We visited over 14 beaches total. Beaches around the town Haleiwa (called the North Shore, but it’s actually the northwest part of the island) have super clear water and calm waves in summer. Beaches in the northeast are SO blue but the waves can be a little rough!
Waimea Bay was one of the prettiest on the North Shore (don’t go in the winter), but it gets crowded fast so I recommend arriving early around 8-9 am. But this was our favorite place to swim and the first beach we visited!
Snorkeling in Shark’s Cove is great (also on North Shore).
Lanikai, Waimanalo, and Makaha beaches on the northeastern coast are also wonderful but get to those early as well! They start to get crowded mid-morning.
We chose NOT to visit Hanauma Bay (touristy snorkeling spot that you have to pay for – gets super crowded). There are great snorkel spots on the island for FREE! Sharks Cove is one that I mentioned above.
You can also drive along the coast and pull over to any beach! All beaches in Hawaii are public. Note that it is illegal to drink alcohol on any Hawaiian beach!
We ate at a LOT of places on Oahu, but these were our favorites:
Haleiwa Joes (in Haleiwa) – my favorite lunch spot! Delicious! $$
Haleiwa Joes (in Kaneohe) – great for dinner with a ‘Jurassic Park’ view. Arrive between 4-4:30 to get seat with a good view – they don’t take reservations so it’s first come, first serve and it gets crowded. $$$
Koko Head Pub – Southeast side, great Hawaiian Kona beer and happy hour. We visited this place twice! $$
Countryside Cafe – Southwest side, great breakfast (closes at 2 PM). This was my husband’s favorite meal during our trip. $
Maui Brewing Co – in Waikiki. They have good beer and good food, but service is questionable. Nonetheless, we would recommend a visit. $$
Top of Waikiki – This is a spinning restaurant on top of a high rise in Waikiki. It’s expensive and popular, so make reservations to avoid a long wait. $$$
Goofys – breakfast in Waikiki. A cute, local place! $$
Giovanni’s – famous shrimp truck on North Shore (cash only). Arrive early to avoid long lines. Also consider getting half plates to try more flavors. $
Matsumotos – famous Hawaiian shaved ice on North Shore – a MUST! $ Wow Wow Hawaiian Lemonade – freshly made lemonade with locally sourced fruits (my fave) $
Leonard’s bakery – original malasadas (Portuguese donuts). There are locations across the island. I definitely recommend you visit one! $
It’s a no-bag state so
bring a backpack with you everywhere, otherwise you’ll be paying $.15-20 for a bag every time you buy something Ala Moana shopping center is nice but it’s mostly high-end & chain stores. We only bought something at Malibu Shirt Company (they sell shirts with vintage Hawaiian logos – so cool – and they also have a location in Haleiwa)
The Pink Line trolley is a GREAT way to get around Waikiki for shopping/dinner. It’s $2 per person every time you hop on, and you avoid paying $20+ for parking everywhere you go. Cash only &
you’ll need exact change
RENT A CAR! We spent each day OUTSIDE of Waikiki and it was the best decision ever. We rented via Expedia and got a compact car (this worked well for us because it was only us 2 and parking everywhere was easy). You’ll just have to find a cheap parking garage near your hotel for nightly parking
We bought a
large Turkish beach towel from Amazon that fit 2 people. This was GENIUS – these towels are EASY to clean (just shake the sand off), and having a beach towel with us was invaluable. We used it daily at the beaches. And it’s only $15! Highly recommend. We use this on all of our beach vacations. The first day, after picking up our rent car, we headed to Walmart to buy snacks/water for the week. We packed some in our bags each day. This was great because your eating schedule is off for a few days, so the snacks can hold you over until mealtimes
water shoes on Amazon and used them numerous times during the trip. The waterfall definitely required them and so did several beaches & snorkeling spots that had rocky shorelines Bring sunscreen from home. It’s a LOT cheaper!!! We used SPF 30 & 50 but still got a little burnt somedays. Put it on EVERYDAY, even when cloudy. Every evening we put on cocoa Shea body butter (bath & body works) which turned our sunburns into tans by morning. Be sure to get reef-safe sunscreen so you do not damage the ocean ecosystems!
Everyone says car breakins are common on the island, although we never experienced this. Nevertheless, don’t leave valuables in your car ever
TOURS: We did our helicopter tour with
Novictor Helicopters and I would highly recommend them! I booked on a travel website called Viator (a branch of Travelocity) and we did the 45 min tour with no doors. They do not charge extra for no doors! It was ~$450 total for both of us. We expected to leave at least a 10% tip, but with the way they operate & since we prepaid, we didn’t have to leave anything (there was never a time or place to leave a tip), so it saved us $50+. They were all so nice & the experience operated smoothly
HIKES: We only did Waimano Falls but it was AMAZING! A little challenging though so don’t do it if you hate outdoors/hiking or aren’t in shape. Arrive EARLY because it gets crowded. We were on the trail by 7am. You will get MUDDY so wear clothes you won’t mind ruining and wear a swimsuit underneath. I also recommend hiking shoes for this trail. Don’t forget to bring water & snacks. Takes about an hour each way. It’s best to go ~3 days after some rain so the waterfall will be flowing but the water pools will be clear. There are plenty of other hikes on Oahu if you think this will be too difficult for your group. Just search on Google!
PEARL HARBOR: Tickets to the USS Arizona are free, however there are a limited # per day. You can reserve them online 60 days in advance and they go QUICKLY. You’ll have to pay $1.50 processing fee per ticket. Other options: they have 1300 first come first serve walk-up tickets per day, but arrive early if you want one. They also release a couple hundred tickets online every morning at 7am for the following day (this is what we did). You are not allowed to bring bags (not even purses) so leave them at home or plan to pay for a locker to store them outside the entrance. Tickets to the USS Missouri battleship, the submarine, audio tours, and the aviation museum can be pricey – but it’s a very cool historical experience. No beach attire allowed.
LUAU: If you have never attended a luau, it is a must-do. If you have, then maybe you can skip this one. Get tickets to the
Paradise Cove luau– everyone says it’s the BEST! I cannot say from experience because we attended a different one that was for military only.
DOLE PLANTATION: Be prepared to pay for everything here. There is a huge store with everything pineapple. Pineapple maze ($7 each), train tour, garden tour, etc. We only did the maze. Overall, we would skip this.
SHOPPING: I recommend visiting the Aloha Swap Meet. It’s a flea market with local vendors – GREAT place to get cheap Hawaiian shirts, gifts, and souvenirs. Only open Wed, Sat, Sun. I recommend arriving at 8am when it begins to get good parking & beat crowds! There are 3 aisles of vendors that circle the football stadium in the parking lot. Stick to the outer ring – the inner rings have a lot of ‘garage sale’ booths rather than actually vendors and those sellers can be sketchy. Check the swap meet website prior to going especially if visiting during fall (our Saturday market was canceled due to a football game). Don’t be afraid to bargain here. I didn’t pay full price for anything
this guidebook to plan our vacation to Oahu. I would highly recommend it to anyone wanting to visit the island! It includes information about food, beaches, activities, and more from a local.