Oahu See And Do
The most famous beach on Oahu (and possibly in the world), Honolulu's Waikiki Beach lives up to the hype. Though the sections in front of major hotels can get crowded, the scene—a mix of local bathing beauties, Japanese surfers, and pink-roasted visitors—is endlessly entertaining. The surf breaks are far from shore, so there's plenty of gentle water for swimming. And the options for pre- and post-beach drinks, dining, and shopping are numerous. Also in Honolulu, Ala Moana Beach Park's wide stretch of sand, protected swimming area, and ample parking draw families with young children and coolers.
Body-boarders dominate at Sandy Beach, on Oahu's southeastern coast (locals call it "Sandys"), where the pounding shore break makes for gnarly rides. Beginners or casual boogie-boarders should definitely find another spot; reportedly, more injuries occur here than at Pipeline. The beach and adjacent lawn are plenty spacious enough for spectators, though (as well as the occasional landing hang glider). Bring a beach umbrella: There's almost no shade here.
Idyllic, half-mile-long Lanikai Beach, in Kailua, fronts a suburb of multimillion-dollar homes on the shore. Though it's the island's prettiest beach, you'll have to park on the road and walk between the houses to get to it. This is completely kosher—all beaches are public in Hawaii—but there are no facilities of any kind.
The North Shore's Sunset Beach, clearly visible from Kamehameha Highway, has a split personality. Between May and September, it's a family-friendly sunning and swimming beach with a bit of rough shore break; but in October/November and March/April, it morphs into a premier surf spot with killer waves. During these hairy periods, the surf has been known to sweep unattended towels, beach bags, and even beach-walking tourists out to sea.
At the very end of the road on Oahu's west coast, legendary Yokohama Bay is well worth the drive. Its remoteness keeps the crowds away; the only people you'll likely see here are west-side locals. These residents get a bit of a bad rap for being unfriendly, but if you're respectful you won't have any problems with them. Do, however, keep an eye out for strong currents and undertow when you're swimming or boarding.
2411 Makiki Heights Drive
Honolulu , Hawaii
Tel: 808 526 1322
Hidden away in the tony suburb of Makiki, the Contemporary has an impressive collection of lesser-known works by modern-art masters. There are paintings by Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, Robert Motherwell, and Richard Diebenkorn; sculpture by Deborah Butterfield; photography by William Wegman; and glasswork by Dale Chihuly. The café on the grounds is a lovely, serene place to lunch, and children are welcome to play among the outdoor installations in the garden.
The diving isn't as spectacular around Oahu as it is off Hawaii's outer islands (the deep water isn't quite as clear here). But there are some terrific plane-wreck dives, including the sunken Beechcraft plane off Waianae, and the Corsair crash site off Hawaii Kai, where garden eels "sprout" from their holes in the ocean floor. For trips to these sites, as well as shore dives off the North Shore, contact Oahu Dive Center, the largest and most reputable operator on the island (808-263-7333; www.oahudivecenter.com).
Good snorkeling can be had off almost every Oahu beach; in particular, Sharks Cove and Kuilima Cove on the North Shore are great during the summer, when the water is calm (no worries—you're unlikely to see sharks). The best snorkeling spot by far, though, is Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve, a placid cove where the tropical fish have led protected lives since 1967. They're consequently tame as puppies, and swarm around snorkelers in hopes of getting a snack (feeding the fish isn't allowed, though obviously someone is doing it). It can be a little alarming to have hundreds of fish swooping in at you—and even nibbling at you—but they're harmless, and once you get used to it, it's actually pretty fun. There's a beautiful beach at Hanauma where you're welcome to spend the day, although you'll need to pay parking and entry fees (both under $5), and watch a short conservation film before you're allowed to walk down to the sand. The food at the sole snack stand is good but pricey (808-396-4229; www.co.honolulu.hi.us/parks/facility/hanaumabay).
Although Oahu is heavily populated (it has 800,000 people, or 80 percent of the state population), much of it is still undeveloped, lovely, and crisscrossed by safe, well-marked hiking trails. Of course, most tourists do the obvious hike up the 760-foot Diamond Head. The 1.4-mile, round-trip trek takes about 90 minutes and is pretty challenging for the average person, especially on a hot day, but the sweeping view of Waikiki is unbeatable. The trail starts at a clearly marked parking lot off Diamond Head Road; there are no facilities.
