Oahu is known is the ‘Gathering Place’ and we couldn’t describe it more perfectly. It is a bustling island in Hawaii, with the major city of Honolulu as its focal point. Honolulu is a trendy metropolis with major tourist streets lined with over-the-top shopping, hidden restaurants and glorified street performers. But there’s more than just Honolulu on this island.
You will find glorious beaches, wild surf waves, calm waters, lush rainforests and endless hiking on Oahu. Here lies Waikiki, one of the world’s most famous beaches and for good reason. The sand is white and soft, the waters turquoise and calm, the travellers quirky and fun. Oahu is also home to the historical Pearl Harbour that attracts tourists of all kinds. Don’t forget the epic North Shore, where surfers gather to ride the waves all year long. It’s a fun island with something for everyone. And while it gets a bad rep because of its heightened tourism mostly in Honolulu, it is worth spending time here because after all, it’s Hawaii and well, Hawaii is amazing.
Try SUP at Waikiki Beach
We’d say try longboard surfing at Waikiki, but with the amount of tourists in the water, not to mention the hardcore surfing locals, I’d refrain from doing any fast action sports on this beach. Stand up paddle boarding is an easy transition into the local’s way of life. Almost anyone can get out there and balance on the board. And if you’re having trouble standing up, we’ve seen a lot of old guys and young girls roughin’ it on their knees. No biggie. It’s also neat to see Waikiki from a whole other perspective, looking onto it from the water. As you calmly paddle out at your own pace, it starts to get a little quieter, a little more calm. It’s an incredible contrast from the hustle and bustle of Waikiki and it’s always a great time. If you’re nervous, tandem board with your honey. Tim and I love to do this. When one gets tired, the other gets a turn. Makes sense, right?!
Discover the Pali lookout.
This offers stunning panoramic views of the Koolau cliffs and lush Windward coast. From up top the stone landing, you will see the towns of Kaneohe and Kailua and feel the wind howling against you. Trust us, this view is not to be missed. It will be windy as ever, it always is, but it’s worth it to be high up in the rainforest admiring the sights below. This point has historical significance as well; King Kamehameha won a famous battle here, which you can read about on the signs. From there, you can head down to Kailua for a relaxing swim in the beach’s calm waters or enjoy a delicious burger at a popular joint called Buzz’s Original Steakhouse. You can also cruise onwards to the North Shore from the Pali lookout.
Eat at Haleiwa Joe’s for a sunset dinner on the North Shore
Promise us you’ll spend a late afternoon browsing the shops in Haleiwa, a cute little town on the North Shore with local restaurants and shops abound. It’s more like real Hawaii than you’ll ever see in Waikiki. Then when you’re getting hungry, head to Haleiwa Joe’s, which is a lovely restaurant specializing in fresh seafood. The location is perfect as it’s right off the water, and from the patio you can watch the sun dip into the ocean for the night. There’s tiki torches abound, plus it’s quieter than a night out at Waikiki, making it a perfect place for a romantic dinner. It’s a popular place and somewhat pricey, so keep that in mind when making your plans.
Jump off the rock at Waimea Bay
You haven’t really been to Oahu if you haven’t done this. There’s even locals at the beach selling t-shirts that read, “I jumped off the rock and survived!” While it’s not actually recommended, this adventurous stunt is on many travellers’ bucket lists, so be prepared to climb the famous rock with a crowd in tow. The fact that I did it means it’s not really that high and if you time it right, you jump into the wave which lessens the jump considerably. It’s awesome though! Waimea is such a beautiful beach regardless, so don’t miss it when you’re out exploring the island.
Snorkel at Hanauma Bay.
