Let me begin with the truth – I'd been ignoring Oahu while planning and visiting the islands of Hawaii because I heard it was touristy, had tall skyscrapers, and reminded one of life in a bustling city. Whenever we wanted to visit Hawaii, we wanted to escape the city life, and therefore, avoided Oahu.
But by 2019, I had seen all major islands in Hawaii (Big Island, Kauai and Maui) except Oahu. Every time I tell someone I've been to Hawaii, they ask "Which island?" to which my standard answer had been everything except Oahu. It was time for us to see Oahu, and figure out whether it was really as touristy (ahem, loud) as people mentioned.
So, here's our most memorable experiences there in no particular order –
Hanauma Bay – the hype is real with this snorkel spot. This is the easiest way to see the fishes of Hawaii in all their glory. Hanauma Bay was a volcanic crater a long time ago, and the crater shape is very much evident to-date. Because of the rich volcanic soil, there is an abundance of underwater life in this crater. The bay was preserved as a historic site many decades ago, because of which fishing here is prohibited. This is why the fishes and aquatic life you see here are the largest in size – they have are no natural predators. It is mandatory to watch a short film before entering Hanauma Bay, and lifeguards are also present here making it very family-friendly. While the snorkel area is very easy to access, make sure to follow the instructions and not step on the reef. The only catch with Hanauma Bay is it's popularity, the parking lot is filled by 9-10 am on a typical day. And people usually spend a huge part of the day here, making it very hard to find another spot until 2-3 pm. We knew this, and therefore arrived early at 8 am and spent a good part of the day here. Moena Cafe is a good brunch spot nearby after you spend your day at Hanauma Bay.
Diamond Head Summit Trail – nowhere else in Hawaii can you see multiple shades of the ocean colors (is it blue, green or sapphire 🤔) along with the skyscrapers of the city. While this hike can feel a little intense for those not used to elevation gain, it is still moderate enough for most people to comfortably finish it. There are steps, and a path through a cave to keep the scenery engaging. As you may suspect, this is also a very popular hike, which is why I'd recommend seeing it at non-peak hours. Even with the crowds, the hike was very enjoyable for us, just don't expect to have it all to yourself!
Ocean Kayaking at Kailua Beach Park – Kailua is a beautiful and scenic white sand beach park on it's own, but the ability to ocean kayak to an island nearby makes it even more special. We went there and checked out the park, after which we went to the kayak rental place at Kailua Beach Adventures. We got instructions and life-jackets, picked up our kayak and headed to the beach. We got help on the beach with launching the kayak into the ocean and off we went. Even with the life-jackets, I was very scared since it was the first time I was kayaking in the wide ocean. It was a little hard while kayaking to the Moku Nui island because we were against the wind. I think it took us almost 2 hours to get there and we didn't stop in between at Popoia island. After landing in Moku Nui, we wandered around and just around the time we were about to start – we saw a turtle swimming pretty close to the shore. Taking our snorkel gear, we went in and saw the turtle feeding on the sea weed. It was the first and only time I've ever swam with a turtle, and it was incredible. This experience make the kayaking even more memorable. Our kayak back was less eventful, but we did pass by another turtle swimming. Because the winds were behind us, with the tail-wind support – we were back at Kailua Beach Park in an hour. After returning our kayaks, we had lunch at Bob's pizzeria nearby. While nothing extraordinary, it was very filling and the perfect meal after a day out in the ocean.
Food at Lucky Belly, Moena Cafe and Marukame Udon – While food at Hawaii is great in general, I want to call out these three restaurants for the unique food experiences we had. Lucky Belly was a small restaurant you'd see in a place like San Francisco – so that was totally new to experience in Hawaii. I remember the Game of Thrones themed cocktails, and the Asian fusion food. Wonderful customer service too. We went there for lunch after some time at a beach in the morning, and enjoyed it. Moena Cafe was the brunch place we visited after our time at Hanauma Bay. While nothing out of the ordinary, the fresh fish plate I had was super yummy, and I finished every bite of it. Highly recommend. Lastly, Marukame Udon is the best udon I've ever had, by far. We had to wait almost 45 minutes in line to get in, but the udon was worth every bit of it. You can see the udon being cut and cooked right in front of you, so you know it's absolutely fresh. Come and be wowed. 😋
Sunsets at Waikiki and Magic Island – I have a thing for sunsets. I love them and can spend many hours watching them. The colors of the sky at this time is my absolute favorite. Some of the best sunsets of my life were in Hawaii, so I was very eager to see what Oahu offered. Truth be told, I was not blown away by what I saw, and the sunsets weren't as dramatic as I'd like them to be. While they were subtle, they were still pretty beautiful. But I have to admit, you should have an eye to appreciate them.
Shopping at Ala Moana and Shirokiya Japan Village Walk – I've been to many shopping malls and outlets, but the Ala Moana shopping mall is one of the biggest I've seen. The most unique thing I saw in the mall though was the Shirokiya Japanese Village. It's like a small Japanese city in the mall, and you won't find cheaper beers elsewhere in the city. It's the ideal place to relax and grab a beer and immerse yourself in the Japanese experience without actually visiting Japan.
That's my top memories of Oahu. I can now say that I've visited all major islands of Hawaii, and that Oahu can be very enjoyable! I will posy our day-to-day itinerary in a future post.