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Oahu, Hawaii Travel Guide
Last Updated: Nov-08-2011, Hits: 6,161, Rating: 4, Reviews: 1, Votes: 1 Bookmark and Share
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Oahu, Hawaii Travel Guide Restaurants (144)
Hotels and Lodging (94)
Bars and Nightlife (40)
Attractions (104)
Services (21)
Maps (3)
Links (7)
Additional Articles (2)
Hawaii Travel Forum (4)
Location: North America
Geography: Island, Beach, Mountains, City
Vacation Type: Family, Romantic, Relaxation, Adventure, Cosmopolitan
Popularity: Touristy
Costs: Moderate, Expensive
Attractions: Golfing, Surfing, Spa & Wellness, Scuba & Snorkeling, Shopping, Hiking, Fishing, Ecotourism, Scenery, Food Destination, Historical Sites, Nightlife, Windsurfing

Facts and Stats:
Nickname: The Gathering Place
Population: 962,962
Land Area: 604 sq. miles
Government: Constitution-based federal republic
Telephone Area Code: 808
Country Dialing Code: +1
Languages: English, Hawaiian
Electricity: 120v
Time Zone: GMT -10/HST
Current Time:

Oh, Oahu! Nicknamed "The Gathering Place", it is the most visited of all the Hawaiian islands and consequently, the most developed. Oahu is home to Hawaii's capital, Honolulu, which is a teeming and cosmopolitan city with all the big city amenities - world class accomodations, dining and shopping. However, unlike most big cities, Honolulu is set against an impossibly beautiful backdrop of white sand, swaying palm trees and shimmering blue waters.

Honolulu means sheltered harbor in Hawaiian, and was a big shipping port in the 1800's, sending sugar and pineapple all over the world. Honolulu was also once one of three royal residences to the Hawaiian Royal Family. Today, it houses the only royal palace (Iolani Palace) on American soil.

Honolulu's bay also is home to the most visited tourist attraction in all of Hawaii: Pearl Harbor. Over 3,000 visitors a day flock to the memorial that commemerates the 1,177 sailors that died on December 7th, 1941 when Pearl Harbour was attacked by the Japanese Military. The memorial was erected over the sunken USS Arizona, which is one of 6 battleships sunk in the harbour. The Battleship Missouri, or Mighty Mo, also resides in Pearl Harbour, and is where the papers were signed with the Japanese to end the war. Right next door to Honolulu is famous Waikiki beach. It is approximately 2 miles of perfect sand with plenty of shops, people and high rise hotels.

Outside of Honolulu is more relaxed and quiet, but by no means is Oahu only centered around Honolulu and Waikiki. The North Shore of Oahu is world famous for its impossibly huge winter waves, the best on earth. Oahu has over 122 beaches, and 2 mountain ranges with spectacular hikes and views. There are also sprawling bamboo groves, ranches and waterfalls. There is something on Oahu for everyone.

The Hawaiian Islands consist of a chain of 132 volcanic islands. They are the northern extension of the Polynesian Islands in the south and central Pacific Ocean. The chain of 132 islands occupies about two thousand miles. There are 8 main inhabited islands: Nihau, Kauai, Oahu, Molokai, Lanai, Kahoolawe, Maui, and Hawaii.

Oahu is 44 miles long and 30 miles wide and is the 3rd largest island at 604 square miles. Waikiki is only 2 square miles of the island, yet the vast majority of tourists stay in that 2 mile radius. Most of Oahu consists of a broad interior valley situated between the parallel mountain ranges situated southeast-northwest. The Wainae range seperates central Oahu from the leeward coast and the Koolau Range seperates the windward coast from central oahu. The islands' highest point is at 4,020 feet on Mt. Kaala in the Waianae Range. Oahu is divided into 5 regions: Honolulu (South, Central Leeward (West), North Shore, and Windward (East). The central region is mostly pineapple fields and suburbs of Honolulu. The windward region is wet and lush with many secluded beaches and small villages. The Leeward side is drier and rural communities and resort areas. The North shore is surf territory, and in the winter has some of the largest waves on earth. In the summer, it is much like the windward side, with sleepy villages and quiet beaches.

