History & Culture
Oahu’s rich cultural heritage is nearly everywhere you look. It’s expressed in the graceful arms of a hula dancer and words of an ancient Hawaiian legend. It’s visible in the eyes of a local lei maker stringing garlands and audible in the strum of a slack key guitar. It’s hidden in the tangled branches of a banyan and in the remains of an ancient volcano. And even when you don’t see or hear it, it’s there -- in a spirit that emanates from the traditions, the people, the music, the food, and the land.
Just east of Waikiki Beach is one of the most famous volcanic craters in the world: Diamond Head. The name was given to the crater by British sailors in the 1800s when they saw calcite crystals in the lava rock sparkle in the sunlight and thought they were diamonds. Diamond Head has been extinct for more than 150,000 years. Fort Ruger, formerly a major defense fort, once occupied the crater at Diamond Head, but today it serves as a magnificent hike with panoramic views of the island and beyond. If it’s Hawaiian history you crave, there are museums, temples, cultural centers, and festivals all over the island that celebrate Oahu’s rich past. Discover ancient artifacts at places like the Bernice P. Bishop Museum (the state’s largest), Mission House Museum, and Honolulu Academy of Art. History buffs shouldn’t miss historical monuments, like the Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor, Punchbowl National Cemetery, and Iolani Palace, America's only royal palace where kings and queens of old Hawaii once ruled.
One of Hawaii’s most popular attractions is the Polynesian Cultural Center, featuring seven Pacific Island villages on 42 acres. Explore a historic sugar plantation village and botanical garden at Hawaii’s Plantation Village. Visit the “Westminster Abbey of Hawaii,” Kawaiahao Church, where you’ll find the mausoleum of King Lunalilo, the first elected monarch of Hawaii. And if you happen to be on Oahu during the annual Aloha Festivals, you’ll get to join dancers, chanters, and musicians from all over the world for an unforgettable cultural celebration and floral parade. Other Oahu festivals include: Chinese New Year, Honolulu Festival, Lei Day, and the King Kamehameha Day Floral Parade.
To guarantee you get your fill of Hawaiian culture, consider attending a luau. It’s an opportunity to sit back and enjoy Polynesian entertainment, including hula dancers and Hawaiian music, along with an all-you-can-possibly-eat island-style feast. You’ll be treated like royalty, or as the Hawaiian people say, “alii,” and you’re bound to have a great time.