Hawaii is a top tourist destination of the world… and I am lucky enough to have lived here on and off for over 10 years. I can’t seem to stay away. There’s something magical about these islands, and I find my time here always bring me back to myself in some way shape or form. Each island is encapsulated with its own flavor of magic; I have enjoyed Kauai for its adventure sports, Maui for its lush jungles and waterfalls, and the Big Island for its volcanic scenery and black sand beaches. Oahu has a special place in my heart. I first moved here in 2008 for college. I attended the University of Hawaii at Manoa in Honolulu, which sits in Manoa Valley at the base of a beautiful backdrop of mountains, about a mile inland from Waikiki. My time off would be spent riding around in my friend’s boyfriend’s truck in our bikinis with a 40 and a J, blasting Marley and hanging out at North Shore beaches watching the surfers.
My first year in Honolulu I quite enjoyed frequent bus rides into Waikiki. I would waltz into the luxury resorts, pretending I was a guest, lounging around by the pool and people watching at the beach. By my second year Waikiki started to lose its appeal and I spent more time at other beaches in town that were more tranquil and less saturated with tourists. I was also disappointed when I would talk to visitors and they were only spending a day on Oahu before jetting off to a surrounding island, without ever leaving Waikiki. Oahu has its own magic, but really only gets its reputation for the South Shore. If that’s all people come for, it makes sense that they would only want to spend a day or two because Waikiki, while luxurious, can be found anywhere. The main street is lined with high-end brands, hotels and chain restaurants. The beach is man-made and very crowded. For a true experience of Oahu, there’s an entire island to explore!
Besides the obvious, I love Oahu because I get the best of both worlds. As a city girl at heart, I am comforted by the seediness of the concrete jungle with its loud noises and vibrant energy. I love stepping outside my apartment and seeing all walks of life, young and old and every shade. It is a melting pot of culture and delicious food. It’s an athletic city, with joggers on every corner, community sporting events at every park and surfers at every beach. The people are friendly and polite. It is an international destination with over 200 thousand visitors each day. On the flip side if I need a break from the city, I can drive 15 minutes to the entrance of a number of hiking trails and make my way into lush forests and trek up mountains to a beautiful view. The ocean is a ten-minute walk from my apartment. If I want to take a bit of a longer drive, in one hour I can be on the North Shore and experience more of a small town vibe.
Honolulu, like many cities, is experiencing a tremendous amount of development. There are music venues, art and cultural centers, museums and an amazing foodie scene. Healers tend to be drawn to the island and there is a strong spiritual community. As a plant-based foodie, I have been impressed with the growing number of options in town and across the island. More plant-based and health-oriented restaurants are popping up, but even the traditional restaurants are becoming more conscious and providing vegan and vegetarian options on their menu.
If you are planning a trip to Oahu, I recommend spending a week here before jetting off to another island. Rent a car, find an Airbnb in Kailua near Lanikai and enjoy exploring. Haleiwa on the North Shore is filled with cute boutiques and adorable restaurants. There are beautiful beaches and it has a laid-back, small town vibe. Spend a day at the Dole Plantation or the Polynesian Cultural Center. Spend a few days hiking some of the trails around the island. Rent a Kayak at Kailua Beach Center and paddle out to Na Mokulua, then treat yourself to some shave ice after at Island Snow. Check out the Byodo-In Temple in Kaneohe, or one of the botanical gardens on the island.
Coming with kids? Hit up Wet n Wild waterpark on the West Side or try snorkeling at Hanauma Bay. Something educational? Take them for a tour and history lesson at Pearl Harbor. Something more adventurous? Try parasailing at Ala Moana Beach Park. If you fancy nightlife, put the kiddos to sleep and check out Gaslamp, a secret speakeasy inside a bar in Kailua. Or head into Waikiki or China town for live music, clubs, wine bars and more. My favorite date night spot is Amuse Wine Bar in Honolulu. Whatever your vibe, Oahu will surely have something for you to enjoy.