Waikiki, Oahu's scenic beauty rivals that of other
some visitors head straight for other islands when
visiting Hawaii, thinking they've done and seen it all on
Oahu, Hawaii's most populous island is always worth
another visit. Oahu has the buzz and attractions of a
major city combined with solace and scenic beauty just a
short drive away.
get me wrong. I love the other islands, too: Lanai and its
two Four Seasons resorts, where I stayed when the
properties first opened under different management 20
years ago, and recently revisited earlier this year; the
Big Island with all but two of the world's climate zones
and its oozing volcano; Maui, where I take any opportunity
to visit sleepy Hana (Travaasa's Sea Ranch Cottages there
are pure bliss); and Kauai with its waterfalls. These
other islands are great for relaxing, but there's just
more to see and do on Oahu, home to Honolulu, Waikiki and
some of the best scenery anywhere.
itself is more bustling than ever, with culture, fine
dining, shopping to rival Las Vegas or Rodeo Drive (the
world's largest outdoor mall is here), and year-round
extravaganzas such as the annual Hawaii Food and Wine
Festival. Plus, it's easy to escape to some amazing
beaches (nearly empty even on a weekend), hiking trails,
farmers markets and other rural pursuits.
my most recent visit I even discovered some things that I
somehow missed on a dozen previous occasions.
perfectly happy camping out on the lanai of an oceanfront
room on Waikiki, or perhaps on the beach in a chaise under
an umbrella, plunging into the calm waters from time to
time to cool off (I divided my recent stay between the
oceanfront Outrigger Beach Resort, the elegant Trump
Waikiki and the classic Moana Surfrider, Waikiki's first
beachfront hotel). But I spent most of this trip ticking
off some new things on the must-do list.
up was the historic Iolani Palace, the last home of
Hawaii's royal family. The beautifully restored building
is as fascinating as the history behind it and the people
who lived there. I took a guided tour with docent educator
Zita Cup Choy, who proudly announced, "This place had
electric lights four years before the White House got
them." It's also where Hawaii's last queen resided
under house arrest for several years.
it was off to lunch in downtown's funky Chinatown section,
where The Pig & The Lady gets crowded with locals
hungry for imaginative Vietnamese cuisine. The
neighborhood is evolving from gritty to hip, with new
restaurants, bars, shopping and entertainment, and to
learn more I stopped into the Visitor Information Center
(1159 Nu'uanu Avenue/808-521-2903), where they hand out
free tip sheets on what to experience in the area.
Oahu is much more than Waikiki, and one of the most
popular attractions these days is the farmers market at
Kapiolani Community College where 60 or so vendors set up
each Saturday to sell locally grown produce, some of which
you may never have seen before, and serve food (you can
get there by public bus from Waikiki). I liked it because
it's not one of those silly "crafts fair"
farmers markets (the only T-shirts they sell support the
Hawaiian Farm Bureau Federation, www.hfbf.org, the group
that sponsors the market; I got one with a bright pink pig
that reads "support local pigs"). A main
attraction is the Ono Pops stand (http://www.onopops.com/flavors.php)
selling local and organic popsicles with outrageous flavor
combinations such as Strawberry Goat Cheese.
while Kauai is famous for its hiking trails, Oahu has them
too. The following day I trekked the Makapuu Lighthouse
trail along the Kaiwi State Scenic Shoreline, part of the
Oahu State Park system. The trailhead is located off
Highway 72 and it is indeed as scenic as anything I've
ever seen elsewhere in Hawaii.
there, I headed to the beach. Specifically, gorgeous and
majestic Waimanalo Beach: soft sands, aqua water, and
uncrowded even on a weekend. At 5.5 miles, it's the
longest stretch of sandy shoreline on Oahu and one of the
longest in the islands. And it's nearby Sweet Home
Waimanalo (http://sweethomewaimanalo.com/), where the fish
tacos and other local fare are alone worth the drive.
of my favorite things to do on Oahu is to just drive
around the island from top to bottom, stopping along the
way wherever looks interesting. A must-stop is
Haleiwa, the quintessential beach and surf town on the
North Shore with boutiques, restaurants and galleries.
my next to last day I did something I'd missed in all my
visits to Honolulu, and I'm not sure why I avoided it:
namely, a tour of Pearl Harbor, including its absorbing
museums and the USS Arizona Memorial, a 30-minute drive
from Waikiki. Maybe I stayed away because it's such an
emotional place; but many visitors say it's a highlight of
their trip, and I can see why. Check your pulse if you
leave without a lump in your throat.
on my final day, I did what no visitor to Waikiki should
miss. I went down to the pool desk and rented a chaise and
beach umbrella and spent the day swimming, catching up on
my reading, people-watching, and sipping an adult beverage
or two. It's perhaps the most iconic — but certainly not
the only — way to spend a day on Oahu.