Monday, January 23, 2012

so, you're coming to oahu?

Aloha friends! Lately I've had some of you emailing me asking for some tips on the best things to see and do on Oahu. I thought I would share with you what we think is the best way to enjoy the island. Below are some of our favorite beaches, restaurants, spots on the island. Obviously, it's not a comprehensive travel guide, just some of our personal faves from our 2.5 years here and the places we take our friends and family when they come to visit for the first time. 

Most people coming to visit will be staying in Waikiki. This is the city/touristy area of the island, filled with hotels, bars, restaurants and beaches. While you're sure to have a blast if you stay there, you will not get the full Hawaii experience unless you are able to rent a car and explore Oahu. So please don't be afraid to venture outside of Waikiki! Get out of town and take in the island. 

The North Shore  is a must. It's about an hour or so drive from Waikiki (depending on traffic) and it's really beautiful. It's probably one of our very favorite places on island. Haleiwa is the little town up there that has some fun shops and restaurants. 

You've gotta get shave ice ( most tour guide books say go to Matsumoto's but it's almost always crowded so we like Aoki's just down the street). Get the ice cream on the bottom, it's so worth it. 

There is a tiny sandwich shop called Storto's  and we love to go there and get subs on sweet Hawaiian bread and then take them to the beach down the road for a picnic (or sit on the picnic tables outside the restaurant and watch the chickens on the property!) The half-size sandwiches are enough to fill Chris which is saying alot-- that boy eats so much. 

Our friend recently went from selling his amazing Thai food  from a food truck to owning a small restaurant in Haleiwa. At his restaurant, Opal's, you'll find some of the best Thai food you've eaten (and we should know, having just traveled to Thailand last spring!). Opal will take great care of you, even if you've never tried Thai food before and his young son, Lio is sure to be a source of entertainment while you eat. 

On Sundays, from 9am-1pm, the Haleiwa Farmer's Market  is the place to be. Fresh bread, sweet orchids, small artists and produce farmers occupy stalls at this small market. You'll find the best pesto ever (ever, ever, ever) in one of the booths-- look for the macadamia nut pesto and grab a jar or two!

Also on the North Shore, you can often see lots of  turtles  on the beaches or in the waves. Poipu Beach often has lots of these big guys laying on the sand and was the site of the Survivor Lost camp when they were filming there. It's pretty hidden away but you should be able to find directions if you google it (it's right past Haleiwa). Another good place to see turtles is at Lanikea Beach. You'll see a huge crowd there-- you can't miss it!

favorite beach on the island is on the North Shore and that is Waimea Beach. It's the site of the huge surf competitions in the winter but the waves are super calm there in the summer. When the waves are just starting to get big, the surf is fun to swim in and bob up and down on. There is a fun rock to jump off into the water. Parking is limited but the beach is huge so it never gets very crowded. Go early in the morning to get prime parking. 

On the other side of the island, there's a pretty little town called Kailua. Kailua has lots of fun shops and restaurants as well. And Kailua Beach Park is a beautiful beach, though it can be windy sometimes (this is on the windward side of the island so it tends to be windier and rainier than the other side). It's a popular site for kite surfers, which are fun to watch and probably would be really fun to try if you dare! 

 My VERY FAVORITE restaurant on the whole island is in Kailua. This tiny crepes place is called Crepes No Ka 'Oi  -- it's divine. Get the Berry Heavenly crepe (ordered with a side of nutella!)  for some sweet decadence, or go before 11am for the Ultimate Breakfast crepe, which is filled with potatoes, eggs and hollandaise sauce. Yum. 

As far as hikes  go, there is a little hike on this side of the island (near Kailua) called the Pillbox Hike or Lanikai hike. It's pretty easy and is along a ridge right on the ocean. The views are amazing, especially at sunrise. You have to park on the street by a golf course to get to it. I'd recommend wearing tennis shoes to hike, but I've done it in slippers (aka. flip flops) without much trouble. 

Also, Maunawili Falls hike is on this side of the island and that's a fun one. If it's been raining at all, the trail is completely muddy and you probably won't last a few minutes without slipping and sliding. The trail is pretty jungly and leads to a water fall that has a 10 foot and 40 foot jump into a deep pool. It's usually pretty crowded, which makes it not our favorite hike, but still lots of fun. Make sure you wear clothes and shoes that you don't mind getting coated in mud!

If you are a beginner surfer and want to try it out, there is a beach called White Plains (or Barber's Point). It is a good beach for beginner surfers -- lots of families and military, pretty calm waves, no big rocks. You have to have a military ID to rent a board though. You can rent boards without a military ID in town (Waikiki/Honolulu) but sometimes the local surfers there get a little territorial. I wouldn't be worried about going surfing in town, but we always take people to learn at White Plains.

