O’ahu, Hawai’i is a very unique and special island, often described as “Hawai’i’s gathering place” because of how it’s positioned, culturally and otherwise, as the island’s ambassador to the West.
Honolulu, the state capital, is located here, and it’s the most urban region of Hawai’i. Ultimately, its accessible accommodations, navigability, and friendly cosmopolitanism make O’ahu an ideal island for first-time Hawai’i visitors. (Though Maui and Big Island are also excellent, family-friendly choices.)
Over the last decade of writing insider travel guides to various destinations around the world, I’ve had the privilege of living and spending meaningful time in many beautiful places. Oahu, Hawaii is one of the most serene places I’ve ever lived– which is why writing this guide to the best things to do, see, eat, explore, and discover on the island was a real privilege.
From the moment you arrive at Honolulu International Airport, it’s immediately clear that O’ahu is a very special place. The air is like bathwater and one can’t help but notice how the local architecture is ensconced in bright pink bougainvillea, hibiscus, and plumeria– the island’s most iconic, colorful, and fragrant flowers.
Hawai’i, moreover, is the most isolated land mass in the Pacific, which is why the plants here are INCREDIBLE. Plumeria and Hibiscus bloom their best here through October, which is when White Pirie Mango season starts. (Read more about that in our guide to the best places to buy local tropical fruit on O’ahu, here.)
Ultimately, O’ahu’s mix of urban and natural environments, its gorgeous turquoise waters, lush green mountains, and perfect weather captivate the senses.
Vladimir Ossipof’s 1970s modernist architecture, meanwhile, defines many of the built aspects of the island– straight colorful lines yield a bold, beautiful contrast to the weeping curves of banyan trees and acacias that are found all over the island, in neighborhoods and parks and civic properties.
O’ahu, ultimately, is an island full of contrasts, visual and otherwise. Here, you can experience both urban city life and bungalow-style bohemia on the North Shore– all on the same island! Nowhere else in the Hawaiian islands is such a contrast so starkly possible. And it makes for a very intriguing visitor experience. (Hawai’i is called a paradise for a reason, after all.)
Below, we spotlight the best things to do, see, explore, eat, discover, shop, and experience on the island of O’ahu. We’ve also highlighted a few hidden gems and lovely places to wander that most visitors miss– rare finds that capture the unique culture, spirit, and genius loci of the place.
There’s a lot to take in here and we pride ourselves on being thorough, but the info below is indispensable.
Read this article through to the end or skim it to get a sense of the highlights. It’s long, but it’s got everything you’ll need to plan the perfect trip to O’ahu all in one place.
You can also bookmark this list for easy reference during your trip, which we strongly recommend doing. We’ve bolded all the major recommendations to make this guide easy to scroll and return to again and again.
Aloha and enjoy!
The Best Things to Do in O’ahu, Hawai’i
The best things to do in O’ahu involve maiki (ocean), mana (mountains), and mouths (aka food!). Don’t worry if you don’t have time to do all of these things on your trip. If you hit even just a few of the items on this list, you’ll be sure to have a good time.
Snorkel with Sea Turtles
Snorkeling with turtles is a favorite O’ahu activity among visitors and locals. For me, what makes it exceptionally cool is the fact that O’ahu is one of the few islands where you can take a catamaran out to swim with giant sea turtles while still being able to see the beautiful, urban city skyline in the distance. It’s wild.
For the best experience, you’ll want to take a tour that brings you out to Turtle Canyon.
^ That is THE hot spot for snorkeling with turtles on the island. (There are a handful of other locations but Turtle Canyon is the best, trust me.)
Turtle Canyon Snorkel Adventures offers a great, relaxing snorkel adventure departing from Waikiki in the morning and afternoon.
^ We like this one because you can reserve now and pay later to hold your spot. It’s also one of the cheapest options if you want to see Hawaiian green sea turtles up close and personal. Choose between a 2-hour morning tour or a 3-hour midday tour that includes lunch and two drinks.
Holokai Catamaran, meanwhile, is another favorite upscale charter that famously leaves right from the shores of Waikiki Beach. Because of its central launch point, this tends to be the favorite turtle snorkeling tour among party groups like bachelorette groups, wedding parties, etc. They also offer private charters, non-snorkeling sunset sails, and Friday fireworks cruises.
The Significance of Turtles in Hawaiian Culture
In Hawaiian culture, turtles are a common symbol of ‘aumakua, or “spirits of ancestors” that take animal shape. Among native Hawaiians, they’re sort of like guardian angels. Because turtles are a common embodiment of ‘aumakua, they hold a very special place in the hearts of not only Hawaiians, but all Polynesians.
By definition, ‘aumakua are creatures of both heaven and earth. (For those of you who saw the Disney movie Moana: in the scene when Moana’s grandmother dies, her spirit comes back as a golden stingray ‘aumakua.)
As such, these spirits are treated quite reverently– and, by extension, so are the animals they represent. Be respectful of the turtles and the precious ocean they inhabit by giving them plenty of personal space, properly disposing of your garbage, and wearing reef-safe sunscreen.
Witness A Beautiful Sunrise And/Or Sunset
Experiencing a sunrise and/or sunset in Hawai’i is essential– and it’s free! It’s like visiting the Louvre when in Paris: you just have to do it.
In my opinion, the best place to experience sunrise on O’ahu is on Kailua Beach, on the windward side of the island. Because the sun rises in the East, you won’t be able to see a proper sunrise in Waikiki or most of Honolulu.
You can, however, see a beautiful, orb-y sunset on Waikiki, though it won’t be the most private setting. (See iPhone image, above.)
I also enjoy taking in sunset near the Diamond Head Lighthouse, in Hawaii Kai, and in Ko Olina. (<– Most tourists end up here at some point to experience one of O’ahu’s most popular lūʻaus, anyways. More info on that is below.)
No matter where you are staying, just get to a beach– any beach!– and you’ll be all set for viewing.
Do A Helicopter Tour with Blue Hawaiian
Getting a bird’s eye view of O’ahu is– in my opinion– the best way to experience the island. I love Blue Hawaiian Helicopters and recommend them over any other tour company on the island. They are the best helicopter tour company on O’ahu– and by far the coolest.
Blue Hawaiian’s guides are super knowledgeable, I feel most comfortable with their flight path, and I love love LOVE how they sync up the music in your headphones to match whatever you are looking at from the sky at the time.
For example, when you fly over the Pali (mountains) they’ll play the theme from Jurassic Park. When you fly over Waimea Bay, they play the Beach Boys’ song, “Surfin’ USA”. And when you fly over Pearl Harbor, they play the theme song from the movie.
There’s also bound to be some fresh hip-hop, classic pop, and alt-radio songs in the mix, as well. Soaring through the skies with a bumpin’ playlist is unlike any other experience on the island. If you’re not afraid of flying, put this at the top of your list!
