Aloha and welcome to Oahu – with its historic down town area (including America’s only royal palace), bustling Waikiki, several universities, the Hawaii Convention Center, the state Capitol, major industries and the majority of the population Oahu might not be the green and lush island paradise you imagine at first, but more the gathering place of the Hawaiian islands. But if you look closely, you will definitely find what makes Hawaii special: Lush green rainforest, awesome beaches and waves and beautiful volcanic mountains.
How to get there?
Flights arrive at Honolulu International Airport – all major domestic carriers and many international carriers serve Oahu, so you can get here from just about anywhere.
Our personal highlight was the tour with Dolphin Excursions. The eco-friendly tour will take you to see some wild spinner dolphins and other sea life in a small group. Tours leave at Waianae Boat Harbor. And the best thing: You will not only be able to enjoy the scenic west shore, and see some wild spinner dolphins in their natural habitat – you will also be allowed to float around the water right next to them. On top you will snorkel with turtles and fish and during winter you might even spot some humpback whales. Experienced guides will tell you lots about the sea life and about how to behave. Snorkel gear and a lunch are included. Besides the dolphins we also really enjoyed the good surf at the North Shore and the town of Haleiwa with its cute little shops, good ice cream and nice beaches. Here we saw some green sea turtles resting at the beach during sunset. Just perfect!
How long to stay?
If you are traveling on a budget, Hawaii can get pretty expensive. This is why we decided to stay for 5 nights only. This will definitely give you enough time to explore the island and its many attractions, but (as always) it is never bad to stay longer to enjoy even more. Especially as you probably traveled quite a long way to get to the island. In fact we wished for a couple of more days to do more hiking and to enjoy more of the beaches and its surf. It also is pretty easy to travel between the islands, so you might also want to plan some more days to see at least one of the other islands.
Where to stay?
We are no big fans of super busy and touristy places. And most of the time these places also make the most expensive areas to stay. This is why we decided to stay in an airbnb in central Oahu close to the Schofield Barracks. It is not the busiest area, but you will find all you need in Wahiawa. Also this area makes the perfect location to explore the island by car – you are in the center of everything, so it does not really matter in what direction you want to go, you probably will be there in almost no time. If you want to invest a little more money, look for accommodation in Kailua or Haleiwa.
Recommended Beaches From all the beaches available, make sure to not miss these gems: Haleiwa (sandy bottom, snorkeling, lifeguard, awesome for sunset), Waimea Bay (sandy bottom, snorkeling, lifeguard), Sunset Beach (sandy bottom, lifeguard), Kailua Bay and Lanikai Beach (sandy bottom, snorkeling, lifeguard, awesome for sunrise), Hanauma Bay (snorkeling, lifeguard) and Waikiki Beach (sandy bottom, lifeguard, super busy and touristy). Parks and Trails There are a couple of good parks and trails available, which will reward you with awesome views and good Hawaiian nature. Make sure to put these on your list: Waahila Ridge Trail, Manoa Falls, Diamond Head, Kuliouou Valley Trail and Koko Head. There also is the Haiku Stairs Trail which is also known as “Stairway to Heaven”. It is still there. And it looks as amazing as on the pictures you might have seen on Instagram. But it is closed and pretty dangerous. So make sure you know what you are doing. Pearl Harbour America has never forgotten the morning of December 7th in 1941, when Japanese bombs rained down on Pearl Harbour. Today, visitors can step back in history at the USS Arizona Memorial, the Pacific Aviation Museum Pearl Harbour, the USS Missouri and the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park. South Oahu When visiting the south of the island, you might not want to miss these things:
Chinatown Here you can immerse yourself in a lively mix of Asian cultures and cuisines, open-air markets full of fresh produce, art galleries and vendors’ shops, frequently visited by residents and visitors alike.
Historic Honolulu For all of you interested in the history of Hawaii, make sure to take a walk through Hawaii’s history, with visits to the Hawaii State Capitol, Hawaii State Art Museum, Iolani Palaca, the King Kamehameha Statue, Kawaiahao Church and the Mission Houses Museum.
Foster Botanical Garden This 14-acre garden showcases plants collected from tropical regions around the world, featuring 26 “Exceptional Trees” and a beautiful orchid collection.
Queen Emma Summer Palace Another historic place where you can delve into the history of Hawaiian royalty at the summer retreat of Queen Emma and King Kamehameha IV.
Kapiolani Park Named for one of Hawaii’s favorite Queens, the park is home to the Waikiki Shell, the Honolulu Zoo and the Waikiki Aquarium.
Nuuanu Pali Lookout This lookout will literally blow you away with its view (and sometimes also due to its strong wind). Here you will stand at the edge of the world-famous cliff overlooking Windward Oahu. It can get quite busy with big tourist buses arriving. Visitors and locals alike come here for the best views of Windward Oahu, stretching from Kailua and Kaneohe to Kahaluu and Laie.
