We want to start this blog post by first saying that due to the current pandemic we are not advertising travel to Oahu at this time. We hope to keep the travel bug alive in all of us and are only writing this to inspire future travels when we are safe to do so.
To say that we both love Hawaii is an understatement. When we first started traveling together, Jake had a famous phrase.. “Yeah, but in Hawaii..”. No matter where we were, or what we were doing, this phrase would come out as a method of comparison. After our first Hawaii trip together, now we are both guilty of saying it.
Oahu is the third largest island in Hawaii. This island is home to Pearl Harbor, the city of Honolulu which is home to Waikiki Beach, as well as the famous North Shore with some of the best surfing in the world! There are such a variety of things to do here. You can have a trip full of adventure, full of sight seeing, full of relaxation, OR a healthy mix of all three.
We get SO many questions about our trips to Hawaii, specifically what to do in Oahu! . So, we put together this list with a lot of thought, and tried to incorporate a variety of activities to help you plan the most epic adventure to Oahu! Let’s get started!
The West Side of Oahu
This part of the island is not as popular with tourists which is so crazy to us! There are some insanely beautiful places here that are well worth the visit. Call them hidden gems if you will!
1. Visit The Mermaid Caves
Very accurately named, these caves are located at Kalaniana’ole Beach Park! Park your car, head to the rocky shoreline and follow it to the left for a few minutes. You will see a large opening to the caves below. This place is so cool! You can swim in the caves, as well as jump off the cliffs on the far side. This place is well worth the visit. Make sure to check to tide before heading here, as you want it to be low tide to access the caves!
2. Tan at Makua Beach
This slice of paradise is a far less popular beach in comparison to others like Waikiki or Lanikai. We spent a good portion of an afternoon here and it was so peaceful. Beautiful white sand that seems to go on forever, and interesting tide pools to explore during low tide made this beach one of our favorites!
3. Hike to Upper Makua Cave
With the trailhead located just across the street from Makua Beach, this hike can be rewarded with some much deserved beach time afterwords! This hike took us about an hour round trip, and the views are so beautiful!
4. Hike The Pink Pillbox
This hike took us about an hour round trip and the views are very much worth it! Found on Kaukama Rd, this is a heavily trafficked hike that leads you to a series of three pill boxes on the mountain side. Pillboxes were once used as observation towers in the 1940’s by the US Navy! The pink pillbox was painted by locals for breast cancer awareness.
The North Shore of Oahu
A lot of people say that the North Shore is their favorite part of Oahu and it is very easy to see why. Laid back beach towns, plenty of beautiful beaches and lots of great surfing make for some fun adventures to be had! We spent a couple of days on the North Shore and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
5. Visit Haleiwa Town
Could this be the cutest little town we have ever seen? Definitely. Located about an hour from Waikiki, this town is filled with plenty of local boutiques, surf shops and some of the best food trucks in Oahu! The world famous Giovanni’s shrimp truck is located here which is well worth the visit! This town has so much rich history and beautiful architecture, it is a place that you definitely should plan on visiting!
6. Try WOW-WOW Lemonade
This little lemonade stand is located in Haleiwa Town but we loved it so much we had to mention it separately! The first stand originally opened in Maui but its popularity has made it available in a variety of States in the USA and we can completely understand why! This stands makes freshly pressed juices and yummy treats. You also have the option of upgrading to these cute mason jars! We loved this idea. We kept them as souvenirs and use them as reusable drink containers with metal straws!
7. Visit The Dole Plantation
Located on the way to the North Shore, this world famous plantation offers a variety of tours and activities as well as tasty treats to try! If you are looking to get your hands on the very well known “DoleWhip”, aka heaven in a cup, this is the place to get it! Visit their website here for more information and to book your tours in advance.
8. Eat at The Beet Box Cafe
The Beet Box Cafe is the perfect place for breakfast and lunch while on the North Shore! The vibe is laid back and the food is delicious. Everything on the menu is health focused and plant based. The menu ranges from delicious smoothie bowls, to Avocado Toast to Banana Oat Pancakes. They also have a wide variety of fresh juices and smoothies! We would highly recommend stopping in for a bite here.
Bonus Tip: There are actually two locations, one on the North Shore and one in Kailua! We tried both and loved them equally.
9. Try out Matsumoto’s Shave Ice
Opened in 1951, this family owned and operated business is one of the busiest places on the North Shore! Shave Ice (Yes it it shave not shaved) is a must have when visiting Hawaii and the perfect place to try it is this North Shore staple! With over 40 individual flavors and endless combinations to choose from, there really is something for everyone here.
