The week that my husband and I spent in Oahu was nothing short of enjoyable. After three years from our first visit, we finally made it back to the Aloha State. My skin was thankful to feel the warmth of the sun tempered by the trade winds. Oahu is the most populated of the islands with a population of just under a million and a third of this figure can be attributed to urban Honolulu. Known as “The Gathering Place,” this island is culturally diverse and has quite a lot to offer visitors with varied interests. From foodies to nature lovers, to shopaholics, to thrill seekers, to culture vultures — Oahu has something for you.
I have already posted a dedicated entry for Oahu food experience, and now, here are the highlights of what we did and the beaches and attractions that we visited.
Walking Waikiki Beach at night + Friday night fireworks
For our first 4 nights, we stayed at one for the rental units at the Ilikai, which is located on the quieter end of Waikiki right across the Hilton Village and the Duke Kahanamoku lagoon. It is no secret that Waikiki can get way too crowded for some people to really enjoy, but at night, it becomes more tolerable. Stuart and I went for a stroll as the sun was setting and witnessed a gorgeous display of natural colors.
Every Friday night, right after the luau that the Hilton holds, fireworks are then launched from the lagoon for every one on the beach to enjoy. Locals and tourists gather on the beach to watch the show. It’s a great way to mingle and be out on the beach. I ended up watching the fireworks further down the beach outside the Outrigger hotel since we were about to have dinner at the Shore Bird, which by the way, is a pretty awesome place for food and cocktails. They don’t skimp on the booze! Don’t get me wrong, Waikiki Beach is beautiful and fun during the day, but I personally liked the pace at night better. A lower count of screaming children might have something to do with it too.
Visiting Pearl Harbor and the Arizona Memorial
When we were planning for this trip, Stuart made clear that we had to go see the Arizona. It was the only required point of interest for him. It was a very moving experience, and we were so glad that made it out there. We both agreed that every American should pay a visit if they can. I am not saying that only Americans can truly appreciate the significance of this place. After all, the Pearl Harbor attack was a pivotal moment, not just in U.S. history, but also of the world. While there, we also took the opportunity to visit and explore the battleship, USS Missouri. To stand at the same spot where the document that officially ended World War II was signed was memorable.
Snorkeling Hanauma Bay
About 10 miles east of Waikiki, Hanauma Bay has become a snorkeling mecca over the years. With breathtaking views from the lookout to the fantastic marine life, this nature preserve is one of the most popular destinations on the island. Stuart and I spent a good amount of time swimming in the bay and observing tropical fish in their habitat.
Tip: Bring food and water and a few singles. Parking is $1, and if you take the trolley up the hill, that’ll also cost you another dollar.
Sailing & Snorkeling Kaneohe Bay
Born and raised on the island of Cebu, I spent many summers with my cousins at my grandparents’ and we would take an outrigger to go fishing or go to the pasil or sandbar. I came across Captain Bob’s Picnic Sail while researching for activities, and I knew we had to give it a shot. We spent a good day aboard a catamaran and cruised Kaneohe Bay and anchored at a sandbar that stretches over 5 miles. Equipped with a grill, burgers were served for lunch … in the middle of the ocean! After the sand bar, we headed to a reef in the middle of the bay for some more snorkeling.
On our way to the North Shore, we made a stop to enjoy one of the most beautiful beaches I have ever been to. We found street parking in front of someone’s house, crossed the street, walked between two houses, and poof! We found ourselves on a beach that I thought only existed on postcards and calendars. Crystal blue water, fine, white sand, azure skies, and two islands in the background … it is the perfect example of a tropical beach. And even better, it was significantly less crowded compared to Waikiki Beach.
Turtle Bay Resort
The only major hotel in the North Shore, the Turtle Bay was our base of operations for exploring the north end of the island. I did consider renting another condo unit somewhere in Haleiwa, but I found a great rate for the resort. We didn’t have cooking facilities in our hotel room, but we didn’t really feel the need for them either. We did, however, had access to all the resort amenities like a nice pool, the restaurants, spa, golf course, and beach right outside the hotel. We watched beautiful sunsets right on our lanai facing the ocean. I loved waking up in the morning and hear the rolling waves.
Waimea Bay and the North Shore
About an hour’s drive from the hustle and bustle of Honolulu, Oahu’s fabled North Shore offers more of the laid back island vibe that most people expect of Hawaii. Known for the epic waves during the winter months, the North Shore is synonymous for world-class surfing. By the time of our visit, there were no giant waves, but they were still the right intensity for a good ride on the board. I’m not a surfer, but we saw plenty of them especially in the morning and late afternoon. We spent a showery afternoon at Waimea Bay Beach Park swimming, lounging on the beach, and watching people jump off the rocks and into the water. We erred on the side of caution especially after seeing the sign that said, “No Jumping.”
Stuart’s grandma tipped us about Turtle Beach. We basically just parked our car on the side of the road and walk down the beach where turtles love to hang out. We saw at least five of them swimming around. It’s not a clearly marked beach or park, but it’s right before you get to Haleiwa (coming from Turtle Bay). A number of cars parked by the roadside for seemingly no good reason is your tip-off.
We often hear from people who have been to most or all of the major Hawaiian islands how Oahu is not their favorite because it’s too busy and and not as relaxing as the other islands. Then I would learn that they spent most –if not all — of their time in Waikiki, which I think should not be the basis of people’s general assessment of Oahu. There is so much more to Oahu than Waikiki Beach and Honolulu’s urban sprawl. Spend time in Kailua. Explore the windward side and marvel at the Ko’olau mountain range. Take in the slower pace of Haleiwa. Oahu is the heart of Hawaii, and I can see why this island holds a special place in our Grandma Kim’s heart. There is so much to learn about this place, and I left even more fascinated by it. No promises as to when I’ll come back, but I know that I will be back.