The most populated island in the state of Hawaii and home to the capital, Honolulu. Oahu is the site that most people fly into when coming from the continental US. The famous Waikiki beach with it’s iconic surfing, high rise hotels and Diamond head in the horizon. Even though Oahu can be a bit touristy vs the other islands, there are still many things to love about this island. Whether you’re here to see Pearl Harbor and pay your respects, surf waves on the North Shore or just relax on a beautiful sandy beach, give Oahu a try for your Hawaiian vacation pleasure.
Top 5 Things To Do
- Kualoa Ranch – We had a lot of fun driving UTV’s around this wonderful ranch. There are so many things that you can do in this area, from Kayaking out to Mokoli’i Island, horeback riding or even e-bikes. This area has so many famous locations for filming tv shows and movies. Jurassic Park, 50 first dates, Jumanji and many tv shows. It’s a must visit while you are on the island. Make sure that you look months in advance at securing tickets as they are often sold out for many of their tours. If you’re lucky enough to go during COVID, it’s a bit easier to secure a spot!
- Pearl Harbor National Memorial – A wonderful tribute to the people that were lost during this challenging time in America. The USS Arizona memorial with oil still spilling out into the harbor serves as a chilling reminder of this day that lives in infamy. Spend half of your day learning about the history of this site and the people that fought for this great nation. Tours are very cheap, but also get extremely busy so just like the ranch, get tickets very early.
- Diamond Head Trail – We weren’t able to do this trail while we were here, but it’s an iconic trail that is probably the most famous hike on the island. It’s fairly easy and paved a lot of the way so it’s not too difficult for anyone to do. Just make sure to bring plenty of water, a snack and sunscreen as the trail is also mostly directly under the sun. The view is said to be amazing from the top with a perfect iconic view of the famous Waikiki beach in Honolulu.
- Lanikai Beach – We actually thought this was our favorite beach on the island. I know Waikiki beach is the most famous, but also very packed with people constantly and I feel like the water isn’t as pretty. Lanikai feels like you are on a deserted island with the perfect sand, water and islands on the horizon. Parking can be a little challenging, more than likely you will have to park on the street in the suburb next to the beach. Pack a picnic because it’s a perfect beach to sit all day and just let life go.
- Sunset Beach – The opposite side of the island on the North Shore, Sunset beach brings something different to you. A great location that is around several beaches for everyone, this beach also is one of the best places to watch top surfers take on waves. Leave those small waves to the tourists in Waikiki beach, if you aren’t experience, I wouldn’t recommend going out into this surf! I went swimming along the shoreline and the current is quite strong and could take someone further out into the ocean if they aren’t a strong swimmer. Plenty of parking right outside the beach on the road and a beautiful backdrop while you get a day of watching surfers do their thing.
- Nico’s Pier 38
- Hyatt Regency
- Waikiki Beach
- Duke’s Waikiki
An interesting experience heading through the airport. Read my articles on flying during COVID and the process of flying to the Hawaiian islands with their new policies. Both will give plenty of important information on the whole process. I will say, as we made our way through the airport at Honolulu, it felt very safe. As you entered, you made your way up to someone that you showed your QR code to. Talked about who you are and why you were coming and then you were off to get your rental car. The whole process was very smooth and I like the precautions that they are taking to make it safe again.
Nico’s Pier 38: Our first stop on the island after getting our rental car was to get poke. Which, I honestly feel should be required for anyone entering the islands. Poke joints are popping up everywhere in the United States, but they aren’t the same. The fish is nowhere near as fresh and it can be a disappointing experience once you’ve had it here. Nico’s was no different. Sitting right next to the docks, you know it’s going to be fresh! There were two areas of the restaurant. One was the market to get fresh poke, the other was more cooked food and drinks. You can sit down on the restaurant side if you get poke. We got several choices of poke and made our way to our seats. We were going to get drinks, but they were a little slow with the service, so we just sat down and ate our poke. The poke was good and very fresh. We’ve had better poke, but still a good introduction that is pretty close to the airport if you are in need.
