Things to Do in Oahu - page 3
Originally designed to hold the heirlooms of Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, a descendant of King Kamehameha I, the Bishop Museum now houses one of the world’s largest collections of Polynesian artifacts. Visit to see the personal possessions of Hawaiian kings and queens, explore the Hawaiian skies, and see real molten lava.
Eerie and abandoned, the salt water swimming pool and stone bleachers of the Waikiki Natatorium War Memorial off San Souci beach was a shimmering seaside tribute when it opened in 1927. Today, some call the crumbling venue haunted and it is often featured in Island-wide nighttime ghost tours.
The aging edifice, shuttered since 1979, is still worth a daytime visit, if only to peek through the bars of its towering front gate and imagine what it once was. As one of the country’s few ‘living memorials,’ the space served both as a gathering place to honor the 10,000 Hawaii service men who served during WWI and a public facility where Hawaii residents learned to swim in its 100m length. The Natatorium is credited with creating a swimming culture in the local community, and providing a peaceful practice spot for Olympians including legendary Hawaiian waterman (and five-time Olympic swimming medalist) Duke Kahanamoku. On Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day, the chipping lot around the structure still occasionally hosts commemorative ceremonies honoring the structure’s original purpose.
Despite its designation as a ‘national treasure’ by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, no one seems to know what to do with the Natatorium. Throughout the years, numerous plans to revive or raze the structure, adding a new stretch of white sand to Waikiki’s crowded beaches, have been passed over. Until then, it just waits.
Two of the oldest wooden houses in Hawaii—the former site of the Sandwich Islands mission, the Island’s first western colony—remain not far from the skyrises of downtown Honolulu’s financial and government district. The Hawaiian Mission Houses Historic Site and Archives is comprised of the Frame House, the Chamberlain House and the Printing Office—built between 1821 and 1841, and restored and furnished as they would have been in the early 19th century. Each feature small exhibits and artifacts detailing early missionary’s way of life: a recreation of a medical dispensary, chamber pots in the rooms and quilts on the beds. Short-term exhibitions regularly make an appearance too and have included features on children’s toys, portraits and portrait-making, quilts and reading. The site also includes a library featuring over 12,000 printed works, handwritten missionary journals and a printing press used to create the first written Hawaiian language materials. A block away, you’ll find the old coral Kawaiaha’o mission church and the state’s first Christian cemetery, still in use today. The buildings of the Hawaiian Mission Houses site are listed on the National Register of Historic places, and also serve as a venue for regular public programming including workshops, teas and lectures.
Stretching from just behind Honolulu to Oahu’s Windward (eastern) coastline, the Ko’olau Range is not actually a mountain range at all. Instead, the undulating green and vertical slopes which top out at 3,100 feet, are just one side the ancient, massive Ko’olau shield volcano. The other half of the volcano collapsed into the ocean millennia ago. The Ko’olau Range acts as a wind block for points inland, stopping clouds along the coast and causing regular rains. But here, rain is a good thing: Residents and locals delight as the Ko’olau’s creased face fills with hundreds of thin white waterfalls and Hawaii’s iconic rainbows arch across the sky.
The best places to experience the grandeur of the Ko’olau Range are themselves elevated. The Pali Road, connecting Kailua to downtown Honolulu, winds up, into and, in some instances, through, the Ko’olaus via tunnels bored directly into the cliff face. Be sure to stop and take in the view from several scenic stop-offs along the way. The Likelike Highway and Interstate H-3 also run through the Ko’olau Range. The popular but family-friendly hike to Makapu’u Point overlooking a historic lighthouse, is recommended and from the top affords sweeping views of the Ko’olaus behind Waimanalo and heading north to Kaneohe Bay.
Just across the street from the tropical Pacific Ocean in downtown Honolulu, the four-story Ala Moana Center (often just called Ala Moana) is currently the world’s largest outdoor shopping mall. With 2.4 million square feet of retail space alone (that’s as much as 42 football fields!), the sprawling property boasts 340 shops and 80 restaurants including national and international name brands chains (Burberry, Cartier, Apple, Gap, Macy’s, Starbucks, California Pizza Kitchen and Barnes & Noble) as well as Hawaii-only outlets (Happy Wahine Boutique, Big Island Candies, Kahala Sportswear, Martin & MacArthur, Honolulu Coffee Co. and Sand People). Free live entertainment—from singing competitions to hula performances and fashion shows—often take place in its central corridor stage. Always bustling, Ala Moana Center is the place to see and be seen for residents and visitors alike.
