Oahu Must Sees, Dos, and Eats

 

And if you don’t want to read the details of my day-by-day, here’s a summary of what I recommend on Oahu. I tried my best to make it more of a local experience while incorporating some tourist attractions, because those are the most popular things for a reason! Feel free to reach out or comment with any questions!  

I provided links for the experiences and hikes that lead to the full post with more descriptions and photos.

Experiences:

Kaneoheo Sandbar
Rent a kayak and paddle out to the sand bar to stand in the middle of the ocean. When the tide is low, the sand sits well above the water.

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Snorkeling at Shark’s Cove
Shallow waters with plenty of cool fish in an enclosed area. Also checkout Hanauma Bay (more crowded and touristy, but a great spot) We recommend full face snorkel masks, they make everything so much easier, and pickup a pair of fins at a local store!

Swim at Halona Cove
This was a great spot to just swim and jump in the waves, they aren’t small waves, but also not gigantic. This spot is also really easy to find and get to!

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Sunset at China Walls
A great spot to see the last light of the country and watch the surfers, plenty of parking and easy to find!

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Sunrise at Sandy Beach
Worth waking up to see all the colors of sunrise reflect on the tidepools at Sandy Beach (a.k.a. Broke Neck Beach). Stop at The Cream Pot nearby for breakfast!

Hangout at Lanikai Beach
Just one of many of Oahu’s gorgeous beaches, hard to find parking though so just drive around. Bring lunch and hangout all day!

Other: Sunset at Sunset Beach, Aloha Stadium Swap Meet, Snorkel at Hanauma Bay, Shop at Ala Moana Center, Shirokiya Japan Village Walk, Shop at Waikele Outlets, Buy a fresh coconut from a road-side stand or farmer’s market


Hikes:

Makua Cave
1.7 mi RT, Easy-Intermediate, Stunning sweeping view of west side’s coastline.

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Koko Head
1050+ steps, Intermediate, amazing 360 views of entire southern part of island

Lulumahu Falls
2.5 mi RT, Easy-Intermediate, Extremely muddy

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Makapu’u Tidepools
2 mi RT, Intermediate, Hike down from the Makapu’u Lighthouse trail to these semi-hidden tidepools that you can swim in!

Crouching Lion Hike
1.5 mi RT, Intermediate, Pretty steep and muddy hike but a nice view! You don’t have to walk all the way out to the rock to get the view either!

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Food:

Helena’s Hawaiian Food
Hands down our favorite spot to eat on the island. We were obsessed with their spare ribs, but their laulau, kalua pork, and macaroni salad was all delicious. There is usually a wait but it’s totally worth the wait, or take it to-go!

Foodland Poke
Foodland is just a grocery store but it’s probably the best deal on the island for poke, good quality for a reasonable price. Can’t go wrong with a half pound of Shoyu Ahi, half a pound of Spicy Ahi (not spicy), and a bag of Tostito’s Scoops.

Ono’s Steak and Shrimp
Something so simple about really good steak, butter garlic shrimp with rice, and macaroni salad just sealed the deal for me! Another great option is Giovanni’s Shrimp.

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Other great food: Button Up Cafe, Sura Hawaii, The Cream Pot, Poke on Da Run, Rainbow Drive-In. Great food we wanted to try but didn’t get to: Boots and Kimo’s, Marukame Udon


Dessert + Snacks

Liliha Bakery
Specifically the Matcha and Chantilly Coco Puffs! Seriously so good, my mouth is watering just thinking about them.

Haleiwa Bowls
We had two other acai bowls while on the island but this was definitely our favorite. I also wanted to try Sunrise Shack but didn’t get the chance.

Modo Donuts
If you like mochi, you need to try these, they have so many good flavors. Their location was a little hard to find but I shared a tip here! My favorite flavors were cookies and cream, black sesame, and earl gray!

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Shimazu’s Shave Ice
While everyone recommends Matsumoto’s, I loved Shimazu, short line, lots of options, huge portions, and good quality! We got the Milk Green Tea and Matcha flavors, haha adventurous I know. (Thanks for the recommendation Bailey!)

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Other: Ube Pie from McDonald’s, Malasadas from Leonard’s, Dole Whip from the Dole Plantation

 

Oahu Day 9 + 10 | Sunrise at Sandy Beach, Lanikai Beach

 

Day 9

Started the day at Sandy Beach or 'Broke Neck Beach’ to the locals, for sunrise. While it seemed like it was going to be cloudy, it ended up clearing up and being a really pretty sunrise.

I also finally go to try the Souffle Pancakes from The Cream Pot. The pancakes were pretty pricey but so fluffy and good. (Thanks for the rec Ian!)

