Residence of 75 percent of Hawai'i's population, it makes sense that O'ahu is also known as "The Gathering Place." This, the third largest island in the Hawaiian chain, is home to the state capital, an international airport, and 596 square miles of serene paradise intermingled with a pulsing city life. Because Honolulu is usually the initial stop when flying into the islands, for many visitors Oahu is their first taste of Hawai'i.
On the surface, Oahu might be mistaken as a tourist trap, given the crowded beaches and pricey shops of Waikiki. But wade deeper into the warm waters, stroll further down the beaches, and you will discover Oahu is full of history, beauty, and the true spirit of Hawai'i.
Just east of Waikiki, Diamond Head majestically sits as one of the most recognizable natural features of the island. Continue east and swim with sea turtles in the Hanauma Bay Natural Preserve. Further northeast are stretches of beautiful coastline perfect for spending the day, from Waimanalo to Kailua, and all the way up to the world-famous North Shore. While a paradise year-round, it is during the winter months that the North Shore buzzes with surfers from all over the world who come to ride some really, really big waves. And the action is not just in the water — the beaches are filled with skimpily dressed spectators bathing in the sun.
Not only tourists and locals enjoy the pleasures of O'ahu. Students from all over the world come here to get a world-class education from the state's largest university, the University of Hawai'i, Manoa. UH Manoa's nationally competitive programs include environmental law, eastern philosophy, international business, and athletics — all just minutes from the beach.
Bright white beaches are just the beginning. From Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona Memorial on the west side, to the Polynesian Cultural Center in Lai'e, and the ancient heiau (Hawaiian temples) scattered throughout the island, Oahu has much to offer history buffs and the culturally curious. Nature lovers will also find pleasure in places like the Waiahole Forest Reserve, the Moanalua Gardens, and the plenitude of hikes all along the Ko'olau Mountain Range (from here head to the Pali lookout to get a complete panoramic view of northeast O'ahu).
The fun doesn't end once the sun goes down. The beauty of the day transforms into sparkling city lights that dim only with the rising sun. Downtown Honolulu features an energetic nightlife with restaurants, music venues, and dance clubs for every taste. And taste you will. Because Hawai'i is at the crossroads of the Pacific, Hawaiian, Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, and Vietnamese are just some of the deliciously unique cuisines available. Just make sure you don't leave Hawai'i without trying a local favorite — shave ice!
The cultural melting pot offers so much more than just delicious "grinds" (the local term for good food). Stemming from the influx of immigrants during the plantation days, today many races continue to live, work, and play together, seeing not a difference of color but a unified sense of belonging. All enjoy freedom in practicing their own customs, while at the same time respecting the native traditions of Hawai'i. The plethora of people provides the basis for the "spirit of Aloha" that Hawai'i is so well known for.
Whether in East O'ahu touring an interesting collection of upscale neighborhoods, or experiencing a close knit community on the Waianae Coast where the pride of generations still works at keeping the area free of development and commercialization, a trip around the island will no doubt tickle every curiosity and satisfy any desire for beauty. And the best part? Visit anytime of the year, and the weather is certain to be a balmy 80 degrees.