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Your guide to the beautiful island of Oahu
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November 16, 2022 | View OnlineSign Up

A tropical paradise fueled by volcanicity.


It may well be part of a US state, but Oahu is as far removed from the continental motherland as can be, thriving in its own Polynesian culture, laid-back lifestyle, and incomparable beauty. 


Its wondrous reputation stretches across the planet – so much so that plans are very much in place to ensure fewer tourists flood its Pacific shores. Honeymooners, hikers, and Hula enthusiasts alike can all find something in this Eden. Just make sure you leave it how you found it.


Welcome to Oahu.

| FUN FACTS

It’s home to the only royal palace in the US

If you’re not familiar with Hawaiian history, you might not be aware that it had its own royal family until the late 1800s when it became a US territory. It’s a difficult political period to explain in such a small amount of space, so we’ll focus on the fact that a palace remains from their rule.


Iolani Palace is located in Downtown Honolulu and has the unique label of being the only royal palace on US soil. It also boasts architectural features seen nowhere else in the world, and once used to feature a guard wall made of coral. You can still visit the palace today.

| KNOW BEFORE YOU GO

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Airbn' beat it

Short-term rentals are a no-go. Hawaii has been trying to cope with increasingly large volumes of tourists every year. So much so that the state government recently passed multiple laws to help temper the millions streaming through the islands each year.


One of those involves short-term rentals — read, Airbnb. As such, short-term rental platforms cannot host guests for periods under 30 days, making long-term stays the only option. Naturally, this doesn’t apply to most visitors who come for a week or two.

With that said, some still try and get around the system, so if you go looking on Airbnb, be prepared to have your booking canceled out of the blue. Take the safe approach and book a hotel.

Rental cars for the win but watch your speed

As it’s doubtful you’ve had your car shipped from the continental US to Oahu, your best bet for exploring the island could be a rental car. It allows you spectacular levels of freedom, unshackling you from the confines of a tour group. You’ll see more of the island and be able to dictate your trip with ease.


With that said, you need to be careful. Hawaii’s speed limits are extremely slow, even on what seems like major roads. If you want to avoid a hefty speeding fine, suck it up and accept you’ll be going 45.

Get saving

Hawaii is expensive. There’s no getting around it. Transport costs, high taxes, and a number of other fees on hotels relating to our first segment mean the average daily spend per person can fly up to $250. Make that an entire family, and you’ve got a pricey trip on your hands.


Plan your Hawaii trip well in advance, search for the best flights and hotel specials, and maybe try the off-season to help lower costs.

| BETTER HAIR HEALTH

The perfect travel set for healthy hair on the go is here

Gone are the days of compromising your hair health when on the road or traveling.

There’s no worse feeling than being away from home with an oily, dry or flaky scalp. This can occur as a result of overstyling, product build-up, an accumulation of dirt and dust, and exposure to environmental toxins or extreme temperatures. This leads to clogged hair follicles, excess sebum (natural scalp oils), and greasy, limp hair.

That’s why Nutrafol has created the ultimate scalp care system. The Build-Up Blocker Mask, Root Purifier Shampoo, and Stress Reliever Essence can be used together or separately to cultivate the optimal ecosystem for improved hair health.

The best part? The Hair in Balance Set comes in travel sized bottles to make taking your hair health on the road a breeze to support a busy lifestyle full of travel.

Shop here and start your journey to better hair health.

| THINGS TO DO

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Hit the trails

If there were nothing else to do in Oahu, you’d still have an impossible amount of outdoor adventures to conquer. Trails wind up and over the island, from daunting cliffside clambers to relaxed coastal strolls — using your own two legs is the best way to get to grips with the ancient and incomparable island.


At the top of your list should be the intimidating Koko Head trail. It’s only 1.5 miles long, but don’t be fooled; the trail is actually a staircase of 1,048 steps straight up.


Adding even more deception: The stairs aren’t really stairs — they’re a disused military railway track that used to supply the bunkers on the mountain. If you can make it to the top, you’ll be rewarded with some of the island's best views. Get up early, suck it up, and reward yourself with a cocktail later.


For those with knees that quiver at the thought of Koko Head, the Makapu’u Lighthouse Point Trail is a good alternative. This easier walk traces the coastline, culminating with the eponymous lighthouse. It’s a great option for families with young children.


