Updated: Aug 28
Getting off the airplane in Honolulu and heading to a hotel in Waikiki can be overwhelming if it's your first time on the island. Waikiki is definitely not the Hawaii most tourists expect and many will leave the island feeling like they didn't get the true Hawaiian island experience.
I lived on Oahu for 5 years and enjoyed taking my friends and family around the island to experience what Oahu can offer them. Below I have a day to day itinerary for how I'd recommend you spend a week on Oahu, Hawaii.
Day 1: For your first day on Oahu, I'd recommend staying in Waikiki. You will not need a rental car for the first two days of this itinerary. If you'd prefer to rent one, you can, you'll just have to pay for parking at the hotel which can be $20-40 per night.
There are many beaches in Waikiki, but my two favorites are Queen's Beach and Kaimana Beach.
Queen's Beach is right in front of the Honolulu Zoo and has the pier to the right of it. I recommend staying on the left side of the pier. If you want to try boogie boarding, this spot has great mini waves to experience boogie boarding. Just be careful of the coral as the water is shallow and the coral can cut you as you boogie board.
Kaimana Beach is to the left of Queen's Beach. From Queen's Beach, walk left to the aquarium. Walk past the aquarium and to the left side of the war memorial is Kaimana Beach. I just found this beach the last time I was on Oahu and really loved it as it had nice shallow water and no large waves. The beach is not too busy and has restaurants and a hotel store near it for snacks and drinks.
When you get warm from sitting on the beach, check out Vintage Island Shave Ice. It is located by the Cheesecake factory on Kalakaua St in Waikiki. It’s amazing. They use natural flavors for the shave ice. My favorite was the Lilikoi. Make sure you get ice cream on the bottom and sweetened condensed milk on top!!!
If you have time during your first day or in the evening, I recommend sailing with MaiTai Catamaran. Check out Groupon for 50% off. It used to be $25 for 2 people but I think its' more now. The Mai Tai’s are $2. If you go in the evening it's $50 a person with unlimited Mai Tai’s and you get to see the sunset. If you're there during whale season you have a good chance of seeing whales. You will experience amazing views of Waikiki and Diamond Head. If you’re there on a Friday, they have a Friday night fireworks sail where you can experience the fireworks from the water.
(The view from the MaiTai Catamaran is amazing)
Day 2: Use day two, to experience the East side of Oahu via the local bus.
Before you head out for the day, I recommend starting your day by eating breakfast at Cinnamon’s in Waikiki. The french toast is amazing as well as their Red Velvet Pancakes. They also have Mac Nut Pancakes and Guava Pancakes.
Once you're done breakfast, head to Kalakaua and catch the #22 bus. The bus is called The Bus. It's very easy to use and costs a few dollars per ride. You can also ask for a transfer ticket which will allow you to hop back on the bus within an hour. You will catch the bus to the Eastside on Kalakaua, on the ocean side of the street.
Your first stop on the route will be Hanauma Bay. It costs $7.50 to enter the park and once you're in you can snorkel from shore and see many of the fish local to Hawaii.
Once you're done snorkeling, catch the bus again. Your next stop will be the Halona Blowhole. Get off the bus and check out the blowhole! The waves hit the cliff and go under the rocks, then come up through the hole making it look like a whale blowhole.
You can then jump on the bus again and go to Makapu'u lighthouse. There is a hike at the lighthouse or you can opt for the amazing viewpoint of Bird Island and Sea Life Park. When you're done at Makapu'u, you can catch the bus on the opposite side of the road, going back to Waikiki.
(The view from Makapu'u Lookout)
Day 3: Rent a car and check out the North Shore. You may want to leave Waikiki and stay in a hotel or Airbnb on the North shore for day 3/4.
From Waikiki you will want to put the Dole Pineapple Plantation into your GPS. The GSP will help you get on H1 out of Waikiki where you will take H2 to the North Shore.
1. The first stop on the way to the North Shore is the Dole Pineapple Plantation. You can walk around the grounds, jump on their train, walk through the pineapple maze and grab a dole pineapple ice cream. If you don't have children, you can skip this stop if you want, but it's sometimes nice to see.
2. Next, drive to Haleiwa town. There are some cute shops and restaurants in town. The Sand People is my favorite store. It has really cute ocean themed products and jewelry. If you're craving shaved ice, Matsumoto's Shave Ice is in Haliewa. It's a very popular stop, but after eating at Vintage Island Shaved Ice, it's just not the same!
3. Right after you leave Haliewa, there will be lots of people parking on the right side of the road and there will be a beach on your left. I think it’s called Laniakea Beach. It’s the place where the turtles come up and hang out. It’s a super dangerous spot to cross the highway, but worth it if it’s not busy. I would recommend going on a weekday and enjoying the turtles. Just remember to give them space and never touch or feed them.
(Sea Turtles on the North Shore)
4. Next head to Waimea Bay. This is the famous beach where all the surf competitions happen and you might spot a professional surfer if you're lucky. After that, you can drive to Banzai Pipeline Beach and Sunset Beach. These are local surf spots and are also famous for many surf competitions. I don't recommend swimming on the North Shore if the waves are big. Summer is usually the best time to swim on the North Shore.
5. When you start to get hungry, get back in your car, and keep driving East to Kahuku where all the shrimp trucks will be. Giovanni’s is the most popular. I don’t think you can go wrong with any of them.
6. To get back to Waikiki you will want to keep driving East around the island towards Kailua and Waikiki to do the North Shore Circle. You can always double back and go back the way you came, but I like doing the full circle. Make sure you’re not coming back from Kailua to Waikiki during rush hour as it can be busy!
