Oahu is the landing spot for many first-time visitors to Hawaii — either as a first stop on a multi-island visit or as a final destination. Why? It has the largest population centers, the prestige and shopping of Waikiki, and the most established “tourist” attractions. Unfortunately, this means that visitors from the mainland can treat Oahu like any other travel destination. We arrive with our “must-see” travel itineraries and try to pack it all in to a few days.
Here is my advice. If you can’t simply relax, then create a short, must-see list for yourself. For instance, if you have any interest in World War II or history, then you should spend a day at Pearl Harbor. I highly recommend the Passport to Pearl Harbor, which covers four sites and all four are fantastic.
Don’t spend more than 24-48 hours to complete your sightseeing list. After that, please just stop. The whole point is to leave your busy life behind. Smell the flowers in the air. Look at the deep, green tropical foliage surrounding you. Go for some hikes. Admire the turtles and the fish. Marvel at the beaches. Read a book on Hawaiian history and culture before you arrive, because this may help you to focus on what is important here.
Upon arrival, buy a few beach chairs, some beach towels, and a beach umbrella. Yes, I know you can’t bring them back on the plane. It doesn’t matter–buy them anyway. This is the cheapest admission ticket you will ever pay to the best scenery anywhere. At the end of my stay, I always find a local who is more than happy to adopt almost brand new beach equipment.
Get in your car, and then visit beaches. Either find one you like and stick with it, or pick a new one every day if you want. Does your heart belong to the North Shore beaches that thrill you with big waves? Do you favor the sleek, man-made lagoons near the large resorts? Can you resist the impossibly blue water near Kailua Beach Park on the windward side of the island? Plant yourself in a chair, slow down, look around you.
Here is a good thing to know: all beaches in Hawaii are public — even the beaches at the resorts. On a recent trip, we just plopped our umbrella and chairs right next to the customers at a North Shore resort. We went there for the gorgeous beach, and then had lunch at the resort. On other days, we visited beaches where there wasn’t a restaurant or service in site. Just the surf and the sand.
These days in Oahu won’t last long. Work beckons. Vacations end. Soak up nature in Oahu and keep your to-do lists for another time.