Aloha lads and ladies, kāne and wahine, welcome to the land of Oahu! 🐬🌴🌺 A magical island full of love, culture, beautiful people, fresh fruit, palm trees, seafood, waves, adventure and sunshine. What’s not to love! With so much to experience on your vacay in the sun, here’s 21 epic things to tick off your bucket-list that will have you totally addicted and in love with Hawaii.
Waikiki is the ideal place to grab a longboard and learn to surf. Whether you’re an experienced longboarder dude or total newbie, there’s waves in Waikiki for everyone. For surf hire in Waikiki, hit up Big Wave Dave Surf Co!
The North Shore of Oahu on the other hand, is a little more extreme and for you beginner/intermediate surfers, Puena point is the surf break for you. Advanced surfers listen up…North Shore is where you wanna be! Chinamans, Waimea Bay, Sunset or the famous Pipeline will blow your pants off and have you absolutely frothing.
2. Hike Diamond Head for sunrise
An easy 30 minute hike if you’re charging. A good early morning workout!! Beaut to do this for sunsrise but expect crowds with the same idea – to refresh, grab a fresh pineapple down the bottom of the crater, then enjoy a full day of adventure or relaxation.
3. Go to a Luau – Chiefs Luau
This was super touristy but honestly one of the highlights of our trip! A Luau is a traditional Hawaiin celebration, feast and performance. Start the night learning how to make fire (Bryn actually did it and had to go up on stage and tell everyone his name and where he was from 😂😂), then ask the beautifully dressed Hawaiin men for a woven headpiece and get settled at your table with a cocktail or 5. When the show starts, expect an epic story of Polynesian culture, the hula & Hawaiian music. A cultural meal with national dishes like poi, lomi salmon Kalua pig and poke. We booked Cheifs Luau, which has the highest Trip Advisor rating and honestly team, I’m not usually about the big tour bus to an organised touristy excursion but this was FUN FUN FUN and not to be missed!
4. Haumana Bay snorkelling
A fun half day trip to a beautiful bay where you’re bound to see a turtle or 5. Turtles excite me so much! Probably because we don’t have them in New Zealand so it’s always OMG A TURTLE, every time I see one. Haumana Bay gets busy…like busy busy, so if people & crowds aren’t you’re thing, I’d go early in the morn to enjoy the quiet. We went smack bang in the middle of the day after we’d hiked the Koko Head Crator Lake and still saw a seal, 3 turtles and had a good lay in the sun.
5. Hike the Koko Head Railway Stairs
A hard, steep but short hike which is one of the most popular on the island. Steeper than any climb I’ve done before, the 30min uphill battle has you following an old railway track, climbing over broken metal and missing planks of wood which will have you huffing and puffing all the way up. I haven’t made this sound so fun but when you get to the top, the dramatic views make it worth it. The history behind the railway lines date back to World War 2 where the military built bunkers at the summit of the KokoHead Crater and used the railway to move supplies up and down the volcano.
6. Hire a car and road trip the island
The perfect way to group together a few of the activities on this list and make a day trip out of it! In an iconic “Hey I’m a tourist” style, hire yourself a Jeep (how insta-worthy), a mustang, a Harley Davidson or even a Ferrari and from Waikiki, follow the road all the way up along the east coast of Oahu until you get to the North Shore. There’s tons of amazing beaches, viewpoints, hikes and activities along the way. Many of which are on this list so get onto your maps and start pinning these spots! Ps you can’t actually drive around the whole island of Oahu, but if you’re looking at the map, the east coast road is the best road to take!
7. Stay on the North Shore
If you’re planning on driving around the island, plan it by staying on the North Shore of Hawaii for a few days! In my opinion, Waikiki was far too overloaded with tourists – it definitely didnt feel like the “real Hawaii”. The North Shore however…definitely did. What a cool, chill and beach vibe area where it’s totally okay to rock around in your bikini, bare feet, sandy hair and salty skin. I recommend to stay in the town of Haleiwa as it’s the most built up, but is still super cruisey. We stayed in an epic beach shack literally right on the water between Haleiwa and Waimea Bay and OHMYGOSH it was epic! You can find some amazing beach shacks here on booking.com and if you are thinking of staying on the North Shore, hire yourself a car as you’ll need it.
8. Eat your way around Waikiki
Dukes or above at the Hula Grill are two total crowd favourites in Waikiki. Get your hands on as much seafood as you can, as many cocktails as your budget allows and don’t forget about dessert. Roy’s Waikiki was another beaut dinner spot. A trendy, vibin restaurant / rooftop bar is Hideout Waikiki, part of an incred looking boutique hotel, The Laylow so you can plan your stay here too if you like! For breaky we loved Island Vintage Coffee, Heavenly Island Lifestyle, Hawaiian Aroma Cafe and for coffee, Kona Purveyors.
9. Yoga under the palms Waikiki
Even if yoga isn’t your thing…how about giving this one a go? My brother did, so you can too! Such a great way to spent the morning, beachfront on the grass, with the sound of the ocean guiding you through your practise. NAMASTE.
10. Lanikai pillbox hike & the beaches of Lanikai and Kailua
Lanikai and Kailua are said to be some of the best beaches on the island, with one of the best Oahu hikes being the Lanikai pillbox trail. We didn’t do the hike but drove through and stopped at these two hidden gems while on our road trip mentioned above.
11. Wander aimlessly through Waikiki
Who doesn’t love a good aimless wander while on vacay? Spend a day biking around using the e-bikes, walk the beach in Waikiki, explore the shops, buy ice-cream, watch the sunset on route to dinner and just be totally chill and free.