Brief History:
Hawaii is believed to be settled sometime between 500 and 600 AD by the people of the Marqueseas Islands, and later by Tahitian and possibly other Polynesian explorers sometime around 1000 AD. These people became collectively known as the Kanaka Maoli, or the native Hawaiians. They lived in an organized and self-sufficient society with communal land. Sometimes at peace and sometimes at war, they expanded their territory over the 8 main islands. In the 1800's the entire island group was consolidated into one kingdom, The Kingdom of Hawaii, with Kamehameha as the first ruler.

Explorer James Cook arrived here in 1778 and this marked the first of many western explorers to come. They arrived to whale, to harvest sandalwood trees, pineapples, macadamia nuts, etc. Missionaries came to "save"¬Ěthe native people and also helped to establish a very lucrative sugarcane industry.

As Hawaii's sugarcane industry grew so did the United States' interest in Hawaii, although the interest in the territory was also in part to having a strategic sea location for military operations. A temporary and provisional government was established by the United States to regulate the booming sugarcane industry, which brought into place the "Great Mahelea" in 1848. This was an act that divided the land between the King and the people, and permitted private ownership of land. In a very short time, most native Hawaiians no longer had access to land, which had previously been communal. The temporary government was also responsible for the overthrow of the royal family and the establishment of Hawaii as an official territory to the United States of America. Hawaii became an official state of the United States of America on August 21st, 1959. The strategic sea location prompted President Woodrow Wilson established 322 acres on Oahu for a Military Base in 1918. 30 years later, on December 7th, 1941, Japan surprise attacked the Naval port and Air station with hundreds of explosives, crippling the United States Pacific Fleet and directly impacting the United States' decision to enter World War 2.

Hawaii is abundant in natural beauty and has one of the world's most extreme natural playgrounds. There would be little point to traveling to Hawaii without seeing some of its amazing land and seascapes. There are a variety of things to get outside and do - some on your own, some in tours. Snorkeling and Scuba diving is as easy as renting some gear at a shop and getting in the water (You will need to be certified to dive, though). Shops will usually provide you with a map of good snorkel spots, as well as places to be avoided. You can also do tours if you want extra information, or to go out on a boat to see places not accessible from the beaches. There are a variety of tours that will cater most desires whether they be seeing turtles and dolphins, locating good dive spots, kayaking, coral reef exploration, etc.

It is common to see the Green Sea turtle while snorkelling or diving. If you aren't diving or snorkeling, there are a few places where you can see them from the shore- they crawl ashore to bask at Laniakea (Turtle beach) or Hanauma Bay.

Humpback whales migrate through the Hawaiian Islands December through May to mate and give birth in the warm Hawaiian waters. In total, about 7,000 of them will pass by the islands, coming and going at their own pace. Some good whale watching spots from the shore are: Ka'ena Point, Halona Blowhole Lookout, Hanauma Bay, Shark's Cove, Leahi, Makapu'u Point Lighthouse, Turtle Bay Resort and Lanikai. There are also whale watching cruises and boat tours that you can charter.

There are many hiking trails with panoramic ocean views, volcanic craters, waterfalls and bamboo groves and over 112 miles of beaches.

