How our Bliss Filters work

Your custom results ({[{ results.meta.total }]}) Return to previous page

  • Waikiki-Beach-panorama - A wide shot of Waikiki Beach in Honolulu with Diamond Head in the distance.
  • boy-shark-exhibit-Waikiki - A boy watches a shark in a "Hunters of the Reef" exhibit in Waikiki.
  • Battleship-Missouri-Memorial - The USS Missouri Memorial is located just a ship’s length from the USS Arizona Memorial in Honolulu. The memorial commemorates the “Mighty Mo,” the U.S. Navy battleship that fought in the battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa and was the place where the Empire of Japan surrendered, ending World War II.
  • Aloha-Tower-Marketplace - Aloha Tower Marketplace and downtown Honolulu skyline at dusk.
  • Waikiki-sunset - Sunset over Waikiki, Oahu.
  • Waikiki-Beach-lights - View of world-famous Waikiki Beach with Diamond Head, known locally as Leah, serving as backdrop at dusk.
  • Hanauma-Bay-Oahu - More than 1 million people from around the globe visit Hanauma Bay on Oahu each year. Visitors must watch a short documentary before entering the park.
  • surfer-North-Shore-Oahu - A surfer on the north shore of Oahu.
  • Iolani-Palace - Iolani Palace, the only royal palace in the United States. The palace is a four-story Italian Renaissance palace built by King David Kalakaua in 1882 in Honolulu.
  • family-north-cove-Oahu - A family on the beach prepares to snorkel a North Shore cove on Oahu.
  • sea-jellies-Waikiki-Aquarium - Stunning examples of sea jellies, more commonly known as jellyfish, at the Waikiki Aquarium on Oahu.
  • windsurfer-Honolulu - Peter Garzke, a professional windsurfer from Germany, does an aerial off the coast of Honolulu.
  • USS-Arizona-Memorial - Visitors inside the USS Arizona Memorial in Honolulu. The memorial straddles the sunken hull of the battleship USS Arizona and commemorates the 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
  • honu-snorkelers - A woman takes a photo of a honu, or sea turtle, in Kealakekua, Hawaii.
  • Kailua-Bay-twilight - Kailua Bay on the windward coast of Oahu at twilight The remains of Ahuena Heiau, where sacrifices were offered to the gods in ancient times, are said to be found in the coconut grove in the foreground.
  • Waikiki-sunset-2 - Sunset over Waikiki, Oahu.
  • Diamond-Head - A shot of Diamond Head, known to locals as Leahi.
  • Oahu-sunset - Sailboats skim the Pacific waters off the shore of Waikiki at sunset, as seen from Sans Souci State Recreational Park.
  • USS-Arizona-Memorial-2 - The USS Arizona Memorial marks the resting place of 1,102 sailors and marines killed during the 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. It's visited by more than 1 million people each year.
  • Snorkeling-scene-Hanauma-Bay - The scene on Hanauma Bay, which attracts snorkelers lured by the rich coral reef.
  • USS-Arizona-Memorial-3 - An aerial view of the USS Arizona Memorial, visited by more than 1 million people each year.
  • Sandy-Beach-tattoo - The scene on Sandy Beach in Honolulu, including great-looking tattoos, a 45-minute drive from downtown Waikiki. Sandy Beach draws experienced bodysurfers for its large shore breaks and strong waves.
  • Waikiki-Beach-volleyball - Guys play volleyball on crowded Waikiki Beach, one of the most famous stretches of sand on the planet.
  • two-Hawaiian-girls - Two young girls with Haku lei on the  beach in Hawaii.
  • Waikiki-surfers - Two women walk with surfboards in Waikiki, Oahu.
  • farm-flower.Oahu - A colorful farm flower on the north shore of Oahu.
  • Makapuu-Waimanalo-beaches-Oahu - Makapuu and Waimanalo beaches with Manana Island at right, all part of Oahu.
  • Waikiki-Beach-sailing - Catamarans and sightseeing boats take off every half hour or so from one stretch of Waikiki Beach.
  • big-wave-Waimea-Bay - A big wave at Waimea Bay on the north shore of Oahu.
  • tiki-torches-Hawaii - Tiki torches at dusk in Waikiki, Oahu.
  • Hanauma-Bay-Oahu-1 - An aerial view of world-famous Hanauma Bay in Honolulu, Hawaii. A million visitors a year pass through the fragile marine ecosystem.
  • Sea-lion-in-Hawaii - A sea lion at Sea Life Park in Waimanalo on the island of Oahu.
  • kids-snorkel-Oahu - Kids get ready to snorkel on the north shore of Oahu.
  • banyan-tree-Oahu - An otherwordly banyan tree — which resembles the spiritual tree in "Avatar" — in Sans Souci State Recreational Park, right off Honolulu's main drag.
  • Oahu-lunch-buffet - A lunch buffet at Indigo restaurant in Chinatown on the island of Oahu.
  • heron-Hanauma-Bay - An egret, a member of the heron family, in Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve Park on Oahu, which attracts a million visitors a year.
  • fresh-fish-Heeia - Fresh fish caught in Heeia on the island of Oahu.
  • painted-eucalyptus-tree - A woman with a painted eucalptus tree on Hawaii.
  • Waikiki-Aquarium-shark-exhibit - Kids watch a shark in an exhibit at the Waikiki Aquarium.
  • Kailua-beach.jpg - Head to Kailua beach on Oahu to get away from the crowds on Waikiki.
  • bird-Kailua-Beach-Park - A pretty tropical bird landed right next to our blanket in Kailua Beach Park, a week after President Obama vacationed right up the beach.
  • sea-jellies-Waikiki-Aquarium-2 - "Take me to your leader": Sea jellies at the Waikiki Aquarium seemed to resemble creatures from another world.
  • Hawaii-outrigger - A demonstration of the centuries-old outrigger canoe tradition in Honolulu.
  • Hawaii-shell-nut-leis - Near the entrance on the Waikiki Beach side, a sundry market is set up every Sunday at Kapiolani Park on Oahu. Lei made from shells and nuts are a popular item.
  • woman-shave-ice - A young woman enjoys shave ice, a good way to cool down in Hawaii.

