If you follow me on Instagram (add me!), you have most likely seen that I was in Oahu, Hawaii for my birthday this last week. Ever since I can remember, I have grown up vacationing in Hawaii with family each year right around the same time and I absolutely love it. I have visited some of the other Hawaiian Islands, but it was my first time to Oahu and I couldn’t have been more excited.
If you don’t know much about Hawaii, Oahu is the Island that has the capital of Honolulu on it as well as the popular city of Waikiki. Some people mistake this for the Big Island of Hawaii, but it is completely separate. To get here, we flew into the Honolulu airport and rented a convertible for the duration of our stay. Generally when people travel to Oahu, they like to stay in Waikiki, but we opted for a house on the western side of the island in Kapolei.
The town of Kapolei has a growing population and some of the best weather on the island. It is also towards the center of the island with easy access to the major highway in case you wanted to explore other areas of Oahu. I really like this area because it is close to the Ko Olina lagoons, Mermaid Caves, and great restaurants with not as many tourists as Waikiki.
I went into this trip well prepared with a full typed-out itinerary (as I usually do), but as soon as I got there, the Aloha vibes consumed me and I decided to just go with the flow. This lead to snorkeling with turtles, hiking to waterfalls, skydiving, dinner at Roy’s, beach days on the North Shore, and Dole pineapple ice cream. I was in Heaven.
I’ll share some photos from my trip (video coming soon!) as well as my recommendations of what to do, where to stay, and what to eat.
WHAT TO DO
The first night we were in Oahu, we decided to do the most tourist-y thing you can do – we went to a Luau. Luaus are so much fun and it really gets you into the Aloha spirit right away and after a few Mai Tais, you’ll be feeling like a hula girl in no time. We went to the Paradise Cove Luau, which was suggested to us by my boyfriend’s aunt that has lived on the island of Oahu for over 30 years. She loves to take her visitors there and we were no exception. If you get there early enough, you can participate in fun activities such as spear throwing, palm weaving, outrigger canoeing, and more. After everyone has arrived, you are entertained with different Hawaiian traditions and dances as well as served a yummy Hawaiian dinner. If it’s your first time to Hawaii, you have to give this a try.
When in Hawaii, my absolute favorite thing to do is go to the beach. Some of my favorites from this trip were up along the west and north sides of the island. A lot of the times we would pull up along the road, get out of the car and jump in the ocean so I am not sure what the names of those beaches were exactly, but a couple of my favorites that I do have names for include: Makua Beach, Ko Olina lagoons, Waimea Bay, & Lanikai Beach. The Ko Olina lagoons (pictured above) were a great option if we had other excursions planned that day since they are close to where we were staying. Because they are man-made, they create a natural swimming pool so you can snorkel and swim without having to worry about large waves. However, these lagoons are right next to the Disney Aulani & Four Season Resorts, so expect them to be crowded. Makua Beach is also on the West side of the island, but about 40 minutes north of Ko Olina. This beach is geared more towards the locals and all they ask is that you show respect and keep the beaches clean. This was an awesome place to snorkel and I had the opportunity to swim with a sea turtle (day made). Waimea Bay is a great place for young adults and families with a beautiful beach that has a rock you can jump off of. Unfortunately while we were here, it rained and made the water muddy and not suitable for cliff jumping, but on a nice day, this would be my go-to beach. Lanikai Beach has been called the most beautiful beach in the world before and it is definitely picturesque. While it tends to get crowded, it is ideal for snorkeling or kayaking.
I also recommend hiking to some waterfalls while you are here. This hike for me was a challenge but totally worth every second. I have never seen anything as magical as these falls and had the time of my life swimming in the pools. This is a trail that not many tourists know about, and I have been asked to keep the location to myself, but if you ask someone while you’re there to take you to some falls that not a lot of tourists go to, they’ll most likely take you here. Locals are very friendly and love showing you around, so don’t hesitate to ask them for suggestions. Some of the more popular hikes on the island are to Mānoa Falls, Diamond Head Crater, and Kokohead. The trail heads are easy to find online and the views on each do not disappoint!