The majority of Oahu residents live in Honolulu, and it is the most expensive place to live on all of the islands. Even though Honolulu is a big city, it is still in Hawaii and is more more laid back than it's mainland big city counterparts. Hawaii is very racially diversified, and many different cultural backgrounds are represented side by side. It is more pronounced on Oahu than any other Hawaiian island. There is some ethnic tension, but no more so than most places with different ethnicities living side by side. If a person is educated and respectful, there is likely to be no problems, but the tension should still be addressed. The Hawaiian Islands experience a huge amount of tourism year round, and some people just aren't well behaved. This, in combination with various political grievances, namely a desire expressed by some native Hawaiians to be sovereign apart from the United States, can contribute to a lot of frustration for the native Hawaiians. When you are on vacation in Hawaii, if you are polite and respectful, the islanders will be polite and respectful to you as well. Expecting things to be like how it is for you back home reads as disrespectufl to the way of life on Oahu. Igorant comments like "Back in the States" can be frustrating to hear over and over when Hawaii IS a state. However, Most people are generous and warm and the Aloha spirit is alive and well.

There are a plethora of restaurants in Oahu. Most are in Honolulu, and many of them are world class. You will be able to find any type of food you may be craving. However, if you want to go local, tasting the local Hawaiian food ("grinds") can be quite a treat. Luau meals are very tasty featuring lau lau (fish and pork wrapped in taro leaves), kalua pig (smoked pork cooked in an underground oven called an imu), lomi lomi salmon (a tomato and onion relish with smoked salmon) and of course, poi (cooked and mashed taro root). Be sure to try a plate lunch complete with two scoops of rice and macaroni salad, and your choice of teriyaki beef or chicken. Also good are the kalbi ribs, a Korean style bbq cross rib that is sweet, sticky, and very good. For the sweet tooth, malasadas and shave ice are sure to please. When ordering fish in restaurants, you will notice fish is referred to in its Hawaiian name as follows:
  • Ahi: Yellow fin Tuna
  • Mahi-Mahi: Dolphin fish
  • Ono: Wahoo
  • Opakapaka: Crimson Snapper
  • Opah: Moonfish
  • Shutome: Swordfish
  • Kawa Kawa: Bonito
Due to the hassle and expense, many smaller restaurants on Oahu do not have liquor licenses, however, a good number of them allow BYOB. It is highly recommended that you check with them in advance to be sure. Check out our restaurant guide for more information on the dining scene.

The Hawaiian Islands are a part of the United States so the currency is the same. Hawaii is rather expensive, and Honolulu and Waikiki are the most expensive parts of Oahu. Restaurants and groceries are a little pricey. You can buy cheaper groceries at Wal Mart or Costco if you plan on cooking any meals in. Of course, there are plenty of moderately priced restaurants as well. Make sure to keep some cash on you as many restaurants don't take credit cards. Tipping practices are the same in Hawaii as everywhere else in the U.S. (15-20% for meals).

If you like to bring home souveniers, Wal-Mart or Costco are also cheaper than the various shops around the island. Accomodations tend toward very expensive. It is pretty hard to find a place for less than $150.00 per night. Hotels will add on a %11.42 tax (sales and occupancy) so be sure to figure that into your budget.

Renting a car is cheaper in Hawaii than most of the states, so that's a plus!

Getting there and around:
Flights from all over the world land at Honolulu International Airport, which is located just outside of downtown Honolulu. Free Wiki-Wiki (Hawaiian for 'quick') shuttle buses run between the Main Overseas Terminal and Interisland Terminal every 15 minutes.

Once you have arrived, you can get to your destination in a variety of ways: The most popular option is to rent a car. The island is worth exploring, and if you plan on leaving Honolulu or Waikiki at all, we recommend you obtain a rental. They have all the major car rentals located at the airport, and Hawaii is one of the cheapest places in the country to rent a car.

If you do not rent a car, you can still make it to other destinations using Oahu's bus system. It is called TheBus and it runs to most tourist destinations and towns: or call (808) 848-4500.

There is also a trolley in Waikiki to get around on. You can find out where it services here: or call (808) 593-2822.

You can, of course, take cabs from the airport or around, although it won't be cheap. There is 24 hour taxi service, and it is about $40.00 to Waikiki from the airport.

As of 2011, there is construction for an elevated rail, which is expected to be complete in about 2019.

