Oahu Hawaii Travel Guide
I was so lucky to visit Hawaii last week for my “Babymoon” with my husband, Cory. We have both been pretty lucky in our lives when it comes to traveling to Hawaii, and it was the fifth time for both of us. Between family trips, college Spring Breaks, and our honeymoon, we have been able to travel there a lot! People are always asking me for recommendations on what to do while there, so I thought I would create an Oahu Hawaii Travel Guide with my top picks of what to do on the island. I am a huge fan of the North Shore of Oahu, so a lot of my favorite activities are there.
Best Hikes on Oahu
I wasn’t able to hike a ton on this trip, being 7 1/2 months pregnant, but I have done a lot of hikes in the past. Here are my favorite hikes on Oahu.
Crouching Lion Hike
This hike is a relatively easy hike if you stop at the first view point. It’s only about 1/3 of a mile in, and 216 ft elevation gain. It gives you some stunning views of the surrounding mountains and the bay nearby. Parking can be kind of tricky here, so I’ll link the directions for how to get there.
Lanikai Pill Boxes (Kaiwa Ridge Trail)
Lanikai Pillbox Trail is a 1.8 mile moderately trafficked out and back trail located near Kailua, Oahu, Hawaii that features beautiful wild flowers and is rated as intermediate because of the steep uphill climb at the beginning of the hike. It is very picturesque, and rewards you with some great views at the end. There are multiple pillboxes you can get to, so you can choose how long you want to hike for. The first box will take you about 20-30 minutes to hike to.
Waimea Falls and Gardens
Waimea Falls is more of a leisurely stroll ( I was able to do this one just fine while pregnant on our trip) and is just under 1 mile in. It is all on a paved path that takes you through the Waimea gardens and is very beautiful! There is an entry fee to get into this park, however. I recommend doing the Toa Luau Dinner while there, which comes with free entry to the falls and gardens before hand. You are also allowed to swim in the pool beneath the falls, which is very refreshing after hiking in and a lot of fun! There are life vests given to you at the bank of the pool, since the water gets to be about 30 ft. deep.
This trail begins in a residential area. Please be mindful of residents, be quiet, and park legally. There are no bathrooms or other facilities at the trailhead. Please use the restroom before you come and pack out all trash.
The Maunawilli Falls Trail is a great hike in Kailua along the river that eventually stops at a beautiful waterfall with a great swimming hole below. Many people like to jump from the waterfall into the pool below, and some with a bit more courage even climb higher to the side of the waterfall to jump further (try at your own risk). The trail is often muddy, especially after rains, and you will cross the river several times along the trail, so be ready to get dirty! But if you are looking for a hike going through a jungle, this one is it!
Favorite Beaches in Oahu
Sunset beach is named for a reason- it’s amazing sunsets! I snapped this pic on one of the first nights we were there. Located on the North West side of Oahu, it gives stunning views at sunset. This is our favorite beach to just hang out at. We usually bring our hammocks here and string them up on the trees located at the edge of the beach, and literally “hang” there for the day, drinking juice and eating snacks. The Sunrise Shack is also just across the street, which is a popular place for acai and smoothie bowls! This beach does have a stronger tide, so it is best for older kids and adults. A lot of locals can be seen surfing here, along with body boarding. This beach definitely ranks as #1 on my Oahu Hawaii Travel Guide!
Waimea Bay is another one of my favorite beaches on the North Shore. It has a large rock that is popular to cliff jump off of, as well as plenty of space to lounge in the sand. It is also located right across from Waimea Falls and Gardens, so you can make a day of it and go visit the waterfall (from above) and then spend the afternoon here at the beach! This beach comes in at a close second to Sunset Beach on my Oahu Hawaii Travel Guide. But the nice thing is these beaches are just a few minutes apart from one another. Stop at both!
Nestled in the sleepy beach town of Kailua on Oahu’s Windward side, Lanikai Beach is one of Hawaii’s most picturesque and famous beaches. An offshore reef keeps the water calm year-round, offering excellent swimming conditions year round. This would be a great beach to bring small children to, since the tide is usually pretty calm, and the water stays pretty shallow. One downside is that this beach is usually very crowded- but that’s what you get with the south shore beaches!
