Most tourists arrive by air at Honolulu Airport…and many don’t get past Waikiki Beach, which is a shame. Waikiki is a great place to stay for a few days, but there is so much more to see and experience on Oahu.
Honolulu & Waikiki Beach
In addition to the beach, Waikiki has some interesting sights to see. The Honolulu Zoo and Kapiolani Park, both located at the far end of Waikiki Beach are worth a visit. Although you may not be able to afford the room rates, spending some time at the Royal Hawaiian Resort (aka the “Pink Lady”) is worthwhile. Having a Mai Tai in the Mai Tai Bar on the beach at sunset will certainly be memorable. Perhaps splurging on a meal or a spa treatment in the Royal Hawaiian will get you away from all the commercialism in Waikiki for awhile.
Waikiki is known for restaurants and shopping, and since it is quite a small area only three or four blocks deep, it is easy walking to experience the food and merchandise in the area. For time on the beach, you might find Waikiki Beach is too crowded. Fort DeRussy Beach Park is nearby, and has a beach, palm trees, and concessions with decent food.
There are also many interesting sites to see in Honolulu. Chinatown is quite large, and there are always some very interesting sights, smells and food to experience. The Bishop Museum holds some astounding cultural treasures that reflect the rich history of Hawai’i and it’s historic royalty. The Mission Houses, the Kawaiaha’o Church, the State Capital and Iolani Palace are all worth seeing, and they are all within a couple of blocks of each other.
For retail experiences, the Ala Moana Shopping Center has all sorts of interesting shops, as well as the usual department stores. Hilo Hatti’s is close by, and specializes in Hawaiian clothing (Hawaiian shirts, Muumuus, as well as sports and kid’s clothes), however they also have a good selection of Hawaiian coffee, macadamia nuts, and souvenirs. Hilo Hatti’s shuttle buses from Waikiki, and the city buses run right past the main store as well. Walmart has two stores in Honolulu, and as you probably already know, they have the best prices for souvenirs, liquor, snacks, and clothing.
Pearl Harbour is a must see. There are lots of shuttles and buses that run between Waikiki and Pearl Harbour, and the USS Arizona Memorial is worth a look. You can almost see the Japanese bombers swooping in over the mountains. Americans find this war memorial quite moving, since it was the start of their involvement in WWII.
Hanauma Bay is just a short drive from Waikiki/Honolulu, and is worth a visit, however it can get very busy. There are many fish to be found by snorkelling in the bay, however the coral is mostly dead. Bring an underwater camera with you, and get some great shots of fish for your photo album!
The North Shore
Renting a car, taking the public transit bus, or booking a bus tour to see the rest of Oahu is well worth the effort. In 2010 on a cruise to New Zealand, we stopped in Oahu for the day and rented a car to see the wet side of Oahu. In 2014 I was on a cruise to French Polynesia, and we stopped in Oahu overnight, so I took a tour which (again) took me up the wet (eastern) side of Oahu to the North Shore. We saw the Byodu Temple, the Koolau Mountains, Chinaman’s Hat Rock (sticks out of Kaneohe Bay), Malaekahana State Recreation Area, the Polynesian Cultural Center, and finally the north shore of Oahu, where some of the most spectacular surf to be found anywhere in Hawaii is to be found (home to many surfers). Along the way we also sampled the wonderful shrimp dinners, served from catering trucks along the east coast.