Traveling in O’ahu is an adventurer’s dream come true. It truly is a paradise like no other. The Heart of Hawai’i.
Before departing Southern California, I knew I wouldn’t be able to see and do everything I wanted in only five days. It’s impossible, exhausting even.
But it was worth a try.
Despite what you may have been told, O’ahu is more than crowded beaches, posh shops and high-rise buildings. The way I see it, the energy of the Island and its non-stop wonders can take you places you never imagined.
Here are 5 reasons you need to visit O’ahu right now. No, really. Go.
First Friday in Chinatown
After you start your evening off right–sitting beneath the twinkling stars and enjoying the fabulous fireworks at Duke Kahanamoku Beach–head on over to Downtown Honolulu and let Chinatown become your playground. Now, more than ever, is the perfect time to explore what lies beyond Waikiki in Honolulu’s “arts district.”
Explore. Around every corner you’ll find art galleries, delectable restaurants, provocative graffiti, a bar scene that likens to those found in Orange County, Los Angeles or the East Coast, and creative street celebrations like First Friday.
Every first Friday of the month, Chinatown comes alive to invite locals and visitors alike to dive deep into O’ahu’s vibrant art scene. Take this opportunity to interact with local artists, restaurant owners, and mingle with the community. You won’t be disappointed.
Looking to purchase a one-of-a-kind masterpiece, dance, sip on sixty different whiskeys and handcrafted cocktails, or start up some conversations with locals? Head on over to Manifest. Operated by native Hawaiians since August 2009, this trendy little cafe/bar is the perfect spot to wind down or liven up your night.
Sure, you could spend your entire trip chowing down on authentic spam musubi and kalua (slow-cooked) pork but you’d be missing out on so much taking this route.
Even if you tried, you could never count the vast circuit of culinary gems strewn across the Island. It is home to star chefs, roadside drive-ins, abundant farmers markets, family-run kitchens and farm-to-table cuisine. Speaking of farm-to-table, Alan Wong, whose eponymous Honolulu restaurant hosts monthly farmers dinners, is the go to chef for anything and everything sustainable.
O’ahu’s contemporary food scene is where homegrown chefs showcase their unparalleled talent and love for some of the most succulent organically grown produce you’ll ever have the pleasure of tasting. In Waikiki you’ll find Ruffage Natural Foods (pretty much three restaurants/shops in one), where healthy sandwiches, smoothies, and a variety of delicious vegan and vegetarian selections are made to order. Located off Kuhio Avenue, this little hole in the wall dishes up a killer ahi poke bowl and cup of miso soup–all for under $10!
The countless shrimp trucks and vegetable and fruit stands that dot Highway 83 leading up to the North Shore are every bit rustic as they are appetizing. You absolutely can’t pass through this stretch of paradise without stopping a few times to savor the bounty of the heart of Hawai’i.
Plan on visiting Downtown Honolulu during your stay? You need to check out Lucky Belly. Positioned in the heart of Chinatown, this restaurant is not just your typical bar that serves food–it serves culinary works of mouth-watering art. I recommend trying the Pork Belly Bao with sake hoisin & pickled cucumbers or the Duck Breast Tataki with kabocha puree and pear raisin chutney.
The entire menu is an explosion of flavor. Pure heaven.
If you’re more of a foodie than the everyday traveler, time your visit to coincide with one of the Island’s marvelous food festivals. Towards the end of summer, Honolulu gathers the finest chefs, sommeliers, winemakers and mixologists from around the world for the Hawai’i Food & Wine Festival, an epicurean experience unlike any other.
In late April, the Waikiki Spam Jam celebrates O’ahu’s favorite canned meat produce. It’s probably okay if you choose to pig out on musubi while in attendance.
Diamond Head State Monument
No trip to O’ahu is complete without waking up at the crack of dawn and hiking up to the top of the iconic Diamond Head State Monument. Although not as strenuous as it’s hyped up to be, Diamond Head (or Leahi in Hawaiian) does offer a steep, rocky climb and a set of 74 concrete steps sure to get anyone’s heart pumping.
Once to the top, you are treated with gorgeous panoramic views of the spectacular Pacific Ocean, Honolulu and Waikiki. Don’t forget to bring your camera!
Outdoor Paradise: the Windward Coast
Less than an hour’s drive from the hustle and bustle of Waikiki, the Windward Coast of O’ahu is the epicenter of some of the world’s most beautiful beaches, lush valleys, and adventurous lifestyles.
The Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve, hidden within the curve of a breached volcanic crater, provides visitors with unrivaled snorkeling opportunities. It is famous for its isolated beauty and white sand beach. If you aren’t set on getting into the water and discovering the rich marine life below the surface, you should at least make a stop and capture the magnetism of this scenic paradise.
A short drive along a windy, two-lane road and you’ll end up at the active Halona Blowhole and picturesque Halona Cove. The cove, which can be reached by taking a casual hike down lava cliffs, resembles the kind of stunning imagery you’d see on an annual Hawaiian calendar or inspirational poster encouraging people to take risks and get outdoors. It’s absolutely lovely.
On the easternmost point of the Island, the Makapu’u shoreline will introduce you to the delight of whale watching (November through May), breathtaking views, and a somewhat easy hike to the Makapu’u Point Lighthouse, where you can marvel at the jagged 600-foot cliffs and the island of Molokai in the distance.
If you have the time, Kailua, Byodo-In Temple, Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden, Waimanalo Beach and Mokoli’i Island are all worthwhile places to check off your itinerary.
A brief stay on O’ahu is enough to lure you into a state of bliss, of Aloha. It rejuvenates the body and soul, and reminds one that what truly matters is the present moment.
Whether you’re an adventurer out to conquer some fears, an avid traveler, a foodie or fine diner, serial shopper, a lounger and sun soaker, or a lover of idyllic ecstasy, the heartbeat of Hawai’i will pump lifeblood and the spirit of tradition into your veins. Learn to surf, delve into the Island’s history at Kualoa Ranch, and dine like royalty.
The beauty of this magical place will enchant you long after you return home.