The revamped Shirokiya Japan Village walk, the last stronghold of an otherwise extinct Japanese department store, is perhaps the mall’s most unique-to-Hawaii offering. The space was revamped in 2016 and boasts 32 different Japanese food vendors, shopping, artwork and a spirit garden all fashioned to look like the thoroughfares of a traditional monzen-machi village.
Visit the Waikiki Aquarium to see and learn all about Hawaii's marine life. Observe a diverse range of species in the aquarium's 3,500 marine animals on exhibit, from monk seals to reef sharks. Some you might spot later on a snorkeling trip, while others are difficult to glimpse in the wild.
Honolulu's Chinatown is one of the oldest in the United States. Home to an eclectic assortment of storefronts, spend some time wandering and you’ll find herbalists, temples, antique shops and lei makers.
Folks in Chinatown also know how to eat well. When hunger strikes you’ll have your pick of dishes. Chefs serve everything from Chinese dim sum to Cuban and French Fare. Night owls will be happy to know Chinatown offers a variety of nightlife options from jazz clubs to wine bars and nightclubs.
Pre-contact Hawaiians didn’t believe in land ownership, but they did divide the Islands into sectional slivers called ahupua’a. Running from the mountains to the sea, ahupuaa had enough land and water resources to support a whole community, and the 5,300 acre Ahupua’a ‘O Kahana State Park is one of the few statewide divisions that remains intact and managed as a whole. Surrounded on three sides by the verdant Koolau Mountains, and fronting Kahana Bay, the scenic park includes a dusty neighborhood of mostly ethnic Hawaiian residents, two popular jungle hiking trails —Kapa’ele’ele and the Nakoa Loop—leading back into a deep valley, the remnants of an ancient fishpond and a beach park with year-round camping.
Most visitors, drawn by its forested seaside park and calm tropical waters, stop by the here to snap photos enroute to the North Shore. The bay is very shallow and can be murky thanks to the nearby infusion of Kahana Stream, so swimming is not recommended. Instead, the best parts of this park are both scenic and cultural: Visit the rocky, circular remains of the ancient Huila Fishpond on the eastern side of the bay, or head into the park to speak with residents. The 31 families that live here share responsibilities and assist with interpretive programming. The volunteer-staffed orientation center will help guide you toward the hiking trailheads that navigate Kahana Valley, former site of kalo loi (taro terraces), au’wai (channeled irrigation streams), heiau (temples) and later, during WWII, jungle warfare training.
Panoramic ocean views, strange rock formations and smoothed shelves with wave-battered edges await at Lanai Lookout. This popular scenic overlook on a promontory north of Kahauloa Cove is so named because it affords sweeping views of the neighboring islands of Lanai, Molokai and Maui on a clear day. Though it may be challenging for visitors to peel their eyes away from the turbulent blue sea, turning 180 degrees provides a rewarding view of the southern slopes of Koko Crater, a dormant volcano climbable via a trail that follows old railroad ties to the summit rim.
Lanai Lookout has little more infrastructure than a parking lot with space for just under two dozen cars, but it’s worth it to circle for a space in the early hours of the morning when the sun rises over the horizon beyond the Oahu’s Windward Coast; visitors don’t stay here long. Another good time to visit? Between November and April, when the lookout becomes one of the island’s best locales for spotting visiting humpback whales—many of which spout, dive and frolic in the waters between Oahu and Maui.
Often referred to as 'the Westminster Abbey of the Pacific,' this historic stone church was the first of its kind to be built on the island of Oahu. Prior to its construction in 1843, Christian missionaries held weekly sermons in small, pili grass huts, but the Hawaiian royalty rapidly embraced Christianity and a long lineage of Hawaiian royalty has worshipped here at the church. Not only is King Kamehameha II buried on the grounds, but this is where Kamehameha III uttered the phrase that would eventually become the state motto: "Ua mau ke ea o ka aina i ka pono"—"the life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness."
When it was completed, Kawaiaha'o Church was unlike any structure that had previously been built on Oahu. Over 14,000 coral blocks were carved from offshore reefs, and it's estimated that over 1,000 workers took nearly six years to completely finish the church. Today, the structure is an architectural highlight of Honolulu’s historic quarter, where visitors can also find 'Iolani Palace and the King Kamehameha statue, in addition to the current state capital.
