What to do on Oahu Island, Hawaii

Photo by Darren Lawrence

You asked, I deliver. For those who don’t know, I’ve spent quite a bit of time in Hawaii. Back when my husband was my boyfriend, which is also around the time I lived in Sweden, he was living in Hawaii because of his work. And despite the plane tickets being so expensive from Europe to Oahu, the time difference between us being 12 hours, and the fact that it took more than 30 hours to fly to each other each visit… I do miss this era of our lives!

Now, don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t trade being married and living under the same roof for a thing, but Hawaii was soooooo nice.

Anyway, that was just a little back story of why I visited Hawaii several times and why I feel somehow qualified to give you a mini guide to the island of Oahu. Unfortunately, I haven’t had the chance to visit any other Hawaiian island, but when I do go back, my number 1 will be Molokai. And speaking of, if you haven’t read the book ‘Moloka’i’, get it TODAY and thank me later!

Oahu is such an amazing island because it’s literally a mix of EVERYTHING. Nature-speaking, there are the mountains, both the ocean where you can surf and the ocean in which you can snorkel, incredible wildlife, botanical gardens, jungles, waterfalls, pineapple plantations, etc. Culturally speaking, it’s really a mix of Hawaiian culture with American culture, Polynesian Culture, and even Korean and Japanese cultures. There is also the city of Honolulu which is famous for its melting pot of cultures, food, art, and history.

Every time I visited my husband, I planned my trips extremely thoughtfully in order to make the MOST of each visit. I wanted to experience as much as possible because 1. Not many French people visit Hawaii and 2. I knew my husband’s days on the island were numbered! 

So, if you are thinking of visiting Oahu, or you have already been but only stayed in Waikiki and didn’t really see much of the island, OR you simply want to dream a little bit until you can book that plane ticket, keep reading!

Where To Stay On Oahu

Photo by Peter Thomas

Because my husband had his own place, I don’t really know the best places to stay. But from experience, I would avoid staying in Honolulu and Waikiki. It’s super pricey, touristy, and doesn’t offer an authentic Hawaiian experience.

Great places to stay are on the North Shore or on the East side. Both are much more nature-based and full of local shops, markets, and restaurants. The beaches there are also awesome. 

Keep in mind that Oahu is very expensive in general and therefore it’s going to be hard to find accommodation on a budget anywhere on the island. Honolulu is more expensive because most hotels are big resorts and eating in the city on a daily basis adds up very quickly.

Where To Eat On Oahu

Island Brew Coffeehouse

This place is absolutely amazing. The location on Hawaii Kai is perfect for a post‑Koko Crater Stairs hike – I’ll talk about it in the ‘hikes’ section – You will enjoy delicious smoothies, Açaï bowl, or avocado toasts right by the crystal clear water, served and made by the nicest people!

Kahuku Farms

How about a farm that serves food ONLY made out of fresh ingredients from their land? On the North Shore/East side, enjoy a healthy delicious meal at Kahuku Farms. It’s a 4-generations-Hawaiian-family-owned business. How cool is that? My recommendation for lunch is a smoothie, the grilled veggie panini sandwich, the garlic bread AND don’t forget their famous grilled banana bread topped with ice cream and caramel drizzle. You won’t regret it! Look out for opening hours because they aren’t open every day.

Lanikai Juice Hawaii

Instead of going to Starbucks for a refreshment, how about getting a to‑go smoothie from a local chain? Lanikai juice has the BEST smoothies on the island and the cutest merch as well. My recommendation, ALL of them! Go grab one on your way to the Lanikai pillbox hike or beach.

Banán

If you’ve never tried Hawaii-grown bananas turned into ice cream… now is your chance to run there. Located on the side of Royal Hawaiian Center in Waikiki, it’s perfect to grab and run to the beach with a view of Diamond Head. My favorite one is the Chunkadelic: banana banán, macadamia nut honey butter – to make it even more Hawaiian! -, dark chocolate, granola & shaved coconut. Have fun!

Koa Pancake House

Looking for a breakfast place? Try out Koa Pancake House in Kaneohe before your Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden run… My recommendation: their coffee is amazing as well as their macadamia pancakes. They also have amazing omelets and other breakfast plates. I’m obsessed with their fried rice as well!

Teddy’s Bigger Burgers

Now, being a HUGE burger fan, I couldn’t pass on a locally owned Hawaiian burger chain. And trust me when I say that it’s better than in-n-out… They have different locations on the island so go check them out! If you like it spicy like me, try out the Volcano one. If not, I highly recommend the Kailua burger with sweet potato fries!

