Sometimes called “The Gathering Place,” Oahu certainly lives up to its name. The third largest Hawaiian island is home to the majority of Hawaii’s diverse population, a fusion of East and West cultures rooted in the values and traditions of the Native Hawaiian people. It’s this fundamental contrast between the ancient and the modern that makes discovering Oahu — from bustling city life to laid back surf towns — so enjoyable. You’ll find plenty of different options for exploring Oahu’s different regions, the island’s many activities, its eclectic restaurants and accommodations. Continue reading our Oahu Travel Guide and start planning your vacation! For a list of all the great beaches, visit here.
Weather – When to Visit Oahu
The best time to visit Oahu is from mid-April to early June or between September and mid-December. During these shoulder seasons, attractions are less crowded, festivals are plentiful and airfare and room rates are at their lowest. Average Temperatures are in the mid-60s to high 80s year-round, but rain showers are less prevalent from mid-June to August (Oahu’s summer season), so tourists flock to the island to take advantage of the sunnier weather. Another popular (and pricey) time to visit is between late December and early April, when surfers head to the North Shore to catch waves or watch professionals compete in various surfing events.
What Should You Pack?
When figuring out what to pack for the beach, there are two tips to keep in mind. First, forgetting an item isn’t the end of the world. Unless you’re heading for a remote, deserted island, chances are you can find a store where you can pick up the extras. Second, don’t stress out over making a packing list when there’s a stress-free beach travel essentials list for you below:
- Sunglasses and hats offer much-needed sunscreen and flip flops are perfect for navigating hot, sandy beaches. Go pack them now so you’re not kicking yourself later.
- What about those little items that make beach visits so much more enjoyable? For a little extra comfort on your trip, make sure you pack: Lip balm, sunscreen, bug spray.
- Beach toys and goggles are a must for kids. Building sandcastles and viewing the underwater wonders are perennial favorites.
- Take a first-aid kit with you. Hopefully you’ll only have to worry about a few minor scrapes from seashells, but having your own kit handy is a good precaution.
- Beach Bag – Your beach bag will likely contain a few of the items mentioned above. For a well-rounded bag, consider tossing in sunscreen, lip balm, bug spray, first-aid kit and water-proof baggies.
- Beach Gear – No matter who’s supplying the gear, look to have the following items on hand: beach bag, beach chairs, beach towels, beach umbrella or tent, beach cart and a cooler.
- Remember: Don’t wait until you’re parched to drink. When you’re out in the heat and sun, it’s important to stay hydrated by drinking regularly. So take along a water bottle as well.
Top 5 Oahu Beaches
Lanikai Beach is one of Hawaii’s most picturesque and famous beaches. An offshore reef keeps the water calm year-round, offering excellent swimming conditions from January to December. Less than a mile offshore are two small islands that house bird sanctuaries and those looking for an adventure can easily reach the islands by kayak. Other water sports to enjoy on the clear-blue waters include snorkeling (reef fish and sea turtles are common sights), sailing and windsurfing, while half a mile of fine white sand is the perfect setting for sunbathing.
Kailua Beach Park
Kailua Beach Park often is cited as one of Hawaii’s best beaches. With nearly three miles of light-colored sand and crystal-clear water, the park is the perfect spot to spend the day. While many enjoy playing in the gentle waves or learning how to windsurf, the 35-acre beach park also boasts a volleyball court and ample picnic areas where families can relax in the shade.
Waimanalo Bay Beach Park
Waimanalo Bay Beach Park is one of the longest beaches on the island. The northern section of the beach is known to locals as Bellows and was once part of an air force base that is now closed. Despite rougher waters, which make it less suitable for inexperienced swimmers, the size, scenery and soft sand make Waimanalo a classic Hawaiian beach that is great for boogie boarding, fishing, sunbathing or walking along the shoreline.
Possibly the most famous beach in all of Hawaii, Waikiki Beach has been an epicenter for tourists since the 1950s. The 2-mile stretch of white sand coast is actually divided into several sections by various hotels, but each is connected to the other by a boardwalk. The peaceful waters offer good swimming and surfing year-round, and other fun activities abound, including surfing, canoe racing, stand-up paddling, volleyball and more.