More Things to Do in Oahu
What is formerly known as the Honolulu Academy of Arts is the leading museum of its kind the state of Hawaii, and hosts one of the largest single collections of Asian and Pan-Pacific art in the United States at 50,000 objects. It represents all the major cultures of Hawaii and spans 5,000 years, from ancient times to today. Founded by esteemed local missionary Anna Rice Cooke in 1927 in Honolulu’s most beautiful Hawaiian-style building, the museum continues to present international caliber exhibitions along with its permanent collection, which is home to world-class pieces by none other than Van Gogh, Monet, Picasso and Warhol.
The museum actually encompasses several building, scattered over 3.2 acres near downtown Honolulu; it features the Spalding House, the Doris Duke Theatre, the Robert Allerton Art Library, the Art School and the Shangri La Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art. The museum’s unique architecture makes for an idyllic backdrop for art; visitors can stroll from gallery to gallery past open-air landscaped courtyards (with splendid views of Diamond Head) and ponds before heading to the Pavilion Café.
Twenty minutes. That’s all the time that is takes to be transported from the white sand beaches of Waikiki, up to the waterfall-laden wilds at the back of Manoa Valley. Here, where cliffs rise vertically over 2,000 feet and it rains nearly every day, visitors will find one of Hawaii’s foremost tropical botanical gardens. Managed by nearby University of Hawaii, the Lyon Arboretum spans 193 acres and has over 5,000 species of plants. Given the cool, wet conditions—it rains over 165 inches per year here—the forested amphitheater is the perfect setting for researching tropical plants.
Take an hour to stroll from the parking lot back to Inspiration Point, and reap the rewards of the casual walk with a view looking out at the valley. Along the journey you might encounter up to 25 species of birds, including the endangered amakihi which calls the arboretum home. There are over 200 species of indigenous plants found growing in the arboretum, and rather than being just pretty to look at, this garden is used to educate landscapers about recognizing species of plant species. While ecologists and botanists will be in plant heaven, other visitors will enjoy the hike back to ‘Aihualama Falls. The trail to this waterfall is just over a mile, and the feeling of sitting by the 40 foot falls, the sound of birdsong raining from the trees, in a garden that’s home to thousands of plant species, really lets you know that you’ve left the city are fully immersed in the forest.
Set on Oahu’s famous north shore just minutes from world-class surf, funky Haleiwa is the Hawaiian antithesis of urban Honolulu. Gone are the brand-name glamorous stores of Ala Moana Mall, and enter the small, locally-owned boutiques with tanned and beautiful staff. Surfboards poke from the back of trucks that cruise the two lane roads, and boardshorts, bikinis, and rubber slippers are the de facto outfit of choice. Haleiwa, however, has two different moods—and they change with the time of year. In spring, summer, and early fall, Haleiwa is a sunny, laidback beach town where where you can start the day with a shark diving tour and finish with a barbecue at the beach. The waves are flat, the skies are blue, and you’re fare more likely to pack a snorkel than a surfboard or boogie board to the beach.
In winter, however, the entire surf world descends on Haleiwa and the buzz in the air is electric. Parking spots can be harder find, and the streets are a bit more crowded, but the chance to watch the world’s best surfers is worth the added crowds. For a short time, maybe 8 eight weeks at most, Haleiwa becomes the place to be—even more than Honolulu. Growth of the town itself, thankfully, is still relatively slow, and whether it’s ordering shave ice on a sunny day or watching the waves from shore, Haleiwa is a town that remains exactly the way that everyone likes it.
Located in downtown Honolulu, Ali'iolani Hale is the current home of the Hawaii Supreme Court, court administration offices, a law library, and the Judiciary History Center. Constructed in 1872, it was the first western-style building in Hawaii built by the Hawaiian monarchy.
Ali'iolani Hale was originally slated to be the Royal Palace, but ended up housing the Supreme Court and its legislative body. The building was the site of some of Hawaii’s pivotal historical moment, including the 1889 revolt by Robert Wilcox and over 100-armed insurgents. And, in 1893, the Committee of Public Safety overthrew the Hawaiian monarchy from here via a proclamation.
