I have to admit: as an American, I was reluctant to visit Hawai’i for years. The authentic traveler in me just thought about how everyone in the US went to Hawai’i. Well I’m here to tell you now from experience, there is 100% a reason for this: it is amazing. So I put together this ultimate and instagrammable travel guide to Oahu for you!
Hawai’i is a true paradise infused with culture that is unlike anywhere in the United States. It has something for every type of traveler or vacationer, especially Oahu, whether you are looking for an active vacation, relaxing vacation, adventurous vacation, or low key vacation. You can just post up and live the luxe resort life, enjoy the benefits of of amenities and nightlife of a big city (it blows my mind to have a huge city in the middle of the Pacific ocean!) with the perks of stunning beaches, hike with scenic views, or just surf and chill.
My husband (an avid surfer) and I had previously spent a month on Kauai, so our second visit to Hawai’i for July 4th, I insisted we spend a few days on Oahu. We absolutely loved it. The highlight for us was definitely renting a Harley and cruising around the whole island, but I’ll go over all our favorite things we did and places we went to inspire your bucketlist trip to Oahu.
If you are just going to stay in the Honolulu area or post at a resort, you won’t need any transportation nowadays, but I definitely suggest renting a car or bike if you want to explore the island more. You can rent an iconic fun jeep (I personally have my own Wrangler and it really is such a fun beach and island car), although I will note you 100% will stand out as a tourist 😉 My husband has his motorcycle license so we opted to rent a Harley for a day to explore to do some thing a little different.
Obviously Hawai’i is going to be great anytime of the year, but as an experienced tropical traveller, I certainly notice the seasonalities of even warm destinations. It will be much hotter in the summer, and in the winter even though the days are warm you’ll still want to pack a light sweater and pants for chilly evenings if you get cold easily like me (I really am meant for summer only 😉 ).
If you are at all interested in surfing, Honolulu and Waikiki are best for surfing in the summertime, while the North Shore is best in the winter.
Oahu is certainly not a cheap destination, so certainly your length of time to stay will depend on many factors. We stayed on Oahu for 4 days and were able to hit the main things we wanted to do all over the island while also spend time relaxing on the beach and surfing, so even a short trip an be plenty of time. On the other hand, there are so many different places to explore on the island that you could see something new and different every day for 2 weeks. I certainly would be able to occupy myself every day for a month if given the option 😉
Staying around the Honolulu area will give you the most access to all the amenities and resorts but still be fine to drive to other parts of the island to explore.
Oh, the famous Pink Palace of the Pacific! This hotel is not only stunning and iconic, it has amazing views of Waikiki Beach, direct beach access infused with classic Hawaiian charm and history.
A stunning luxury hotel and first one built in Waikiki, it is located right in the heart of the downtown Honolulu on Waikiki beach. It is within walking distance of everything you need with stunning beach views.
At the very edge of Waikiki beach, this beautiful hotel has the best infinity pool with an incredible view of Diamond Head and Waikiki beach (the reason we chose to spend our 4th of July here since I’m all for a beautiful infinity pool with a view).
Being a tropical island with a huge city, your options for food are incredible, and I would certainly not only take advantage of the incredile local fruit and Hawaiian classics, but also the amazing selection of international options, especially different asian cuisines. Here are a few of my favorite spots we enjoyed:
Even going at 9pm, we had to wait in a long line to get in but this famous Japanese restaurant was incredible and totally worth it.
The perfect spot for a cute and instagrammable avocado and toast type brunch with all my favorite food options located in a really cool part of Honolulu with tons of street art.
Their famous glazed Poi Donuts are to DIE for. You’ll need to get there early because they sell out quickly, but 100% worth the trip.
This famous food truck is worth the hype. There are 2 different shrimp trucks that are famous, but this is the one you’ll want to go to 😉 We got the most popular scampi and man, was this good. There are some other food trucks around, so you’ll have plenty of options to eat.
Not only is this place absolutely adorable, their food really is so good and perfect with a day at the beach. We tried their banana bread and papaya bowl and i don’t think I’ve ever had a better one. 100% worth every bit of hype, is really chill and low-key, and perfectly positioned right across the street from sunset beach.
The most iconic beach, it really is stunning with the best views. You can rent a board to surf, but remember the waves will be flat if you are there during North American Winter (I suggest summertime!).
If you’re into history, you’ll definitely want to spend a morning visiting Pearl Harbor. Honestly, it was a really cool experience, especially getting to explore one of the submarines. My husband’s grandfather fought at Pearl Harbor, and we both come from military families so it was sentimental for us too.
This drive will take you a few hours, but there are several incredible beaches and scenic viewpoints to stop at along that way. This was one of my favorite things we did.
This is one of the closer spots from Honolulu to check out if you are driving along the coast up to the North Shore, and it is gorgeous. You can just have a quick roadside stop or you can pursue an early morning sunrise hike if you’re up for it.
My favorite viewpoint on Oahu, this view is stunning. It is quite a bit of a drive from Honolulu, about half way along the coast to the North Shore but absolutely amazing.
This beautiful beach on the North shore was definitely the most low key and chill beach out of the famous ones to spend the afternoon at (or specifically for sunset 😉
Hawai’i is now one of my favorite places in the world and somewhere I will continue to return to. If you have had any hesitations (like I did!) I want to reassure you it is an amazing place to visit and have as a bucket list destination, with plenty of adventure, luxury, culture, and quintessential tropical island beach vibes. Please be respectful to the locals who live there and that take care of the islands, as well as the wildlife and nature. There is a uniqueness about Hawai’i that only exists there and it really has a special vibe about it, you can feel it.
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