O'ahu Travel Guide
The island of O'ahu is one of the most desired locations for travelers. I have been fortunate to explore and vacation all over the island. Below you will find a compiled and complete travel guide for you to use to plan your trip to O'ahu, Hawaii.
Check out my other Hawaiian Blogs for planning a visit to the neighboring islands for a multi-island getaway.
GETTING TO O’AHU
Daniel K. Inouye International Airport (HNL) is located in Honolulu and is the largest and busiest airport in Hawaii. This is the main airport for international travel so you will see tons of airlines going to Canada, Japan, and China. The airport is only a 20 minute drive to the famous Waikiki Beach.
Hawaiian Airlines (Check out my review) has a hub at this airport and is one of the best airlines to fly when traveling to the islands. You will find the best airplane and cabins on the routes to O'ahu compared to the other islands. These routes include the more comfortable wide body cabins like the Airbus A330 for Hawaiian Airlines or the Boeing 777s on United, Delta, and American Airlines. Southwest Airlines also has flights to all of the islands and has one of the strongest presences for inter island travel. Planning ahead can help you get a $39 flight for inter island travel on Southwest Airlines!
Pro Tip: If you aren’t planning to travel to Hawaii often, plan to visit two or more islands on your trip!
TRAVELING IN O’AHU
The majority of the hotels on the island are located in Honolulu. If you plan to only stay in the downtown Honolulu/Waikiki Beach then you can get away without renting a car as there are tons of cabs and Uber / Rideshare vehicles available.
However, the best part of the island is to explore ALL of the island. In that case, you should rent a car!
Pro Tip: Save money and rent a car for a day trip so you don't have to pay the expensive overnight parking rates
ABOUT THE ISLAND
O’ahu is the most developed and busiest island. Downtown Honolulu is filled with high rise apartment complexes which is something you will not see anywhere else in the State. There are tons of hotels all along the iconic Waikiki Beach. Escape the crowds of Honolulu with a day trip and explore the rest of the island which will be a much slower and quieter experience.
Many people use the crowds on this island as a negative but the big city makes for better shopping and dining opportunities. Waikiki Beach is essentially a city on the beach. The beaches are crowded but you will still enjoy the slice of paradise with one of the most beautiful beaches and backdrops in the world.
There is so much to do on the island I have divided the island up in to the 5 zones to help you plan day trips to each side of the island. You can certainly drive around the island in one day but it is best to make multiple day trips to enjoy and experience this beautiful destination.
Honolulu/Waikiki One of the most famous parts of O’ahu, and Hawaii, is the famous stretch of Waikiki Beach on the South West side of the island. This concentrated area is filled with world class hotels, shopping, and dining. The majority of the hotels on the island are in this area. Continue to drive South and you will find yourself out of the city and into the beautiful Hawaiian landscapes. PLACES TO SEE: Honolulu - This is a very crowded area but worth it for the attractions and walkability. The resorts here are crowded but you are coming here for the convenience. If you are looking for a quieter resort you will certainly want to go to an AirBNB or to one of the other sides of the island like the North Shore (i.e. Turtle Bay Resort) or the West Side of Ko’Olina (i.e. Four Seasons or Marriott Beach Club)
Waikiki Beach - Relax on the beach or pools of famous Waikiki Beach. The surf break here is a very long and slow break making it the perfect spot to learn how to surf. You will see surfers of all levels at this iconic spot.
Diamond Head Hike - this is one of the most popular hikes on the island. You can see Diamond Head in the backdrop from Honolulu and Waikiki Beach but the view from the top is even more amazing. The size of the crater is massive once you find yourself inside it. Plan to be here for Sunrise or Sunset for an even better experience. [1.5 hours]
Kalākaua Ave - Walk the huge area filled with shopping and dining. Head over to the Ala Moana Center for even more shopping. PLACES TO STAY:
Hilton Hawaiian Village - is one of the most iconic landmarks in O’ahu. This hotel sits at the end of the Waikiki Beach and has a huge stretch of beach and a salt water lagoon. This hotel is a mega resort with lots of rooms so it will certainly feel a little crowded but definitely is the most spacious of all of the resorts. Check out my full Hilton Hawaiian Village Blog Here. Luxury Hotels: Prince Waikiki - A beautiful and modern luxury hotel on the marina (no direct beach access but only a short walk away)
Sheraton Waikiki - a big hotel in the heart of all the action with an infinity pool overlooking the beach
Westin Moana Surfrider - A classy and large resort located in the heart of Waikiki
Affordable Hotels: Hilton Garden Inn - centrally located in Waikiki
Double Tree by Hilton - experience the Hilton Hawaiian Village for a fraction of the cost
Marriott Courtyard - centrally located in Waikiki
PLACES TO EAT: Katsumidori - hands down my favorite sushi spot in Waikiki. This is a very small restaurant so get here right when it opens and put your name on the list.
