I still find it hard to believe that Hawaii is one of the American States. It sounds silly but it honestly feels like a million miles away from mainland USA! (With my Green Card I could technically live in paradise!!) If you’re looking for things to do in Oahu, in this post I share a whole range of things that I squeezed into a 1 week trip! Oahu is small enough to be able to see a good amount of the island in just a short time. We hired a car for half of the week to explore the parts of the Windward side of Oahu, allowing us to get out of the city and appreciate the quieter parts of the island!
7 Day Oahu Itinerary
4 nights in Kailua & 3 nights in Waikiki
Day 1 & 2: The Windward Side of Oahu
As mentioned above, we split our 7 days in Oahu into 2 sections. We spent a week based on the Windward side of Oahu and the the second part of the week in Waikiki! Day 1 of our 7 day Oahu itinerary was mainly just a travel day.
We flew on Hawaiian Airlines from LAX (Los Angeles), arriving into Honolulu in Oahu. The flight duration is 6 hours. We picked up the rental car from Alamo and it’s just a short 25-30 minute drive from the airport to Kailua on the Windward shores!
Don’t expect many major hotel chains outside of Honolulu, there are only a couple dotted around, so maybe you’d perfer to take day trips from Waikiki. However you will be able to find bed and breakfasts or a guest houses.
I stayed at Pillows in Paradise, which was a 10 minute walk from Kailua Beach. We had our own private entrance, a kitchenette (with a breakfast basket provided on the first morning), our own bathroom and we could also use the pool facilities.
Day 2 was mainly spent exploring the town of Kailua and spending time on the beach!
Paddle Board in Kailua
If you saw my previous post: 5 Oahu Beaches You Should Visit! You would have seen that Oahu beaches certainly don’t disappoint. And one of my favourites was Kailua Beach. Kailua town has rental shops where you can easily hire a stand up paddle board. The sea is fairly calm, the sea/beach isn’t overly crowded and you can even paddle out and explore nearby islands!
If you fancy going for a stroll, the next beach along is Lanikai Beach. It’s slightly more secluded and doesn’t really have any parking nearby so it’s best to walk. It has been named previously as one of the best beaches in America though!
Kualoa Ranch ATV Tours, Horse Back Riding and Zip Lining
One of my favourite Oahu attractions is Kualoa Ranch! I’m gutted that when I visited, they were in the process of getting ready to build the zip lining course! I’m a huge fan of zip lining tours and would have loved to zip lined through the valley!
However, I did go on the 2 hour ATV tour! The landscape is really interesting and it’s easy to see why it’s been used as a location for so many different movies! During the tour there’s a stop at an old World War II bunker that is FILLED with posters from all the movies that have been filmed at the Ranch, such as: Jurassic Park, 50 First Dates and Soul Surfer (one of my favourite films).
You’ll see the Godzilla footprints, although they’ve been filled in slightly as cattle from the Ranch kept falling into them (Kualoa Ranch is in fact a working cattle ranch too)! My favourite part of the tour is the off roading section at the end…although I nearly hit a cow when the sun was in my eyes! Other than that section, the majority of the tour is fairly easy going! Their horse back riding tours are also popular!
Find out more at the Kualoa Ranch website.
The nearby Kualoa Regional Park is worth a stop too!
Waimea Valley and Wailele Waterfall
After a visit to Kualoa Ranch, take a road trip up to the North Shore of Oahu!
Waimea Valley and Wailele Waterfall are a 50 minute drive from Kualoa Ranch so can easily be paired together! Waimea Valley is predominantly a botanical garden within a forest setting. It is home to over 5000 different kinds of plants and trees! My personal favourite were the eucalyptus trees that actually have rainbow coloured bark!
Another draw to Waimea Valley is the 45ft Wailele Waterfall at the end of the valley. It’s a 3/4 mile walk to the end or they offer a shuttle service for an extra fee ($6 one way/$10 return). Visitors can swim in the waterfall pool (weather dependant). Everyone has to wear a life vest as the pool is 30ft deep but they are free to use. It’s a nice little swimming area and even has changing facilities!
Waimea Valley is open 7 days a week, 9am – 5pm. Admission is $16 for an adult and $6 for a child (4-12yrs).
Everyone loves a wildlife encounter and Laniakea Beach is a popular turtle beach location! Volunteers man the area to help protect the turtles that come ashore, do research on the turtles and answer any questions that people may have. If you’ve never seen a turtle, they are amazing to see. They are GINORMOUS and I find them fascinating! Like did you know they pretty much have a built in homing device? They will return to the beach that they hatched on YEARS later to lay their own eggs!
The Byodo-In Temple located in the Valley of the Temples Memorial Park was built in 1968 to commemorate the Japanese immigrants in Hawaii. It’s a half scale replica of the Byodo-In Temple in Kyoto, Japan. It’s not a ‘functioning’ Buddhist temple so visitors are able to ring a ‘good luck bell’ and after removing their shoes, can enter the room with a gold 18ft Lotus Buddha to light incense.
The ponds in the gardens are FULL of Koi that can be fed, there are peacocks wandering around and there is an area of giant bamboo trees which made me feel TINY! With the backdrop of the Ko’olau Mountains, the Byodo-In Temple is quite an impressive sight!
Polynesian Cultural Center
Another one of my favourite Oahu attractions is the Polynesian Cultural Center. Before I visited, I was half expecting it to be a bit of a tacky tourist trap, but you know what? I LOVED it! It was just a really enjoyable family activity in Oahu! I think I can speak for my whole family, when I say that we all thought it was great!
