Hawaii: Top Sights on Oahu
by Katie McCabe | @awelltraveledpair | January 20th, 2019
It's no question that Oahu is one of the best places to visit on Hawaii's gorgeous archipelago. Other islands, such as Kauai and Maui, are equally breathtaking and offer their own unique version of paradise, however, Oahu has the perfect balance between city and island life. Nicknamed "The Gathering Place", due to its large population and diverse cultures, the island is filled with one captivating attraction after the next. Beautiful landscapes, historic sights, and tasty bites create a one of a kind environment like no other. Whether you're looking to unwind on a beach, take an adventure through the jungle, or immerse yourself in a museum, Oahu won't disappoint. Here are nine sights you mustn't miss while visiting this stunning island.
Located in the capital city of Honolulu, Waikiki is jam-packed with restaurants, shops, and beach activities. Only fifteen minutes outside of Honolulu International Airport, it's the best place to stay on the island. Dozens of hotels line the gorgeous shores of Waikiki Beach, while a variety of stores and restaurants fill the streets. Take surf lessons on the famous beach, indulge in a tasty burger at the ever-trendy Duke's restaurant, or sip mai tai's under the sun while enjoying the Aloha way of life.
Turquoise waters, powder-like sand, and tranquility is what you'll get when you arrive at Lanikai Beach. Ranked many times amongst the most beautiful beaches in the world, Lanikai means "heavenly ocean", a name that is very fitting. The two offshore islands, "The Mokes", add to the awe-inspiring scenery, and can even be kayaked to if you're looking for a bit of adventure. Another thrilling activity that can be found nearby is the Lanikai Pillbox Hike. Locals and tourists alike trek the steep, and often slippery, path to the stunning lookout point. Sitting high above the ocean's gleaming waters, the pillboxes reward hikers with incredible views, some would say the best on the whole island.
Oahu's North Shore is definitely a place you don't want to miss. Recognized as one of the best surfing destinations in the world, beaches like Sunset and Pipeline have some pretty narly waves. The nearby town of Hale'iwa boasts a relaxed, laid-back vibe, a stark contrast to Honolulu's busy atmosphere. And the famous snorkeling spot, Laniakea Beach (also known as Turtle Beach), is full of, you guessed it, turtles.
The North Shore is an easy forty-five minute drive from Waikiki, and makes for a great day trip or weekend getaway. For lunch, don't forget to eat at Giovanni's Shrimp Truck - a North Shore staple.
A short fifteen minute drive from the North Shore is the awesome Dole Plantation. What started as a fruit stand in 1950, has now become Hawaii's best pineapple experience. Over one million people visit the plantation every year. Visitors enjoy the Pineapple Express Train Tour, the Plantation Garden Tour, and the Pineapple Garden Maze. Delicious homemade meals are prepared at the Plantation Grille, and fresh pineapples are sold at the country store. Most importantly, don't forget to indulge in the world famous Dole Whip.
Once an active volcano, Diamond Head is now one of Oahu's most popular state parks. Sitting tall at the edge of Honolulu's coastline, Diamond Head creates the perfect backdrop for the famous Waikiki Beach. What was once a fiery active volcano, is now a popular state park. Visitors hike along the crater's ridge (the path is perfectly paved) and relish in the spectacular views from the top. The journey takes around ninety minutes round-trip and is definitely worth the sweat. Back at the parking lot, local fruit stands sell fresh coconuts and pineapple smoothies - the perfect way to end a great hike!
Makua Beach & Cave
Remote and often times overlooked, Makua Beach is a secluded slice of paradise. Located on the northwest side of Oahu, most tourists never make the drive up to this quiet coast. Not only does Makua have great surfing, snorkeling, and beach relaxing but it also houses a mysterious cave. Perched high on a cliff, above Makua Beach, Kaneana Cave (also known as Makua Cave) is directly across the street from the beach. There is a ground level section of the cave, and there is a section that requires a fifteen minute uphill climb. Legend has it that mankind was born in the 150,000 year old cave. Another legend states that a shark can turn into a man inside the cave. All legends aside, the views from Makua Cave are unlike anything else you'll see on Oahu, and I highly recommend a visit.
Ho'omaluhia Botanical Gardens
Ho'omaluhia Botanical Gardens is a lush 400 acre nature reserve located about thirty minutes outside of Waikiki. Meaning "peaceful refuge", Ho'omaluhia is a vibrant property consisting of exotic trees, plants, and flora from all over the world. Tourists and locals escape the busy streets of Waikiki and head to Ho'omaluhia for the ultimate relaxation. Open daily from 9am - 4pm, admission is free, and activities include hiking, fishing, camping, and relaxing.
On December 7, 1941 a surprise air attack by the Japanese Navy occurred on Oahu's shores of Pearl Harbor and started WWII. Today, the post-war location is memorialized in five separate honorary sites. Visitors listen to recorded first-hand stories from survivors, walk through a battled airplane hanger, and take a short boat ride out to the sunken USS Arizona. Passport tickets are sold to guests looking to see all five sites. Visiting the USS Arizona site is free but reservations must be made ahead of time on the official website.
Located on the windward side of Oahu, Kualoa Ranch is a magnificent 4,000 acre property. Home to numerous movie and TV sets, such as Jurassic Park, Lost, Jumanji, and Hawaii Five-0, Kualoa offers multiple tours of the ranch. Guests can explore by ATV or horseback, or zipline across a beautiful treetop canopy. Other tours include a jeep expedition through a jungle, a boat tour to a secret island, and an electric mountain biking adventure. It's no surprise that Kualoa Ranch is one of the most popular spots on Oahu, their activities make for a fun-filled, adventure-filled, and beauty-filled day.