Situated on the historic North Shore of Oahu, Sunset Beach is a beautifully long expanse of beach that has enamored both locals and tourists for decades. During the summer, the blindingly blue ocean waters are calm and crystal-clear, making it the perfect destination for swimmers, snorkelers and families. But as the winter months roll in, so do the large waves, making conditions suitable only for the most experienced of surfers.
Top Oahu Attractions
USS Arizona Memorial
The USS Arizona Memorial floats above the watery site where the eponymous battleship was bombed and sunk, taking 1,177 lives with it, in Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. The solemn, all-white memorial features a marble wall of names of those who served onboard and spans the Arizona’s width, with openings to look down on the sunken hull.
Diamond Head State Monument
Hawaiians call it Le’ahi, geologists call it a tuff cone, 19th-century British sailors called it Diamond Head. Whatever you call it, this unique crater was created 300,000 years ago during a single volcanic eruption that spewed ash into the air. That ash settled over thousands of years, and today, Diamond Head State Monument’s ridgeline is one of the most recognizable features of Oahu’s skyline, not to mention home to one of the island’s most scenic hiking trails.
Koko Crater Trail
Stretched across nearly 2 miles of Koko Crater in the Windward Coast region of Oahu, this hiking trail features more than 1,000 steps made from abandoned railroad ties. At the trail’s summit, visitors will find panoramic vistas of Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve and Diamond Head State Monument.
Battleship Missouri Memorial
Launched in 1944, the USS Missouri (or “Mighty Mo”) is best known for hosting a meeting between Allied and Axis representatives that led to Japan’s surrender and the end of World War II. After the war, the ship served in the Korean War and Operation Desert Storm before docking in Pearl Harbor and opening as a memorial. It holds the distinction of being the world’s last active service battleship.
National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific
In ancient Hawaiian times, the Punchbowl Crater was used for human sacrifices. Now, it’s the final resting place for men and women who served in the U.S. military. The National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific stretches across much of the crater and contains several moving tributes, including the Honolulu Memorial, which is dedicated to armed forces who fought in the Pacific during World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.
Best Oahu Tours
Turtle Canyon Snorkel Cruise
Snorkel with green sea turtles in Oahu’s Turtle Canyon on this 2- to 3-hour tour departing from Waikiki. Board a power catamaran and sail along the shore of Oahu towards the island’s best place to spot the resident turtles. Turtle sightings are guaranteed; if a turtle is not sighted, you will be given a free second cruise. After snorkeling, enjoy lunch (if option selected ) and two provided drinks while you keep your eyes peeled for passing marine life like dolphins and migrating whales. Snorkel equipment and round-trip transportation from Waikiki hotels is included. More Information or Book Now
Paradise Cove Luau
Experience a traditional Hawaiian luau with sunset coastal views at Paradise Cove. Enjoy a welcome Mai Tai and authentic Hawaiian fare, including fresh seafood, kalua pork, and tropical fruit during this 5.5-hour experience. Watch the sunset and enjoy entertainment from Hawaiian musicians, hula dancers, and fire twirlers. Three dining packages are available to customize your experience, and round-trip transportation from Waikiki hotels is available. More Information or Book Now
Ultimate Circle Island Adventure with Waimea Waterfall
Take the ultimate Circle Island adventure on this guided, full-day, small-group tour from Honolulu. Stop at Diamond Head, the world-famous icon of Hawaii; beautiful Hanauma Bay, a pristine marine ecosystem; Halona Cove Beach, famous for its appearance in the 1953 movie ‘From Here to Eternity’ and much more. Also, check out one of the most beautiful panoramic views in the world, the breathtaking Pali Lookout and the historic Waimea Valley, featuring a botanical garden and waterfall. Lunch and a Honolulu hotel pickup and drop-off are included. More Information or Book Now
USS Missouri, USS Arizona Memorial, & Pearl Harbor Tour
Explore the sites of Pearl Harbor in Honolulu on this tour from Waikiki. You’ll receive skip-the-line access for a guided tour of the USS Missouri and visit the USS Arizona Memorial and the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center to learn about the Japanese attacks in 1941. Plus, enjoy a sightseeing tour of Honolulu to see attractions such as the King Kamehameha Statue and the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (Punchbowl Cemetery). More Information or Book Now
