Oahu Travel Guide

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 balmsunscreenbug 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 sunscreenlip balmbug sprayfirst-aid kit and water-proof baggies.
  • Beach Gear – No matter who’s supplying the gear, look to have the following items on hand: beach bagbeach chairsbeach towelsbeach umbrella or tentbeach 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

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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.

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Kailua Beach Park

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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.

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Waimanalo Bay Beach Park

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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.

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Waikiki Beach

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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.

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Sunset Beach

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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.

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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.

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Diamond Head State Monument

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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.

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Koko Crater Trail

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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.

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Battleship Missouri Memorial

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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.

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National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific

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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.

The Top Things to Do in Oahu

Best Oahu Tours

Turtle Canyon Snorkel Cruise

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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

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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

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Ultimate Circle Island Adventure with Waimea Waterfall

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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

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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

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Oahu Grand Circle Island Day Tour

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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

Ten BEST Oahu Tours, Tickets & Activities

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

$$$$ Senia

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

Top Oahu Food, Wine & Nightlife Packages

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

Buho Cantina

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

Bar 35

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

Lewers Lounge

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

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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.

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Halekulani Hotel

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Halekulani” means “house befitting heaven,” and the hotel’s clean lines, meticulous service, and serene, whitewashed ambiance all live up to the property’s name. Service is formal, guests are personally escorted to rooms for check-in, lavished with welcome fruits and chocolates, and left little gifts each night on their pillows. The large, well-equipped rooms reflect the luxury of the rest of the hotel. For more information, pricing or to reserve your room visit the Halekulani Hotel.

The Royal Hawaiian, A Luxury Collection Resort

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The iconic “Pink Palace of the Pacific” is the most recognizable hotel on Oahu and one of the most luxurious. Guests receive a pink hibiscus elixir drink upon check-in, and complimentary banana bread upon arrival in your room. Free limo service delivers guests anywhere in the local area between 2 and 8 p.m., and nightly turndown service includes chocolates or mints, a bottle of water, and a postcard with historical facts about the hotel. For more information, pricing or to reserve your room visit The Royal Hawaiian, A Luxury Collection Resort.

Moana Surfrider, A Westin Resort & Spa

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This hotel is characterized by a gorgeous outdoor courtyard and an enormous new spa and fitness center. The Moana sits on one of the most picturesque stretches of Queens Beach, which offers guests a private, cordoned-off piece of sand. Rooms are on the small side, but Westin’s signature “Heavenly Beds” luxurious and service is warm. For more information, pricing or to reserve your room visit the Moana Surfrider, A Westin Resort & Spa.

Grand Waikikian by Hilton Grand Vacations Club

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This all-suite hotel is the newest, and most luxurious, at the Hilton Hawaiian Village. Its time-share condo units are chock full of new luxury amenities, including high-end kitchens, soaking tubs, Bosch washers and dryers, and flat-screen TVs with surround sound. For more information, pricing or to reserve your room visit the Grand Waikikian by Hilton Grand Vacations Club.



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26 Comments

  1. Duc Nguyen

    Wow, it’s a very detailed recommendation for all the beaches, hotels and services you give me. Depending on what you gave, I can draw an itinerary for myself to take my honey go to Hawaii and enjoy the summer. Let keep it up. You are doing such a great thing that every one who has the demand to go to Hawaii are looking for. 

    Reply
    1. Leahrae (Post author)

      Great!  Glad you enjoyed!  Please let me know if you need any additional information.

      Reply
  2. Dave Sweney

    Using your excellent review site on beach travel destinations, my wife and I just finished planning our next one for Ocean City, New Jersey, which we will take during a four-day long weekend. While we were looking through that review page, this one came up too (we were browsing around).

    Hawaii is one of two states in the USA that I have not been to, the number of states my wife has not been to is higher (she is from Germany) so since we do have a Summer vacation coming as well in addition to our short one we decided to see what you have to show us about the Oahu beaches in this travel guide.

    It is a place we both have been dreaming about for years, but we always said maybe next year. Next year never seemed to come, and now we are old. If we do not do a vacation there soon it will be too late. My wife will likely be okay for a while longer yet, but maybe not me.

    Anyway, that is a long way of saying we have decided to go through the same process for Oahu and make this next longer vacation one over in Hawaii. Based on everything that you have included, there is just so much to see and do. The beaches are lovely there, as is the weather. 

    We look forward to traveling to “The Gathering Place” as it is known, and spending 10 days eating our way through the area, soaking up the sun on the beaches, and getting some well-earned relax time while there. There are some sites we will add (up to debate right now which ones) also, but mainly we want to chill and enjoy a stress-free time there.

    You have provided everything we need to do just that, and I look forward to coming back to your website a few more times as we discuss and decide the exact itinerary we will put together. The drone video of Oahu was what sealed the deal for my wife, by the way! Thanks so much for adding that in! 

    Reply
    1. Leahrae (Post author)

      You are very welcome Dave!  I am glad you enjoyed the drone video 🙂  If you need any help with planning or have any additional questions, please feel free to contact me.

      Reply
  3. Liz

    My partner and I have long been talking about going to Hawaii. These locations look so enticing! Thank you for this information-I have book marked your page because I will be referring back to it when we are planning our holiday. We are thinking we might take a cruise to Hawaii coming from Australia, and then maybe fly back. Do you have any cruise tips for a journey like this? For example, what might be the best company to go with, which ones are family friendly and best value for money? Thanks. 🙂

    Reply
    1. Leahrae (Post author)

      Go with Norwegian Cruise Line.  Great for the budge and family 🙂  If you want some cruise tips, visit my cruising section.  You will find a ton more information there 🙂  Thanks for stopping by my Oahu Travel Guide.