Hike Lanikai Pillbox + Explore Lanikai Beach
Out of all the cool hikes on O’ahu, Lanikai Pillbox is my favorite. I think it gives you the most “bang for your buck” of all of O’ahu’s beautiful hikes. Great views, a good workout, it’s super accessible, but still “advanced”, and it doesn’t take the whole day– which is especially good if you have limited time.
^ Basically, if you only have time to do one hike on O’ahu, I recommend this one. The hike begins and ends in Kailua, a lovely beach neighborhood on the windward side of the island.
The entrance is almost hidden– it looks like an abandoned trail across the street from a country club on Ka’elepulu Drive.
For the best experience, bike or Uber here, otherwise you can park nearby in the residential neighborhood. (There is no parking.) The whole hike takes around 90 minutes and offers sweeping 360-degree views of Lanikai Beach at the top. There are usually plenty of people on the trail, which is steep at the beginning and features some scramble, but it’s very manageable if you take your time.
Lanikai Beach, meanwhile, is my favorite beach on the island, with talcum-powder-like white sand and chill turquoise waters great for swimming. And fortunately, it’s an easy stroll to reach it after hiking Lanikai Pillbox. Just follow the sound of the waves. 🙂
Related: For more info, read our in-depth guide to O’ahu’s 6 Most Beautiful Hikes— all of them are bucket list experiences for those who can’t get enough nature.
Evening Mai Tais at House Without a Key
The Halekulani Hotel in the heart of Waikiki is an iconic destination for travelers and locals, alike. The beautiful property’s on-site restaurant, House Without A Key, is a favorite destination for live entertainment and Hawaiian music at sunset.
Most of all, it’s renowned for its mai tais, which feature a gorgeous local orchid, fresh fruit, and a charming sugar cane stirring stick.
Live music and hula entertainment begin at 5:30 PM each night. I love bringing people to House Without a Key first thing after they land at the airport, just to give them a beautiful and tidy Hawaii experience in one location all at once.
^ Here, you can experience sunset over the ocean, live hula and ukelele music, and excellent seafood pupus (e.g. appetizers) with views of Diamond Head, Waikiki Beach, and palm trees swaying in the distance. It’s lovely.
If you witness sunset entertainment at House Without a Key while drinking a mai tai, then everything else on your O’ahu vacation itinerary is just a bonus. It’s a classic experience. 🙂
Get a Traditional Lomi Lomi Massage at the Halekulani Spa
Almost every spa on O’ahu offers some form of a traditional Hawaiian massage, which is known as a Lomi Lomi massage.
This sacred healing massage is an ancient Polynesian healing technique that integrates the use of forearms and elbows to create a soothing, invigorating, low-pressure body treatment. Ultimately, this is a good massage for people who don’t like too much pressure in their massages– it’s less “deep” and more “relaxing.” And it’s definitely a Bucket List experience for spa junkies visiting Hawai’i.
The incredible Lomi Lomi Massage at the SpaHalekulani is one of O’ahu’s best Lomi Lomi massages. It’s based in tradition, and it’s especially great as a couples massage.
Gray’s Beach, which fronts the Halekulani Hotel, was celebrated among early Hawaiians for its healing waters. Today, the award-winning spa intertwines authentically crafted Polynesian therapeutic rituals to harmoniously restore mind, body, and soul.
All spa experiences at SpaHalekulani end with light refreshments on a serene private terrace, ensuring a respite that is spiritual, cultural, and emotional.
For those looking to truly immerse themselves in relaxation on vacation, a traditional Lomi Lomi massage will not disappoint, especially for those who love trying new spa treatments. Every Lomi Lomi practitioner is different, and this is an ancient healing art form so the specifics of what makes it so unique will vary from person to person.
Generally, you can expect a very relaxing massage, and in some cases, the practitioner may, for example, give you a handful of salt on which to make a wish, before having you throw it in the pool. In other instances, they might brush your feet with ferns.
This experience of reverential healing can be most beautifully encapsulated in the expression, “He Mau Makana Nau Keia Na Ko Makou Kupuna,” which means “These are gifts from our elders.”
Coffee & Breakfast at Island Vintage
Local Kona coffee, gorgeous acai bowls, and fabulous poke– what more could you want? Island Vintage Coffee in the Royal Hawaiian Center is one of the few places in Waikiki open before 8 AM. As such, it has a sort of cult following among tourists and repeat visitors in the throes of early morning jet-lag.
More importantly, the food here is excellent and the menu offerings exhibit a fresh, enlivening take on O’ahu’s lovely farm-to-table culinary scene. (It’s also a good place to shop for local food sundries and souvenirs, like macadamia nut butter, local honey, local coffee, macadamia nuts, and chocolate.)
I adore the shoyu salmon poke bowl, a favorite lunch item sprinkled with fresh local sea asparagus that gives the dish a perfect umami crunch. These can also be made gluten-free, too, for people who are sensitive.
Beyond that, Island Vintage is also a go-to coffee spot in Waikiki. Everyone visiting the island has to go here at least once, trust me.
Related: The 8 Best Breakfast Spots in Honolulu.
Explore Waikiki (Touristy, But Worth It)
In case you don’t immediately recognize the name, Waikiki Beach is a world-famous Hawaiian destination. It’s the place where surfing was invented, and that was historically frequented by celebrities like Joe DiMaggio, Amelia Earheart, and Bing Crosby at the turn of century (and during the dawn of commuter aviation).
Today, Waikiki’s pop culture significance makes it an instantly recognizable name associated with traveling to Hawaii and to O’ahu, specifically.
The heart of Waikiki is Kalakaua Avenue, which runs parallel to the beach and features tons of restaurants, resorts, coffee shops, and shopping.
You can take surf lessons here when the weather permits– but Waikiki Beach is also good for people-watching, especially if you eat at Duke’s Waikiki— a nice moderately-priced and family-friendly dinner option for when you first arrive to the island. (The sesame-crusted tuna and haupia macadamia nut pie are excellent.)
Beyond the beachfront resorts, the main drag down Kalakaua Avenue is also home to regional retail staples like the Honolulu Cookie Company– but wandering amongst the tourists here has a real charm, even if you don’t buy anything.
Much like Times Square in New York, it can often be overwhelming– but everyone should see it at least once. You didn’t visit O’ahu if you never spent time in Waikiki!
Visit The KCC Farmers Market (& Look For These Unique Local Fruits!)
The Kapo’olani Community College Farmers Market near Diamondhead is one of the best farmers markets on O’ahu– and the tourists are a dead giveaway. Be sure to go early (before 8 or 9 AM) to avoid insane crowds. Otherwise, the market is open from 7:30 AM to 11 AM on Saturdays.
