The Hawaiian Islands are usually a place on everyone’s travel bucket list. More airlines are starting to fly to Hawaii now than ever which means CHEAPER Flights. Southwest started flying to the Islands from multiple destinations so be sure to get that Southwest Companion Pass (Reference my previous “Traveling on a Budget” Blog) or use those miles and book that getaway to the Hawaiian Islands.
Any of the islands are ideal for your next vacation. O’ahu is the main island many people think about because it is home to the largest city of Honolulu. O’ahu has the biggest airport of all the islands so you will have more flight options here. With airline competition heating up you can now also fly inter island (Maui, Kauai, The Big Island) easier and cheaper.
O’ahu is the most populated island with a large dense population in Honolulu. However, once you travel 20minutes out of the city there are spots to make you feel like you are on your own island. O’ahu lets you have the city feel (home to great shopping and dining) as well as be out in nature away from the crowds to have the best of both worlds. If all you want is quiet and to feel alone then the islands of Maui and Hawaii (The Big Island) are much quieter. Eitherway, you can’t go wrong going to any of the islands!
Ready to plan your trip? Here are my Top 10 Must See Places on O’ahu:
Diamond Head Hike (South)
Lanikai Pillbox Hike (East)
Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden (East)
Hanauma Bay (South East)
Electric Beach (West)
Mermaid Cave (West)
Pillbox Hike in Maili / “The Pink Pillbox Hike” (West)
Ko Olina (West)
North Shore Beaches (North)
Easily one of the first names you think of when you hear Hawaii. Waikiki, a neighborhood of Honolulu, is home to an iconic beach, glamorous resorts, and fine shopping and dining. Waikiki is easily the most crowded area on the island litered with high rise apartment buildings and hotels but still home to a beautiful stretch of beaches and water. This beach is definitely one of the best places to learn how to surf due to the easy long and slow breaks. Be sure to stay here through sunset as this is one of the best places to catch the sun set on the Pacific Ocean.
Plan to be here at a minimum of the afternoon through sunset. This can be a chaotic beach so if you are looking for a relaxing beach you may want to go somewhere else. However, if you are staying at one of the many nearby hotels this is definitely a great place to relax.
BONUS: Free Firework show EVERY Friday Night courtesy of the Hilton Hawaiin Village Hotel and Resort
Diamond Head Hike
Whether you are flying in to HNL or sitting on Waikiki Beach, you certainly will see Diamond Head in the distance. A 1.5 -2 Hour Hike Round Trip hike to the top of the Crater will give you sweeping views of the island and a beautiful overlook of Honolulu and Waikiki Beach. The difficulty of the hike is moderate as it is well paved and has stairs to provide easy access to the top. This is one of the most well known and most crowded hikes. Take a bus or rideshare to the parking lot or get there early to secure parking.
Plan for a 2 hour hike round trip and remember this is a great place to catch a sunset. To beat the crowds you may also want to get here first thing in the morning.
Lanikai Pillbox Hike
A Sunrise Hike to the Lanikai Pillbox hike is an absolute must. If getting up early isn’t your thing, consider doing this on your first full day to the island. If you are coming from the West Coast or even somewhere more East of California, the early morning wake up won’t feel so early because of the time zone adjustment. Get here early and plan to hike right before sunrise as parking can be limited but more importantly the views should not be missed.
This hike isn’t too difficult but you are climbing to the top of the ridge. You can easily get up there in 30 minutes but you will definitely break a sweat. Enjoy the colors as the sun rises and stay even longer to see some of the most beautiful ocean waters on the island of Lanikai beach just below. Be sure to head to one of the beaches after your hike to cool off and enjoy the water.
Plan on being here 2 hours and get here as early as possible! You do not want to miss the sunrise.
Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden
Say it 5 times fast. This beautifully and well maintained lush park is home to one very iconic entrance which you have surely seen on Social Media. The guard typically will yell at you for stopping and taking a photo so I suggest getting here before 9AM to snap a photo of the roadway littered with Palm Trees sitting in front of a huge ridge.
Tip: Plan to go here after the Lanikai Pillbox hike as it is close and it doesn’t open until 9AM which will give you plenty of time to enjoy the sunrise and catch a breakfast before heading over to the Garden.
Plan on being here 1-2 hours. You can easily stay here if you want to walk around or even camp overnight.
One of the best places to snorkel on the island is Hanauma Bay. There is a small fee to enter the State Runned Park (your money goes to preserving this natural wonder and keeping the corals safe) but this is easily worth the admission fee with just the view alone. There is plenty of parking on site so you don’t need to get here first thing.