Another must-do on the island of Oahu, it’s worth it to spend a day here. Make sure you stop above to get a snapshot of the gorgeous turquoise bay. Then after watching an informational video on how the bay was formed and how NOT to step on the reef, you get to enjoy all that the bay has to offer. Because you are surrounded by walls down in the bay, the weather will seem hotter than ever, making the snorkelling all the more enticing. Unfortunately, there are so many tourists that don’t bother to listen about protecting the reef, so you will notice a lot of it has turned fifty shades of brown. Anytime you step on the reef, you kill it, so remember that. If you swim a little further out, you will be guaranteed to see some great colours and fish though. Despite the influx of tourists and the maltreatment of the reef, it’s still a worthwhile visit. And if you’re still longing for more snorkelling after a day at Hanauma Bay, try Shark’s Cove along the North Shore. Don’t let the name fool you though, there’s no sharks present. But if you’re careful and perseverant enough to find a way through all of the shallow, rocky spots, you might see a few sea turtles in the open water!
Hike up Diamond Head and take the famous selfie looking over Waikiki beach.
Buses head over to the monument all day, or you can take your rental car. For a nominal fee, you’re in the gates with bathroom facilities and beverage stands available at the start. It’s about 45 minutes up some very rocky steps, not to mention the steep staircase at the end. With that being said, our parents in their 60’s are able to do this no problem. They have also made some smooth pathways closer to the top in case the steep stairs are too much to handle. The views of Waikiki are phenomenal, just be prepared to take your turn to get that coveted snapshot.
And of course, if Diamond Head is too easy, try Kokohead crater.
It’s located right by Hanauma Bay, on the other side of the highway and it’s just as easy to get to. You start by walking past an outdoor shooting range, then continue on until you get to an old railway going straight up the crater’s side. It’s something like 1,300 steps and they aren’t little steps either so take your time. Stop every once in awhile and enjoy the views because they are breathtaking. With it’s location being right at the Eastern point, you can see the South views of the island, as well as the East. The water is a magnificent colour of blue from that high up and it’s contrast to the dry desert land just makes it pop even more.
Go to Duke’s in Waikiki for live music and a couple Longboard beers
Duke’s has got to be one of the best spots on Waikiki in the evening. In fact, it’s packed even during the day. It’s right on the sand with palm trees swaying overhead. The menu has a great selection of seafood and burgers, or even some great appetizers. And as mentioned above, every night they bring in live music to entertain. Some of the musicians might even get you on your feet dancing! While you’re there, enjoy some local beers, Tim and I’s favourite is definitely the Longboard, but take your pick and have a blast!
Walk the Makapu’u lighthouse trail, then head to the beach below
Over the years, this must’ve become quite popular as the paths are now fully paved making it a very comfortable stroll for almost anyone. It is uphill though, I mean it is on a 600 foot sea cliff, so be prepared for a bit of a sweat on a warm day. What’s interesting about this walk is that the path allows you to see Kokohead crater from one side and the gorgeous ocean from the other as it is on the extreme Eastern end of Oahu. And if you’ve ever seen 50 First Dates with Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore (a must-see Hawaii movie), you get to walk right by the famous lighthouse where they share a romantic kiss. Once you reach the top, there are incredible views of the East coast and if you’re lucky, you might even see some travellers and locals soaring through the air as they BASE jump with parachutes off Makapu’u cliff. Down below you’ll see Makapu’u beach, which is one of our favourite local beaches. We recommend heading to this beach once you’ve finished the walk. While the waves may be somewhat intimidating, they’re fun to play in if you’re willing and the beach itself is incredibly picturesque and chill. If you’re with kiddies, you can always take them to Sea Life Park afterwards, which is down below as well. It’s no Sea World, but it’s a taste of sea life and definitely a fun family activity for an afternoon.
Take a surf lesson on the North Shore from local shop Surf n’ Sea
Since Tim was a little guy, he has taken surf lessons from Surf n’ Sea and he still highly recommends them. Everyone he’s ever taken out to Hawaii, including me and my family, he’s hooked them up with lessons from this company. It’s locally run since 1965 and still run by locals. Surf n’ Sea is located right next to a beach on a protected, semi-private bay with no trade winds making it the perfect place to learn. What’s great about the lesson is they start you out of the water, learning the basics from paddling to actually “popping up.” After that, it’s time for the water lesson. Depending on your level, they’ll even help you with catching a wave. The instructors are always incredibly laid back and positive, just there to help you have the best time on your trip. If you go early in the morning, you’ll not only get the best waves (this is true of any surf), but there will be less people in the water. However, no matter the time, this area is way less discovered than Waikiki’s busy waters, which makes the surfing so much more fun here. Another fantastic advantage to surfing out at the point is that you are bound to see some sea turtles surfing the waves too! Every single time I’ve been there, there’s always a few poking their heads out.
