A friend is headed off to Oahu in the Hawaiian Islands for a week and asked for a couple must-do activities while he’s there. I’ve visited the island several times and here’s my list:
Rent a car for your stay. You’ll want to have a car to get around unless you’re staying at a place where you plan to spend lots of time by the pool or local beach. There’s lots to see around the island and the only practical way to get around is by car. Alternative to picking up your rental at the airport is to Uber or Lyft from the airport and arrange to borrow a car for a few days using the Turo app.
Diamond Head Hike – If you’re staying in downtown Honolulu and can walk up to the the park, try to time it so you get to the entrance by 6am when the park opens so you can hike up in early morning shade, watch the sunrise from the peak, and head down as the inevitable crowds gather. Bring your cellphone with you so you can use the phone flashlight when you go through the tunnel at the top and then head down the backside stairs to avoid the crowds coming up. Bring water as always when hiking in Hawaii. There’s usually a food truck at the parking lot at the bottom where you can get an Acai Bowl for breakfast after your hike.
Kayak on Kane’ohe Bay and enjoy a picnic on the sandbar at low tide. Check out the tide chart or ask which day during your stay is the best to do the kayaking so you hit the lowest tide and reserve with the local kayak rental Kama’aina Kids as soon as you can because spots fill up.
Lanikai Pillbox Hike followed by a day at the beach. Pack a picnic and drive out in the morning and hike up to the pillboxes that look out over Kailua. Eat lunch and take in the view and enjoy the windward breezes. From that vantage point, scout out where the waves are and head back down to the car and grab your boogie boards and spend the afternoon on the beach. My favorite is Lanikai Beach. A little further away but also nice is Sherwood Beach, aka Waimanalo Bay
Snorkeling in Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve – Rent snorkels and fins at any of the places downtown and grab a shuttle up to Hanauma Bay. The snorkeling here is amazing because its in a bay and the turtles are really tame (do not touch them though!). Because it’s a bay, the water is really calm so the water is super clear. Because its the best spot on the island to snorkel, you’ll need to purchase and reserve your spot ahead of time.
Shangri La – If you’re feeling like taking in the Arts, there’s an incredible collection of Islamic art assembled by Doris Duke on display in her beautiful Oahu mansion. You need to book tickets in advance so look into it before you even arrive on island. Right off in front of the house is a natural swimming pool and a nice surf break that she enjoyed with her boyfriend, the great Duke Kahanamoku, olympic swimmer and founder of modern surfing.
Mānoa Falls hike – drive up and park in the residential neighborhood near the trailhead and hike in to the falls. It’s a short hike but it can be muddy so bring sneakers that you can wash later. The waterfall is an oasis in the middle of the jungle. If you have swimming trunks on, you can go swimming to. If the jungle tea house looks familiar, it was used as set in the TV series, Lost.
The Infamous Day – If you’re into history, the exhibit on the events that lead up to World War Two at Pearl Harbor are quite well done. It shows perspectives from both the US and Japanese side and has the draft of FDR’s infamy speech. While you’re there, you might as well take a launch out to the wreck of the Arizona where oil is still bubbling up to the surface from the sunken ship.
A whole post could be written about diving spots around the island. If you’re open water certified, I highly recommend heading out with a guide to Spitting Caves & China Wall, Shark’s Cove, and The Sea Tiger Wreck. If you’re a beginner, Koko Crater is a good one. Island Diver is a good outfit, Tyler worked with them one summer.
If you already know how to surf, you know where to go get more information about the surf spots. If you don’t, definitely take a surfing lesson. The best place to learn is off of Waikiki Beach, the waves are consistent and mellow enough to get you started on a long board.
If you’re into Stand Up Paddleboards, you can rent them and try the calm waters off of Ala Moana.
After a morning swim or surf, be sure to stop by Leonards for their Masalas. If you’ve been on the water all day and are ravenous, the Loco Moco or Beef Cutlet with Gravy plate at the Rainbow Drive-In will set you right again.
If you find yourself on the North Shore, be sure to stop by a Shrimp Truck and grab a plate of garlic shrimp. I always hit the Shrimp Shack.
Shave Ice – do not leave the island w/o trying it. If you’re in the North Shore, Matsumoto is the place.
KCC Farmer’s Market on Sundays to try out local food and also a good place to pick up gifts to bring home. Come hungry.
La Mer – if you’re looking for a fancy meal (and are willing to drop some major cash) La Mer at the Halekulani is the place to go. Ask for a table overlooking the ocean at sunset.