Oahu travel guide & photo tour

our guide

The vibe

Most people know the island of Oahu for the state capital, Honolulu, home to the famous Waikiki Beach district. This storied piece of real estate, a miles-long, white-sand strand lined with high-rise hotels, is hands-down the premier urban beach resort on the planet.

Waikiki draws tourists from all over the globe, seducing them with water sports (sailing, standup paddle-boarding, outrigger canoe rides, beginner surf lessons), hula shows, fine and casual dining, umbrella drinks and shop-till-you-drop temptations at every turn. And that's not to mention the endless entertainment that people-watching provides. So captivating (and surprisingly diverse) is Waikiki that many visitors, especially those on a tight schedule, see no reason to leave.

 

Beyond Waikiki, however, lies an entirely different place. Lush, crenelated mountains form a beckoning backdrop to congested Honolulu,  and a drive around the island will fill a day with heart-stopping scenery, fascinating historic sites, quintessential surfer towns, shave-ice stands, shrimp and plate-lunch trucks — and, if you time it right, a chance to watch big-wave surfers tackling the giants at Banzai Pipeline and other legendary breaks on the North Shore.

The top excursion for cruise passengers, however, is much more somber in nature.  The USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor straddles the hull of the first battleship sunk by Japanese war planes on Dec. 7, 1941, prompting  the United States to enter World War II. Included on many tours organized for cruise passengers is the adjacent Battleship Missouri,  or "Mighty Mo," where the surrender that ended the war on Sept. 2, 1945, was signed. 

Super family fun

For families in search of a curated but more lighthearted (if pricey) experience, Oahu delivers in the form of Sea Life Park, a 22-acre, marine-themed attraction at Haunama Bay that offers, among other activities, a chef's luau, swimming with dolphins or swimming with four native species of sharks separated from humans by a wire-mesh fence. The Polynesian Cultural Center, a kind of educational theme park composed of "villages" depicting the cultures of seven Polynesian island groups, is another family favorite. 

Cruise ships that call on Oahu

Top reasons to go

  • Spectacular scenery.
  • Snorkeling Hanauma Bay's rich coral reef.
  • Otherworldly jellies at Waikiki Aquarium in Kapiolani Park near Waikiki Beach. The nearby Honolulu Zoo is another great family attraction.
  • Waimea Valley Audubon Center is a nature preserve home to endangered moorhens (or marsh hens) and a botanical garden with lots of cool-looking plants.
Kids watch a shark in an exhibit at the Waikiki Aquarium.
Courtesy of Hawaii Tourism AuthorityKids watch a shark in an exhibit at the Waikiki Aquarium.

Things to do & see in Honolulu & Waikiki

No matter what ship you’re on, you’ll call on Honolulu and perhaps spend a pre- or post-cruise night or two in Waikiki, one of the most vibrant urban beach resorts in the world. You’d be cheating yourself if you didn’t spend a few hours people-watching while walking down the strand, pausing here and there for a rest or a libation, gawking at the famous hotels and perhaps signing on for a beginner surfing lesson, a sailboat excursion or a ride in an outrigger canoe. At around sunset, many hotels stage outdoor music and dance shows, some free, some for a fee, most highly professional and well worth attending.

