Car rentals are available at the airport and various locations downtown. A car is worth having for visits to the North Shore or if you are staying outside of Honolulu/Waikiki.
The Oahu bus system, officially called TheBus, runs between almost all towns and to most tourist destinations. Fare for TheBus is $2.50; exact change is compulsory and it will get you anywhere on the island TheBus goes.
There is a 4 day TheBus Tourist pass available from most ABC Stores (like a 7/11) for $25. Make sure you ‘scratch’ it correctly before getting on the first TheBus.
Also available from ABC Stores and other Waikiki-area shops is a very handy guide to TheBus for $2.95.
The tram-style “Free Shopping Shuttles” which pick up around Waikiki beach will take you to the Ala Moana Center. Be aware that this shuttle will first take you to Hilo Hattie’s flagship tourist shop west of the center. It’s free, but not a direct route so if you’re not interested in stopping off at Hilo Hattie’s you may prefer to look elsewhere for transport as this option will add at least 30 minutes to your commute.
New Rail Project
Oahu and the City and County of Honolulu are currently working on a new elevated rail project to transport people more effectively on the island. The project is officially called theHonolulu High-Capacity Transit Corridor and is expected to be completed in phases through 2012 and 2019. Some locals believe that the new rail transit will be namedTheRail, after the currently existing TheBus system. It is expected to connect the southern Leeward Coast (commonly known as the West Side, or West Oahu) with Ala Moana Shopping Center in downtown Honolulu.
The following are some of the more important major highways on Oahu. Both the common name and the state route number are given here. With the exception of H-1, H-2, and H-3 locals refer to most state highways by name, rather than route number.
- H-1is an interstate freeway that runs from Kahala in East Honolulu west, through downtown Honolulu, past the airport and out to the western suburb of Kapolei where it joins Farrington Highway. H-1 is the busiest and most heavily used freeway on Oahu.
- H-2is an interstate freeway that runs from the town of Waipahu through Mililani to the town of Wahiawa in Central Oahu.
- H-3is an interstate freeway that runs from the suburb of Aiea, through the windward communities of Kaneohe and Kailua, to the gate of Marine Corps Base Hawaii.
- Moanalua Freeway/H-201is an interstate freeway auxiliary route that serves as an alternative route for H-1. It runs from the Middle Street Merge (H-1, H-201) in the community of Kalihi in West Honolulu to the H-1, H-3, H-201 merge in Aiea. Some freeway signs may still label Moanalua Freeway as Route 78, even though Route 78 has since become H-201 in 2004.
- Nimitz Highway/Ala Moana Boulevard(state route 92) runs from Pearl Harbor to Waikiki; it is the main route from the airport to Waikiki.
- Pali Highway(state route 61) runs from downtown Honolulu to the Windward town of Kailua.
- Likelike Highway(state route 63) runs from the Kalihi district of Honolulu to the Windward town of Kaneohe.
- Kalanianaole Highway(state route 72) starts from the east end of H-1 and runs through the East Honolulu suburbs around Makapuu Point, and through the rural community of Waimanalo, ending in Kailua.
- Kamehameha Highway(state routes 99, 80, and 83) is the main highway on Oahu, starting from Pearl Harbor, going through the leeward communities of Aiea and Pearl City, then through Central Oahu, around the North Shore, and along the Windward coast ending at the town of Kaneohe.
- Farrington Highway(state route 93) is two separate roads: the south side starts where H-1 leaves off in Kapolei and leads to the Leeward coast communities of Nanakuli, Waianae, and Makaha, ending at the south end of Kaena Point State Park. The north side starts from Waialua on the North Shore through the community of Mokuleia to the north end of Kaena Point State Park(the road used to go around the point but the part that actually rounded the point has been closed and replaced with a nature preserve. A trail connects the two portions).
- Fort Weaver Road/Kunia Road(state routes 76, 750) goes from Schofield Barracks near Wahiawa south to Ewa Beach.
