Top 6 Best Things to Do in Oahu
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1. Scenic Drive: Windward Oahu Travel
Oahu’s North Shore gets most of the fame and glory, but if you’re looking for pull-the-car-over-I-have-to-take-a-picture views, the eastern shoreline provides the more picturesque drive.
Scenic overlooks and stop-off points abound along this windward stretch of Oahu, but the following areas are a must-see…
Lanai Lookout | Kahauloa Cove
Lanai Lookout at Kahauloa Cove is easy to find and is a breezy 25-30 minute drive away from Honolulu.
Once you pull into the free parking lot, you can already glimpse some of the panoramic Pacific views. A low rock wall offers safety protection for visitors, but that doesn’t stop people from climbing over and onto the bluff, although I don’t recommend it.
To the right are ridged rock outcroppings jutting into the ocean where waves hypnotically crash and explode upward. A walk to the left of the lookout over Kahauloa Cove reveals more stunning ocean views.
While it’s hard to tear your gaze away from the rolling waves, don’t forget to turn around and take in the looming green ridges of the Koko Crater behind you.
Halona Blowhole Lookout | Wawamalu Beach Park
A 5-minute drive further up the Kalaniana’ole Hwy reveals the next must-see natural wonder: the Halona Blowhole Lookout. Ample free parking is available here as well. The Blowhole is easy to spot–with every wave, a spew of seawater ignites upward. Depending on the amount of pressure, the geyser transitions from a light spray to a mighty gush.
To the left of the blowhole is the Sandy Beach Park, which consists of a wide expanse of beach and is the perfect spot to spend a day relaxing on the sand or swimming in the surf.
Makapu'u Lookout & Beach
The next must-see stop is only 8 minutes away from the Halona Blowhole, so don’t get too settled in. Welcome to the Makapu’u Lookout.
It’s easy to pass up the parking lot because it’s situated in a curve of the road, but it’s worth turning around and taking a look. While fortunately, I didn’t run into any pickpockets, the signs do warn you to lock your car since it is a known tourist spot, so FYI.
It’s a short walk to the lookout point where in the distance you can see the small strip of land that is Seabird Sanctuary and beyond it, the massive stone hump of Rabbit Island.
When you’re done at the overlook, you can drive on and into Makapu’u Beach Park, but only if you have a suitable off-road vehicle because the ruts on the inroads are deep and the soil is soft.
If you can make the drive, the views from the beach are quite beautiful, but again, only drive down here if you’re in an appropriate vehicle.
It’s hard to pick a favorite view in Oahu, but if I had to, I’m certain it would be this one at La’ie Point.
And to think, we only found this overlook due to our Shaka Audio Tour Guide, which I highly recommend purchasing and downloading to your phone as you drive around the island. Without the guide, we wouldn’t have discovered La’ie Point.
You can access the Point by turning right onto Anemoku Street from Kamehameha Hwy. At the T, make one more right turn onto Naupaka St and follow it until it dead-ends into the point. Google Maps describes it as a “Scenic Point with dramatic ocean views,” and they nailed that description.
The rocky strip is broad at first before narrowing to a tip where Pacific waves crash and surge up and over the edge.
Before you walk out to the point, the view to the left is strangely mesmerizing. A strip of rock rises above the rippling waves, and in the center of the stone is a rectangular-shaped portal––a window to the other side.
The point of land you are standing on was believed to be a “mo’o” or giant lizard, according to legend, that stood upright ready to kill any intruder.
Carefully make your way over the jagged rock surface and look down into the crevices, and you’ll most likely see crabs resting; I guess taking a much-needed break from the pounding surf.
The rocks at the end of the point have eroded from the seawater, creating deep grooves and crevices where water perpetually settles into tiny tide pools.
An advisory note about visiting the Point: Be sure to park in the designated areas; otherwise, you will get a citation. In our case, having not realized we had parked in a no-parking zone, we found a ticket waiting for us. It wasn’t an exorbitant cost, but it was still a cost, so definitely be aware of the no parking signs.
If you’re on a mission to see as much as you can of Oahu’s natural treasures, then a stop off at Kahuku Village shouldn’t necessarily be on your agenda. However, if you’re in need of refreshment, Kahuku Village is the best place to stop on this stretch of road.
