A Guide to Okinawa Sightseeing
Feeling tired, cold, and in real need of a beach vacation? Well, it turns out Japan is just the place – you only need to head to the country’s southern reaches, and take a trip to Okinawa! It’s the place to be for families with little kids who want to play in the sand, couples looking for a romantic getaway, and travelers of all kinds who just want to shake the chill from their bones. Need some help planning an Okinawa vacation? Check out some of the best the little chain of islands has to offer!
While the Okinawa area is made of quite a few islands, at the center of things is Okinawa Island, the little archipelago’s main island. Bordered by endless pale beaches and surrounded by vast, emerald ocean waters, it’s technically in the subtropics. That means the weather rarely drops below around 15°C (60°F), even in the winter, and the summer heat stays bearable. Thanks to a long history fairly separate from mainland Japan, the native Okinawan Ryukyu culture makes it a totally unique destination!
Okinawa Island stretches long and thin from northeast to southwest, so it’s often broken up into different regions and areas – south, central, and north. For travelers looking to really explore all of Okinawa, you can drive from one end of the island to the other in about three hours. Since the public transportation on the island can be a little iffy, tour buses or rental cars are often the best transportation choices.
If you are thinking about renting a car, you might be relieved to find that Okinawa uses “map codes,” unique numbers assigned to spots all over the world. You don’t have to worry about spelling or pronunciation, just throw the map code number in the Google Maps map code search and you’ll find the directions you’ll need.
Naha’s International Street (Kokusai Dori, 国際通り)
Most travelers visiting Okinawa arrive through Naha International Airport, which makes the southern part of the island a good place to start the trip! And for many, the most obvious destination is Naha’s International Street, a bustling road lined with restaurants offering local delicacies, shops selling Okinawa souvenirs, and plenty of other, well, international travelers. Arriving at the popular destination, it’s hard to believe that it was just a swampy trail before it was transformed during the U.S. occupation of Okinawa.
Shuri Castle (首里城)
A uniquely Okinawan landmark and a UNESCO World Heritage site, Shuri Castle is a destination closely tied with Okinawan history. When a large part of the castle was burned and severely damaged by a fire in 2019, locals stood by with tears in their eyes as firefighters rushed to save as much of the castle complex as possible. But in Japan, buildings are often made of materials meant to be regularly replaced anyway (thatch roofs don’t last forever)! While the castle’s destruction was a tragedy, the building’s caretakers are moving forward, and thinking positive – efforts are already being made to reconstruct the castle buildings. For now, visitors can still access parts of the surrounding castle area, and start making plans to return again when Shuri Castle is restored to its former glory!
Okinawa Soba & Drinks on the Water
Okinawa soba is nothing like the buckwheat soba noodles made on mainland Japan – they’re a unique local specialty, and they taste a little more like udon! The chewy noodles and warm, savory broth make for a satisfying meal, without weighing you down in the warm weather.
Cape Zanpa (残波岬) & Cape Manzamo (万座毛)
While there are plenty of things to try and activities to be found in Okinawa, when you’re visiting a place with such beautiful scenery, sometimes you want to just sit back, relax, and enjoy the view! The capes of central Okinawa, where the land juts out into the deep blue waters and make for panoramic beachy views, are popular destinations for a reason. Cape Zanpa’s lighthouse is especially picturesque!
Go a little way along the coast and you’ll find Cape Manzamo. Can you see why lots of travelers are charmed by the shape of the cliff face? It really does look a little like an elephant’s trunk, as it charges into the waves! The name Manzamo, on the other hand, means “a field for 10,000 people to sit,” presumably because of the large grassy space high above the water.
Blue Cave Diving
For travelers who’d like to really dive into the Okinawa experience, try diving in Blue Cave! The open waters all around the island provide some beautiful underwater views, but diving in the dimly lit Blue Cave is a unique experience, and the glow of the water almost seems a little magical.
Blue Cave Diving at Marine Support TIDE ZANPA
950 Senaha, Yomitan, Nakagami District, Okinawa
Fee: 12,000 yen in advance | 13,000 yen day-of
Reservations: Advance reservations can be made up until 3 days ahead of time at firstname.lastname@example.org or +81-80-2730-7076.
Official Website (jp)
Colorful Island-Style Drinks
For a sip of something fruity and delicious, and at the same time supremely instagrammable, we recommend the Hawaiian-style smoothies and juices of MAGENTA n blue. You can plop down in their comfortable seating area, or bring some drinks right over to the beach!
Orion Happy Park – Orion Beer Brewery
Love a good brew? Well, Okinawa has its own major beer brewery, and Orion Beer has earned itself a loyal fanbase. It’s no surprise that they open their brewery for tours, allowing Orion-lovers to learn about the brewing process from knowledgable tour guides, and see it all in action!
Not only is admission to the Happy Park/factory tour free, but you can finish off the experience with a free tasting as well. Sip on two free draft beers to sample the Okinawa flavors, or go the non-alcohol route and try some of Orion’s soft drinks instead.
Churaumi Aquarium (美ら海水族館)
A beloved staple of Okinawa sightseeing, plenty of travelers go out of their way and make special trips to northern Okinawa just to visit the fabulous Churaumi Aquarium. Of particular note is the huge central tank, which gives visitors a view deep into a recreation of the ocean right outside the facility. It houses multiple enormous whale sharks, native to the Okinawan seas, which drift gracefully through the eddies, and then feed standing vertically in the water!
Churaumi Aquarium (美ら海水族館)
424 Ishikawa, Motobu, Kunigami District, Okinawa
Hours: Oct. to Feb. 8:30 – 18:30 | Mar. to Sep. 8:30 – 20:00
Admission Fee: Adults 1,850 yen | High School Students 1,230 yen | Elementary/Middle School Students 610 yen | Children under 6 are free!