Get to know this rich and diverse Hawaiian island, and one of the 20 Best Places to Live 2017. Get the inside scoop on Oahu, including where to eat, drink, play, and stay. 

By Bob Curley and Tracey Minkin
April 15, 2017

If you’ve ever imagined a tropical island with everything you’d ever want—from a buzzing, cosmopolitan city to the purest surf towns, from rugged verdant ridges to cerulean waters, from roadside shrimp shacks to the leading edge of restaurants—then welcome to Oahu. Long a center of Hawaiian life and culture (known as the playground of Hawaiian royalty), the third-largest island in the archipelago has never been hotter, thanks to Honolulu’s true renaissance and the North Shore’s enduring draw as a center of the bohemian life. 

Oahu by the Numbers

Population: 953,207
Average July high: 84.4
Average January low: 64.6
Median home price: $750,000
Number of sunny days: 271

Best Beaches and Other Attractions

Impossible to choose. But a start may be the insanely beautiful Kailua Beach, which arcs in powdery white-sand splendor for 2 1/2 miles in its hometown of the same name, on Oahu’s windward shore.

Culture lovers should head to Honolulu’s Chinatown, the latest hub of upstart culture and knockout dining. For surf fiends, head north to Haleiwa Town for a dose of hanging out on shore watching the pros do the crazy stuff offshore.

The battleship Missouri, the latest addition to the historic monuments at Pearl Harbor, is a fitting bookend to the site of the opening battle of the war with Japan: the peace treaty ending the war was signed on the deck of “Big Mo” in 1945. There’s more than the popular Ali’i Luau at the Polynesian Cultural Center, where interpretive guides in six recreated villages introduce visitors to traditional native life, arts, and culture in Hawaii, Tahiti, Tonga, Fiji, Samoa, and the Maori-populated island of Aotearoa.

Where to Eat and Drink

As the only state in the nation legally (and perhaps climactically) allowed to farm coffee, everything is good—and local—here. In Honolulu, pay homage to Honolulu Coffee Company, one of the pioneers of the scene.

All of culinary pioneer Ed Kenney's restaurants in Honolulu—TownKaimuki Superette, Mud Hen Water, and his newest, Mahina & Sun's—are worth a stop. Lee Anne Wong owns the morning at her hotter-than-hot Koko Head Cafe. And Andrew Le's The Pig & The Lady has evolved from cool pop-up to leading-edge restaurant.

Roy Yamaguchi helped introduce the world to Hawaii’s unique fusion of local, California, French, and Japanese cuisine, and you can dine in sushi, poke, and macadamia-crusted seafood on the lanai at Roy’s Waikiki.

Ono Hawaiian Foods may look like your typical plate lunch spot from the outside, but this family-run restaurant serves traditional authentic Hawaiian food such as Kalua pig, lomi salmon and laulau. 

Where to Stay

More chic than ever, the recently redone Royal Hawaiian Resort in Waikiki, in its opulent pink splendor, remains a bucket-list stay on Oahu. Also in Waikiki, the gorgeously serene Halekulani, with its beachfront setting and unobstructed views of Diamond Head, excels at quietly perfect service and understated luxury (not to mention its renowned seven shades of white).

Surf, whether big or small, is what makes Oahu’s North Shore the magical and rare place it is. And bravo to Turtle Bay Resort, which has embraced the playfulness and intensity of this pursuit by imbuing the entire property with a slightly urban surf zeitgeist (not to mention beautifully luxurious Beach Cottages with up-close ocean views, plus a remarkable menu of island adventures).

You’ll see the Disney “Imagineers” handiwork evident in the carefully considered design aesthetics throughout the beachfront Aulani Resort and Spa in Ko Olina, but especially at the Hawaii-themed swimming pool with its lazy river, waterfalls and waterslides, infinity-edge Ka Mako Grotto, and a fish-filled snorkeling lagoon. Families will love the resort’s pool parties, luau, and cultural programs (and yes, you will meet Moana), while adults can escape to the outdoor hydrotherapy garden at the Laniwai spa.