O‘ahu is one of those iconic travel destinations. Views of the coastline from hikes across the island, big wave surfing on the North Shore and an endless stream of turquoise water make O‘ahu an idyllic vacation spot.
Dubbed “The Gathering Place,” O‘ahu plays host to Hawai’i’s state capital of Honolulu, as well as famed spots like Diamond Head Crater, Pearl Harbor and Waikīkī Beach. While the golden sand beaches are one of its main calling cards, this Hawaiian island offers something for every type of traveler.
Whether you’re seeking true relaxation under a palm tree or within the walls of a luxurious spa, an adrenaline-pumping hike, a shopping fix, or even a bit of history, O‘ahu has it all:
Honolulu is teeming with shopping opportunities, with local boutiques and high-end fashion houses intertwining on seemingly every corner.
The Ala Moana Shopping Center, known simply as the Ala Moana, is one of the largest open-air shopping centers in the world with more than 350 stores and restaurants. The Royal Hawaiian Center features a three-story Hermès, among other luxury brands, as well as complimentary cultural programming — think everything from Lomilomi Hawaiian massage to ukulele lessons.
The International Market Place, anchored by stores like the world-famous Christian Louboutin and local favorite Eden in Love, was built around a 100-year-old banyan tree and offers monthly lei-making workshops with third-generation lei maker Meleana Estes.
Brush Up on Local History
The Iolani Palace is a national historic landmark, and the only official state residence of royalty in the U.S. It served as the residence of King Kalākaua and Queen Liliuokalani, the last two monarchs of the Hawaiian Kingdom.
Just outside Honolulu sits heiress and philanthropist Doris Duke’s former estate, Shangri La, which serves as a museum for Islamic arts and culture. Built in 1937, the oceanfront property drew inspiration from Duke’s extensive travels through Africa and the Middle East.
Make room on your island itinerary to tour the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center, which is free of charge and offers visitors somber insight into the infamous World War II attacks. For an extra fee, visitors can tour the Battleship Missouri, USS Bowfin, and Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum.
Seek Out Wellness
To find solace in a spa, look no further than Marriott’s Spa By The Sea, a beachside spa located in Marriott’s Ko Olina Beach Club. The facility features three outdoor cabanas and offers traditional spa treatments, as well as an island-inspired Hawaiian massage.
Every December, O‘ahu hosts the Honolulu Marathon, with more than 30,000 participants from around the world taking to the streets. For those not quite ready for the 26.2 mile grind, you can opt for a half marathon, one of two 10K runs, or the “Merrie Mile.”
Sample the Best of Local Cuisine
O‘ahu has become known as a spot for celebrity chefs and local culinary stars alike. You can see and be seen at Senia, the hospitality brainchild of Per Se alumni Chris Kajioka and Anthony Rush. Located in Chinatown, this “elevated Hawaiian” restaurant features three ways to nosh, including an a la carte menu in the dining room, a Chef’s Counter, or private dining.
To watch Mother Nature’s daily sunset show and get a bite to eat, grab a seat at Sky Waikiki, for live music, cocktails and locally-inspired pupus. After dark this sky lounge becomes a nightclub with an enforced dress code, so make sure to get there early.
To satiate your sweet tooth, pick up a box of Leonard’s malasadas, a Portuguese-style donut with creamy haupia filling, served in a trademark pink box. Or swing through Asato Family Shop, a mom and pop serving locally inspired sherbet flavors like Li Hing Lemon and Makaha Mango.
Explore Land, Sea
The cerulean-hued waters surrounding the island create ideal conditions for water sports of all varieties, including surfing, stand-up paddleboarding, snorkeling and diving. Surf schools and equipment-rental shops pepper the coastline, making it easy to literally dive right in.
To get a view from the top, check out hikes on O‘ahu at Diamond Head Crater, Lanikai Pillbox Hike and Waimea Falls. The paved path of Makapu‘u Lighthouse Trail lends itself to families with strollers, and in the winter months, whales can be seen breaching in the water from the top.
Whether you’re looking for a retail fix, a lesson on local history, a wellness retreat, a foodie’s paradise or the ultimate tropical vacation, O‘ahu offers a little something for everyone.
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