Moku Kitchen

If you want more of an upper-class restaurant that’s local and still affordable, try Moku Kitchen! It’s perfect for a date night. We celebrated our 1-year dating anniversary there. They have the best mojitos I’ve had on the island – and I’m a Mojito connaisseuse -. Their signature side is the Jalapeño Mashed Potatoes and I highly recommend it. It’s not too spicy but it’s delicious. It’s located in Honolulu and make sure to make a reservation beforehand!

Some other great local places to eat:

  • L&L Hawaiian Barbecue — Hawaiian Specialties
  • Rainbow Drive-In —Hawaiian food (Obama’s favorite!)
  • Pupukea Grill — Must try food truck on the North Shore
  • MIKE’s Huli Chicken — Chicken Specialties
  • The Beach House By 604 — Seafood Restaurant right by the ocean
  • Haleiwa Bowls — Local Açaï and Smoothies

What To Visit On Oahu

Photo by Jeremy Bezanger

I grew up surrounded by art. My dad is a musician, and both my parents are huge art lovers. My mom loves to paint and my dad draws and sculpts. When I was a kid, they would drag me into museums – keyword ‘drag’ – and now that I’m a grown-up, I’m SO glad they did! They really created and nurtured my love for art and the joy I feel when I discover new art all over the world. 

Heck, I even have a tattoo of my favorite collage by my favorite artist — Matisse.

Once again, not the subject, I know. 

But Hawaii has a fascinating history – and at the risk of repeating myself, if you haven’t read Moloka’i, please do! Another great book to read is ‘Hawaii, over the rainbow’– and its art and architecture really reflect it. Here are some of my favorites!

Chinatown

Chinatown in Honolulu is the authentic heart of the city! Walk around town and you’ll find amazing street art, local shops, tattoo artists, street boutiques, amazing food, art galleries, live shows, and markets — O’ahu Market, Kekaulike Market, Maunakea Market. 

Honolulu Museum of Art

If you love discovering cultures and art, then I am 100% confident you’ll love this museum. At first, I was excited because they have some paintings from my favorite French artist.

But what I discovered at this museum blew me away. It also put me straight back in my place. I was excited about a French artist? Really? While I was on an island that has a fascinating culture and history? As a French person, I can literally see French paintings whenever.

Hawaii’s culture is absolutely amazing, beautiful, and humbling. I will never claim to know it well, but I can say that I am amazed by it. 

Hawaii State Art Museum is everything Hawaii is about — Mysterious, strong, loving, proud, and so much more.

USS Arizona Memorial & Pearl Harbor

My husband was living in Pearl Harbor at the time, and it was crazy to think about everything that had happened there!

The USS Arizona Memorial was something special. My husband being in the U.S military, we had also visited the landing sites, the American cemetery, and museums in Normandy, France. Seeing what had happened on the other side of the world (literally) during that same war was very profound.

You won’t really see the wreck (I didn’t!) but the tour is really interesting. First, they’ll show you a movie, and tell you more about the story of what happened that day, how, and why. Then, you’ll take a boat tour to the USS Arizona Wreck. Finally, you’ll have access to the memorial. 

‘Iolani Palace & Ali’iolani Hale

Located in Downtown Honolulu, ’Iolani Palace is Hawaii’s Royal Heritage. It used to be the royal residence of the monarchs of the Kingdom of Hawaii. 

Ali’iolani Hale, also famous for being the fictional headquarters of Hawaii 5-0, is located right across the road from ‘Iolani Palace. Historically, this building was the seat of government of the Kingdom of Hawaii. Today is it the state’s Supreme Court. It is particularly famous for its gold-leafed statue of Kamehameha. 

Aloha Stadium Swap Meet

Located all around the Aloha Stadium, the Swap Meet is Hawaii’s premier outdoor market. First opened in 1979, it now hosts more than 400 vendors and artists from all around the world. 

The Aloha Stadium Swap Meet is a place of cultural exchange, diversity, pride, and true Aloha Spirit. 

It’s a great place to get some local discounted souvenirs for your loved ones!

Haleiwa

Haleiwa is the most popular city on the North Shore. 

The town is famous for its boutiques, art galleries, local food trucks, coffee shops, and more! 

The beachside is very appreciated by surfers for its almost perfect surfing conditions! 

Waikiki Fireworks

Every Friday night, at 7:45 p.m, the Hilton Hawaiian Village in Waikiki hosts fireworks on the beach. It is completely free and open to everyone — not just hotel guests!

Some more things to do that are on my list but that I didn’t get the chance to visit — they will be for next time!

