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Drawing more visitors than any other Hawawian island, O’ahu is a place of colorful contrasts: It is home to the nation’s 11th largest metropolitan area, Honolulu, while still being ringed by more than 100 world-renowned beaches. The island is usually divided into four areas, each reflecting its own unique history, geography and identity: Honolulu, the Leeward Side, the Windward Side and the North Shore. Once the royal playground of Kamehameha, Honolulu and environs are now places to be enjoyed by everyone. And of course, just a few minutes from downtown Honolulu is the world-famous resort, Waikiki. With its attractions such as the Honolulu Zoo and Waikiki Aquarium, activities from golf and outrigger canoe rides to historical walking tours, and people who share the Aloha spirit, Waikiki is truly life’s greatest beach.
The Leeward Coast roughly takes in the area west of Honolulu, from Pearl Harbor to Ka’ena Point. Island trade winds drop their moisture on Oahu’s interior, leaving this part of the island somewhat drier. Visitors can make a trip to historic Pearl Harbor and see the Arizona Memorial, which was erected after the attack on the U.S. fleet in 1941. Makaha Beach, with its international surfing competitions, is also a popular attraction further up the Sunset Coast.
One-third of the State’s best surfing beaches are on O’ahu, and no place in Hawaii can lay claim to more pulse-quickening rides than the North Shore. Here visitors can watch the world’s top surfers take on nature’s most powerful waterworks at spots such as Sunset Beach and the Banzai Pipeline. Other noteworthy places to visit include idyllic Waimea Valley and the Polynesian Cultural Center, where the traditions of the Pacific Island peoples are brought to life.
The Windward Side of O’ahu is the flipside of Honolulu — slower and with fewer attractions, but with a "mana" or spirit, all its own. Near Ha’iku Valley, visitors will encounter the Byodo-In Buddhist temple with its serene Japanese gardens. At Kalanai Point, travelers can enjoy one of the Island’s most appealing parks, Malaekahana State Recreation Area.