TIP: Buy a snorkel and fins on Amazon before your trip. Not only will you probably save money but you will be able to have better equipment and use your snorkel again and again on the remainder of your trip. You definitely want to be here at high tide, otherwise you will be blocked from moving around freely due to the large coral structures and may even prevent a possible cut or two on your legs.
Plan to be here for at least 2 hours. This is also a great place to spend all day as there are bathrooms and even some food concessions. There is a large shopping center with many food options as well just a 5 minute drive from the parking lot.
“Electric Beach” Kahe Point
A 45 minute scenic drive from Waikiki through the quieter areas of the island will bring you to your destination. As you pull up you will see a large Power Station across the street from the beach and quickly realize how it got its name. This isn’t one of the best beaches on the island for its sand or calm waves but grab the snorkel and fins and head into the water to see why it is on the list.
You will surely see some boats and scuba dive flags about 250 feet straight out from the direction of the Power Plant. This is a very popular place for scuba divers but you can enjoy this with just your snorkel.
Note: if you are not a good swimmer this is NOT for you.
As you swim towards the dive flags you will see the end of a large pipe running along the bottom of the ocean floor. The end of the pipe lets out warm water through the cooling pipes which attracts a large amount of sea life. You will certainly be able to swim with large schools of fish as well as may be lucky enough to catch some sea turtles. On top of the beauty of the many different types of fish and machinery at the bottom of the ocean, the water clarity is second to none. Keep your eyes open as you may even see a lot of dolphins in the area.
TIP: listen for dolphin noises or even whale noises if you are here during the winter months!
There is a parking lot about 5 minutes from Electric Beach. Walk on the rock side of the water to the left and after about a minute you will see some holes in the rock formations. Towards the back (away from the water) along the perimeter you will see two larger holes. The further hole is about 6 feet above the surface below. Carefully jump down into the hole and you will be immersed in an underground cave.
Plan on being here 30 minutes and be sure to come here at LOW TIDE. There is water that surges into the cave that can be turbulent as the tide changes so be sure to be careful of your surroundings. If you see a crowd of people you may want to wait before going down as there is not much free space in the cave. At High Tide you will even find some of the braver residents jumping in to the cave. Jump at your own caution!
Pillbox Hike in Maili / “The Pink Pillbox Hike”
There are many hikes on O’ahu and many Pillboxes scattered throughout the island. Pillboxes are concrete structures that were used back in the day as hideouts to spot naval activity in the surrounding oceans. Many of them now are plastered with graffiti murals and art with one of the more famous being the Pink Pillbox Hike. There are actually five pillboxes scattered at the top of this trail but some of them are painted pink to honor the victims and survivors of breast cancer.
This hike is a little more difficult than the Lanikai Pillbox hike but it can certainly be done.
Plan on a 2 hour round trip hike which will include plenty of time to enjoy the views at the top. This hike is less crowded as it is farther up the remote North West Side of the Island.
Ko Olina is a little town on the west side of the island home to some beautiful resorts. This area is very different from Waikiki. The resorts sit on large properties and the overwhelming crowds of Waikiki are missing. One of the most famous resorts here is the Disney Resort Aulani.
If you are lucky enough to be staying at the resorts here then you will surely be enjoying your vacation. If you aren’t staying on this side of the island don't worry, as there are some gorgeous lagoons here that you can enjoy. These water breaks allow for super calm waters great for stand-up paddle boarding and swimming.
Plan on being here 1-2 hours if you aren’t staying at the resorts and head to the other West Side Attractions further north including Electric Beach and the Mermaid Caves.
North Shore Beaches
The 4 regions of the island all provide their own unique opportunities. The South has Waikiki, the East has the beautiful beaches of Lanikai, the West has the resorts and lagoons, but the North is famous for what many people think when they hear Hawaii.. SURFING!
The North Shore is largely undeveloped and a much quieter part of the island. About an Hour drive from Waikiki will bring you to the little town. It can be a quiet side of town unless you are here in the winter months. December brings the crowds for many famous Surfing Competitions such as Sunset Beach and Pipeline.
Plan on being here all day, especially if you are staying closer to Waikiki. If you are lucky enough to come here in the winter months get here early to get a parking spot and space to enjoy some of the best surfers in the world tear up some of the best waves in the world.
If you are going to O’ahu be sure to check out all of these 10 Spots. I will be writing 4 more blogs providing a more comprehensive list broken down by each region. Be sure to Tag me in your photos if you made it to these 10.
If you are adventurous and can handle a steep hike, plan to Hike the Stairway To Heaven. This is a strenuous and long hike. If you are on the Island for a short stay it might not be beneficial to do the hike as you will most likely be very sore and unable to enjoy some of the other locations I have listed. If you are an avid hiker then you certainly want to hike up the ridges to see some of the most spectacular views of the island.