It doesn’t open until 11am but we were there right up until 9pm!
70% of the workers attend the university next door. By representing their nationality at the Polynesian Cultural Center, they receive university funding and scholarships. Several also appear in the ‘in real life’ video version of ‘How Far I’ll Go’ from the Disney film Moana as it was recorded at the Polynesian Cultural Center!
The Center is spilt into 6 island villages: Hawaii, Tonga, Fiji, Tahiti, Samoa and Aotearoa, that have various cultural presentations between 12pm – 5.30pm. In all honesty, you’ll struggle to see EVERYTHING in one day, which made me a little sad because I wanted to see it all! There is A LOT of audience participation, roll with it and you’ll have the best time! I laughed so much I nearly cried at some points!
You’ll see musical demonstrations, coconut tree climbing, recreations of traditional ceremonies, watch a canoe pageant, ride in a canoe down the river yourself, get a temporary tribal ink tattoo, enjoy drinking coconuts, learn how to hula (while holding a coconut if you’re me!), see a Hawaii 4D movie and more!
When the ‘villages’ close, you enjoy an Island buffet (or an Ali’i Luau Buffet) which includes dishes such as: pork, mash, rice, noodles, salad and unlimited soft drinks. Before you go into dinner you have a picture, normally I despise these forced pictures but I LOVE the photo of me and my family at the Polynesian Cultural Center!
The day ends with the Ha: Breath of Life show, a Polynesian dance and fire show which is pretty amazing.
Find out more at the Polynesian Cultural Center website!
Day 5 of my 7 day Oahu itinerary will take you away from the Windward shores and back to Waikiki and the hustle and bustle of the city! But on the drive from Kailua back to Waikiki you can take a detour to:
Round Top Drive Viewpoint on Mount Tantalus
So we considered hiking to the top of Diamond Head Crater, I really wanted to climb that crazy Staircase to Heaven thingy which is actually ‘shut’ (and I believe illegal, hence me chickening out) so in the end we settled on a recommendation from our guesthouse owners which was to drive up Round Top Drive, a switch back road with a car park and observation area at the top…much less effort for lazy people ;). We were told that Hawaii 5-0 had been filmed up there a little before our visit!
It was after this that we returned the rental car back at the airport and got a taxi into Waikiki. We found that once we were in the city, there is plenty of public transport or otherwise we just walked everywhere.
We checked into the Ohana Waikiki Malia hotel which was a 10 minute walk from Waikiki Beach (and right nextdoor to an iHop if you fancy all day/night breakfast!). The afternoon and evening was fairly relaxed. We wandered up and down the beach, had dinner at The Cheesecake Factory, ate shaved ice, went into every single ABC convenience store (there is literally one of every street corner), saw the Duke Kahanamoku statue and watched a free evening hula show.
Honolulu Zoo sits at one end of Waikiki Beach, so even if you don’t have transport, it can easily be reached on foot. It proudly calls itself “the best Zoo to be found for 2300 miles in any direction”…Hawaii is in the middle of nowhere after all! It also sits at only 3ft above sea level! Honolulu Zoo is home to all the typical zoo animals (over 900 species): monkeys, lions, tigers, rhinos, giraffes, zebras…and the elephants have a pretty good view of Dimond Head Crater!
Honolulu Zoo is open everyday (except Christmas Day) between 9am – 4.30pm. Adult admission is $19, children (3-12 years) are $11.
The Honolulu Zoo website has some pretty cool ‘free to download’ resources for kids, which includes colouring pages and activities sheets!
Outrigger Canoe Experience
One of my favourite activities in Waikiki was the Outrigger Canoe experience! For $15, you could ‘ride’ 3 waves in a traditional Polynesian canoe! The canoes hold a maximum of 10 people, you help paddle the canoe out and then surf the waves back to shore! If you don’t like swimming but want to experience the water, it’s definitely a fun option (but you will most likely get splashed!)
I actually went surfing to tick something off my personal bucket list but my parents and Sister went to Pearl Harbor, so the following is thanks to my guest writer…my Mum!
Words and photo credit: Anne Mayes
“When you first arrive, you watch a movie for 25 minutes about Pearl Harbour before your timed boat ride across to the Memorial (8.45am for us). There, you get off the boat and have what seems a very quick walk round in silence, it is a grave site for 1,177 sailors and marines after all. It was very moving. You can still see rusty parts of ship beneath the oil-covered water. Yes, it still seeps out after over 70 years.
Pretty fish darted in and out of the wreckage oblivious to the horrors of 1941. The names of the dead are displayed on a marble wall and you get a quick glance before being herded back onto the boat. It was quick but so worth visiting such a huge part of history. There are several museums to see too. On the day we visited a Pearl Harbour survivor sat in his wheelchair selling his book. It was such an honour to meet him.
There are a lot of do’s and don’ts so best to check the website for details i.e. dress modestly, NO bags, no large cameras, no baby changing bags! There are storage lockers available. Included in the price we paid was a tour of the Missouri Battleship, a short drive away. We found this very interesting and saw the exact spot where the Japanese surrendered and WWII was over.”
Tours to Pearl Harbour can be booked via the official Pearl Harbor website. Admission to the USS Arizona Memorial is actually free but paying for a tour guarantees you a spot, otherwise it is first come, first served. All visitors have to pass through a security check point on arrival.
I hope my 7 day Oahu itinerary has given you some inspiration for unique things to do in Oahu and some of the attractions that are on the Windward side of Oahu! Any questions? Let me know!