Oahu (usually Oahu outside Hawaiian and Hawaiian English), known as “The Gathering Place”, is the third largest of the Hawaiian Islands and most populous of the islands in the State of Hawaii. The state capital Honolulu is located on the southeast coast. Including small close-in offshore islands such as Ford Island and the islands in Kaneohe Bay and off the eastern coast, it has a total land area of 596.7 square miles (1,545.4 km2), making it the 20th largest island in the United States.
In greatest dimension, this volcanic island is 44 miles (71 km) long and 30 miles (48 km) across. The length of the shoreline is 227 miles (365 km). The island is the result of two separate shield volcanoes: Waianae and Koolau, with a broad “valley” or saddle (the central Oahu Plain) between them. The highest point is Mt. Ka’ala in the Waianae Range, rising to 4,003 feet (1,220 m) above sea level.
Oahu is the third largest of the islands of Hawaii (the Big Island and Maui are both larger), located in the United States of America, and the most popular tourist destination. As the location of Honolulu, the state capital, and as home to over 85% of the state’s population, the island is appropriately nicknamed “The Gathering Place.”
Nicknamed “the Gathering Place,” and home to the only real metropolitan area in the Hawaiian Islands, Oahu is truly at the heart of Hawaii. For some, this has been both a blessing and a curse for the island.
On the plus side, visitors to Oahu share in all the amenities and conveniences of Honolulu…bustling nightlife, exciting cultural events, and a wide variety of lodging, dining, and shopping options. On the minus side, Honolulu does not embody the vision that most visitors have of Hawaii…peace, serenity, and relaxation. Honolulu is a big city, and has all the problems that go with it, including crime, traffic, high cost of living, traffic, and a lack of affordable housing. Oh, and did we mention traffic?
Indeed, with airlines increasing non-stop service to other islands in the chain from the West Coast, many visitors from the U.S. mainland choose to enjoy their Hawaiian vacation without even setting foot on Oahu.
However, a calming oasis can be found on Oahu; you just need to know where to look. There are many resorts located outside of Waikiki that offer less crowded surroundings. Natural beauty can be found in the two mountain ranges (the Koolau and Waianae ranges) that make up Oahu…some great hikes are located just a 15-minute drive into the mountains from Waikiki.
Secluded white sand beaches, funky beach towns, pounding winter surf on the North Shore…all of this can be found on the other parts of Oahu.
So, enjoy Honolulu and all it has to offer. But if you don’t see the North Shore during the winter when monster waves pound the shore, if you don’t take a drive through miles of pineapple fields, and if you don’t take time to visit some of the white sand beaches outside of Waikiki, then you really haven’t seen Oahu.
The 2000 census showed a population of 876,151, which was essentially the entire population of Honolulu County except for 5 individuals who lived in the far-flung Northwestern Hawaiian Islands portion of the county in the United States Census Bureau’s Census Tract 114.98 of Honolulu County, Hawaii.
The island is home to about 900,000 people (approximately 75% of the resident population of the state) and partly because of this, Oahu has for a long time been nicknamed “The Gathering Place”. However, the term Oahu has no confirmed meaning in Hawaiian, other than that of the place itself. Ancient Hawaiian tradition attributes the name’s origin in the legend of Hawaiiloa, the Polynesian navigator credited with discovery of the Hawaiian Islands. The story relates that he named the island after a son.
The city of Honolulu—largest city, state capital, and main deepwater marine port for the State of Hawaii—is located here. As a jurisdictional unit, the entire island of Oahu is in the City & County of Honolulu, although as a place name, Honolulu occupies only a portion of the southeast end of the island (essentially, the Honolulu District). The island extends from Kaena on the west end to Makapuu on the east. Well-known features found on Oahu include Waik?k?, Pearl Harbor, Diamond Head, Hanauma Bay, K?neohe Bay, and the North Shore.
