Oh my god, FINALLY! We are to the post you have probably been waiting for this whole time! Unless you are really into food or what to pack when you vacation. Which, you should be, but we understand if this is the most exciting part. So, without further ado…can you believe we originally thought this Hawaii business would all be one post?…Our favorite things to do and see on Oahu.
The North Shore
If you do nothing else on your trip, drive to the North Shore. When you are traveling to Hawaii, you probably have visions of lava rock, surfers, gorgeous sunsets, and luscious greenery dancing through your head. When you arrive in Honolulu and Waikiki, you may be disappointed to realize, “Holy crap, this is a huge city with skyscrapers and chain restaurants.” Yep, sorry to burst your quaint island bubble, but this little island boasts a population of around 1 million. Take a drive to the north shore to get out of the city, and get that island fix.
While you are there, visit:
Waimea Bay or Banzai Pipeline to watch some great pro surfing in winter months. The waves can reach 50 ft! We suggest these beaches for viewing the pros and eating a picnic only. Head elsewhere for swimming. Oh, and don’t get any ideas about rock jumping. Just because other people are doing it, doesn’t mean you should too. Seriously, how many times do we have to warn you about dying on vacation? Yes, we have seen people saved by life guards here. Or at least we think they were saved, we technically don’t know what happened after they got in the ambulance.
Sharks Cove to do some snorkeling, or check out the tide pools. Be sure to pack water shoes, the rocks are beautiful, but hard on the tootsies.
Sunset Beach is a great spot to, you guessed it, watch the sunset! This beach should be okay to go in during the summer months, but always pay attention to the signs and lifeguards. There are some very strong rip currents that are no joke. Okay, so maybe when you visit the North Shore, just recognize that you may not get to go swimming. You get to lay in the sand, and soak in sun and gorgeous views.
Laniakea beach is where the green sea turtles like to come catch some rays. We always stop and check to see if any are out. It’s hit or miss, but when they are there, it’s quite the sight! We once saw about 6 just hanging out on the beach. They are protected by volunteers who will answer questions. Just be sure to stay away the recommended distance and not disturb these beautiful creatures!
Haleiwa Town: This quaint town has gone through some updates in recent years, but it still retains that old Hawaiian vibe. Be sure to grab a good shave ice at Matsumotos to cool down after a day in the sun.
For lunch, grab some garlic shrimp from Giovanni’s famous shrimp truck on your way into town, or if it’s the weekend, hit up Ray’s Kiawe Chicken in the parking lot of Malama Market for some tasty broiled huli huli chicken! Ray’s doesn’t provide seating, so we suggest taking your chicken to the beach.
Now for the rest of the island…
Our Favorite Hike
Manoa Falls: This is an easy to moderate (depending on the weather), 1.5 mi hike. Just a few miles outside of Waikiki, and you are transported to what seems like another world. You will walk through lush forest, bamboo, and end at a waterfall.
While it can be slippery, there are no crazy cliffs or streams you need to cross, unlike many hikes in Hawaii. Just pack some appropriate shoes, and reap the rewards!
Worth The Price of Admission
Kualoa Ranch Kualoa Ranch is a breathtaking, working ranch on the windward side of the island that has been privately owned for generations. It’s no wonder it has been used as the backdrop to many movies and tv shows such as Jurassic Park, King Kong, and LOST. They offer wide variety of activities, including horseback riding tours, ATV tours, Zip-lining, and movie tours. We can only vouch for the horseback riding, but considering the stunning beauty of the ranch, we doubt you can really go wrong.
Magic of Polynesia
Magic Of Polynesia This is a magic show at in Waikiki. Stay with us here. It sounds cheesy, but this magician was pretty impressive, not to mention funny. We had a blast! You also get the bonus of getting to see talented fire dancers and hula dancers without having to buy tickets to a pricey luau. We hear the food is fairly mediocre, so just get a show ticket unless they have one of their free dinner offers going on. In which case, hey, free food.
Duke’s Okay, it is touristy, and the drinks are expensive, but there is something special about having an evening cocktail on their beachfront lanai (patio) surrounded by tiki torches. We didn’t list this under food, because you are going for the experience.
