Known to locals and tourists alike as the “Gathering Place,” with 70 – 80% of the entire state of Hawaii living on Oahu, this Hawaiian Island has something to offer everyone. Whilst being the “hub” for many residents, it’s also the most visited of the Hawaiian Islands for tourists as it really does have something to offer everyone. Whether you want to shop, live like a king or queen, relax by a beach, surf, wander aimlessly down the streets, find an adventure or learn about Hawaiian culture, Oahu has everything you need. So here are some of my must do tips for first time or repeat visitors to Oahu.
Flights are SO cheap from Australia at the moment so it’s a great time to visit. And because the weather is amazing all year round, it doesn’t really matter when you go. I’ve visited in February and June, and both times the weather was amazing. From Honolulu airport, Waikiki Beach is about 35 minute taxi ride, and approx $40 – $50 USD depending on traffic. Most hotels offer airport pick-ups, and there are shuttle companies like hawaii23 that will do it for cheaper, you just have to be organised and book ahead.
For most people, the reason you visit Oahu is to visit world famous Waikiki Beach, and to be honest, its where majority of the action happens. There are so many hotels to choose from depending on your budget and what kind of experience you want to have. There is a famous beach front strip, where the 4 & 5 star hotels range from $100 – $500 USD a night. I used booking.com to compare hotels, and then ended up booking directly. A lot of hotels come with breakfast included, spa packages etc to try and entice you into staying with them, but they all offer much of the same. On my most recent trip I stayed at the Hilton Hawaiian Village – which was incredible, and had its own beach. Although next time I go, I’m definitely staying here – Moana Surfrider – even just for a night. It’s known as the first built hotel in Waikiki and it has a PRIME position on the beachfront.
1. Visit Pearl Harbour
You cannot go to Oahu and not visit Pearl Harbour. For anyone who doesn’t know a lot about Hawaii’s history in World War II its’ a great way to learn about the historical significance of the attacks and see for yourself the remains of the war in the sunken USS Arizona. It’s a pretty incredible thing to see – oil still seeping out of the ship 75 years on. You can either see this in isolation, or combine it with a tour of the battleship Missouri (which I haven’t done). But for any history buff, this has to be on your to-do list. Most tour companies will include this in your journey if you’re doing a full day trip, or you can visit on your own. I’d recommend booking a day or 2 ahead either directly on their website – pearlharboroahu.com – or through a travel guide at your hotel.
2. Do a day’s tour
The first time I visited Hawaii I was 16 on a netball trip, and I have to say, the day tour we did as a group was so much fun. I’d recommend Discover Hawaii Tours circle island tour. It’s a full day but includes food and takes you all around the island, visiting the North Shore, Diamond Head, Turtle Bay, some of the best beaches & often includes Pearl Harbour and the Pineapple Factory. Every tour is different, and there are so many to choose from, but if you’ve never been to Honolulu and you have a few days up your sleeve, I would recommend it as a “get to know the island” experience. Tours range from $80 – $150 USD depending on what’s included.
3. Spend a day driving around the Island
On my last trip to Oahu, my partner and I hired a convertible and drove around the Island. It was honestly the best way to see it at your own pace and it gave us the opportunity to stop at all of the beach parks we saw, eat at little food trucks along the way, and see the more secluded parts of Oahu, away from the tourist centre. From Waikiki its really easy to do as there is really only one road going up north, and you can almost get the whole way around the Island in a day. You drive passed Diamond Head, the Polynesian Culture Centre, Turtle Bay, the North Shore (and Banzai Pipeline) and then can either keep going around or cut back in and head back down. Almost every hotel will offer car hire, or suggest somewhere to go. It was around $50 USD for a day.
4. Have sunset drinks and dinner at Duke’s
Probably the most well known of all Hawaiian’s is Duke Kahanamoku, the legendary swimmer and surfer who basically introduced surfing to the modern world (he actually has a statue erected in my home suburb in Freshwater), and therefore has a cafe appropriately named after him at one of the best spots along Waikiki Beach. If you’re planning on heading there for sunset I’d aim to get in early as you’ll have to wait for a table. Head to the barefoot bar so you have a good outdoor seat. As long as you’re there by about 5:30 you won’t miss the sunset, which was at around 6:30 / 6:45 in June. Their menu offers modern American so there is something for everyone and their cocktails are amazing – so definitely check it out – dukeswaikiki.
