5 Great Things to Do on Oahu
By John Di Rienzo
We love visiting Oahu, Hawaii for its natural wonders. Clearly Oahu's lively Waikiki Beach scene, beautiful North Shore beaches, long sunny days and lush, distinctive Polynesian landscape are what drive visitors to the Island. But when you are ready to take a break from beach, check out these five culturally enriching activities.
Doris Duke's Shangri La
Shangri La is quite simply the ultimate “exotic” estate. While you cannot rent Shangri La, you can pay a visit to this fascinating and visually stunning estate, which stands as one of Hawaii’s most architecturally significant homes. Shangri La was built in the late 1930s by Doris Duke, one of America’s most famous heiresses. Like many of us, Doris Duke fell in love with Hawaii while on her honeymoon and spent significant amounts of time on Oahu throughout her life. The home she built is a monument to her passion for Hawaii and Islamic art and houses a priceless collection of pieces from across the Islamic world, including an entire room brought from Turkey and lovingly restored to its original glory by Doris Duke herself and her team. The structure of Shangri La, sitting on a cliff overlooking the Pacific on the Kahala-side of Diamond Head, near Waikiki, is truly dreamlike. To visit Shangri La, contact the Honolulu Museum of Art for tickets and times, and be sure to plan ahead as tours to this other-worldly place do sell out.
Hawaii is the only place in the United States where you can visit a real royal palace. Located in downtown Honolulu, just in front of the Hawaii state capital building, sits Iolani Palace, the seat of the last Hawaiian monarchs. Visiting the Palace is an interesting way to spend an afternoon on Oahu. It is easy to reach from Waikiki by car or by bus. On a tour of the palace, you will visit bedrooms, offices and even the throne room. The docents will offer fascinating tidbits of Hawaiian history related to the palace and the personalities of the monarchs who lived there. After visiting Iolani Palace, walk through downtown and head to historic Chinatown for lunch. You can contact the palace to reserve space on one of the tours.
The Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum
The Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum is a wonderful place to learn about Hawaii’s history. The museum houses many rare native Hawaiian artifacts and also tells the story of the diverse cultures that have made Hawaii their home over the years. In addition to art installations, the Museum offers performances of Hula and other traditional arts. One of the most interesting things to do is visit the planetarium. In one show at the Planetarium, you can hear the amazing story of the first Hawaiians and their incredible navigational skills.
Pearl Harbor is a unique historical experience that is accessible to all visitors to Oahu. You do not need to be a history buff to enjoy an afternoon at Pearl. The site of the USS Arizona Memorial, Pearl Harbor can be an emotional and interesting experience for everyone. However, there is much more to see and do besides a visit to the Arizona Memorial, which is the centerpiece of the park. Visitors can tour the battleship Missouri, the USS Bowfin Submarine and the Pacific Aviation Museum, which houses an extensive collection of WWII era aircraft. At the Pacific Aviation Museum, which is immense and located on Ford Island in Harbor, we recommend paying a little extra for a docent to walk you through the collection, as they will help place all of the artifacts in context and bring history to life.
The Byodo-In Temple
The Byodo-In Temple is located on the Windward side of Oahu, in the Valley of the Temples. Though there is a large Buddha seated in the shrine’s main hall, the Byodo-In is said to be a non-denominational shrine. Regardless, it is a stunning building set against the majestic Ko’olau Mountains, which create a dramatic green curtain as a backdrop. There is a large koi pond and you may see some peacocks strutting about. The temple is actually a copy of a 900 year-old temple in Kyoto, Japan. It was commemorated in 1968 by the Japanese community to honor the 100 year anniversary of the arrival of the first Japanese immigrants to Hawaii. There is a cute gift shop and the gardens are spectacular, especially the stand of giant bamboo. This is a great place to have a peaceful, reflective moment and take pictures. The Temple can be rented for weddings. Ring the bell for good luck!