Sun, surf, sea, shopping, rainforest, wilderness, hiking, piña coladas, barbecue – I kid you not when I say Oahu has it all. And at a balmy 28 degrees C (82 F) pretty much year round, it’s the ultimate paradise for anyone looking to get away from it all, any time of year.
Before I begin rambling, a quick disclaimer: this travel guide is going to be a wee bit different from what I’d normally write. For a typical trip Stag and I take, I do so much research into where to stay, what to do, and where to eat, that my mind begins to splatter and I lose all sense of time and place.
For our Oahu trip, though, Stag and I vacationed with my dad and stepmother, two Hawaii-visiting veterans whom know what they like and stick with it. Therefore, I did – wait for it – almost no research before jetting off half way around the world. I know, WHAT.
Because of this, I’ve decided to structure this as more of a ‘Tips on What to Do’ – rather than a eat/shop/stay/do travel itinerary that I’d want to put together.
Having done some more research since coming home, I have to say that these 10 things really do cover the best of the best Oahu has to offer.
10 Things To Do in Oahu, Hawaii
1 | Go on a Hike (or maybe 3).
Prefer a dry, cliff-like hike? Or maybe you like hiking in more tropical landscapes? Oahu has both, depending on which side of the island you choose. Do hikes on both, so you can really see the diverse, wild and beautiful landscape of the island.
Here are the hikes we recommend:
- Diamond Head – a steep but easy hike for breathtaking views of the South part of the island
- Manoa Falls – hiking in the rainforest, ending with a beautiful waterfall. What’s not to love? Except the humidity…
- Kaena Point – a mountain-meets-coastal hike that is very open to the elements and will get hot. However, the views of the cliffs and mountains are unparalleled, and the albatross flying overhead and seals sunning themselves waiting at the end of the trail make it worth it. Mine and Stag’s favourite hike of the bunch!
- Makapu‘u Point Lighthouse Trail – Another mountain-meets-coastal hike that is perfect for whale watching. There are even free binoculars along the route for you to really see the whales breeching and playing. The entire route is paved, so it’s perfect for kids or elderly (or lazy 20-somethings).
2 | Dig your toes in the sand.
There are so many good beaches in Oahu, which I’m sure is the case in every Hawaiian island. Chances are, your hotel will have one – where we stayed in Ko Olina, they had lagoons dotted in front of every resort, which were literally perfect for a lazy day not leaving the resort area.
Otherwise, head to Sunset Beach on the North Shore. Soft sand, beautiful waves, surfers, locals and enough seclusion that you have your space just to lie out and enjoy.
3 | Learn to surf (or if you’re like me, just watch…).
Surf was born in Hawaii, guys. If you’re going to do it, do it here. Waikiki Beach is particularly famous for surfing, which is where Stag learned – Hans Hendemann is the company Stag chose for his lesson (it’s the cheapest of the bunch for a group lesson), and he absolutely loved it.
If you are just hoping to watch some surfers, head to the North Shore, where the locals go. The waves are bigger and rougher there, attracting quality surfers from all over the world.
4 | Eat at a food truck on the North Shore.
Food trucks are kind of Oahu’s thing. There are so many delicious-looking ones to choose from, particularly on the North Shore. We went with the most famous, Giovanni’s, for it’s glorious plate of garlic shrimp and rice. There was a huge queue when we went, but seriously guys, totally worth it.
We didn’t eat here, but Ono Steaks And Shrimp Shack is very highly rated.
5 | Eat a Malasada from Leonard’s Bakery
This is an order. Find a Leonard’s Bakery shop or food truck selling malasadas and buy like 2 dozen. Scarf them in the parking lot immediately. Cry yourself to sleep in a confused state of shame and glory. Don’t question me. Just do it. You can write me an epic poem thanking me for this tip later.
(In case you’re wondering a malasada is essentially a churro in donut shape, filled with custard or coconut cream, covered in either plain sugar or cinnamon sugar. Hot. fried. DELICIOUS).