- Polynesian Cultural Center, 55-370 Kamehameha Highway, Laie,(from Honolulu, Hwy 63 Likelike Highway to 83 Kahekili Hwy/Kamehameha Hwy, about 20 mi NW of Kaneohe). +1 808 293-3339, +1 800 367-7060 toll free from mainland U.S. Monday-Saturday, 11AM – 8PM; individual attraction hours vary, see website for details. Hawaii’s most popular paid tourist attraction, the Polynesian Cultural Center offers something found nowhere else: the opportunity to experience the culture not just of Hawaii, but also of seven other Polynesian island groups, all in one place. Recreated traditional villages of Hawaii, Samoa, Aotearoa (Maori New Zealand), Fiji, the Marquesas, Tahiti, Tonga, and Rapa Nui offer educational exhibits by native islanders, some of which can be hands-on. Award-winning Horizons evening show offers Polynesian entertainment. Basic admission $50, $38 children, includes cultural center and evening show. Ali’i Luau package $80/$56 includes luau and basic admission. Parking $5. Other premium packages available. Discounts for Hawaii residents and U.S. military.
- Wet’n’Wild Hawaii, Farrington Hwy in Kapolei (Just off the H-1). 10:30AM-4PM. The largest of its kind in Hawaii, Wet ‘n’ Wild Hawaii boasts 25 acres of sun-drenched fun in the sun. It has 25 rides and attractions and many family friendly attractions like the Keiki (kids) Cove, Water World, and the Hawaiian Waters Wave Pool. Wet ‘n’ Wild Hawaii originally opened in 1999 as Hawaiian Waters Adventure Park. $38.
- USS Arizona National Memorial— Memorial to those moored at Battleship Row at Pearl Harbor. They were the initial targets of the first wave of attacks on the Americans during WWII. The 184-foot memorial was completed in 1961 and a flag is flown from the destroyed mast. Visitors can see a historic short film recapping the events and explore the Pearl Harbor Museum, complete with wartime memorabilia. Daily 7:30AM-5PM, closed on all major holidays.
- National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at PunchbowlA solemn and beautiful place, built in the caldera of a small dormant volcano, which serves as the final resting place and memorial to those who died in service of the United States armed services in the Pacific Ocean (including WWII and more).
- Honolulu Museum of Art,1035 Kinau St Lot. $10. Considered Hawaii’s premier example of kamaaina- (old-time-) style architecture, the Academy is the state’s only general fine-arts museum and has expanded steadily over the last decade. It boasts one of the top Asian art collections in the country, including James Michener’s collection of Hiroshige’s ukiyo-e prints.
- The Bishop Museum. Founded by a Hawaiian princess, the Bishop museum displays the world’s greatest collection of natural and cultural artifacts from Hawaii and the Pacific.
- Iolani Palace 364 South King Street. The only royal palace on US soil and the seat of the Hawaiian government and subsequent Territory and State of Hawai’i after annexation until 1969. $6-20.
- Queen Emma’s Summer Palace. Built in 1847, the restored home of Queen Emma and King Kamehameha IV offers a glimpse into the lifestyle of the Hawaiian monarchy. Daily 9AM–4PM, closed major holidays. $6, children 17 and under $1, Seniors $4; reservations required for groups of 20 or more.
- Banzai Pipeline,North Shore.Banzai Pipeline on the North Shore is the “happenin’ place to be.Banzai Pipepline is one of the most famous surf sites for professional surfers all around the world like professional surfer John John Florence and Nathan Fletcher.The best time to head out to Banzai Pipeline is in the winter.That’s when the waves could reach up to the possible height of 30-40 ft (9-12 m).
Oahu has the following beaches:
- Kailua Beach Park– Located just below the Kaneohe Bay and directly above Bellows air force station, this beach is famous for its excellent swimming and wind surfing. With nice fine sand – perfect for sunbathing and recreational activities, and a backdrop of tiny offshore islands, this makes for one of Oahu’s most beautiful beaches. Recently, the beach has suffered from erosion, removing a significant amount of sand from the shoreline. As a result, the space available on the beach has been severely reduced.