I am a thrill seeker and decided that for my birthday, I wanted to go skydiving for my first time. We decided to head up to the North Shore where Skydive Hawaii is located and had the best time! The instructors were inviting and friendly which helped me to feel comfortable jumping from 10,000 feet above the water. It was the experience of a lifetime and I was so happy that we went. If you’re looking for an adrenaline rush, I highly suggest checking out Skydive Hawaii. They offer military discounts as well as online booking discounts, and if you go for your birthday, you get a free T-shirt.
As an American, I felt like it was my responsibility to stop at the Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor. This was a very sobering experience to say the least, as well as educational and eye opening. At first, I wasn’t sure I wanted to go, not because I didn’t care or wasn’t interested, but seeing your country go through such a tragic time in history is overwhelming. I almost can’t describe the feeling of being there, but I am so glad that we went and paid our respects to those who lost their lives that awful day.
WHERE TO STAY
Being from Los Angeles, when I go to Hawaii I try to stay away from the crowds and tourist attractions so Waikiki wasn’t really on my itinerary. However, if you’re looking for nightlife while you’re here, Waikiki is the place to go. They have plenty of clubs, bars, and restaurants; most of them having a view. I have a friend that works at Play Bar, where celebrities such as Rihanna have visited, and he always recommends seeing a show if you have the chance. The Hilton Waikiki also has an amazing fireworks display every Friday night at 7:45. You can either watch from the beach, or you can take a sunset cruise with Holokai Catamaran.
For me, personally, I like to stay in a condo or house so I recommend looking for an AirBnB. While I enjoy the hospitality of staying in a hotel, I find that staying in a condo or home is more private and accommodating for my lifestyle. When in Hawaii, I like to go to the Farmer’s Markets and bring home fresh foods, so having a kitchen really comes in handy. I enjoy the weather on the West side of of the island, and we stayed in a house with a pool, kitchen, and air conditioning, which was ideal. The humidity was something I wasn’t used to so having AC at night was dreamy.
If you’re looking for a more tropical feel, try the North Shore. Turtle Bay Resort is a beautiful location for snorkeling and have an enticing family-friendly beach. I would try finding condo/house rentals up here as well. Staying in someone’s home really helps you feel like a local that’ll give you a very authentic and genuine experience.
WHERE TO EAT
Technically speaking, I don’t eat meat, but I wouldn’t be a good friend if I didn’t tell you guys about Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck. They were on Buzz Feed’s 25 Most Popular Food Trucks 2013 list and have continued to be a tourist & local favorite. The line can get long and they only accept cash, but according to the people I was with, you can’t miss out on this food truck. There is also Uncle Woody’s BBQ Corn that I absolutely had to try. They are located right next to Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck and just as popular. They only serve their corn two ways: Baja & Island, so we got one of each.
As we headed home from the North Shore, we had to stop at the Dole Plantation and get a Dole Whip ice cream cone. This was some of the best ice cream I’ve ever had and was vegan! Fun Fact: You can also get the Dole Whip ice cream at Disneyland near the Tiki Room. It was so fun learning about the different types of pineapples and where they are all from. Surprisingly enough, they aren’t native to Hawaii, but happen to thrive in it’s climate.
If you’re looking for a nice place to go for dinner, I highly recommend going to Roy’s. We went to the location in Ko Olina since it was closer to where we were staying, but there’s also a location in Waikiki. The food is amazing! My boyfriend ordered the Truffle Oil Parmesan Brussels Sprouts as well as the Kosho Crusted Ribeye & Garlic Butter Seared Black Tiger Shrimp while I ordered the Simply Vegan dish which is Mochi Crusted Aloun Farms Kabocha Pumpkin, Black Current Tapenade, with Spicy Pickled Vegetable Thai Chili. For dessert, we ordered the Chocolate Decadence & Haupia Blonde Brownie.
If you’re looking to get drinks, I really enjoyed the MonkeyPod Ko Olina. The Mai Tais are delicious and strong – you really only need maybe 2. The food there is also really good. We ordered the truffle fries & the pumpkin ravioli. Both were really yummy and we were able to get a nice table outside with live music, so it added to the ambiance.
We had such a magical time and I hope this guide helps you if Oahu is in your past, present, or future travel. It was a truly great experience and if you have any suggestions or recommendations to add, please feel free to comment below.