There are quite a few options here for food and drink, but my recommendations are a shaved ice concoction from Wili Wili’s Plantation or a coffee and snack from Raised by the Waves where you can also get a CBD shot infused into your coffee if you like.
2. The North Shore
The North Shore is the iconic strip of land where surfers seek out huge waves rolling into the Bonzai Pipeline and Waimea Bay. If you visit Oahu in November or December, you might get lucky and catch the waves when they are at their highest along the North Shore.
But, nature is predictably unpredictable, so the huge North Shore waves aren’t a guarantee even in the winter months. No matter the wave size, the North Shore is a beautiful, laid-back drive where you can watch the surfers glide by or get out there and try to catch a wave yourself.
Turtle Bay is a sprawling resort and a great place to stop off if you want a bite or a drink before you explore the North Shore.
While I didn’t stay here, I loved walking the grounds, passing through the outdoor spa, and on to the pool bar, all the while taking in the ocean views beyond. It might have been my imagination, but the waves rolling into this cove were the largest I saw on the North Shore during my stay.
Pupukea Beach Park
The North Shore is filled with beach parks, and Pupukea Beach Park is a beautiful place to pull off and enjoy the waves or surf them. This beach is easily accessible, and parking is free of charge.
Waimea Bay Beach Park
Aloha Waimea Bay – This bay can be one of the most wave-active areas of the North Shore depending on the weather conditions; or, it can be peacefully calm as it was on the day I visited.
While you may be hoping for massive waves here, the bay is still a beauty in this crystal clear, placid state.
Haleiwa Town is Oahu’s quintessential surfing village and is the ideal place to round out your North Shore drive.
Haleiwa isn’t huge, but it is a picture-perfect place to walk around and browse the surf shops and quirky stores that line the main street through town.
Although there will probably be a line, some of the best shave ice in Oahu is served here at Matsumoto’s, so get in line and indulge in the icy treat.
Waikiki is Oahu’s primary resort and hotel region, and while it can be a little overcrowded at times, Waikiki is also really lovely and convenient, especially if you’re basing your Oahu travel from here.
With views of Diamond Head to the left, Waikiki Beach is Oahu’s classic place to go for a stroll. If you want to go for the day and lay out, swim, or surf, it does get fairly crowded, so go early and stake your claim.
There are also lots of rentals available along the beach if you want to go out on a party boat or canoe or rent a stand-up paddleboard.
If you prefer a more private beach experience, then you’ll probably want to seek out a different location, but Waikiki Beach is ideal if you wish to experience that vibrant beach vibe where loads of people gather to soak up some rays and waves.
If you love shopping and enjoy browsing high-end boutiques, then look no further than Kalakaua Ave. There’s even a Tesla store.
A particularly lovely area to walk around and shop is the International Market Place, which has been in operation since 1957. The International Market Place offers more than 100 stores in addition to a walk-through educational, cultural experience.
4. Pearl Harbor
I didn’t know quite what to expect from a visit to Pearl Harbor, but it was an emotionally moving experience. While I don’t feel the need to revisit the historic site, I am happy I did.
There’s quite a lot to see and experience here, but I suggest you book your ticket to the USS Arizona ahead of time because they sell out fairly quickly. You can reserve the tickets by visiting Recreation.gov.
The USS Arizona Memorial Program
The 75-minute program for the USS Arizona Memorial begins with a 23-minute documentary film followed by a Navy-operated shuttle boat ride to the USS Arizona Memorial, where you can still see the wreckage underneath the oil-stained water – the Tears of the Arizona.
The experience is quiet, appropriately solemn, and while the entire touring of the memorial only takes 15 minutes or so, it’s a fitting tribute.
Afterward, you can walk through the Remembrance Circle, which honors all of the lives lost during the attack. There are 2 exhibit galleries as well – “Road to War” & “Attack” – which visually chronicle the events leading up to the attack on Pearl Harbor.
5. Byodo-In Temple
The temple is a replica of the Byodo-In Temple located in Uji, Japan, built over 950 years ago and is a 40-minute drive from Waikiki. The Temple and its gardens were dedicated in 1968 to commemorate the 100 year anniversary of the first Japanese immigrants to Hawaii.