Oahu Grand Circle Island Day Tour
Circle the entire island of Oahu by coach, enjoying ocean views, rugged mountains and fascinating history during this 8.5-hour day trip. Check out Diamond Head, Hanauma Bay, Nu’uanu Pali, the Halona Blowhole and Oahu’s beautiful North Shore. Then soak up Hawaiian history and culture with a stop at the Dole Plantation (where you’ll sample some fresh pineapple) and the serene, Japanese-style Byodo-In Temple. This Oahu circle island tour also includes entrance fees at the temple and round-trip hotel transport. More Information or Book Now
Best Oahu Restaurants
$-Inexpensive $$-Moderate $$$-Pricey $$$$-Ultra High End
$ Helena’s Hawaiian Food
At this no-frills you’ll find Hawaii’s classic soul food, which Helena’s has been serving since 1946. It’s based off native Hawaiian staple dishes and those influenced by the island’s waves of immigration up until the ‘50s. Highlights include kalua pig (smoky pulled pork, Hawaiian-style), poi (taro milled and thinned into a puddinglike consistency) and Helena’s legendary pipikaula—meaty short ribs dried and then pan-fried. Telephone: 808-845-8044 Web: Helena’s Hawaiian Food
$$ – $$$ The Pig and the Lady
The menu melds Vietnamese and Southeast Asian flavors with modern sensibilities. Go for lunch, and you must order the pho French dip—meltingly soft slices of brisket paired with a Thai basil chimichurri and bean sprouts, served with a side of pho broth for dipping. The dinner menu constantly changes, but make sure to finish off with a swirled soft serve, which often comes in funky flavors like black sesame custard and mango sorbet. Telephone: 808-585-8255 Web: The Pig and the Lady
$$ – $$$ Mahina & Sun’s
At this cheery with its midcentury-modern-meets-aloha vibe, chef Ed Kenney focuses on local, sustainable seafood, which is a surprising rarity on the island. For the best experience, order the Mahina’s Family Feast, a whole fried fish served with fixings including buttered ulu (breadfruit) and pohole (fiddlehead fern) salad, and for dessert, a tropical fruit pavlova. Telephone: 808-924-5810 Web: Mahina & Sun’s
You can dine in the main dining room, offering a moderately-priced a la carte menu, where humble ingredients like cabbage are elevated to luxury status and bone marrow is served with beef cheek marmalade and tiny house-made Hawaiian rolls. But if you want to see the craftsmanship chefs Chris Kajioka and Anthony Rush are truly capable of, make a reservation for the chefs’ counter, facing the immaculate open kitchen, at $185 per person. Telephone: 808-200-5412 Web: Senia
$$ – $$$ Koko Head Cafe
Here you’ll find a melting pot of Asian influences. In a cozy neighborhood diner space, Koko Head Cafe pays homage to these cultures with refreshingly contemporary takes, such as a breakfast congee (rice porridge) with pork three ways, cheddar and cinnamon croutons, or miso-marinated fish served with custardy-soft scrambled eggs. Telephone: 808-732-8920 Web: Koko Head Cafe
Best Oahu Nightlife
Mai Tai Bar
Rockin’ open-air bar on top of the Ala Moana Mall – very lively and popular with the locals! Telephone: 808-947-2900 Web: Mai Tai Bar
One of Waikiki’s latest roof top restaurant & bar with great views of Waikiki action! It’s the hip bar and lounging area that makes this spot so inviting! Telephone: 808-922-2846 Web: Buho Cantina
Fun vibe downtown bar with enough beers being represented to keep you busy all night. The DJ keeps the dance floor busy! Telephone: 808-537-3535 Web: Bar 35
Looking for an upscale bar with a beautiful Interior? Located in the Halekulani Hotel, Lewers Lounge is a perfect setting to “lounge” and enjoy a special Mai Tai. Telephone: 808-923-2311 Web: Lewers Lounge
Gordon Biersch Brewery
Open-air bar and restaurant at the Aloha Tower Market, that comes with live music and award winning micro beer. Telephone: 808-599-4877 Web: Gordon Biersch Brewery
Best Oahu Hotels
The Kahala Hotel & Resort
This hotel’s phenomenal service truly separates it from its competitors: at check-in guests are greeted with leis and cool washcloths; staff members address you by name throughout your stay (impressive for a 338-room property); and additional thoughtful touches include daily newspapers delivered in blue cotton bags and ice buckets that get refilled at turndown. The elegant rooms feature enormous flat-screen TVs, balconies, and some of the best bathrooms. For more information, pricing or to reserve your room visit The Kahala Hotel & Resort.