- Kualoa Regional Park– Located along the Northeast side of the island, this beach is rarely crowded and has a great view of the offshore island, Chinamans hat, so called this due to its resemblance of the peasants chapeau worn by rural Chinese. With Kualoa mountains in the background you might feel you are in the movie Jurassic park, due to the fact that Kualoa range is where much of the footage took place. Also this area was considered sacred by ancient Hawaiians due to the whalebones that would wash on shore that would be used for valuable tools and jewelry.
- Kahana Bay Beach Park– Located along the windward side of the island, directly across Ahupua’a O Kahana state park, this is one of Oahu’s best kept secrets. This beach cove is nestled at the very bottom of the Kualoa mountains and is often over looked by people traveling up the coast due to the outlining of pine trees along the beaches edges. With its seclusion, calm waters and plenty of shady spots for those not fond of the too much sun, you can obviously see why this is one of Oahu’s best kept secrets.
- Lanikai Beach– This small stretch of thin beach is home to some of the most clear and blue water you will find surrounding Oahu, and with views of the two beautiful offshore islands, known as the Mokuluas, you truly feel engulfed in the tropical setting.
- Ala Moana Beach Park/Magic Island– Known as “The path to the sea”, this beach park is famous for its recreational activities. Located just west of Waikikis beaches and directly across from tha Ala Moana mall, this area features a 76 acre park located along the shore, and is often home to many family gatherings and company outings.
- Sunset Beach– So called due to the beautiful sunsets that occur almost everyday on this spot, this white sand beach is one of the longest running beaches on Oahu, stretching 2 mi (3 km) in length and between 200-300 ft (61-91 m) in width at some spots. In the winter months, Sunset beach is home to one of the best surfing spots on the island and features several international surf competitions. In the summer months during the calmer seas this is a nice spot swimming and snorkeling. There is a bike path that runs from Sunset Beach to Waimea Bay that is a great way to spend the day exploring the hidden spots that you cannot see from the main road. Bike rentals can be found at Paradise Baby Co. there are adult bikes and kids. Spending the day on the North Shore is a great idea because there is so much to see.
- Ehukai Beach Park– Also known as “Reddish tinged water”, this also home of the famous Bonzai Pipeline. In the winter months this beach features 30-40-ft (9-12 m) waves, when the swells are high, and frequented by many of the worlds best surfers. Part of the triple crown surf tournament, I would stay out of the water in the winter months unless you are familiar with the surf, due to the fierce breaking waves and strong undertow. However in the summer months the calm ocean makes a good spot for swimming and a good sandbar. Always check with a life guard at this beach before entering the water.
- Waikiki Beach– Meaning “sprouting water”, this beach runs along Kalakaua Ave. and is home to many of the areas featured resorts. Often filled with tourists and guests of the hotels that line the beach, this area is where you can take some of the famous catamaran rides that are manned by the beach boys, not the band, but true beach boys. The calm surf and shallow waters makes a nice spot for wading in the waters, bodysurfing, and beginning surfers.
- Waimea Bay Beach– Located on the North Shore, in the winter months this is home to some of the largest and most dangerous ride-able surf in the world, with waves reaching 30 plus ft (9+ m), and with in-shore breaks often at 12 ft (4 m), experienced swimmers and surfers need only apply. However in the summer months the calm surf makes for nice swimming and with a nice size beach is great for sunbathing. If you are brave enough you can climb “da big rock”, which is a popular free jump spot, and has platforms to jump off at 5 and 18 ft (1.5-5.5 m). Another beach that it is a good idea to check with a lifeguard.
- Sandy Beach Park– Located along the windward side of the island just past Halona Beach Cove, with calm surf, this is a superb spot for swimming and amateur bodysurfers. However most of the year there has somewhat rough surf and many of the best bodysurfers on the island call this beach home, because the waves here are rivaled by no where else on the island.
- Bellows Beach Park– Located right near Bellows air force station, this beautiful beach has shallow water and small consistent waves which makes for good swimming and beginning surfers.