There was an inter-island Superferry that was once in operation, however, in 2009 the courts ruled that the law that allowed Superferry to operate was unconstitutional and the ferry service was grounded and filed for bankruptcy. As of mid-2010, there are again talks of starting some sort of inter-island ferry service, ran by the government instead. As of time of press, there is still no Superferry running.

Entry Requirements:
If you are a US citizen, traveling to Hawaii is like traveling between states. You are not required to bring a passport, and the paperwork you will need to fill out is required by the US and Hawaii State Departments of Agriculture to prevent harmful plant pests and diseases from coming into Hawaii. If you are not a U.S. resident, you will be required to have a passport.

Oahu is a tropical island with a fairly mild and consistent year-round climate. The leeward (west) side is considerably warmer and drier than the east. Hawaii's high season is from mid-December through May, however, If you are interested in big surf, winter is the time to go.

Below are the current weather conditions and forecast for Honolulu.

The table below shows the average weather conditions in Honolulu.

  Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Avg High 80 81 82 83 85 87 88 89 89 87 84 82
Avg Low 66 65 67 68 70 72 74 75 74 73 71 68
Hours of Sun 8 9 9 10 11 10 10 11 11 10 8 8
Humidity 73 72 69 68 66 65 66 65 67 70 72 75
Water Temp 76 76 76 76 78 79 80 80 81 81 79 77
Precipitation 2.73" 2.35" 1.89" 1.11" 0.78" 0.43" 0.50" 0.46" 0.74" 2.18" 2.27" 2.85"

Tips/Additional Information:
  • Humpback whale migration starts at the end of November and early December. Be sure to find a good spot and keep your eyes open for the telltale spout. If you are lucky you might even see them breach out of the water, a most spectacular sight.
  • It is considered very impolite to refer to the U.S. mainland as "the States" or to otherwise imply that Hawaii is not part of the U.S. Asking, "Do you accept American money?" or "How do you like the United States?" is probably considered both rude and ignorant.
  • Theft is a minor problem in cities, beaches and parks. Just be smart, don't leave your valuables out in the open on the beach or in your car and you should be okay.
  • Hawaii has a reputation for shark attacks, but really this is because there are so many people in the water year round. In fact, given the thousands of people in the water everyday, and given that there is an average of only 2 shark attacks per year, your chances of being attacked are extremely unlikely. Just be intelligent about your choices. Don't swim alone, be cautious in deep and murky water, and if you are bleeding, get out of the water. For more information read our shark awareness article which can be found in the Additional Articles section toward the top of this guide.
  • Do get an underwater camera - you can buy cheap disposable ones that take decent pictures. The water is clear and there are so many lovely underwater scenes, you will regret not having one.
  • It is illegal to touch The Green Sea Turtle, so if you do see one, please be respectful and keep your distance. If a turtle swipes it's flipper over its forehead, or gapes with an open mouth, these are signs that it is feeling threatened, and you should immediately back off.
  • It is illegal to drive and be on your cell phone.

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    User Reviews (1)

    Reviewed by: sloshed
    Review date: Sep-09-2011

    This was our third trip to Hawaii, but we had never been to Oahu. We had been to Maui twice (not a fan) and Kauai once (loved it). To be honest, I didn't think I'd like Oahu as much as I did, but then again, if I had stayed in Waikiki, my rating would probably be 1 star. The north shore was actually busier than I expected, especially on weekends when the locals head north to escape the city, but it was an acceptable level of liveliness. We stayed up on the north shore in a rental house on Laie. I probably wouldn't stay in that town again due to the fact that it is a Mormon town and dry. No matter where you stay, I would highly recommend locking your doors while you sleep. Our house was robbed and we lost a lot of valuables. I really liked Haleiwa town - it is quaint and has by far the greatest concentration of shops and restaurants on the north shore. Since we lost all of our pictures from our trip in the robbery, I think I would like to come back and get some good pics. There are several other things we didn't get to that I would love to check out. Lot's to do here. 

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