10. Hike Pu’u Hapapa
Located on the Schofield Army Barracks, this is a must do hike in Oahu! The views are spectacular and it is far less trafficked than many other hikes on the island. It is only open on weekends, and at times can be closed for training for troops. Read our guide on hiking in Oahu here for more information on the trailhead and the facebook page link for the dates the hike is open.
11. Snorkel at Shark Cove
Not named for shark sittings, this beach on the North Shore is the perfect place for snorkeling. There is a small break wall that allows for a safe environment to swim without worrying about the rip! If you are looking to snorkel in Hawaii then this is one place you have to visit! Make sure to bring your own snorkeling gear as there are not any places for rentals.
12. Watch Surfers at Banzai Pipeline
During the winter months, the waves get larger and the surfing gets better in Hawaii! Banzai Pipline, located at Ehukai Beach Park, is home to some of the worlds most prestigious surfing competitions. During our visit to Oahu, we got to witness some insane surfing during a Volcom sponsored competition. Check the local news to see if there are any competitions planned during your visit!
13. Hike the Ehukai Pillbox
Located across the street from Ehukai Beach Park, is Sunset Elementary School, where you will find the trailhead to this hidden gem! As a much less trafficked pillbox in Oahu, this hike has incredible views of the Banzai Pipeline and the entire North Shore. This took us about an hour round trip to complete. Check out our blog post on hikes in Oahu for more information!
14. Check Out Waimea Bay Beach Park
This is a stunning beach located on the North Shore. During the winter months the waves can get insanely big and some incredible surfing takes place here! In the summer months, the water becomes more calm and this beach is home to some very cool cliff jumping. Across the street from this beach is Waimea falls and the Country Club. We sadly did not get to hike to these falls, but we have heard that they are incredible to see!
15. Visit Sunset Beach
The name of the beach says it all. Looking to catch a sunset in Oahu? This is the place to do it. The sunsets here are absolutely incredible. You must go here! This beach is also home to the famous leaning palm tree on the North Shore. And like the majority of the beaches on the North Shore, there is some great surfing in the winter months here.
16. Go to a Hula at Polynesian Cultural Centre
Located in the town of Laie, this was the most touristy thing we did on Oahu, but we loved it! This centre is home to some beautiful grounds that showcases the history and the way of life of the Polynesian people! This centre has a Luau you can attend that we highly recommend! Tickets sell out quickly, so make sure to get them in advance. This centre is closely affiliated with the Mormon church, so you should know that they do not serve beverages with caffeine or alcohol!
17. Eat Literally Everything at The Sunrise Shack
This bright yellow shack is bringing you some of yummiest smoothie bowls, cold pressed juices and some amazing bullet coffee! You can find this ray of sunshine across the street from Sunset Beach on the North Shore. The staff is friendly, atmosphere is very laid back, and they often have live music! This is a very popular spot for and can be busy at times but it is so worth the wait! We highly recommend visiting this spot!
East Side of Oahu
18. Hike The Crouching Lion Trail
This hike has some of the most incredible view points on the island. Although there is a loop trail attached to this hike, you can quickly reach the main lookout in less than 25 minutes. This out and back hike can be challenging as it can get very muddy and the ridge lines are narrow in some places.
19. Kayak to Chinaman’s Hat
This tiny island located in Kaneohe Bay is accessible during low tide by kayak or stand up paddle board. There is a hike that takes you to the top that we have yet to do, but we will be returning to conquer this! Check the forecast before making your way out there, or consider a tour as the weather changes very quickly in Oahu and storms move in fast.
20. Drive Through Hoʻomaluhia Botanical Garden
This place is SO PRETTY! We arrived just after the park opened. We drove through and explored this entire place! There are many hiking trails here, as well as beautiful gardens with so many different plants. The road in the entrance of the park is very popular for Instagram shots, however when we visited they were very hesitant to let us stop to take pictures. Check with the security guard before stopping!
21. Conquer The Three Peaks Hike
If you are looking for an adrenaline rush, then this is a hike for you! We LOVED this hike and we highly recommend it. This hike begins on the grounds of the Royal Hawaiian Golf Club. Unlike some hikes in Hawaii, this hike is legal! You will pass a security guard at the gate of the golf club on your walk to the trailhead but they will not bother you. This hike is dangerous and the trail is not for those who are afraid of heights or are not comfortable doing some scrambling (free rock climbing essentially).