East Oahu So what is going on in the east of Oahu? Try to check out these points of interest:
Koko Crater Botanical Gardens Plant lovers can enjoy an easy 90-minute round-trip stroll into the extinct crater, which features 200 acres of acti, succulents and dryland palms.
Hanauma Bay This nature preserve and marine life conservation district is one of the most popular attractions on Oahu. Visitors can learn about the marine life and nature, as well as enjoy some pretty good snorkeling in clear and calm waters which are home to green sea turtles, parrotfish and other sea life. From time to time bigger sea life might even come around to check out what is going on in the bay. The park opens at 6 am and you will have to pay the entrance fee from 7 am on. So if you are an early bird you can get one free hour of snorkeling – probably in a pretty uncrowded bay.
Makapuu & Sandy Beach Only the most experienced surfers and bodysurfers should brave the strong currents and wicked waves pounding the shores at Makapuu and Sandy Beach, while everyone else can watch the action and soak up the sun.
Makapuu Lighthouse The uphill walk to the lighthouse and lookout rewards you with a spectacular panoramic view of the east end of the Koolau Mountains and several small offshore islands that dot the Windward coast.
Lanikai With calm, shallow waters and its offshore views of the scenic Mokulua Islands, Lanikai is one of the most popular beaches in the world. This beach gets super crowded during weekends and special holidays.
Kailua One of the world’s great beach towns, Kailua, is home to the long, sandy beach of Kailua Bay and the adjacent shorter stretch of beach at Lanikai. Favorite activities include sailing, kayaking and surfing.
North Oahu Oahu’s North Shore is the epicenter of international surfing and a Mecca for surfers from all over the world. From historic Haleiwa to the quaint town of Kahuku, visitors can get a fabulous view of all the action at Sunset Beach, Pipeline, Waimea Bay, Chun’s Reef Laniakea and other breaks that have made history. Besides the surf, you might also look into these places:
Kualoa Regional Park Located in a region rich in Hawaiian history, Kualoa is a favorite recreational park for visitors and locals alike. Everybody comes here to swim, picnic and spend leisurely weekends in the sun.
Kahana Bay This scenic bay, surrounded by lush mountain slopes, is home to Kahana Bay Beach Park, which has calm waters and a crescent of sandy beach that is almost never crowded. You might also want to take you scenic photos here.
Kahuku Sugar Mill Built in 1890, the sugar mill operated until 1971. Now the remnants of the mill are home to various shops and home-style restaurants that serve everything from curries to coffee.
Haleiwa Town Protected by building ordinances, Old Haleiwa Town has kept its country feel, while offering a wonderful array of shops, activities and dining.
Central and West Oahu So last but not least – what fun does the central and west part of Oahu offer?
Wahiawa Botanical Gardens The 27-acre garden was created by sugar planters in the 1920s as an experimental arboretum. Today, it features towering Hawaiian palms and tree ferns.
Makaha Beach Park Located on the sun-blessed Waianae Coast, Makaha Beach is the site of several world-famous surfing contests held when the surf picks up in the winter months.
Hawaii Plantation Village Journey back to the early 1900s when plantations were the center of most life in the Islands. You can walk right into more than 25 authentic homes representing the various ethnicities that worked the sugar and pineapple fields.
Dole Plantation Located just three miles north of Wahiawa, and just 10 minutes from Haleiwa and the famous North Shore, the Dole Plantation is located quite well. Besides lots of interesting facts about pineapples, the plantation features a huge country store and souvenir shop and the 2008 world’s largest maze. You can also take the pineapple express train for a tour across the plantation and enjoy the plantation garden with its variety of native species and crops. Make sure to not miss the delicious dolewhip pineapple ice cream in the country store or try some local dishes in the restaurant.
Ice Cream and Shave Ice Just in case you desperately are looking for some good ice cream on Oahu, we will now share our two favorite places with you. Awesome! If you are looking for Shave Ice make sure to stop at Matsumoto Shave Ice in Haleiwa. Be prepared for a super long line in front of the shop. But the wait is so worth it. You will find good ice cream at Scoop of Paradise (also in Haleiwa). Fun fact: The ice cream shop is also a toy shop. Plate Lunches In the Hawaiian islands, the plate lunch is as much a part of the daily life as beaches and surf. With a history that dates back to the days plantation workers shared their various ethnic dishes, the plate lunch can now be found everywhere. And this is also why on Oahu you can find plate lunch venues just about everywhere, from little mom-and-pop operations to truck stands and propper restaurants. The basic plate lunch consists of a main offering (meat, chicken, fish), complemented with one or two scoops of rice and a side of macaroni salad. Locals often request a generous ladle of brown gravy over the entire meal.