Growing up, we often traveled to Honolulu for work trips, and maximized our free time around meetings to explore Oahu, Hawaii. We loved spending time at the pool, playing on the beach, and exploring. Now, these warm memories only make our vacations on Oahu more special. Plus, while we always plan brand new activities for each trip, we definitely have plenty of favorites we repeat! Read on to find out about all of our favorites in Oahu.
Where to Stay While on Oahu
We love to stay within reach of Waikiki’s hustle and bustle while also feeling isolated in a quiet resort. Halekulani Resort is one of the only resorts on Waikiki to successfully offer this balance. Located directly on Waikiki Beach, Halekulani offers grand ocean views, beautiful rooms, and great service. Plus, guests can enjoy one of the largest pools in Waikiki, a large spa, fitness center, and two great ocean-front dining options (including our favorite breakfast restaurant on Oahu: House Without a Key).
While the nightly rates may be hefty, Halekulani is worth it for those who want to enjoy both a relaxing Hawaiian vacation and enjoy the center of Waikiki’s shopping and dining. For those who are looking for a slightly cheaper option, Halekulani also owns a sister hotel, Halepuna.
Where to Eat
Oahu offers a huge variety of restaurants, from locals favorites in Honolulu to large hotel-owned places on Waikiki. While there are plenty of options for you to choose from just by walking down the street, we have ten can’t miss favorites, which include restaurants in Waikiki, greater Honolulu, Kailua, and the North Shore. A few of these favorites include:
Best for Breakfast: House Without a Key
Located in the Halekulani Resort on Waikiki Beach, House Without a Key offers ocean-front views and our favorite buffet on Oahu. The buffet offers everything from an omelette bar to pastries, rice, miso soup, fresh bread and meats, and an array of other items.
Best for Lunch: Haleiwa Beach House
Located on the North Shore’s main town of Haleiwa, Beach House offers ocean-view dining and a fun Hawaiian menu. Fresh fish dishes, teriyaki beef lunch plates, and kalua pork sandwiches are just a few of the option on the lunch menu. It’s a great stop stop while exploring the North Shore!
Best for Dinner: Arancino de Mare
Located in the center of Waikiki, Arancino de Mare offers fresh and tasty Italian cuisine. This Italian restaurant stands in stark contrast to the huge variety of touristy Hawaiian restaurants in Waikiki. We loved enjoying dinner in the restaurant’s outdoor dining area, and appreciated the great service as well. While we love Hawaiian and fish restaurants while on Oahu, this is a great (and unique) restaurant to mix in as well!
You can check out all of the restaurants on our Top 10 list here:
Things to Do on Oahu
While you could easily fill your Hawaiian vacation with activities in Waikiki, we suggest exploring the island as well! Here are a few of our favorite suggestions for things to do while on Oahu:
Explore the North Shore
Oahu’s Famed North Shore is a must-see while in Hawaii. From the adorable surf-town of Haleiwa to the beautiful Waimea Valley and educational Polynesian Cultural Center, there is a ton to see. Plus, the North Shore offers a wealth of activities, including hiking, kayaking, and even horseback riding! Check out all of our favorite North Shore Activities here.
Oahu offers some of the most beautiful hikes we’ve ever been on. While adventurous hikers can pick very difficult trails, we opt for the family-friendly options. Our two favorite hikes are the Makapuu Lighthouse Trail and the ¾ mile long trail in Waimea Valley (both are paved and family-friendly, while still boasting amazing views).
Make sure to enjoy the sand and sun while in Hawaii! Our favorite beaches to spend the day at are Waikiki Beach, the beaches at the Ko’Olina lagoons, and Kailua Beach. Waikiki is the best if you are interested in renting a beach chair for the day or you wish to rent water equipment such as paddle boards or surfboards. Plus, Waikiki Beach is by far the closest to most hotels.
If you are interested in snorkeling, the Ko’Olina lagoons offer a combination of beautiful white-sand beaches and calm ocean water in lagoons. In addition, Ko’Olina’s lagoons are the best for swimming with kids, since the lagoons are protected from current and surf.
Overall though, our favorite beach on Oahu is Kailua. This beach offers calm water (best for paddle boarding versus surfing), beautiful white sand, and even some shade trees along the edge of the beach! (Note: Kailua Beach is mostly used by locals, so bring your own umbrella and equipment/toys since there aren’t rentals.) While you might have to buy an umbrella before you visit Kailua Beach, its worth it to avoid the crazy crowds on Waikiki! (We also highly recommend lunch at Buzz’s Original Steakhouse if you visit Kailua Beach, since it is just across the street, and offers an awesome menu and great ambience.)
While we are huge proponents of getting out of the hustle and bustle of Honolulu, make sure to spend some time around Waikiki! It’s the main hotel and shopping area of Oahu, and offers a huge variety of things to see and do! Shopping includes everything from high end luxury goods to fun Hawaiian souvenirs. Plus, evening street performances and fun restaurants make Waikiki lively at night!
We suggest spending your evenings in Waikiki, and devoting one day of your trip to exploring the shops around Waikiki, as well as walking along Waikiki Beach.
Oahu offers awesome places for snorkeling! Hanauma Bay by far the most famous snorkeling spot on the island, but there are plenty other spots too (such as the Ko’Olina lagoons). Check with your hotel for their favorite suggestions near you!
Surfing on Waikiki
Waikiki is infamous for being an awesome spot for beginners to learn how to surf! The waves are relatively calm and consistent, and there are plenty of great instructors. We highly suggest hiring an instructor if you are a beginner (or even if you want to learn some new techniques) in order to maximize your time on the water! You can check out highly rated surf instructors on Yelp, or look for surf lessons here.