Quick visit of Oahu: the activities we tried

Written by Flo Published on 03/11/2017

The translation may not be accurate. If you detect any errors, please let us know , and we will correct them immediately. Thank you and sorry for this inconvenience. Sandrine & Flo

We are barely back from 24 days in the West of the USA and we are already thinking about Hawaii. It's to say if for us this destination is one of our, to see our favorite! We dragged our savates to the 4 corners of the beautiful blue planet, and let us remain nevertheless marked by this little paradise lost in the middle of the Pacific.

In this article, we will not focus on all the activities to do on O' ahu because there are so many, but on those that we had the opportunity to do during our 3 days on the island. But don't hesitate to let us know what you find in the comments, it will help the future visitors of the site to enjoy themselves once they arrive!

The beaches and landscapes of southeast Oahu

If you land directly in Honolulu from outside French Polynesia, or from the other islands of the archipelago, what better way to start the discovery of the island by relaxing a bit to recover from jet lag?

It's perfect, Oahu has everything you need! Paradise beaches (it is here that you will find some of the most beautiful beaches in the Hawaiian state), lined with coconut trees, the spirit of surfing embalming the atmosphere with a scent of holidays... You will have understood, the invitation to relax before engaging in a little more "sporting" activities is well present.

Lanikai beach - Oahu

But beware, however, because not all beaches are paradisiacs, and not all of them allow to relax because Oahu is also the most touristic island.

Hanauma Bay

Hanauma Bay is a beautiful but very tourist nature reserve located about fifteen kilometers from Honolulu. The site is paying, often crowded. Don't look for peace and quiet here, there are people all year round unless you come to the morning or at the end of the day, but the bay offers a beautiful panorama and its protected environment makes snorkeling easy.

Hanauma bay

Shuttle buses to and from Honolulu are available for a fee. Hanauma Bay is a good choice for those who have not booked a car rental and wish to move away from mass tourism. Swimming is supervised.

More details about Hanauma Bay can be found in this article: Where to Snorkel in Hawaii: Our Favorite Spots.  

Sandy Beach Park

Sandy beach park from Halona blowholeContinuing eastward from Hanauma Bay, Sandy Beach Park is quickly reached. It is a long sandy beach that is also supervised and allows you to isolate yourself a little more without going too far away from Honolulu.

It is a good alternative to the crowded beaches of the center, despite the proximity of the Kalanianaole Highway.

Just before arriving at the beach, a car park allows you to stop at Halona Blowhole, a small geyser formed by the sea water when it rushes into the cavities under the rocks of the coast.

Makapu'u Lookout

This same Highway then takes us to the Makapu' u Lookout, a point of view with a MANDATORY stop. It is also the "gateway" to the East Shore (the east coast). You will not be able to leave here without having taken some magnificent pictures of this sublime panorama, as long as the weather is good.

Panorama at Makapu'u lookout

It is also possible to walk to the Makapu'u Lighthouse, the extreme eastern phase of Oahu. To do this, you will have to park in the small car park located 300 meters before the Makapu'u Lookout, after having forked on the Makapu'u Lighthouse road. Count 3 km round trip and 1 hour for this little walk.

Makapu'u Beach

From the Makapu'u Lookout, you will be able to assess the conditions on Makapu'u Beach just below. Often here the swell is significant and the wind relatively strong. But when conditions are calm, this spot can be very pleasant. Be careful, the parking spaces are north of the beach (not necessarily very intuitive at first sight). Beach watched.

Waimanalo Beach

A few kilometres further up north, Waimanalo Beach stretches along the Park and the town of the same name. Here you will find calm, turquoise water and clear sand. The perfect recipe for relaxation here on the East Shore.

There are two parking lots with showers and toilets next to a small campsite and a large playground. Picnic tables are set up and the beach is supervised.

On the sand at WaimanoloWaimanalo beach seen from drone - Oahu

Lanikai Beach

To complete this section of the beaches in southeast Oahu, here is our favourite beach, Lanikai Beach. This time everything is there: tranquillity (except during the summer months), coconut palms, clear sand, turquoise water, the possibility of snorkeling, and a view to fall on the ground with the islands of Moku Iki, Moku Nui and Popoia Island as a backdrop. Magic!

Lanaikai - Oahu

Although bordered by houses, this beach is a little "wild" and is not supervised (there are no showers). The proximity to the residential area and the calm waters make it a safe place. You will have to park on Mokulula Drive or one of the perpendicular streets of Kailua, between Kaelepulu Drive and Onekea Drive. Pedestrian crosswalks are located along Mokulula Drive to reach the beach. 

The large beach of Kailua, located nearby, is also pleasant, but more crowded and less charming than Lanikai. On the other hand, you will find all the necessary facilities (showers, toilets and picnic area) on the spot, bathing being supervised here.

