My husband and I just celebrated our 15 year anniversary with a week away (without kids) on the island of Oahu in Hawaii. We stayed on Waikiki Beach at the Hilton Hawaiian Village and got to see a lot of the island. If you’re planning on visiting Oahu, you’ll want to make sure you don’t miss these sites.
Waikiki Beach is the most populated part of the island and where most tourists stay. The beaches are packed with sunbathers and swimmers from sun up to sun down. Friday nights the Hilton Hawaiian Village puts on a firework display to welcome visitors to the island. Unless you really like the touristy beaches, don’t plan on spending all of your time in Waikiki. We spent a few hours on the beach in the mornings before we drove around town. There’s a great little yellow shrimp truck that parks at the tip of Waikiki Beach by the public beach that has amazing garlic shrimp and fries. There are some great restaurants in the area, we used Yelp for dining recommendations and found some great places. I’ll include a list of our favorite places to eat in another post or you can see them on Yelp here: My Yelp recommendations for Oahu dining.
Our first full day on Oahu we decided to go see Diamond Head. Diamond Head is an old volcanic crater and has some spectacular views if you can make it to the top. Be sure to pack a water bottle and wear some really comfortable walking or hiking shoes. The path up the crater isn’t always the most stable. Try to go early in the day before it gets hot because there aren’t many places with shade. You’ll find people of all activity levels and ages along the way. I found it to be a mildly strenuous hike, but I’m not the most active and fit person. There are several flights of stairs once you get close to the top and a short tunnel. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t make it past the tunnel.
I’ve never experienced claustrophobia in any way. After climbing a long flight of stairs I was winded when I entered the tunnel. I couldn’t see the end of the tunnel and about 20 feet into the tunnel I had to turn around. I felt very lightheaded and feared that I would pass out if I kept going in the closed tunnel. I slowly turned around and found my way to a bench at the entrance to the tunnel and told my husband to keep on going without me. Just past the tunnel he said there were a few more flights of stairs to get to the top and an amazing view of the ocean. I really wish I could have pushed through my fears to make it to the top, but I know my limitations. Don’t let me scare you from going though, I encourage everyone to give it a try!
The following day we decided to continue to mark things off our must-see list. Everyone who visits Oahu should take a day and see the Pearl Harbor Memorial. It really wasn’t at the top of our list since we aren’t big into military history, but it’s well worth your time to spend a few hours there. We were encouraged to head there early in the day because you’ll need to take a short 5 minute ferry out to the memorial and they can only accommodate so many people at one time. When you purchase your tickets they will give you an assigned time to start your tour. While you wait there are plenty of other things to see before you board the ferry.
I love that before you board the ferry they make you sit through a short film about the history of Pearl Harbor. History was never my favorite subject in school so this was a nice quick refresher about the events of that day. The entire time I was watching the film and visiting Pearl Harbor I wished my son was there with us. He loves military history and would have soaked it all in.
After the film you’ll board a short ferry to get over to the memorial where the USS Arizona still rests at the bottom of the ocean with the remains of the crew still entombed inside. The memorial is beautiful and peaceful and really makes you appreciate the significance of that day.
When you’re done exploring Pearl Harbor you can go across the street to the Aloha Stadium swap meet. There are hundreds of local vendors set up selling souvenirs, coffee, food and clothing. It’s a great place to get a few inexpensive souvenirs for the kids or family back home. Go hungry and eat there, we found some amazing sushi wraps down one of the aisles. The swap meet is only open on Sat, Sun and Wed so plan your trip to Pearl Harbor around this.
After our day at Pearl Harbor we met up with a local friend who took us out to her place in Ko’Olina. Ko’Onlina is about a 20-30 minute drive outside of the city but the views were amazing!
Ko’Olina is the little town where the Disney Aulani resort is and also where a friend of ours lives. She was kind enough to drive us out for dinner and sunset. There was a cute little restaurant (Monkeypod is where we ate) and shopping area in their community where we enjoyed happy hour. After dinner we walked down to the coast and watched the sun set over the rocky cliffs.