- Ala Moana
- Bernice P. Bishop Museum
- Diamond Head
- Hanauma Bay
- Honolulu Academy of Arts
- North Shore
- Pearl Harbor
- Polynesian Cultural Center
- USS Arizona Memorial
- USS Missouri
- Valley of the temples
Oahu has been featured in many movies and television shows, including, but not limited to: Forgetting Sarah Marshall, 50 First Dates, Blue Crush, Flight 29 Down, Hawaii Five-O, Jake and the Fatman, the Jurassic Park movies, Windtalkers, Mighty Joe Young, The Karate Kid , Magnum P.I., North Shore, and Pearl Harbor. Disney’s Johnny Tsunami and Johnny Kapahala use Oahu as the hometown of the family.
The reality TV show Dog the Bounty Hunter is filmed in the regions of Honolulu, Oahu (as well as other regions in Oahu), and the city of Kailua-Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii. The children’s series Flight 29 Down was filmed on the island.
The hit television series Lost is also filmed on Oahu, and many of the show’s stars call the island home. The island’s thick jungles and picturesque beaches are prominently featured. Multiplayer online racing game Test Drive Unlimited (Xbox 360 / PC / PS2 / PSP) takes place on a fully modeled Oahu island with 1,000 miles (1,600 km) of roads and highways.’ Oahu has between 30 and 40 great tourist beaches, several more than 1 mile in length:
Kailua Beach Park – Located just below the Kaneohe Bay and directly above Bellows air force station, this beach is famous for its excellent swimming and wind surfing. With nice fine sand – perfect for sunbathing and recreational activities, and a backdrop of tiny offshore islands, this makes for one of Oahu’s most beautiful beaches.
Kualoa Regional Park – Located along the Northeast side of the island, this beach is rarely crowded and has a great view of the offshore island, Chinamans hat, so called this due to its resemblance of the peasants chapeau worn by rural Chinese. With Kualoa mountains in the background you might feel you are in the movie Jurassic park, due to the fact that Kualoa range is where much of the footage took place. Also this area was considered sacred by ancient Hawaiians due to the whalebones that would wash on shore that would be used for valuable tools and jewelry.
Kahana Bay Beach Park – Located along the windward side of the island, directly across Ahupua’a O Kahana state park, this is one of Oahu’s best kept secrets. This beach cove is nestled at the very bottom of the Kualoa mountains and is often over looked by people traveling up the coast due to the outlining of pine trees along the beaches edges. With its seclusion, calm waters and plenty of shady spots for those not fond of the too much sun, you can obviously see why this is one of Oahu’s best kept secrets.
Lanikai Beach – This small stretch of thin beach is home to some of the most clear and blue water you will find surrounding Oahu, and with views of the two beautiful offshore islands, known as the Mokuluas, you truly feel engulfed in the tropical setting.
Ala Moana Beach Park/Magic Island – Known as “The path to the sea”, this beach park is famous for its recreational activities. Located just west of Waikikis beaches and directly across from tha Ala Moana mall, this area features a 76 acre park located along the shore, and is often home to many family gatherings and company outings.
Sunset Beach – So called due to the beautiful sunsets that occur almost everyday on this spot, this white sand beach is one of the longest running beaches on Oahu, stretching 2 miles in length and between 200 and 300 feet in width at some spots. In the winter months, Sunset beach is home to one of the best surfing spots on the island and features several international surf competitions. In the summer months during the calmer seas this is a nice spot swimming and snorkeling.
Ehukai Beach Park – Also known as “Reddish tinged water”, this also home of the famous Bonzai Pipeline. In the winter months this beach features 30 to 40 foot waves, when the swells are high, and frequented by many of the worlds best surfers. Part of the triple crown surf tournament, I would stay out of the water in the winter months unless you are familiar with the surf, due to the fierce breaking waves and strong undertow. However in the summer months the calm ocean makes a good spot for swimming and a good sandbar.
Waikiki Beach – Meaning “sprouting water”, this beach runs along Kalakaua Ave. and is home to many of the areas featured resorts. Often filled with tourists and guests of the hotels that line the beach, this area is where you can take some of the famous catamaran rides that are manned by the beach boys, not the the band, but true beach boys. The calm surf and shallow waters makes a nice spot for wading in the waters, bodysurfing, and beginning surfers.