Because we were up so early for sunrise, it was only 8AM so we decided to check out Waikiki, the most touristy beach on the island with all hotels lined up along the beach. We walked through one of the hotels, and while it was really nice, I didn’t love the touristy feel of the area. There really is just so much more on the island to see, eat and do. But they really did make the downtown area really gorgeous, especially at night.

While we were in the area we drove to Ubae for their ube cheescake tarts, 2/5, it wasn’t bad but pretty expensive for how small of a cheesake it was, it didn’t have a partciularly strong ube taste either. We went next door and got some laulau from Young’s Fish Market.

The entire trip, all I wanted was a fresh coconut, while there were lots of fresh coconut stands along the road around the island I never got one. We happened to stumble upon a farmer’s market where a guy was selling HUGE coconuts for $5, it even came with a handmade wood straw. He opened it up right in front of us, and explained where he climbed and harvested them on the island.

We couldn’t leave without one last stop at Lanikai, so spent our afternoon just relaxing on the beach. We also proceeded to do a mini photoshoot with our coconut before Jordan tore it open and we ate the coconut meat.

We got lunch at Rainbow’s, before visiting Jordan’s grandma one last time at her hair salon. I got their mixed plate and Jordan got the loco moco. Can’t go wrong with some good Hawaiian fast food. We also saw the coolest VW vans all over the island and here was a pretty green one parked outside Rainbow’s.

Day 10

Our last day we packed, had our last pound of poke from Foodland, visited Jordan’s grandpa’s grave one last time and finally tried the McDonald’s Ube Pie. Why did it take me until the last day to try this, it was so good, better than the ube cheesecake.

Before we knew it, our 10 days in Oahu were over! Belly’s full, a few shades darker, and rejuvinated, we were out! Until next time!

 

Oahu Day 7 + 8 | Hanauma Bay, Ala Moana Mall, Shirokiya Japan Village Walk

 

Day 7

By 7:30 we were at Hanauma Bay, a huge tourist spot for snorkeling, but for a good reason. Here you have to pay an $11 entry fee, watch a video about the history of the bay and not harming the rocks and wild life. We wanted to arrive early to beat the crowd. This is a great spot for families, it’s shallow and you see tonssssssss of cool fish, photos just can’t do it justice. We spent a few hours here, taking breaks for lunch and napping in our hammock. We even saw a sea lion on the beach.

Post snorkeling, we headed to Ono Steak and Shrimp nearby. And they didn’t disappoint, nothing fancy, but really good food.

Lunch was followed by shave ice, not shaveD ice, from Shimazu Shave Ice. While most people rave about Matsumoto’s on North Shore but was recommended this spot by locals and it was so good, not to mention huge servings with so many flavor options, at least 60 different flavors. We got the matcha and milk tea in a kid’s size and it was huge!

Next we visited the Ala Moana Center, the largest outdoor mall in the world. We got an ube ice cream taiyaki at Somisomi in the food court. Followed by $5 pitchers and takoyaki at the Shirokiya Japan Village Walk.

Day 8

Day 8 was a lot of driving around the island and just hitting some last minute spots! Also, lots and lots of eating!

We got ‘brunch’ at Poke on Da Run, I would give it a 3/5, good food and great portions but nothing AMAZING. (We got the Poke Nachos)

We did some quick shopping at the Waikele Oulets and nearby was a Leonard’s truck so we took this as an opportunity to finally get our hot malasada (cream filled sugar donut). Delicious!

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We even casually did a walking tour of Disney Resort, Aulani, definitely a cool hotel but very removed from the rest of the island, you would miss a lot of the culture. Again great for families to just hangout and relax, but not for Jordan and I who wanted to see and do everything on the island.

Next, we went to the Dole Plantation, I had been as a kid so didn’t need to do the tour or anything but just wanted some original Dole Whip!

We continued our drive north on the island, back to North Shore for a third time. We visited the Patagonia store and went back to the spot we shot at with Keri and Brendan. (This was also right around midterm election so Patagonia was giving away these cool stickers.)

We were crazy enough to drive to the opposite end of the island after having driven all over the island already, for our last Helena’s meal. And oh was it worth the drive.

 

Oahu Day 6 | Kaneohe Sandbar, Crouching Lion Hike, Sandy Beach

 

Day 6 — Kaneohe + North Shore + Waikiki

There are almost no words to describe the Kaneohe Sandbar. It’s a huge bar of sand in the ocean where the tide goes up and down, on days where the tide is low, the sand just sits like an island above the water.

We rented a kayak from Holokai Kayak and Snorkel. After some research, most prices were competitive and around the same amount, but they gave us a good deal! Threw in the seat backings and an anchor. We kayaked out about a mile from the shore to the sandbar.