Day 4: I highly recommend everyone go to the Polynesian Culture Center.
I recommend a full day at the Polynesian Culture Center. You can stay for the entire day and participate in all the activities at each Polynesian village. In the evening there is the option to stay for the dinner and Luau as well as stay for the evening show called Ha Breath of Life. Stay for the Dinner/Luau and Ha Breath of Life. The entire day is 100% worth it if you’ve never been to Hawaii. You’ll learn so much about Hawaii and all the other Polynesian islands. If you're staying in Waikiki, there are many tours that will take you to the PCC for the day and will take you back to your hotel after the Ha Breath of Life show.
Day 5/6: For day 5/6, stay on the West side of Oahu.
There are many new hotels in Kapolei as well as higher-end hotels in Ko'olina. There are also lots of Airbnbs available as well in Ko'Olina.
1. To start your day on the Westside, check out my "secret" lagoon at Ko'olina. From the Four Seasons Resort, walk towards the water and to the right. You’ll come to a smaller lagoon. Keep walking to the right, and go over a bunch of rocks piled up like a little wall. Right towards the end, you’ll pop out at a smaller lagoon that’s barricaded by rocks and a reef. It’s a great spot for snorkeling and you'll usually have it to yourself! It’s called Lanikuhonua Lagoon on Google Maps. When we had an Airbnb on Oahu, our guests chose to stay with us, as many of our reviews raved about our "secret" lagoon and guests wanted to stay with us to get information on the lagoon!
(Our secret lagoon at Ko'olina)
2. If you’re comfortable snorkeling you can also drive to Kahe Point Beach Park. The power plant pushes out warm water there and it brings in all the fish. It’s a great spot to sit and look for dolphins in the early morning too (8am-10am).
3. My favorite beach on the entire island is Pokai Bay at the Pililaau Army Recreation Center. You need to park outside before the gates, but then you can walk in and show the military guards your ID. It feels like a private beach on the weekday. Many days you can spot dolphins there from (8am-10am). If you get hungry there is a restaurant right on the water called The Beach House by 604.
4. You can also drive West from Pokai Bay and check out Makaha Beach. It's not usually a great place to swim as the waves can be larger but it’s a local and popular surf spot. This is my favorite spot to watch the sunset from.
(The view of Makaha Valley)
5. You can keep driving west to Makua Cave and look for whales between December and April. Then drive to Yokohama Beach. Yokohama is also not a good place to swim but it's a beautiful beach.
6. At the end of Yokohama Beach is the Kaena Point trail. I recommend going in the morning around 8 am-9 am as there’s no shade and it can be hot. Be prepared for random rain over the mountains. It's an amazing spot to look for whales, turtles, dolphins and at the end, there are ALWAYS Monk Seals. There are only 1000 or so left in Hawaii so I feel so fortunate to see them each time I hike this trail. I don't recommend leaving anything in your vehicle and leaving your vehicle unlocked. This is a high crime area for vehicle break-ins but we lived there for 5 years without any issues.
(The trail at the very end of the Kaena hike)
(Beautiful ocean and mountain views during the hike)
(A monk seal at the end of the hike)
7. Another great hike on the Westside is the Mai’ili Pillboxes. It has amazing views. When you are driving from Waikiki or Ko'olina towards the Westside, you will take a right turn on Kaukama Rd. You will see on the right side of the road where others have parked and are starting their hike. Again, there is no shade on this hike, so I recommend going early. In the winter, this spot is ideal for spotting whales.
(A view from the top of the hike)
8. To end your day eat at Kahumanu Farms. Check their website or google maps for their hours. It’s a local spot and they are farm to table. Try the mac nut pasta! It's also BYOB which is fun after a long day in the sun.
Day 7: If you have time check out Kailua on the Eastside of Oahu.
1. Drive to Kailua from the Westside or Waikiki and hike the Lanikai Pill Boxes. Your GPS should take you near the trail where you can find parking, but the hike starts off Kaelepulu Dr.
(The top of Lanikai Pill Box Hike)
2. After hiking the Pillboxes we also reward ourselves with Cinnamons for Breakfast. If you didn’t eat there in Waikiki or loved it in Waikiki and want more of it their original spot is in Kailua.
3. After breakfast, check out Lanikai Beach. It can be windier as it's the Windward side of the island, but it’s a gorgeous beach. Be careful and watch out for signs for Jellyfish on the Eastside. We still go in the water when there are jellyfish warnings but there is a chance you could get stung.
(A view of the East Side/Windward side from the highway)
Day 8: If you are on Oahu for more than a week, I recommend checking out these additional spots.
1. If you have an extra half of a day, go to Pearl Harbor. Get there early as you can as you need to get a free ticket to the Memorial and wait for your turn. They don’t allow large bags or purses so pack light.
2. Check out the Aloha Stadium Market after Pearl Harbor. It's across the street/nearby from the Memorial and has a range of souvenirs at great prices.
3. Our favorite restaurant in the area near Pearl Harbor and the Stadium is Palazzo’s. It’s Italian and has amazing service and food.
4. Other random things to try are Spam Musubi at 7/11 or the ABC stores. It's usually $1 and many people enjoy it who like sushi.
5. Don't miss Leonards Malasadas. You can go there on your way to the North Shore or the West Side. It’s in Waipahu near the Home Depot. Google Leonard’s Malasada in Waipahu. A Malasada is similar to a donut but it's so much better and comes out hot, covered in sugar.
(Leonards Malasada truck in Waipahu)