This is THE place to go for fresh pineapple, mangoes, papayas, starfruit, dragonfruit, passionfruit, lychee, giant avocados, chirimoya, and citrus (among other local favorites, when in season).
O’ahu is also the only place in the U.S. where you can buy fresh local mangosteen, and you can buy them here when they’re in season during the Fall/Winter months.
In addition to cool, exotic local produce, expect to find value-added goods like vegan macadamia nut soft serve ice cream, deep fried mochi, pineapple cakes, locally-made chocolate, Maui onion rings, local honey, papaya frozen yogurt, baked goods filled with local ube, furikaki puffs, a wide array hot food (from pho to hot dogs to spring rolls).
Also, be sure to look for unusual Asian-inspired creations like “coffee jello drink,” which you have to experience to understand.
Those who live in the area love this farmers market for the fresh raw honey and cheap local eggs. KCC is also a good place to buy kona coffee, noni tea, cookies, macadamia nuts, and a host of other non-perishable food souvenirs.
Related: Read our guide to the 6 Best Farmer’s Markets on O’ahu.
Explore Bailey’s Antiques and Aloha Shirts (For The Coolest Vintage Hawaiian Shirts Around)
Bailey’s Antiques and Aloha Shirts is the best Hawaiian shirt store in the world– and certainly the single best collection of Hawaiian shirts under one roof, anywhere. It’s amazing!
This is a perfect place to shop for what feels like the most cliched Hawaiian souvenir.
While the store is not really located near anything other than Rainbow Drive-In (see below) it’s worth taking time out of your day to walk, bike, drive, or Uber over to shop for aloha shirts. If you can, eat at Rainbow’s after– more on that, below.
Related: Whether you’re shopping for a family photo or a fashionista, these are The 5 Best Places to Get Hawaiian Shirts on O’ahu.
Get a “Plate Lunch” at Rainbow Drive-In
“Plate lunch” is not fancy– but it’s so delicious and a classic Hawaiian comfort food experience! A plate lunch typically consists of a family-style plate of meat, rice, and various sauces and sides that’s served cafeteria-style to adoring locals. It’s comfort food that you eat on picnic tables, and it’s usually very affordable.
On O’ahu, Rainbow Drive-In is THE Hawaiian plate lunch joint– a walk-up diner where you MUST get the Mix Plate– a layer of BBQ beef, fried mahi, and boneless fried chicken set atop two scoops of white rice and extra mayonaisse-y macaroni salad.
^ All of this is covered in gravy, and you’re supposed to douse it in ketchup and soy sauce at your discretion. It’s insane. It’s like $8. It’s great!
This place is so endearing and the meals are so hearty that it became a plate lunch staple for us even when we lived in Kailua. (My husband and I would drive all the way there from the windward side of the island.)
Best of all, the owners donate a portion of their profits to local schools and charities. It’s a whole experience— and Barack Obama has been coming here since he was a teenager, FWIW. (When he was president, he famously used to go here first thing after landing Air Force One on the island.)
Insider Tip: Get All The Sauce
Oh, and be sure to get both soy sauce and ketchup from the condiment table, local-style. 🤙
The other super-local place to get a good plate lunch that locals eat at all the time is Zippy’s, a local chain. However, Rainbow Drive-In is the best! For the quintessential plate lunch experience on O’ahu, go here.
Visit Leonard’s for Delicious, Hot Malasadas
Leonard’s is a real hidden gem on O’ahu that most visitors miss. They sell amazing Portuguese sweet donuts that are covered in sugar and injected with SO MUCH CREAM FILLING ITS CRAZY, in a dough that’s crispy on the outside and wonderfully fluffy on the inside.
The malasadas here are super delicious! (And, alongside Hole Doughnuts in Asheville, North Carolina, they might just be the best doughnuts in America.)
It’s hard not to love Leonard’s pink boxes, too– and yes, you’ll probably want to get a half dozen. (Even if you just try a bite of each, a half dozen malasadas is a steal at only ~$8 per box.) Leonard’s also sells items like passionfruit and guava cupcakes, but everyone comes here for the donuts.
I strongly recommend trying the macadamia, coconut (aka haupia), and/or bright-pink guava-filled malasadas, which are the Hawaiian-Portuguese classics. There are, however, often intriguing seasonal fillings, as well (like pumpkin spice in the Fall, if that floats your boat).
Either way, you’ll know you’re in the right place when you see the big, flashy sign. (See picture, above.) In the daytime, there is usually a crowd.
On weekends, expect a line. There’s nothing better than a hot box of donuts from Leonard’s!
Visit Shangri La (Art & Design Lovers Paradise)
Shangri La Museum of Islamic Art, Culture, & Design is tobacco heiress Doris Duke’s former private estate in Honolulu, which was built as her vacation home in 1937.
Today, the estate showcases an absolutely INCREDIBLE and priceless collection of Middle Eastern and Islamic Art (an unexpected jewel in Hawai’i,) which is now owned and operated by the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art.
Tours can be a bit tricky here in that space is limited, and the property can only be accessed via shuttles organized by the Honolulu Museum of Art. (It’s about 20 minutes away.)
At the time of this writing, tickets to Shangri La are released one month in advance. You can visit the property on a 75-minute self-guided tour on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, so keep that in mind. Be sure to book in advance.
On-site, expect to see plenty of beautiful wall panels, sculptures, exquisite Medieval garden design, fine jewelry, ornate furniture, and aesthetically pleasing, geometric sight lines that reflect indo-Islamic design sensibilities.
It’s all magnificent and, frequently, overwhelming. The collection of art on display here is (literally) priceless.
Ultimately, Shangri La exists at a unique intersection of global art, design, and culture. It’s a must for art and design lovers, but also for history buffs. The collection of Islamic art is astounding, sure, but the house itself is also an architectural marvel, situated right on the ocean in enviable repose.
From the way it’s designed to the way it’s landscaped, Shangri La is a visual delight. It’s a memorable hidden gem that’s worth seeking out on any visit to O’ahu. Not everyone makes it over here when they visit the island, but no one who does ever regrets it.
For more information or to book your visit, go here. Advance reservations are required.
Sunset Sail on a Catamaran
As mentioned above, experiencing sunset in Hawai’i is a rite of passage. For those who want an even more immersive experience, take a sunset cruise with any of a number of boat tour companies that leave from Waikiki around 5 PM daily.
Holokai Catamaran is one of my favorites, as it’s a slightly more elegant experience and it’s apparent how much they prioritize safety. (They also offer Turtle Canyon Snorkeling sails in addition to Sunset Cruises and a Friday Fireworks Cruise. They also offer private charters for parties, etc.)
Manu Kai Catamaran, meanwhile, has a very affordable 2-hour option, as well.
