A Comprehensive Guide to Okinawa's Mainland and Best Day Trips

Okinawa, the tropical gem of Japan's southernmost prefecture, is renowned for its white sandy beaches and crystal-clear waters. Set in a warm climate, Okinawa invites visitors to immerse themselves in a world where ancient Ryukyu Kingdom traditions are preserved amidst lush landscapes and serene coastlines. Naha, the island's capital, stands as a gateway not only to Okinawa's diverse urban and coastal experiences but also to captivating day excursions to nearby islands like Kume and the Kerama Islands.


Naha City

Two women standing under a red gate in Naha, Okinawa, Japan

Naha City, the capital of Okinawa, serves as a vibrant center where urban life and coastal leisure intersect. The city's main thoroughfare, Kokusai Dori, is a hub for both locals and tourists, lined with a variety of shops, restaurants, and entertainment venues. This street offers an authentic taste of Okinawan life, from traditional craft stores to contemporary shopping experiences. Just a short distance away, Naminoue Beach provides a coastal escape within the city limits. Rich in history, Naha is home to the esteemed Shuri Castle, a UNESCO World Heritage site that was once the seat of the Ryukyu Kingdom. For those interested in delving deeper into Okinawa's culture, the Okinawa Prefectural Museum is a treasure trove of artifacts and exhibitions, while the Okinawa Prison Cafe offers a unique dining experience. The culinary scene in Naha ranges from traditional Okinawan dishes to modern fusion cuisine. As night falls, the city reveals a lively nightlife scene, with bars and clubs. For adventurers looking to explore beyond Naha, the city is conveniently positioned as a launch point for day trips to Kume Island and the Kerama Islands, accessible via ferry. The availability of car and electric bicycle rentals in Naha further facilitates exploration of these islands, offering a convenient means to traverse the wider Okinawan landscape and reach more remote destinations.


Kume Island

A blue ocean with white sand and trees at Kume Island, Okinawa Japan

Kume Island, a short ferry ride away from Naha is notable for its less crowded, pristine beaches and cultural landmarks. Among these, Hateno Beach stands out for its expansive shoreline and clear waters.  Delving into the island's past, the Uegusuku Castle Ruins provide a window into the island's history. Perched at one of the highest points on the island, the ruins offer panoramic views. Besides historical sites, Kume Island is also a place to experience Okinawan culture firsthand. Local workshops demonstrate traditional crafts, offering insights into the island's artisanal heritage.


The Kerama Islands

A beach with clear water and a sandy beach at the Kerama Islands, Okinawa, Japan

Accessible via a scenic ferry ride from Naha, the Kerama Islands are a haven for marine enthusiasts and beachgoers. This cluster of islands is celebrated for its exceptionally clear waters and vibrant coral reefs, making it a premier destination for snorkeling and diving. Among these islands, Zamami and Tokashiki are particularly notable. Zamami offers picturesque beaches and is a popular spot for whale watching during certain seasons. Tokashiki, the largest island in the group, is renowned for its spectacular underwater scenery, attracting divers and snorkelers eager to explore its coral gardens.


Mainland Okinawa (Central Area)

A ferris wheel in front of a shopping mall in Okinawa, Japan

The area just outside of Naha is a hub for a variety of activities. For beach lovers, the central area’s coastline offers numerous water sports opportunities. From jet skiing to parasailing and more. Places like the Sakima Art Museum and Yomitan Gala showcase the contemporary art scene in the area. The Sakima Art Museum, in particular, is known for its collection that reflects Okinawa's history, while Yomitan Gala allows visitors to experience Okinawan pottery and glassmaking first-hand. The natural landscape of Central Okinawa is equally compelling. Happy Cliff, known locally as Katsuren-Haebaru, offers scenic views of the Pacific Ocean, while Cape Maeda is a favored spot for snorkeling and diving, renowned for its clear blue waters and abundant marine life. Mount Ishikawa provides hiking trails that cater to various skill levels. American Village and Depot Island reflect the American influence on the island, combining Okinawan traditions with a distinctly American vibe.


Mainland Okinawa (South)

A path leading to a viewpoint of the ocean in Okinawa, Japan

The South Side of Okinawa’s mainland is home to beaches like Hyakuna and Mibaru, which are typically less crowded than many of the others. Historical sites in South Okinawa tell stories of the island's past: the Himeyuri Peace Museum and Okinawa Peace Memorial are dedicated to the memories of the Battle of Okinawa. The region is also home to the Itoman Fish Center, where visitors can enjoy fresh seafood. For a more contemporary shopping experience, the Okinawa Outlet Mall offers a variety of stores and eateries. While the area is lesser known to tourists, the south side also provides opportunities for outdoor adventures like snorkeling and sea kayaking. Additionally, historical attractions like Okinawa World and the Tamagusukujo Castle Ruins are worthwhile mentions for a visit.


Mainland Okinawa (North)

A beach with a couple of rocks in the water at Okinawa, Japan

The North side of Okinawa offers untouched natural landscapes and n is home to some of the most pristine beaches on the island, such as Minna Island and Emerald Beach. These beaches are known for their clear waters and peaceful ambiance. The North Side is also where one can find the lush expanses of Yambaru National Park, home to unique wildlife and dense subtropical forests. The area is also rich in crafts like glass art, with workshops available for those interested in learning about and participating in this traditional art form.  A significant attraction in this region is the Ocean Expo Park, a large complex that includes the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium, one of the largest aquariums in the world.



In summary, Okinawa caters to a wide array of interests and preferences. The city of Naha, with its vibrant markets and historical landmarks, contrasts starkly with the tranquility found on the pristine beaches and in the lush forests of the island's more remote areas. With day trips to Kume and Kerama Islands - with their white-sandy beaches and clear waters – making it the perfect get-away destination..