Watch surfers rippin’ it at Sunset Beach, then enjoy a gorgeous Hawaiian sunset
The waves are almost always bustling with surfers at Sunset Beach and it’s a great way to catch a glimpse into the life of a Hawaiian surfer. The guys are out into the water as early as possible and stay as late as they can. Waves can get incredibly high here, so it’s always fun to watch them show off their skills. While the water is not usually swimmable unless you are highly experienced, it’s a giant beach to hang out on and enjoy a sunset afterwards. Set up a sarong or towel, maybe bring some brewskies for the show and relax. Hawaiian sunsets are like no other, fiery reds and oranges eventually dipping into the ocean as the stars slowly peek out. Watching sunsets are one of our favourite things to do in Hawaii, and when you’re far off from the city of Honolulu, they are just that much better.
People watch on Waikiki beach
This is the most fun you’ll have, we can guarantee it! There are all sorts of interesting people on this beach. We’ve gotten so enthralled by some people, we made up stories about them as they go about their day on the beach. It’s silly, but it’s great fun. And if you’re really lucky, you’ll get to witness the phenomenon that is someone we dubbed, “Ula Takahala.” He’s an incredible frisbee player who’s tricks will leave you gawking. Sometimes he plays with a younger fellow who is pretty great too. We discovered after a few years of seeing him on Waikiki that a lot of the snowbirds that go to Hawaii seem to know him. We learned his name is actually Dick Richards and he is a local painter. Still, his frisbee skills are undeniable. And forewarned, there’s always some really “out there” people too. When we see these really outrageous people, we always crack the joke, “They’ve had too much sun.” Regardless of who you’ll discover though, it will be a make for a fun-filled day on the beach. We always make sure to spend at least 1-2 days on Waikiki for this reason alone. Of course, we can’t forget that the water is sparkling blue and incredibly inviting and with amenities all around, you can’t go wrong on this beach.
Hike to Maunawili Falls
Made famous from the Jason Mraz video, “I’m Yours,” this 2.5 miles round- trip hike will reward you with a sweet little swimming hole at the end. Some of the more adventurous travellers like to jump off the sides into the pool, but it’s up to you. Though short, it’s a great half-day excursion of you’re tired of the beach. (Who gets tired of the beach?)
Visit Pearl Harbour if you are a history buff.
Pearl Harbour is definitely worth getting to if you are on the island for some time and need a break from the sun and sand. Keep in mind, it’s a bit of a drive out of Honolulu and there will probably be a line to get into the show and head over to the USS Arizona Memorial monument, but it’s important to know Hawaii’s history in WWII to really understand their culture. They do a phenomenal job of educating tourists and displaying old artifacts, so even coming from someone who’s not a big history lover, I would say make a stop here if you have the time.
The lush green, towering cliffs in Hawaii.
Take a moment to enjoy the beautiful scenery
The towering cliffs surrounding Honolulu and on your way to the North Shore are simply spectacular. I could take pictures over and over and still not have enough. They captivate you, the greenery and the interesting folds of them.
A sea turtle sleeping on a beach on the North Shore.
Go looking for turtles and seals
Oh wait, you don’t have to. They are everywhere. We see them every time we go, mostly on the North Shore. Check out our post on Guaranteed Spots of Find a Turtle to see exactly where to go. What’s great is that sea turtles are protected. There are often volunteer groups that surround the turtle if he’s sleeping on the sand, so that tourists won’t disturb them. The same goes for any sleeping seals too.
Do you agree with this list? Are there any things we missed? Let us know in the comments below! 🙂
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