The ocean is my spirit animal. The aqua blue colors and the sound of the waves breaking on the rocks just rejuvenates my soul. The stress of our daily lives just melts right off of me when I’m sitting by the ocean. This was a great start to refreshing my spirit and bringing us closer together. We watched the sun as it kissed the ocean, I could have sat there all night long.
The next day we woke up to a weather report that didn’t excite us, rain was moving in! It was suppose to rain in the morning but all we saw were clouds. The rain was suppose to hit Waikiki again in the afternoon. With only a few days to see the island, I didn’t want to waste a day sitting in the condo.
We decided to rent a car for the day and head over to the North Shore and hopefully beat the rain! It’s about a 30-45 minute drive north of Honolulu up H1, H2 and onto Kamehameha Highway. You’ll head past the Dole Plantation and through Haleiwa town. If we had more time we would have stopped at both of these locations, but we were on a mission to avoid the rain! Kamehameha Highway has some of the most scenic views on the entire island and plenty of places to stop along the way.
Our first stop was at Laniakea Beach, which is also known as Turtle Bay/Chun’s Reef because of the frequent turtles that come and sun on the beach. The sun was shining bright as we parked across from the beach and walked over to find 2 green sea turtles sleeping on the sand.
The water was a beautiful aqua blue color and the waves were breaking on the rocks. Seeing the turtles (Missy and Wooley Bully) checked off one more thing from my Hawaiian bucket list. There were some turtle volunteers who were on the beach protecting and educating visitors about the turtles and how to keep them safe. There were signs and ropes up to prevent people from getting too close to the turtles. Everyone there was keeping a safe distance and I was so thankful for the volunteers and the time they spend to protect these beautiful animals.
Missy and Wooley Bully are 35-40 year old green sea turtles and regulars to the beach. We stayed for about 20 minutes taking it all in and enjoying the views before we headed back to the car to see the next site.
One of the most well known beaches is Waimea Bay where surfers like to tackle the large winter waves. This is the home to some of the largest surf competitions and some of the softest sand we found on the island. The waves were “calm” on the day we visited and they were still strong enough to knock you over while wading at the shore. If you decide to take kids, please keep a close eye on them if they play in the water.
Across the street from Waimea Bay is the botanical gardens and Waimea Falls. I would have loved to have visited, but we were still trying to stay ahead of the rain.
A little further down the road were a row of food trucks that were calling to our rumbling stomachs!!! We parked across the street at Pupukea Beach Park and Sharks Cove. Sharks Cove had a wonderful tide pool where you could snorkel while protecting you from the crashing waves (probably not as safe for swimming and snorkeling in the winter months). It’s a rocky walk down to the tide pool, but a beautiful area. All these beautiful stops made me wish we had a place to stay on the North Shore so we could spend more time at each of the beaches.
We walked across the street to the food trucks and ordered some fish tacos from North Shore Tacos for lunch. As soon as we sat down to eat the wind started to pick up as the storm was getting closer. We ended up eating in the car as the rain began to fall.
When the rain came in, so did the low lying clouds. You could tell as we drove down Kam Highway that there were some beautiful places to stop when it wasn’t raining. The road kept winding around the coast and the views kept coming. Everything was beautiful, even in the rain!
We couldn’t resist stopping at Tropical Farms Macadamia Nut Farm & Outlet and picking up a few more souvenirs for our friends and family (and ourselves). The shop was filled with macadamia nuts, candied macadamia nuts, coffee coated macadamia nuts, macadamia nut oil, coconut syrup, and coffee! Our bellies were full from lunch so we got some snacks for later and a few treats for the kids. The rain was stop and go for most of the trip, but managed to stop long enough for our stop here.
Through the rain and wind we spotted an interesting little park that we had to stop at. Just off the coast of the Kualoa Beach Park was a small islet, Mokolii that looked like a little hat. I later found out that it’s also known as Chinaman’s Hat or Papale Pake. The rain was still coming down pretty heavy so we only stayed long enough for a quick picture before we continued along our route.