If the crowds outside your hotel are not to your liking, walk south (or take a bus or taxi) to Kapiolani Park, the "Central Park" of Honolulu, where you'll mingle with picnicking locals and perhaps catch a show at the Waikiki Shell amphitheater. Many festivals are staged here as well. Across from the park, San Souci Beach (also called Kaimana Beach), geographically an extension of Waikiki, is a low-key, reef-protected strand that attracts more locals than tourists. The Hau Tree Lanai restaurant at the New Otani Kaimana Beach Hotel is a delightful place to have lunch or enjoy a sunset cocktail. Just beyond the park is Diamond Head, Honolulu's most famous landmark. Go early in the morning (and bring a camera) to hike a stunning, 1.5-mile trail traversing the saucer-like crater and climbing 500 feet to a vista point affording panoramic views of Honolulu spread out like a toy town below you.

For another taste of nature, pay a visit to Foster Botanical Garden, dating to 1853 and featuring collections of palms, orchids and prehistoric plants, along with flowers and other merchandise to take home.

The USS Arizona Memorial marks the resting place of 1,102 sailors and marines killed during the 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. It's visited by more than 1 million people each year.
Kirk Lee Aeder / Courtesy of Hawaii Tourism AuthorityThe USS Arizona Memorial marks the resting place of 1,102 sailors and marines killed during the 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. It's visited by more than 1 million people each year.

Pearl Harbor & USS Arizona Memorial

The most popular shore excursion out of Honolulu is also the most sobering: a visit to the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor, site of the devastating 1941 Japanese attack that pushed the United States into World War II. Many tours combine the memorial with other sites of historical and scenic interest around Oahu. Others round out the day with beach visits and water-based activities.

If you visit Pearl Harbor on your own, block out about three extra hours for visiting the Battleship Missouri Memorial and the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park, both offering deep insight into the challenges faced by the “greatest generation” in defense of the American way of life. You’ll see lots of beaches in your life, but there’s only one Pearl Harbor.

A surfer on the north shore of Oahu.
Kirk Lee Aeder / Courtesy of Hawaii Tourism AuthorityA surfer on the north shore of Oahu.

Oahu beaches

Waikiki is hardly all there is in the Oahu beach department, but you'll need a car to reach most of the others. Traveling around the island counterclockwise from Honolulu, you'll come to gems including Hanauma Bay, gorgeous but packed with bodies after 10 a.m.; Makapuu, a body-surfing mecca; Waimalano, four miles of sand and a park popular for locals' picnics; Kailua, a popular wind-surfing spot; and the North Shore's legendary Sunset, Waimea and Euhukai (Banzai Pipeline) beaches, home to some of the best surf breaks in the world. Back in Honolulu, locals in search of sun and sand head not to Waikiki, where parking is a definite problem, but to Ala Moana Beach Park, a protected half-mile strand safe for children.

Best bets for a rainy day

Yes, it rains in Hawaii — and frequently, too. That said, don’t let a few showers spoil your day. Head instead to the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum and spend a few engaging hours learning about the history and culture of Hawaii. Then, visit the Honolulu Museum of ArtDoris Duke’s Shangri-La Center for Islamic Arts and Cultures, the Hawaiian Mission Houses Historic SiteIolani Palace or other indoor cultural venues.  A trip to the Waikiki Aquarium will allow you to identify some of the fish you will see when swimming and snorkeling. Chances are, you’ll emerge to a rainbow.

Shopping

Oahu offers tons of options for shopping. Throughout the island you'll find duty-free shops, boutiques, markets and general stores with Hawaiian souvenirs and everyday merchandise.  ABC Stores, with 40 outlets on Oahu alone, are great places to stock up on beach mats, sunscreen and souvenirs. Another ubiquitous retail name is Crazy Shirts, founded in 1964 and specializing in tropical and topical designs. Honolulu's biggest mall, Ala Ala Moana Center, with more than 200 stores, is less than 10 minutes from the Pier 2 Cruise Terminal.

Sunset over Waikiki, Oahu.
Tor Johnson / Courtesy of Hawaii Tourism AuthoritySunset over Waikiki, Oahu.

Nightlife

If you have time before heading back to your ship, the lively streets of Chinatown are  known to attract partiers with hopping bars, live music and vibrant atmosphere. In Waikiki, many hotels produce outdoor evening shows with musical entertainment, fire-knife dancers and skillful hula performances set against a background of swaying palms, whispering surf and brilliant sunsets. 

