We have been blessed to be able to go to Hawaii multiple times. Up to this point, all of our visits have been to Oahu. We thought it would be fun and informative to share some of our best experiences with you. Basically, here’s our top picks of things to see and do on the Hawaiian Island of Oahu.
If you click on the headers, you will find links to take you directly to the websites for more information. The majority of these links are NOT affiliate links unless noted prior to the heading.
Captain Rich and his crew take you on a wonderful snorkel adventure to swim with the turtles. It was a beautiful day on the water with light breezes, sun shining bright and a clear view of Diamond Head and the Lighthouse. We suited up with the best gear, all provided by Holokai, and lowered ourselves into the clear warm water. We were now ready to explore the sea life and get up close and personal with the turtles. At times the turtles were so close you could reach out and touch them but don’t do it! It is against the law to touch the turtles.
Go deeper and you will discover schools of fish and maybe even an octopus if you look deep into the rocks. The crew makes sure you have plenty of time to enjoy the swim, but soon it is time to get back onto the catamaran. Grab a snack and a cool drink as you set back and soak in the sun. A tour around the point of Diamond Head and back to shore finish out this half-day adventure on Holokai Catamaran. This is just one of the many tours they offer, for more information click here.
Enjoy a day at the Hanuama Bay State Park. Rich in history, surrounded by beautiful views Hanuama Bay offers the perfect place to relax your cares away. Grab your snorkel gear or rent it right at the park, you will want to explore all of the sea life found on the reef in Hanuama Bay. Hang out on the beach as the kids play in the sand, pack a picnic lunch and make a day of it. The walk down to the beach is the easy part – getting back to the top is a bit of a challenge. Not up for the hike, hitch a ride past all the hikers and enjoy the view back to the top.
Surf-Paddle Board Lessons
Want to learn to surf or paddleboard? Just head to the beach and take a lesson from one of the many organizations set up along the beach. While we were waiting for Holokai to pull up on the beach, we got to watch a surf lesson in progress. The instructor was really good as he explained the process to his student. Ready to try something new, you’ll find your next adventure at the beach.
We love a good hike and Diamond Head gives you the opportunity to really test your skills. A combination of walking paths, steep stairs and a lighted tunnel as you hike .8 miles up 560 feet in elevation. Wear good shoes, take water and plan to go slow if you are not an avid hiker. At times heading to the top you will wonder “why in the heck am I do this”. Once at the top, you will definitely know why – breathtaking views, historical bunkers and the right to say “I MADE IT TO THE TOP”! Going down is much easier and you will want to provide some encouragement to those making the trek up as they will need it. At the bottom, be sure to pick up your “I survived Diamond Head” t-shirt because you earned it!
I’m a huge Hawaii 5-O fan, so I had to make the trip to see where “Steve McGarrett lives” on the show. You can take a tour, we just showed up to see what we could see. As we were admiring the beautifully landscaped home, the owner came up the path and asked if we would like to go inside. You bet we did!
The Bayer Estate is loaded in history, beautiful antiques and a warmth that makes you feel right at home. We were taken on a tour, learned the history of the home itself AND got the background on Hawaii 5-O location shoots at the house. As you step out back, you know why this is a perfect location for weddings, anniversaries and other events. You get a fantastic view, a beach where you can watch the sunset and privacy to enjoy your personalized event.
You can’t visit O’ahu and not stop at the Dole Plantation. It is the perfect stop as you start your drive around the Island. Walk the gardens, take a train ride through the plantation, and go through the maze. Along the way you will enjoy colorful cacao plants, beautiful flowers, exotic fruit and coffee. Use your smartphone to download the app to learn all about the history of this wonderful plantation. Inside the gift shop you can sample the pineapple and grab a bite to eat at the Plantation Grille. We did all of our Christmas shopping in the gift shop – just so many goodies it is hard to decide what to take home with you.
Head along the coast to the North Shore to enjoy world-class surfing, incredible eats and explore the historical Hawaiian Temples called “Heiau” along the way. We just happened to be there during one of the major surfing events, so we got to enjoy some incredible surfing action. An overcast day did not hinder the amazing talented surfers that seemed to float along the waves searching for the title-winning ride. Check out all the amazing restaurants where you can enjoy some of the local flavor. There is so much to do and see you will want to plan at least a day in the area so you don’t miss a thing!