We unfortunately went on a cloudier, actually rainy day, so there weren’t many people around. While the sun did come out here and there, it was pretty cloudy. Still it was an amazing experience and hope to go back again.

We continued up the east side of the island on Kamehameha Highway towards the Crouching Lion hike. Put the directions into the map and park alongside the road north from the trailhead, there will likely be other cars there. Usually I hear this area is pretty hard to get parking, but we went on a cloudy/rainy day so had no problem getting parking. Walk south down the highway towards the ‘Area Closed’ sign and start here.

Stay left as you hike up, this is the more direct route. You will have to climb over a fallen tree. Unlucky for us, it was a rainy day, and while the uphill climb was cardio it was also pretty slippery from the wet mud. It wasn’t raining when we went up so were able to climb the 1 mile up pretty quickly probably in about 20–30 minutes. The views at the top were quite rewarding, we didn’t actually hike to the very point that is a singular rock since it started raining. We reached the overlook before it continues to the rock, they consider this the Crouching Lion “mini” hike.

We started to hike back down and this proved to be one of the hardest hikes I have ever done, not because it was tiring but because it was so vertical going down with no traction. Not to mention, it was pouring, and the mud continued to get more and more slippery. It probably took us about an hour to slowly make our way down, and we came back super muddy. I wouldn’t recommend this hike on a rainy day but would recommend it on a sunny, dry day.

One thing I did want to do was find a swing along the road on the beach. And when people say if you just drive along the road and you will find one, they were right, I probably spotted 3 or 4. {They were all along the east side.)

After our drive along the east side of the island we continued driving towards the North Shore. We stopped for garlic shrimp at Giovanni’s Aloha Shrimp which is the truck still on the east side right before you drive to the top of the island. This one had almost no line versus the other Giovanni’s in the heart of North Shore that almost always has a long line, highly recommend this location.

To finish the day we watched the sunset at Sandy Beach with our Hawaiian Sun Guava and Lilikoi (lychee) drinks. While it was crowded and touristy, it was a really great spot, this is also where the famous curved palm tree is.

This day ended with lots of dessert, we had to get our Matcha and Chantilly coco puffs from Liliha Bakery. Cannot recommend enough, we even bought and froze a dozen to bring home.

Followed by our search for the Modo mochi donuts! Tip: this location is IN the Mitsuwa Marketplace IN the Waikiki International Market Place. It was a tiny booth like storefront. My favorite donuts from them were the cookies and cream, and black sesame!

 

Oahu Day 5 | Makapu'u Tide Pools, Lanikai Beach, China Walls

 

Day 5 — Kailua (South East)

Started our day a little later this day, but we were out to Kailua the south east region of Oahu. We visited the Makapu’u Tidepools, which often gets missed. It is a hike off the main trail up to the more well known Makapu’u Lighthouse.

After the parking in the Lighthouse Trail parking lot, walk up the paved path for about 20-25 minutes. While it is paved and isn’t a hard trail it is uphill and it is hot, so you will be tired. There are signs along the trail that educate you about the area and wild life, when you find the sign about the whales you will reach the part where you begin you descent.

If you look down you will see the tide pools below in the distance. From here you just make your way down the lava rocks, I wouldn’t say there’s a defined path but just keep going down the safest way possible. At the bottom you can swim in the tide pools and see the parallel blow holes called Dragon’s Nostril’s.

 
 

After our morning hike, we wanted to spend the rest of the day just hanging out at the beach. We headed to Lanikai Beach and this was our first opportunity to just do nothing and hangout. We picked up some poke and chips and laid out our beach mat. I also wanted to get some more photos of the haku before it completely wilted.

Lanikai is a gorgeous beach, pretty crowded and hard to find parking, but has nice snorkeling if you swim a little farther out and a view of Chinaman’s Hat.

After a few hours just relaxing, we wanted to finish the day with sunset at China Walls. This was a great spot to watch the sunset and surfers surfing the last waves of the day.

After sunset we headed to Costco to pickup souvenirs, the classic chocolate covered macadamia nuts but also bags of toffee nut cookies. Post Costco we met up with his family at Sura Hawaii for KBBQ. It was pretty good, they had some really good sides too!

Bonus, look how cute Jordan’s grandma is:

 

Oahu Day 3 + 4 | Lulumahu Falls, Shark's Cove, North Shore

 

Day 3

We spent the majority of Day 3 visiting both of Jordan’s grandpas cemeteries. Our first stop was Mililani Memorial Park. After that we went to the Aloha Stadium Swap Meet, which was a mix of stand after stand of souvenirs and people’s second-hand goods. We bought a few Ikaika Hawaiian Warrior Helmets as souvenirs for our car rearview mirror. I would recommend doing a lap around the place, although this will take a while before purchasing to get a sense of pricing.

