Updated: Dec 27, 2021
Discover paradise! Oahu is a dream destination that should be on everybody's bucket list. This tiny little island offers unparalleled beauty and experiences that will get you unplugged from the rest of the world and much more connected to the things that actually matter.
Read on this guide to find the best attractions and important travel info to get you inspired to plan an unforgettable journey to feel the magic of Hawaii.
Getting Around the Island
Oahu is the most visited of the Hawaiian islands and even though Honolulu is just like any other major US city, I highly recommend renting a car so that you can explore the real beauty of the island. Moppets are also available to rent and are a fun way to get around the city. Note that most hotels charge for parking ($30-$40 per day) which is pricy but, in my opinion, worth it.
Where to Stay
Waikiki is located on the south shore of Oahu and is the island’s main hotel/resort area. The high number of properties available keep prices somewhat affordable, which is great since Hawaii is expensive, and most of the attractions in Waikiki are within walking distance from hotels. The island is very small and so if you want to drive around, you can get pretty much anywhere in just a couple hours (depending on traffic).
On the other sides of the island, hotels are extremely limited and more expensive. If you're traveling on a budget, camping is an option. Also, vacation rentals offer better prices than resorts, however, the state has recently passed a law that restricts the number of permits for b&b's on Oahu, so make sure to check if your rental is legal before booking. Read more about this subject on Travel & Leisure.
I confess that I was very surprised to see such an urban setting in Hawaii. The Honolulu / Waikiki area is all at once beautiful, hip, vintage, luxurious and while there’s lots to see and do here, if you want to experience Hawaii's wilderness, you need to go north.
I recommend spending a couple days in Waikiki and then moving on to exploring the rest of the island. This is where you start to immerse yourself in the beauty of Hawaii, so despite all the tourists and shopping around the area, save time to enjoy the beaches as they are breathtaking and iconic.
What to See and Do
Waikiki is the most famous beach in the world for a reason. The crystal clear water and perfect weather year-round, topped off with lots of aloha are some of the ingredients that make visiting it an unforgettable experience. Here you can rent surfboards, paddle boards, snorkeling gear and even go on a boat ride.
Surfing with hubby on the same board was one of the most special moments I’ll never forget!
Oh, and remember stop by the statue of Duke Kahanamoku in Kuhio Beach. Duke was a true Hawaiian hero and is recognized as the father of modern surfing.
Kuhio Beach Hula Show
If you are looking to watch a hula performance, you might want to take note that this is the only free show in the island. The free event is held every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday evening on Kuhio Beach and includes a torch lighting and Hawaiian musicians.
The Royal Hawaiian Resort
Known as the "Pink Palace of the Pacific," it’s an historic landmark and home to the original Mai Tai Bar.
Ala Moana Regional Park
This is a free public park, one of locals favorite's, that offers beautiful views of Waikiki and Diamond Head and clear, calm waters. The Magic Island Lagoon is a great place for kids to play since it's a manmade peninsula created with shallow reef and protected from breaking waves.
The Aloha Tower is a lighthouse that is considered one of the landmarks of the state of Hawaii. It is free to go up to the viewing area, and it offers nice views of the Honolulu Harbor.
155 Ala Moana Blvd, Honolulu, HI 96813
Home of Hawaii’s last reigning monarchs, the building is recognized as the spiritual and physical multicultural epicenter of Hawaii.
It was the official residence of the reigning Hawaiian sovereign, King Kamehameha, and the only royal palace in the United States.
Hours of operation are Monday through Saturday 9am-4pm.
Hip area known for its vibrant food scene and larger-than-life art murals. The district offers everything from juice bars and casual eateries to Hawaiian farm fare and bustling bars and restaurants.
There's 2 markets going on per week, on Wednesdays from 3 to 7 pm and Saturdays from 8 am to noon.
Hike - Diamond Head Crater
Diamond Head is one of the most popular hikes in Hawaii, and with that being said, expect it to be packed with tourists. During my research before our trip I remember reading that it could get crowded but I think that we took the advice for granted, for we went around 10-11am and it was busy in a very unpleasant way.
The hike itself is close to 1 mile, it includes lots of stairs and ascends 560 ft. The views are really nice, and I believe that you'll be able to better enjoy the 360-degree views of Oahu if you arrive earlier (it opens at 6am). Parking lot also fills up quickly and is cash only ($5).
Snorkel - Hanauma Bay
Hanauma Bay is the most famous of all snorkeling beaches because of it's high fish population, and close location to the city. You can rent snorkel gear down at the beach for $20, so I would recommend bringing your own equipment. By the way, Oahu is a snorkeling paradise so it's good to carry a mask at all times! From the parking lot, it’s a short steep walk to the beach.
Note: Hanauma Bay is closed every TUESDAY so that the fish and bay have 1 day of undisturbed rest.
Admission: $7.50 per person (Kids 12 & under are FREE)
Park Hours: Entrance is from 6 am to 6 pm daily
Where to Eat / Drink
One of best things about Hawaii is the amazingly fresh food. My favorite meal of the day is by far breakfast, so we took the time to taste some of the best flavors Oahu has to offer. Here are my faves for this side of the island:
Hawaiian Aroma Caffe: Acai Waffle
Arvo Cafe: Ricotta Toast
Honolulu Coffee Experience Center: Hawaiian Latte
Heavenly Island: Big Island Honey French Toast
Leonard’s Bakery: Malasadas (must-eat. These are deep-fried, sugar-coated donuts without holes brought to the island by Portuguese immigrants)
Eggs’n Things: Macadamia Nut Pancakes