Tourist Attractions and Festivals in Oahu

The "Gathering Place" and the "Heart of Hawaii" are just two of the things that Oahu is known for, with the majority of the state population residing on the island. Indeed, Oahu is a cultural melting pot from which a rich history of seafarers, ancient Hawaiian kingdoms, missionaries, and immigrant plantation workers can be traced. With a landscape as diverse as the island's ancestry, Oahu is a paradise for just about anyone. Whatever your lifestyle is, there's always something that you'll love about the island. If there's one thing that you are likely to run out of in the island of Oahu, it would be time to enjoy every captivating panorama and adrenaline-pumping adventure. Here, you can indulge in mouth-watering cuisines of diverse origins, walk down the memory lane, and experience a hodgepodge of traditions.

Planning your vacation to Oahu?

Get your pen and paper, and start writing down your list of must-sees and must-dos. If you don't, the unlimited choices that you'll come face to face with once you set foot on Oahu's powdery white shores can be baffling for a while. Don't waste your precious minutes away.

Your priority list should include taking the trail to the top of Diamond Head Crater. Known as Leahi among native Hawaiians, the iconic volcanic cone was given its English name by 19th century British seafarers who once thought that the calcite crystals entrenched in its rocks were diamonds. The site is a recognized US State Monument, and because it is quite close to hotels and resorts, such as the Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort and Spa, a visit to Diamond Head is made more convenient.

After your hike, refresh yourself with a dip into the same waters that only Hawaii royalties used to plunge into a long time ago. About 4 million tourists make their way to the world famous Waikiki Beach each year. Make it a genuine Hawaiian experience by taking your first surfing lesson there.

Of course, a trip to Oahu would not be complete without paying homage to Pearl Harbor on the west side of the capital Honolulu. Originally named Pu'uloa (or harbor of pearl) by the Hawaiians for the abundance of oysters in the area until the early 19th century, Pearl Harbor is home to the US Navy Pacific Fleet. Pearl Harbor became an icon in world history when the Japanese dropped their bombs on the harbor on December 7, 1941, known today as the Day of Infamy, launching the US into World War II. You can pay tribute to more than a thousand heroes who died on USS Arizona and commemorate the end of WWII by taking a tour of USS Missouri, the battleship that remains a symbol of the Japanese surrender to the US.

You can also drive to the North Shore community of Hale'iwa and the Waialua district, where you'll get a feel of the old plantation days to which Oahu's diverse culture is attributed. And of course, if you don't eat at a luau with hula dancers and ukulele players to entertain you, it's like you've never been to Oahu, or any part of Hawaii, at all.

When is the best time to go?

A smart traveler always knows when is the best time to go to a certain destination. As Oahu is blessed with balmy weather most of the year, the next best thing for you to consider when preparing your schedule are the festivities being held. If the island's beauty doesn't captivate you at first sight, the amazing display of culture and tradition will. Experience the best of the Aloha spirit with a wide variety of community and cultural celebrations to choose from.

Indulge yourself in the sights, sounds, and tastes of Oahu's diversity starting with the revelry at downtown Chinatown toward the end of January or the first half of February in time for the Chinese New Year. Enjoy the lion dance with Chinese delicacies. In March, Oahu honors its variety of Pacific cultures with Aboriginal dances, musical performances, and art and craft exhibits at the Honolulu Festival. In May, let the world's best performers wow you as they attempt to outdo each other's complex dance routines with a blazing Samoan knife at the World Fire Knife Competition. In the same month, enjoy Filipino hospitality and pageantry in Hawaii as Oahu showcases the different regional cultures of the Philippines during the Filipino Fiesta. Another much awaited event is the Annual Wahiawa Pineapple Festival. You can also spend the weekend at the Frank F. Fasi Civic Grounds with Hawaii's poets, writers, and musicians participating in the Annual Hawaii Book and Music Festival.

