Oahu (Hawaiian: Oʻahu) is the most populous of the Hawaiian islands, the third largest in size (after the Big Island and Maui, and the cultural, financial, and top tourist destination of the Hawaiian islands. As the home of the city of Honolulu, the state capital, and as home to over 85% of the state's population, Oahu is appropriately nicknamed "The Gathering Place."


Oahu is truly at the heart of Hawaii. The city of Honolulu is busy, and its Waikiki district even more so. Oahu is home to the only real metropolitan area in all the Hawaiian Islands. For some, this has been both a blessing and a curse for the island.

On the plus side, visitors to Oahu and local residents themselves share in all the amenities and conveniences that only a large city such as Honolulu can provide—days spent dashing about, bustling nightlife, great restaurants, exciting cultural events and establishments, good public transportation, and a variety of shopping and lodging options. Combine this with the city and island's extensive beaches, parks, mountains, recreational areas, and quaint towns and this makes one enjoyable metropolitan area. On the minus side, Honolulu is a big city and has all the big city problems that come along with it, such as traffic, high cost of living, and some crime.

Honolulu may not embody the vision that some visitors have of Hawaii after looking at so many postcards: serenity and relaxation. True, one can relax on Oahu just by going to the right destinations on the island, you just need to know where to look. A calming oasis can be found as 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. Some great hikes are just a short drive into the mountains from Waikiki. Secluded white sand beaches, funky beach towns, pounding winter surf on the North Shore. All of which can be found in other parts of Oahu.

So enjoy Honolulu and all it has to offer. But if you don't see the North Shore during the wintertime when monstrous waves pound the shore (think of the opening scene of the 1970s show Hawaii Five-O), then you have really missed something. Brave and experienced surfers attack these waves! 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, mountain trails, and scenery outside of Waikiki, then you really haven't seen all Oahu has to offer.


Two mountain ranges make up the island of Oahu. The Koolau Range (Hawaiian: Koʻolau) runs along the east side of the island and forms the backdrop for Honolulu; the Waianae Range (Hawaiian: Waiʻanae) runs parallel to the Koolau Range along the west side.

The majority of visitors to Oahu stay in Honolulu and its Waikiki district. The rest of the island is less visibly touched by tourism, with only a few B&Bs among the houses and natural sites on the Windward Coast and the North Shore.

Regions of Oahu
The state capitol and by far the largest city in the Hawaiian Islands, home to excellent museums, notable historical sites, scenic landmarks, the tourist hotspot of Waikiki, and a diverse dining and nightlife scene, among other attractions.
Central Oahu
A mostly suburban mix of bedroom communities outside Honolulu, situated amidst miles of pineapple fields.
Windward Coast
The wetter and more lush part of the island, home to many secluded beaches, sleepy villages, and one of the largest Marine Corps bases in the Pacific.
Leeward Coast
The drier part of the island, with several rural communities and a couple of up-and-coming resort areas.
North Shore
Home to some of the largest waves on earth in the winter; the ocean and surfing are a way of life here. Along the shore you'll also find charming towns and some interesting cultural attractions.


Besides Honolulu, a city large enough to be a region of Oahu onto itself, there are a number of towns of note on the island:

Other destinations

Get in

Flights from all over the world land at Honolulu International Airport just outside of downtown Honolulu. Free Wiki-Wiki (Hawaiian for "quick") shuttle buses run between the Main Overseas Terminal and Interisland Terminal every 15 minutes. These will eventually be replaced with moving walkways and people movers.

TheBus routes #19 and #20 run between the airport and Waikiki. The fare is $2.50. Exact change is required and space for baggage is limited.

When taking TheBus from the airport to Waikiki, make sure the destination sign reads "Waikiki Beach and Hotels". The westbound #19 bus continues to a military installation (Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam), and Military Police check all passengers for military ID at the gate. Do not get on this bus if you do not have military ID: you will be left at the gates with no way to return to the main highway.

Get around

Car rentals are available at the airport and various locations downtown. A car is worth having for visits to the North Shore or if you are staying outside of Honolulu/Waikiki.


