It’s no surprise, from the cool ocean breezes to rice with every meal, living on O’ahu has truly grown to become our home. I get excited to introduce visitors to the place we love, and am thrilled myself to always explore, try out and wander new places. There’s lots to do while visiting–and here are my favorite “off the beaten path” recommendations for people headed to the islands:
because that’s what you came here for, right?
Lanikai + Kailua Beach Park: by far one of the prettiest coasts on island. White sand, calm, turquoise waters. It’s picture perfect Hawai’i in the middle of a quaint residential neighborhood. A “must see”, especially for a stunning sunrise.
Bellows Beach Park: A long, gorgeous strand of open and calm beach (sometimes with miniature waves, fun for body boarding). Military personnel have access all week, the public beach is open on the weekends. Beware of Man of War jellyfish!
Shark’s Cove: Don’t worry, there aren’t sharks…well, in the COVE! ;) Shallow, rocky waters (bring water shoes!) perfect for relaxed snorkeling. Head to the right just outside of the cove for deeper waters and even bigger fish! A fav snorkel spot on the North Shore.
Ko’Olina Lagoons: Want to feel the resort vibe without staying in a fancy hotel? Head out to the west side of the island and park it at one of Ko’Olina’s man-made lagoons. Stay for some of the best sunset views and get THE best (and deadliest) mai-tais on island at Longboard’s.
Yokohama Bay: While you’re out on the west side, keep going until you can’t go any further. Yokohama Bay is beautiful, with incredible views of layered mountain ranges + sometimes dolphin spotting (especially in the early morning!). Stay late into the night and get THE clearest views of the stars, sometimes even the milky way, bright as day!
Kaimana Beach: Okay, so you MUST stay in Waikiki, but hate the crowds? Head down to Kaimana beach, close to the end of Kapiolani beach park (and in front of the oceanside condos). It’s less crowded, plus there are a few shops within walking distance which makes grabbing snacks and booze a breeze. Sometimes you can catch bands jamming out at Kapiolani park, too, which is a plus. Sunset out there is pretty gorgeous as well.
My favorite part of O’ahu. Please remember to be kind and pack out what you took in and be thoughtful in where you park to get to these hikes!
Lanikai Pillboxes: Awesome for sunrise and views of Kailua–during the winter you can see whales breaching, too! A relatively short and easy hike with killer views, absolutely worth the effort. Just pleaseeeee be considerate of where you park within the neighborhood, and be quiet and respectful especially in the morning time.
Maunawili Falls: A fun, adventurous and downright muddy hike through the thick jungle to a waterfall + freezing cold swimming hole. Bring your bug spray and go-pro, you’re gonna need it, and a swim suit, because you’re definitely going to want to get in after the trek!
Diamond Head: This is definitely a ‘touristy’ thing to do, however heading up the mountain in a line of people is totally worth it for the gorgeous views of Waikiki!
Makapu’u Lighthouse (+/or tide pools): The trail up to the Makapu’u lighthouse is a steep one, but paved with rewarding ocean vistas. If you’re looking for more, brought solid shoes and are brave enough, you can hit up the tide pools on your way down (or skip the lighthouse all together). I’m not the best with directions, but you take a right at the first whale watching sign on the lighthouse trail, then follow the white arrows spray painted on the rocks all the way down the mountain to the ocean. Yes, ALL THE WAY DOWN THAT STEEP CLIFF. It’s slippery, and you don’t want to die, so beware, but with tide pools (that are strong currents, watch out!) and blow holes called “dragon nostrils”, it’s super cool down there. Not for the novice, so do your research and please, for crying out loud, don’t get swept out to sea.
Pele’s chair (a.k.a. Allen Davis): people who live here are gonna kill me for this, but I don’t care. Nothing is a secret, folks! If you don’t feel like much of a hike and would prefer a walk, park at the Makapu’u lighthouse trail and instead of taking the paved route head through the valley (staying on the trail), toward the ocean. Sticking to the left of the little cove you will find yourself up on a mini-ocean cliff where someone repurposed an old 2×4 into a shiesty diving board. The cove is somewhat protected from strong waves via the reef, so it seems safe (enough) for jumping. Just beware, you gotta climb back up! Fun to take inter tubes to float around after you take the leap. But again…please don’t get swept out to sea…
Manoa Falls: A stop on tourist trips, this is actually a beautiful waterfall that is worth the walk! A hike (that can get muddy) ends you at a gorgeous + rather tall waterfall worth getting stuck behind slow-pokes for.
the best part of the island! Okay fine, just my personal favorite
Uncle Bo’s: hands down DA BOMB. Everything is incredible, truly.