Each Heiau is unique in its architecture, as we discovered in our journey through a piece of Hawaiian history. Here are a couple that we had to opportunity to explore.
Hale o Lono Heiau located in Waimea Valley is “dedicated to Lono, the God of agriculture”. Built somewhere between 1470 A.D. and 1700 A.D, this heiau is absolutely beautiful and very different than Puu O Mahuka Heiau located atop Waimea Valley overlooking the North Shore.
Puu O Mahuka Heiau is over 400 years old and covers 2 acres, which makes it the largest heiau on O’ahu. As you walk along the paths, you can’t help but feel the spiritual connection as residents still leave offerings along what is left of the walled enclosures. Hike through the area, and look down to the valley below. Be careful as you get close to the edge, it is a bit slippery and trying to capture a picture I almost slid down to parts unknown. Thankfully, my husband grabbed onto me before I could go over the edge. The picture that was so important for me to capture . . . the cover photo for our page.
To see more Heiau locations click here.
Polynesian Cultural Center
A unique look into the Polynesian Culture that reside on the Island. History abounds with an individualized look into each Island Village boasting activities to represent that culture. Tour the grounds, catch the water parade and then finish your day with a traditional Hawaiian Luau. Get there early and you may get to see the pig come out of the ground before food service begins. This adventure takes a full day to explore – get a discount if you purchase your tickets at least 10 days in advance, just click here.
If you have never been to Pearl Harbor, you absolutely must go! Standing on the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial and looking down into the water below, you can’t help but feel moved by this experience. Walk through the museum, check out the Missouri, and spend some time hearing stories of the past. We love visiting and have even been able to be there for the 75th Anniversary. The stories, the sacrifices and the heroes of this time period are awe-inspiring. You can sign up for a tour or explore it on your own. For more information, click here.
When in Waikiki you must stop and see the museum and the statue of King Kamehameha. We initially went because I wanted to see the “Hawaii 5-O Office” but it is so much more. Walk through the museum and take in the history of Hawaii’s Royal Family. The architecture of the building is incredible. My favorite is the beautiful staircase leading to the offices up above. There was a huge Christmas tree in the foyer which gave it a festive spirit. It was so much fun to immerse ourselves in all of the history and memorabilia on display. Outside you get to enjoy the beautiful landscape as you take in the immense statue of King Kamehameha. Quite a sight to behold!
Food & Drink
Steeped in history Duke’s is a landmark restaurant on the Waikiki beach. Stop in for your favorite cocktail, appetizer and stay for the meal. Located right on the beach, there is always something to see as you sit back, relax and enjoy everything Duke’s has to offer. Take some time to read the history while you enjoy Duke’s famous Mai Tai. It is definitely a favorite of mine!
Just about everywhere you turn, you can grab a shaved ice, a traditional Hawaiian treat. On a warm day it is the perfect way to cool down. Yummy flavors can be mixed together or stand alone but something you definitely want to try because there is nothing quite like it.
Ready for something sweet to eat? Check out Honolulu Cookie Company. You will find something you can’t live without that’s for sure. Sample all the different types of cookies before making a decision and then grab some for yourself and for all your friends and family back home. It will be hard to choose, but be sure to ask about their specials and you might be able to take home all your favorites.
No trip to the North Shore isn’t complete without a stop at Zippy’s. Dine in or take out if you want to picnic on the beach. Hawaiian fare with a flair – there is something for everyone. You will definitely want to try Zippy’s famous chili or one of their “pupu platters”. The menu is large with plenty to choose from which makes it so hard to decide. Be sure to stop at Napoleon’s Bakery for dessert.
Explore the farmer’s market, hike up to the waterfall or grab a bite to eat. For me, it was an opportunity to partake in one of my favorite things when on the island . . . fresh coconut! It starts with the vendor cracking open the top and popping a straw in it to enjoy the milk. Once the milk is gone they will break it open so you can enjoy the soft, succulent meat of the coconut. There is nothing like fresh when it comes to coconuts! Sit under the Monkey Pod trees and gaze up at their beautiful branches, truly artwork framing the sky. Even with the light rain, it was beautiful, peaceful and relaxing way to spend a morning.
