Ko Olina is an off-the-beaten-path option on the tourist-trafficked island.

The vast majority of tourists to Oahu take one of two paths: They either focus their attention on the shops, restaurants, and attractions in Honolulu, or else they find their own spot of beach on Waikiki, where they proceed to plant themselves for the duration of their stay, content with watching the waves, sipping drinks, and occasionally popping into the surf for a brief dip. In other words, they rarely venture to other parts of the island—and that’s simply a shame.

Located a mere 17 miles from downtown Honolulu on the quiet western shores of Oahu, Ko Olina is a quiet bastion of luxurious resorts and vacation residential communities specifically designed to provide visitors with a Hawaiian experience that is at once more authentic and serene than the tourist-clogged attractions of Waikiki Beach and Honolulu.

The master-planned resort spreads across 642 acres, which are dotted with a string of jewel-like lagoons and white sand beaches, all tied together with over a mile and a half of oceanfront walkways. With six different residential beachfront communities, ranging from fairway townhomes and plantation-style cottages to luxury condominiums and beachfront villas, youÂ’ll have the Pacific on one side and the lush Waianae Mountains on the other wherever you stay in Ko Olina. The Ko Olina Marina is no less impressive, with 330 full-service slips catering to both sport fishing and recreational boaters, as well as to superyachts up to 200 feet in length.

Ko Olina proves popular with Japanese tourists, especially as a venue for destination weddings. Three wedding chapels are located throughout the resort, and if you take a leisurely stroll along the harbor on a Saturday morning, youÂ’ll undoubtedly spot several giddy brides, white limousines, and photographers snapping pictures. In a bit of a Groundhog Day moment, Ko Olina has designed the chapels so that no bride will spot another on her special day.

Before you leave Ko Olina, however, there’s one more thing that will provide you with a 100-percent-authentic Hawaiian experience, and that’s a Fin to Fitness Class at the Ihilani Spa at the JW Marriott. Taught by Mermaid Kariel, the hour-long class will show you how to channel your inner mermaid—or mer-man, for that matter—while wearing a uni-fin for an aquatic workout that’s loads of fun. A word to the wise: It’s harder than it looks.


The Essentials

Where to Stay The long-awaited Aulani Disney Resort & Spa opened on 21 oceanfront acres in late August of 2011. With 350 hotel rooms, 480 Disney Vacation Club timeshare villas, and an 18,000-square-foot spa, Aulani clearly lives up to the hype. 92-1185 AliÂ’inui Drive, Kapolei; 866-44-DISNEY. The JW Marriott Ihilani Resort & Spa at Ko Olina pulls off a neat trick with a design that provides 85 percent of its rooms with an ocean view. 92-1001 Olani Street, Ko Olina; 808-679-0079. The Ko Olina Beach Villas Resort offers two- and three-bedroom villas with ocean views, spacious lanais, state-of-the-art kitchens, and designer furnishings. 92-106 WaialiÂ’I Place, Honolulu; 877-333-3808.

Where to Eat No visit to Hawaii is complete without a luau: Paradise Cove Luau is adjacent to the Ko Olina complex and offers a show full of dancing, singing, and history, along with the quintessential Hawaiian meal. 92-1089 Aliinui Drive; 800-775-2683. At RoyÂ’s Ko Olina, Chef Roy Yamaguchi creates Hawaiian Fusion cuisine by merging age-old European culinary techniques with Asian dishes while adding a dollop of the Hawaiian aloha spirit. 92-1220 Aliinui Drive, Kapolei; 808-676-7697.

What To Do Go for a sunset sail, a dolphin snorkel trip, or try your hand at snuba, a snorkeling/scuba hybrid, with Ko Olina Ocean Adventures. 866-456-6666.