Some good addresses near Kailua

To taste a Shave Ice

Now you are well rested and all red because of the sunburn? Perfect! It's time to taste one of the typical dishes of the archipelago: a tasty shave ice! Blocks of ice cream passed through a razorblade machine in order to cut out fine ice chips, shaped into a ball and perfumed according to your tastes (coconut, banana, apple, pear, mango, pineapple, etc...), all on a Macadamia ice cream bed to be enjoyed with a spoon... Just think about it and type it on my keyboard, I'll be happy to do so.....

We didn't (unfortunately) eat enough to tell you where it is absolutely necessary to go so that you can get your butt on the ground, but personally we went where dear Barack Obama is used to: Island Snow Hawaii at 130 Kailua Road in Kailua.

Shave ice - Island Snow Hawaii

To eat a bite

As long as we are in the right addresses to share on the east coast of Oahu, here is a stop we recommend to satisfy ourselves: Ono Steaks and Shrimp Shack, 41-037 Wailea Street in Waimanalo.

A small restaurant that doesn't look like much but where we ate very well. As is done in some American restaurants, we order at the counter, sit down and pick up our food when we are called. You should not dwell on the presentation (polystyrene plate) but rather concentrate on the content: ono (local fish) with mango/papaya sauce with rice and salad and furikake ahi (marinated tuna steak) with rice and salad. It's local and good.

Steak de Ono - Ono steaks and shrimp shack at Oahu

North coast of Oahu, from Kailua to Halei'wa

If you own a rental car and the weather is fine, you can consider the (half) tour of the island, i. e. continue north of Kailua and Kaneohe to Halei'wa. Take the time to walk along this road along the coast (Kamehameha Highway). Stop whenever you like, enjoy, enjoy, stroll, admire, it's the holidays!

Here are some photo points for those interested:

  • Mokoli'i or Chinaman's Hat, an island shaped like a Chinese hat that can be seen from the Kualoa B regional park.
  • Pu'u O Mahuka Heiau State Historic Site, site of an ancient temple located above the access road to Waimea Botanical Garden and Waimea Falls (paying) and which allows for beautiful colors at sunset.

Waimea beach Park

Located in the immediate vicinity of the Highway, Waimea beach is a very pleasant beach in summer, which turns into a dangerous area in winter due to the waves. But if, like us, you come at the end of March, you will discover huge waves crashing on the beach and many experienced surfers trying to take the big waves. The show is very enjoyable to watch!

Waimea beach - mach

Waves at Waimea beach in March - Oahu

The beach is guarded even in winter, to prevent unwary tourists from getting caught by the waves.

Waimea valley

On the other side of Waimea beach is Waimea valley. A small road takes us in the middle of the jungle, in a small paradise lush and beautifully wooded. Here, a family maintains a small botanical garden. 

From there, a small path leads to the Waimea falls, a nice waterfall located 1.5 km from the entrance. Unfortunately, $16 per adult and $8 for children under 12 years old will be required to access the waterfall and botanical garden. The two are inseparable. The stroll being very popular and the waterfall not so exceptional, we did not wish to invest in this attraction. 

But if you want to admire the Waimea falls and visit the botanical garden, you will find practical information, prices and timetables on the garden website.

Halei'wa beach park

Continuing our tour of Oahu, we now arrive at the small seaside resort of Halei'wa. We appreciated the charm of this small town and its shopping streets which contrast with the big city of Honolulu, but less than an hour's drive away.

Halei'wa beach park is a very pleasant place to stroll, watch surfers, swim in summer, or simply picnic in the shade of palm trees. The most pleasant area is the small beach to the north of the car park.

Haleaiwa beach

Bay near Haleaiwa in Oahu

Here you will find all the necessary facilities (showers, changing rooms, toilets), the place being a well-known base for surfing.

Turtles also frequently visit the area. We had the opportunity to see many of them when we came here.

Aweoweo Beach Park

This is the first beach we discovered when we arrived in Hawaii. We stumbled upon this beautiful sandbank, losing ourselves in the residential area of the small town of Aweoweo.

We passed through a passage between two residences and arrived on the beach. Here the reef is fairly close to the shore and the sand offers beautiful turquoise gradients in the water. Unlike Halei' wa, here the water is calmer because it is protected by the barrier. It is also here that we met our first sea turtles! A charming and peaceful corner that I invite you to discover.

Aweomeo beach

Our video

Here is the video of our first day in Hawaii and Oahu. We took the opportunity to discover the north of Oahu.

In the center of Oahu

Nu'uanu Pali Lookout

Don't miss to make a stop at this beautiful viewpoint situated on the heights of the center of the island. You will be able to admire much of the island's east coast.

The beautiful viewpoint of the Nu'uanu Pali

Access to the Nu'uanu Pali Lookout is directly from Highway 61, which links Honolulu to Kailua. About halfway there is a motorway exit to the car park. This parking lot is chargeable, but pay attention to the sign just below the parking meter and check if it is chargeable at the time of your arrival. In other words, before 8am and after 5pm, it's free. It may seem obvious, but on the spot, almost all the people we met were ready to pay when it was 5pm past.