Of course, what’s a Hawaii trip if you haven’t seen a waterfall? Hit the Maunawili Falls Trail for an epic adventure with an epic payoff at the end. This’ll definitely be a full-day affair, but you’ll be rewarded with fewer tourists and a look deep inside the lush rainforests that blanket the island.

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Discover the real Oahu

Millions visit Oahu and the rest of the Hawaiian islands every year. A saddeningly small amount of them even attempts to sample a piece of the rich culture that’s blessed the region for centuries. We already mentioned Iolani Palace, where you can learn about the royal history of the island, but there are many other opportunities available.


Make time for authentic Hawaiian experiences, starting with a quick stop at the Polynesian Cultural Center. If nothing else, the cultural park will offer a glimpse into the history that made this part of the world so vibrant. Expect traditional dancing displays, replica villages, and local food.


If you stay at one of the higher-end resorts, there’s a fair chance you’ll be offered a Hi-uwai ceremony experience. The sunrise ritual is an ancient ritual and involves heading into the ocean to be cleansed and reenergized for the day ahead. While you may be hesitant to do it with your hotel, it’ll still be an excellent chance to see what the ceremony is about, so don’t hold back.


Jumping on a full-blown cultural tour is hands down the easiest way to get the most interaction with the culture. This native perspectives tour touches on many aspects of Hawaiian life, from the oft-stereotyped Lei necklaces you’re given on arrival to the history and development of Hula dancing - you might even pick up a few moves.

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Hit the waves in the birthplace of surfing

How can you look at the Hawaiian waves curling into the shore and not be tempted to pick up a board? There’s no better place to surf than the birthplace of the sport itself.


Surfing in Hawaii is far more than just a hobby, though. In its early days (like the 4th century early), it was wound tightly together with island religions. Everyone surfed, from Kings to cooks, because it was a way to be close to the ocean, which sustained the islands for centuries. It's no wonder that any avid surfer today will preach a similar spiritual connection to the ocean when riding the waves.


There are plenty of places to surf in Oahu, with the North Shore holding the best stretches of beach for the sport. To get inspired, check out Sunset Beach, where Triple Crown Tournaments are held. It’s not likely you’ll be surfing there anytime soon, but you might catch a glimpse of the pros at work. White Plains and Old Man’s beaches are some of the best for beginners. Just make sure to ask a local before you jump in. Swells in Hawaii can be insanely big and very dangerous for the uninitiated.


The safest way is to grab some lessons. It won’t be hard to find a coach. Many schools operate on the island, and some will just hang out by the beach, hoping for a day’s tuition. Prices will vary depending on the location and coach, so shop around a little.

| WHERE TO STAY

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Waikiki or wherever

Waikiki is the default area for most tourists heading to Oahu. A showy neighborhood of Honolulu, you’ll find everything you need here, from high-end restaurants to some of the best hotels on the island and a range of top attractions. But for a more Hawaiian experience, seek out other corners of the island.


North Shore is growing in popularity but still remains far quieter and closer to its roots than Waikiki and should be on your radar. Don’t be limited by the staples.


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Our Top Pick: Surfjack Hotel and Swim Club

Oahu, Hawaii
$$-$$$ | See inside

Affordable hotels aren’t the easiest to find on Oahu, and if they are, they’re usually not as nice as Surfjack. This stylish boutique hotel has been a Waikiki staple for decades and is enjoying a second wind with its recent renovation.


Best of all, it’s not as tough on the wallet. Prices vary throughout the year, but it’s not impossible to find a rate under $200 a night.

Book Your Stay

Other Top Picks

| WHERE TO EAT

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Have a Spam good time

Okay, so spam is a thing. The mystery meat definitely has its place in Hawaii and shouldn’t be avoided with the vigor mainlanders often assume — seriously, if someone offers you Spam musubi, try it.


Still, there's so much more to experience when it comes to the wealth of local foods on offer. 


Succulent pork dishes, fresh vegetables, and of course, world-class seafood combine on the island. Throw in a culturally diverse population, and you’re truly spoilt for choice.

Our Top Pick: Helena's Hawaiian Food

Oahu, Hawaii
$$$ Menu

Helena’s Hawaiian Food has been serving up local fares since just after World War II finished, and it has remained a staple ever since. It has already received a hefty amount of praise in the form of a James Beard cultural award.


Turn up, ask what’s best, and tuck into as much as possible.

Reserve a table

The Best of the Rest

| WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING IN OAHU

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