22. Hike The Stairway to Heaven
If you have not heard of the Stairway to Heaven, aka the Haiku Stairs then you may live under a rock. 3922 stairs were built in the 1940’s to allow the US Navy access to a communication tower. This is at the top of the bucketlist for most people who visit Oahu. The act of being on the stairs has been considered illegal since the 1980’s and if you are caught attempting to access them it can come with a fine. However, this does not stop thousands of people hiking this trail!
23. Visit Kualoa Ranch
Located in Kaneohe, this privately owned complex is an incredible place to visit for people of all ages. If you have ever watched any Jurassic Park park movie, Jumanji or Godzilla than you will recognize this place, as the majority of filming happened in this ranch! There is SO much to do here. There are ATV tours, Hollywood Movie Set tours, Ziplines, Horseback tours and even Jungle Expeditions. A little bit of everything for just about everyone. They also offer Ocean Voyage Tours at another site just outside of the ranch itself. Check out their website for more information and to book a tour!
24. Swim at Lanikai Beach
If you picture what the ideal Hawaiian beach should look like, this is it! Beautiful white sand beaches and crystal clear turquoise waters is what Lanikai is famous for. As well as The Mokes! (Two small islands just off the shoreline). This beach can get very busy so make sure to get there early to find a parking spot!
25. Take in views at Lanikai Pillbox
Located across from the Mid-Pacific Country Club, this very popular hike takes you to a series of pillboxes that give you an incredible birds eye view of Lanikai Beach! This hike is an ideal place to watch the sunrise in Oahu! It took us about 30 minutes round trip and is a relatively easy hike with ropes for assistance. This hike can get muddy so keep that in mind when choosing footwear, as some people walked from the beach and attempted to hike in flip-flops.
26. Walk the Makapu Lighthouse Trail
The Makapu Lighthouse trail is a popular paved trail that will take you up to the viewpoint of the lighthouse itself, offering stunning views along the way! The lighthouse is currently off limits to access. Gates open at 7 AM and the parking lot fills up quickly so make sure to get their early to get a spot! We visited Oahu in the winter months and spotted some whales just off the coast! Keep your eyes out!
27. Swim in Makapu Tide Pools
To access these tide pools you will need to walk a good portion of the Makapu lighthouse trail. Approximately 2/3 of the way through this trail you will notice a whale watching sign and below will be a series of tide pools and a blow hole. You will see a small unmarked footpath that will take you down the side of the cliffs to reach the tide pools! Make sure to check the weather and observe where the waves are crashing. People have been swept out to sea swimming here and have died. We visited in the winter months and because the ocean tends to be rough during that time, swimming here was not recommended.
28. Hike the Diamond Head Trail
Diamond Head was once an active volcano that is now a very popular hiking spot for tourists! This hike is very easy and some of the walkway is paved. The hike itself takes approximately 30 minutes and offers some incredible viewpoints of Waikiki and the ocean. This hike can be very busy as it is very popular, but for good reason, the views are worth it! The entrance fee is $2 if you would like to do the hike without a guided tour. However, if you prefer to learn more about the history of Diamond Head, there are plenty of guided tours available that you can find online!
29. Hike the Koko Head Trail
This trial may be only 0.7 miles to the top, but you will be climbing 1048 stairs and gaining approximately 990 feet of elevation! Don’t let this discourage you however, as this hike offers some spectacular views of Oahu. This hike is a popular placefor locals to work out, and tourists to take in some incredible sights! This is another great place to watch the sunrise.
30. Snorkel at Hanauma Bay
If you are looking for a place to snorkel on Oahu, this is the best place to do it! The Hanauma Bay Nature Reserve is extremely popular destination for those looking to explore what the Pacific Ocean has to offer under its surface! As the name suggests, this reserve is located in a sheltered bay which makes for excellent snorkeling. Keep your eyes out for turtles! Just keep in mind that touching turtles in Hawaii is illegal as they are a protected species.
The entrance fee is $7.50. They have snorkel gear for rent, as well as restrooms, change rooms and snack bars! You can shuttle hear from Waikiki Beach Hotels, and you can also purchase half day tours! Check out their website for more information.
31. Hike the Kuliouou Ridge Trail
We learned about this hike from some of our friends that are locals! It is a 6.4km out and back trail and it has some of the most incredible views from start to finish. This hike is popular among locals on the weekend, so we hiked this during the week to avoid crowds!