Doraku Sushu - a fun atmosphere with great Japanese inspired menu
SOUTH SIDE: Outside of Honolulu Head South about 20 minutes outside of Waikiki and you will get to Maunalua Bay. From here you will see the beautiful waters and begin to see the quieter areas of the island. You will find beautiful beaches and hikes in this more residential area. PLACES TO SEE
China Walls - Behind some beautiful neighborhood homes is the China Walls. This is a great spot for cliff jumping or body surfing/surfing but can be very dangerous!
Koko Crater - This is the 2nd famous stair hike on the island. This is a great spot if you’re looking for a quick workout hiking up the top for some literal breathtaking views. Start your morning with a hike workout and then go cool off at the beach. [1 -2 hours]
Hanauma Bay - This spot is home to one of the most beautiful bays on the island and is a great place to spend the day. This beach has dining and bathrooms and you can rent snorkel gear.
Pro Tip - head up to the top of the Hanauma Ridge to see the beautiful bay from above Halona Blowhole - A beautiful blow hole located right next to the road. Don't get too close!
Bonus - there is a little beach next to the parking lot called Cockroach Cove for some good swimming and views.
Sandy’s Beach - You will see a lot of body surfers and boogie boarders but be very aware of the power of these waves! This is a great spot for a beach day and you will see many locals here doing the same. PLACES TO STAY No hotels over here but you can find a luxurious Airbnb PLACES TO EAT Roy’s - a classic Hawaiian Restaurant (but it is also a chain found on the mainland)
Kona Brewing Co - a great brewery / casual dining spot
Sophie’s Gourmet Hawaiian Pizzeria - build your own pizza spot
EAST SIDE: This is my favorite part of the island. Wake up before sunrise and head to the Windward side. You will find some of the best water on this side of the island, with both calm and crystal clear waters. It is home to the great little town of Lanikai. PLACES TO SEE
Lanikai Beach - one of the best beaches on the island and the BEST place to watch sunrise on O’ahu. Check out my Lanikai blog post.
Lanikai Pillbox Hike - one of my favorite hikes on the island. A quick moderate hike will take you to the top of the ridge overlooking the cute beach neighborhood below and the perfect blue waters. Don’t forget to look behind you as well. This is the best spot to catch a sunrise on the island. Check out my Lanikai Pillbox Hike blog post.
Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden - Take a break from the beach and drive 15 minutes towards the big mountain ridges behind Lanikai to find the lush and beautiful gardens.
China Man’s Hat - A little island just a few hundred feet from the shore.
Makapu’u Light House Trail - a moderate and convenient hike as it is fully paved (but it is a steep incline!). Get here early as the parking lot fills up fast.
Makapu’u Tide Pools - Scale down the mountain from the top of the Light House Trail to get to the ocean below. A 20 minute hike down will take you to a bunch of deep freshwater tide pools (BE SURE TO CHECK THE TIDE - ONLY COME AT LOW TIDE). Water shoes are recommended as there are sea urchins.
Kuloa Ranch - ridges, oceans, and dinosaurs? Check out one of the places they filmed Jurassic Park! Home to one of the best views!
Kaneohe Sandbar - one of the most beautiful views of the water with sandbars out in the middle of the ocean. You need a boat to get out here but if you do then you will enjoy one of the best days on the water. Crouching Lion Hike - A super short hike but super beautiful. This hike is technically closed due to safety issues so exercise extreme caution!