We also learned another process while coming here. Every restaurant you go to, you have to put your name, telephone number and address down when you get there. This is to help with tracing any outbreak events that might occur. I actually love the idea and we found every place we went to, you were required to do this before eating. Good job to the Hawaiian government for thinking of this!
Hyatt Regency: The next stop was checking into our hotel at Waikiki beach. Honolulu is a very large city! At over 350,000 people, it’s easily the largest city on any of the islands. It feels like a regular big city as you drive through it. It was a bit overwhelming at first, mainly because we are used to smaller towns in Hawaii. Once we got onto the strip for Waikiki beach, it was a bit easier to identify the way. The Hyatt is nestled right across from the famous Duke statue on the beach. It has several shops inside and has everything that you would need for your stay. There were plenty shops not open while we were here because of the restrictions of COVID, but we still had fun.
The rooms are confusing because of the shape of the hotel. There is a Waikiki side (which means towards the streets), a ocean view (which means a partial ocean view) and the beach view (which means the entire beach). It was very confusing for us on the phone and the people on the phone were also from Omaha. When we got in, we decided to upgrade the room at least to a partial ocean view and it was a pretty view of the beach. Just hope that helps a bit with the confusion!
We enjoyed the stay overall and it was a nice home base for the trip. The next time, we would probably stay on the less crowded part of the island though. There were several options in smaller towns, where you get more of that Hawaiian feel during your stay. We heard from many people that we talked to during the stay. The consensus for most would be to not stay in Honolulu. The Waikiki beach area reminds me of almost like the Las Vegas strip. Many high end stores and restaurants with mediocre food for the high price. If you enjoy this sort of thing, then by all means, enjoy the Waikiki area. If you prefer your Hawaii trip to be a bit more relaxing and less people, stay outside the city of Honolulu.
*Waikiki beach: This beach is pretty, don’t get me wrong. It’s also packed with people! Being known as one of the most iconic beaches in the world, it’s easily understood why people flock to it. There are plenty of small areas that are perfect for kids to play in the ocean without worry. Some great surfing for beginners that want to try their luck riding waves while they are here. Or just simply sit on the beach and do some amazing people watching. There is plenty to offer on this beach. Just don’t go off of the mindset that you will be alone while doing it. There is very little seclusion from anyone on this beach for the most part.
Duke’s Waikiki: The food choice for the evening was Duke’s. We went to Duke’s on Kauai and had a good time, so we figured we would try our luck again. The place was packed with tourists. It’s nice that it’s right on the beach and they have live music. The food was pretty mediocre. I had a beet salad, while my fiancé and I also shared an enormous amount of nachos. It was a little disappointing in comparison to our service and food in Kauai. Our server said that this was abnormally slow for them at the moment, we didn’t fully feel that way! At least not from our versions of Hawaii in the past. After dinner and a few drinks, we made our way back to the hotel for the evening. The time change really started to effect us. It was 8pm here, but 11pm our time.
I would recommend on your first day to plan very little to do. Depending on where you are coming from, time change is no joke and can really mess with you. It’s often better to let your body adapt a bit to the new time zone or you will be feeling it for most of the vacation. Remember if you are coming from the west coast, Hawaii is 3 hours back, east coast it’s 6 hours! That’s a quarter of a day difference! You’ll feel much better the next morning with some good sleep within the right time zone!
- Waialua Estate Coffee and Chocolate
- Waialua Farmers Market
- Sunset Beach
- Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck
- Matsumoto Shave Ice
- Kualoa Ranch
- Honolulu Beerworks
- Marukame Udon
Our first full day on the island had us traveling to the North Shore. After an initial half day in Honolulu that was a bit overwhelming, we were ready to get a little bit more of a relaxed vibe. We were happy to say that, the North Shore was exactly what we needed for the day.
Waialua Estate Coffee and Chocolate: Our first stop of the day as we made our way across the island, was the coffee estate. I’m always anxious to taste new coffee whenever possible. Especially if it’s grown right at the plantation. Our initial thoughts were a little reserved as we walked into a large warehouse type room that opened into a gift shop area. Across the room there were trinkets mixed in with coffee. As we made our way over to ask about a tour, we were greeted by a younger gentleman that was happy to talk coffee with us. He brought us around the area and went through the process, going through what the difference between the normal drying vs washed process. He was a wealth of knowledge about the location and the coffee. They are also one of the few locations that produces cacao next to their coffee. The coffee itself wasn’t anything that instantly appealed to me, but it had some character. They at least had light roast coffee to take home so I’m interested to try that. Overall we really did enjoy the experience and it’s worth the visit.