Over the years, Ali'iolani Hale has undergone renovations, and was spared demolition in 1937 when new renovation plans were approved. The bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941 and subsequent declaration of Martial Law put everything on hold, and Ali'iolani Hale became a center for military personnel. Once martial law was lifted, the building received a new wing and a second story several years later. During Ali'iolani Hale’s centennial celebration in 1972, it was bestowed the honor of being placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
If it’s a rainy day in this island paradise, or you forgot your bathing suit at home, the Waikele Center is a sprawling sanctuary of classic retail therapy. Located in Waipahu in Central Oahu, the outlets here provide an affordable alternative to the larege scale malls in town. You’ll find global classics such as Armani, Converse, Adidas, and Michael Kors, as wells as shops with island flare like the Local Motion surf shop. There’s a popular food court for re-fueling so you literally don’t shop ‘til you drop, and even a trolley connecting the two sides of this sprawling commerce compound.
Built in 1847, Queen Emma Summer Palace is one of Oahu’s last remaining examples of Greek Revival architecture. The summer retreat of Queen Emma and the Hawaiian royal family from 1857 to 1885 is now a historic landmark and museum showcasing many of Queen Emma’s personal belongings, royal antiques, furnishings, and other objects.
A natural escape just a few minutes’ drive from downtown Honolulu, Nuuanu Valley is a lush jungle tucked into the folds of the Koolau Mountains. Beyond a series of houses on Nuuanu Pali Drive, the jungle seems to close in on the road with tall flowering vine-drenched trees towering overhead. Near the stream and water reservoir about a mile in, a series of trails tempt visitors off the road and into the jungle. On one, a bamboo thicket winds to a clearing housing the jumbled lava rock ruins of a mid-19th century Hawaiian summer palace. Others lead down muddy slopes, past wild ginger and forest fruit trees to tucked away waterfalls that spill into swimmable pools.
Nuuanu Pali Drive reconnects with the Pali Highway after a little less than two miles, but don’t miss the historic Nuuanu Pali Lookout a few miles further at the windy crest 1,000 feet atop the valley. Here a bloody battle in 1795 united Oahu under a single ruler, and panoramic views stretch beyond the Windward towns of Kailua and Kaneohe all the way to the offshore Island called Mokolii —also known as Chinaman’s hat—jutting above the tropical sea.
An ethereal Japanese temple, immaculate zen landscaping, a palm-lined drive, memorial gazebos overlooking the Pacific and a Koolau mountain backdrop conspire to create one of Oahu’s most peaceful settings. The valley is a memorial park and the final resting place for thousands of Shinto, Buddhist and Christian Hawaii residents, including early Honolulu developer Walter Francis Dillingham (1875-1963) and Zhang Xueliang, a warlord and northern China Army General who died in 2001 at age 100. Visitors explore the grounds, especially to see the bright red Byodo-In temple that looks like it was dropped in front of its reflecting pond via some portal to ancient Japan.
The temple was built in 1968 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the first wave of Japanese immigrants in Hawaii and is a replica of the nearly 1,000-year-old Byodo-In temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Uji, Japan. Here, incense wafts from the main temple building and peacocks strut in front of the waterfalls that trickle into koi-filled ponds. When visitors ring the temple’s giant brass peace bell, the sound resonates along mountain walls. In summer and fall, the park hosts annual Japanese Obon dance festivals honoring ancestors here.
Also within the Valley are a triangular-shaped Christian church with floor-to-ceiling windows facing the green mountain face, statues of the Virgin Mary and unique memorial displays including markers shaped like aloha shirts—the Valley is a multi-denominational place of rest for both the living and the dead.
Wet ’n’ Wild Hawaii, one of the most visited family attractions on the island of Oahu, occupies 29 lush acres with more than 25 rides and attractions. Kids can climb up the multi-level Water World Kids Playground with its five fun zones and seven slides or splash around in Keiki Kove, a spray ground filled with water cannons, pint-size water slides and a mushroom water shower. Kapolei Cooler, a lazy river, makes an 800-foot lap around the park, while Cutter’s Island provides a serene retreat for guests over 12 years of age.
Thrill seekers will find a host of attractions as well, including raft rides, body slides, racers and a 400,000-gallon wave pool. For an extra fee, guests of all ages and skill levels can catch a wave on Hawaii’s only simulated surf attraction.
