aircraft takes on an “aloha” appeal. The flight attendants and captain will instigate a game titled “Halfway to Hawaii”, whereby passengers are challenged to calculate (using real math) the actual halfway point from the flight origin to Hawaii. It’s almost as fun as being aboard a flight destined for Las Vegas! But, bring your calculator.
As far as cost goes…Yes, Oahu can be a pricier trip than other locales in the U.S. But, before you dismiss the trip due to finances, keep the following in mind:
1. Like many cities, airfare to Honolulu is seasonally priced. If you travel during the off-season, you can find great deals
2. Many tourist sites in Oahu are free, including beaches, parks, and look-out points.
3. Hotels can be pricey, so consider staying at a Bed-and-Breakfast. Often times, these accommodations are priced inexpensively compared to mainstream Waikiki hotels.
If you choose to stay at a chain hotel in Oahu, chances are you’ll be staying in Waikiki. Waikiki, adjacent to Honolulu, is considered the “cosmopolitan” section of Oahu. Known to natives as the “townside”, both Waikiki and Honolulu boast numerous hotel, shopping, and dining options. If you choose not rent a car during your stay, then staying townside is definitely your best bet. A great resort is the Hilton Hawaiian Village nestled in Waikiki. This resort is ideally located near all townside attractions, including beaches, shopping, and dining. Whether you’re traveling solo, as a couple, or with kids, this resort can accommodate your lifestyle.
Honolulu, despite being adjacent to Waikiki, is not necessarily a thriving tourist hub. Like many U.S. cities, this area looks like, well, a U.S. city. Completely with office buildings, run-down areas, and empty storefronts, Honolulu may not offer tourists the quintessential Hawaiian experience they seek. But still, you should check it out. The city has some amazing restaurants and nightlife. Check out Duc’s Bistro for a wonderful French-Vietnamese experience.
If you’re in the townside area, be sure to journey to Diamond Head. Geologically categorized as a “volcanic tuff cone”, Diamond Head is visible from most areas along the southern shores of Oahu, including Waikiki and Honolulu. You’ll know it when you see it. That’s the only way to describe it. Diamond Head is visible to the east of Waikiki and Honolulu, and it looks like an enormous sagging mountain ridge hugging the Pacific Ocean. Hiking up the crater, you’ll be blessed with beautiful views of the surrounding area.
Makapu'u Lookout is also fantastic for sight-seeing and exercise. If you’re lucky, you might even see whales. Located at the southeastern end of Oahu, you can hike Makapu’u to the top of the summit where you’ll be granted a splendid view of Oahu’s coastline and a quaint lighthouse to boot. Note, the hike to the summit is roughly 30 minutes and can be a bit taxing. Bring tennis shoes.
Also in this area, Puu Ualakaa State Park is an easy drive to the top of a summit where you will meet an easy walk from the parking lot to a beautiful look-out point. And, this is the look-out point to end all others. Truly. The view is amazing, and you can see nearly all of the southern shore of Oahu, extending from Diamond Head past Waikiki. It is mesmerizing. Consider packing a picnic lunch for this easy adventure.
OK, so the southern shore is covered. What about the rest of Oahu?
Aside from Waikiki, there is so much to see in Oahu. And some natives would even argue that staying in Waikiki is not living the “true Aloha” experience. To scratch this itch, be sure to take a jaunt on Interstate H-3 to Kaneohe and the Windward side of the Island. As you arrive toward Kaneohe, you’ll find yourself driving on a cliff along the Ko'olau Mountains. Be careful – the view here is stunning, so keep both hands on the wheel.
As you drive, you might feel as though you found yourself on another Island. In some respects, this is true! Lush, green, and sometimes cloudy, the Windward side offers a range of weather conditions that can change on a moment’s notice thanks to the Ko'olau Mountains (i.e. the mountain range through which you just drived). The Windward side of the Oahu is a little more “native” in that it tends not to be a prime tourist hotspot like Waikiki. But make no mistake, this area is a must-see.
Drive around the Kaneohe Bay and you’ll find numerous picturesque sites that you only thought possible through the magic of Photoshop. Head east from Kaneohe and you’ll come across Kailua – a happy little beach town with a quaint town center including Mom and Pops stores, up-scale eateries, and a Whole Foods. Alas, something for everyone. Near Kaulia, Lanikai Beach is something to cross off your bucket list. The water is supremely turquoise, the atmosphere is laidback, and view from the sand is amazing. In the offing, you can see the Mokuluas (commonly known as the “Mokes”), which are two islands immediately offshore, popular with kayakers. This is picturesque Hawaii at its best.
You must go to the North Shore. Head north from Kaneohe or Kailua on the Kamehameha Hwy, and you’ll soon notice that the road to the Shore becomes a small thoroughfare offering numerous pleasant views along the way. You’ll pass Kualoa Ranch on the left, which is famous for scenes filmed in the movie Jurassic Park. Once you pass this location, you’ll understand why this location was chosen. The area is mountainous, lush, and exudes such an aura of prehistoric importance that it makes fossils jealous.
Keep heading north on the Kamehameha Hwy, and you’ll hit the North Shore.
If you’re lucky enough to travel to Oahu in the winter months, then you might catch some great waves on the North Shore. Infamously known to surfers worldwide as a premier location for surfing, the North Shore can boast waves upwards of 50 feet in the winter. If you check local radio stations or the internet on any given day, you can find the wave heights on North Shore beaches.
Along this route, Waimea Bay is a wonderful spot to sunbathe, swim, relax, and be adventurous. Located on the North Shore, this beach offers serious waves in the winter time. For those not seeking the rough-and-tumble sport of Pacific surfing, Waimea Bay also has a big rock. And this big rock boasts a big cliff, from which you can jump and land into the ocean, a la Hawaiian style. And if rough surf and sand isn’t your thing, then Waimea Valley is almost directly across the street from the Bay. Waimea Valley is a tranquil, botanical area boasting a heavenly waterfall and Eden-esque flora. It’s worth a visit, but plan at least two hours.
Keep going north on the North Shore and you’ll run into Historic Haleiwa Town. Please stop and visit Matsumoto Shave Ice. Once you land in Oahu, you’ll hear many things about Shave Ice. And you’ll probably hear that Matsumoto’s is the best. It is. So go there.
Other neat locations located near the North Shore are the Dole Plantation and Green World Farms if you like coffee. Both locations are great for splurging on non-essentials, like pineapples, coffees, and pineapple flavored coffee.
Lastly, on a cultural note, you might be interested to know that that the cities/street names/landmarks in Hawaii are mostly named using the Hawaiian language. The Hawaiian alphabet contains five vowels and twelve consonants (A, B, D, E, H, I, K, L, M, N, O, P, R, T, U, V, W). Therefore, as you drive the city streets, you'll find many locations named something like "K-L-M-H + vowels". And in some cases, as in the city of Aiea (pronounced eye-ay-ah), the name will be entirely constructed of vowels. And, not to delve into a phonetics or linguistics course in this article, but it should be said that in many cases Hawaiian will pronounces W's as V's. Therefore, Hawaii is pronounced HaVaii, and Haleiwa is pronounced HaleiVa.
Because Oahu leaves much to be admired and discovered, this article simply cannot cover all of the splendid nooks-and-crannies that no doubt exist on Oahu. Rather, this article is designed to cover the basics of the main great sites in Oahu, and to help you stay on the path of tourism delight. But don’t let that concern you. Once you visit Oahu, you will want to return in the future. And because this desire is so primal, it warrants a follow-up article designed for returning Hawaii tourists.
Mahalo for reading! Aloha!