If you're an experienced surfer, Chris' favorite surf spot is Lani's (Laniakea) on the North Shore. This break is located between Poipu and Chun's and is good right break with deep water. He usually sees lots of turtles while surfing out there. It's great for head high waves to 2x overhead in the winter. 

One thing I tell everyone they most do is take part of the day to drive  around the whole island. This should take you about 2-3 hours (again, depending on traffic) but it will give you a better appreciation for the island as a whole. The roads that go around run literally feet from the water and the sights are amazing. You can take Kamehameha highway almost all the way around. 

Other favorites:: 

Makapu'u Lighthouse & tide pools

Sandy's Beach

Pearl Harbor Memorial

Spitting Caves

Shark's Cove for snorkeling

I hope this was helpful for those of you traveling to Oahu in the future! There are lots of great things to do and see not listed on here, so be sure to talk to others and look up more info online or in travel books! 

Do you live on Oahu? Have you visited here? What are/were some of your favorite spots and activities on the island? Let's keep the info flowing in the comments below! 

Also, if you have any questions, leave me a comment and I'll reply below. 



  1. I LOVED this post. Thanks for sharing all the insider information. I really want to go back to Oahu. I was only there once and I only had 24 hours, so I mainly explored Waikiki and Honolulu, but I definitely would like to go back (with J!).

    Have you hiked the Diamond Head? The view is so beautiful from up there.... but I definitely want to go and see the turtles!

    1. I have hiked Diamond Head but have to admit, it's probably my least favorite of the touristy things to do. The view is phenomenal, like you said, but the hike is so ugly and boring to me! I'd much rather have a beautiful hike in the jungle or on a mountain ridge than the stairs and concrete paths of Diamond Head. But to each his own. I hope you get to come back and explore the island more!! :)

    2. I agree - the hike is not very exciting, but for the short time that I had on the island, it seemed like a doable thing to fit in... and the view was worth it.

    3. I also went to Iolani Palace (which I thought was worthwile) and explored Wikiki Beach. Obviously, if I had more time, I would like to see things more off the beaten tourist path ;)

  2. Such a great and informative post! Unfortunately, when I visited Hawaii I was in Hawaii and Maui. But both places were great and so beautiful!

  3. I LOVE Aoki's!!! It's my first go to place when we're up there visiting family. Now I'm hungry for some shave ice :( We'll be up there in June so I can't wait to try Crepes No Ka 'Oi. Looks so yummy!!

    I didn't get a chance to tell you this earlier so here I am now: Congratulations to you and your hubby!! Many blessings on your new journey :)

  4. If you are looking for a restaurant that features great local, Hawaiian, ingredients, check out town. Here is their website:

  5. Thank you for this post! My hubby and I just moved here in November, so I'm excited to visit some of the places you mentioned :D

  6. We honeymooned in Oahu just this September! I wish I had had an insider's opinion on what to do when we were there! We rented a house on the North Shore and did the drive around the island! We did visit Waikiki but both absolutely hated the traffic! We spent a day in Haleiwa, which was probably my favorite day, and we also loved Kailua beach! We rented a kayak there, and swam with sea turtles (not touching them of course). We did a dinner cruise on the Star of Honolulu, and the luau at Paradise Cove, and took a tour at Kualoa Ranch, which were our touristy things. We had a guidebook but we found ourselves so overwhelmed with all the shops and restaurants, so I would have loved your recommendations! We liked the shave ice (with ice cream!) at one of the little shops in Kailua. And we LOVED Banzai sushi bar in Haleiwa, it was the best sushi we'd ever had (but we are from landlocked TN).

    Unfortunately, we ran out of time on our trip to do all the things we wanted to do, so I've been compiling a list of things that we HAVE to make it back for. I will definitely use your guide next time!

  7. i am totally sending this post over to Ryan to check out! i refer to you as my "friend in Hawaii who can give us advice on honeymoon location stuff." not even joking.

  8. That's it
    I'm coming to HI and staying with you because obviously you know your way around the place.

  9. I live on Hickam AFB here in Oahu... I agree with all of stuff Lindsay's said.
    Definitely go see the Pali Lookout...such a beautiful way to see Nu'uanu Valley and Kaneohe Bay. And there is a FANTASTIC hike that begins there...
    Hiking is my favorite thing to do here... There are tons of them...for all different levels of hiking ability. You can see pictures and info on several of those hikes here:

    I would also recommend Kaena Point. It is a side of Hawaii that you won't expect. Mostly empty beaches, gorgeous views.. love it.
    This Wednesday's post (on my blog) is featuring Kaena Point.
    And like Lindsay said.. Drive Drive Drive! There is way to much gorgeousness here to stay in Waikiki!