The Oahu bus system, officially called TheBus, runs between almost all towns on the island and to most tourist destinations. One-way fare is $2.50 adults, $1.25 youth, with exact change required. There is also a 4-day tourist pass available from Waikiki ABC Stores for $35; also available from ABC Stores and other Waikiki-area shops is a very handy guide to TheBus for $2.95.

Currently, an elevated rail project is under construction and is expected to be completed in phases through 2019. The line will connect Kapolei on the southern Leeward Coast with Downtown Honolulu, with stops at Pearl Harbor/Aloha Stadium and the airport.

Major highways

The following are some of the more important major highways on Oahu. Both the common name and the state route number are given here. With the exception of H-1, H-2, and H-3 locals refer to most state highways by name, rather than route number.

Interstate highways

A common question that mainland visitors ask is why Oahu has Interstate highways when they don't cross state lines (or even county lines for that matter). The answer lies in the full name of the National System of Interstate and Defense Highways. Each of the Interstates had a military base at or close to its terminus, and all of them run close to Joint Base Pearl Harbor Hickam. (In any event, there are a number of Interstates on the mainland that also run entirely in one state.)

Other highways


Scuba diving

Although Oahu is generally not regarded as a premier dive destination, there are many reasons to consider diving here. The islands have fewer types of coral than any other part of the tropical Indo-Pacific, and reef health has been impacted by a variety of human forces, including population increases, shoreline development, land-based sources of pollution, increased sediments in the water, damage by tourists and divers, groundings, poor water quality from runoff and sewage treatment, and over-fishing. But Hawaii has a greater number of endemic tropical marine fishes than any other region except the Red Sea.

At the present time there are three MLCDs (Marine Life Conservation Districts) on Oahu - Hanauma Bay, Waikiki, and Pupukea. The MLCDs are designed to conserve and replenish marine resources. The taking of any type of living material (fishes, eggs, shells, corals, algae, etc.) and non-living habitat material (sand, rocks, coral skeletons, etc.) is generally restricted, if it is permitted at all.

Reef Dive Sites:

Wreck dive sites:

Dive shops

Stay safe

Some areas, including parts of Downtown/Chinatown, Pearl City, Waianae, Nanakuli, Waipahu, and Kalihi, are not very safe after dark. Officers from the Honolulu Police Department are extremely helpful to visitors and will steer you away from potential problems.

Some beaches are unsafe due to surf conditions or currents. Always check the Local Oahu Beach Conditions in advance to know the dangers. Check with the lifeguards and look for flags (Yellow=Caution; Red=Dangerous; Black=Extremely Dangerous). Underwater rocks and coral can be very shallow in some locations even with large waves, so know before you go. Some beaches (like Sandy's Beach) have very large very dangerous shorebreak at times. It is good to know general Beach Safety to understand the risks.

Take care when hiking on trails. Several trails are hazardous, especially after large amounts of rain, go with someone who is familiar with the area. It is very easy to get to dangerous locations that are not marked by signs or railing. When hiking near on rock shelves beside the ocean, dangerous areas are not blocked off. Understand the conditions of the oceans and take note how high up the water has splashed due to wave action. It is not uncommon to have areas that are safe and fun to explore until surf conditions change making them dangerous or deadly. If you fall into the water in high surf near rock walls, SWIM AWAY from the rocks and shore, DO NOT PANIC, call for help and swim parallel to the shore to location of little wave action or toward sandy areas.

Remember that as much as you need to keep yourself safe, you need to keep Hawai'i safe as well. Please practice the Leave No Trace principles to make sure everyone can enjoy the islands. It's not only illegal to do things like feed or hassle wildlife, take rocks, sand or plants, but it's also immoral and detrimental to the Hawaiian Islands. They are the most isolated land mass on the globe and have many species and landscapes that are struggling to survive under the pressures of tourism. Respect the 'aina the best you can. Do not cut trails, litter, or desecrate natural or man made sites.

Go next

To get to the other Hawaiian islands, fly Hawaiian Airlines, Island Air, or Mokulele Airlines from Honolulu International Airport. Mokulele also has flights from Kalaeloa Airport in West Oahu.

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Sunday, January 24, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.