Oahu is accessible and affordable. Several companies offer circle-island tours, or you can do the trip on your own by renting a car or hopping on TheBus. There’s a lot of history and culture to discover on this island, and you can also enjoy the beauty of nature without getting dirty and sweaty.
Home Away from Home
If you’re not crazy about crowds, the New Otani Kaimana Beach Hotel is a great choice. Reason #1: It’s located on lovely Sans Souci Beach in the shadow of Diamond Head, away from the hubbub of central Waikiki. Right across the street, Kapiolani Park is perfect for leisurely strolls. Reason #2: It’s quiet and intimate (just 125 rooms). Reason #3: You don’t have to leave the premises for meals; the alfresco Hau Tree Lanai serves up wonderful food and spectacular views of the ocean.
For a heady dose of nostalgia, choose the Moana Surfrider, the grande dame of Waikiki. Opened in 1901, it was Waikiki’s first major hotel. Pluses: a historical room displaying memorabilia documenting the hotel’s colorful history, afternoon tea at the Banyan Veranda in the shade of a 75-foot-tall banyan that was planted in 1904, and a private beach attached to the hotel.
The neighboring Royal Hawaiian, affectionately known as the Pink Palace, welcomed its first guests in 1927. It boasts the most elegant luau in the state (complete with linens and china), a self-guided garden tour (pick up a free brochure at the concierge’s desk), and a historical walking tour three days a week.
Day One: Museum Day
More than a dozen museums on Oahu spotlight the diverse aspects of Hawaiian culture and history. You’ll need a car for this full-day tour, which takes you from pre-Cook Hawaii to the days when royalty ruled to the storied plantation era. Queen Emma Summer Palace in Nuuanu is where King Kamehameha IV, Queen Emma and their son Prince Albert went to escape the heat and hubbub of Honolulu. Built in 1848, it houses priceless treasures owned by this royal family, including the prince’s cradle, Emma’s baby grand piano, and a necklace adorned with rolled gold and seed pearls, which was a wedding gift to the queen from a maharaja of India.
From there, drive to the Bishop Museum, which was founded by Charles Reed Bishop in 1889 in memory of his wife, Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, the last direct descendant in the Kamehameha dynasty. The museum safeguards the largest collection of artifacts, natural history specimens and scholarly works on Hawaii and Pacific in the world. Don’t miss the planetarium shows, which point out luminous wonders in the Pacific skies.
The final stop, Hawaii’s Plantation Village in Waipahu, is a tribute to the thousands of workers from foreign lands who came to the islands from the mid 1800’s through the early 1900’s to labor on the sugar plantations. The village is comprised of replicas of buildings that would have been found on a working sugar plantation at the turn of the last century, including houses, a general store, an infirmary, a social hall, a barber shop, a tofu-making shed and a community furo (bathhouse). They are furnished with period artifacts, from photographs, books and furniture to clothing, musical instruments and cookware.
Day Two: Honolulu History
Downtown Honolulu is not only the state’s center of commerce, but also its hub of history. You could easily spend a full day in the city, touring places that date back to the 19th century. They stand in sharp contrast to the sleek skyscrapers that line Bishop Street, the heart of Honolulu’s business district.
Must-do stops include Iolani Palace (the official residence of King Kalakaua and Queen Liliuokalani, Hawaii’s last reigning monarchs); Washington Place (the private home of Queen Liliuokalani); the Mission Houses Museum (the homes and headquarters of the first missionaries in Hawaii, it features the oldest wooden structure in the islands, a wood frame house dating back to the late 1830’s); Chinatown (with its wonderful shops, open markets and art galleries); and Hawaii Theatre (the most lavish venue in Honolulu when it opened on September 6, 1922). If you time your visit right, you can catch a concert, play or dance recital at the theater; it has presented a full schedule of stellar entertainment ever since it underwent a $33 million renovation and reopened in 1996. Guided tours of all these sites are offered on a regular basis.
While you’re in Chinatown, be adventurous and pop in to Legend (100 Beretania Street) or Mei Sum (1170 Nuuanu Avenue) for a dim sum lunch. Servers wheel carts full of delicacies right by your table; just point out what you’d like to try.
Day Three: Pearl Harbor
Say “Pearl Harbor” and many people will think of December 7, 1941, the day it was bombed by Japanese warplanes, catapulting the United States into World War II. More than 1,100 sailors were entombed aboard the battleship USS Arizona when she sank at her berth; the white memorial that stands over their watery grave ranks among Hawaii’s most popular visitor attractions.
Two other historic vessels at Pearl Harbor also are notable museums recalling that tumultuous time. Six years of bloodshed that spanned the globe ended in 20 minutes on the deck of the USS Missouri, which measures nearly as long as three football fields. In Tokyo Bay on September 2, 1945, Japanese dignitaries and leaders of the allied forces signed the Formal Instrument of Surrender at a cloth-draped table from the Mighty Mo’s mess hall, officially ending World War II.
The submarine USS Bowfin was launched on December 7, 1942, a year to the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Nicknamed the Pearl Harbor Avenger, she completed nine patrols and sank close to three dozen enemy ships. The 7,500-square-foot Bowfin Submarine Museum houses a 40-seat theater that screens documentary videos; a 32-foot-long, 65,000-pound Poseidon C-3 missile, which was carried on ballistic missile submarines in the 1970’s; and an impressive collection of artifacts, including weapon systems, naval uniforms, original recruiting posters, battle flags and a nearly complete set of submarine war patrol reports. For seniors who lived through the war, a day at Pearl Harbor no doubt will be a very moving experience.
–written by Cheryl Tsutsumi