Waialua Farmers market: As we walked back to our parked car, we found another great location right in front of us! It was Saturday and a great day for the farmers market. There were vendors from everywhere around the area, bringing fresh food to sell. They had huli huli chicken, a vendor with poke or plenty of people bringing amazing fruits and veggies. We opted to get some freshly baked banana bread and pickled okra, they were both fantastic. We ate them quickly on our way to the beach!
*Sunset beach: There were several beaches that we passed through to make it sunset beach. Waimea Bay had a great area for families to picnic and with a bit calmer water, would have had some great cliff diving opportunities. We chose sunset beach, because it was a large beach that had some amazing sand, perfect view of some great surfers and a bit easier parking. Parking can be found on the sides of the roads at most beach locations. We had a great time, but I will say to be careful for novice swimmers. The water current can be a bit strong in the winter months and there is no lifeguard at the beach.
Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck: We next made our way over to the small town of Haleiwa. A quaint town in the north shore that was exactly like what we were used to for Hawaiian living. Not overly crowded, nice people and little surf shops. If we would have researched a bit more, we would have tried to find a location here or around the ranch area. Either way, we made our way over to the food trucks. Giovanni’s is known across the world to travelers and is often recommended as a top place to eat. Their famous garlic shrimp paired with a couple of mounds of rice. It’s simple, but oh so good. It won’t take you long to gulp down this delicious treat.
We heard from locals after we ate here, that they get their shrimp from Costco. There are only two places that actually use locally sourced shrimp, Fumu and the Kualoa Ranch. We would have to try Fumus to see if there is a difference in the taste, because we actually really enjoyed the shrimp from Giovanni’s. It made sense why there wasn’t a line for how popular it was though! I’m going to assume that there are plenty of locals that aren’t supporting Giovanni’s, either way you can decide.
Matsumoto shave ice: Of course, our Hawaiian trips would not be capped off without shave ice. A true dessert that you simply can’t get enough of. Matsumoto is in a little shopping area of the town. The shave ice was delicious and brought up back to our favorite locations we have previously been on the islands. The night before we tried a location in Honolulu in the Waikiki area and we were very disappointed in it. This was an entirely different story and was much better. We always get a regular size instead of a large if you are eating by yourself. The large will put you in a sugar coma!
Kualoa Ranch: Famous for having a ridiculous amount of movies filmed in this beautiful location. Including movies like: Jurassic Park, 50 first dates, Mighty Joe Young, Jumaji and more. This ranch is a stunning back drop that can be a film makers dream! They originally purchased the land for close to $5,000 in the 1800’s. The vast area has cattle grazing, farmed oysters and shrimp, along with many tropical fruit plants.
We decided we would do the UTV tour across the country side. After being fitted for our helmets and the safety procedures, we treaded through the mountains in our UTV’s. There were absolutely stunning views everywhere we turned. The only downside was that we didn’t stop at several places that had amazing panoramic views. Most stops on the tour had to do with movie locations and how they were digitally revised. The only thing we would recommend for the company, add a couple of these beautiful stops to take photos.
Either way, our guide was fantastic and extremely kind. Often joking about where we would be eating that night and giving plenty of recommendations to the people in our tour. It was a very neat experience and worth the trip if you can get in. We were lucky it was during the pandemic, as he said they get close to 4,500 people a day for their tours normally. So if you are looking into this area, book early!
Honolulu Beerworks: We took a side detour off of the busy Waikiki area and came upon a local brewery. We took an Uber and made our way over to Beerworks. It’s nestled in an art district and you see that all around you. As you enter into the area, there are wall murals beautifully constructed on all sides of you. They have flights and food available and all are pretty good. We had the Bavarian pretzel with beer cheese, which was delicious. The beer was pretty good and they had several styles on tap to choose from.
