An active person’s guide to visiting Oahu! Where to stay, where to eat, what activities to do, and so much more to help you stay healthy and happy during your visit to the island.
Well, folks…where do I even begin!?
If you’ve been following along with me on Instagram, you know I was recently in Hawaii (on Oahu specifically!) for a little under 2 weeks. It was my first time to the islands and needless to say I TOTALLY fell in love. I am already planning a trip back to check out some of the other islands because I enjoyed it that much. Oahu was the perfect mix of mountains and beach. 😍
If you know me, I would choose mountains over beaches. So in traveling to Hawaii, I didn’t even expect to spend much time at the beach. But I found Oahu was the perfect mix of both for me. I would spend most days hiking for 4-8 hours and then heading to a beach right after to cooldown and snorkel. It was my idea of PARADISE day in and day out. I think I BECAME a ‘beach person’ just being there because all the beaches are just so picturesque.
And ALL of the island is that way. You literally cannot go anywhere without being in AWE of your surroundings.
In fact, one of the things I liked most about being on Oahu was driving around and seeing the island from the car. This was SUPER surprising to me because usually I hate driving and only rented a car for the first time earlier this summer in Yosemite for transportation purposes. But I actually found myself wanting to take the long route places (mostly up the coast!) and taking in the landscapes by car. I found that I could see a ton of the island all at once when I was on my way to a specific destination. It was really fun to just cruise around, playing music, singing out loud, and just relaxing. SO MUCH BETTER than taking an Uber (which I did the first few days I was there).
I could honestly probably write several posts about my experience on Oahu, but I thought I’d condense everything down and make it easier for any of you looking to visit the island!
Let’s get into it. 🤙🏻
Stay in an AirBnB vs. a Hotel
Food prices are SUPER high in Waikiki so having the ability to cook your own meals (even for just breakfast and lunch!) can make a HUGE difference in the amount you’re spending on food. Also, from the research I did, AirBnBs across the island were MUCH cheaper than at a hotel in similar areas.
Shop for fresh food at local markets
This piggybacks off the above…shop at local markets and discount grocery stores when possible for snacks and food to cook with. A local suggested Don Quixote to me and I was grateful that he did because it was SO much cheaper than any other food stores in the area. It’s akin to a Price Rite and ShopRite on the mainland.
Rent a car instead of using Uber
I made the mistake of going into my trip thinking I would Uber everywhere. I assumed because it’s a relatively small island that everything would be close together. But I found out pretty quickly that Uber rides were expensive and most of the places I wanted to go were a minimum of 30-60 minutes away.
Do things off the beaten path
Instead of snorkeling at the “famous” spots I asked locals for their favorite spots and found that those lesser known, more secluded places were SO MUCH better than the busy, more popular places. This was the same for hikes, eateries, bars, etc.
Rent your own snorkeling gear
Even if you don’t think you’re a snorkeling person, the snorkel spots and beaches on Oahu will change your mind. Even if you only go twice, you’ll save money renting your own gear since renting once at most beaches is very expensive. I suggest renting at Bob’s Snorkel! They have great equipment and the staff is SUPER helpful with tips on where to go/insider info.
Must Do + Must See Things on Oahu
Snorkeling at Electric Beach
The only snorkeling spot I went back to multiple times. It’s less popular and known than Hanauma Bay but to me it was SO MUCH BETTER. It’s deeper than most other places and because it’s not as popular there are less snorkelers to kick up sand making it hard to see the reef life.
The reason this spot is so good for snorkeling is also its namesake. Across the street from the beach is an electric plant that has a HUGE pipe (building sized!!) that releases warmed water back into the ocean. The warm water attracts all sorts of fish, turtles, dolphins, and makes for some really colorful coral!
Saw dolphins and a sea turtle here!
Other good snorkeling spots:
Hanauma Bay – saw a monk seal here…super colorful BIG fish!
Shark’s Cove – a very shallow, but BIG tide pool with some interesting fish…saw an eel here!
Lanikai Beach – the quintessential Hawaiian beach….BEAUTIFUL white sand, clear blue water, and actually some pretty cool marine life!
These were my personal favorite hikes on the island out of the ones I did. I tend to opt for more challenging hikes, but if you’re a beginner there are a TON of other less intense hikes to do on Oahu.
