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Oahu Travel Guide

Oahu at a glance

Map of Oahu, Hawaii

Oahu is the third largest of the Hawaiian Islands in area, but is by far the most important - the 900,000 people who live on Oahu comprise 75% of Hawaii's population. Honolulu, the state capital and its center of government, tourism, and trade, is located on Oahu. The island is also home to the world's most famous beach – Waikiki Beach.

Photo © Alan Light

Oahu was ruled by its own royal family until the King of Maui, Kahekili II, conquered the island in 1783. When Kamehameha the Great conquered Oahu again in 1795, he established the Hawaiian Kingdom and moved his royal court to Honolulu in 1804.

British merchants first appeared on the island shores at the end of the 18th century and, over the next 50 years, Honolulu Harbor became a major port for ships traveling between Asia and North America. After King Kamehameha III relocated the capital of the Hawaiian Kingdom from Maui to Honolulu in 1845, Honolulu and Oahu soon became the heart of business in Hawaii. The island is nicknamed “The Gathering Place" for the large number of locals and foreigners who have flocked there over the past two centuries.


Oahu is a volcanic island that measures 30 miles (48 km) wide and 44 miles (71km) long. Most of the island's population lives in and around Honolulu along the southeastern shore. Oahu's economy is driven by it's massive tourism industry, with most of the hotels concentrated around Waikiki.

Oahu can be divided up into several regions, including Honolulu, Central Oahu, the Windward Coast, the Leeward Coast, and the North Shore.

Getting to Oahu

Visitors to Oahu can arrive either by boat or plane.

Flights to Oahu

Honolulu International Airport is the main port of entry for the majority of Oahu's (and Hawaii's) millions of visitors, and the 21 million people that pass through it each year make it one of the busiest in the Unites States. The airport is 5 miles (8 km) from downtown Honolulu and 10 miles (16km) from Waikiki. A trip to Waikiki from the airport normally takes about 15-20 minutes, but can be two or three times longer during rush hour.

Getting Around Oahu

Four words Oahu residents often use when talking about direction on the island are mauka, makai, Ewa, and Diamond Head..


Mauka (MOW-kah) is a Hawaiian word that indicates heading inland, away from the ocean. The literal meaning of the word is "toward the mountain." Mauka is the opposite direction of makai.


Makai is a Hawaiian word that indicates the direction of the ocean. The literal meaning of the word is "towards the sea." Makai is the opposite direction of mauka.


Ewa (EH-va) refers to west. It is also the name of a town on the west side of Oahu which, not surprisingly, lies on the west side of the island.

Diamond Head

Diamond Head is located east of Honolulu and is often used to mean east.

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Hawaii Lava

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