Things to Do in Oahu
Manoa is both a valley and a neighborhood that's part of Honolulu. It's about three miles from downtown, and less than a mile from Waikiki Beach.
The Manoa Valley neighborhood is largely residential, though there is also a university campus here, and is surrounded by the tall, green mountains of the Ko'olau Range. In the 19th century, Manoa was the setting for Hawaii's first sugarcane and coffee plantations. Because of the geography and position of the Manoa Valley, it rains at least a little bit almost every day – rainbows occur frequently – and it is always incredibly lush. One of the main attractions is the 150-foot Manoa Falls.
Hawaii’s most populous island is home to big-name attractions like Pearl Harbor, Waikiki, the Polynesian Cultural Center, Dole Pineapple Plantation and Diamond Head. Check out these sites on a shore excursion, or get out on the water with a submarine tour or surfing lesson. If you want to explore Honolulu and the surrounding area on your own, rent a scooter to travel around in style.
He'eia State Park is located on Oahu's eastern shore, right on the popular Kaneohe Bay. The park covers about 18.5 acres, with one side on Kaneohe Bay and not far from the town of Kaneohe. It's between the He'eia Fish Pond and a small harbor called He'eia Kea. There are picnic facilities, including some with covers, and walking trails.
From He'eia State Park, you can see not only Kaneohe Bay but also the Ko'olau mountains. There are sometimes walking tours available, as well as kayaking and snorkeling tours and occasionally classes on canoe building.
Named after Hawaii’s legendary surfer and the official “Ambassador of Aloha,” this Waikiki Beach was voted “Best Beach in America” in the 2014 rankings. Dozens of palm trees spring from the sand to provide natural shade from the sun, and young children love splashing and lounging in the protected saltwater lagoon. The ocean here isn’t nearly as busy as at the main Waikiki Beach, and since the offshore reef manages to break up the waves, inflatable rafts meant for lounging in the sun replace surfboards, SUP boards, and canoes.
When standing on the wide, white sand beach, iconic Diamond Head looms to the left on the far side of Waikiki. To the right, the Ala Wai Boat Harbor houses mariners from all across the Pacific, and the famous Hilton Hawaiian Village Resort lines the entire shoreline. The beach—as you can imagine—is very popular, so it’s a good idea to arrive early and stake out a good patch of sand.
For an island that’s only 28 acres, Coconut Island has a grandiose history that belies its tiny size. Originally used by Native Hawaiians for traditional fishing and farming, this palm-covered islet in Kane’ohe Bay would eventually be purchased by Christian Holmes—heir to the Fleischman yeast fortune. In addition to expanding the island’s size from 12 to 28 acres, Holmes built everything from a saltwater swimming pool complete with a slide and diving board, to a private residence with outdoor bars and a collection of exotic animals.
After Holmes’ death in 1944, troops stationed at Kane’ohe Marine Base would use the island as a recreation retreat between their tours of duty. It would be purchased by another private family, host a long list of celebrities and future or former presidents, and even feature on the opening scene of the TV show, Gilligan’s Island.
Set amid palms in lush mountain-side park in busy Waipahu and not far from the former site of the Oahu Sugar Company, Hawaii Plantation Village is a showcase of the lives of Hawaii’s diverse sugar plantation laborers. Once a major industry in the islands, drawing local Hawaiian and immigrant workers from Japan, Korea, the Philippines, Portugal, China and Puerto Rico, sugar plantations were both places of employment and proving grounds for cultural fusions—traditions, celebrations, food—that shape the islands to this day.
Hawaii Plantation Village is comprised of 25 buildings built or moved onsite and styled as they would have appeared on plantations throughout the state between 1890 and 1950. A wander through the open-air dormitories, social halls, plantation store, barber shop or bathhouse can feel like you're stepping into a ghost town whose residents may return from the fields at any moment.