Marukame Udon: That night we stopped in and ate at a pretty popular udon noodle place in Honolulu. It’s a very efficient noodle house. You look up at the menu as you enter into an assembly line of people. They construct your noodles and broth fairly quick and then you choose if you want any sides to go with it and pay. The noodles were decent, I wouldn’t have it as a top place to visit like several other posts have. Regardless, they are worth a shot for people if you’re in the area.
- Kai Coffee
- Diamond Head Trail*
- Tantalus Lookout
- Waikiki Brewery
- Pearl Harbor National Memorial
- Fresh Catch
- Side Street Inn
Kai coffee: We started our next morning with stopping in to Kai coffee next to our hotel. They had a nice selection of coffee that is roasted by them. I had a pour over coffee and my fiancé a Frappuccino. My pour over was a little darker roast than I would have normally ordered, so it wasn’t that great to me. My fiancé enjoyed her sugary morning coffee. We also had two breakfast sandwiches and they did a great job with these.
Diamond Head Trail: Sadly this was the day that we were to hike Diamond head, due to COVID, they have closed the state parks. Several amazing hikes that are on the island are closed. Hopefully soon everything will open up for people, because it really leaves you to touristy areas for most of your stay. I’ve heard it’s an easy hike up to the top with a wonderful view of Honolulu. If you are here, give it a try if it’s open. Make sure to bring water and plenty of sunscreen. The path up to the top is mostly under the sun and very little shade. Enjoy the view at the top, which is supposed to be an amazing view of Waikiki beach.
Tantalus lookout: Since we were unable to get the experience of Diamond Head, we still wanted to get a nice look at the skyline of the city. Another great place for this is Tantalus lookout. The road takes you up to the high point of the area, where you can park and take it all in with a wonderful view of the city. The park is only open during sunlight hours for the most point, so you might just miss a wonderful sunset. Try to get here a little early for less of a crowd and better lighting to take pictures.
Waikiki brewing company: It was Sunday and being a Dolphins fan and our new quarterback (who was from Hawaii) was making his first start, we had to watch the first game! We made our way to Waikiki brewing company for a perfect place to sit and watch the games. It was a great atmosphere with a lot of tvs all around. Mostly locals that look like they come there every week. They had a nice selection of beer. Even a jalapeño beer that I was hesitant of at first, but after trying, it was actually one my favorite beers that they made.
Pearl Harbor National Memorial: Normally pre-COVID, this somber historical area would be jam packed with people. At this time, it was very easy for us to get reservations and a trip to the USS Arizona memorial. They did have restrictions during the stay, including not being able to show the video they previously did before a tour. Regardless, we picked up our audio guides before heading over and learned a lot about that sad day in Pearl Harbor.
The audio for the guides was actually narrated by Jamie Lee Curtis, which was interesting. She took you through the boat ride out to the memorial and explained a lot of what you were seeing as you made your way through. It’s sad to see the huge plaque of people that lost their lives during this tragedy. To watch the oil pop up still from the sunken ship, really serves as a remembrance of the time. As you make your way back from the boat, you have a walk of remembrance that you can also do that explains a bit more about that day. Going through where the battleships were and interesting facts. It was interesting to know that battleships aren’t really used anymore, they now focus more on aircraft carriers. As we left, we felt sad, but also glad that they did a great job with the exhibits and how they remembered those that had fallen.
Fresh catch: We were a bit hungry so we had to stop for some food along the way. It was time to eat some Poke! On our tour through the ranch, our guide gave local recommendations and this was one of them. I’m so glad he did! If you love poke, this is a great place to go. When you enter, its set up mostly like a fish market with many choices of poke to try. We got the garlic, Hawaiian style, habanero and shoyu. All were delicious and extremely fresh. It’s a must eat on the island if you love poke!
Side street inn: Our dinner for the evening had us get off the beaten path of tourism. We decided to try a local place. Popular on Yelp and you could see it when we went in. They did a wonderful job of dealing with the restrictions of COVID, but they were still plenty busy with local people. As we walked through the restaurant, we saw just mounds of food on plates as this was a family style restaurant. Our service was excellent the whole time with all really friendly people. We got the garlic chicken and their famous fried rice. I’m unsure of if they thought we had two more people coming, because there was an enormous amount of food! Both were fantastic and we really enjoyed our meal. We could easily see why this was a local favorite!