5. Stay on the North Shore
Whilst I haven’t done this, so many of my friends who’ve stayed on Oahu have, and they’ve loved it. Not only do you get to get away from the bright lights of Waikiki strip, but you get to have a taste of a more authentic and laid back Hawaiian holiday where you can mingle with locals and do your own thing. There are heaps of websites that offer condo’s to rent, otherwise try Airbnb. A lot of the time the accommodation is A LOT cheaper, you have a kitchen to cook your own food, and the places on offer are still in amazing locations close to local beach parks and little town hubs.
6. Do a sunset booze cruise
As long as you’re 21+ (remember the legal drinking age), I would recommend this to anyone. What better way to see the sunset then on an amazing catamaran having free poured vodka cranberry? All of the boats dock right near Duke’s on the main strip at Waikiki Beach and you can book on the day. The sunset cruises often book out, so I’d try and do that one the morning of, or the day before, but they offer all day cruises, some even with snorkelling options. The price ranges from $40USD – $65USD and for an hour or 2, its’ a fun thing to do with your significant other, friends or solo.
7. Shop till you drop
The first 2 times I went to Hawaii at 16 and 19 I thought I’d hit the jackpot. We didn’t have international shipping back then from places like Victoria Secret or Sephora so I literally went crazy with my shopping. These days, whilst everything is so easily accessible online, there is something nice about being able to go into the stores themselves. Waikiki has changed A LOT since last time I went, and along the main strip you now have a range of high end stores to shop in. I’d still recommend visiting Ala Moana – which is about a 10 – 15 min walk from Waikiki Beach and is HUGE. Make sure you also visit the ABC stores on every street corner. They have everything you need – from sunscreen, to little Hawaiian trinkets – and my favourite – dried mango. Outlet shopping is also huge here, and there is one big one Waikele Premium Outlets. I didn’t find that much I liked, but its’ great for guys & worth the visit.
8. Buy a flotation device and float at Waikiki Beach
It sounds really weird but at most hotel fronts, you can hire flotation devices for the day, hour, half day, and just float out in the ocean. Because there isn’t a huge amount of surf along Waikiki Beach, and because it can be a little bit rough on your feet (there are a few shells here and there), a flotation device is actually a super fun way to relax in the ocean. I went for a donut but you can get floaties in the shape of a thong or a lilo. They also double as great head rests on the sand, or a beach chair if you don’t have one. They cost about $5 USD, are pretty easy to pack if you wanted to keep it & you can buy them from any of the ABC stores around.
9. Pool or Bar Hop
This piece of advice actually came from my mum, who recently spent her 50th in Hawaii. She said that because there were SO many beachfront hotels you walked passed, she thought it would be a fun idea to “pool hop” through each of them, having a drink by the pool at each stop. I think she managed to do about 8 in one day, which is a pretty good effort, and she just read her book at each place, stayed for a drink, then picked up and went to the next spot. It’s a great way to see what all the hotels have to offer, get some rays, and try a different cocktail. Given there isn’t as much of a nightlife in Waikiki, it could also be a fun way to spend an afternoon with friends or your partner, drinking a different cocktail at each bar pool you go to along the strip, before finding somewhere to set up shop and eat. The cheesecake factory has the biggest servings of everything, and huge lines, but its’ well worth the wait & the cheesecake is AMAZING.
So there you have it, 9 things you must do as a first time visitor to Oahu. Understandably its’ hard to fit everything in if you only have a short period of time on the Island, but whatever it is you decide to do, make sure you take in the culture, the friendly and laid back nature of the Hawaiian people, and “just hang loose.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jess is a passionate sun chaser and lover of all things travel. A self claimed corporate hippy, Jess has recently stepped away from the media world to get a life. A lover of good food and wine, being around people and a big talker, she’s happiest talking about travel, food, music and celebrity gossip.. so get in touch!
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