Oahu, Hawaii

What is it about the beach that makes you just want to go “aaaah!” Welcome to Hawaii, the “Tropical Paradise State”. Well, officially it’s the “Aloha State” but after being here, I kind of like my name better. What do you think?

Hawaii is a great place for a vacation. With all the activities, the food, the fish, the local produce, it’s fantastic. Oh! And, we can’t forget the Hawaiian culture. I don’t know what it is. It’s the spirit of Aloha! (I guess that’s why they call it the Aloha state!)

The Hawaiian Islands are actually 19 islands that extend 1,500 miles across the Pacific, but it’s the main islands we’re most familiar with: Hawaii, Oahu, Kauai, Maui, Molokai and Lanai. These are the ones that attract the most visitors. Hawaii is the 50th and southernmost state in the U.S. with the most sensational surf, beautiful beaches and fascinating volcanic mountains. This has to be the best tropical getaway anywhere. Truly paradise!

If you’re visiting Hawaii for the first time, there’s no better place to start than with the Island of Oahu. Known as “the gathering place,” Oahu has the highest population of the island group and receives more visitors than any other island. It is a very visual island with sights and activities for the whole family to enjoy.

Honolulu is the not only the largest city in Hawaii, it is also the state capitol. Governing is old hat to the people of Honolulu, as it was the seat of government for the original royalty of Hawaii. Every kingdom needs a castle, and situated in the middle of downtown Honolulu is the Iolani Palace. Built in 1882, the Palace is the only official state home of royalty in the United States. Take a good look at it, as this regal residence features architecture found nowhere else in the world, a unique style known as American Florentine, which is absolutely beautiful. For an insight into the past of the Polynesian people, a trip to the Bishop Museum will provide a detailed peak into the life and times of these ancient islanders. Founded in 1889, the Bishop Museum is the largest museum in Hawaii and is home to the world’s greatest collection of Polynesian cultural and scientific artifacts.

Honolulu’s most famous beach, Waikiki, stretches from the city’s harbor all the way down to “Diamond Head”, the volcano usually seen in the background of most beach pictures and postcards. Here’s where to come for outrigger canoeing, sun bathing, swimming, surfing, wind sailing, parasailing…whew! Water sports to die for! And, that incredible view! It’s easy to see why Waikiki is the center of tourism here on the island.

The one water sport that Hawaii is most famous for is…surfing! Surfing has been a big part of the Hawaiian culture for hundreds of years, and was made popular worldwide in the early 1900’s by Olympic swimming champion and Hawaiian son, Duke Kahanamoku, also known as “the Big Kahuna”, a name known universally as the grandfather of the sport.

If surfing isn’t wild enough for you, maybe you’d prefer swimming with sharks, instead. I know what you are thinking: no way, not me! But, thanks to North Shore Shark Adventures, you can actually be in the water swimming next to the ocean’s fiercest predator. North Shore Shark Adventures owner and guide, Joe Pavsek, started this tour after watching sharks follow the local crab trappers just offshore. They used to clean their traps, pulling out the old bait and throwing it into the water, attracting the sharks who followed their boats everywhere. So, after watching this for 30 years, he started this wild adventure to let tourists have the thrill of their lives! The brave adventurers (that’s you!) climb inside a cage with a snorkel. As the cage is submerged, suddenly you’re under water with 8 to 12 foot sharks swimming all around and under you! Absolutely unbelievable! And do they get close? Oh yeah!

After an amazing swim with “jaws,” you might think you’ve seen everything Hawaii has to offer. Not yet! The mountains and volcanoes of Oahu are where you can get some great views of the island. From Diamond Head, the most prominent sight on the Waikiki coast, to the Pali Lookout point, the view is fantastic. But, the best way to see the island is from the air. What’s the perfect way to fly over and island surrounded by water? Why by seaplane, of course! Sounds fun. So, off I went to Island Seaplane Service. They do an hour tour, which shows you most of the island. There’s also a half hour tour which cuts back through the mountains through the Pali Pass which is a beautiful location to see. The planes carry four passengers and the pilot. And, oh what a sight from way up here!

Of course, if you would rather keep your feet on the ground, there are other ways to see the island. I always like to rent a car in Honolulu, especially to be able to cruise down the main drag of Waikiki, Kali’kowa Avenue. It’s one way, running parallel along Waikiki Beach. Hotels line the beach on one side… and on the other- lots of shopping!

All of the main shops are right here, and with so many great shops to choose from, getting around to them all is definitely do-able on this trip! There’s also a trolley bus that will drop you off along the way. Don’t forget to visit the historic Royal Hawaiian Hotel while you’re there, the magnificent “pink palace” hotel with a scrumptious buffet breakfast that you can take out and eat right on the sand of their private beach!

Honolulu has several outdoor marketplaces that are great for picking up a little memento from your stay. Try the Maunakea Marketplace, a favorite among the locals, or the International Marketplace, which sits beneath a 100 year old banyan tree, and the historic Aloha Tower Marketplace in Honolulu Harbor. In the old days, the ships would arrive in Honolulu and they’d see the tower off in the distance, welcoming passengers. It was kind of like the Statue of Liberty for Hawaii!

What would a trip to Hawaii be without a luau? The Paradise Cove Luau has been entertaining visitors to the islands with traditional Hawaiian luaus for over twenty years. Here, you can experience the history and culture of Hawaii by participating in traditional games like throwing spears, or traditional crafts like lei making and palm frond weaving. Then, watch the evening’s main course as it’s ceremoniously pulled from the traditional underground oven, called an “emu” (ee-moo), and finally, enjoy the feast while watching everyone’s favorite: the hula! As the sun sinks slowly over the Pacific, you’ll know you’ve finally experienced the “spirit of Aloha”, a word that means many things here on the island, but “welcome” is one you’ll truly understand.