With a rugged volcanic landscape, endless waterfalls, and countless beaches of pink, black, and greens sands, Hawaii is a nature lovers paradise. I was lucky enough to work in Hawaii this past year. Making the most of my time on the islands, I covered a lot of ground. I star gazed from Mauna Kea Summit on the big island, boated with a group of humpback whales on the coast of Kauai, stumbled upon a nude beach in Maui, and swam with tiger sharks on Oahu. All of the islands have something different to offer and each are truly stunning in their beauty. The best part about Hawaii is the people. Hawaiians embrace the welcoming and kind spirit of aloha making every visit a good one. In this first of a four part series about the Hawaiian Islands, I’ll share why Oahu has a special place in my heart.
Hawaiian Islands – Oahu Must Do’s:
Kuliouou Ridge Trail – This five mile hike has varying terrain and amazing views. Starting with a trail of rocks and roots, proceeding over a thick bed of fallen needles, finally the wind breaks through the trees and the breeze provides a bit of cool relief. Don’t get your hopes up, the hard work is just beginning. This is a strenuous hike with a steep incline and loads of stairs, but the beautiful banyan trees along the way and the astonishing views from the top make it a favorite. The best way to complete this hike is to grab your husband’s hand and demand that he pull you the rest of the way up!
Diamond Head – The Diamond Head trail is one of the most popular hikes in Oahu. The one mile hike is located very close to Waikiki and is a fairly easy trail gaining only 500 feet of elevation. The trail starts from the middle of the Diamond Head volcanic crater and climbs up to the top of the rim. The views of Waikiki are breathtaking.
Lanikai Pillboxes – This moderate 1.8 mile hike offers beautiful views over the coastal town of Lanikai and out over the Mokulua Islands. The hike leads to old military pillboxes, which are concrete guard posts overlooking the shore.
Keana Point State Park – This is an easy, albeit hot, hike along the coast of Oahu’s westernmost point. There is not much shade on this hike, but the sacred bird sanctuary at the point is worth visiting. We saw monk seals bathing in the shallow tide pools and nesting albatrosses in the bush.
Snorkel Hanauma Bay
Hanauma Bay is a protected marine life conservation area with hundreds of species of fish. The bay was formed by a volcanic crater eruption and provides a calm preserve for green sea turtles, trumpet fish, angel fish, and even the state fish, humuhumunukunukuapuaa. The bay has over 3000 visitors a day and requires everyone to watch a nine minute instructional video prior to accessing the beach. Lockers and snorkel gear can be rented onsite. I was lucky enough to see ample coral, tropical fish, and even turtles while snorkeling the amazing shallow bay. I love the colors of the parrot fish and while I didn’t find Nemo, I did see several Dory fish!
Try surfing on the calm shores of Waikiki Beach. There are plenty of options for board rental on the beach or just behind the main drag of hotels. Whether you’re athletic and adventurous, or a nervous beginner, floating on the board and riding the waves makes for a fun afternoon. I never left my stomach, but I still enjoyed flying across the top of the water towards shore over and over again!
Another highlight of Oahu is watching more experienced surfers ride the waves on the North Shore. The northern coast has the biggest waves and this is where the surfers congregate. You’ll see some great surfing, and maybe some not so great surfing. We watched the lifeguards get a hard days work in rescuing several weak swimmers from the rough waters of Haleiwa Beach.
Take in some History
Visit the Pearl Harbor and USS Arizona memorial sites. Visit the submarine museum, battleship memorial, or the aviation museum while reflecting on the moments that brought the United States into World War II.
Aloha Cones – The 2016 award winner for best poke bowl in Honolulu, Aloha Cones makes hands down my favorite poke bowls on earth. Their ingredients are fresh, sauces are amazing, and the service is great. Go here. Eat anything. Leave happy.
Buho Cantina – The ambiance at the rooftop restaurant Buho Cantina is almost as great as their food. They offer delicious, spicy, fresh Mexican dishes and excellent cocktails. The rooftop overlooks Waikiki and takes advantage of beautiful beach breezes.
Aloha Shrimp – There are plenty of great shrimp trucks on Oahu, serving up plates of locally farm raised shrimp with garlicky buttery goodness, a side of rice, and sometimes a salad. My favorite truck, Aloha Shrimp, hits the spot with their peel and eat ginger shrimp. I suggest relaxing by one of my favorite beaches at Ahupua’a ‘O Kahana State Park while you digest!
Tropical Tribe – Acai bowls are taking over the world. One of my favorite bowls is served up in Waikiki at Tropical Tribe. They’ve got a delicious blend and the freshest of fruits making their bowls refreshing and satisfying. Who doesn’t love it when breakfast tastes more like dessert?
Shaved Ice – On a hot sunny day, the best way to cool off is with a Hawaiian shaved ice. There are plenty of shops around to try these snow cones on steroids, just check google reviews to help you pick the best spot. Try the local flavors like li hing mui, lilikoi, or papaya. Get your bowl served over a scoop of vanilla ice cream or adzuki beans. Make it a snow cap with sweetened condensed milk drizzled over the top. My point is, shaved ice can be ordered a million ways and they are all delicious!
Wandering the streets of Waikiki you’ll find everything from local Hawaiian goods including Aloha shirts and muumuu dresses to high end fashion. Sample some shortbread cookies at Honolulu Cookie Company or strum a ukulele at one of the music shops. The stores stay open late so you have plenty of time to shop after a day on the beach.
Visit Kualoa Ranch
Plan a day at Kualoa Ranch to explore the sets of Jurassic Park and Godzilla by horseback or ATV. They also offer beach, fishpond, garden, and zipline tours. Book online in advance to secure your top pick.
Hawaiian Islands – Oahu – Where to stay:
Hilton Waikiki Beach – The Hilton Waikiki Beach is my top pick for lodging in Waikiki based on value, views, and excellent dining. The hotel is located just a block off of the beach providing excellent views of the mountains, the ocean, and even the iconic Diamond Head crater. The onsite restaurant is delicious and they have a beautiful rooftop pool. Hilton Waikiki Beach offers reasonable rates and they’re one of the few hotels on Waikiki without a daily resort fee.
Hawaiian Islands – Oahu Tips:
- Watch the sunset over Waikiki Beach from the sand or from one of the many beachfront restaurants.
- Avoid the city bus. While the bus is friendly in the morning, by midday it is ridden with drug addicts and other unpleasant riders.
- Visit January-March for the best chance to see humpback whales.
- If you’re planning to stay in an Airbnb, beware that many homes in Hawaii do not have air conditioning.
What makes Oahu unique from the other Hawaiian Islands is the night life. While you will find plenty to see and do during the day on every island, only Oahu has the hustle and bustle of Waikiki Beach to keep you entertained well into the night. There are so many great restaurants, shopping centers, and visitors from around the world congregating here that you don’t ever feel isolated or bored. The people are soft spoken and kind, so to make the most of your visit be friendly, outgoing, and embrace the spirit of Aloha!
Subscribe for future posts in the Hawaiian Islands series. I’ll cover Kauai, Maui, and the big island, Hawaii, soon. Aloha and mahalo.