Last updated

Nickname: The Gathering Place
Oblique satellite photo of Oahu
Map of Hawaii highlighting Oahu.svg
Location 21°28′23″N157°59′12″W / 21.4730°N 157.9868°W / 21.4730; -157.9868 Coordinates: 21°28′23″N157°59′12″W / 21.4730°N 157.9868°W / 21.4730; -157.9868
Area596.7 sq mi (1,545 km2)
Area rank 3rd largest Hawaiian Island
Highest elevation4,025 ft (1226.8 m)
Highest point Kaʻala
United States
Flower ʻilima
Color Melemele (yellow)
Largest settlement Honolulu
Population1,016,508 (2020)
Pop. density1,704/sq mi (657.9/km2)
Aerial view of Oahu with freeways and highways; 3D computer-generated image Hawaii-Oahu-TF.jpg
Aerial view of Oahu with freeways and highways; 3D computer-generated image
Fly-around tour of the island

Oahu ( /ˈɑːh/ ) (Hawaiian: Oʻahu (pronounced  [oˈʔɐhu] )), also known as "The Gathering Place", is the third-largest of the Hawaiian Islands. It is home to roughly one million people—over two-thirds of the population of the U.S. state of Hawaii. The island is within Honolulu County and the state capital, Honolulu, is on Oahu's southeast coast. The island of Oahu constitutes the bulk of Honolulu County and had a population of 1,016,508 [1] according to the 2020 U.S. Census, up from 953,207 people in 2010 (approximately 70% of the total 1,455,271 population of Hawaii, [2] with approximately 81% of those living in or near the Honolulu urban area).



The Island of Oʻahu in Hawaii is often nicknamed (or translated as) "The Gathering Place". This makes sense because Oʻahu is the most populated Hawaiian Island. In ancient times, however, Oʻahu was not populous and was outranked by the status of other islands. The translation of "gathering place" was suggested as recently as 1922 by Hawaiian Almanac author Thomas Thrum. It has been speculated[ by whom? ] that Thrum ignored or misplaced the ʻokina because the Hawaiian phrase "ʻo ahu" could be translated as "gathering of objects" (ʻo is a subject marker and ahu means "to gather"). The term Oʻahu has no confirmed meaning in Hawaiian, other than that of the place itself. [3] [4] Oahu has for a long time been known as the "Gathering Place". Ancient Hawaiian tradition attributes the name's origin in the legend of Hawaiʻiloa , the Polynesian navigator credited with discovery of the Hawaiian Islands. The story relates that he named the island after his daughter.

The city of Honolulu—largest city, state capital, and main deepwater marine port for the State of Hawaiʻi—is located here. As a jurisdictional unit, the entire island of Oahu is in Honolulu County, although as a place name, Honolulu occupies only a portion of the southeast end of the island.

Well-known features found on Oahu include Waikiki, Pearl Harbor, Diamond Head, Hanauma, Kāneʻohe Bay, Kailua Bay, North Shore, and the resort destination, Ko Olina.

While the island is designated the City and County of Honolulu, excluding the minor Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, residents identify settlements using town names (generally those of the census-designated places), and consider the island to be divided into various areas which may overlap. The most commonly accepted areas are the "City", "Town" or "Town side", which is the urbanized area from Halawa to the area below Diamond Head (residents of the island north of the Koʻolau Mountains consider the Town Side to be the entire southern half), "West Oahu", which goes from Pearl Harbor to Kapolei, ʻEwa and may include the Mākaha and Waiʻanae areas; the "North Shore" (northwestern coast); the "Windward Side" (northeastern coast from Kahuku to Kāneʻohe); the "East Side" or "East Coast" (the eastern portion of the island, from Kāneʻohe on the northeast, around the tip of the island to include much of the area east of Diamond Head); and "The Valley" or "Central Oahu" which runs northwest from Pearl Harbor toward Haleʻiwa. These terms are somewhat flexible, depending on the area in which the user lives, and are used in a mostly general way, but residents of each area identify strongly with their part of the island, especially those outside of widely-known towns. For instance, if locals are asked where they live, they would usually reply "Windward Oahu" rather than "Laie".


