Whoa, I am so excited to finally be sharing my Oahu Travel Guide! For those who don’t know or are new here, I stayed in Oahu for the entire month of June this past summer. I was a teacher, had off for two months, took the plunge and decided to live like a local for a month in Hawaii. Read all about why I decided to go specifically to Oahu here and my Hawaii recap here. This guide is full of everything I explored, the best hikes, places to eat at, beaches to go to and so much more!
Before I get started, I just want to clarify that this guide is geared for someone who wants to go on an adventure!!! When I booked this trip, it was with adventure and a budget in mind. I decided to forgo a car rental and explore the entire island by bus to save $. Oahu is actually the only Hawaiian island that is completely accessible by bus. This limited me a tad, as the bus took 3x/s as long to get anywhere. If you do decided to visit Oahu, I would recommend renting a car (unless your like me an on a super strict budget)! Oahu is so beautiful and there is literally something for everyone to do. What you will find are incredible views, fun hikes, the best food trucks, beautiful beaches, snorkeling spots, and all the nature and outdoor adventures you could ever want!
I set out on this trip with an adventurous spirit wanting to be wild and free. This trip was very spontaneous and incredibly fun! I traveled alone but had a few friends come visit. I left with exactly what I was looking for and came back with the desire to travel more and test my limits! If your looking for an amazing place to adventure, I’d 100% recommend Hawaii any time! I’ve broken up this Travel Guide into 6 Categories: Beaches, Hikes, Waterfalls, Food and Dessert, Activities to Do and Shopping. It’s my longest post yet, full of helpful info, so let’s get started!
The Best Beaches of Oahu
Sunset Beach (all three photos above)The famous Banzai PipelineWaimea Bay (taken from the 25 ft rock you can jump off of!)Laie Beach (only a 5 minute walk from my rental on Laie Point!!!)
The beaches in Oahu are completely flat in the summer (April-October). Come winter, swell forms making the waves as big as 30 feet and only those who are professionals should attempt to swim in the waves. Surfers from all over the world come to the North Shore of Oahu in the winter just to surf the waves! So if you are planning a trip to Oahu and don’t want to risk the waves, go in the summer! It’s actually their off season, so it’s less busy!
- Sunset Beach – Super beautiful. One of my favorite beaches and my most visited one on the trip! A local sells fresh coconuts here and they are delish! Perfect place to swim in the ocean and watch the sun set!
- Waimea Bay – FAV beach hands down! The water is crystal clear, has a 25 ft rock to jump off of and tons of sea life for snorkeling!
- Laie Beach – I stayed in Laie and walked to the surrounding beaches. Mostly locals visit the beaches here which is so relaxing and no big crowds.
- Sharks Cove – One of the best places to snorkel at! Tons of fish to see. Lots of tourists but I still had tons of fun!
- Turtle Beach – You can snorkel with turtles here and also see them resting on the beach! They are absolutely adorable. Watch out though, their not to be touched.
- Kailua and Lanikai Beach – Prettiest beaches with soft sand and calm water. This is your ideal place for a photo opp with the Mokes in the background! If your looking for the beach that’s on the cover of a Hawaii magazine, this is your beach! Just check for weather conditions before to get your crystal blue water experience!
- Makapuu Beach – A local recommended this beach that’s known for amazing views and big waves in a small ! It was so much fun jumping in the shore break and we also got to watch lots of local surfers and profesh boggie boarders! Also right by Makapuu Lighthouse.
- Sandy Beach – Did not go here but a local recommended it who sells coffee on the beach! Located in Honolulu and looks beautiful in photos!
- Banzai Pipeline (Ehukai Beach) – Kind of small and not the prettiest beach in my opinion but it’s iconic and fun to step foot on the ground where all the famous surfers have surfed at. Home of the several surf competitions in the winter.
- Hanauma Bay – Great snorkeling spot with calm water near Honolulu. It’s a state park, so you must pay $7.50 to get in.
- Waikiki Beach – Perfect spot to learn how to surf but very touristy and insanely busy. Not my type of beach at all, although it’s an extremely famous spot that I felt was a must see at least once. To keep away from the tourists and have a more relaxing beach day, try to stay towards the North side of the beach called Queens Beach or the South side by the Fort De Russy Boardwalk.