Real a Gastropub: get the chicken + waffles, deep fried deviled egg + cover your french fries in their homemade ketchup OMG.
Duke’s Waikiki: sit outside (not inside) for a delicious bar menu, descent drinks, a “hawaii beachside” atmosphere + sunset. The hula pie is pretty incredible, too.
Doraku Sushi: interesting + fancy sushi in Waikiki. They have a surf + turf roll that is steak + fish that’s delish!
Shokudo : in an odd part of town if you’re staying in Waikiki, but their sushi is FABULOUS. The honey toast can’t be missed, either. Nom nom nom.
Leonard’s bakery: just go there + get a box of malasadas. Haupia is my favorite. Don’t even mess with the ones without filling. Trust me.
Yogur Story: yummy breakfast close to Waikiki! They have these waffles that are KILLER!
Dat Cajun Guy: food truck in Haleiwa on the North Shore. His New Orleans style meals are phenomenal. Seriously. I actually want some now.
Opal Thai: Thai food in Haleiwa, this place is ALWAYS poppin’.
Monkeypod Kitchen: Kinda ‘fancy’ but delicious food on the west side out by Ko’Olina. Good, interesting drinks and incredible live music.
Ted’s Bakery: Close to sunset beach on the North Shore, this place has it ALL! AMAZING local food (chicken katsu with mac salad OMG I’m drooling) and, of course, the famous Ted’s pie selection! Everyone goes crazy over the chocolate haupia but I absolutely say pick lilikoi cheesecake.
Coffee Gallery: Well, duh. ;) Coffee + baked goods on the North Shore in Haleiwa town.
Lucky Belly: Swanky asian fusion in chinatown. MAN OH MAN is their ramen soooo good.
Royal Hawaiian Sunday Brunch: All you can eat buffet. Everything you can imagine and more, all by the ocean. Just don’t hope to get into a swimsuit after all that.
Crepes No Ka ‘Oi: Crepes in Kailua that will have you ordering everything on the menu. Need I say more?
Cinnamon’s restaurant: the wait is killer in Kailua, but it’s worth it for the guava pancakes (or the island staple, loco moco!)
//EVENTS + THINGS TO DO
Tuesday +/or Friday night: get drinks by the pool at the Modern Hotel in Waikiki + watch the Hilton’s firework show (it starts around 7:45pm)
Rent kayaks and paddle out to the mokes (the two islands across from Lanikai beach)
Hit up Eat the Street on a Friday night
Wander the fashionable Honolulu Night Market
Shop for souvenirs at the Aloha Stadium swap meet
Bring a blanket + a bottle of wine and watch sunset from the rocks at the Ko’Olina lagoon
See the show at the Polynesian Cultural Center (really really fun!)
Walk around downtown Honolulu, maybe even stop by Iolani Palace!
Rent beach chairs and am umbrella and park it on a beach in Waikiki
Spend a Saturday at the Hale Koa pool (military only)
Sneak into a hotel hot tub (but play it cool, duh)
Watch sunset from the top of Kailua Pillbox Hike (gotta start early, though!)
Ride all around the island on your first day! It’s a must!
Rent stand-up paddle boards and try not to fall off
Jam out to local live music at Mai Tai’s bar at Ala Moana shopping center
Weave through the industrial streets of Kakaako + take photos in front of the insane graffiti
Hit up a luau (of course!). Paradise Cove is my favorite.
Catch a poolside movie at the Modern Hotel (select nights)
Enjoy cocktails and sunset at Rumfire
Watch sunset + take scenic photos from atop Mount Tantalus
Catch a sunset and waikiki views on a catamaran booze cruise
Visit Doris Duke’s estate Shangri La. I haven’t yet but am simply DYING to. DYING.
Here during rainy season? Learn the history of Hawai’i at the Bishop Museum.