- Hale’iwa Beach– Located in the Historical town of Hale’iwa this brown sanded beach is one of the few spots on the island where you can sit on the beach and watch the sun rise and set. With plenty of beach to lay out and being within walking distance of shops, eating, and sightseeing this is an attractive family spot.
- Halona Beach Cove– This beach is also nicknamed Eternity beach, receiving the name eternity because of the love scene that takes place on this beach from the movie “From here to Eternity”. Most tourists usually go to this spot on the windward side of the Island just passed Hanauma Bay to view the Halona blowhole. The only way to get this beach though is to scale down the somewhat steep cliffs that protect this tiny but very scenic beach. Also beware of the sea turtles that frequent the spot, although they will not harm you, if you are caught touching them or trying to ride them, you will be fined.
- Barbers Point– Located on the ewa part of the island, this beach is frequented by many men and women in the armed forces due to the base that is just down the road. Also due to its small surf and scarce crowds it is not a bad beach for the beginning surfer. With a bar located right on the beach, open on weekends, and nice views of Honolulu, this beach is a nice spot to get away from your more touristy spots.
- Ko’Olina– The resort famous for housing many of the pro bowlers that visit every year in February, also features some of the most beautiful man-made beaches on the island. The 4 lagoons, named Kolola(whale), Hanu(turtle), Naia(dolphin), and Ulua(fish), feature some of the most beautiful sunsets that you will not find anywhere else on the island. With literally no surf the lagoons are often nice to just float around in. Given that the lagoons are about 30+ minutes (rush hour makes it over an hour) from Waikiki these lagoons are generally not crowded and only frequented by locals and guests of the resort.
- Three Tables– This beach located off the Kamehameha Highway, North Shore, and is sandwiched between Sharks cove and Waimea Bay, it features some very nice snorkeling. Beware of the surf in the winter months though. The waves can sometimes reach 30-40 ft (9-12 m) in these areas depending on the swells. Therefore most of the snorkeling and the wading the many tide pools along this beach is done between April and October.
- Pokai Bay Beach Park– Hawaiian for “Night of the Supreme one”, this beach is named after the Hawaiian chef Pokai who according to legend brought and planted the first coconut palm tree on the island. This west shore beach is one of the most protected beaches on the island even during the months of rough surf, which makes for nice swimming conditions.
- Makapu’u Beach Park– Hawaiian for “Bulging Eyes”, this beach is located just below Makapuu Point, which is Oahu’s eastern most point. Popular for its bodysurfing and picturesque views of Rabbit Island, this beach is a very appealing yet relaxing spot, although beware of the rough surf, strong shore break and undertow, that can arise through-out the winter months.
- Mokule’ia Beach Park– Located on the northwestern tip of the island, this long white sandy beach is frequented by many of the local Hawaiians for its enticing windsurfing conditions and nice fishing spots.
Gardens and views
- Diamond Head State Park
- Round-Top Forest Reserve— Excellent view of Honolulu and the surrounding area.
- Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden, in Kane’ohe. Translated as “To Make a Place of Peace and Tranquility”, the Ho’omaluhia Botanical Gardens certainly does that through 400 acres of lush gardens specializing in Hawaiian/Polynesian plants. There is also a 32-acre lake, picnic areas, and a campground on site.
- Nu’uanu Pali Lookout.
- Hale’iwa Historical town— You may recognize the location as being the site of a former television series called ‘Baywatch’, but this more than 100-year-old historic town offers more than that. Many of the buildings are on the State Register of Historic Sites, and the rustic old building that dot the town are simply charming.
- Pu’u O Mahuka— National historical site and Hawaiian holy site.
- Lyon Arboretum— Located in the Manoa Valley. Operated by the University of Hawaii.
- Byodo-in47-200 Kahekili Highway, Kaneohe (about 5 min from Kaneohe town), daily 8:30AM-4:30PM. Situated against the backdrop of steep green cliffs is a recreation of the 900-year-old Byodo-In Temple in Kyoto. The temple grounds include a nine-foot Buddha statue and the three-ton Peace Bell. Byodo-in is in the back of the Valley of the Temples cemetery. $3. The tomb of General Zhang Xueliang, an early-20th century military ruler of Northern China, is directly across from the temple entrance.