12. Visit Jurassic Park
During your road trip along the east coast, stop in and do a tour of the famous movie site, Kualoa Ranch. The ranch consists of 3 valleys: Kaʻaʻawa Valley, Kualoa Valley, and Hakipuʻu Valley and it is here you’ll feel like you’ve stepped into Jurrasic Park with HUGE, rugged mountains that undulate right in front of your eyes. Many famous movies were filmed in these mountains from Hunger Games to 50 first dates, Jumanji and of course Jurassic Park so in order to see it all properly, you need to book a tour or do one of the millions of activities on offer. Something we didn’t do, because on arrival it was all sold out…DAMMIT. So sort ya shit early if this is something for you! Ps – GREAT activity for families this one!
13. Chinamans Hat
Just over the road from the Kualoa Ranch you can park up and take a look at the cute island known as the Chinamans Hat, the picture below will show ya why ☺️ We actually wandered further along this beach hoping to see the famous dock, a film location from the TV series LOST (my brother and I were big fans for all 6 seasons) but because the land is owned by the Kualoa Ranch, we couldn’t sneak in…yes there were people who stopped us. The walk along the sand was equality beautiful (AND SO HOT) with lots to look at and vibes to take in.
14. Snorkel / Chill at Sharks Cove and eat at the food trucks opposite
Sharks Cove on the North Shore is a lava formed, rock pool beach that’s perfect for a family outing or if you’re keen for a snorkel without getting battered by the big swell. We spent all of about 15 minutes here swimming around, searching for fish but our bellies were hungry and instead, we crossed the road and ate at one of the many food shops just opposite. The Ahi Poke bowls were absolutely divine, we must have eaten a whole tuna between us.
15. Waimea bay cliff jump (unless swell is HUGE)
Spend a day bathing at the famous Waimea bay and if you’re game, jump off the huge rock that sits on the shoreline. The beach itself is beautiful with epic snorkelling, beaut sunsets & wildlife encounters if you’re lucky – but jumping off the rock is definitely a highlight. You’ll always be joined by another 10+ people, so if you’re going to do something rad…nows your time. Just keep in mind, the swell can get monstrous at Waimea Bay (or along any of the beaches on the North Shore, so keep this in mind before taking the plunge).
16. Watch the surfers shred at Pipeline
One of the highlights of our trip was watching the famous Pipeline absolutely firing. The boys in their element standing beach side, while 10ft heavy walls of water rolled through. Pipeline is a reef break situated on the North Shore of Oahu and holds multiple local and international surfing events including the World Surfing Leagues, Pipeline Masters. What a dream it would be to watch the WSL here at Pipeline! The comps held in December of every year so if you’re heading to Oahu around then, be sure to check it out.
17. Visit the turtles on the beach at Laniakea (beached on the right side, you’ll see people gathered)
This ones only a short visit so can be done with any of the other activities on the North Shore, but visiting the sunbathing turtles at Laniakea beach is a must! There was only one turtle the day we visited, but it was HUGE and I was in awe. Hawaii has amazing practises in place to protect, monitor and look after the turtles which is amazing to see. Ps – When you see the boundary lines, please respect them.
18. Swim with the dolphins at Electric beach, Waianae or Makua beach
Something we didn’t get a chance to do, but is on the bucket-list for next time, is swim with dolphins. From what I’ve been told, Electric Beach, Waianae or Makua Beach are the places to be if you wanna swim with these wonderful creatures. All 3 of these spots are situated on the West Coast of Oahu, Makua being the furtherest away so if it means 4am wakeup to get in the water early, then plan accordingly. The dolphins are most often seen in the early morn before the crowds of people.
19. Hike Stairway to Heaven
Set off on this thrill seeking hike at your own risk as the trail is illegal with security around the entrance, 24/7. There are also reports of fines as much as $1000usd! We didn’t do this one, but many instagramers, bloggers and travellers do it on the daily. I think it’s important to respect the local neighbourhood who are incredibly frustrated with so many members of the public trespassing on their land. There is a back way for those who are keen to get that oh so famous shot of the Haiku Stairs but who also want to respect the rules – I recommend this one team. It’s cool to be kind.
20. Eat a Poke or Açai Bowl on the North Shore
Hawaii is known for their Ahi Poke and there’s no shortage of where to find them on the island of Oahu. In Hawaii, “ahi” refers to two species of tuna and “poke” means “to slice or cut”. Put them together and you’ve got raw chunks of AMAZINGLY fresh tuna (or salmon), topped with vegetables and served with salad and rice. YUM YUM YUM our daily feed. I’d say the best and most authentic poke bowls were from hole in the wall type takeaway stores or food trucks! Alternatively, or as well as, enjoy an açai bowl or 10 on your travels through this vibrant island.
21. Makapu’u Beach, Lookout and/or lighthouse trail
Again on your road trip up the east coast, be sure to stop off at the Makapu’u lookout. Such a rugged, windy but amazing view down to the beach with a small coastal town set against a soaring mountain. If there’s time (there wasn’t for us) wander the trail down to the Lighthouse and take in your surroundings…have a YOU’RE IN HAWAII moment!
So team, WHAT A LIST! I feel like we’ve only just scratched the surface here too! For any suggestions, please pop them below so you guys can build the most exciting Oahu bucket list!
Oahu is and was definitely a vacay full of love, life and adventure!!
LEAH | FREE & ADDICTED
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On the topic of bucket lists and travel planning – did you know I sell digital creative planners on my design website Leah Sylvia Creative? For all you travel lovers who love to be organised, CHECK THEM OUT ❣️ https://www.leahsylviacreative.com/shop