Pearl Harbor is the home of the largest U.S. Navy fleet in the Pacific. The harbor was attacked on December 7, 1941, by the Japanese Empire, bringing the United States into World War II. Aerial view of Pearl Harbor on 1 June 1986 (6422248).jpg
Pearl Harbor is the home of the largest U.S. Navy fleet in the Pacific. The harbor was attacked on December 7, 1941, by the Japanese Empire, bringing the United States into World War II.
USS Arizona Memorial (right); USS Missouri (left) in Pearl Harbor Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.JPG
USS Arizona Memorial (right); USS Missouri (left) in Pearl Harbor

The island has been inhabited since at least 3rd century A.D. [5] The 304-year-old Kingdom of Oʻahu was once ruled by the most ancient aliʻi in all of the Hawaiian Islands. The first great king of Oʻahu was Maʻilikūkahi, the lawmaker, who was followed by many generation of monarchs. Kualiʻi was the first of the warlike kings and so were his sons. In 1773, the throne fell upon Kahahana, the son of Elani of Ewa. In 1783, Kahekili II, King of Maui, conquered Oʻahu and deposed the reigning family and then made his son, Kalanikūpule, king of O'ahu, turning O'ahu into a puppet state. Kamehameha the Great would conquer in the mountain Kalanikūpule's force in the Battle of Nuʻuanu. Kamehameha founded the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi with the conquest of Oʻahu in 1795. Hawaiʻi would not be unified until the islands of Kauaʻi and Niʻihau surrendered under King Kaumualiʻi in 1810. Kamehameha III moved his capital from Lāhainā, Maui to Honolulu, Oʻahu in 1845. ʻIolani Palace, built later by other members of the royal family, is still standing, and is the only royal palace on American soil.

Oahu was apparently the first of the Hawaiian Islands sighted by the crew of HMS Resolution on January 19, 1778, during Captain James Cook's third Pacific expedition. Escorted by HMS Discovery, the expedition was surprised to find high islands this far north in the central Pacific. Oahu was not actually visited by Europeans until February 28, 1779, when Captain Charles Clerke aboard HMS Resolution stepped ashore at Waimea Bay. Clerke had taken command of the ship after James Cook was killed at Kealakekua Bay (island of Hawaiʻi) on February 14, and was leaving the islands for the North Pacific. With the discovery of the Hawaiian Islands came the introduction of disease, mosquitoes, and aggressive foreign animals. Although indirect, the simple exposure to these foreign species caused permanent damage to the Native Hawaiian people and environment.

The Imperial Japanese Navy's attack on Pearl Harbor, Oahu on the morning of December 7, 1941 brought the United States into World War II. The surprise attack was aimed at destroying the American will to fight and make them sue for peace immediately by attacking the Pacific Fleet of the United States Navy and its defending Army Air Forces and Marine Air Forces. The attack damaged or destroyed twelve American warships, destroyed 188 aircraft, and resulted in the deaths of 2,335 American servicemen and 68 civilians (of those, 1,177 were the result of the destruction of the USS Arizona alone).

Today, Oahu has become a tourism and shopping haven. Over five million visitors (mainly from the contiguous United States and Japan) flock there every year to enjoy the island.

Law enforcement

Visitors should be aware that some of the police vehicles on Oahu (and on the "Big Island" of Hawaiʻi) are unmarked except for the blue lights mounted on their roofs. [6]


Enlargeable, detailed map of Oahu Oahu2021OSM.png
Enlargeable, detailed map of Oahu
Climate chart (explanation)
Average max. and min. temperatures in °C
Precipitation totals in mm
Source: [7]

Oahu is also known for having the longest rain shower in history, which lasted for 200 consecutive days. Kāneʻohe Ranch reported 247 straight days with rain from August 27, 1993 to April 30, 1994. The average temperature in Oahu is around 70–85 °F (21–29 °C) and the island is the warmest in June through October. The weather during the winter is cooler, but still warm with an average temperature of 68–78 °F (20–26 °C).


