Paradise beaches, accessible activities and delicious food: our local expert gives tips for discovering the natural beauty of Hawaii's island Oahu
- 7 minutes to read
- 29 November 2023
What makes Hawaii so special?
Hawaii, the 50th state of the United States, is located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and consists of eight islands. It is generally sunny year-round, and you can even enjoy a swim in the winter months.
Growing up in Hawaii was no short of paradise; I was lucky. But only after leaving the islands did I understand the gravity of how much Hawaii was a dream destination for the rest of the world.
I grew up on the Island of Oahu, known for Waikiki beach and the home of Pearl Harbor. Although I am biased, Oahu is a beautiful location to travel to. It is the perfect combination of city and nature and brimming with multiple cultures, such as the one of the native Hawaiians. In fact, Hawaii is known as the most diverse state in the US.
How accessible is Oahu?
As you know well, planning your trip accordingly will lead you to a more enjoyable vacation. Do not be surprised when arriving at the airport; you will be greeted by warm temperatures in an open-air airport. For onward travel, you can use the public transport company TheBus, whose buses are wheelchair accessible. For those who cannot or do not wish to travel by bus, there is also Both TheBus and TheHandi-Van offer a comprehensive network of routes to explore Oahu.
You are worried about getting from the airport to your accommodation with all your luggage on public transport? The Roberts Hawaii Airport Shuttle gets you from door to door. It is cheaper than a taxi and provides accessible transportation aids such as a wheelchair lift.
The next step is to find your accommodation. For first-timers, staying in the Waikiki area is recommended because it is convenient and most visitors stay there. Note that while hotels here may be wheelchair accessible, look for rooms that are suited for people with disabilities, so-called ADA-accessible rooms. The furnishings in these rooms comply to the standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), guaranteeing that the room is suitable for your mobility needs.
Most hotels in Waikiki with ADA-accessible rooms have a list of all changes that were made to the room, so you are better prepared before arriving at your accommodation. Examples for hotels with ADA-accessible rooms are Alohilani Resort, Outrigger, and Halekulani.
Instead, if you want to get away from the busyness of Waikiki, why not stay at the Aulani Resort, which has countless services that caters to people in wheelchair. Wheelchair user Cory from the blog Curb Free with Cory Lee explains his experience at Aulani as "magical" because the resort provided him access to the beach, to all pools and many room amenities.
What activities does Oahu offer?
Oahu has a lot to offer. The first and best thing to do is enjoy the weather and chill on the beach. Multiple beaches have paved surroundings, such as the Ala Moana or Ko Olina Lagoons. Other beaches have wheelchair access via mats, like in Kailua or Waimanalo, but it often can only get you so close to shore. Another option is to go to beach parks with lifeguard towers for extra help and information.
It is recommended to rent an all-terrain wheelchair to have full access to the beaches. For example, Ala Moana beach park has such a wheelchair available on a first-come, first-served basis. Do note that using an all-terrain wheelchair is only possible with the company of another individual. On the Honolulu.gov website you can find an overview on the sites with beach mat or all-terrain wheelchair available can be found.
Although this is not a comprehensive list of all the activities around Oahu, here are some of my favorites that are accessible in a wheelchair:
Hiking is one of the most popular activities in Hawaii. For wheelchair users, the Makapu'u Point Lighthouse Trail boasts a fully paved trail. As it is a hike, there are different inclines and grades, but it is doable with a companion's help. For those visiting in the winter, Makapu'u Lighthouse is one of the best spots for humpback whale watching.
Pineapple has a long history with the Hawaiian Islands. The well-known brand name Dole is synonymous with Hawaii when pineapples are in the picture. Although being the world number 1 exporter of pineapples is long gone in the past, you can still visit the Dole Plantation in Wahiawa and taste the famous Hawaiian pineapple. The train tour around the plantation and the garden are both wheelchair accessible. The maze, however, has gravel pathways that are difficult to maneuver. I highly recommend having a taste of the famous Dole Whip there, a frozen dessert which is rarely available outside of Disneyland.
Not only Hawaii is known for its tropical beauty but also the rich history of its inhabitants. Iolani Palace was the royal residence before the overthrow in 1893. Bask in the history of the last monarchy in the USA. The palace and its grounds are accessible by wheelchair; do note that motorized and electric wheelchairs are not permitted.
Luau is known as a party or a feast, where you can enjoy typical local and Hawaiian food with entertainment like hula. There are many options around the island to experience a Luau, so which one should you go to? On the west side of the island, Chief's Luau is my favorite, and it is also wheelchair accessible.
"Ono Grindz" (good food)
Hawaii is a melting pot of cultures, which is reflected in the local cuisine. There are too many mouth-watering dishes to mention but if I had to choose, below are my top five. Before that, however, you should know the word that we like to use to describe something delicious or pleasing: "Ono."
Poke is originated in Hawaii and is now known worldwide. However, Hawaii still does it the best. What makes Poke from Hawaii is the simplicity of it, with just two main ingredients: rice and marinated fish.
Don't say no to spam without trying it! Hawaii is the world's top consumer of this can delicacy. We have transformed spam into many dishes; the most notable is spam musubi: spam cooked with a teriyaki sauce on top of a bed of rice and wrapped with seaweed is one of the best snacks growing up.
- Garlic Shrimp
Yes, you can find shrimp anywhere but there's something special about eating them at North Shore, the northern coastline of Oahu. North Shore is known for its freshwater garlic butter shrimps sold in shrimp trucks. There has been this rivalry on which is better: Giovanni's or Romy's, so why not try both and choose who does it better?
While in Hawaii, you cannot leave without trying at least one Hawaiian dish. If you do, laulau would be my favorite. It is made of a protein such as fish or pork, then wrapped in the leaves of the taro plant, an essential plant in the native Hawaiian culture. This is then steamed and enjoyed with starches like rice or poi, which is a puree made from the taro root.
Lastly, plate lunch is a dish which represents Hawaii best. It must consist of rice, macaroni salad, sides, and a meat entree which you can mix and match. I suggest going for either beef kalbi or chicken katsu. Plate Lunch is a classic and is loved by everyone regardless of age.
If you have more of a sweet tooth, then you cannot miss out on these three desserts:
This Portuguese-inspired pastry is a must-stop when visiting Oahu. There's only one place to get this treat and it is Leonard's Bakery. With a history from 1953, Leonard's malasadas are a staple for those living on the island, where the original (plain sugar) will always be our favorite.
With summer weather year-round in Hawaii, shave ice is the right treat for the summer heat. With a mountain of shave ice and many syrups as flavorings, you can't go wrong! Don't forget to add additional toppings; my recommendations are condensed milk and mochi balls. For shave ice, you can't go wrong with visiting Matsumoto's or Aoki's, both located in Haleiwa.
Lastly, when thinking of Hawaii, a fruit that comes in mind would be a coconut. Haupia is a coconut milk-based dessert that has a texture of a pudding. It is normally served by itself but my favorite haupia would be in pie form. The chocolate haupia pie from Ted's Bakery is one to put on your must-eat list. Or you stop by the local supermarket like Foodland to have a taste of this decedent pie.
Visit Oahu, Hawaii!
Oahu, known as The Gathering Place, is where I call home. Regardless of where my life may take me, I will always yearn for those island waters and air.
For those thinking of traveling to Hawaii, it is possible, and some activities are wheelchair accessible. Don't hesitate and enjoy the island vibes!