  10. After 4 months on the island, I'd say you hit most of my favorite things. Makapu'u is a definite must, the hike and view are amazing. Makapu'u beach is also fun and more locals than tourists. I agree with what you said about Diamond Head, great view, but horrible hike up. In Kailua a bunch of us rented kayak's and kayaked out to an island, then over to Lanikai beach, which is probably my favorite beach on the island. In Waikiki, eat at Duke's at the Outrigger Hotel. Pretty touristy, but it's delicious and you're in the heart of Waikiki.

    Whatever you do, avoid the tourist trap commonly known as the Polynesian Cultural Center.

    I've typed up for several friends things to do on Oahu, Maui, and Kauai, with driving directions/tips for discounts/car rental, etc. If anyone is interested, feel free to email me at

  11. Ditto to what Brooke said about Pali!!! SO GORGEOUS!

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  13. North Shore is for sure my favorite. So beautiful!

    I can't wait until we get to go back there! I haven't traveled a lot of places, but its my favorite!

  14. We honeymooned in Hawaii last Feb. Stayed 3 days on Oahu (Waikiki only, boo...), 3 days on Maui, and 4 days on the Big Island. By FAR my favorite was Maui. I'd retire there if I could. I wish we could have seen more in Oahu. We stayed at the Aston right on Waikiki and it was not for us. WAY to many people, and the beach, compared to others, sucks! So crowded and the sand is pebbly. Also, homeless people everywhere, it was so sad. I wished we could have rented a car and got up to the North Shore, sounds much more to our liking. Pearl Harbor was great, a must see. Overall, I'm glad we went to Oahu, but next time, 1 day on Waikiki would be enough :) Maui on the other hand.... I could visit every year... the whales, the people, the sunsets, the beaches.... ahhh, so beautiful!

  15. FUN! You are making me want to run away from Wisconsin SO BADLY right now! We just got snow and it's making me sad. Maybe I need to come visit, hehe.

  16. I'll be there in April!!! Can't wait!!! :) Definitely putting the Crepes shop on my list!

  17. Thank you for sharing! Seriously all of your posts make me desperate to visit Hawaii! Looks like you and your hubby are definitely enjoying the beautiful tropic haven! I love following your travels on the islands as I'm still stuck in the snowy winter mess of the midwest!! :)

  18. How's the weather? Besides BEAUTIFUL... But as in humidity? Is there any humidity there?

    We currently live in Florida and the humidity is torture. Hawaii is actually on our list of places to 'move to' because of beautiful weather, pending humidity of course ;)

  19. Umm I think I might just need to schedule a Hawaii vacation like now. So much beauty!

  20. Thank you! I am seriously even MORE excited to get there this summer! Gorgeous pictures as always!

  21. Oh my goodness, thank you SO much for doing this post! I'm pretty nervous about moving there later this year, because of the horror stories I've heard. This has definitely put me at east. :-)

  22. We just did Koko Head this weekend and while it was a huge challenge, the view from the top was so worth it. My thighs are still angry with me 3 days later. Diamond Head and Makapu'u are next on the list. But I see a drive over to Kailua here soon to go get some crepes.

  23. I've never been to Storto's! I need to check it out. We love going to the north shore. Just love the vibe there!

  24. I love that you've added in a lot of really practical things to do here! I always recommend people try one of the famous shrimp trucks on the North Shore, as well, because plate lunch style is such a big part of the culture here. A lot of people also don't get to experience the beauty of the west side's beaches and snorkel spots because of Waianae's bad reputation, and that side of the island gets incredible sunsets, too.

  25. Have you ever been to Giovanni's (shrimp truck) up at the North Shore? My husband and I have been here for 2 years now and we have probably been there 15+ times. Its so yummy. We havent been to Haleiwa yet.. we will have to head out there.

    Congrats on your pregnancy! I just had my second in December :)

  26. I'm going to Hawaii this month! Excited.

  27. If you haven't, you must eat at the Kahuku Grill. Some of the BEST hamburgers and wedge cut fries ever!!! I usually get the fish plate with locally grown organic greens (the salad is to die for) but my husband says the burgers rival In-N-Out. I guess that says a lot if you're a buger eater:) A combo plate is anywhere from $8-10. SUCH GOOD FOOD!

  28. Dont forget to hike a bit up the mount facing the waterfall -- here is the BEST view of the shore and the Pacific Ocean. The hike back to the parking lot is very short from the waterfall. limo maui


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