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The best of Oahu

Oahu’s gotten a bum rap. Sure the island is the most crowded of all the Hawaiian isles, with over 1.2 million people,  more than ten times as many as live on any of the other Hawaiian Islands.
Coral Reefs In Danger
A school of manini fish pass over a coral reef at Hanauma Bay on Jan. 15, 2005 in Honolulu, Hawaii.Donald Miralle / Getty Images
/ Source: Special to

Oahu’s gotten a bum rap. Sure the island is the most crowded of all the Hawaiian isles, with over 1.2 million people,  more than ten times as many as live on any of the other Hawaiian Islands. But there’s a reason everyone’s here: it’s best for everything that draws people to Hawaii in the first place—world-class surfing, easy-to-get-to hikes, talcum-soft sand beaches, and exotic history and culture. With just 24 hours to explore, you’ll probably only get to hit one or two of those features. But that’s okay—you’re in Hawaii, bro, just relax and go with the flow.

8 a.m. - 9 a.m.: If you’d like to breakfast like the locals do, go the Spam route. Hawaii is still gaga for this bright pink meat-product, introduced to the islands during World War II, and a musubi (a pack-of-cards sized block of spam encased in sticky white rice and then wrapped in dried seaweed) is the classic breakfast in Oahu, available at deli counters all over town. If that’s a bit too hardcore for you, head over to , which caters to a mixed tourist/local crowd with giant plates of eggs sided by three pancakes (try them with the guava or coconut syrup—yum!) and your choice of meats from bacon or Portuguese sausage to—you guessed it!—spam. Be ready for a line as this is one of Honolulu’s most  popular breakfast spots.

9 a.m. - noon: Head over as early as you can to the , as Oahu’s top tourist site does get crowded—over 4,500 people visit each and every day of the year. It was here, at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941 at 6:30 am, that the Japanese launched a surprise bombing.  In just three short hours, 2,280 troops and 68 civilians were killed, and the course of human history changed, as America was plunged into World War II. After viewing a chilling videotape on this “Day of Infamy” as President Roosevelt so famously titled it, you’ll take a boat ride out to the memorial set over the sunken USS Arizona. Oil still bubbles up from the wreck, making it seem like this devastating attack occurred only yesterday. If you have time, try to get to the other nearby World War II sights:  the and the .

So the sun’s shining, a light breeze is blowing, and you don’t feel like delving into history? Hit the beach instead, and learn how to Hang 10 with the best of them. The place to go?  Waikiki, of course, where you can enroll in the . After a two-hour lesson, they guarantee that you’ll be standing up on the board…and enjoying it. If you already know how to surf, they’ll rent you a board for just $10/day, as will many other concessionaires up and down Hawaii’s most famous strip of sand.

Noon-2 p.m.: No need to get all dressed up and do a sit-down lunch, when the seafood at the shrimp truck has just been plucked from the water and is so fresh you want to slap it. Try ; a massive plateful of shrimp, about a half-pound or more, will run you just $11.

2 p.m. - 5 p.m.: Make your way to what can be best described as the world’s finest swimable aquarium: . Rent a mask and fins on site, and soon you’ll be floating among schools of brilliantly colored tropical fish—giant parrot fish, yellow tang, even barracudas (so remember to remove your rings or any other shiny jewelry as these fish will try to bite any bling bling). A fairly narrow mouth to the bay keeps the waters calm here, and dozens of tourists feeding the fish means there are always lots of friendly fish to meet. Unfortunately, it also means that it can get crowded, so consider going later in the afternoon, when the beach quiets down…a bit. On Saturdays there’s often night snorkeling as well.

It’s odd to think of this option as an alternative, as the is without a doubt one of the finest museums in the Pacific and as fascinating, in its own way, as Hanauma Bay. Here you’ll see the braided human-hair jewelry worn only by Hawaiian nobility; royal feathered capes, many made from birds that are now extinct; stone poi pounders,  the island’s last grass huts and hundreds of other one-of-a-kind artifacts from Hawaiian and from other Pacific cultures.  Try to get to the museum just before 2pm so you can see one of the daily, and highly authentic daily hula performances.

5 p.m. - 7 p.m.: Take a sunset cocktail cruise. The aptly named sets sail from Waikiki beach about an hour before that big yellow ball drops into the blue Pacific, and you can climb aboard for just $25 (drinks included). If you’re visiting in the fall or early winter months, you may even spot whales.

7 p.m. - 9 p.m.: Make a reservation at and put your taste buds on high alert, as George Mavrothallasitis won his James Beard award for his ability to upend diner’s expectations. His food is innovative, exotic (think foams instead of sauces and unusual pacific vegetables instead of broccoli and carrots) and ultimately quite delicious. You may find yourself digging into duckling sided with yogurt pearl barley and a ginger-mango jus; lobster with in a star anise and tamarind nage (broth) with taro fritters; or his signature dish lilikoi malasadas, which are fried dough puffs in a guava coulis.

9 p.m. … on: Though it seems odd, one of the best places on the island to hear traditional Hawaiian music is at a hotel, the . Some of the islands’ finest slack guitar players perform here regularly, as does singer Auntie Genoa Keawe, still going strong and hitting all the high notes in her famed falsetto, at the age of 81. If you’re still raring to go when the Moana Terrace shuts down, head to Chinatown, where all the hottest clubs now are. Try , a movie theater, lounge and dance club all in one, founded by Brazilian filmmaker Sergio Goes. A beautiful young crowd hip hops the night away, inspired by the beats of an international crew of DJ’s.

Pauline Frommer is the creator of the new Pauline Frommer Guidebooks which will be debuting in bookstores this July.

Eggs n’ Things, 1911 Kalakaua Ave #B; 808/949-0820; daily 11 p.m. - 2 p.m. (and no, those hours are not a typo);

USS Arizona Memorial, 1 Arizona Memorial Rd; 808/422-0561;;  daily 7:30 a.m.- 5 p.m.; free admission

Battleship Missouri Memorial, adjacent to the USS Bowfin Museum; 877/MIGHTY-MO;; daily 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.; $16 adults, $8 children 12 and under

USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park, adjacent to the USS Arizona Memorial Visitor Center on the shores of Pearl Harbor; (808) 836-0317;; daily 8 a.m. -5 p.m., children under 4 not admitted onto the submarine; $10 adults, $3 children, $6 seniors, students and active military

Hans Hedemann Surf School, located in the Park Shore Hotel and the Sheraton Waikiki, both across the street from Waikiki beach; 808/924-7778; group surf lessons on the hour, $50/person for one hour, $75 for two

Romy’s Kahuku Prawns & Shrimp Hut, 56-781 Kamehameha Highway; 808/232-2202

Haunaman Bay, at Koko Head Regional Park (take the Kalanianaole Highway); snorkeling area closed Tuesdays; $1/vehicle for parking, $3 adults, free for children 12 and under 

Bishop Museum, 1525 Bernice St just off Kalihi St.; 808/847-3511;; daily 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.; $15 adult, $12 children and seniors

Maita’i Catamaranat Waikiki Beach; 808/922-5665;; $34 adults, $17 children

Chef Mavro, 1969 S. King Street; 808/944-3903;; closed Mondays

Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort & Spa’s Moana Terrace, 2552 Kalakaua Avenue; 808/922-6611

Next Door, 43 N. Hotel Street, 808/550-0496;; $10-$20 cover

Pauline Frommer is the creator of the new Pauline Frommer Guidebooks which will be debuting in bookstores this July.