6 | Go Shopping at Waikiki Beach
Guys, I was the epitome of adult and restrained because I did not go shopping in Waikiki once. But let me tell you, the shopping in Waikiki Beach is very good and absolutely worth the trip.
You can find big-name high end and high street, all surrounded by a beach on one side and a park on the other. You will also see a lot of brides and grooms walking about, making it a perfect people-watching destination, too. It’s the liveliest part of the island, feeling more like California than anything.
Keep in mind, though, that Hawaii is not cheap, so you may want to save your bucks/quid for some malasadas (can you tell I love these things?)
7 | Watch the Sun Rise, Watch the Sun Set
The sunsets and sunrises here are something out of a painting. The sky becomes this pink-and-purple glorious thing that makes the world look like it’s burning. That sounds a tad bit melodramatic, but seriously, you have to see it for yourself.
- For a sunrise (picture above) – head somewhere East (we were staying on the west coast, and so we didn’t get a chance to see a proper sunrise, sadly. We still tried though!). I’ve heard that Laniakea Beach on the Windward Side is the best, as is Makapu’u Beach.
- For a sunset – anything on the Western side, such as around Yokohama Bay/Kaena Point, Waikiki or even where the resorts are at Ko’olina.
8 | Spot the Local Wildlife (Don’t Forget your Binoculars)
Humpback Whales – From December to May, humpback whales come to Hawaii to rear their young – nearly 3,000 of them, to be exact! You’ll mostly see a splash of water and maybe a tail, but if you’re lucky, one will breech.
You can see them pretty much anywhere around the island, but the Makapu‘u Trail (see point 1) hike is where we saw the most.
Seals (above!) — there are apparently 100 seals living in the waters around Oahu. We saw 3 of them on the Kaena Point trail alone. At the end of the trail, there’s a sand dune that you can walk down to get to the water’s edge. Seals will come and sun themselves on the rocks here, and as it’s a very quiet and remote spot, you can nearly walk up to the animals.
Sea turtles – These you’ll see near to the rocks at the shore. Make sure to stop off at lookouts along the beach drives, as this is where you’ll see them most.
Albatross – Again, at Kaena point, they are nesting along the trail, where you are able to nearly touch them they are so close.
9 | Eat at a Local Restaurant
- – Feeling adventurous? Try some real Hawaiin food at Ono Hawaiian Foods. Think things like lau lau (pork or chicken steamed in taro leaf), poke (cerviche-style fish), pulled pork anything or lomi lomi (smoked salmon and tomato salad). It’s a bit unnerving to the belly at first, but once you get used to it, it’s all absolutely delicious.
- – The Hawaiians love their sweet pies, and a local told us Ted’s Bakery near Sunset Beach is the best, local place to go for pies. Just look at their menu…. *swoon*
- – Duke’s in Waikiki is a big, tiki-style bar & restaurant that not only has amazing views, but the views out over the water make it an amazing vacation lunch spot. Named after the famed surfer, you really feel like you’re getting that ‘Hawaiian holiday’ experience when you eat here. Our recommendation Get the fish tacos, washed down with a Lava Flow. You’re welcome.
10 | Go Snorkelling
A bit of a lie – we didn’t have time to do this in the end – but the waters around Oahu make for great snorkeling spots. Stag was gutted we didn’t have time, and we are already talking about heading back there just to snorkel!
Hanauma Bay is an idyllic looking cove, beach and snorkeling area. However, it’s $7.50 just to enter the beach! But, if you dedicate a whole day to beach and snorkel, then the entry fee is worth it. They also rent out snorkeling gear for you, a bonus if you don’t want to buy your own.
Shark’s Cove on the North Shore is another well known and highly recommended one. Some locals have also recommended Kahe Point Beach Park, which is located very close to the resorts at Ko’Olina. Based on reviews, this is probably where I’d be wanting to go snorkeling if we had had the chance.