Stretching from just behind Honolulu to Oahu’s Windward (eastern) coastline, the Ko’olau Range is not actually a mountain range at all. Instead, the undulating green and vertical slopes which top out at 3,100 feet, are just one side the ancient, massive Ko’olau shield volcano. The other half of the volcano collapsed into the ocean millennia ago. The Ko’olau Range acts as a wind block for points inland, stopping clouds along the coast and causing regular rains. But here, rain is a good thing: Residents and locals delight as the Ko’olau’s creased face fills with hundreds of thin white waterfalls and Hawaii’s iconic rainbows arch across the sky.
The best places to experience the grandeur of the Ko’olau Range are themselves elevated. The Pali Road, connecting Kailua to downtown Honolulu, winds up, into and, in some instances, through, the Ko’olaus via tunnels bored directly into the cliff face. Be sure to stop and take in the view from several scenic stop-offs along the way.
If it’s a rainy day in this island paradise, or you forgot your bathing suit at home, the Waikele Center is a sprawling sanctuary of classic retail therapy. Located in Waipahu in Central Oahu, the outlets here provide an affordable alternative to the larege scale malls in town. You’ll find global classics such as Armani, Converse, Adidas, and Michael Kors, as wells as shops with island flare like the Local Motion surf shop. There’s a popular food court for re-fueling so you literally don’t shop ‘til you drop, and even a trolley connecting the two sides of this sprawling commerce compound.
Panoramic ocean views, strange rock formations and smoothed shelves with wave-battered edges await at Lanai Lookout. This popular scenic overlook on a promontory north of Kahauloa Cove is so named because it affords sweeping views of the neighboring islands of Lanai, Molokai and Maui on a clear day. Though it may be challenging for visitors to peel their eyes away from the turbulent blue sea, turning 180 degrees provides a rewarding view of the southern slopes of Koko Crater, a dormant volcano climbable via a trail that follows old railroad ties to the summit rim.
Lanai Lookout has little more infrastructure than a parking lot with space for just under two dozen cars, but it’s worth it to circle for a space in the early hours of the morning when the sun rises over the horizon beyond the Oahu’s Windward Coast. Another good time to visit? Between November and April, when the lookout becomes one of the island’s best locales for spotting visiting humpback whales.
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.
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.
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.
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.