Our approach to the island took us over Diamond Head and then past the beach of Waikiki. The plane banked hard right and as we turned the turquoise of the water rose to meet us. The reefs and varying water depths created a kaleidoscope of colors that remain with me forty years later.
Everyone I talk with has a different first impression of their visit to the islands. They’re unique and at the same time share one common theme; inspiring. Welcome to the Islands and may your memories last you a lifetime or at least until your next visit. With so much to see and do on Oahu, a bit of time spent becoming familiar will go a long way towards making your stay as pleasurable as possible.
The island is broken down into 5 distinct areas, Honolulu (includes the Waikiki area), Central Oahu, North Shoreand the Leeward and Windward Coast areas.
Leeward Coast Area:
The Leeward Coast area (west of the airport and Pearl Harbor) is a mere 30 miles from Waikiki and lies at the base of Waianae mountain range. The area is dryer than the lush Windward Coast and composed of many small towns and numerous out of the way beaches. This area is home to some fantastic resorts, the Marriott Ihilani Resort and Spa and the Aulani (a Disney Resort) and offers exceptional ocean access and water sports, golf courses and access to Sacred Kaena Point.
The Honolulu Area features many opportunities to explore the rich history of the island and contains the majority of Oahu’s population. If you’re looking for fine dining, shopping opportunities, cultural background or history this is the place to spend some time.
Stretching from The airport to Diamond Head along the southeastern shores of the island, your time spent in Honolulu will reward you with a multitude of experiences. If shopping is your thing, the local markets and farmers markets will introduce you to tastes and arts that make up this multi-cultural area. If you like malls, the Ala Moana Shopping Center will fit the bill. This is the largest mall on the islands and the largest open air mall in the world.
If history appeals to you, Honolulu is home to some Hawaii’s most historical places. Take time to explore the Iolani Palace (only official state residence of royalty in the US), the Kawaiahao Church (first Christian Church built on the island), the Bishop Museum and the historic Hawaii Theatre. A bit of history will go a long way towards enriching all your experiences while on the island?
The numerous art galleries, nightlife, dining opportunities and clubs make Honolulu the hot spot of the island. From the beaches of Waikiki to the underground bars of Chinatown, Honolulu has it all.
The Northshore Area is home to some of the most spectacular beaches on the island. If you like the big waves this is the place to visit and enjoy. Be aware of the ocean conditions and always error on the side of safety. If you want to know, ask a local. If you don’t see any locals, this is a warning sign.
The Central Oahu Area starts at Pearl Harbor and runs into the rich valley between the Waianae and the Koolau Mountain Ranges. In this area in a time past you would have found the plantations and fields rich with sugar cane and pineapples. Stop by the Dole Plantation and the Hawaii Plantation Village for a glimpse into the islands past and the industry that propelled it. Although no longer a main stay of the island economy, traces of growing fields still remain.
A day spent at Pearl Harbor will bring to life the stories that have been told. Take a tour of the USS Missouri, USS Bowfin and the USS Oklahoma memorials and learn how this area reshaped history and the course of the Second World War. Pearl Harbor remains an active naval base and is the largest natural harbor in Hawaii.
Windward Coast Area:
The Windward Coast Area is across the island from Honolulu. It can be reached by driving past Diamond Head, continuing past Northshore Beaches or taking the Pali Highway from Honolulu. The views and scenic values are dramatically different so be sure and return a different way then you came.
The Pali Highway has always been our first choice for crossing over. The vistas once you pass through the tunnels are extraordinary and can be missed when choosing this as a return route. Take some time at the historic Nuuanu Pali Lookout and be sure to read about the events that took place here.
You’ll arrive in the town of Kailua once down from the pass. This is a great place to explore as it abounds in shops and dining establishments and hosts a spectacular beach area. When it’s time to leave you’ll have a couple of choices, left (hwy 72) or right (hwy 83). Taking a left will take you back to Diamond
Head. This route will allow an opportunity to see Waimanalo Beach, Sea Life Park and Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve. Taking a right will take you back up the coast to the Northshore. This route will take you past the Valley of the Temples and the Polynesian Cultural Center.
There is no wrong way to go as both areas need to be seen and explored.
If you see small local fruit stands along these routes, stop and buy. These stands offer some of the best fruit, homemade goodies and local delicacies available. We found that when we go out hunting for fruit stands the result is not just good food but opportunities to see not in the book attractions you can only find by chance.
Don’t be afraid to be adventurous and always be safe.