A guided tour of Shangri La is unlike anything else on Oahu, where the sun and sand of tropical beaches are swapped for the lavish, luxurious world of heiress Doris Duke. Here on the slopes of Diamond Head, Duke designed a soaring mansion of exquisite Islamic design—inspired by her travels in 1935 through much of the Islamic world. Over a span of nearly 60 years, Duke continued her epic travels through Iran, Egypt, and Morocco, and housed the art she’d find on her travels right here at Shangri La. Today the Islamic Art Collection includes over 2,500 pieces from across the Islamic world, and introduces visitors to cultures and styles not normally found in the tropics. On a guided tour of Shangri La, visit inside the historic home that faces out toward the ocean, and hear as docents discuss the details of archways, tile work, sculptures, and fountains that form a sense of Islamic exoticism just minutes from Waikiki. Hear tales from the life of a legendary traveler and “richest girl in the world,” who scoured the world for artistic riches and brought them here to her home.
Three cascading waterfalls and scenic valley vistas await along the Ka'au Crater loop trail, a five-mile hike in the Honolulu Watershed Forest reserve behind Palolo Valley. Just 20 minutes from downtown Waikiki, this often-muddy trail follows the Waiomao Stream as it drains down and out of the crater. Follow the water upstream past portions in pipes to the top of the first waterfall, which empties far below into a small circular pool. Portions that follow require the use of a rope to pull yourself up cliff rocks alongside drop-offs, making this adventure also not for the faint of heart.
The second waterfall, not far from the first, rains down in silver ribbons into lush foliage with the trail at the base—you’ll have to scale the rocks alongside it, using another rope, to get up toward the crater summit. Along the way you’ll also have to ford rivers and even cling to tree roots where parts of the trail may be washed away. By the time you reach the third, and largest waterfall, you’ll have earned it. At the top, a small opening leads to a vibrant green and marshy meadow ringed by crater walls.
You can choose to circumnavigate the crater rim, which completes the loop—it’s recommended as this is where you’ll get those sweeping rewarding views of the Windward Side, Honolulu, and beyond, as well as the thrill of walking on trail just a few feet wide above drop-offs hundreds of feet tall. Along the crater rim there is a small offshoot trail that leads through forest, over a few small streams and right back to the parking lot. Otherwise, if you skip the crater rim, it’s back down the waterfalls, and back out the way you came.
The Hard Rock Cafe Honolulu was the first in the chain to open in Hawaii, in the summer of 1987. The restaurant moved to its present location in 2000.
The current setting for the Hard Rock Cafe in Honolulu is right in the middle of Waikiki, within easy walking distance of many of the area's hotels and resorts, as well as other shops, restaurants, the Hawaii Convention Center, and the beach.
The Hard Rock Cafe Honolulu, like all the Hard Rock Cafes, has a casual restaurant with a menu full of American favorites, a lively full bar, and a shop where you can buy all kinds of Hard Rock Cafe merchandise.
Set amid palms in lush mountain-side park in busy Waipahu and not far from the former site of the Oahu Sugar Company, Hawaii's Plantation Village is a showcase of the lives of Hawaii’s diverse sugar plantation laborers. Once a major industry in the islands, drawing local Hawaiian and immigrant workers from Japan, Korea, the Philippines, Portugal, China and Puerto Rico, sugar plantations were both places of employment and proving grounds for cultural fusions—traditions, celebrations, food—that shape the islands to this day.
Hawaii's Plantation Village is comprised of 25 buildings built or moved onsite and styled as they would have appeared on plantations throughout the state between 1890 and 1950. A wander through the open-air dormitories, social halls, plantation store, barber shop or bathhouse can feel like you're stepping into a ghost town whose residents may return from the fields at any moment. Kau kau tins—the plantation workers' lunch pails—rest on shelves seeming to await filling; shoes sit outside doorways; family photos hang on the walls; books and diaries remain on nightstands. Artifacts aren't pristine, they're chipped and worn, genuine representations of rugged plantation life. The hour-long tour led by staff docents—several of whom grew up on plantations themselves—is informative and recommended.
He'eia State Park is located on Oahu's eastern shore, right on the popular Kaneohe Bay. The park covers about 18.5 acres, with one side on Kaneohe Bay and not far from the town of Kaneohe. It's between the Heeia Fish Pond and a small harbor called He'eia Kea. There are picnic facilities, including some with covers, and walking trails.
From He'eia State Park, you can see not only Kaneohe Bay but also the Koolau mountains. There are sometimes walking tours available, as well as kayaking and snorkeling tours and occasionally classes on canoe building.