Beaches, culinary pleasures and a rich culture abound throughout Oahu
Appropriately translated as “the gathering place,” Oahu is the most visited of Hawaii’s islands. Here are a few reasons.
Most visitors start their Oahu journey on the island’s southeast coast in the city of Honolulu, home to hotels, high-end shopping and world-famous Waikiki Beach.
One of my favorite food destinations is Honolulu’s Chinatown, one of the most diverse Chinatowns in the world. At Kekaulike Market, look for Maguro Brothers, a no-frills place known for its tuna poke and sashimi. A short walk from the market is another favorite: The Pig and the Lady, a contemporary Vietnamese fusion restaurant where you’ll find the Pho French Dip sandwich, or baked scallops bathed in chile satay butter and drizzled with Meyer lemon juice. Another option is the Royal Kitchen, which has been around nearly 50 years, and is known for its chicken curry or Portuguese sausage manapua (buns).
To walk off that food, if it’s the first Friday of the month, you’ll want to stick around and check out the arts walk from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., when streets are closed and there’s entertainment.
Or, you can hike the trail up Diamond Head volcano and its crater, formed by an eruption some 300,000 years ago—a must for stunning views of the Pacific Ocean and Honolulu. If you don’t feel like hiking, take a guided Segway tour of iconic Honolulu sites that includes a glide up Diamond Head Road to the Diamond Head Lighthouse and the Amelia Earhart lookout point.
Don’t miss the open-air Aloha Stadium Swap Meet & Marketplace, which recently reopened on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays. It’s full of 400 vendors that sell art, vintage items, souvenirs and collectible “junk,” as well as food. Admission is $1 for age 12 and older, and free for those 11 and under. Go by car or taxi—this is one big, eclectic market, and chances are you’re going to buy something.
When you’re ready to venture out of the city, begin by driving 40 minutes outside of downtown Honolulu to the less populous Waianae coast, the west (or leeward) side of the island. Along this coast are wonderful spots to snorkel in the shallow reefs, watch for spinner dolphins and sea turtles, or stand-up paddleboard. And the beaches here have social distancing baked in.
For example, there’s Kahe Point Beach Park, also known as Hawaiian Electric Beach Park, or “Electrics,” just north of Aulani, Disney’s popular resort. The beach is named for the power plant next to it; the warm water coming from that plant is responsible for attracting an abundance of sea life. (Translation: great snorkeling.)
From there, head north to Makaha Beach Park. It’s one of my favorites, and rarely crowded. Surfers love it, but you can also rent giant stand-up paddleboards that let you ride the waves with six or more people on board one paddleboard.
If it’s a Saturday, a great trip is to head to the north end of the island for a day at the polo grounds in Mokuleia to watch the Hawaii Polo Club play. Take in a match or two and then stay for the music and dancing that go on until sunset. Nearby, a must stop is the legendary Matsumoto Shave Ice—this family-run business has been around for more than 70 years. One caution: There’s almost always a line, but that will give you time to decide which of the 40-plus flavors you want.