Hanauma Bay Not far outside of Waikiki, is Oahu’s best known snorkeling spot. It’s in a protected cove, so the water is usually clearer and calmer than other areas of the island. Try to go on a day that isn’t too windy, and get there early, it fills up fast. Don’t chase or touch the coral or fish, especially when other snorkelers are already enjoying the view. *ahem, no, we aren’t bitter at all. * You can bring your own snorkel gear or rent from them. Oh, also, they are closed every Tuesday, plan accordingly!
Byodo-In Temple: This is a recreation of temple in Japan. It is so picturesque, it looks like a fake backdrop in photos. You can ring the giant bell, and feed the fish in the fish pond. The entrance fee is $3 for adults, cash only.
Great Views/Photo Ops For a Mini Island Tour
These next few spots are all located along the South East side of the island. Start at Makapu’u and work your way towards Waikiki, or you can start at China Walls and work the other direction. Swing by 7-Eleven and pick up Spam Musubis, or grab some Kozo Sushi, and hit the road for a picnic!
Makapu’u Beach and Lookout
Makapu’u Beach Probably the most beautiful beach on the island, apart from those on the North Shore. Horrifying bathrooms. *All bathrooms at the public beaches are absolutely repulsive. You’ve been warned.
Makapu’u Lookout Drive up to the scenic lookout on the side of the road next to Makapu’u lighthouse. You can get a great view looking out over the beach, and see Rabbit Island in the distance.
Halona Blowhole It’s a blowhole. Water shoots up out of a bunch of giant rocks. Its pretty. We know what you are thinking. Don’t you dare climb down to that beach. Yes, there are other people down there. Remember what we told you about people dying on vacation? There are little shrines at the top for a reason.
China Walls awesome cliffs jutting out into the ocean. If you are a LOST fan, you may recognize them as the place where Jon Locke meets his maker. Be very careful, as the rocks can be slippery, and don’t turn your back on the ocean. We recommend coming for the view, not for the swimming. The waves can be very strong and hard to get out of.
Pali Lookout It’s a giant windy valley. You’ll probably be driving by at some point, its worth pulling into the lot and walking up to check out the view.
Kailua Beach Park
Kailua Beach Park: Pretty beach with soft sand on the windward side of the island. Great for relaxing the day away. Super soft sand, calm waters, and beach rentals nearby. Great for those who actually want to go in the water. Caveats: Public parking lot is usually a wait, and bathrooms should be avoided at all costs.
Waimea Valley: Botanical gardens, self-serviced Hawaiian games, and a waterfall. Very pretty for an afternoon stroll on the North Shore. Caveats: A little pricey.
Other Things you Might Want to Know
- There are a lot of feral cats and chickens on the island. We find this kind of charming. There are also a lot of homeless people and cockroaches. This is slightly less charming. However, there are no snakes or poisonous spiders on the island, so you are pretty safe…as long as you don’t approach the wild boars.
- If you are renting a house or apt to stay in, be aware that central air is not a given. If this is important to you, double-check your accommodations before booking.
- Don’t wade in streams and free-standing water. You risk the chance of contracting a bacterial infection called Leptosprirosis. According to WebMD, it’s symptoms include high fever, headache, bleeding, muscle pain, chills, red eyes, and vomiting…kidney, liver damage, and even death. Yeah, probably best to stick to the ocean.
- People in Hawaii are a little racist, and they don’t find anything wrong with making jokes about it. They apparently didn’t get the memo when the rest of the US decided they needed to be “PC”.
- Hawaiian time is a thing, and it is sloooow….soooo slow.
- There is no smoking or drinking allowed on public beaches.
Here are a few words/flavors you most likely will encounter, and what they mean.
Lilikoi= Passion Fruit
Haupia= Coconut Flavored dessert with a tofu-like consistency. Can just mean coconut flavor if referring to another dessert, such as ice cream or pie.
Melona= Honeydew melon flavor
Li Hing Mui= salted preserved plum, often used as a powder on sweets.
Poi= Purple starch often served with Kalua pig, lau lau, or other Hawaiian foods. The consistency is a cross between mashed potatoes and pudding. The taste depends of the age of the poi, the older it is, the more sour it gets.
Haole= Oops, that’s probably you, and you just did something a local doesn’t like. Stupid haole.
We hope you love this big little island as much as we do!
~The Travel Cats