Try “Shave Ice”
Shave Ice is a distinctly Hawaiian dessert that’s sort of like a cross between a snow cone and Thai ice cream. Really, the best place to get shave ice on O’ahu is Matsumoto’s Shave Ice on the North Shore (see “The North Shore” section below for details).
However, if you can’t make it out to the North Shore during your trip, then consider visiting one of President Obama’s favorite Shave Ice establishments near Waikiki: Waiola Shave Ice.
^ Here, you can get the “Obama Rainbow”, which consists of the exact order Obama asked for the first time he visited there as President: cherry, lemon-lime, and passionfruit.
If you’re going to the windward side of the island to hike the Lanikai Pillbox Like or Visit Lanikai Beach, then you could also stop at Island Snow (yet another shave ice shop that is popular with locals).
For more recommendations, see our guide to The 6 Best Shave Ice Spots on O’ahu.
Snorkel The Reef at Hanauma Bay
Hawai’i’s ocean waters are home to more than 60 percent of the coral reefs in the U.S.. To that end, one of the best places to snorkel in Hawai’i is Hanauma Bay, a very special protected snorkel spot on the windward side of O’ahu.
This beautiful crescent-shaped beach boasts a ton of coral reefs teaming with colorful parrot fish, angelfish, and turtles. It’s also an important conservation spot that gets picturesque rainbows when it rains.
It’s about $20 per person to rent snorkel gear on-site, or you can bring your own if you have it. (Paying to rent it is, in my opinion, much easier and totally worth it.)
Fun Fact: Hawai’i’s 410,000+ acres of coral reefs are home to more than 7,000 species of marine animals. And, 25% of these marine species are endemic to Hawai’i and found nowhere else in the world! It’s amazing.
For the best experience, go early– right when the Bay opens at about 7 AM. Parking is restricted at Hanauma Bay and people will be turned away once the lot is full.
When you arrive, you’ll first have to watch a mandatory 5-minute orientation video before heading down to the beach. This will serve to reinforce the importance of using reef-safe sunscreen in order to protect this fragile ecosystem, among other rules.
(To repeat: DON’T GO TO HANAUMA BAY WITHOUT REEF SAFE SUNSCREEN. This means you should only wear physical sunscreens that do not contain oxybenzone, avobenzene, or octinoxate, which are toxic to coral reefs. We like TropicSport and Thinksport the best, which you can read more about at the included links.)
The video will also offer instruction on best practices for safe snorkeling, as well as give insight on what kind of fish and marine life you can expect to see.
After you are released to the beach, you can walk or tram down the hill to rent snorkel gear and start swimming for as long as you’d like. (The entry ticket is good for the whole day.) Before you leave, remove any trash and return the snorkel gear.
If you’re headed back to Waikiki or Honolulu after, you can stop by Sweet E’s to get a delicious local homestyle breakfast. (The ideal combination is to go to Hanauma Bay for a 7 aM snorkel, then head to Sweet E’s for breakfast before 10 AM. Then, you will have the whole day in front of you to hike, shop, sail, surf, go to a farmers market, or head back to the beach.)
Experience A Luau
Yes, tourist-facing Luaus can be cheesy. But you have to do a luau at least once when you visit Hawaii!
Going to a luau in Hawaii is bound to be a touristy affair no matter where you go, but it’s also quite the experience. Fire dancers! Hawaiian pig roast! Hula dancers in coconut bras! It’s all extremely kabuki’ed and touristy, but you sort of have to experience it once. It’s a rite of passage.
By definition, a luau is any celebratory outdoor gathering that involves food. On O’ahu, the two best / most popular luaus are at the Polynesian Cultural Center on the North Shore, and Paradise Cove on the Western shore.
The Hawaiian Luau at Paradise Cove takes place in historic Ko Olina, an important sacred spot on the leeward side of O’ahu that gets beautiful sunsets.
The Paradise Cove luau takes place mostly outside, during these sunsets, and involves demonstrations of traditional Hawaiian artisanal activities like lei-making, coconut tree climbing, Hawaiian name translation, quick demonstrations on how to properly tie a sarong, and opportunities to learn how to paddle an outrigger canoe. The food is not “fancy,” but at a luau it never is.
Meanwhile, the Polynesian Cultural Center’s luau takes place in a manicured outdoor “theme park” of sorts, on a beautiful property on the North Shore. It’s run by mainlanders who don’t technically come from the culture, so Paradise Cove is a little more “authentic” in that way– but both luaus feature INCREDIBLE Polynesian dancers, flame twirlers, and other island entertainment.
A major difference here is that all Polynesian Culture Center luaus are dry luaus. No drinking on site. So if you want a mai tai, you’ll have to go elsewhere.
Transportation from the Waikiki/Honolulu area is available for either luau. You can find details for booking either luau at the links above.
Insider Tip: How To Witness Hula Performances For Free
^ Just after sunset on the strip, you can watch hula dancers tell the story of the islands accompanied by live music and occasional storytelling. Those walking along Kuhio Street after sunset on these days are sure to see it; most stumble on it by accident and are happy they did.
The show lasts about an hour, and during winter months (Nov, Dec, Jan) it begins around 6 PM.
During the rest of year (Feb-Oct), the show starts around 6:30 PM. The audience sits on the ground or on the sand, so you may want to bring a beach towel to sit on if you have small children. Otherwise, you can just show up and enjoy.
Eat Lots of Poke
Acai bowls and poke are two distinctly Hawaiian dishes, craved by tourists and locals alike. When most people talk about “missing” some Hawaiian food item once they’ve gone home, it’s usually fresh fruit and one of these two dishes. (Acai bowls are not technically Hawaiian, but still.)
Poke is a dish that originally hails from Hawai’i, not Japan as some people might incorrectly assume. Ancient Hawaiians ate this delicacy of freshly caught fish with sea salt, seaweed, and crushed roasted kukui nuts as a traditional staple in pre-colonial times.
Today, it is one of the best things to eat on O’ahu– as long as you know the right places to get it.
Most restaurants in Honolulu offer their version of this island staple, but I love the poke bowls at Island Vintage the best.
You can also look for the extremely local pop-up vendors at the Windward Mall Farmers Market for incredible fresh poke at very reasonable prices. (It’s worth the trip if you’re already visiting Lanikai Beach or the windward side of the island.)
Get Acai Bowls at Da Cove Health Bar
Getting an acai bowl is a fun thing to do in Hawai’i– except for that fact that acai bowls were invented in Brazil, so it’s not even a real Hawaiian food.
Nevertheless, the abundance of warm weather and fresh tropical fruit means that visitors and O’ahu natives have come to revere getting an acai bowl as a local tradition. It just feels good to eat one of these when in the tropics.
I personally think that the best acai bowls on Oahu are sold at Da Cove Health Bar near Diamondhead, but there is better ambiance elsewhere.
