There are a lot of beach resorts in the world where you can escape into a manufactured fantasy, where everything is staged for the scrapbook photograph. And then there’s O'ahu, known in Hawaiian as ‘the gathering place.’
The most developed of the Hawaiian islands, O'ahu is the state’s center of government and culture – a role it usurped from Maui. It is one of the world’s best combinations of urban living, natural beauty and rural community. You can indulge your vacation dreams of umbrella drinks and suntans as well as eat at ethnic hole-in-the-walls and pick-up local pidgin. It is a perfect counterpoint for people who get bored with resorts and the ease of being a tourist.
On the mainland, you’d have to drive halfway across a state to find the diversity that O'ahu has within an hour’s drive. Honolulu is a traffic-jammed city more akin to Asia than Europe. There’s no ethnic majority; everyone who can claim a fairly homogenous racial identity is in a minority. The intermingling of O'ahu’s ethnic groups is best captured with a food anecdote: Honolulu’s American-style diners serve a noodle dish known as saimin that claims parentage from Japan, China, Korea and the Philippines. A mixed-up family tree found only in Hawaii.
The island was one of the first to implant itself in the world’s collective longing for a tropical vacation, thanks to the success of Waikiki. Many come for the Waikiki vacation package, and all are pleasantly surprised by what lies beyond the hotel. A short distance away are dramatic mountain ranges, aqua-blue coral bays and wide sandy beaches. There’s snorkeling in the old volcanic crater of Hanauma Bay, monster waves at the surfing haven of the North Shore, genuine Hawaiian ukulele bands, hiking through tropical forests and a general aloha spirit.
Best places to stay in O'ahu
Aloha chic: finding the perfect Hawaiian shirt
There’s a clichéd vision of the aloha shirt. It’s loud. It says tacky tourist on tropical holiday. It’s worn with ill-fitting shorts and white socks and sneakers. It’s a statement of anti-style and casual disarray. The noble aloha shirt deserves more than to be dismissed as a piece of trivial tackiness.
Oʻahu destination guides
More Asian than American, Honolulu is a delightful blend of ethnicities, a cacophonous mixture of language, custom and cuisine served with generous helpings of Hawaiian hospitality.
O'ahu's Top Scenic Drives
The island of Oʻahu offers much more for adventurous travellers than just the historic streets of Honolulu and Waikiki's beach resorts. Hitting the island’s roads allows you full licence to check out some of Hawai‘i's most spectacular scenic drives.
Big Island Day Trip: Volcanoes National Park from Oahu
Take a Big Island volcano tour from Oahu on a day trip to Hawaii's Volcanoes National Park. The recent eruptions of Kilauea Volcano have captured the world's imagination, so see the extraordinary landscape for yourself on this Oahu volcano tour. This fully narrated volcano adventure is a great way to explore and learn about the Big Island's volatile geology first-hand.
USS Missouri, Arizona Memorial, Pearl Harbor and Punchbowl Day Tour
Skip all the lines as you take a memorable Pearl Harbor tour with USS Missouri tickets and Arizona Memorial admission. This day tour takes you on a sobering journey through US history to the site of the attack on Pearl Harbor and the USS Missouri, the last battleship built by the US Navy.
Hiking O‘ahu: a walk through Hawaii's history and culture
When it comes to hiking, Maui and the Big Island famously have volcanoes to scale, while Kaua‘i has the sheer sea cliffs of the Na Pali Coast. But O‘ahu has equally exhilarating, lesser-known footpaths that let you glimpse Hawaii’s traditional culture and history.