For lunch we went to Button Up Cafe; since it was so small and the wait would be 30 minutes for a table we decided to take it to go. We found a nearby park just down the street to eat by the water (Neal S. Blaisdell Park). The nice thing about this park was that it was pretty empty and you could see parts of Pearl Harbor.

We ordered the Kalua Pork Hash and Tiramisu French Toast, both delicious! I wouldn’t say this was our most memorable meal on the island but well worth it!

Our next stop was Valley of the Temples to visit Jordan’s other grandpa. We planned on going down the street to Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden, which seems to be a spot everyone visits in Hawaii but we ran out of time and wanted to make sure we had enough time on our hike.

Lulumahu Falls wasn’t a challenging hike, I would say easy, about 1.5–2mi out and back. The only drawback was how extremely muddy it was, so be ready to wear shoes that you don’t care about. Also if you hate wet socks, don’t even bother wearing them. It is easy to get a little lost on the trail, but follow the pink plastic ties. We followed these the whole way and would have been the only way we found the waterfall.

Most hikes in Hawaii are private property, so I would recommend staying away most hikes out of respect to the land and risk of getting ticketed. This hike seemed visited by many and okay to go on.

Park at Nuuanu Pali Drive, and choose and entrance. There are two entrances, one where the the private property signs are that walks through a bamboo forest or through a wire gate that walks around the bamboo forest.

You end the hike at this 150 foot waterfall with a small pool at the end.

Day 4 — North Shore

We started another day early at Shark’s Cove on the North Shore. While this spot was more crowded, it was a great snorkeling spot especially for families with kids. The water was shallow but you could see tons of fish. This area is enclosed by a rock barrier, but you can go beyond this barrier where the water is a little deeper and see more fish. I would recommend water shoes because it is super rocky and sharp.

Even though it’s called Shark’s Cove, there aren’t sharks, its because of the lava rock formations that look like a shark. We even found some great trees to hammock under for a bit.

We had to also make a stop at Haleiwa Bowls which was probably my favorite acai bowl of the trip.

We ended our day meeting up with Keri and Brandon to shoot for sunset. We even had a beautiful haku lei by Sky!

Here are a few of the photos they took for us!

 

Oahu Day 1 + 2 | Electric Beach, Makua Cave, Koko Head, Halona Cove

 

Day 1 — Leeward (East)

As soon as we got off the plane, picked up our rental we went straight to Helena’s Hawaiian Food. Which was hands down our favorite food spot on the island. Directly followed by a trip to Foodland for a few pounds of poke. After we dropped our stuff off at our family’s place we were on our way driving up the East side of the island towards Makua Cave.

We stopped at Electric Beach on the way there which is known for its snorkeling. The waters there are warmed by the power plant next to the beach. Unfortunately we didn’t spend much time there or see anything. My guess is we were a little farther down on the beach away from the power plant and also didn’t commit to swimming a little farther out. Mind you we were so excited, this was our first beach of the trip, and were also trying to make it to Makua Cave for sunset.

We drove farther up HI-83 and parked at the Ka’ena Point State Park sign, that someone unfortunately knocked down. This spot had a really cool view of the coast. From there walk farther down the road to the 25mph sign, not the No Tresspassing sign. There is a path, made by others who have walked up.

Day 2 — Hawaii Kai (South)

We started the day early by hiking Koko Head, we knew it would be busy since it was a Saturday but also wanted to beat the sun before it got too high in the sky. I think we arrived around 7:30AM and it was already busy, not overwhelmingly crowded but busy.

I will say that this hike isn’t easy, it is 1,050+ steps. it’s completely doable but it isn’t easy. Jordan and I are both semi-fit, not top athletes who could run up this mountain, but moved at a moderate pace, taking maybe two or three breaks. But people of all athletic levels were doing it, just take it at your own pace.

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I will say, while we were sweating bullets, huffing and puffing all the way up in the heat and humidity, the top was definitely worth it. Not only for the views but the cooling winds that greeted us in the best way. You basically get a 360 view of this corner of the island.

 
 

Post hike we drove just 6 minutes away to Halona Cove. We hung out and enjoyed the natural wave cove for an hour or so before checking out the surrounding lookout areas.

We ended our day early to return home to celebrate Jordan’s Grandma’s 90th birthday! But before doing that we picked up an Acai Bowl at Lanikai Juice, tbh I would give it a 2.5/5. It was good, but felt really corporate, less homemade. It was also pretty pricy. I wouldn’t recommend coming here, there are plenty of other spots on the island that definitely felt more authentic.

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