The Temple isn’t visible from the road, but the Hawaiian Memorial Park Mortuary most certainly is. Look for the massive cemetery on a hill. After you park, there is an entrance fee of 4.00/ person (cash only). Before you get to the Temple, the path curves to the left where the bon-sho or Sacred Bell is situated.
The bell is over 6 feet high and weighs over 7 tons. The original bell, after which this one was designed, is one of the most famous bells in Japan and has been hanging there for over nine centuries.
Visitors are actually invited to ring the bell using the shumoku (wooden beam) before entering the temple. It is believed that the bell’s tones clear the mind of negativity, imparts deep peace and happiness, blessings, and long life. Why wouldn’t you ring it?
Before you enter the temple, you must first remove your shoes and place them in the shoe rack. Inside the Ho-O-Do (translates to mean the Phoenix Hall) is the 2 ton Amida statue, which is 9 feet tall, covered in gold leaf, and represents the infinite life and light surrounding all beings.
The Amida Buddha sits in the center of the temple atop a golden lotus flower, looking out the open doors to the still pond waters beyond.
Swimming in the pond are hundreds of brightly colored koi fish. You can buy food from the tiny gift shop or from one of the vendors there to feed them, although with there being so many of them, it looked a little terrifying watching the fish swarm towards the banks when someone started to feed them.
All in all, a visit here only takes around 35 to 40 minutes, and even if you’re not a Buddhist, you’ll still most likely enjoy experiencing this peaceful, serene place.
6. Dole Pineapple Plantation
Along the Kamehameha Hwy (route 99) is the Dole Pineapple Plantation, where inside the large yellow building is a massive store filled with (you guessed it) pineapple-themed gifts and candies. Here, you can also grab a Kona coffee and sample some flavored macadamia nuts, or order a mouth-watering Dole pineapple whip.
Through the back doors of the building is a train station which takes visitors on various informative tours of the plantation. To the right is their massive maze, declared the world’s largest in 2008, and costs 8.00 if you want to venture into it.
Duke's Canoe Club
Duke’s Canoe Club was my favorite dining experience in all of Oahu. I loved it so much; I ate here twice, actually. Located in the heart of Waikiki on the beach, Duke’s Canoe Club is named after Duke Kahanamoku, the legendary surfer who, in 1929, rode a monster wave for 1 1/8 miles.
Although Duke’s Canoe Club is a large restaurant, it is popular, so to avoid a long wait, I do recommend getting a reservation. If you do have to wait, you can grab a beverage at the large central bar until your buzzer vibrates. In the main dining room, a group of musicians move about the place and sing soft Hawaiian songs accompanied by a ukulele.
Now, to the good stuff. One of the best entrees I have ever tasted is Duke’s Macadamia Nut Encrusted Fish. Opah, or Moonfish, was the fish selection that evening, and it was encrusted with crumbled macadamia nuts, parmesan cheese, and topped with a white wine lemon cream sauce. Simply delicious.
Orchids at the Halekulani Resort is a delicious experience in a gorgeous setting with views of the ample green space and the ocean beyond.
The afternoon tea menu consists of a variety of sandwiches served with scones, clotted cream, lemon curd, and strawberry jam, then finished out with a selection of decadent desserts.
Surf Lanai Mai Tai Bar | The Royal Hawaiian
If you want to enjoy a tiki drink with one of the best views of Waikiki Beach, then look no further than the Surf Lanai Mai Tai Bar at The Royal Hawaiian. The vivid pink cocktail umbrellas match the large pink umbrellas that form a shady canopy over the lanai.
If you look to the left, you can see the blunt ridges of Diamond Head, and with direct access to the sands of Waikiki Beach, it’s also a picture-perfect vantage point for people-watching.
Oahu Hotel Recommendations
Dubbed “The Pink Palace of the Pacific,” the Royal Hawaiian is a historic hotel located in the heart of Waikiki Beach, and I highly recommend a stay here.
The opening of The Royal Hawaiian on February 1, 1927, ushered in a new era of luxurious resort travel to Hawaii.
If you want to luxuriate in a sprawling resort away from the fast-paced scene of Waikiki and Honolulu, then definitely check out the Four Seasons Resort at Ko’olina.
Nestled in the curve of a quiet lagoon, the resort has it all, and if you have time, definitely check out the spa.