It’s hard not to think of Oahu first when someone mentions Hawaii. Between the iconic view of Waikiki beach looking down towards Diamond Head, or the history of Pearl Harbour, there’s so much that Oahu offers. After visiting Oahu five times now, I’d like to think I’ve been able to see some of the best things the island has to offer. So here’s my guide on how to spend 1 week on Oahu, Hawaii!
Oahu has so much going on if you like sun, sand, and adventure. Whether it’s learning to surf, hiking up one of the many island viewpoints, or taking a helicopter tour of the island, there’s something so special about Hawaii. Spam, Hula, Luau, and Ukuleles are all things that make Hawaii unique. Those living in Oahu are so proud of their island and the lush paradise they live in, but also welcome all visitors with open arms as part of their big ohana.
Oahu is the most populated island in Hawaii, which means you get the city life some people crave, but you can also find the country part full of coffee farms, lush jungles, and remote beaches. Set your watch to island time and enjoy 1 week on Oahu, Hawaii relaxing and exploring!
Where to Stay in Oahu, Hawaii
1. Royal Hawaiian Hotel
Without a doubt, the Royal Hawaiian is one of the most iconic hotels in Hawaii. With its art deco archways and romantic looks, the “Pink Palace” has been making its mark on Waikiki since 1927. Its guest list history includes everyone from royalty and celebrities, such as Charlie Chaplin, Babe Ruth, and Shirley Temple.
Even if you don’t stay here, visiting the hotel and wandering around the grounds is a must! I was lucky to stay here back in 2008 for a week. It’s hard not to feel glamorous lounging around the pool with the pink retro decor.
2. Moana Surfrider Hotel
The Moana Surfrider Hotel has been a staple in Waikiki since it opened in 1901. This luxurious plantation-style hotel attracted movie stars and aristocrats to the beach. The historic hotel has a beautiful seaside courtyard with large banyan trees and a wraparound veranda. There are often musicians and hula dancers performing here in the evenings. Upstairs from the lobby, you’ll find displays of memorabilia from the early days of the hotel and Waikiki back when the Moana was the only hotel on the beach!
3. Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort
The Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort is Waikiki’s largest resort. It’s a self-sufficient area with 22 acres that includes 6 towers, multiple restaurants and bars, five pools, and a lagoon. It’s geared towards families and group packages. Every Friday at 7:45 pm the resort hosts a 10-minute fireworks display over the Beach. In 1961, Elvis Presley filmed Blue Hawaii at the resort and in 1968 the hotel’s iconic Rainbow Tower opened.
4. Surfjack Hotel and Swim Club
This charming boutique hotel is an oasis in the sea of chain hotels of Honolulu. It’s a few blocks away from the beach, but also a property committed to environmental and cultural conservation. The Surfjack Hotel was the first hotel in Waikiki to eliminate single-use plastic. You’ll also find free reef-safe sunscreen dispensers as well as plastic-free bikini and accessory pop-up shops.
Places to Eat in Oahu, Hawaii
1. Olive & Oliver
A popular Waikiki cafe is Oliver & Oliver, which is located in the Surfjack Hotel. In addition to their delicious coffee and tea menu, they have a curated mix of clothing and accessories reflecting the Hawaiian culture and beach style. They’re well known for their cup designs, many of which were done by a local artist.
2. Lanikai Juice
With fresh fruit gathered from local farmers, Lanikai Juice blends a delicious assortment of smoothie bowls of granola topped with acai berries, bananas, blueberries, and grated coconut.
3. Duke’s Waikiki
Duke’s Waikiki is a popular restaurant right on Waikiki Beach, known for its beachfront location, surf ‘n’ turf, tiki-vibe, and umbrella drinks. It’s always busy in the evenings so make a reservation if possible!
4. Honolulu Cookie Company
Honolulu Cookie Company is on almost every street corner in Waikiki! It is a must-stop shop for cookies to bring home. These pineapple-shaped shortbread cookies are delicious and come in a variety of flavours.
5. Island Vintage Coffee
Island Vintage Coffee is a great cafe that showcases Hawaiian coffee and also features other locally-made items. All of their products are from local artisans and growers. You can find multiple locations around the island.
6. Ala Moana Centre
Ala Moana Centre is a HUGE open-air shopping mall that’s popular with both locals and tourists. There are a number of restaurants here, in addition to chain stores, designer shops, and local boutiques.