Oahu is 44 miles (71 km) long and 30 miles (48 km) across. Its shoreline is 227 miles (365 km) long. Including small associated islands such as Ford Island plus those in Kāneʻohe Bay and off the eastern (windward) coast, its area is 596.7 square miles (1,545.4 km2), making it the 20th-largest island in the United States. [8] The windward side is known for some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Lanikai Beach on the windward coast of Oahu has been consistently ranked among the best beaches in the world. [9] The island is composed of two separate shield volcanoes: the Waiʻanae and Koʻolau Ranges, with a broad valley or saddle (the central Oahu Plain) between them. The highest point is Kaʻala in the Waiʻanae Range, rising to 4,003 feet (1,220 m) above sea level. [10]

Being roughly diamond-shaped, surrounded by ocean and divided by mountain ranges, directions on Oahu are not generally described with the compass directions found throughout the world. Locals instead use directions originally using Honolulu as the central point. To go ʻewa means traveling toward the western tip of the island, "Diamond Head" is toward the eastern tip, mauka is inland (toward the central Koʻolau Mountain range, north of Honolulu) and makai toward the sea. When these directions became common, Diamond Head was the eastern edge of the primary populated area. Today, with a much larger populace and extensive development, the mountain itself is often not actually to the east when directions are given, and is not to be used as a literal point of reference—to go "Diamond Head" is to go to the east from anywhere on the island.

Tourist attractions

Lanikai Beach Lanikai beach culture.JPG
Lanikai Beach
Downtown Honolulu Honolulu01.JPG
Downtown Honolulu
Waikiki Beach is one of the most well known beaches in the world. Waikiki Beach, Honolulu.JPG
Waikīkī Beach is one of the most well known beaches in the world.
Valley of the Temples Memorial Park near the island's eastern shore Byodo-In Tempel.jpg
Valley of the Temples Memorial Park near the island's eastern shore
Jellyfish swim in a tank at Waikiki Aquarium. Jellyfish at Waikiki Aquarium.jpg
Jellyfish swim in a tank at Waikīkī Aquarium.
Mokoli`i island, also known as Chinaman's Hat, offshore of Kualoa Valley Chinaman's Hat - Oahu Hawaii.JPG
Mokoliʻi island, also known as Chinaman's Hat, offshore of Kualoa Valley
Nu`uanu Pali of the Ko`olau mountain Oahu Landscape.jpg
Nuʻuanu Pali of the Koʻolau mountain

Top beaches


Helicopter view of Oahu Part of Oahu as seen from a helicopter.jpg
Helicopter view of Oahu
Ko'Olina white sand lagoon Ko Olina.jpg
Ko'Olina white sand lagoon

Beginning with a contract with the US Navy in 2001, Ocean Power Technologies began ocean-testing Azura, its wave power generation system at the Marine Corps Base Hawaii (MCBH) at Kāneʻohe Bay. The Oahu system was launched under the company's program with the US Navy for ocean testing and demonstration of such systems, including connection to the Oahu grid. [15] The prototype can produce 20 kW, a system with 500 kW to 1 MW is planned to be installed at end of 2017. [16]

Oahu has 343 MW of rooftop solar power, [17] and potential for 92 MW of wind power. [18] [19]

Notable people

Carissa Moore Carissa moore 2011 biarritz.jpg
Carissa Moore
Jake Shimabukuro Jake Shimabukuro.jpg
Jake Shimabukuro
Michelle Wie West 2009 LPGA Championship - Michelle Wie (2).jpg
Michelle Wie West

See also

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  19. Wind resource