HONOLULU, Oahu, Hawaii -- Away from the golf course, no other Hawaiian island can offer the diversity of Oahu.
Honolulu and Waikiki combine for a fast-paced vibe and nightlife not found elsewhere. The capital city is prettiest from two vantage points: Offshore while sailing on the Makani catamaran and hiking up the Diamond Head volcanic crater.
My family's two-hour sail in January led to the discovery of sea turtles and a humpback whale. Exploring the North Shore is all about wild waves and eating out of a truck serving tasty fresh shrimp. Mainlanders with no experience surfing should check out Hans Hedemann Surf School of Oahu at Turtle Bay Resort (there's also a location in Waikiki). Other water sports such as standup paddle boarding, snorkeling and ocean kayaking can be done at virtually any beach.
Swimming with the dolphins at Sea Life Park Hawaii and snorkeling Hanauma Bay are popular. Ko Olina, anchored by the JW Marriott Ihilani Ko Olina Resort & Spa and the new Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa, has blossomed into a great alternative to Waikiki. Both fabulous hotels share a secluded ocean cove.
It's just a short walk to Paradise Cove for a traditional Hawaiian luau, where guests can paddle an outrigger canoe at sunset, throw wooden spears and learn the hula before the buffet and the show. The nearby Wet'n'Wild is home to water slides and rides not found at the beach. Touring the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument at Pearl Harbor, site of the USS Arizona Memorial, will serve as a reminder how lucky we are that this tropical paradise still belongs to America.