O’ahu: A Tropical Getaway for All Tastes and Styles
In the past 15 months, I’ve been all over North America taking road trips and daytrips for business and pleasure. Major cities got a taste of me – Toronto, New York, Los Angeles – while quaint towns like Elysburg, Pa.; Greenville, S.C.; and Indio, Calif. got their fill too. Each one presented a uniquely charming and fun lifestyle that has me itching to make many return trips. However, none of those destinations felt as much like a vacation as a week-long stay on the Pacific’s tropical paradise, the Hawaiian Islands.
Of all the population centers on the planet, none are more remote than Hawai’i. The state’s capital, Honolulu, has a population of a little less than 400,000 residents; you’ll have to travel 3,841 kilometers or 2,387 miles to find the nearest city of at least that size, San Francisco. Honolulu sits on O’ahu, the third largest of the Hawaiian Islands. Now that O’ahu is a part of my travel résumé, I’m going to convince you to get it on yours too. It won’t be hard.
O’ahu, also known as The Gathering Place, is the most convenient of the Hawaiian Islands for tourists to visit due to its transportation system. Honolulu International Airport, your likely arrival and departure point, is on the island and within 25 miles of most hotels and vacation spots. Even though traffic on any island of Hawai’i can build up quickly due to a minimal number of roads, many of O’ahu’s destinations can be easily accessed because of how it was formed. Two volcanoes, Wai’anae and Ko’olau, flank the O’ahu Plain in the state’s heart. This allows for traffic to pass through the plain as opposed to going around a central volcano, as is the case on other islands of Hawai’i. Whether you’re headed toward thrills or relaxation, lively nightclubs or exotic sunbathing spots – if you’re young, old or anything in between – O’ahu makes it easy. However, once you’re there, the most populous Hawaiian Island offers many distinct experiences.
Waikiki Beach: All Flavours of Hawai’i Right Outside Your Doorstep
The world-famous Waikiki Beach in Honolulu is home to some of Hawai’i’s largest tourist destinations, with thousands of rooms within mere blocks of the sand. The hotels in Waikiki range from lavish to basic, so as to accommodate travelers of all budgets. Aim for comfort at the luxurious, historic and… pink Royal Hawaiian Hotel. Other recognizable top-notch names like Trump and Wyndham are included in the lavish list of hotels on this island. Even moderate hotels such as the Waikiki Banyan offer more than suitable accommodations for a vacation on the beach and are a short walk to all of Waikiki’s attractions.
One attraction that will feel like home is shopping. The Waikiki Plaza, Royal Hawaiian Center and Waikiki Beach Walk situate retailers like Armani, Sephora, Fendi, Rolex and Quicksilver right near your hotel and the beach. Take a stroll down to 2100 Kalakaua Avenue where Tiffany and Co., Coach, Gucci and five other deluxe names occupy Luxury Row. But the International Market Place is your destination for a more tropical shopping experience. Containing more than 130 retailers, vendors and artists, this is where you can find an authentic Hawaiian souvenir or anything you forgot to pack. The International Market Place is also a good spot to refuel after shopping. The food court features Filipino, Korean and more Asian-inspired cafés as well as standard mainland eats.
If you prefer to keep things familiar, you have your fair share of eateries to choose from outside of the shopping malls. The coastal Kalakaua Avenue hosts the kind of can’t-go-wrong restaurants that any North American urban setting features. The Cheesecake Factory and Hard Rock Café rarely disappoint. However, for foodies or those with a craving for something not typically seen back home, Waikiki Beach is truly a paradise. At the top of the list is the Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto’s Marimoto Waikiki. The high-class Japanese restaurant offers the finest, succulent Japanese cuisine. However, Waikiki has more than one celebrity chef to entertain your taste buds. Alan Wong, one of the founders of Hawaiian Regional Cuisine, awaits you at his Waikiki Pineapple Room. Keep in mind you’ll likely need a dinner reservation at these cushy, popular spots.
Try to leave some room in your belly for after-dinner and late-night drinks since Waikiki Beach offers an energetic bar and nightclub scene in a laid-back atmosphere typical of Hawai’i. Pay a little extra for an ocean view and chill vibe at The Beach Bar. See if you can find a better Mai Tai than at The Mai Tai Bar. Dance your swimsuit off at Zanzabar or the gay friendly Hula’s Bar and Lei Stand. In the mood for an upscale dance lounge? Check out Addiction, one of the few bars in Waikiki with a dress code – that means no shorts or sandals here.
Hitting the bar scene at night most likely means you hit the beach scene during the day. Don’t be afraid to walk the lengthy coastline for your perfect beach spot. The Waikiki Groin will catch your attention, and not for its name. This pier extends out into the ocean allowing visitors to catch a unique glimpse of not only the crystal-clear, blue-green ocean water and the marine life below, but also an equally stunning view looking back to a shoreline dotted with people and a steady flow of foamy waves. The Groin essentially divides one section of Waikiki beach. It acts as part of a seawall on one side for the less adventurous beachgoers, while the opposite side collects stronger waves for the body boarders. Waikiki Beach is also a prime place for boat rentals, ranging from canoes to catamarans.
Once you’re shriveled to a prune, Waikiki has plenty of dry activities. Most well-known is the hike to Diamond Head Crater. Part of O’ahu’s volcanic landscape, the rough terrain and steep climb is about 0.75 miles or 1.1 kilometers to the crater’s edge. Overlooking the entire coastline of Waikiki Beach and Honolulu, hikers are treated to a breathtaking view when reaching the apex. The Honolulu Zoo and Waikiki Aquarium are perfect alternate attractions for anyone who may not be able to handle the Diamond Head Hike.
Waikiki Beach is a melting pot of everything O’ahu has to offer, so don’t shy away from pushing yourself outside your comfort zone. If you find something new that you enjoy, explore it throughout the rest of O’ahu; the island will turn your newfound curiosity into and interest and hobby. There’s enough of Hawai’i to sample in Waikiki that it’s a great starting point for any vacation to this Pacific paradise.