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Introducing Oʻahu

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.