Family-friendly options

For families in search of a curated but more lighthearted (if pricey) experience, Oahu delivers in the form of Sea Life Park, a 22-acre, marine-themed attraction at Haunama Bay that offers, among other activities, a chef's luau, swimming with dolphins or swimming with four native species of sharks separated from humans by a wire-mesh fence. The Polynesian Cultural Center, a kind of educational theme park composed of "villages" depicting the cultures of seven Polynesian island groups, is another family favorite.

Best bets for dining

Try authentic local dishes that draw on pork, steak, mahi-mahi, chicken teriyaki and rice as well as specialties such as loco moco and malasada, prepared by chefs with their own take. Topping Honolulu Magazine's best restaurant list for 2014 is Alan Wong's, which describes itself as "a culinary studio experimenting with new flavors and new ideas." (It's located on the third floor of a downtown office building, so you'll have to drive or take a taxi.) Another top choice for fine dining, this one in Waikiki, is Roy's Hawaii,  renowned for innovative takes on Pacific Rim cuisine. For a more casual meal, try Tikis Grill & Bar, a large and busy beachside venue; and Hula Grill, where you can watch surfers doing their thing as you sip your morning coffee. 

Photo opps

The view from Diamond Head is a postcard classic, and on the North Shore, you can photograph surfers in their native habitat. In Waikiki, focus your lens on outrigger canoes, surfers, garden delights, bikini babes, umbrella drinks, hula dancers and whatever else strikes your fancy. 

Fun facts

  • Iolani Palace is the only (former) royal palace in the United States. Two monarchs reigned from here before the end of monarchy in 1893: King Kalākaua and Queen Liliʻuokalani. The palace is restored and opened to the public as a museum.
  • President Barack Obama was born in Honolulu in 1961. (Sorry, conspiracy theorists!)
  • What does the Five-O refer to in the old and revived TV series "Hawaii Five-O"? It honors Hawaii's status as the 50th state. The series is shot on location in Honolulu and throughout the island of Oahu.

Weather & what to wear

Oahu has what formally is known as a "tropical savanna climate," with most rain and cooler temperatures occurring in the winter months. During the summer (May-October) the temperature typically averages from the mid-70s to low 90s. In the winter (November-April) the weather fluctuates between the mid-60s to mid-80s.

Dress: You’ll be fine with casual wear all over Hawaii. A few finer restaurants might require jackets for dinner. Men will love this: An aloha or “Hawaiian” shirt is the perfect outfit (casual buttoned down or collared shirt) and can be worn at almost any event and occasion.

When you arrive

Docking information

Stunning examples of sea jellies, or jellyfish, at the Waikiki Aquarium on Oahu.
JD Lasica / Special to CruiseableStunning examples of sea jellies, or jellyfish, at the Waikiki Aquarium on Oahu.

Cruise ships dock at either Pier 11 at the Aloha Tower or at nearby Pier 2. Both are close to each other with the Aloha Tower located slightly closer to the downtown area.

Getting around

The island’s public transportation, TheBus, offers tours of local points of interest. Trolleys are also widespread, and taxis can be found by hotels and in the shopping districts. Renting a car, a moped or bike are also good options for independent travelers.  Be forewarned that these days you have to pay to park in most parts of Honolulu.

Free Wi-Fi

The city's free wireless Internet access is called Hotzones in Honolulu. This initiative, provided by the Department of Information Technology and several private sector partners, is getting Honolulu on the top of “digital cities” lists.

Need to know

Tipping: A 10% to 15% tip on the restaurant/taxi bill is customary. Sometimes a tip is automatically added to your bill; check your credit card slip before adding additional tip.

Safety: Honolulu is considered to be a relatively safe place, but don’t forget that it’s a big city with all the same concerns as the rest of the United States. As always, don’t flash cash around and stay in well-lit areas at night.

ShoreFox contributed to this guide.

Your take

Have you been to Oahu? Please share a story, tip or discovery. What did you do while you were there? What was the highlight for you?

Help improve this article! See anything wrong? What did we overlook? Be a co-creator!

miles to go!

click map for travelers' photos

Janet Fullwood
Janet Fullwood is an editor, writer and photographer-at-large specializing in travel and hospitality topics.

User images

Overheard

“Oahu is one-stop Hawaii — all the allure of the Islands in a chop-suey mix that has you kayaking around offshore islets by day and sitting in a jazz club 'round midnight.”

Fodor's

“DO come surf in summer, when the swell is mellow and long-breaking. Even I could do it, explaining why this is surfing's birthplace.”

Islands magazine

Your take: share your experience


Comments