Hawaii is your typical tourist destination for most Americans—whether its for honeymoon or holiday. Having family that lives in Oahu, I got more than a traditional vacation on my visit to this popular island. My cousin toured me around the entire island (literally, we drove around the entire island) and showed me everything from top tourist attractions to hidden local hideouts.
Below is a list of everything we did in about a week’s time. If you ever find yourself on the island of Oahu, load up your itinerary with some of these!
Looking for the PERFECT panoramic view of Oahu? Diamond Head State Monument will give your eyes the view of a lifetime, and your lungs the freshest air you’ve ever breathed in…but not without getting a little sweaty first.
You have to hike your way up to the top of the mountain, through natural trails and cement steps. The entire trek is 1.6 miles and takes about 2 hours. Good shoes, lots of water, and some snacks will get you through this moderate-level hike, and the view at the top makes it all worth the while.
Once you decide to break away from the scenic view and head back to the bottom, treat yourself to a fresh pineapple smoothie (served in a real pineapple with the mini umbrella and all).
Parking ranges from $5-$10, but the parking lot is always ridiculously full. I recommend taking an Uber/LYFT and walking in for a $1 entree fee!
This is one of the hidden gems that my cousin showed me that absolutely blew my mind.
Park at the Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail parking lot, then get out and walk along the vast Pacific Ocean as you venture out to Ka’ena Point State Park. Make sure you wear lots of sunscreen because this trek will take you a good portion of the day in the radiant Hawaiian sun.
Once you make it to the state park after about 30 minutes, the trails will start to turn into sand as you get closer to the tide pools. You’ll know them when you see them, and you will be quick to jump in them and cool off from the long walk.
The water is crystal clear and calm, aside from the occasional ripple effect of the ocean’s waves coming in. Some parts are shallow, others are deep. You can swim with sea-life and view the coral reef as you explore the tide pools at Makapu’u.
Don’t go chasing waterfalls…swim under them instead!
Waimea Falls in Haleiwa is one of the most serene sites on this island. To get to the waterfall, you have to walk through the Waimea Botanical Gardens filled with tropical plants, small streams, and Hawaiian humidity. I’ve never seen so many different shades of green as I did in the luscious foliage that lined this path.
After you’ve walked for about 30 minutes, you’ll be greeted by the high and mighty Waimea Waterfall, and a chance to cool off. Grab a free life vest from the staff, leave your things on the benches, and cannonball into the cool pond that surrounds the base of the waterfall. The currents are strong, but you can try and kick your way up to the waterfall and swim underneath it, or just float around and relax in the warm sun.
For only $15 (and $5 for parking), you can spend the day in this magical place.
Another hidden gem, Kaawa Beach Park, stretches along the east side of Oahu.
We found this beach by making a random stop on our road trip around the island. The water was calm and made it the perfect place to swim with few people around.
There’s several wooden slab swings strapped to the trees along the beach that hang right above where the waves meet the sand—giving you the perfect Hawaiian view of palm trees, blue ocean, and green mountains. This is another fantastic place to watch the sunset and capture an Insta photo swinging and #livingyourbestlife.
They say the West Coast is the Best Coast for a reason; and one of those reasons is Makaha Beach.
Located on the west side of the island near Wainae, this stretch of sand was where I caught my first Hawaiian sunset. It’s quiet, the sand is pure white, and the water is a blend of crystal teal and deep turquoise.
Want the opportunity to enjoy this beach all day and night? Stay at the “Hawaiian Princess“, where your backdoor literally opens up to the beach and you can fall asleep to the sound of the waves, and wake up to the smell of the ocean.
If you’re making your way around the Oahu coastline, just north of Honolulu, you have to make a stop at the Halona Blowhole Lookout.
Not only are you welcomed with a stunning view of the Pacific Ocean lined by Hawaii’s lush green land and rocky cliffs, but you get to witness a natural blowhole that shoots water up sky high. Hang around and take some videos of the spectacular scene, then walk around and explore the surrounding area and beaches.
Although Oahu is mostly green mountains and blue oceans in its natural landscape, you can find highrises and city-life in downtown Honolulu.
This is the place to come if you want to shop until you drop because the streets are lined with brand-name stores and souvenir shops.
You will also find many restaurants and bars in this heavily populated area. We grabbed a good lunch at the ocean-side Duke’s Waikiki (it’s my last name so I was obligated to eat here at least once) and got a little bad and boujee during “happy hour” at Top of Waikiki (Hawaii’s only rotating restaurant).
Honolulu is also home of the famous Waikiki Beach (and no, it’s not an island as Nikki Minaj misleadingly rapped in her song); but it is a popular beach to hang out in the day and catch a spectacular firework show on weekend nights.
This city is big and you can spend the entire day/night here walking up and down the coastline and seeing everything it has to offer.
Did you really go to Hawaii if you didn’t go to a Luau?
Being one of the stereotypical things to do when you come to Hawaii, there are a number of Luau’s to choose from. My aunt and uncle suggested the Paradise Cove Luau in Ko Olina—an evening full of food and events for $100.
Make your own flower crown with real Hawaiian flowers, practice your archery skills, or join some games on the beach when you first arrive. Stay cool and hang loose with a thirst-quenching Pina Colada or Mai Tai.
After some free time, the staff will lead you to the amphitheater area where they put on a traditional Luau show for you, featuring a roasted pig on a stick (sorry Babe!). Then comes the best part…the feast! And feast you will, because the all-you-can-eat buffet is loaded with delicious Hawaiian food that will have you returning to refill your plate.
As you load yourself with food and drinks, relax and enjoy the main stage performance featuring traditional Luau dancing and fire shows. If you’re feeling brave, hop up there and shake your coconuts when they call on the audience to participate!
North Shore is popular for it’s big waves—making it the perfect surfer’s paradise and a populated beach area.
If you’re lucky you might catch a surf competition on this beach, or just rent a board and “shred the gnar” yourself.
And if you’re not into surfing, this beach offers a great place to lay out and catch some rays, play in the waves, or snorkel through the sea. We packed our own picnic and spent the entire day on this beach. There’s tons of people to walk around and meet and lots of beach space to post up on. The North Shore definitely has the good vibes that you think of when you imagine Hawaiian beaches.
If you’re a seafood lover, or even a seafood liker, you MUST hit up Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck at least once (if not twice) on your trip! Order a Shrimp Scampi for $14 and sit down for the best tasting shrimp of your life—no joke! These jumbo-sized shrimps are smothered in garlic and served with the shell on so get ready to get messy as you tear through your plate. My mouth is watering just writing this post…I think you guys get the point.
There are several Island Vintage Coffee locations around the island. Order the “Vintage Kona Mocha” and get ready to have the best frappe of your life (sorry Starbz!). It was so nice I had to get it twice during my trip. Plus, their Acai bowls are refreshing, delicious, and health-conscious.
This is the first restaurant I visited (and surprised my uncles) when I got to Oahu. MonkeyPod Kitchen‘s food was great, the Mai Tai’s were great-er, and the live music played by locals set the perfect tone for a nice family lunch.
Click the button above to check out the best vacation rentals with Ola Properties. Ask for Debi or Jack.