At Waimea Valley on the North Shore, hikes range from an easy meander through tropical gardens to a steep, .75-mile-long hike to a 40-foot waterfall. (You can swim at the falls when the water's high enough.) The valley is protected by Audubon Society gatekeepers, so you'll pay entry and parking fees to get in (Audubon Center, 808-638-9199; waimea.audubon.org). For other suggested hikes, check out the helpful Oahu hiking website www.backyardoahu.com.
900 S. Beretania Street
Honolulu , Hawaii
Tel: 808 532 8700
This very centrally located museum has more than 50,000 works of art, including pieces from such masters as Picasso, Gauguin, Cezanne, Van Gogh, Rauschenberg, and Noguchi. It also offers studio art classes for both adults and children, and hosts events throughout the year. Themed ARTafterDARK parties, held the last Friday of every month, attract Honolulu's equivalent of young society: people in their twenties to forties looking to network and connect.
Corner of King and Richard streets
Honolulu , Hawaii
Tel: 808 522 0832
King David Kalakaua built this palace in 1882, as a symbol to the world that Hawaiian royalty was as grand as any in Europe. Only two Hawaiian royals ever lived here, though: Kalakaua, who was childless, and his sister, Queen Liliuokalani, who succeeded him only to be overthrown and put under house arrest in 1895. Today, the well-preserved structure, filled with period furniture, royal portraits, and a showcase of the Hawaiian crown jewels, gives a glimpse into the state's majestic (and tragic) past.
Closed Sundays and Mondays.
4055 Papu Circle
Honolulu , Hawaii
Tel: 808 734 1941
Though many rich and famous types have made Hawaii their hideaway, few of them have opened their spectacular compounds to the public. Fortunately, gawkers can get their fix by touring Doris Duke's opulent 1937 estate at Black Point. Three tours are made of the property every day (up to a dozen people per tour, operated by the Honolulu Academy of Arts, 866-385-3849). Some of the rooms are off-limits, but visitors will get to see Duke's extraordinary collection of Islamic art. Roughly 3,500 pieces of furniture, tile, and ceramics, some dating back as far as 1500 B.C., decorate the estate. See the website for an excellent virtual preview.
Closed Sundays through Tuesdays, and the month of September.
If Hawaii is the birthplace of surfing, then Oahu is its capital. The North Shore is famous worldwide for the much-photographed, super-advanced break known as Pipeline, the multiple breaks at Sunset Beach, and the big waves of Waimea Bay. Between October and May, the crowds at these spots double, as surfers from all over the world (and tour buses full of spectators) make their pilgrimages. The Vans Triple Crown—the Super Bowl of surfing—is held in Oahu every year between late November and early December (www.triplecrownofsurfing.com).
Waikiki Beach was once surfed only by Hawaiian royals, but today it's often crowded. Still, the gentle waves are ideal for beginners. Legendary Hawaiian surfer Dane Kealoha started his own surf school at the Hyatt Regency Waikiki in 2008 and offers some of the best private lessons in town (808-924-3263; www.hyattsurfacademy.com). Top-notch lessons for younger kids (as well as adults) are given by surf-loving off-duty firemen of the Honolulu-based Hawaiian Fire Surf School. They take students out to an empty break on the west side of Oahu, where there are no witnesses to embarrassing first-time wipeouts (808-737-3473; www.hawaiianfire.com).
Rentals are readily available all over the island, but if you want to purchase a board, Country Feeling Surfboards is a good bet. To bring that natural, easy "country feeling" back to riding the waves, surfers Jeff Bushman and Kyle Bernhardt shape their surfboards out of environmentally friendly materials. They substitute soy- and sugar-based products for polyurethane foam, and use sun-cured resins and deck inlays made from hemp, organic cotton, silk, or bamboo. Even better, their boards are actually affordable (they start at $625). Order a custom model via their Web site at least three weeks before your trip, and you can pick it up on Oahu's North Shore when you arrive (808-638-7192; www.countryfeelingsurfboards.com).
If surfing seems intimidating, you may want to try your foot at stand-up paddling—a.k.a. paddle surfing—which involves balancing on an oversize surfboard and propelling yourself with a single paddle. It's all the rage because it has a much quicker learning curve, which makes it a lot more fun, too: You will not only stand up on your first day, but if you're in reasonable shape, you can expect to master it within an hour. It's easiest if the ocean is flat and gets more challenging when you attempt to catch waves. To get started, take a lesson at the Nancy Emerson School of Surfing (808-244-7873; www.mauisurfclinics.com).