Kualoa Beach Park
This Beach Park is located on the North East side of Oahu, and is famous for its view of Mokolii Island (Chinaman’s Hat), and known for its swimming, picnicking, barbeques and camping. One of our favorite activities to do here is rent a kayak and take it out to Chinaman’s hat, where you can explore the little island! Also another fun beach to hang hammocks up at and relax.
Favorite Food on Oahu
Matsumoto’s Shave Ice
Matsumoto’s Shave Ice is renowned on the island as the best shave ice. And I have to agree- you can’t get any better than this! It is located on the North West shore in the cute town of Haleiwa (which is worth a visit on it’s own!). The line can get pretty long at times, but its worth the wait! I always add the sweetened condensed milk on top (makes it soooo creamy) and my husband also adds the ice cream. My go to flavors are mango & pineapple! So good.
Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck
I actually don’t like seafood, but my husband does. If you do like seafood, this is THE PLACE to get garlic shrimp! There are a couple food trucks around the island, but we went to the one in Haleiwa. Because it is “the best”, expect to wait in a line here as well!
This is a local (and visitor) favorite! Hukilau Cafe is one of those little hole-in-the-wall places that has the best food. They are located in Laie on the North Shore. Their banana pancakes are my favorite!! The pancakes are also huge, so you definitely leave feeling full. A random fact about Hukilau Cafe, the restaurant in the movie 50 First Dates is based off this cafe. When you visit, you can see the signed photos of all the famous people that have visited the cafe along the walls. Side note- the cafe only accepts cash, so make sure to have some with you when you go!
Seven Brothers Burgers
Yes, that is the most delicious burger in the world (not even just Oahu). Seven Brothers has mastered the burger, and is a gift to your taste buds. You HAVE to stop by here if you visit Oahu. They have two different locations on the North Shore- one in Laie, and one more north (Seven Brothers at The Mill). I always *always* get ths Paniolo Burger (burger in the photo). It is layered with giant homemade onion rings, grilled pineapple, bacon & american cheese all covered in house and bbq sauce. You will die and go to Hawaiian burger heaven when you taste it! They also have delicious fries & fry sauce, and I love their acai bowl and banana bread!
Favorite Activities & Sites on Oahu
Paddle Boarding with Turtles
This is my all time favorite activity in Oahu and NOBODY KNOWS ABOUT IT. People don’t know what they are missing out on!! It definitely ranks as my #1 activity for this Oahu Hawaii Travel Guide. In the quaint town of Haleiwa, you can rent stand up paddle boards and go up the river, which is full of sea turtles! They will be swimming right underneath you as you go. It is seriously so cool. You can also take the paddle boards out into the bay, where you can find turtles as well.
My favorite time to go is right before sunset, so you can finish your rental time by watching the sun go down from your paddle board. It is truly a magical experience and will be the highlight of your trip! If paddle boarding isn’t your thing, you can also rent kayaks and take them up the river as well. I was able to do this 7 1/2 months pregnant though, and I am definitely not a coordinated person, so don’t let the paddle boards scare you! I always rent from Tropical Rush Surf Co, which is located on the North East side of the iconic “Rainbow Bridge” in town.
Dole Pineapple Plantation
This is definitely a more “touristy” type of activity, but if you have never been before, I do think it is a must see (and a must-taste!). I love their dole whips, and will go just to get one. They also have a guided train ride that will take you through the pineapple plantations, and a large maze you can do. I mostly just go for the ice cream, though. Haha.
Hoomaluhia Botanical Garden
The Hoomaluhia Botanical Garden is breathtaking. If you want to see stunning views that leave you awestruck (and feeling like you are in a Jurassic Park movie), then this is a must see for you. Best part- entrance is totally free! You can even camp over night here if that’s your thing. You can take a leisurely drive through the gardens, or pull off into one of the parks and have a picnic and enjoy the scenery. Any way you do it, this stop is definitely worth it (and full of Instagram-able photo ops haha).
Valley of the Temples
The Valley of the Temples is tucked up in the hills on the eastern side of the island behind a beautiful cemetery. The main temple you can walk around is a remake of the famous Byodo-In Buddhist temple in Japan. The grounds are stunning and so serene. You can feed the koi fish in the ponds, as well as walk through the temple and light incense. The temple does close at 5 pm, so plan accordingly.
