Our trip to Oahu happened in late spring 2019. Not that there's much difference in tropical climate from one season to another – but we were there in the last week of May. Like I mentioned in my earlier posts, I was not a huge fan of going to Oahu. But Honolulu is the capital of Hawaii and the only big Hawaiian island we hadn't seen – so we took the leap.
We planned for this trip via Lonely Planet guidebook for Oahu, and it was very helpful. While we didn't see all the places we wanted to, we covered the highlights that we wanted. All the beaches and hikes I've called out below were free to access.
Here's a 7-day itinerary for Oahu. I'll briefly describe each day in the sections underneath –
Day 1: Waikiki Downtown
The easiest thing to check out on the first day is Waikiki. Your accommodation will probably be around here, so it's easy to step out and explore the surroundings. While the skyscrapers in the downtown may not exactly feel like Hawaii, the beaches around certainly will. A great spot for lunch would be Ono Seafood (famous for poke), and we spent time watching the evening sunset at Duke Kahanamoku Beach nearby. It was a good first day!
Day 2: Diamond Head trail, Hawaii Kai and Waimanalo
Start the day with the hike to Diamond Head Crater, which is a top sight of Oahu. After catching the sight of downtown skyscrapers next to turquoise beaches from the summit of the trail – move on to the next stop, which is Hawaii Kai area around south-east of the island. There are multiple lookouts along road 72 including Lanai Lookout and Halona Blowhole. While they might not seem spectacular after the Diamond Head trail – they're interesting enough to keep the scenery engaging. Next stop would be Makapu'u Tide Pools next to Makapu'u Beach, and lastly, you can end the day at Waimanalo Beach Park – which is a picture perfect white sand beach. There's trees along the beach for shade, and the water is just the right temperature for a dip.
Day 3: Manoa Falls Trail and Magic Island
Start the day with another hike, this time of a waterfall – so it could not be more different that yesterday's hike. Manoa Falls hike feels like it's in the midst of a jungle with all the surrounding greenery, but the falls themselves felt a tad underwhelming because they're more of a stream. The height from which they fall though is quite tall, making it a pretty good view. We continued along on the hike after the falls, getting into and out of a bamboo forest to see a vantage 180-degree view of the forest, and the mountains – and even a tiny glimpse of the beach.
Pretty neat, I'd say. Since we were tired after consecutive hikes, we spent the rest of the evening lounging in Magic Island and watching the sun go down. It never gets boring!
Day 4: North Shore
It's time to hit the North Shore, but if you're a surfer – this is probably your first stop! North Shore, along road 83 is dotted with beautiful beaches, and a very different vibe from the touristy Waikiki. We started the day at the very top near Kuilima Cove – where you have ideal conditions for snorkeling. Later on, Laniakea Beach and Haleiwa are the couple of beaches we ended up spending most time at, but you honestly cannot go wrong with any beach around this area. Turtle-sighting is very likely in this area – so look closely, both in the ocean and on the beach. We saw turtles at Laniakea and Haleiwa. :D
Day 5: North East
On this day, we explored the North East part of the island, i.e. around Koolauloa area. We started the day at Kailua Beach park, which is again a beautiful white sand beach. Around 2 pm – went to Waiahole Poi Factory for lunch. Later on, we drove through Kaaawa enjoying the scenic ocean views along the drive. Our next stop was at Kualoa Park, where we again stopped for a bit enjoying the quiet beach, and the view of Mokoli'i Island from afar. It was a relaxing day, with a refreshing change of pace from the earlier days.
Day 6: Hanauma Bay and Hula Dancing
Start the day early, so you can get a spot in the parking lot at Hanauma Bay. This area gets crowded around 9-10 am on a weekday. Once your parking spot is captured, it's smooth sailing. Watch the introduction video and make sure you're not stepping onto the reefs while watching the ginormous fishes (yep, they have no natural predators here) while snorkeling. There's descriptive paneling around the life guard area about the kinds of fishes you can see here, if you're interested. Moena Cafe is the perfect lunch spot after the day at Hanuama Bay. We headed to Honolulu Downtown afterward for some cocktails, and then wandered over to see some Hula dancing at Kuhio Beach – which was incredible! The fluidity with which Hula dancers move is so graceful and feels like it's in perfect rhythm with the waves of the ocean. We ended the day with sunset view at Kapiolani Park Beach and then headed to Marakune Udon for dinner. It was well worth the 45 min wait in a line!
Day 7: Kayaking at Kailua Beach Park
Having seen Kailua Beach Park a couple of days ago, we decided to go back and enjoy ocean kayaking on this day to the nearby island, Moku Nui. It was a fun trip, and what made the experience more memorable was swimming with a turtle in the ocean at Moku Nui. Nothing beats that experience! After the kayaking finished, we had lunch at Bob's Pizzeria – right next to the kayak rentals. We lounged around in Waimanalo Beach Park for the rest of the day after which we went to Ala Moana Shopping Center and explored Shirokiya Japanese Village Walk which is like entering a mini-Japan.Very cute and cheapest beers you'll ever find!
While we saw some fantastic spots, we did miss some things we did want to see like a sunrise hike at Koko Crater Railway Trailhead near Hanauma Bay (perfect to plan for Hanauma Bay afterward). We also didn't go to the west coast of the island, primarily because it was too far from our accommodation – and we didn't think it was necessary to drive all the way around the island simply for the sunsets. The beaches on the west coast seemed no different than the rest of the island, at least on paper.
That was our trip to Oahu, and I loved spending time here. While this isn't my favorite Hawaiian Island – it's certainly unique and worth exploring – especially because of the easy access to beaches and ocean wildlife, like snorkeling. It's easy to see why this island would be the first choice for families with toddlers and young kids.