I am going to rate these hikes in terms of difficulty based on The Point Scale…something I developed for myself. By “points” I mean ‘points of contact’. Basically how many points of contact I felt comfortable having with the terrain/rocks/mountain while hiking. It goes from 2 points to 4 points. 2 points meaning you can comfortably walk normally and upright without needing to hold anything for balance or safety and 4 points being scrambling, crawling, or needing your feet AND both hands connected to the earth in order to move/not fall. Hope that makes sense!
Stairway to Heaven (Haiku Stairs)
A famous set of stairs left from WW2 that lead to a bunker and some AMAZING views. Part oof the fun of this hike, aside from its length and difficulty, is that fact that it’s sort of dangerous. There are two ways to do this hike: the legal way and the illegal way. Climbing the stairs is actually illegal and they are guarded at the bottom by police. There is also a $1000 fine if you’re caught! Yikes. But this hike was on my bucket list and one of the MAIN reasons I chose Oahu.
I opted to do go the back way (the legal way) and actually went with a guide and group of about 20 people (message @Mike.Karas on Instagram for info!!). I wasn’t sure if I needed a guide but once we got started I am happy I went with one since navigating your way to the actual trail is really tricky (no signs!) if you don’t know the area.
Then the hike itself is pretty much 5-6 hours of climbing and elevation gain. Some parts super steep, some more gradual. Followed by a rope scramble and a few very narrow ridges to the top. But once you’re at the top…WOW. So worth it.
At the top you can get on the stairs and climb downaways. Technically illegal but epic for photographs and exploring the old bunkers that line the stairway! This hike is a MUST DO for sure. I’d actually like to do back and do it the illegal way. HA!
Rating: 2-3 points depending on the area
Koko Head Stairs
Less of a hike and more of a BRUTAL NEVER ENDING stair workout. Your endurance will DEFINITELY be tested continuously as you climb over 1000 steps to the top where there is an old WW2 bunker and INCREDIBLE panoramic views of the island. A MUST DO for sure but make sure to go early in the morning for sunset to avoid the heat.
Rating: 2-3 points depending on the area
Ka’au Crater Ridge Trail
This is an unmaintained trail that takes you through a jungle-like landscape and then up and around the rim of a crater. There are several waterfalls along the way, all of which you have to climb up the side of using ropes, and AllTrails said this was supposed to be a 4-5 hour hike but I was out there for 7.5 hours. It could have been because it rained the night before so the mud/clay trail around the rim of the crater was SUPER slippery and hard to navigate. There are also NO trail markers once you get to the crater area, so you have to be careful not to start down a false trail. The rim trail around the crater is SUPER high, and SUPER narrow. I went on a particularly windy day and it was very scary in some parts because of the slipperiness of the trail.
Definitely a trail for experienced hikers and I’d would not suggest doing it alone!
Rating: 3-4 points depending on if you go after a rainy day
Crouching Lion Hike
A quick yet challenging hike with a few rad spots for pictures! There are some EPIC ocean views that you can’t get anywhere else on the island that made this one of my favorite hikes. Parking is iffy here (on the side of the highway!) so do not leave valuables in the car and don’t doddle too long on the trail itself. Name of the game for Crouching Lion is: short but steep!
Rating: 2-3 points depending on the area
Lanikai Pillbox Hike
The ultimate Instagram hike. But still worth doing! 😉Just be aware of how many people will be on the trail. It really does lead to some BEAUTIFUL views though because the Lanika area is absolutely gorgeous. The beach is famous as I mentioned above and the surrounding neighborhoods are filled with stunning million dollar houses.
Rating: 2 points with a few 3 point areas
Olomana 3-Peak Trail (not for inexperienced hikers!)
Known as the Death Hike for a reason. This hike is NOT for inexperienced hikers. Only about 30 mins from Waikiki, this is a pretty popular hike because of its infamy and how challenging it is. Even after reading various articles about what to expect, I went into it thinking I would be able to complete the 2nd peak, but once I started up I soon realized it was not safe to do alone. Full transparency, I had a few freakout moments during the last rope scrambles getting up to the 1st peak. It’s super high, super steep, and super exposed. You are literally pulling yourself straight up rock formation without many hand/foot holds and depending on ropes that look very frayed and worn. Definitely regret not going with someone else but the views from the first peek were amazing. The first peak is the highest so there’s no shame in not going to others since the 1st has the best views anyways.