7. International Market Place
The International Market Place might look a little different now for those that have not visited Waikiki in the last 10 years. What used to be a fun open-air market centred around an old banyan tree is now a luxury shopping centre.
What to Do in Oahu, Hawaii
1. Iolani Palace
Iolani Palace was built under King David Kalakaua in 1882 and is an important part of Hawaiian history. The palace was modern but did little to assert Hawaii’s sovereignty over the US, who overthrew the kingdom in 1893. Iolani Palace later served as the Capitol of the republic, then the territory, and later the state of Hawaii.
After the government moved in to the current state capitol, the restored palace eventually reopened as a museum. Visitors can now take a self-guided tour to see Iolani’s grand interior, including the throne room and residential quarters upstairs. The palace grounds are open during daylight hours and are free of charge.
2. Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve
From the overlook above Hanauma Bay, you can see the translucent waters that attract tourists from around the world and trace the outline of the 7000-year-old coral reef that stretches across the bay. While snorkelling there you’re likely to see schools of colourful fish, sea turtles, and the humuhumunukunukuapua’a, which is Hawaii’s state fish. The waters here are warm and shallow, making it perfect for those who haven’t snorkelled before!
Feeding the fish and walking on the coral is strictly prohibited to help preserve the bay. Despite its protected status as a marine-life conservation district, this bay is still a threatened ecosystem due to its extreme popularity.
3. Duke Kahanamoku Statue
On the waterfront of Kalakaua Ave, the Duke Kahanamoku Statue is always draped in colourful lei. Duke was a true Hawaiian hero, known for winning numerous Olympic swimming medals and breaking the world record for the 100yd freestyle. He is known as “the father of modern surfing” and even had stints as a Hollywood actor.
4. Waikiki Aquarium
Located right on Waikiki’s shoreline, the university-run Waikiki Aquarium recreates diverse tropical Pacific reef habitats. You’ll see rare fish species from the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, including fish that host bioluminescent bacteria. Getting here is an easy 15-minute walk southeast of the main Waikiki beach strip. Their outdoor pool is also home to endangered Hawaiian monk seals.
5. Dole Plantation
The Dole Plantation is everyone’s favourite spot to visit when on Oahu. No matter how old you are, there’s nothing else quite like a smooth Dole Whip! Expect everything pineapple when you walk into the Dole Plantation’s visitor-center gift shop.
You can visit the garden showcasing different pineapple species for free and enjoy lunch at the cafe without buying tickets. To see the pineapple fields you’ll need to take a ride on the 20-minute Pineapple Express, where you’ll learn all about the history of the Dole Plantation. If you have more time, visit the Pineapple Garden Maze as you try to find your way around 1.5 miles of pathways.
6. Kualoa Ranch
It’s likely that you’ll know the scenery even if you don’t know the name. In the 1800s the Judd family purchased the roughly 4000 acres of land that makeup today’s Kualoa Ranch from Kamehameha III and Queen Kalama. It’s still Oahu’s largest cattle ranch, but has since expanded into a booming tourist spot and filming location!
If you want to see where Godzilla left his footprints and the Jurassic Park kids hid from dinosaurs, take the movie tour or the ATV and horseback rides that bring you into the beautiful valley. You can also go a bit more off the beaten trail with the jungle tour into Hakipuʻu Valley’s steep slopes where most of the ranch’s ancient sites are located.
There are 12 tour options at Kualoa. When we visited we did the horseback ride, ziplining, and jungle tour and everyone loved their chosen tour! Return transfers from Waikiki hotels are available when booking the tours.
Things to See on the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii
Your first stop along the North Shore will be the charming town of Haleiwa, about a one-hour drive from Waikiki. It’s a laid-back surf town that’s also filled with local boutiques, charming art galleries and colourful buildings. Haleiwa is the social and hub of the North Shore. Here you’ll find surfers at one of the town’s abundant food trucks before hitting the beaches. Haleiwa is raw and quiet, nothing like the busyness and crowds of Waikiki, but that’s exactly how people like it!
2. Waimea Bay Beach Park
Waimea Bay is one of Oahu, Hawaii’s most popular surfing areas in the winter. The water here changes dramatically with the seasons, while it’s okay to swim in the summer, in winter it has the island’s strongest rip currents and biggest waves. The beach plays host to the annual Eddie Aikau memorial surf competition between December and February. Parking here is often tight, but if you can find a spot it makes for a great day at the beach and exploring the North Shore. Facilities include lifeguards on duty, showers, restrooms, and picnic tables.