For a full rundown of the best places to get an acai bowl on the island, consult our bespoke guide to the 5 Best Acai Bowls on O’ahu.
Get Your Jurassic Park on at Kualoa Ranch
Kualoa Ranch is an iconic film destination and working ranch where they filmed Jurrasic Park— among many other movies like 50 First Dates and Mike & Dave Need Wedding Dates.
The ranch offers eco-tours, guided movie tours, 4-wheeler/ATV tours, horseback riding, ziplining, and more activities that appeal to the whole family. (Kids love the ATV Raptor Tour, but they also offer more serene excursions like an Ocean Voyage experience that launches from the secret beach on their property.)
Here, you can also visit the “Hall of Fame” photo gallery featuring pictures of every movie every filmed at Kualoa Ranch (and believe me, there are many). You can also shop inside for classic Hawaiian souvenirs, from candy and shell products to clothing, sunglasses, and puzzles.
Ultimately, it’s also a great place to stop and stretch your legs when driving from the Waikiki area to the North Shore.
Even if you don’t book an excursion of any kind, it’s a nice place to glimpse the rugged nature on this side of the island while grabbing refreshments. The lush green mountains are iconic!
Visit Pearl Harbor
A must for history buffs, Pearl Harbor is a standard line item on many people’s O’ahu itineraries. Visiting the USS Arizona Memorial is a very sobering experience, and it’s also free. You just have to reserve a ticket ahead of time to book your preferred time slot.
All the info is here. I recommend reserving free tickets to USS Arizona Memorial unless you’re a huge WWII enthusiast and want to pay to make a day of it. (Pearl Harbor is an active military base, so you’ll get to choose between a number of different tours for the paid option.)
If you plan to show up the day of without an advance reservation, go at 7 AM, right when they open. When you arrive on site, you’ll watching an informational video on the history of WWII as well as Pearl Harbor’s role in its development. Then, a shuttle boat will take you out to the USS Arizona Memorial.
Please Note: the Arizona memorial is a silent space for reflection and contemplation. When you get off the boat, they will ask you to keep voices to a whisper and silence your phone for the duration of your visit, until you get back on the boat for the return trip. No smoking, food, or drinks (other than water) are allowed on site.
This is understandably a very somber place, so it’s a nice attraction to visit last thing before you leave. This is also a good final activity because you’ll already be close to the airport.
Dine at Honolulu’s Best Restaurants
It wouldn’t be a trip to Hawaii without experiencing traditional Hawaiian cuisine, or Pacific Rim cuisine. Pacific Rim cuisine is a hearty, Asian-influenced Hawaiian style of cooking known for large portions that feature a lot of meat, seafood, and soy sauce. Like Hawaiian cuisine, it’s served homestyle and meant to be shared.
The best restaurants on O’ahu offer both Hawaiian and Pacific Rim-influenced cuisine, inspired by many different cultures, taking cues from Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, and Okinawan cuisine. The best restaurants on O’ahu are mostly located within Honolulu and the surrounding neighborhoods.
Oahu’s best restaurants also vary in style from super casual to super fancy. There’s truly something for everyone.
We don’t want to spend too much space itemizing every single restaurant in this guide, so you can click the links below to read our guides to the 25 Best Restaurants in Honolulu, the 8 Best Breakfast Spots in Honolulu, and the 11 Best Coffee Shops in Honolulu. (<— These are all so amazing and detailed!)
And, if you’re vegan or have a gluten-allergy, we’ve got a bespoke guide to the 8 Best Allergy-Friendly Restaurants in Waikiki & Honolulu, as well.
Enjoy Rare Watersport Adventures (Like Diving with Sharks!)
Adventurous folks, take note: O’ahu is the only Hawaiian island where it’s possible to snorkel with sharks. (The other islands don’t have a sufficient shark population.)
Local companies like One Ocean Diving offer educational snorkel tours with thoughtfully-trained and certified marine biologists as well as conservationists, who can guide you through your swim with sharks and other marine life. All tours take place off the coast of Haleiwa, on O’ahu’s North Shore.
The emphasis here is on teaching folks about these majestic creatures safely while encouraging proper ocean stewardship to support their thriving. (Diving with One Ocean helps support shark conservation and research, too.)
Hawaiians, moreover, have a deep and abiding respect for nature and the ocean– an enduring ethos that everyone visiting the islands will be inspired to bring home with them.
Day Trip to The North Shore (Try This 6-Stop Itinerary)
We recommend planning a full day to visit the North Shore. You will also need to rent a car. Ideally, drive the stunning coastal Kalaniana’ole Highway on the way North, and stop at the Dole Plantation last so that you can drive home through the middle of the island with views of the Pali (mountains). Below, we’ve drawn up a perfect example itinerary.
1 – Halona Beach Blowhole
The Halona Blowhole Lookout is a lovely little overlook on the side of the coastal Kalaniana’ole Highway, if you take the scenic route to the North Shore (which we obviously recommend doing).
Here, you can watch adventurous locals jumping off of pancake rocks into the surf– or see if you’re brave enough to do the same. (At your own risk.) There is also a small, sunny cove on the beach below where you can picnic or swim if you wish.
2 – Kualoa Ranch Pit Stop
If you’re not planning an activity at Kualoa Ranch (above), you can still visit this iconic Jurrasic Park destination by stopping in to take a look at the Wall of Fame, which proudly displays pictures from dozens of iconic Hollywood blockbusters that were filmed on the property. The number is quite impressive!
Snap a photo with the iconic mountains in the background, then drive over to the neighboring beach with views of Moloki’i island to get your feet wet or go for a quick swim.
Koalua Ranch is also a great place to stop and go to the bathroom en route to the North Shore. Otherwise, there are bathrooms at the Polynesian Culture Center, the Haleiwa Town Center where Masumoto’s Shave Ice is located, and the Dole Plantation. (See below.)
3 – Experience Giovanni’s Garlic Shrimp
Aside from the Dole Plantation, Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck is probably the single most compelling siphon of tourists to the North Shore. The line is insane, but the insanely-delicious jumbo garlic shrimp are worth it.
The first time I made the pilgrimage to the North Shore, I thought, “How good can these shrimp be?”
Then, I saw the line and I thought, “THESE SHRIMP CAN’T BE THAT GOOD?!” Alas, I waited it out and ate them, and they WERE. SO. GOOD. My husband thinks that Giovanni’s Shrimp might be the single most satisfying dish we’ve ever eaten while traveling, and I tend to agree. (And that’s saying something, as I do this professionally.)
There’s so much umami and your fingers will get messy like when you eat saucy chicken wings, because the standard plate of 12 jumbo shrimp is covered in oily garlic sauce that you just have to experience to understand.
It is magical– but only if you like seafood, of course. If so, make eating here a priority. These shrimp are so, so good!