      Reply
  4. Babsie Wagner

    My daughter has been digging through the internet looking for a place for her, her husband and their three-year old son to go on vacation this fall.  She really wants to visit Hawaii, so I’m going to refer her to your site.  She wasn’t sure what island to visit, so I looked around, and I’m so glad I saw this article.  She’s really going to be excited.  I’m going to send her the link now.

    Reply
    1. Leahrae (Post author)

      Great Babsie, your daughter and her family will have a wonderful time on Oahu!  Please let me know if you need any additional information.

      Reply
  5. Buck

    Never been to Hawaii but a good friend is from there. He keeps promising that he’ll take me and my wife along sometime. I’m dying to check out Waikiki Beach because it’s super iconic! Are there any great (not just good!) hotels you can think of in that area? I figure if I do go, I better be prepared to spend and have an awesome time doing it!

    Reply
    1. Leahrae (Post author)

      Yes, the hotels that I have listed at the bottom of the post are THE best hotels in the area.  You won’t go wrong with any of them.  Yes, be prepared to spend….gotta enjoy!

      Reply
  6. Carmen & Ben

    Oahu is my paradise.  I have been there about 12 times in the last 4 years.  It’s my happy place and where I go to recharge my batteries.

    In the best Oahu Nightlife, you might want to add Sunday night’s at Duke’s Waikiki, as it’s the happening place for locals and tourist in the Island.

    I agree with you on the top 5 beaches, and if you want to throw in an extra I would add Ko’olina beach for families.

    Thanks for helping me think about my paradise. Time to plan another Hawaii getaway 🙂

    Reply
    1. Leahrae (Post author)

      I will do and thanks for the info 🙂  Wow, I have not been there 12 times!  Maybe this needs to be my new go to place…never know.

      Reply
  7. Mikay2019

    Thanks for such an informative post. I have not been to any Hawaiian island before. I have heard of the beauty of the islands. One of the main reasons why I want to visit is for the culture. I think the cultural experience would be great, and I want to plan a trip mainly for that reason.  Of course there is the beaches and the beauty too!  I am looking forward to it!

    Reply
    1. Leahrae (Post author)

      You will enjoy and yes, you will find lots of culture there as well.  Make sure to do the Luau.

      Reply
  8. Holly

    Hawaii is on my bucket list and I hope to go sooner rather than later, but I was having a hard time deciding on which island. Oahu sounds like a dream. The snorkel cruise and Paradise Cove sound right up my alley. Do you think Oahu is an okay destination for young children? Or is there a better Hawaiian island when you will have young kids with you?

    Reply
    1. Leahrae (Post author)

      Oahu is perfect for a family looking for a vacation that will keep them busy day and night with a wide range of activities you think of when you think “Hawaii”.  So yes, this is the best island to head to with your family.  Please let me know if you need any other information.

      Reply
  9. Nick Cooke

    Hawaii is the dream place to go. Thanks for going in depth about Oahu. The Koko crater trail looks interesting as I’m a keen hiker, I also like how you stated the best months to go, based on weather, room rates and attractions, that’s exactly what people will be looking to find out! The nightlife looks pretty good too.

    Reply
    1. Leahrae (Post author)

      Glad you enjoyed Nick! Thank you for stopping by and visiting my Oahu Travel Guide.

      Reply
  10. Effie

    Oahu here I come! Visiting it is a dream of mine. Above all, I want to live the experience of a traditional Hawaiian luau! I should thank you for all the detailed information of this article Leahrae! Knowing when to go and being able to control the prices is really valuable when organizing a trip!

    Reply
    1. Leahrae (Post author)

      Great Effie! I am glad you enjoyed and thank you for stopping by beach travel destinations.

      Reply
  11. Jason

    I’m bookmarking this page, I knew Pearl Harbor was there, but completely unaware of the other military memorials there. When I go I’d love to visit them, that’s a huge part of American History including Mighty Mo!

    And Pho French Dip, I’ve never tried but my mouth is already watering just thinking about it.

    Thanks for the review and will be coming back to it often before we leave, unfortunately we are going during the peak but know how to better plan for next time.

    Reply
    1. Leahrae (Post author)

      Yes you do Jason! I have seen all of the memorials, they are not to be missed. Even if one is not a huge history buff, they are amazing! Thanks for visiting my Oahu Travel Guide.

      Reply
  12. Habib

    WOW! what a place. This is definitely going on my ‘place to visit’ list. Thanks for all the pictures and the 4k video too.

    Reply
    1. Leahrae (Post author)

      You are very welcome Habib! Thanks for stopping my and reading my Oahu Travel Guide!

      Reply
  13. Daniella

    Hi Lea,

    Oh, Oahu has been on my bucket list for years now and today, I am going to realize my dream. I am going to book a trip to Oahu with my dear girlfriends:)
    The tours look fun to do, especially the Turtle Canyon snorkel cruise. We also want to watch big whales, do you think we’ll be able to see some? I love turtles too, but I never saw a whale close to me. Just a question, please. What do you think we should pack for a December trip to Oahu?

    Thank you for this excellent post!

    Reply
    1. Leahrae (Post author)

      You will see a whale in December for sure! December is warm in the winter, pretty steady year round. You could get some occasional rain, so take a light rain jacket with your summer things 🙂

      Reply

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