The Best Hikes
Ehukai Pillbox Hike (first two photos) Koko Crater Railway Trail (above 3 photos)View of Crouching Lion 5 minutes into the hike
Makapuu Point Lighthouse Trail (all 4 photos above)
Oahu has tonssss of hikes. I was there for a month and I don’t even know if it was possible to do them all in 30 days. There’s some for every level – some are treacherous and dangerous and others are family friendly. You can certainly never overdo hiking in Oahu! All of them have amazing views at the end! I used the AllTrails Apps to see starting points, find other hikes to do besides the main touristy ones and save the ones I wanted to do! I’m going to link the address to these hikes and also include links to others who have done all these hikes that give much more descriptive details on where to start, etc. Hikes in Oahu are not at all like hikes on the mainland. Many are unmarked and you would easily miss the entrance if you didn’t have the right info.
- Crouching Lion – Perfect for those who want a fun adventurous hike. If you don’t like heights, this is not for you. It’s steep, requires you to be physically fit and there are some parts that you will be on narrow paths.
- Stairway to Heaven – There’s over 4,000 stairs to climb and it’s illegal (located on government property) but if you look on Instagram tons of people still hike it daily. I never got to do this hike but I want to go back to Oahu just to complete the stairway! It looks totally insane but thrilling!
- Makapuu Point Lighthouse Trail – Perfect for families and those who want a spectacular view. It was fairly easy and not super strenuous.
- Koko Crater Railway Trail – This was more of a workout, as you have to climb old railroad parts to get up but it has a spectacular view at the top. Locals were using the hike as a hardcore workout and basically running the entire thing. I thought it was super fun but it does require tons of leg strength. Your legs will feel like jello at the end ha! Everyone from kids to adults were climbing the stairs!
- Diamond Head – Easy and perfect for families. Busy and lots of tourists. Not my favorite and to easy – would not do it again but it was fun to check it off the “hike a volcano” list.
- Ehukai Pillbox Hike – The start to this hike is in the Sunset Elementary School Parking Lot (not even joking!). Fairly easy, I did this by myself a few times and got a great workout in! I saw a mom hike it with 4 kids, so it’s family friendly but still gets your heart racing. There are old military bunkers are at the top and incredible views of the North Shore and Banzai Pipeline!!! Takes about an hour and a half round trip.
- Lanikai Pillbox – Did not do this one but it’s a fairly easy and a short hike with pretty views.
- 3 Peaks – A dangerous hike but if your up for the challenge and an adrenaline rush, you will leave with killer photos!
Where to Eat
There is no lack of delicious places to eat in Oahu! This is one part of my trip I did not limit myself on. I tried all the food places! Every single meal I ate was delicious. I ate out for mostly lunch and dinner and then made a vow to myself to try every single acai bowl place. Oahu has some of the best acai bowls in my humble acai bowl opinion. Before I went to Hawaii, I had no idea shaved ice was such a huge deal but it’s HUGE there and the best treat when it’s hot out (which it always is).
- Kahuku Farms – Hands down my absolute FAVORITE place to eat at on the entire island. Everything is delicious! I would definitely order the Lilikoi Sorbet, Veggie Panini, Farm Pizza and an Acai bowl. They grow their own acai, have a hydroponic garden, give farm tours and even sell bath and body products and natural chocolate! It’s a total experience when you go here! I give this place 5 stars.
- Hukilau Marketplace (Laie) – Touristy but has tons of food trucks. You can also watch a Luau here.
- Mitsuwa Market (Honolulu) – Japanese marketplace with Ramen and the best matcha ice cream I’ve ever had!
- Surf and Turf Tacos
- Kalapawai Café & Deli (Kailua)
- Kona Brewing Co (Haleiwa)
- Pupukea Food Trucks – right across from Sharks Cove and perfect to eat at before or after a day of snorkeling.
- Old Sugarmill Food Trucks
- Aunty’s Lil Green Hut – healthy, vegan and raw options
- Seven Brothers – burgers, salads, sandwiches
- Ono Yo – acai bowls and frozen yogurt
- Giovannni’s Shrimp Truck
- Haleiwa Food Trucks
- V-Land Tacos
- Hapa Tacos
- Crispy Grindz Acai Bowls
- Camaraonshrimp Truck
*NOTE: For those who love seafood, make sure to eat a Poke bowl and try Giovanni’s shrimp truck. I eat GF/DF, love trying raw and healthy food, so most of my go-to food places were exactly that. I am not a huge seafood fan and did not eat any when I was there (I know I know – I’m in one of the best seafood places in the world and, I just could not stomach the idea of eating any) but my friends did and LOVED both.
Haleiwa Bowls located on the North Shore. THE cutest acai bowl place in Oahu and delicious! Blue Majik Bowl at Haleiwa Bowls
I tried all of the acai bowl places humanly possible while I was in Oahu. The places I linked below were my favorite in terms of taste, look and experience!
