Aloha! A minimum of 4 days is required to enjoy the activities in O’Ahu, Hawaii.
O’Ahu is the third largest and the most populated Island of the state of Hawaii, with Honolulu as its capital. Located on the south shore of Honolulu, is the world-famous Waikiki district. In the 1800’s, it used to be a playground for Hawaiian royalty, but now it has become the center for dining, nightlife, shopping—All in close proximity of Waikiki beach backed by palms and high-rise hotels.
Shuttle. Average price of ~$16 USD/one way or 10% discount with round trip. Can book in advance or available at the exit outside baggage claim. Shuttle departs every 20 minutes. Note: Check if your hotel offers free shuttle service.
Car rental. Rental offices are located opposite baggage claim. Car rental prices are $15-25 USD/day, keep in mind that parking fees at most hotels are around $30-50 USD/night. However, if you plan to do a lot of activities away from the Waikiki strip, the parking fee will be worth it in the end. Hawaiians are super friendly drivers and Honolulu is a car-friendly city and easy to navigate with a GPS. If your hotel is located further out from Waikiki Beach, free street parking is available, but you will have to leave by 7am or risk getting towed. Tip: Don’t drive in rush hour which is 5am to 8am going inbound and 3pm to 6:30pm going outbound. Heavy traffic is especially bad on Interstates H-1 and H-2.
We recommend that you stay around Waikiki, the tourist district of Honolulu. Everything located in Waikiki is within a 20 minute walk, it is where you will find world class dining, entertainment, activities, shopping and resorts. Tip: Check Groupon for hotel deals, sometimes you can get an ocean-view room for $120-150 USD per night.
I stayed at the Pacific Beach Hotel (3 Star Hotel). I reserved an ocean view room, although the beach was located across the street from the hotel it seemed like it was right outside the balcony.
Our friends and family stayed at the Outrigger Reef Waikiki Beach Resort (4 star hotel), which was located along Waikiki Beach, with restaurants and Starbucks available on site. For wanna be singers…there’s a Karaoke bar at night to show off your singing skills!
Both Hotels are highly recommended.
It is mostly sunny year round with the occasional rain (light showers in the summer and heavier rain from Oct to early April). Don’t worry, Hurricanes and Tornadoes are rare and uncommon here. You can wear shorts and t-shirts all day and night and still be comfortable.
Since Hawaii is located closer to the equator, the amount of daylight time as well as the sunrise and sunset times do not vary as much. Sunrises are between 6am-7am and sunsets are between 6pm-7pm all year round.
Pineapple Ice-Cream (located at the Dole Plantation). VERY GOOD ice-cream!
There are tonnes of walk-in restaurants in the Waikiki area, but the convenience does come at an extra cost. Menu and price for each item are posted outside the restaurants. If you rent a vehicle, you could drive further out for a cheaper meal.
Cheesecake Factory. A popular but affordable restaurant where you can expect to pay around $15-25 USD/person. The food portion is big and very fulfilling but we had to wait 2 hours to get a table! They don’t take reservation but they do give you a paging device so you could shop while waiting.
Top activities to do in O’Ahu
1. Circle Island Tour.
(7:50am-5pm, reservation required-part of GoCard). If you decide not to rent a car, this is a great way to explore the whole island with a driver as your tour guide. Overall, I still recommend renting a car and driving to each activities below on your own time.
This is almost an entirely man-made beach, as sands are pumped in from offshore. Waikiki Beach has had erosion problems since the late 1800s when hotels and homes began building too close to the natural shoreline. Since then, erosion and rising sea levels have swallowed a foot of Waikiki Beach annually since 1985.
- Personally, I am not a fan of Waikiki Beach, as it is too populated and rocky. Maybe I came when the beach was in high erosion and was due for some imported sands? Don’t get me wrong, the beach is still beautiful… just not the best place to swim.
- You don’t need to travel to Turtle Bay to see Sea Turtles, I saw lots of them in front of Royal Hawaiian/Sheraton and Moana Surfrider.
- You can rent boards and hire lessons right on the beach.