  • Aloha Tower — 10-floor lighthouse with a view of the harbor.
  • Bishop Museum — the best Polynesian anthropologist museum in the world.
  • Kuan Yin Temple — Dedicated to Kuan Yin, a Chinese goddess of compassion, this is a wonderful temple! 
  • Izumo Taishakyo Mission — Japanese sanctuary in Chinatown. 
  • Byodo-In Temple — Replica of a Buddhist temple in memory of the first Japanese immigrants to Hawaii.

Best Beaches and Hikes On Oahu

Photo by Ryan Pernofski

Hawaii has more than 150 beaches and some of the prettiest in the world! There is a lot that I didn’t have time to experience but here is my top 3!

  1. Makua Beach — located on the West side of Oahu, this beach is very local and absolute paradise. Please be extra careful and respectful, as this beach is completely natural and full of wildlife.
  2. Lanikai Beach — this beach was elected the prettiest one in the United States, and I can see why. Snorkel in crystal clear water with an incredible view of the Mokulua Islands.
  3. Sunset Beach — this is a great beach to play in the waves if you’re not a surfer!

Here are some other famous beaches around the island!

North Shore Beaches

Ke’iki Beach — meaning ‘children’s beach’ in Hawaiian, Ke’iki Beach is swimmable and good for snorkeling most days, but can have really big waves some others! 

Sharks Cove — a great place to snorkel! 

Waimea Bay — this is a super popular spot so come early if you wanna find a parking spot.

South/East Shore Beaches

Makapu’u tide pools — I LOVE tide pools and Makapu’u has the best ones on the island!

Hanauma Bay — this is supposed to be THE spot to snorkel, but I absolutely hated it. It was a really windy day and I couldn’t see anything in the water. I would give it another try! It was just a bad day! Keep in mind that the entrance has a fee.

West Shore Beaches

Pray for Sex Beach — it’s the nickname of Makua beach!

Yokohama Beach — mostly known for its curvy shape and turquoise water, it’s a great place to spot dolphins! 

Now, onto my favorite part: the hikes! Oahu is an absolute gem when it comes to hiking. There are literally hikes for everybody: from beginner to advanced, from oceanside to jungle, from rocky to muddy… you name it!

I’m a hike-lover but I’m not a great hiker, at all. Means, I LOVE physical activity, being outside and in nature, but I’m also scared of heights and not the best at climbing or cardio. So this hiking guide isn’t for the most advanced, but mostly for those who want to explore the wilder parts of the island!

Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden / Koolau Mountains — I had to put this as my number 1. It’s not a hike, but you can make a day out of it. It’s the biggest botanical garden I’ve ever been to. I highly recommend accessing it by car and parking at several stops to go for walks! 

Koko Crater Stairs — The name speaks for itself. It’s stairs. And lots of them. GREAT workout for sure! This 1.6-mile out-and-back trail is located near Honolulu and is a great place to watch both sunset and sunrise!

Makapuu Lighthouse — This coastal-view trail is paved but the view is super worth it. It’s a really easy ‘hike’ and also super family-friendly. If you’re lucky – I wasn’t – you can see whales jumping off the water during peak season! 

Lanikai Pillbox — This is a sunrise must-do. Watching the sun rising above the Mokulua Islands is priceless! Lanikai Pillbox hike is also almost always crowded but worth it!

Manoa Falls — One of the most fascinating waterfalls in Hawaii (up to 150 feet down!) with breathtaking views. Bring boots and safe clothes because it’s muddy!

Diamond Head — Unpopular opinion, I didn’t like it. It was extremely crowded, the most crowded hike I’ve ever been on. The view on Waikiki is beautiful but I personally like all nature better! Go as early as possible if you want to avoid the crowd.

Other popular hikes and trails:

Waimea Valley — Historic cultural area made of waterfalls and botanical gardens.
Lulumahu Falls — One of the best waterfalls on Oahu in the bamboo forest.
Wa’ahila Ridge Trail — A 2.4-mile trail that offers a view of Honolulu and Waikiki.
Pink Pillboxes — Located on the west side of the island, this 2-mile hike is rocky and offers a panoramic view of the Pacific Ocean.
Tantalus Lookout — Great place to watch the sunset on Waikiki. Come earlier than sunset because it is always crowded!

I really hope you liked this little guide to Oahu. I know I loved writing it and that it brought back so many amazing memories. I can’t wait to go back to this wonderful place someday! Please put this blog post to good use!

Let’s connect on Instagram and be friends!

Published by Romane Drake

French 24 year-old living abroad in Las Vegas, Nevada. I teach others to take the leap of faith and live their most extraordinary life. My mission is to guide you and inspire you to travel, get out there and explore.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: