From laidback surf spots to urban city centers, O‘ahu is the most diverse island in the State of Hawai‘i when it comes to population, cultures and cuisines. There’s something to enjoy for everyone here, which makes O‘ahu a great place to visit and gather—hence its nickname, “The Gathering Place.” Here are our top recommendations on where to visit during your vacation.
Feature Photo: Grace Towle
Built in 1882 by King Kalākaua, ‘Iolani Palace was home of Hawai‘i’s last monarchs. At its height, it served as the political epicenter for the Kingdom of Hawai‘i until the monarchy was overthrown in 1893. Throughout the years, the palace has been meticulously restored to its former glory—furniture, decorations, thrones and more. Visitors can walk through the halls, see the palace how it once was back when King Kalākaua, and his sister and successor Queen Lili‘oukalani walked through its halls.
More info: iolanipalace.org
The largest museum in the State, Bishop Museum celebrates the history of Hawai‘i and the Pacific. Walk through the Hawaiian Hall, which showcases important artifacts that displays the Native Hawaiian history and culture. Learn how voyagers used the stars to navigate the ocean by visiting the museum’s planetarium. Kids especially love the Science Adventure Center, where they can start their own volcano eruption, ride an invasive snail and walk through a glow-in-the-dark tunnel that depicts Hawai‘i’s origins.
More info: bishopmuseum.org
A 4,000-acre private nature reserve and cattle ranch, Kualoa Ranch is home to a multitude of adventures. Soar through the sky on a zipline, see a fishpond, embark on a food tasting tour, ride a horse or go on a movie tour—Kualoa Ranch served as the film site for more than 50 TV shows and movies including Jurassic Park, LOST and 50 First Dates.
More info: kualoa.com
Ho‘omaluhia Botanical Gardens
Home to one of the most “insta-worthy” spots on the island, Ho‘omaluhia Botanical Gardens is a refuge far away from the hustle and bustle of Honolulu. Enjoy a sweeping view of the Ko ‘olau Mountains, check out a 32-acre lake and feed the fish and ducks (bring bread) and view plants from all over the world: the Philippines, Malaysia, India, Polynesia, Africa and of course, Hawai‘i.
More info: Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden Website
Nestled deep in a gorgeous valley along the 2,000-foot Ko‘olau Range, the Byodo-In Temple is a scale replica of the famous temple in Uji, Japan. Everything from its gravel’s design to the quaint bridges over the fishpond pays homage to the temple in Japan. Sound the three-ton brass bell, see peacocks and black swans and of course, view the gorgeous koi fish that symbolizes love and friendship.
More info: byodo-in.com
Pearl Harbor National Memorial
Visit the historic site where the Japanese launched a surprise air attack on the United States on December 7, 1941. At Pearl Harbor, hear stories from survivors of the battle, walk through an airplane hangar and see remains of the USS Arizona in the harbor. The visitor center features galleries, a memorial sculpture and a theatre where you can watch a film about the attack. Nearby are the Battleship Missouri Memorial, the Pacific Fleet Submarine Museum and the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum.
More info: https://www.nps.gov/perl/index.htm
Dole Pineapple Plantation
Explore what used to be the world’s largest maze (per the 2008 Guinness World Book of Records), where you can search for eight secret station to solve the maze. Ride aboard a pineapple express train that gives you an overview of the history behind the pineapple industry in Hawaii. Stroll through eight mini gardens full of fruits, flowers and native plants. Don’t forget to grab a delicious cone or cup full of ice-cold pineapple soft serve.
More info: doleplantation.com
Wet’n’ Wild Hawai‘i
While it’s easy to access the ocean from anywhere in Hawai‘i, Wet’n’Wild offers a different kind of fun as O‘ahu’s largest water park. Get your adrenaline rush with giant waterslides, an interactive splash station for keiki, a lazy river and so much more
More info: wetnwildhawaii.com
Ka‘ena Point State Park
Explore rocky coves, frolic in tide pools or take a hike along a volcanic coast at this magical park. There’s a special reserve area designated to protect albatrosses, Hawaiian monk seals and other endangered native plants—if you see any creatures, be sure to keep a 50-foot distance on land and in water.
Rich in Hawaiian history and a multitude of cultural sites, Waimea Valley offers more than 5,000 botanicals to experience as you walk along a paved path. Your destination is a 45-foot waterfall where you can swim with life vests offered by staff. Along the way, you can learn about native Hawaiian practices and traditions.
More info: waimeavalley.net
Hale‘iwa Town is more than just a chill surf town—it’s a charming, walkable hub of the Noth Shore that’s a welcome escape from the busyness of Waikīkī. Stroll through cool shops, boutiques, quirky art galleries, delicious restaurants and one-of-a-kind food trucks. Grab shave ice after swimming at Waimea Bay and be sure to grab a souvenir from one of the many cute boutiques.
More info: haleiwatowncenter.com