4 – Check Out The Bonzai Pipeline (Or Surf It Yourself)
Depending on the time of year, the Bonzai Pipeline is one of the best places on O’ahu to see amazing surfers in action. If you wish, you can get your Giovanni’s garlic shrimp to-go, then drive over to Ehukai Beach to sit in the sand or at a picnic table and watch. (Just be sure to bring plenty of napkins!)
Every year, the World Surf League hosts the Billabong Pipe Masters competition here. Come out in mid-to-late December to watch the world’s most talented surfers compete for all the glory– and almost a million dollars in cash prizes.
Basically, if you’ve ever seen a picture of a surfer riding a turquoise-blue tunnel-like wave in Hawai’i, it was probably taken here.
5 – Matsumoto’s Shave Ice (The One and Only!)
Unless you love snow cones or avoid dairy, definitely get ice cream with your shave ice– this is part of what makes Matsumoto’s Shave Ice on the North Shore so unique.
We love the guava and passionfruit flavor syrups at this iconic North Shore treat shop, which is one of the island’s best places to try Shave Ice, as we discussed above.
Their specials like the Icheban– a distant cousin of an ice cream sundae– are not to be missed! (As of this writing, the Icheban features a waffle boat topped with shave ice, vanilla ice cream, adzuki bean, mochi, and condensed milk. Try it with mango-flavored shave ice for a real treat!)
Related: 5 Other Cool Places to Try Shave Ice on O’ahu, in case you can’t make it here.
6 – Visit The Dole Plantation (The Disneyland of Pineapples)
For all things pineapple, a visit to Dole Plantation in Wahiawa is a must. Dole is one of the most touristy destinations on O’ahu, but this family-friendly North Shore destination is worth the trip.
Try the delicious Dole Whip, ride the Pineapple Express (the real name of the train that meanders through the pineapple fields), tour the pineapple maze, and look for a rare pink pineapple!
Here, you can also buy all things pineapple. It’s insane! Pineapple gummy bears; pineapple hand sanitizer; pineapple cookies; pineapple lotion; pineapple taffy; pineapple salad dressing; white chocolate pineapple crunch; chocolate-covered pineapple; pineapple gumballs; crystal pineapples; pineapple stuffed animals, T-shirts, and figurines; even pineapple change purses and pineapple jewelry!
If you have more time, explore the pineapple maze– a massive hedgerow maze that even the best puzzlers have difficulty finding their way out of. (If you take a helicopter tour over O’ahu, you’ll see that the maze is actually shaped like a giant pineapple when viewed from above.)
Fun fact: fertile volcanic soil, an abundance of sunshine, and a mild sub-tropical climate make Hawaii an ideal place to grow pineapple– but the worldwide symbol of Hawaiian produce is not actually native to Hawaii.
Pineapple– known as hala kahiki or “foreign fruit”– wasn’t introduced to the islands until the horticulturalist John Kidwell suggested the idea of growing pineapples in Hawaii in the late 1800s.
James Dole, the most influential pineapple industrialist in the world, started the Dole pineapple plantation on O’ahu in 1900. The rest is history.
Water Sports on the North Shore
The North Shore is a great secluded part of the island ideal for surfing, snorkeling, splashing in shallow tidal pools, or playing golf at Turtle Bay if you are so inclined. The possibilities are endless!
I personally love the intimate sessions that Yoga Kai Hawaii offers for Stand Up Paddle Yoga in Haleiwa. (Just be sure you book their North Shore location, not the one on Magic Island/Ala Moana in Honolulu).
Here are a few other notable roadside stops that are not to be missed:
- Waimea Bay – Like the Beach Boys song! Good for swimming and jumping off rocks into the ocean. It’s like a bath. Great for kids, as well.
- Shark’s Cove – Great for snorkeling, and very family-friendly, with equipment rentals on-site and a food truck park with lots of variety located directly across the street. No need to reserve snorkel gear ahead of time, though this is a popular spot that can fill up quickly.
- Haleiwa Beach Park – Great place for stand-up paddling and ocean views. You can bring your own board, or take classes through Yoga Kai Hawaii, which operates a lovely, intimate Stand Up Paddle Yoga class here in the morning and evening on select weekdays and weekends. (Check their schedule online and be sure to book ahead.)
Other Helpful North Shore Info
- For trips to the North Shore, you’ll need to rent a car. Little Hawaii Rent A Car offers some of the lowest rates on the island and they have a convenient pickup/drop-off location in the heart of Waikiki. You can also pick up and drop off rentals at the Honolulu Airport.
- For people who don’t like shrimp and won’t be getting Giovanni’s, go to Ted’s Bakery for coconut cream pies and homestyle plate lunches. You’ll be eating at a roadside picnic table, but it’s a classic. North Shore Tacos is also good.
- Turtle Bay Resort is a fancy-ish place to stay on the North Shore, which is great for golfers, hardcore surfers, and people who want more seclusion than Honolulu’s bustling resorts can offer.
- North Shore Goodies in Haleiwa sells what is likely the best homemade peanut butter in America. (See our “What To Buy” section, below.)
- Lots of people also Air BnB near the Bonsai Pipeline on the North Shore– it has a barefoot hippie vibe, with lots of people riding bikes along the shaded paths and walking barefoot across the street to the ocean. It’s very chill and relaxing to stay out here, but keep in mind you will be far from the restaurants, nightlife, tours, and activities of Waikiki.
Next Level Gems
Hidden O’ahu treasures that most visitors miss.
Take a Traditional Hula Class at the Still & Moving Center
The Still & Moving Center in Kaka’ako offers one of the most amazing instructional hula classes in all of Hawai’i, let alone O’ahu.
Their Aloha Friday Hula Basics class (currently held 12:15 to 1:15 PM, as of this writing) is WAY more authentic than anything you’ll find in the immediate Waikiki area.
Classes are led by instructor Mālia Ko’i’ulaokawaolehua Helelā, who is an absolutely amazing singer, instrumentalist, lomilomi practitioner, as well as a scholar of Hawaiian culture.
In her 1-hour introductory class, visitors can learn the fundaments of hula as a storytelling art form, while also learning to recognize basic hula steps and their names.
If you’re interested in hula or have always wanted to learn, don’t miss this class. The class helps participants understand the Hawaiian culture and reverence for nature that undergirds the dance in a big way.
Mālia is truly a gem of an instructor, and the studio is lovely and spacious. This class is a fun thing to do with girlfriends, solo, or as a mother-daughter activity. (The Still & Moving Center also offers other fitness instruction in aerial yoga and tai chi, as well as training in other healing art practices like lomilomi massage.)
Tour The Liljestrand House
The Liljestrand House is an insanely cool architectural gem on Mount Tantalus that was designed in late 1948 by Hawaii’s most famous architect, Vladimir Ossipoff.