32. Hike the Pali Notches
Considered one of the most dangerous hikes in Oahu, this trail is not for the faint of heart. According to Hawaiian legend, these notches were created in the 1700s by King Kamehameha’s warriors to house cannons to defend the valley below. There are two notches to conquer before getting to “The Chimney” which is the famous lookout point on this trail. This hike is very steep with sharp drop offs on each side to the valley below. This hike is for experienced hikers looking for an adrenaline rush! We loved this hike, and would highly recommend it.
33. Take a Doors Off Helicopter Ride
Our absolute favorite moment of this trip, hands-down. What an experience! After a lot of research we chose to book our tour through Mauna Loa Helicopter Tours and we are SO glad we did. The staff were so friendly, the pilot was very knowledgeable and the views were INSANE. We chose to do the doors-off experience to allow us to take better photos, however you can choose to have the doors on as well! Although this is not the cheapest thing to do in Oahu, it was a very special, once in a lifetime moment! This is a MUST DO!
34. Visit Pearl Harbor
On December 7, 1941 this Hawaiian Naval Base was attacked by the Japanese, ultimately bringing the United States into World War II. The USS Arizona exploded and sunk to the bottom of the harbor, where it still rests today. Over 3500 people were killed in this attack. This memorial site is extremely popular for many tourists to take in a part of history and pay their respects. To ensure entry, it is important to try and get your tickets online before visiting as there are only a small amount of walk in tickets available each day. We saw the USS Arizona from above during our helicopter tour. It was a very somber moment.
Waikiki Beach area
When anyone says Oahu, usually the first place that comes to mind is the world famous Waikiki Beach! This area is where the majority of the hustle and bustle is in Oahu. Not only is the beach stunning, but there are so many restaurants, bars and shops to explore!
35. Take Surfing Lessons at Waikiki Beach
At the main intersection of the Waikiki Beach area, you will see a statue of Duke Kahanamoku. Duke is known as the father of modern day surfing! All along Waikiki beach are small stands with experienced surfing instructors ready to teach you the basics! What better place to learn to surf than in Oahu?! Waikiki is the perfect area to learn as there aren’t big swells like on the North Shore. If you are comfortable giving it a go on your own, or you have some experience already, you can find many places that rent boards as well!
36. Watch the Hilton’s Friday Night Fireworks
Every Friday night at 7:30pm the Hilton Hotel in Waikiki puts on a spectacular display of fireworks on the beach! The best part about it? It’s free! This is a very popular activity so make sure to get to the beach early to get the ideal spot! We watched them from the end of a pier and it was the perfect view!
37. Catch a Catamaran Cruise
There are catamaran companies all along Waikiki Beach that will take you out into the bay to see Waikiki from the water! There are “booze cruise” options as well as special sunset cruises. Friday nights certain companies offer a sunset cruise coupled with the experience of watching the Hilton Fireworks from the water! Although you can buy tickets online, there is the option of buying them the day off at the beach itself!
38. Visit Maui Brewing Company
Maui Brewing Company is a brewery and restaurant located on the main strip of Waikiki Beach. They have 36 beers that rotate on tap and a delicious menu that includes amazing wood-fire pizzas! We loved this restaurant. You also get excellent views of the ocean as this restaurant is open-air and on the top floor of a building!
39. Try Leonard’s Famous Malasada’s
Let us take a moment here to change your life. Leonard’s is a MUST VISIT place in Waikiki. What is a malasada you ask? To sum it up, it is one the most delicious donuts you will ever eat. They are made fresh to order, and can be dressed in multiple ways! Get them filled with custard, have them plain, or roll it in one of their delicious sugars! This place always has a line, but stick it out! So worth it.
40. Duke’s Restaurant – Try Their Hula Pie
Our friends that live in Oahu brought us to the Waikiki Strip for a night out and we ended the night eating the most delicious dessert! We actually went back once more before we left. It is known officially as “Kimo’s Hula Pie”! It has a chocolate cookie crust, macadamia nut ice cream as a filling, hot fudge topping and whipped cream. YUM!
Bonus Secret Spot!!!
Since you have come this far, we thought we would let you in on one of our secret photo spots in Oahu! You will find this circle at the far end of Ala Moana Beach Park in Waikiki!.
Oahu is so special to us. We absolutely loved our time their and cannot wait for the day when we get to go back! We really hope that you found this Ultimate Bucket-list in Oahu helpful! Have you been to Oahu?