Even though the International Marketplace had closed when we went back this last time, we still were able to find an open-air street market similar to the original. You need to walk toward the Royal Hawaiian Hotel and soon you will be able to see the shops buried back off the street. You will find some real Hawaiian treasures at reasonable prices. I’m always ready to grab a shirt for my husband and a dress for me! I will say I miss having the marketplace as it was a one-stop shop to find everything Hawaiian.
I love these stores! You can almost find one on every corner but they are filled with all kinds of goodies. Everything from food, liquor, gifts and goodies can be found in these stores. We tend to do a lot of our shopping here because you can almost find everything you need. Each store’s product mix is a bit different so it pays to check out several when shopping for that perfect souvenir. Pricing is reasonable and the products are uniquely Hawaiian.
There is no need to rent a car unless you want to have the experience of driving around the island. We typically do a one-day rental of a convertible so we can drop the top and take a drive around the island. Parking is expensive and so is the rental so we prefer to explore all the public transportation options offered on the island. This is a great way to get around without breaking the bank.
We love the take the trolley and go wherever it will take us. Sometimes, it is just a great way to discover new areas. Whenever possible we will choose Waikiki Trolley because we love listening as the driver shares unique information about each area. Plus, it is open air so you can choose upper or lower decks and enjoy the gorgeous weather of the island. We will tend to buy the passes because if we are there for any length of time, the price is better in the long run.
If we want to take a tour, our go to is Roberts Hawaii. Their buses are comfortable and the service is amazing, they pick you up right at your door. There is nothing they don’t know about your island and that makes them a perfect resource when planning your next vacation.
Getting around Honolulu is super easy using the bus system. Grab a map, get online or just jump aboard. It is a popular way to get around and the people are very helpful to get you where you want to go. Depending on what you want to do, we tend to get online first to learn about all the closures, detours, etc., before we invest in a day pass to make sure we can get where we need to go.
You have so many options of places to stay but we wanted to highlight some amazing hotels steeped in history.
“A Legacy in Hawaiian Hospitality” is what you will experience if you stay at this iconic Hawaiian hotel. 90 years old and still has all the original charm with amazing amenities. As you walk the halls, you can experience the beauty of old in a current setting. Gaze out at the beautiful gardens or walk along the beach. Everything you need is right here in this majestic resort. Stay in the original hotel or choose something in the tower, it’s elegant luxury is an experience to remember.
A huge resort with amazing amenities and activities suited to families or couples. Great dining, shopping, relaxing either with a massage or by the beach – there is more to do than you will have time to do. Fireworks light up the sky at night and if you are lucky, you may even get to watch a filming of Hawaii 5-O. Just steps away, you will find Kamekona’s Shrimp truck parked out on the point. We just happened upon the filming of an upcoming episode and we got to meet Cousin Flippa (Shawn Mokuahi Garnett). What an awesome guy! As you walk through the village, you will be able to discover the history that makes Hawaii great. Need some retail therapy, enjoy world-class shopping at the boutiques all around the village. Casual to fine dining with 20 restaurants and bars to choose from right outside your door. Take a walk along the beach at sunrise or sunset to capture incredible views. Activities for adults and kids alike – your days can be busy without ever leaving the resort.
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If you want to experience Hawaii more as a local than a tourist? Look into a rental through Airbnb where you can choose what fits your lifestyle and locations. Click here to get a $40 credit toward your first stay using Airbnb. It is a perfect way to start your vacation off right!
Adventure Grammy Final Thoughts
A vacation is paradise – what could be better right? We always take some time to plan ahead and here are a couple of suggestions to do just that! I start by checking out Hawaii.com. It is free to sign up, loaded with great discounts and you can earn points to use to win trips. Go Hawaii is another site I check out regularly to see what’s new and happening on the islands. Since we are going to Kona in May, I want to make sure to research the island now to make sure we have a plan of action when we get there. We hope that our top picks of things to see and do on the Hawaiian Island of Oahu would help you decide what you want to do and see when you get there. Whatever you do or wherever you go . . . it is time to get started and get your adventure on!