O’ahu is a beautiful Hawaiian island in the Pacific and home to Hawaii’s capital city, Honolulu. Prior to booking my trip to Hawaii, I asked around for recommendations on which islands to visit. Kauai and Maui were crowd favorites from the people I polled, but make no mistake: O’ahu is not to be slept on! I had an absolute blast and made unforgettable memories. Here are five tips to make your visit to O’ahu one to remember!
ONE: Rent a Car
Renting a car will give you the flexibility to explore the entire island on your own time and at your own pace. There is so much to see and do, it will be much more cost efficient to have your own wheels while visiting. If possible, I highly recommend renting a convertible. I rented a small newer model Volkswagen Beetle convertible and it was the greatest decision I made there. The weather was beautiful so I was able to keep the top down 90% of the time and catch views and enjoy the wind in my hair as I drove along the coast each day. It makes each drive much more special and exciting.
TWO: Do not spend all your time in Honolulu and/or Waikiki
This is key! Honolulu is a cool city, but you’re likely not traveling to Hawaii for city vibes. And while I recommend being based in a hotel in Waikiki, it’s important to get out and visit other parts of the island during the day. Waikiki is extremely crowded and touristy, however, there are tons of restaurant and bar options to choose from at night. Each day I woke up early and drove to various sections of the island and explored ALL day. In the evenings, I came back to my hotel in Waikiki and went out for dinner and drinks within walking distance of the hotel. This was perfect. Although I was just steps away from Waikiki Beach, I didn’t spend any time in the water there due to how crowded it was every day. There are much more beautiful and secluded beaches all over the island that are 100% worth the drive. Get out there and explore!
Nānākuli – not crowded, located near The Mermaid Caves, gorgeous water
Lanikai – beautiful and clear water, calm waves, not crowded, good for swimming
Hale’iwa – good for surfing and other water sports, not crowded in the mornings, family friendly
THREE: Visit Pearl Harbor
Whether you’re from the United States or if you’re visiting from abroad, the December 7th, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor is a devastating part of not only American history but world history. The visit to The Pearl Harbor National Memorial is super informative and a MUST when visiting O’ahu. I recommend visiting first thing in the morning before it gets too crowded. The site is open from 7 am to 5 pm every day and it’s FREE! I would budget around 2.5 hours to complete the full experience. Please be respectful when visiting as this is a memorial site honoring over 2,000 people who lost their lives during the attack. Note: no bags including purses are allowed in the memorial site, however, baggage storage is available for $5.
FOUR: Go on at least one hike
While laying out on the beach feeling the breeze and sipping a cocktail all day every day may be very tempting, I urge you to go on at least one hike while in O’ahu. The landscape is amazing on the island and the best way to take it all in is from up high. I highly recommend both Diamond Head Crater Hike (easy) and Koko Crater Railway Trailhead (intermediate). Both hikes are a short distance from Waikiki which made it easy to slot in at the beginning of the day to burn a few extra calories while taking in panoramic views. There are other hikes and scenic trails in Oahu that I wasn’t able to get around to this time but will definitely add to the list for my next visit. Whatever you do, don’t leave O’ahu without trying at least one!
Click here for more information on Diamond Head Crater Hike.
Click here for more information on Koko Crater Railway Trailhead.
FIVE: Check out scenic areas along the highway
One of the most amazing unplanned things about spending time in O’ahu is taking in the views while you’re driving along the coast. There are many random lookout points and scenic stops along the coastal highways. One of my favorite drives was from Waikiki to Kailua Beach Park via the Kalaniana’ole Hwy. The entire drive was breathtaking and there are lots of mini-attractions you can safely pull over off the highway to enjoy. One lookout point I recommend is the Makapu’u lookout point and Lighthouse trail. Since I drove this route the day I hiked Koko Crater, I didn’t do the full lighthouse hike, but the lookout point was certainly a sight to see! Another amazing site to check out: The Mermaid Caves in Nānākuli. These are just two of many. Take your time on the highways and safely enjoy the views along the way between each destination. You won’t regret it!
Have you ever been to Hawaii? Is O’ahu on your list? I would love to hear about your experience and if you have additional recommendations or tips!