- Waimea Valley Audubon Center, 59-864 Kamehameha Hwy, Haleiwa, (across Kamehameha Hwy from Waimea Bay Beach Park), daily 9:30AM-5PM except 1 Jan 25 Dec; 9:30AM-3PM on Thanksgiving Day (4th Th in Nov) and 31 Dec. Formerly known asWaimea Falls Park, the National Audubon Society received a contract from the City and County of Honolulu to operate the site as a nature preserve. The preserve is home to endangered moorhen and a botanical garden with both endemic Hawaiian plants and other plants from around the world. A 0.75-mi (1.2 km) hike on paved trails leads to the centerpiece of the park, Waihi Falls, where visitors can swim in the pool at the base of the falls. $8; $5 seniors, military, and children (4-12); discounts for Hawaii residents.
- Dole Plantation, 64-1550 Kamehameha Hwy, Wahiawa(about 3 mi/5 km N of Wahiawa on Hwy 99, 1 mi/1.6 km N of the jct. with Hwy 80; H-2 north to its end, then continue on Hwy 99, approx 40 min from Waikiki). +1 808 621-8408. Visitor center and garden daily 9AM-5:30PM; train and maze to 5PM daily. Once a roadside fruit stand, this tourist attraction has been renovated and billed as “Hawaii’s Complete Pineapple Experience.” Among the attractions are a pineapple variety garden, a 20-minute miniature train ride into the surrounding pineapple fields, and the Pineapple Garden Maze, recognized in the 2001 Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s largest maze. Admission free for site; garden tour $3.75, $3 children; train $7.50, $5.50 children; maze $5,$3 children. Discounts available for U.S. military and Hawaii residents.
- Try windsurfing, surfing and body-boarding at Waikiki and (less crowded and more scenic) North Shore and Kailua Beach. – see Oahu Surf Conditions, Radar, and Forecastsand Girls Who Surf for lessons.
- Snorkeling and diving trips leave from Waikiki and most hotels.Oahu especially great for wreck diving as many ships and airplanes sunk during World War II.
- Enjoy horseback riding on the North Shore and Windward Koolau Range
- Explore hiking all over the island: in particular, Diamond Head State Park (excellent view of Honolulu and the surrounding area). Also visit Lanikai’s Pillbox (leftover from WWII sitting above Lanikai). Gives spectacular view of Waimanalo, the Koolau Mountains, Kailua and the Mokulua Islands sitting in the distance.
- Kayak on the Windward side to the Mokulua Islands which are a bird sanctuary and also offer encounters with turtles which have made a huge comeback in the Windward bay area.It should be noted that it is against state law to violate the sanctuary area. The beach on the islands is not part of the restricted zone, however.
- Circumnavigate the east half of the island: From Honolulu, take H1 east until it turns into Route 72. Follow Route 72 around the southeast corner of the island. Then go on Route 83, which goes along the east coast of the island around the northeast corner to the North Shore. Return to Honolulu along Route 99, Interstate H2, and Interstate H1. Unfortunately, it is not possible to circumnavigate the entire island, because there is no road between the North Shore and the Leeward Coast around the northwest corner of the island.
- Driving tour around East-side of island gives spectacular views. Stop several times along the route to see blowhole, swim in secluded cove, hike up to the Lighthouse for amazing views or check out ancient Hawaiian drawings and Heeiaus.
- Driving tour over the Pali Highway; be sure to visit the Pali Lookout.
- Drive up to the Round-Top Forest Reserve. (excellent view of Honolulu and the surrounding area)
- Snorkeling and sun bathing at Hanauma Bay
- Viewing Marine Wildlife (the best 1/2 of Oahu is underwater!)- see Wild Side Specialty Toursto sail with whales, dive with dolphins, and snorkel coral reefs with turtles and tropical fish.
- If the hot weather is too much for you, go ice skating at the Ice Palace in Honolulu.