By this time we were racing against the clock. We had to get our rental car back before they closed at 5pm and I feared we wouldn’t have time to finish my “dream drive” down to the Halona blowhole and sunset beach. Instead we decided to save that for the next day and headed back to Waikiki.
The next day we took the public bus out to Hanauma Bay. If you’re staying in Waikiki the bus is the cheapest option for getting to the bay, but probably the longest trip you’ll take ever! The bus makes several stops and I think we would have preferred renting a car or taking a shuttle, but were trying to conserve our funds.
Hanauma Bay is about 15-20 minutes east of Waikiki and open daily (except for Tuesday’s and a few holidays). Hanauma Bay was formed within a volcanic cone and is a marine conservation sanctuary and state park. This is one of the most popular snorkeling areas on the island. I would recommend going any other day besides Wednesday (the day we went) since everyone goes there in the middle of their stay! The park was packed with visitors. You’ll need to arrive early in the morning because the park does reach capacity regularly.
You can rent snorkel gear there or bring your own, that was one thing that we packed from home. They also rent lockers for you to store your belongings, but try not to bring too much stuff. You won’t need much more than a towel, sunscreen, and some water.
With the storms from the day before and the abundance of visitors I was a little disappointed with our experience. We did go out and snorkel but the water was very shallow in the center and I was constantly worried about stepping on the coral below. There weren’t many places on the bottom that were sandy enough to stand up in the area we started in. There were several other areas in the bay that looked to have better snorkeling, but we decided to enjoy some people watching and picture taking after our snorkeling. I really wish we had tried a different area of the beach because the fish in our area were sparse. The views were amazing though and just relaxing on the beach was worth the trip.
We decided to take Uber back to Waikiki, but since we did that we decided not to make the extra stop north of there at the Halona Blowhole.
On our final day I was determined that I was going to mark off one more thing from my Hawaiian bucket list. I was going to see some whales! We visited Hawaii in March towards the end of the whale season, but recent reports said that the whales could still be spotted from Oahu.
The Star of Honolulu was the cruise that our resort had recommended and it also received some great reviews online. We took the early morning breakfast cruise and were pleased with the experience. As you can tell from the picture, we did see whales!
Humpback whales come to Hawaii to have their babies and then migrate back up the coast of California. I’m sure the trained eye could probably find places to spot whales without being on a cruise, but I needed to mark this off my list! Remember how I said the ocean is my spirit animal, well whales are the ultimate spirit animal in the ocean for me.
The cruise left from Honolulu and traveled along the beaches of Waikiki and out to Diamond Head. There were viewing decks on several different levels and windows from inside. There were naturalists on board with us who explained what to look for and how to spot the whales. There were a few other boats out at the same time and you could tell they were all following a similar route. They knew were the whales were most likely to be seen. The problem with whales is that they come to the surface to breathe, but then they dive down underwater for up to 20-30 minutes at a time. I think we saw a total of 3 whales on our cruise. Most of the whales we saw were a good distance away (you’re not allowed to get too close for their safety) and only their blowholes and humps were visible as they dove back down. No magical breaches or jumping out of the water. We were fortunate to catch one tail slap as one of the whales dove back down under the water.
While the cruise did mark off a life long dream to see whales, I wish we had seen more. It was the end of the whale season though and I’ve heard the whales are more abundant along the coast of Maui. This cruise just sparked my desire to come back to Hawaii during prime whale watching season to see more!
That’s it my friends, those are all the sites that we were able to squeeze into our week on Oahu. The rainy day didn’t stop us from seeing the North Shore, but it did dilute the experience a little. We spent our evenings dining at some fun restaurants which I’ll share with you later this week.
Have you visited Hawaii yet? What was your favorite island? What did we miss on Oahu that we need to go back and see?
Disclosure: None needed. This trip was just a trip my husband and I took on our own. No expenses were paid by anyone mentioned above and our experiences were all our own.
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