Kayaking to Chinaman’s Hat
I already mentioned the Kualoa Beach Park above, but a fun activity to do there is rent a kayak and take it out to the small island charmingly nicknamed “Chinaman’s Hat”. Once on the island you can explore the shorelines, or even climb right to the top and take in the stunning views around you! You can rent kayaks to be dropped off at the beach for you here.
Swap Meet at Aloha Stadium
The swap meet at the Aloha Stadium in Honolulu is a must if you want to bring home any souvenirs. I think it is fun to walk around even if you don’t want to purchase anything. You will find an assortment of local clothes, crafts, and food, all for a great deal. You can even barter for lower prices with some of the vendors. The swap meet is every Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday from 8:00 am- 3:00 pm.
Pearl Harbor National Memorial
Pearl Harbor is must see if you’ve never been before. At the Pearl Harbor National Memorial, you will learn about one of the most pivotal moments in US history: the attack on Pearl Harbor, and the subsequent entry of the United States into World War II. The monument preserves and interprets the stories of the Pacific War, from the internment of Japanese Americans to the battles in the Aleutians. There is so much history here, and a very sacred feeling surrounding the monument. You will find this recommendation on almost every Oahu Hawaii Travel Guide out there.
Traditional Luau Dinner
A Luau is a must-do activity while in Hawaii. For one, they are a blast, but they bring so much of the island’s culture for you to learn about and enjoy. Traditional food, dance, fire throwing, etc. is all shared at these Luau’s. You can find many Luaus on the island, each varying from more theatrical to more traditional.
If you want an entertaining, theatrical luau, I recommend going to the Polynesian Cultural Center and seeing their “Breath of Life” show along with the Luau dinner. If you want a more authentic Luau experience where you can learn about Polynesian customs, I recommend the Toa Luau. Another perk of the Toa Luau is it comes with admission into the Waimea valley, where you can hike to the Waimea waterfall and see the gardens I mentioned earlier. We went to this Luau on our most recent trip, and enjoyed that it was a smaller group setting and a lot more personal than other luaus I’ve been to.
Snorkeling at Hunauma Bay
I love snorkeling, but I am also deathly afraid of the ocean and riptides haha. I love snorkeling at Hunauma Bay because it is an enclosed half-moon bay, with very gentle tides and currents. I am never afraid of being caught up in a riptide; plus, there are life guards if needed. Hunauma Bay also has amazing fish and often sea turtles to see. You just can’t beat this wildlife preserve. Because it is so awesome, they do get pretty busy. In order to get a parking spot in their lot, you’ll have to arrive early in the day. If you can’t make that work, I recommend parking at the shopping center/strip mall at the base of the hill. There are a couple places inside that shopping center that rent out snorkel gear and give you a complimentary shuttle up to the preserve. (You have to rent gear at Hunauma Bay as well, so it ends up being the same cost.) Another thing to note, Hunauma Bay is closed on Tuesdays. They do this to help the water clear and be clean for the fish. That being said, Wednesday is the best day to go snorkeling there, since the water will be the most fresh from the previous day. Make sure to bring sunscreen with you- it is very easy to get your backside burned while snorkeling!
Where to Stay in Oahu
I personally do not like staying in Honolulu or the Waikiki area. I think it is overcrowded, and you don’t get to see the prettier sides of the island. I highly suggest staying on the North Shore somewhere. If you still want to stay in a Hotel/Condo, then Turtle Bay is your best bet.
When I visit Oahu, I prefer to rent an Airbnb or Vrbo out. You can find Airbnb’s all over and for all sizes of groups. In college, we rented out a whole house and had 15 of us staying there. On this last trip, my husband and I rented a studio style apartment, and it was perfect for the two of us. If you do decide to rent a place to stay, I recommend finding one near the town of Haleiwa. Haleiwa is a very cute beach town, with lots of dining and shopping along it’s main street. Quite a few of my recommendations in this post are either in Haleiwa, or very close to it. Another town that would be good to rent in on the North Shore is Laie. This is on the north eastern side of the island, so if you want to spend a lot of time in that area, this would be a good place!
Oahu Hawaii Travel Guide
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