It is a 30 mins drive from Waikiki. Free walk-up tickets are available on the same day as the tour and includes Pearl Harbor, WWII exhibits and museums, Arizona Memorial Program (25 minute film about the attack), the Navy Shuttle boat ride to the Arizona Memorial. I find the best way to explore is at your own pace, but you might have to wait a few hours before you could get a ticket for the alotted time to visit Arizona Memorial. We got our tickets first and had to wait 2 hours, but we explored the exhibit while waiting so it was time well-spent. Tip: Battleship Missouri Memorial, Oklahoma Memorial, Pacific Aviation Museum is part of GoCard.
(Nature Preserve). $5 entrance fee, free for children under 13 years old, $1 parking fee, closes on Tuesday. This is the most famous of all Hawaii island’s snorkeling beaches because of the high fish population. You will be asked to watch a safety video prior to entering the preserve and getting up close to the turtles, tropical fish, eels, octopus, crabs and other sea creatures. To help minimize the impact on the ecosystem, only ~ 3,000 visitors are allowed in daily. Go early to guarantee that you will be let in.
5. Beaches with CRAZY waves.
1.Sunset Beach, 2.Waimea Bay, and 3.Ehukai Beach (Banzai Pipeline). All three are known for big wave surfing during the winter season (November to February). All three are venues for the Triple Crown of Surfing competition (aka the Super Bowl of Surfing). But the most dangerous surf spot in the world goes to Banzai Pipeline.
During the summer, the waves subside making the waters suitable for swimming.
(Hike -moderate to easy difficulty). Cost is $1 for walk-ins, $5 for cars. Open 6am to 6pm, hikers are not allowed after 4:30 pm. Only a short drive from Waikiki by car or public transit. You can hike up the 1.1km trail to the summit to see the southern coast of Oahu. The hike should take about 1.5-2 hours round-trip. For a non-hiker like myself, the hike may be a bit much. However, the beautiful scenery at the end made up for it.
It is about 1 hour drive from Waikiki. Plan to leave around noon to have enough time to fully explore the six Polynesian villages. Afterward, enjoy buffet style dinner and an evening show “Ha-Breath of Life” featuring culturally unique songs and dances. You can book tickets directly from their site, transportation is also available for an additional price -reservation is required. Tip: Skip out the tour guy to save money and explore the place at your own pace. For the evening show, all seats face the stage so do not waste money to upgrade your seats. The show ends late so be prepared to drive back in the dark.
The “Ha-Breath of Life” evening show was good to watch once. I am not a fan of shows with minimal dialogue, so it was kinda boring in my opinion.
Cost of visiting the Dole Plantation is free, but extra fees for the two activities below.
-Explore the World’s Largest Maze, a Guinness World Record (Adults – $6.00, Children (4-12) – $4.00).
-The “Pineapple Express” (Adults $8.50, Children (4-12) $6.50). Take the twenty minutes train ride to learn about the history of the world’s most beloved tropical pineapple fruit.
Click here for updated price.
We went here as part of the Circle Island tour, only had ~20 mins here, so we did not do any of the activities mentioned above. But we did get to try the Pineapple ice-cream, which in my opinion was VERY good!
Aloha Stadium Swap Meet. Admission fee is ~$2 USD to enter this open-market with similar concept to a “Chinese Night Market” but in the day time. There are hundreds of vendors selling cheap souvenirs, accessories, food and clothing at a much cheaper price than the ABC convenience stores in Waikiki. Tip: Visit Pearl Harbor first, then drive 10 min to the Aloha Flea Market.
Located in Waikiki area:
1. Royal Hawaiian Shopping Centre. The main shopping mall with more than 100 shops and restaurants ranging from affordable stores to high end boutiques.
2. Ross. Two blocks from Outrigger Hotel. This store sells brand names designer for more than 50% off. This store is a must go for me when I shop in the States.
3. Ala Moan. Located in West Waikiki, is an easy walk or short drive over. It is the world’s largest 4-level outdoor mall with both high end and affordable stores! You could find anything here…is like a shopper’s paradise.
Tip: This is the only island where a GoCard is available at a price of ~$99-185 USD (20%off occasionally on Groupon) for 2-3 days access to 32 attractions including Polynesian Cultural Center (3-days pass), Dole Plantation, Island tours, Pearl Harbor +attractions, Snorkel, Diamond Head Hike and much more. If this is your first time to Honolulu, GoCard will definitely save you lots of money on activities. Some activities on GoCard include transportation, but if you would like to do activities near the North Shore, you will have to find your way there and back.