- Ono Yo
- Haleiwa Bowls – CUTEST acai place in Hawaii and perfect for all your Instagram shots.
- Banzai Bowls – BEST tasting bowl in Oahu in my opinion.
- Banan (did not go here but heard they were delish!).
You can get shaved ice anywhere! My most frequented places are linked below. Let’s be real, shaved ice is shaved ice – it’s refreshing, flavorful, is pretty for photos and will instantly cool you off no matter where you buy it from.
Fun Activities/Excursions To Do
All three photos above were taken at Kualoa Farms!Snorkeling at Sharks Cove
Kayaking to the Mokes in Lanikai Beach. Can anyone say holy Kayaks!?
Famous Haleiwa BridgeSurfboards on the North Shore
- Kualoa Ranch – Do the Jeep Expedition. It’s 2 hours, so fun and takes you on a tour of where the Jurassic Park movie was filmed.
- Sharks Cove – Best snorkeling! Lots of tourists but it’s spacious and plenty to see and places to swim. I saw a turtle here!
- Dole Plantation – Very touristy but worth it if you want to do the pineapple maze and eat the famous Pineapple Dole Whip, fun for kids but I would not pay to go here again although it’s super inexpensive.
- Paddleboard in Haleiwa – So fun! I did this and it only cost about $20/person! You can paddle on the river, under the bridge and into the ocean!
- Kayak at The Mokes (Kayak Beach Adventures) – This was one of the highlights of my trip! There’s two islands out in the ocean (takes about 2 hours round trip) that you can kayak to. My friends and I rented double kayaks for $60/kayak and it was such a blast! Make sure to go on a non-windy or rainy day.
- Pearl Harbor – totally worth seeing such a historical place. I did the free museum tour and boat ride!
- Take a helicopter tour – Did not do this but I heard it’s the best way to experience the island. Next time I go, I will save up for this adventure!
Waterfalls to See
- Laie Falls – This is an 8 mile hike round trip. I’d say plan out an entire day if you want to complete this hike and bring plenty of water.
- Manoa Falls – Very touristy, easy hike and you can swim in the falls at the end of the hike (make sure to wear a swimsuit!). To avoid all the tourists, get up early at sunrise and go! If I did this hike, I would not do it again unless I went early for photos!
- Kapena Falls
- Kalihi Ice Ponds
- Kapena Falls
Where to Cliff Jump
The Best Shopping
- Honolulu – best high end shopping on Oahu
- Haleiwa – Cutest surf town with tons of local beachy stores. I felt most at home here! This was my favorite place to go and casually stroll outside and shop. I bought almost all of my families gifts here.
- Lanikai – Really upscale surf town and reminds me of Nantucket. There’s plenty of shopping here and delicious places to eat at.
Where to Stay
All photos taken 10 minutes from my rental on Laie Point
Now, where you stay all depends on your budget and what you are looking for. My budget was not luxury hotel friendly and I also love staying in houses so I can cook my own food and feel like I’m at home. If your looking for an adventure, there are plenty of options but if your looking for more modern day conveniences (like air conditioning), you might want to splurge on a hotel! No one told me this but about 99% of Oahu homes do not have centralized air conditioning! I was shocked, shocked when I found this out. So keep that in mind when searching for a place to stay!
I stayed in Laie (Upper East Side of Oahu)
I rented a small one bedroom apartment from a local I follow on Instagram and stayed in Laie on Laie Point. It’s a large Mormon community but it was incredible. It was only 30-45 minutes from the North Shore and way out in the country away from Waikiki and tourists. I lived exactly like a local! The closest Walmart or Target was an hour away. Any town like Haleiwa, Laie, Ewa Beach or Lanikai would be perfect for a more local experience.
Seriously, I met so many people who we’re staying in an Air Bnb and loved it! If I traveled to Hawaii again, I would find an affordable Air BnB since living in a house with a kitchen is my preferred way to travel!
Emily from Cupcakes and Cashmere stayed here! It was only about 20 minutes from Laie and was really beautiful! It has it’s own beaches and it’s known for a really great snorkeling spot!
I 100% did not want to stay in Waikiki. It was way to touristy for my liking but they have amazing hotels, some of the best shopping in the world in walking distance and it’s a very developed area with modern day conveniences and food places around every corner.
The Royal Hawaiian (a great Instagram spot with pink umbrellas!) – A historic hotel and absolutely beautiful right in Waikiki.
Now, anyone want to come with me and visit the other Hawaiian islands, say Road to Hana in Maui!? I hope you enjoyed this travel guide! Please let me know if you have any other questions about Oahu!
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