Like we did for our Kauai itinerary, we wanted to share our experience with Oahu so if you are planning a trip you can learn from our experience!
Oahu is filled with a ton of stuff to do! We could have spent our entire vacation here and I am not sure we would have been able to hit everything on the list! Here is what we were able to accomplish in 7 days!
Kailua and Lanikai Beach
After wearing ourselves out in Kauai, we wanted our first day in Oahu to be somewhat relaxing. Ryan and I did a quick hike on the Makapuu Lighthouse Trail (less than 2 miles round trip) in the morning and got to explore some WWII observation posts and pillbox bunkers. I recommend this hike for anyone – it is fairly easy. However, the ascent is pretty much a steady incline and there is no shade. Go early in the morning and bring water!!
Then we went back to the house we were renting and picked up Lainey and her hubs and a picnic and headed to Lanikai Beach! The beach is a gorgeous stretch of beautiful sand and bright blue waters. Parking is only street parking and in a residential neighborhood so it can be a bit of challenge.
Our first order of business was to take our engagement photos (we were lucky that Lainey’s hubs is an amazing photographer). Ryan and I had a lot of fun splashing around pretending to be fashion models, while Lainey laughed at us. We got some good shots though!
We did a second shot location in downtown Honolulu and also took in some of the sites. We got some great photos outside the Hawaii Theater and Museum of Art.
On Fridays, the Royal Hawaiian Band plays a concert on the lawn outside of Iolani Palace and there are a lot of important buildings to see. King Kamehameha’s statue is right across from Iolani Palace. Here is a link to a walking tour that hits the highlights of downtown.
While in Oahu, you should make plans to visit the Punchbowl National Cemetery. It is a gorgeous final resting place for some many of our men and women who paid the ultimate sacrifice for our freedoms. The views are amazing and the memorials are truly special.
Hanauma Bay is the place to go snorkeling! You pay $7.50 a person and have to watch a short video, but it is totally worth it! We swam with schools of fish, saw an amazing array of colors, and got close with some really large sea creatures (fish). We took a picnic and spent several hours here. I had read that parking in the mornings fills up quickly so you want to go early, we didn’t run into that problem but it could be because of the time of year.
Diamond Head is also located at the South Shore. We did run into parking issues here and had to make the “block” a couple of times before we were allowed in. By 10am, it was 1 car in, 1 car out. The hike itself is easy and there are a lot of places to rest on the way up. The view is also gorgeous at the top and you can go into a bunker. That being said, this was my least favorite hike and stop. There were so many people it was hard to enjoy. I’m glad we did it, but I wouldn’t go again.
Waikiki is the touristy part of Oahu. I would recommend staying in other parts of the island to get a better feel of Oahu, but you should come down to Waikiki at least once on your trip. You’ll want to get a picture in front of Duke Kahanamoku statue and I recommend going to Duke’s Barefoot Bar! Their lava flows and other frozen cocktails are delicious!
Also on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays, local organizations put on a free torch lighting and hula exhibition in Kuhio Beach Park (just down from the Duke statue). The show is free and starts around 6:30ish. It’s performed by hula schools and so not going to be your typical “hula-girl” in a bikini and grass skirt. The show is a great way to learn more about Hawaii’s culture!
While the show in Kuhio beach is awesome, you should take in the theatrics of Hawaiian Luau. We went to the luau at Paradise Cove and had a great time! The food was delicious and show was a lot of fun.
The North Shore is like Oahu’s version of Austin. You still know you are in Oahu, but there is definitely something weird going on. The North Shore has a lot to do. First we went snorkeling at Shark’s Cove. There is a lot to explore here, but you definitely want to be wearing Keen’s or some type of water shoe. There are a lot of rocks and the surf is pretty rough.
Our second stop was Laniakea Beach aka Turtle Beach. You can’t go swimming at this beach and the main attraction is the huge turtles that use the beach for their time in the sun. You can’t get too close to the sunbathing turtles but you will get a few pictures of the bathing beauties.
The main drag of the North Shore has a lot of different shops and art galleries. There’s also a food truck park…stop here and get some shrimp at Giovanni’s. Ignore the other trucks and stand in line for Giovannis.
Pearl Harbor is near Honolulu but I figured it deserved it’s own section. We loved our day at Pearl Harbor so much we went back for a second! We bought the pass that gave us access to all of the museums. This pass is totally worth it, but be prepared to need to two days to get the most out of all the museums (you pay $10 for a 2nd day).
The Arizona Memorial is beautiful and heartbreaking. Go early in the day and get your ferry time. You don’t want to miss out on this experience. Then spend the rest of your time exploring the Bowfin, Missouri, and Aviation Museum. Go soon, the docents at the Aviation are WWII vets and others who witnessed the attack on Pearl Harbor – it is worth hearing their first-hand accounts.
Other Oahu tips:
We rented a house through VRBO in Waimanalo Beach for $230 per night. The location was perfect and being less than a block from the beach couldn’t have been better.
Pick up a couple of pizzas, some beer, wine and have a sunset picnic one evening on the beach. Pizza tastes better on the sand. The evening we did this was one of the best.
Visit Byodo-in Temple in Kaneohe. The gardens are serene and you will feel better after hitting the gong.
Like in Kauai, you definitely want to rent a car. Oahu has a good bus system but a car will give you the freedom to do what you want.
Finally, enjoy as many sunsets as you can and wake up for at one sunrise. You will never get tired of them.
Engagement photo credits: Steven Haal