OAHU TRAVEL GUIDE
Oahu is home to Hawaii’s capital and the most visited of the Hawaiian islands. For us, it was the third island we visited, after Maui and Kauai, and we’re beginning to learn that each island has it’s own unique vibe. Our trip to Oahu was a family trip with three adult couples (my husband and I, my parents, and my brother and his girlfriend). We spent just 4 days on this picturesque island before continuing on to Maui. It’s impossible to get to know a place in such a short time, but these were my impressions.
WHERE TO STAY
I’ve only been to Oahu once, and am by no means an expert. In fact, while booking accommodations (for 3 couples requiring private rooms) we were a bit overwhelmed. We were hoping for a rental home so we’d have space to spread out - a pool and beach access would be bonuses. We searched AirBnB, and instead of honing in on a specific location, let the home itself be the deciding factor. We preferred not to stay in the tourist hub of Waikiki, but at the same time we weren’t sure if the far reaches of the north shore would be convenient for our short trip. In the end, we settled on a gorgeous rental home with a private pool in Kaneohe. While we didn’t have beach access, the gorgeous panoramic views of the moutains and ocean made up for it.
We were very satisfied with the location - it was a quick drive into Honolulu for dinners (though there were options nearby too) and the two biggest things on our to-do list (exploring the north shore, and visiting the Pearl Harbor Sites) were easy drives.
WHERE TO EAT
La Mariana | Honolulu - An original tiki bar!! If you only go one place in Oahu, this is my top recommendation. The location is a bit odd, and you’re sure you can’t possibly be in the right spot, but then... there it is. Prepare for the time warp - this is a true tiki bar with lots of cool old decor. The drinks and food are icing on the cake.
Encore Saloon | Honolulu - Hip bar focusing on Tequila and Mezcal (my fav!!) and serving Mexican-inspired food. They have a great outdoor patio off the back - perfect for dinner. Tacos were yummy and the cocktails were unique. The Otra Salon was my fav cocktail - smoky mezcal is where it’s at!
Island Vintage | Various locations - Coffee brewers with a chain of locations around Oahu and Maui. A friend who frequents Oahu recommended this place for the Acai Bowls, and I concur that they were fantastic. Though I didn’t get a chance to eat lunch or dinner, the location near Waikiki had a food menu that looked fantastic.
Haleiwa Joe’s | Kaneohe & North Shore - We visited the Kaneohe location. Beautiful open air restaurant with a diverse seafood menu. Everyone in our group loved their meals.
Uncle Bobos | North Shore - A small hole-in-the-wall that boasts the best BBQ on the island. We stopped for a snack. My tacos were good, but the homemade carbonated juices were stellar! Perfect treat on a hot day.
Shrimp Shack | North Shore - One of the many shrimp trucks along the north shore. Our group had a huge lunch here and everything was delish. I loved my coconut shrimp, but if that’s not your thing, you could order shrimp prepared pretty much any way you could think of.
Matsumoto Shave Ice | North Shore - After a day exploring the north shore, your final stop should be Matsumoto’s. This place might be the most well known place on all of Oahu, and the lines for their famous shave ice will be out the door. It’s worth the wait though. Really yummy shave ice (though I still prefer Ululani’s on Maui!).
For next time: Dole Whip at the Dole Plantation, central Oahu | Leonard’s Bakery, Honolulu | Rainbow Drive Inn, Honolulu | food markets of Chinatown | Moku, Honolulu | Arvo, Honolulu | Cafe Turmeric, North Shore
Renting a car is the way to go! We've done jeeps, sedans, and convertibles, and while I prefer a jeep on Maui for the off-roading capabilities, I think a convertible is more comfortable for Oahu and the longer driving distances. Really, any vehicle will do - it’s a matter of personal preference.
WHAT TO DO
Explore the North Shore - The rugged north shore, dotted with pristine beaches and yummy food trucks, is a must-do activity for any trip to Oahu. Be sure to stop at Kualoa Park/Chinaman’s Hat; Goat Island a deserted island you wade/walk/swim to from the main shore; the Banzai Pipeline; the quaint town of Haleiwa, and more.
Dole Plantation - Learn how pineapple grows and explore the beautiful gardens. I heard this Dole Whip is fantastic though I didn’t have the space to try after a huge serving of shave ice just an hour or two before.
Pearl Harbor Sites - These sites can easily fill a full day. I'm not much of a history buff, and honestly, usually not a big fan of museums, but I enjoyed seeing all four sites with my husband and dad. Tickets for the USS Arizona Memorial are best booked in advance. You can buy a pass to the other three sites (USS Missouri Ship, The Aviation Museum, and the USS Bowfin submarine) the day of your visit.
Pali Lookout - Lovely spot right off the H3 with sweeping panoramic views of the valleys and sea below.
Hike Manoa Falls - An easy, and relatively flat jaunt to gorgeous falls. Enjoy the journey, because the jungle scenery along the way is spectacular.
Tantalus Road - This road is every driving enthusiast's dream. Gorgeous winding road high in the mountains above Honolulu. It makes a giant loop and there are lots of hiking and exploring opportunities.
Diamond Head - A must-do hike for those iconic views of Honolulu and Waikiki. You’ll be one of many, many tourists, so consider going super early if you want to avoid the heat, crowds, and waiting in line to park. It’s an uphill hike, but a small elevation change, so it’s totally manageable - my parents in their 60s had no issues.
Waikiki Beach - Admittedly, not my favorite place, but worth checking out to see what all the hype is about. It’d be a bit odd to create a list of things to do in Oahu and leave this off. The crescent shaped beach with the iconic view of Diamond Head is quite lovely even when overrun with tourists and tacky beach bars.
For next time:
Polynesian Cultural Center | Chinatown | Honolulu Night Market (third Saturday of every month) | Stairway to Heaven | Yokohama Bay | Magic Island | Iolani Palace | Koolau Golf Course (for a panoramic view of the Koolau Mountains) | Lanakai Pillbox Trail | Mermaid Cave | Maunawili Falls
Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail | Makapu'u Point Lookout | Hanauma Bay | Lanikai Beach | Kailua Beach | Shark’s Cove (just off the Pipeline) | Laniakea Beach (sea turtles!!) | Waimanalo Beach Future photo ops: Find aerial views of Waikiki, perhaps at The Outrigger? (Or maybe just buy a drone!)