Oahu’s role as the cultural and commercial epicenter of Hawaii has nothing to do with size and everything to do with people. The Big Island and Maui each boast more land, but “The Gathering Place,” as Oahu is called, is home to roughly two-thirds of the state’s population and is by far the most popular tourist destination of the island chain. Experiencing it all requires stops in both bustling downtown Honolulu and the pristine mountains and beaches beyond.
Where to Eat & Drink
Ridiculously Fresh Ingredients and Laid back Vibes
Bar Leather Apron
This intimate cocktail lounge is tucked away on the mezzanine level of the Topa Financial Center building in downtown Honolulu. Here mixology extends well beyond blending liquids. Dapper bartenders build award-winning concoctions — including “the world’s best Mai Tai” — using everything from smoke guns to hand-carved Tikis.
Beer Lab HI
Three nuclear engineers who love beer and experimentation founded this tiny taphouse near the University of Hawaii. A relaxed vibe (bring your own food) makes it the perfect place to unwind. And the beer’s damn good: In January, BeerAdvocate listed them as one of the best new breweries in America.
This offshoot of the immensely popular restaurant The Pig & The Lady offers playful takes on Asian fusion in a relaxed yet vibrant environment. Must-tries include the Pho-Stra- mi burger, made of Hawaiian-raised beef and smoked brisket bacon, as well as the “slushy of the week” spiked with your choice of booze.
Waialua Bakery & Juice Bar
A funky North Shore standout known for delicious baked treats as well as healthy sandwiches and fruit bowls. For the ultimate order, take John John Florence’s advice: “I get the turkey-cranberry sandwich, a chocolate chip cookie and a peanut butter smoothie. It’s so good.”
The best source for poi glazed donuts, as agreed upon by most locals, opens early at 2 a.m. for late-night munchies and closes at 4 p.m., so plan your sugar rush accordingly.
It doesn’t look like much, but the freshness of its seafood has repeatedly earned this hole in the wall on the outskirts of Waikiki honors as the top option for poke on the island. It’s also appeared repeatedly on Yelp’s Top 100 Places to Eat based on aggregate reviews.
Location: 747 Kapahulu Ave ⇱
What to Do
Endless Eye Candy
The Liljestrand House
This mid-century residential masterpiece hidden in the hills above Honolulu technically isn’t open to the public. However, those who take the time to follow the contact instructions at liljestrandhouse.org may be rewarded with stunning views of the city and countless lessons on the critical role of restraint in design.
Lanikai Pillbox Hike & Beach
If you plan on spending a day in Kailua, start with this easy 20-minute hike — ideally just before sunrise. The initial steep ascent leads to Kaiwa Ridge, which is topped by two graffiti-covered WWII-era pillboxes, each with sweeping views of the ocean. Afterward, head to the pristine beach a minute’s walk from the trailhead.
Location: 265 Kaelepulu Dr ⇱
Ka’ena Point Trail
Reaching the westernmost tip of the island requires a drive past several untouched beaches, as well as an easy and beautiful hike along a rocky, rugged coastline. The reward is a chance to spot albatrosses and other protected seabirds, as well as seals, whales and dolphins.
Location: Farrington Hwy ⇱
Banzai Pipeline is the best wave in the world for watching surfers get barreled. Park in the lot at Ehukai Beach Park and walk down the beach to the left for about 250 feet. Bring a blanket and keep your eyes peeled for professionals like John John Florence, Kelly Slater and Jamie O’Brien.
Where to Stay
Hospitality to Suit Every Style and Budget
The Surfjack Hotel & Swim Club
The antithesis to Waikiki’s mega-resorts combines laid-back ’60s surf vibes with modern art and design elements crafted by locals. Even if you aren’t staying, stop by to check out the well-curated gift shop, Instagram-worthy pool scene and one of Oahu’s hottest restaurants, Mahina & Sun’s.
Turtle Bay Resort
What the famed North Shore hotel lacks in interior styling is easily made up for in panoramic ocean views and proximity to the most famous surf spots on Earth. Its packed menu of activities, ranging from moonlit group paddles to a round on its award-winning Arnold Palmer course, ought to keep you plenty busy.
The Royal Hawaiian
The “Pink Palace of the Pacific” has been a Waikiki icon for almost a century. Its blend of Moorish-style architecture and lush greenery creates an unmatched sense of old-school exoticism. Other attractions, like a top-ranked beachfront Mai Tai bar and a recently opened on-site bakery, only sweeten the experience.
Four Seasons Resort Ko Olina
The newcomer to Oahu’s luxury hotel scene sits off the beaten path on the island’s west coast. But those looking for a five-star escape can do no better than its oceanside infinity pool, sophisticated rooms with sunset views, and adventures including exclusive hikes and freediving lessons.
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