- Manoa Falls*
- Byodo-In Temple
- Lanikai Beach
- Lanikai Brewery
- Katsumidori sushi
Manoa Falls: Once again, sad to see we woke up to take on a hike, to find out that the trail had been closed. I was excited for this hike as I always love waterfall hikes. It has wonderful recommendations so if you get a chance and it’s not closed, go. Always check ahead on if a trail is open before heading out. There are often times in Hawaii, where trails can be closed because of flash floods or tough trail conditions. Don’t let it get you down, make the best of the day and always have a back up plan.
Byodo-In Temple: Our first actual stop for the day had us traveling out to the Japanese temple on the island. It’s nestled behind a cemetery and usually opens at 8:30am. Which was great, because we were the first people to enter the area. The temple is stunning to look at in person and the surrounding grounds are tranquil. Take the time to feed the koi fish or visit the giant Buddha inside. Or maybe even chime the large bell outside the temple. Use the time to relax and enjoy being around nature. It can take you as little as 30 minutes to go through the area, or you could take an entire day to relax and enjoy. It’s all up to you on your visit.
As we made our way out of the area, we actually turned the wrong way and made our way to a large cemetery plot. It had an unreal view of the mountains and river opening up into the ocean. We spoke with the woman that ran the place and she let us know it was fine to take photos, but be respectful as it was a final resting place for people. She also went through the pricing of being buried in the area and we would fully say there was no way we were affording that!
Lanikai beach: We made our 20 minute drive next over to our favorite beach we visited on the island. There wasn’t any parking around the area so we ended up parking in a local subdivision. As we parked and walked to the beach, we realized that’s what everyone seemed to do when they came to this beach. When it opened up to the beach, we were pleasantly surprised. Lanikai beach is stunning in every way. I would think of it as one of those beaches that you would choose if you ever got stranded on an island somewhere. The sand was perfect and the water had very little waves and was a perfect turquoise. The backdrop also looked like it was out of a movie with two small islands only a mile from the beach. People made their way from the beach out to the islands for the day on kayaks or paddle boards. We played in the water for a while and saw some fish over by the coral area. Then we just relaxed later on and had some chips and a couple of beers that we purchased from the local brewery.
Lanikai Brewery: The brewery is located in the small town area outside the beaches. It’s a little off the beaten path, but still very easy to locate. They don’t do their own food, but they partner with a food truck next to it that makes some pretty delicious thin crust pizza. We also really enjoyed their beers and would probably say that we had our favorite beer here. Sours are challenging to find on the island, but they had plenty of options. Which is perfect beer to take to their amazing beach! Between their sours, some interesting wild ales and pretty solid IPA’s, it’s a great place to visit and grab a beer.
Katsumidori sushi: After a long day at the beach, we finished off with some well known sushi in the area. I will say that it was probably one of the most efficient restaurants that I’ve ever been to. They are quick to take your temperature and then sit you down in their small seating area. When there, you order everything through the tablet at your table. It’s very convenient and the food comes out quickly after ordering it. The sushi and sashimi was also very good. They had pretty simplistic roles for the most part, but they were done right. Also their sashimi platter had some wonderful types of nigiri and raw fish for you to indulge in. Overall the visit was great and I would recommend making reservations as this place as it seems to get very busy. There was a wait to get in with reservations on a Monday evening during the pandemic, so I’m sure it would be crazy later on.
We finished up our last day on the island and had to say goodbye to our final island to visit in Hawaii. Oahu was fun, but even with the pandemic causing much less people, we would still say it was packed. For that matter, we probably still put Oahu as our lowest ranked island on the list of places to visit in Hawaii. The amount of people make this place just a bit too touristy for us. We had to go to various parts of the island that were not Honolulu to get more of that island feel. Either way, even though the pandemic stopped us from doing the hikes that we wanted to do, we still enjoyed getting out and actually getting a much needed vacation in. Oahu is a nice island, just prepare for it to be a bit pricier than most of the islands and having a different feel to it, based on it being highly populated. Aloha!
*Top people watching spot