‘Living Aloha’: a motto that Hawaiians live by. You’ll find that sentiment on street signs, at the top of brochures, and on restaurant menus. It means to be kind, support one another, and live freely. After a week of living aloha, it’s easy why some may vacation to this beautiful state and find themselves moving there in the future.
There is so much to do and see on any of the Hawaiian islands. But don’t go to Oahu without seeing or doing the following 10 things:
- Diamond Head
- Hanauma Bay
- Haleiwa & The North Shore
- Paradise Cove Luau
- Lanikai Beach
- Downtown Waikiki
- Waikiki Beach
- Aloha Stadium Swap Meet
- Pearl Harbor
- Sunset on the Leeward Side
1. Hiking Diamond Head:
If you’re looking for adventure on Oahu, look no further than the Diamond Head State Monument that was once used by the military as a post to prevent attacks against Honolulu. The breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean and Honolulu make this 300,000 year old crater hike (not for the faint of heart) absolutely worth the trip. If you wake up on the brave side of the bed that morning, there are two ‘restricted’ areas you can climb to for 365 degree views of Honolulu, where there are less hikers for a prime photo op. Make sure you grab a coconut and drink straight from it with a straw at the end of your hike!
2. Snorkeling in Hanauma Bay
I have snorkeled in the Bahamas and Antigua before, and the snorkeling trip to Hanauma Bay was by far the most spectacular. Visitors must pay to park and enter this natural preserve, where Hawaii is devoting time and money to protecting the coral reef. Down a steep incline (oh yea, you’ll definitely want that panorama shot!) you’ll trek toward the beach, where you can enter the cove full of fish and other sea life. The water is very shallow, and one can easily swim to any part of the cove in the calm, clear water. You can easily spend hours at Hanauma Bay, whether it’s relaxing on the beach or swimming with the fish. Author’s note: Watch out for the eels. Hanauma Bay was the most impressive snorkeling I’ve ever done, but after my ‘eel sighting’ it was also the most terrifying.
3. Road Trip up the North Shore & Visit Haleiwa
No matter where you’re staying on the island, make sure you take a day to spend on the North Shore. On the way up the coast, stop at the renowned Dole Pineapple Plantation (oh and do yourself a favor and get the biggest cup of Dole Pineapple Whip ice cream that you can possibly hold in your hands). Fun fact: This plantation is also home to the world’s largest maze! Once you head to the shore, there will be lots of cool local beaches to visit. Here you can catch some serious surfing action in the winter time, or spot sea turtles in the summer. Drive through the quaint, revitalized town of Haleiwa. There are tons of local boutique shops, yummy restaurants, and my husband’s personal favorite – Matsumoto’s Shaved Ice. We ate at a restaurant right across from the beach called Beach House, that featured an innovative menu with lots of delicious fish and seafood options, boasting a beautiful view of the sunset from the double-decker patio. Bonus: Vampire Diaries actress Nina Dobrev was dining two tables down from us at this restaurant – so be on the look out for celebrity sightings at this tucked away gem on the North Shore.
4. Attend a Luau in Paradise Cove
The luau was one of our favorite activities on the Island. Not only were the Mai Tai’s flowing with authentic Kalua Pork, but it was an opportunity to get a taste of the culture of Hawaii with all of the comforts of a backyard party. Fire dancing, catching fresh fish out of the ocean, and spear-throwing were some of the fun activities offered. My in-laws (who had been before) loved the experience all over again, and my parent’s had a wonderful time getting their names translated in ‘Hawaiian’ and my Dad even got a (kids-face-paint) tattoo on his face. There are Luaus all over the island, but I would highly recommend the Paradise Cove Luau. They offer three different kinds of seating and packages, with varying pricing. The food, whether you choose served or buffet style was quite good – considering this luau is attended by ~800 people per night. (That’s a lot of Kalua pork!)
5. Touch the beautiful sugary sands at Lanikai Beach
Lanikai Beach is on a side of the island where the beach houses make you think you’re in the Beverly Hills of Oahu. Beautiful, exquisite beach houses that are located along sugary, white sand with crystal clear water. This was one of my favorite parts of our Hawaii trip; we drove around the south east side of the island, with picturesque mountains to our left and white sand to our right. We even stopped into a few open houses (window shopping of course… prices starting at $1.1 M!) to see the view from these fabulous beach homes. This was no HGTV Beachfront Bargain hunt, but it was sure worth looking around to see the walkouts right on to the beach. Lanikai Beach is also close to Kailua, both with public access beaches to check out for the day. Don’t go to Oahu without seeing this lovely side of the island. You’ll feel like you’re walking in flour!
6. Downtown Waikiki
Even on a relaxing beach trip, you’ll want to take a day to visit the hustling bustling city center of Waikiki! Whether you’re looking for breweries, great restaurants or great shopping – Downtown Waikiki has it all. You could spend an entire day walking around and spending all of your vacation money. You almost can’t go wrong with any of the local spots, but don’t miss out on Maui Brewing Company Taproom (not the original brewery, but a great taproom with a variety of beer and a fun beach vibe) or Waikiki Brewing Company which is Waikiki’s first and only brewery.
7. Waikiki Beach
You can’t skip this tourist destination, at least not if it’s your first time to Oahu! Pro-surfers, want-to-be surfers, paddle boarders – no matter what kind of water sport you want to play (or watch!) you’ll find it here. Our family took out an Outrigger Canoe in which all six of us paddle in a large canoe and catch waves like you would on a surfboard. It was a lot of fun, and prepared us perfectly for the beers that were waiting for us after. A well deserved reward after catching waves (bro!). [Tip: Go early to get a good parking spot near the beach – it can be a mad house due the tourist nature!]
8. Aloha Stadium Swap Meet
The Swap Meet, aka Flea Market, was a great experience that my husband and his family used to attend every week. On Wednesdays and Sundays, Aloha Stadium – Home of the University of Hawaii Rainbow Warriors, opens up it’s parking lot to a plethora of local vendors, selling everything from freshly made pastries, to homemade jewelry, sweatshirts, hats and any kind of souvenir you could ever hope to find. Not necessarily your prime upscale shopping you might find in Waikiki – but a must-stop location for authentic Hawaiian goodies and chatchskis.
9. Pearl Harbor
This historic site is definitely not one to miss on your trip to Oahu. There are lots of free as well as pay-to-see areas of this monument, including submarine tours, opportunities to meet Veterans, and the Arizona Memorial where you can view the sunken ship in the harbor, serving as an active grave. Plan to get there early (people stand in line as early as 5AM) to get a (free) ticket to the Arizona Memorial. They only offer so many tickets per day, and they are always in high demand. It’s a humbling, somber visit – and definitely a worthwhile day spent in Hawaii.
10. Sunset on the Leeward Side of the Island, Ko Olina
Paradise Cove (luau) is located on the West Side of Oahu, so if you’re not staying on that side – the luau is a great opportunity for a beautiful sunset on the leeward side of the island. Even if you’re not staying there, pop into the Disney Resort Aulani right next door to Paradise Cove. It’s a beautiful resort that you might want to stay in the next time you visit Hawaii! Make sure you make it to this side of the island for for unique shopping and restaurants, including a great place with live music and lots of local beer on tap called Monkey Pod. Ko Olina also boasts a beautiful golf course and lots of great family resorts with private and public beach coves. We stayed at the Ko Olina Beach Villas, and had beautiful sunset views off of our balcony every night.
Enjoy, travelers. You may not want to return!
Aloha, and cheers!