Built for doctors Betty and Howard Liljestrand in 1952, the house is now recognized as one of the world’s most iconic houses.
Today, it remains beautifully intact with period furnishings, and it stands as a wonderfully-intricate example of mid-Twentieth century Hawaiian modern architecture.
The house has absolutely stunning views, located on a plot of land overlooking Honolulu in what used to be a local forest reserve. (It took 10 years and lots of negotiation with local government for them to be able to build on this land.)
If you love architecture, do not miss taking a private tour of this home, which is offered once a week. All of the information on how to book a tour is here.
Advanced reservations are required, and the numbers are capped at around 15 people to keep tours of the home comfortable and magical. Everyone who visits comes to understand why keeping the tour numbers low is so special.
Ultimately, many people refer to the Liljestrand House as Hawaii’s answer to Fallingwater (the iconic Frank Lloyd Wright-commissioned home outside of Pittsburgh). GQ has photographed Bradley Cooper here; many fashion brands have done magazine editorials in the home; and it’s listed in the United States National Register of Historic Places.
But really, the space is just so inviting and beautifully conceived. If you love interior design and architecture, visiting here is a must.
Insider Tip: Look for These Other Local Ossipoff Designs
Ossipoff famously “declared a war on ugliness” in 1964, and set his sights on building what have become some of Honolulu’s most beautiful functional buildings.
Other Ossipoff works around Honolulu include the IBM Building (Ossipoff’s most famous work on the island and the current headquarters for Ward Village), The Pacific Club, and the Outrigger Canoe Club.
Explore Kaka’ako’s Street Art Walls (+ Visit Salt at Our Kaka’ako)
Kaka’ako is a trendy, up-and-coming neighborhood in Honolulu known for its cool murals. There’s street art EVERYWHERE in this neighborhood, which is sort of like the Brooklyn of Honolulu.
In addition to having the best Whole Foods on the island, Kaka’ako is known for a charming little former industrial complex that was converted into a quaint shopping area with restaurants, shops, and cafes.
^ Go here and try a passionfruit truffle and the chocolate Thai Iced Tea (see below). Both are excellent, and the shop also has tons of free samples of locally-grown, locally-made bean-to-bar Hawaiian chocolate.
Across the courtyard, visit Kahala to shop hipster aloha shirts and experience one of the best– and organic!– shave ice places in O’ahu.
Ultimately, the SALT complex is small, but it packs a punch. It’s a nice place to go for food and commerce without the crush of tourists. Many local young people live near here, too, so it offers a glimpse of hipster O’ahu at its most chill.
Ho’omaluhia Botanical Gardens
The Ho’omaluhia Botanical Gardens in Kane’ohe is something of a hidden gem on the windward side of O’ahu.
Locals often frequent it, but not as many tourists. There’s an iconic photo that most people take sitting on top of a jeep in the entryway to this local botanical garden, but it’s gotten so saught-after that the staff had to put traffic cones to stop people from blocking the entrance to the gardens.
Still, that first glimpse of the lush green mountain ridge beyond the gates is pretty stunning.
The gardens themselves are less manicured, so it’s not as organized as you’d expect from something like, say, Leu Gardens in Orlando. Inside, it’s a relatively chill, unkempt conglomeration of native Hawaiian plants arranged simply around some pleasant walking paths.
The nearby Kane’ohu Yacht Club, meanwhile, is where Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore filmed 50 First Dates.
Mooncakes at Sing Cheong Yuan Bakery
This is a highly specific and sugar-filled recommendation, but people who love Asian desserts should swing by Sing Cheong Yuan Bakery in Chinatown to purchase one of their famous mooncakes. They are the best I’ve ever had! We like the Black Sugar and Lotus flavors the best, but really they’re all good and unique in their own ways.
They also sell a wide variety of other classic Asian desserts like tea cookies, mac-nut sesame chews, mocha rice, egg yolk, pork hash, rice cakes, honey twists, awesome peanut candy, and sometimes even custard buns (a real treat).
It’s all divine– and they have the best char siu bao (aka steamed BBQ pork buns) in the city.
Ideally, walk over to Ali’i Coffee Co and enjoy your special treats with a Taro Ube Latte or Banana Float iced coffee. This is a lot of sugar at once, but it’s worth it for the unique beverage experience!
Get a Tropical Manicure at Miki’ao Nail Bar
Ladies: this place is amazing. I love the aesthetic of Miki’ao Nail Bar, and they are a fully non-toxic nail bar! I’ve only been to one other fully non-toxic nail bar and it was in Brooklyn. (For those asking: It was pH7 in Williamsburg and they are amazing!)
At this trendy nail salon, you can get everything from gold leaf monstera leaves to palm trees emblazoned on a stylish gel manicure in the color of your choosing. (Local botany motifs are my go-to, but they can make any nail art you want.)
Or, opt for the more traditional option and get a perfect manicure, pedicure, or both in a matte, glossy, or glitter finish. The manicures here are always refined; their Instagram aesthetic says it all.
Best of all, they don’t even soak your cuticles before a manicure because they don’t want to use harsh chemicals like acetone. (You can read more about why that’s bad here.)
Instead, they do all the filing and shaping of the nails and cuticles with electronic tools like look like friendlier versions of a Dentist’s drill or tattoo pen. It’s super cool and bespoke– and ideal for people who insist on using only natural beauty products.
Indulge Your Sweet Tooth at Purvè Donut Shop
Purvè Donut Shop is a boutique “made to order” donut shop in Kaka’ako that features award-winning donuts with creative flavors and names.
Take, for example, the “You’re Killing Me Smalls” s’mores donut, or the “Sunburnt Haole,” a lemon glaze with Li Hing Mui. (“Haole” is a Hawaiian slang term for “white person”, and it is said all in good fun.)
The best part about Purvè is that the donuts are made fresh, in small batches, but only after you order them.
This way, the inside stays moist and they are never left “sitting around” for hours before they’re eaten. The donuts come to you fresh and hot, straight out of the fryer where they are iced before your very eyes.
We love the “It’s OK… Cuz It’s Your Dog” peanut butter & jelly donut and the “Alohamac”– a chocolate glaze donut that honors the local flavor with mac nuts and caramel drizzle. Think of it as the Hawaiian donut version of a Samoa girl scout cookie. (<— We mean this as a huge compliment.)
What to Buy in Honolulu
Coffee, chocolate, and macadamia nuts– but also: coconut peanut butter!
The best souvenirs to buy on O’ahu are readily found at various shops around Honolulu, the island’s tourism epicenter. These include red Hawaiian salt, Kona coffee, macadamia nuts, Hawaiian shirts, Waialua Estate Chocolate, Manoa Chocolate, products made with Kukui nut oil (Lau Botanicals and Leahlani Skincare make lovely local skincare products with this key ingredient).