I would definitely attempt this one again with a buddy as it was a fun hike…just very sketchy and dangerous at various points. Another reason to NOT HIKE ALONE.
Rating: 4 points almost the whole way and I only did the 1st peak…VERY DANGEROUS overall
Ma’niplu Lighthouse Trail
An easy, family friendly hike on a paved path that leads to a cliffside lighthouse with beautiful ocean views!
BONUS: tide pools! A little ways up the main path there is a look out point with a secret path down to some secluded tide pools. I got lucky when I went and there was NO ONE there so I got my own little private swimming hole for the morning. There’s also a cool gieser that lets out HUGE spouts of water every few minutes. The water is super warm and there’s a bunch of fish in little pools.
Rating: 2 points for the main trail, 3 points if you go down to the tide pools
Ka’ena Point Trail
A 5 mile out and back trail that ends at the north western most point of the island which also happens to be a hidden bird sanctuary. This was actually one hike I did multiple times because I enjoyed it SO MUCH. It’s not a difficult hike (although there is NO SHADE so it gets hot!) but it leads to a secret beach with the most beautiful coral, the occasional monk seal sighting, tide pools for swimming, and pure peace and quiet. It felt like a little paradise away from all the touristy well traveled areas of the island.
Rating: 2 points
A lesser known trail located at the Dillingham Airfield…the same place where the famous Pacific Skydiving center is. It’s a steep trail but the a ton of long switchbacks up the cliff make it manageable. There’s even a picnic table at the top…so pack a lunch or some snacks and enjoy watching the Pacific Skydiving airplanes fly super close overhead.
Rating: 2 points
Other fun activities:
Jet skiing at the North Shore | definitely more of ‘splurge’ activity since it’s pricey…but well worth it for a guaranteed good time!
Strolling through the historic town of Halwai | another gem of the North Shore…small town vibes, only a couple blocks long, tons of unique shops & eateries.
Pacific Skydiving | I didn’t get to do this but you all know how much I LOVE skydiving. And just being in the area where the jumps take place I can see how amazing the views are. If you’re gonna skydive somewhere…do it here.
Going to Waikiki Beach at night | Free and fun! Waikiki is usually super crowded so it’s cool going to the beach at night and just taking into the silence and sounds of the waves. Grab a drink at one of the many ABC stores and gaze at the stars.
Favorite Eateries, Coffee Shops, & Bars
Down to Earth | local health food/grocery store with killer hot bar and made to order food…lots of cool local products too!
Lanikai Juice | fresh pressed juice, acai bowls, smoothies, protein shakes!
The Beet Box Café | made to order vegan and vegetarian foods….bowls, salads, wraps, sandwiches…you name it!
Brew & Foam | such a cool space hidden on the second floor of a building in Waikiki right on the Ala Wai Canal….amazing espresso and great music.
Kona Coffee | local coffee company in a really popular area in Waikiki…great for people watching and a quick breakfast or snack.
The Laylow | fun rooftop bar on the main strip in Waikiki, lots of outdoor seating options, great live music…drinks are a little pricey though!
Waikiki Brewery | small brewery attached to a burger restaurant, good local brews, and a chill place to hang with friends after a long hike!
Two Tides | located in a WHOLE FOODS of all places but very cool nonetheless! Amazing live music almost every day of the week and a nice outdoor sitting area with hanging chairs.
If you noticed, I didn’t share as many pictures in this post as I usually do. That’s because I recently opened up an online store to sell my travel photography! I want to share some of my favorite places in the world with people who maybe haven’t had the chance to make it there yet and this seems like the perfect way to do it. I don’t have a ton of listing right now, but I am working on getting more up slowly every day. So check me out on Pixels and Etsy.
I also want to note that this post only skims the surface of the travel tips I have. With that said, I have a HUGE project in the works to help people travel the world on a budget! I ALWAYS get asked how I afford traveling so often working for myself, being single, and being in my mid-20s….well you’ll find out soon enough. Budget travel E-book coming SOON. 🤩
Have you been to Oahu?
Are you more of a beach or mountains person?
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