3. Sunset Beach
Like many beaches on the North Shore, Sunset Beach is a favourite for pro-surfers. The second leg of the Triple Crown of Surfing takes place here in late November/early December. In the summer, Sunset Beach is more inviting to swimmers, but people still need to watch out for strong currents.
4. Waimea Valley
Waimea Valley is an 1800-acre Hawaiian park, just inland from Waimea Bay, and is a sanctuary of up to 5000 native and exotic plant species. It’s a 1.5-mile return walk to Waimea Falls, where you can even go swimming. Afterwards, wander the numerous paths and check out the Hawaiian cultural attractions. The valley is home to numerous ancient sites. On weekends, parking gets very full so arrive early!
5. Dillingham Airfield
Operated under a 25-year lease from the US Army, Dillingham Airfield is mainly used for general aviation, gliding, and skydiving operations. The runway was paved to 9000ft during WWII and could handle B-29 Superfortress bombers. These days it’s 5000ft and still used by the military and for filming (as seen in Lost and Hawaii Five-0).
6. Turtle Bay Beach
Immediately west of Turtle Bay Resort, Turtle Bay was named because of the green sea turtles that used to lay their eggs on the beach. The beach is sandy, but offshore is rocky, making it popular for snorkelling or learning to surf. The resort here is beautiful and offers a quieter side to Oahu!
7. Banzai Pipeline
Banzai Pipeline is known the world over as one of the best spots for perfect waves and surf conditions. The final leg of the Triple Crown of Surfing is held here in early to mid-December.
8. Ka’ena Point State Park
At the very end of Mokuleia where the road ends is Kaena Point State Park overlooked by beautiful hills and wide-open beaches. The hiking trail starts at the parking lot and follows an unpaved road. If you opt to hike the full round-trip trail from Yokohama Bay and back, you’ll need about three hours, with plenty of water and sunscreen.
Best Hikes on Oahu, Hawaii
1. Diamond Head State Monument
The extinct crater of Diamond Head is now a state monument and one of the most popular hikes on Oahu! The hiking trail up to the 760ft-high summit was built in 1908 to service military observation stations located along the crater rim. Inside the crater rim, the park has information displays, restrooms, and a picnic area. From Waikiki, you can either drive or catch a bus to Kapiʻolani Community College and enter the park through Kahala Tunnel.
2. Koko Crater Trail
This 1.8-mile round-trip trail to Koko Crater is an exposed path that follows along an abandoned wooden-tie rail bed to reach the summit of Puʻu Mai. There’s no shade, but the panoramic views from atop the extinct crater’s rim are worth the effort.
3. Crouching Lion of Oahu, Hawaii
The Crouching Lion is a landmark rock formation that, according to legend, was a demigod from Tahiti who was cemented to the mountain during a jealous struggle between the volcano goddess Pele and her sister Hiʻiaka. When he tried to free himself by crouching, he was turned to stone.
4. Manoa Falls Trail
Manoa Falls is the island’s most rewarding short hike. This 1.6-mile, two-hour round-trip trail brings you to a pretty cascade to view the falls, which drop about 100ft into a small, shallow pool. It’s illegal to venture beyond the viewing area.
5. Lanikai Pillbox Hike
The Lanikai Pillbox Trail is a 1.8 mile, heavily trafficked out and back trail located near Kailua. The “Pillbox” is actually a bunker that you’ll find all over Oahu’s ridges and were erected during WWII.
6. Stairway to Heaven – Oahu, Hawaii
The Stairway to Heaven, also known as the Haiku Stairs, is quite possibly the most popular (now-illegal) attraction on the island. 3,922 stairs lead up the imposing mountain ridge, with only a hand-rail to catch you from falling into the valley below. Police are now issuing fines up to $1000 if you are caught on the trail. However, there’s a back way up the Stairway to Heaven. This route is much longer, but it’s legal and you still get to reach the viewpoint of the Haiku Stairs.
Military and Historic Sites on Oahu, Hawaii
One of the USA’s most significant WWII sites, the Pearl Harbor National Memorial illustrates the history of the Pearl Harbor attack and commemorates fallen service members. The visitor center at the main entrance is the hub for visits to Pearl Harbor’s other parks and museums.
The bookstore also sells many books and movies about the Pearl Harbor attack and illustrated maps of the battle. If you’re lucky, one of the few remaining, 95-plus-year-old Pearl Harbor veterans who volunteer might be out front signing autographs and answering questions. Tickets are sold online at www.pearlharborhistoricsites.org or onsite.
1. USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor
The USS Arizona Memorial is an iconic offshore monument. The memorial was built over the midsection of the sunken USS Arizona with cutaways that allow visitors to see the remains of the ship. To this day, over 900 servicemen remain entombed inside the sunken ship. Free boat tours depart every 15 minutes from the visitor center for a 75-minute tour. You can make reservations for the tour online before your visit or try to secure limited tickets available in-person on the day of, at the visitor centre.
2. Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum
The Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum covers WWII and the conflicts in Korea and Vietnam. Hangar 37 features exhibits on the Pearl Harbor attack, the pivotal Battle of Midway, and more. Authentically restored planes on display here include a Japanese Zero and a Dauntless navy dive bomber (star of the 2019 film Midway).
Here you can also take a guided tour to look behind the scenes at restoration work in Hangar 79’s WWII-era maintenance shop with ongoing work on a B-17 and other planes. Out on the tarmac, you can walk in the shadow of the famous old control tower and imagine what it was like on December 7, 1941. To visit the museum, board the Ford Island visitor shuttle bus outside the visitor center.
3. Battleship Missouri Memorial
The USS Missouri “Mighty Mo” was the last battleship built by the US (launched in 1944) and saw action during the decisive late WWII battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa. The Battleship Missouri Memorial is now docked on Ford Island, just a few hundred yards from the sunken remains of the USS Arizona.
During a self-guided tour, you can explore the officers’ quarters, browse exhibits on the ship’s history, and walk across the deck where General MacArthur accepted the Japanese surrender on September 2, 1945. The ship was decommissioned in 1955 but was heavily modified and put back into service in the 1980s during the military build-up near the end of the Cold War.
4. USS Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park
Adjacent to the visitor center for the Pearl Harbor historic sites, this park harbours the moored WWII-era submarine USS Bowfin, which you can explore on a self-guided tour. Launched on December 7, 1942, one year after the Pearl Harbor attack, the USS Bowfin sank 44 enemy ships in the Pacific by the end of WWII. The US undersea war against Japan was a major contribution to winning the war in the Pacific and is often overlooked.
5. USS Oklahoma Memorial
The second-largest number of lives lost during the attack on Pearl Harbour was aboard the battleship USS Oklahoma. After numerous Japanese torpedoes struck the ship, it capsized at the dock, trapping hundreds of men below decks. Ultimately, 429 of the crew died. The USS Oklahoma was eventually salvaged and towed away, but the memorial to those 429 crewmen remains.
6. US Army Museum of Hawaii
At Fort DeRussy, the US Army Museum of Hawaii exhibits a wide array of military paraphernalia as it relates to Hawaii’s history, starting with Kamehameha the Great winning control of the island 200+ years ago. The museum conveys an understanding of the influence of the US military presence in Hawaii and there are extensive exhibits including one on the 442nd (the Japanese-American regiment that became the most decorated regiment in WWII). The building was once the fortified Shore Battery Randolph, which housed large defence guns.
7. National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific
Northeast of downtown Honolulu is a bowl-shaped crater, the Punchbowl, from a long-extinct volcano, now known as the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. Hawaiians called the crater Puowaina (hill of human sacrifice). Today, the remains of ancient Hawaiians sacrificed here share the crater floor with over 50,000 soldiers. Other notable people buried here include US senator and WWII vet, Daniel K Inouye.
There are special screens at the visitor’s center that let you look up the location of any gravesite. Even without the war sights, Punchbowl is worth the drive for the views of the city and Diamond Head. For fans of Hawaii Five-O, you can see the iconic 30ft-tall statue Columbia on the central tower, which is featured in the opening credits.
Final Thoughts on Oahu, Hawaii
There’s just something about Oahu that makes you want to keep visiting again time after time. Even after numerous trips, I’m still finding new things to do and explore each time. I love the variety that the island offers, making it perfect for people of any age to visit and enjoy. Being Hawaii’s busiest island means that there are also the most flights and connections. There are daily flights here from multiple cities in North America as well as Japan and other countries.
For those wanting to explore other islands, you can also check out the Big Island of Hawaii as Hawaiian Airlines offers multiple inter-island flights each day. Visiting other islands is a perfect way to add to your trip if you’re wanting to see more of Hawaii!
I can’t wait to go back again one day, and until then I’ll be reminiscing of past trips and all that beautiful Oahu, Hawaii has to offer!