The beautiful island of Oahu is home to many of the most popular things to see and do in all of Hawaii. Those of us who live here know and understand the importance of some of our local treasures. Those of you who don’t live hear; well, it is time to explore the island known as “The Gathering Place.” There is so much to see and do on the island of Oahu that one hardly knows where to start.
Oahu Statistics and Relevant Information
- Population: 953,207 (as of the end of 2017)
- Major Industries: Travel and tourism. US military and Defense. Construction, Government, Manufacturing and Agriculture.
- Currency: U.S. Dollar
- Size: A little over 600 square miles
- Nickname: “The Gathering Place”
- Flower: Ilima
- Color: Mele Mele (Yellow)
Interesting Facts About Oahu
- Iolani Palace is the only “royal place” in the United States.
- Oahu is the site of Pearl Harbor. The attack by Japan launched the United States into WWII
- Honolulu is the 17th most educated city in the U.S., with 34.7 percent of its population holding a bachelor’s degree or higher.
- Aloha Tower was the tallest structure on Oahu in 1926 when it was built.
- Oahu is home to many popular television shows and movies.
- The beach in Waikiki is made largely of sand imported from the Big Island of Hawaii.
Top Things To Do and See on Oahu
Millions of visitors come to Oahu every year to see the place were American naval forces were attacked at Pearl Harbor. It was a pivotal moment in our nation’s history and there is a ton of historical information everywhere you look. Aside from going out to the USS Arizona Memorial there are multiple other locations that really give you a sense of what it was like for the millions of service members who came through Hawaii to fight in the Pacific theater during World War II.
Give yourself some time to head out to Ford Island on the shuttle bus and see the USS Missouri battleship. It’s sheer size alone says a lot about what it must have been like to have bombs and bullets raining down on US sailors during the Japanese attack. There is also a stop at the Pacific Aviation Museum. The hanger is filled with WWII airplanes and you can still see the bullet holes in the windows from that fateful day in 1941. Outside you can also walk among aircraft used during the cold war right up to today. There’s so much to see at Pearl Harbor you could spend a solid afternoon here.
Few beaches of the world are more well known than Waikiki. This sweeping arc of beach stretches for two miles and has several sections. It’s not very wide which makes it look crowded most of the time but once you’re on it you’ll easily be able to find a spot. Hotels, restaurants and bars run the length of the beach so it’s pretty easy to duck inside for a cold beer or Mai Tai at any time.
Be sure to check out the various statues along the walkway of famous Hawaiians like Prince Kuhio (1st congressional representative to Hawai’i) or Duke Kahanamoku, the father of surfing and Waikiki’s multiple Olympic Gold Medal winning swimmer who popularized surfing in California in 1912 and Australia in 1914.
The gentle, rolling south shore surf of Waikiki is also popular with visitors who wish to learn how to surf and there are plenty of vendors renting boards and giving lessons as well as canoe and catamaran tours.
Polynesian Cultural Center
The polynesians not only colonized the Hawaiian Islands but all the islands in the south Pacific spanning some 5000 nautical miles from New Zealand in the east to Easter Island in the south to Hawai’i in the north. This area of the planet is larger than all the landmass on earth combined! Not only that, but they voyaged across open ocean more than a thousand years before anyone else in the world, which is why the Polynesian Cultural Center is so culturally expansive. It represents and illustrates all the Polynesian peoples and cultures throughout this massive part of the Pacific ocean.
The Polynesian Cultural Center is unlike any other you may have experienced. The Mormon church sponsors students from all over Polynesia. The sponsorship gives them a chance to move to Oahu, attend school and work at this center. Built in 1963, the Cultural Center has been referred to as a “living museum” because the majority of the people working here either are, or were, students at nearby BYU-Hawaii, meaning that performers commenting on the various island cultures are actually from the islands of which they speak.
Villages built in the ancient and traditional designs of Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, Tahiti, New Zealand, the Marquesas and Hawai’i are arranged within this 42 acre facility along with several massive theaters and dining halls. Demonstrations of traditional polynesian life such as song and dance, clothing, artifacts, fire-making and food preparation can be observed in the villages. The Tahitian fire-making performance is also hilarious!
Traditional hula dancers perform on floating barges in the large lagoon. The energy is dynamic and the performers are beautifully skilled in their bright and colorful traditional clothing.
Several luau dinner shows and restaurants round out the huge amount of stuff going on at the Polynesian Cultural Center. It’s not cheap, but you’ll get a lot of bang for your buck here. Plus ticket sales allow the center to provides employment and scholarships to students while preserving and sharing the cultures of polynesia with the world.
Prices range from $89.95 to $239.95
North Shore Beaches
The north shore of Oahu is where the big surf rolls in from the stormy north Pacific ocean making for dangerous, but beautiful waves. Multiple surf contests are held at many Oahu beaches, but in the winter months the big wave contests host surfers from all over the world at beaches like Pipeline and Waimea Bay. The small surf town of Haleiwa is charming with great restaurants and shopping. It’s an easy stop just off the highway that parallels these beautiful north shore beaches.
From Haleiwa you can head back towards Honolulu or stop at the Dole Pineapple Plantation along the way.
Dole Pineapple Plantation
Born from a fruit stand in 1950, Dole Pineapple Plantation became Hawaii’s “pineapple experience” in 1989 and is now one of Oahu’s most attended visitor activities with more than 1 million visitors each year. This family friendly attraction includes the Pineapple Express Train Tour, a massive Pineapple Garden Maze and the Plantation Garden Tour. The Plantation Country Store is loaded with unique gifts, foods, demonstrations areas and a sweets parlor serving pineapple ice cream and smoothies, just to name a few.
The history of pineapple is an interesting one and there is plenty to learn here about this exotic fruit that became an American household staple in large part because of James Drummond Dole’s efforts in growing, harvesting and canning pineapples in Hawai’i. If you have kids or if you love everything pineapple, this should be a stop during your Oahu vacation.
More Oahu Places to Visit
- Iolani Palace and Kamehameha Statue
- Bishop Museum
- Mac Nut Tropical Farm
- Waimea Valley
- Blowhole & Sandy Beach