Sometimes called “The Gathering Place,” Oahu certainly lives up to its name. The third largest Hawaiian island is home to the majority of Hawaii’s diverse population, a fusion of east and west cultures rooted in the values and traditions of the Native Hawaiian people. It’s this fundamental contrast between the ancient and the modern that makes discovering Oahu so enjoyable.
The clear blue waters of Kailua Beach meet the metropolitan cityscapes of Honolulu. The historic architecture of Iolani Palace meets the timeless memorials of Pearl Harbor. The big city of Waikiki meets the small town of Haleiwa on the North Shore. Whether you’re hiking atop iconic Leahi (Diamond Head), enjoying some of Hawaii’s best shopping, or simply unwinding on the sands of the island’s beautiful beaches, you’ll find variety at every turn on Oahu.
HONOLULU / OAHU
As the capital of Hawaii, Honolulu is a bustling city set along pristine beaches and beautiful tropical vegetation. It is located on the island of Oahu, and boasts a population of about 371,000. The name Honolulu comes from a blend of words from the native Hawaiian language: “hono” (meaning bay) and “lulu” (meaning sheltered).
The city is made up of a unique mix of both old and new, and visitors will be treated to modern businesses and trendy hipsters, as well as a good dose of ancient Hawaiian culture. It’s not uncommon here to be walking through busy streets filled with government and business buildings and come upon historic structures such as the ‘Iolani Palace or Kawaiaha’o Church. Downtown Honolulu is home to a great art scene, where you’ll find a wide variety of art galleries, music clubs, and the Honolulu Academy of Arts. There are also many tasty restaurants and shops filling the streets of downtown, making it a convenient place to go for some of the city’s best gastronomical delights, an unbeatable offering of shopping options, and bustling nightlife.
A trip to Honolulu wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the famous Waikiki beach, where some of the legends of surfing (such as Hawaii’s Duke Kahanamoku) got their start. Today, it is a popular gathering place for both locals and visitors who are looking to swim, dine, shop, and simply have fun in the sun.
Although Honolulu’s early history is not completely documented, it is thought that tribes from the Marquesas islands first settled in the area during the 6th-8th centuries. About three centuries later Tahitian tribes arrived on the island, and took it over as their own.
Europeans didn’t show up on Oahu’s shores until 1778, when Captain James Cook and his crew landed in the Hawaiian archipelago, opening the door for more Europeans to begin exploring the islands. Later, in the early 19th century, King Kamehameha I (who, by that time had captured the Big Island of Hawaii as well as Maui and Molokai) decided he wanted to add Oahu to his Hawaiian kingdom, and after conquering the island, relocated his royal court to Honolulu from its previous location on the Big Island. He kept a close watch on Honolulu’s harbor, where merchant ships were coming daily to take part in trading operations.
Missionaries soon followed, and the town of Honolulu started to grow quickly. Whaling operations and sugar plantations were set up, bringing even more profit to the island, as well as thousands of immigrant workers from countries such as China, Portugal, Japan, and Korea.
In 1898, Queen Lili’uokalani ceded her Hawaiian Island kingdom to the United States (after short stints under both British and French control). The island of Oahu became an important military post for the United States as a number of bases and military fortifications were built during the 1900s, helping the U.S. to defend its pacific coast, especially during World War II.