Other festivals that await the Oahu visitor in June include the annual Waikiki by Moonlight, Flavors of Honolulu, and the Garlic and Ginger Festival of Hawaii. As if these aren't enough, there's the Lantern Floating Ceremony, which follows the Buddhist tradition of remembering deceased friends and relatives by sending off candle-lit lanterns into the sea, the three-day Pan Pacific Festival, and the Obon Festival, which Japanese immigrants have taken with them to Hawaii.

What about celebrating Independence Day in Hawaii? At Oahu, the Fourth of July begins in the last week of June. Watch renowned performers in concert and then cap it off with the extravagant fireworks display at Ala Moana Shopping Center, which also includes musical choreography. Just like in the previous month, July is filled with some of Oahu's biggest arts and crafts events: the TCM Artspree (an art event hosted by The Contemporary Museum), the Pacific Handcrafters Guild Festivals, (showcasing the works of Hawaii's best craftsmen in July, September, and December), and the Haleiwa Summer Arts Festival held yearly at Haleiwa Beach Park. The event displays ancient, ethnic, and modern art from Oahu's North Shore. In addition, visitors and knowledge junkies may go on historical trolley tours or listen to storytellers.

In the same month, Oahu's Korean roots are celebrated in one big gastronomic experience at the Korean Festival. If you have an acquired taste for kimchi, you might even beat locals and other tourists at a kimchi-eating contest. The "Made in Hawaii" festival is a three-day event in August. Half a thousand exhibitors participate each year to showcase fresh produce, plants, as well as clothing, food, jewelry, home decor, and toy products that are unique to Hawaii. You'll score the best souvenirs there, and your friends and family will love you for the presents. Also held in August is the Joy of Sake Festival, which is like Japan's version of the Bavarian Oktoberfest, except that you'll be downing "sake" instead of beer and it's celebrated in Oahu. Japan's finest sake brewers will be heading for Hawaii, so grab the opportunity to sample their "rice wine."

Are there more festivals to watch out for?

Enjoy more of Oahu's Japanese roots with the Okinawan Festival held every September. It is Hawaii's largest ethnic celebration, which is highlighted by the largest traditional Obon dance in which everybody is expected to join. If you're worried about your two left feet, obscurely maneuver your way to the tables and sample Okinawan food instead. If you're not salivating yet just by reading this, wait until you learn about the Taste of the Arts, which is celebrated in Chinatown in the same month. Downtown Honolulu turns into gastronomic heaven as celebrity chefs whip up their masterpieces as you take pleasure in the live jazz performance onstage. Rub shoulders and exchange conversations with local and visiting gourmet lovers and wine connoisseurs to keep your haute cuisine taste updated.

Don't fret if you're set to arrive in Oahu in the last quarter of the year. There are two more celebrations to look forward to. In October, get ready to feast your eyes on the one-of-a-kind Hawaii International Film Festival. It is distinct in that it is a statewide event featuring the top choices in documentaries and movies from Asia, the Pacific Islands, and Hawaii. The event attracts thousands of people to come to the state each year, making this event a must-see especially for first-time visitors to Hawaii.

Celebrating a tropical Christmas in Hawaii? Then prepare your tongue to say, "Mele Kalikimaka me ka Hau'oli Makahiki Hou!" That's "Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year" in Oahu, and like locals and other tourists, be drawn to the famous Honolulu City Lights showcase. Don't be surprised to hear an "Aloho-ho-ho" rumble out of Santa's belly as everybody wonders at the Hawaiian Mr. and Mrs. Claus that gives City Hall an added oomph.

For the Oahu experience that's perfect for you, book your trip in months when the festival of your choice is held. If you're a revelry junkie, why not head to Oahu in months with the most celebrations? Make sure you make all the necessary reservations weeks or months in advance; there are probably hundreds of other tourists thinking of the same thing right now. Throw yourself into these unique Hawaiian festivities and feel like a resident of the paradise island.