Waimea Bay Beach – Located on the North Shore, in the winter months this is home to some of the largest and most dangerous ride-able surf in the world, with waves reaching 30 plus feet, and with in-shore breaks often at 12 feet, experienced swimmers and surfers need only apply. However in the summer months the calm surf makes for nice swimming and with a nice size beach is great for sunbathing. If you are brave enough you can climb “da big rock”, which is a popular free jump spot, and has platforms to jump off of at 5 and 18 feet.
Sandy Beach Park – Located along the windward side of the island just past Halona Beach Cove, with calm surf, this is a superb spot for swimming and amateur bodysurfers. However most of the year there has somewhat rough surf and many of the best bodysurfers on the island call this beach home, because the waves here are rivaled by no where else on the island.
Bellows Beach Park – Located right near Bellows air force station, this beautiful beach has shallow water and small consistent waves which makes for good swimming and beginning surfers.
Hale’iwa Beach – Located in the Historical town of Hale’iwa this brown sanded beach is one of the few spots on the island where you can sit on the beach and watch the sun rise and set. With plenty of beach to lay out and being within walking distance of shops, eating, and sightseeing this is an attractive family spot.
Halona Beach Cove – This beach is also nicknamed Eternity beach, receiving the name eternity because of the love scene that takes place on this beach from the movie “From here to Eternity”. Most tourists usually go to this spot on the windward side of the Island just passed Hanauma Bay to view the Halona blowhole. The only way to get this beach though is to scale down the somewhat steep cliffs that protect this tiny but very scenic beach. Also beware of the sea turtles that frequent the spot, although they will not harm you, if you are caught touching them or trying to ride them, you will be fined.
Barbers Point – Located on the ewa part of the island, this beach is frequented by many of our men and women in the armed forces due to the base that is located just down the road. Also due to its small surf and scarce crowds it is not a bad beach for the beginning surfer. With a bar located right on the beach, open on weekends, and nice views of Honolulu, this beach is a nice spot to get away from your more touristy spots.
Ko’Olina – The resort famous for housing many of the pro bowlers that visit every year in February, also features some of the most beautiful man-made beaches on the island. The 4 lagoons, named Kolola(whale), Hanu(turtle), Naia(dolphin), and Ulua(fish), feature some of the most beautiful sunsets that you will not find anywhere else on the island. With literally no surf the lagoons are often nice to just float around in. Given that the lagoons are located about 20 minutes from Waikiki these lagoons are generally not crowded and only frequented by locals and guests of the resort.
Three Tables – This beach located off the Kamehameha Highway, North Shore, and is sandwiched between Sharks cove and Waimea Bay, it features some very nice snorkeling. Beware of the surf in the winter months though. The waves can sometimes reach 30 to 40 feet in these areas depending on the swells. Therefore most of the snorkeling and the wading the many tide pools along this beach are done in the months of April to October.
Pokai Bay Beach Park – Hawaiian for “Night of the Supreme one”, this beach is named after the Hawaiian chef Pokai who according to legend brought and planted the first coconut palm tree on the island. This west shore beach is one of the most protected beaches on the island even during the months of rough surf, which makes for nice swimming conditions.
Makapu’u Beach Park – Hawaiian for “Bulging Eyes”, this beach is located just below Makapuu Point, which is Hawaii’s eastern most point. Popular for its bodysurfing and picturesque views of Rabbit Island, this beach is a very appealing yet relaxing spot, although beware of the rough surf, strong shore break and undertow, that can arise through-out the winter months.
Mokule’ia Beach Park – Located on the northwestern tip of the island, this long white sandy beach is frequented by many of the local Hawaiians for its enticing windsurfing conditions and nice fishing spots.
Do not believe everything you read in the airlines brochures. Some areas and locals are not that enthused about you showing up. If you see a sign at a beach that says “Tourists keep out.” that means you. There are a lot of areas around Pearl City that you just want to avoid, that includeds many parks. Ask local law enforcement about areas to avoid, they are very helpful to the visitor and will steer you away from potential problems.