Nu'uanu Pali Lookout

Paid parking timetables at Nu'uanu Pali Lookout

The viewpoint is located a few meters from the car park.  If you want to walk a little, you can follow the Ko'olau Summit trail which will take you to a little more altitude.

Be careful, don't be mistaken when you leave again, because the road makes a loop that connects the two entrances/exits of the motorway. So if you keep going instead of going back, you'll find yourself on the highway in the opposite direction, unless you want to go back.

Hiking in Oahu

Contrary to the idea I had before preparing our trip, Oahu is not a very flat island. Here, you can visit the mountain, whose green peaks are reminiscent of the Kauai relief. And if you want relief, it's a playground for hikers! Bulk: Pali Notches Hike, Manoa Falls Trail, Lulumahu Falls Trail and all the hikes that run along the island's ridges.

As at the end of each 3-week trip, we're a little short of strength, and Hawaii was no exception. Combined with a rather gloomy weather on the ridges, our desire to do long-distance hikes will have taken a slap in the face. But I give you the link to my bible about hiking in the USA, with lots of information including opinions, difficulty, distances, etc...

You'll notice there's plenty to do!

Haiku Stairs (or stairway to heaven)

Don't look for information on the Haiku Stairs (or stairway to heaven) and its famous photos where you can see this vertiginous staircase overlooking the sea on the top of a ridge with the city below.

For a few years now, this trail has been closed, prohibited, and it will cost you dearly to break the prohibitions and mislead the vigilance of the guards and residents (up to $1,000 fine). The 3922 steps leading to the summit have not been maintained since the early 2000s and the danger is very real.

Around Honolulu

Waikiki beach

We talk and think a lot about Waikiki when we talk about Honolulu. Indeed it is one of the symbolic beaches of the Hawaiian islands, where it is nice to stroll in the evening just before sunset, shop along Kalakaua Avenue, soak up the water not far from your hotel (if you stay in the area), but you should not seek tranquillity here.

Waikiki beach - Honolulu

At Waikiki beach, the ocean is calm all year round, protected by the coral reef and sea walls. The swimming conditions are therefore ideal. It is also a good place to start surfing, if you want to get started.

On the other hand, expect to find crowds on the beaches of Waikiki, especially during weekends and holidays. 

Diamond Head

A short distance from Honolulu, the Diamond Head crater dominates the city. This astonishing formation is the result of the erosion of an ancient volcanic system of which only one tuff ring remains today. Diamond Head takes its strange name from the first British sailors who landed here and thought they saw diamonds in the brilliant calcite on its flanks.

Later, Diamond Head served as a military base during the Second World War. Corridors and bunkers were built in the heights.

Today Diamond Head is one of the emblems of Oahu, and in fact one of the most popular ascents of the island. The 3 km round trip takes 1 to 2 hours and from the bottom of the crater, you can reach the crater to have a nice view of the south of Honolulu (Waikiki), the south shore and the immensity of the Pacific Ocean.

Panorama at Diamond Head summit - Oahu

The path is atypical because it passes through the former military underground corridors, before arriving at two points of view from former bunkers. When you arrive at the foot of a long and steep staircase, you will have the choice between climbing up to reach the first bunker, or continuing along the path that continues to go up on the left. The two paths meet a little further on to form a loop. You will only have to choose your direction of travel.

Sandrine in a tunnel at Diamond Head

Because of the proximity to Honolulu, expect to find a lot of traffic there. You may also encounter difficulties parking in the parking lot in the crater ($5 per vehicle). You will have to wait in a queue for cars to leave, or you will have to turn around and find a parking spot outside Diamond Head and walk.

Parking at Diamond Head - Oahu

Visit Pearl Harbor

And no, we didn't just relax on Oahu;) We had the opportunity to move on to Pearl Harbor, which deserves to spend at least half a day there. We also devoted an article dedicated to it on the whole site and the museums to visit: Organize your visit to Pearl Harbor: between history and emotion

The outlets of Waikele

For those who love shopping, you will find your happiness in the outlets of Oahu. We went to Waikele to take advantage of the advantageous prices on clothing. For example, count 30$ HT the Levi's 501 against 100€ in France!!

Surfing in Oahu

Hawaii says surfing. And it is along the north coast of Oahu that you will find the most impressive spots, the south coast being more oriented towards initiation, the waves are more modest. I'm not really into surfing, but to see these sportsmen and women challenge the Pacific on their foam board is bound to command respect, especially when the swell is strong. It's a show that deserves a detour if you come during the "winter months", from November to March, where this activity is at its height.

Surfer in Haleiwa - Oahu

If you want to try to tame this force of nature, whether you are a beginner or an expert, you will find your happiness here in the Mecca of surfing, whether it is in material or learning. More information on this website.

That concludes this article about Oahu. This island has a lot to offer as soon as you move away from the city centres and have time to take the hiking trails. Don't hesitate to get lost in the nature, this is the best way to enjoy Oahu!

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