Hauula Beach - A super picturesque beach just on the side of the road! Worth a quick stop to enjoy a quick dip in the waters. PLACES TO STAY No Hotels but you can find an Airbnb PLACES TO EAT Sunrise Shack in Lanikai - perfect spot for coffee, acai bowls, or smoothies Up Roll Cafe in Kailua - perfect spot for poke / sushi WEST SIDE: Get in the car and drive about 1 hour outside of Waikiki to get to the Westside of the island. This side of the island has some beautiful and spacious resorts but this area is much quieter with less attractions. PLACES TO SEE
Ko Olina and Disney Aulani Lagoons - If you were lucky enough to fly into the island on a window seat you might have been able to catch a view of these amazing lagoons. There are some beautiful resorts on this side of the island with these gorgeous break water beaches. A great place for paddle boarding or enjoying calm waters. Electric Beach - A short drive up the coast will bring you to the Hawaiian Electric Park. You will see the large Hawaiian Electric Kahe Power Plant across the street. Not the most scenic spot but when you dive into the water you will see why. There is a large pipe from the Power Plant delivering hot water into the ocean which attract an abundance of sea life.
Mermaid Caves - Walk along the rocks on the coast line and you will see some holes which bring you down in to the cabe. Enter the right hole and you will find yourself inside a deep cave. You may be surprised about how many people are already down in the cave. Do not do this during high tide!
Pillbox Hike in Maili / “The Pink Pillbox Hike” - A moderate hike which brings you to the top where you will find the two pillboxes painted pink.
Makua Cave - There are two hikes, the upper and lower. The lower is adjacent to the road. The Upper cave requires a hike up a steep hill. Note - do not attempt to do this hike after a rain! PLACES TO STAY Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa - the perfect family friendly destination for Disney enthusiasts Marriott Ko Olina Beach Club - located with a private lagoon, this is a great place if you’re looking to stay and enjoy the resort Four Seasons Resort at Ko Olina - the ultimate luxurious destination on the island. With the private lagoon and spacious property, this is the best place to splurge for a vacation on the island PLACES TO EAT My Cafe - a great quick and cheap breakfast
Mina’s Fish House - fine dining experience at the Four Seasons Resort NORTH SIDE - THE NORTH SHORE! North Shore is the quieter side of the island a Mecca for surfers. Plan a trip in late fall / early winter and the beaches will be flooded with surfers and visitors to watch the famous surf competitions.
Peace Hike Pillbox - a moderate hike which will bring you to the top of the ridge behind many of those famous North Shore Surf Breaks. Pipeline - One of the most well-known surf breaks and beaches known to people who are surfers and not. This is home to one of the major surf competitions and produces some beautiful waves to be admired by fans and spectators alike.
Sunset Beach - Another stop on the surf competition circuit and home to the Vans Triple crown is Sunset Beach. The waves here turn up very quickly in the winter time. Be sure to get here early to catch the competition.
Waimea Bay - a beautiful large beach on the north shore which will bring the body surfer / boogie boarders out in droves. There is also a great spot for cliff jumping where there surely will be a large crowd of adventure enthusiasts and scaredy cats admiring the jumpers.
Turtle Bay - A famous resort from Forgetting Sarah Marshall is home to one of the few resorts on the North Shore. The resort is obviously for guests only but there is a nice public beach here as well. Stop in for a nice dinner as well after a long day at the beach.
Dole Plantation - more exciting for kids Be sure to enjoy some ‘Dole Whip’
CENTER OF ISLAND You most likely will pass through here when driving from Waikiki to the East side but it is certainly worth a stop and adventure. You will find some amazing waterfalls in this area which you know will be good as this area is often cloudy or rainy with the climate and topography of the island.
Lulumahu Falls - the ultimate waterfall hike on the island. This easy hike brings you through bamboo jungles and climbing up some rocks to get to this amazing waterfall. Bring a raincoat as you will most likely get soaked on the way in or out of this adventure. [3 hours] Stairway to Heaven - The stairs are ILLEGAL. People still do it. There is a much longer way to get there that is legal. But technically, once you step foot on the stairs, you are trespassing. [4 hours to forever]
Wa’ahila Ridge Trail - An Easy 2 mile hike with stunning views [2 hours] QUICK TIPS 1. Go to the Hilton Hawaiian Village for the free fireworks show every Friday evening 2. Eat all the poke and sushi 3. Spend time at Pearl Harbor 4. Shaved Ice is a must
5. Bring and pack a snorkel so you enjoy all the beautiful beaches