Other cool local sundries to look for at stores include pineapple vinegar (used like Apple Cider Vinegar) and Li Hing Mui powder (aka sour plum powder, which is used to season everything from meat and fruit to sweet desserts).
If you want to get an awesome “aloha” shirt, read our article on Where to Get The Best Hawaiian Shirts on O’ahu.
Meanwhile, the Honolulu Cookie Company‘s dark chocolate dipped Kona Coffee shortbread cookies (available at stores all over Waikiki) are amazing!
Also look for Anahola Granola (a Hawaii classic that many Hawaiian natives send as a Christmas gifts to the mainland), Guava Butter (like lemon curd but better), and Keith’s Hawaiian-style cookies, which are available at the Dole Plantation and the island’s best farmers markets.
Those who love cooking and breakfast should look for taro, coconut, or mochi pancake mixes, as well.
Insider Tip: Try The Best Peanut Butter in the World
Peanut butter lovers should not miss North Shore Goodies’ Original Coconut Peanut Butter, which is quite possibly the best “all natural” peanut butter in the world!
The signature blend consists of equal parts coconut and peanuts, which are ground into super-smooth peanut butter that has the rich texture of unhealthy hydrogenated peanut butter, without any of the sugar, salt, or unhealthy additives. I have no idea how they do it, but trust me on this. It’s the best! (And we’ve literally done universal peanut butter taste tests to prove it!)
Red Pineapple in Honolulu, meanwhile, is also a good place to buy souvenirs, from Red Hawaiian salt to local chocolate. But you can find most of these items at most shops, boutiques, and grocery stores on the island.
At the Dole Plantation (detailed above), don’t miss out on getting some Pineapple-themed swag in the form of pineapple candy, pineapple jewelry, pineapple T-shirts, pineapple stuffed toys, and various lotions/soaps/body care and food products made with pineapple. (Those who have visited understand; the Dole Plantation is to pineapples what Hershey Park is to chocolate. I’ve never seen so much yellow in my entire life!)
Margaret Rice is a favorite local designer of mine who makes gorgeous graphic tees, illustrations, prints, and sarongs right here in Kailua. While she doesn’t have a storefront (yet), her designs really capture and elevate the local style.
^ I frequently tell design lovers and people who are “into” fashion to order clothing from her and have it shipped to the mainland after their trip. It doesn’t get any more authentic than ordering limited-edition clothing and prints from a local artist.
Where To Stay in Waikiki, Honolulu, & Beyond
Stay at an iconic beachside hotel, or cozy up in a local, remote Airbnb.
First-timers to O’ahu should consider staying in Waikiki / Honolulu if the budget permits. Waikiki really is the heart of the island and the best place to call home base even if you plan to explore other parts of the island.
^ Trust me, the tourists here are worth the convenience. Otherwise, if you want something really secluded, consider staying further afield, on Oahu’s North Shore.
For specific accommodation recommendations (and insider tips on how to save the most money!), read our guide to the 9 Best Hotels in Waikiki & Honolulu.
Other Cool/Useful Things to Keep In Mind
Native Hawaiian folklore refers to O’ahu as Hawai’i’s “gathering place.”
- Visitors to O’ahu fly into Honolulu International Airport (HNL) and typically Uber, rent a car, or take a shuttle arranged by their hotel to where ever they’re staying.
- Uber and Lyft are readily available on O’ahu, and public bus transportation is available but not very popular with tourists. For navigating Honolulu and Waikiki, walking, biking, or Uber is best. For trips to the North Shore, you’ll need to rent a car.
- The best time of year to go to O’ahu is from early December through February when the weather is not too hot or rainy. The best season for surfing on O’ahu is in December and January, when all the pros come out.
- Hawai’i is 6 hours behind the East Coast United States, running on Hawaii-Aleutian Standard Time (GMT-10). The local currency is the US dollar.
- The sun is VERY STRONG in Hawaii– we are close to the equator, after all! Be sure to bring a hat, sunglasses, plenty of sunscreen, and UV-protective clothing if you’re extra sensitive.
- If you plan to snorkel or participate in water sports, please be mindful and wear reef-safe sunscreen. In 2018, Hawaii passed a bill banning sunscreens that can harm coral reefs in an effort to protect this fragile ecosystem. Please do your part by wearing reef-safe sunscreen like those made by TropicSport, Thinksport, Sun Bum, or Blue Lizard. You want to avoid anything containing the ingredients oxybenzone and octinoxate, which contribute to coral bleaching when they wash off into the ocean.
- Get used to seeing this: 🤙– aka “The Shaka.” (Yes, Hawaiian people really do use it in real life.) It functions the same as a wave or “thumbs up” in scenarios like driving, when saying Thank You, or when waving to someone else out on the ocean. It’s a nice, friendly, universal gesture.
- People who follow various Hawai’i or O’ahu accounts on social media may have recently heard about the “Stairway to Heaven” controversy. Stairway to Heaven, also known as the Haiku Stairs, is a dangerous and technically illegal hike that adventurers in pursuit of cool selfies keep getting injured on. In one recent case, someone died. Don’t do it. Try one of these beautiful local hikes instead.
- FYI, locals get what are known as Kama Aina discounts on select hotel stays, tourism adventures, and admissions fees to various museums, galleries, and attractions. “Kama Aina” means “people of the land.” (If you live in Hawaii, you probably already know this, but if you don’t, this is what that phrase means.)
- ‘Ilima, also known as “black coral”, is a golden flower that grows on waxy-leaved shrubs near the shoreline. It is the official flower of O’ahu. (It’s said that Laka, the goddess of hula, sometimes takes the form of an ‘ilima blossom.) 🙂
- Other local plants to look for and appreciate include giant, stringy Banyan trees, hot pink ginger plants, gorgeous hibiscus, fragrant plumerias, cheery monsteras, and Ti leaves, which are said to ward off evil spirits and bring good luck.
- Olomana Golf Club is a great place to go golfing on O’ahu. (It’s where all the diplomats and high-profile people visiting O’ahu tend to golf.)
- Manoa Chocolate does beautifully nuanced chocolate tastings (as detailed as a wine tasting, only with locally-grown chocolate!) at their boutique factory and retail shop in Kailua. It’s a fun experience en route to Lanikai Beach or the Lanikai Pillbox Hike, especially if you can’t make it out to a chocolate farm on Big Island.
- In general, remember to approach any natural wonder on the island with humility and reverence. Be respectful and pick up your trash, stay on the paths, don’t step on the coral, and abide by the local culture of decency and friendliness. Hawai’i is a beautiful and truly magical place, and we are lucky to have access to it. Let’s keep it that way for future generations. Enjoy your trip!