Congratulations on your upcoming trip to Hawaii. I’m sure it’s a dream come true for you like it was for Felicia and I when we first visited in 2020. I see a lot of people questioning where they should eat, visit, go, and how they should spend their time in Oahu. Here’s the Ultimate Oahu Visitor Guide!
Best Things to do in Oahu
- See a luau.
Seriously, there’s nothing more special than living your Lilo and Stitch/Moana fantasy all while being entertained, eating amazing food, and learning about the culture and history of Hawaii. A luau typically takes place in the evening and has traditional Hawaiian festivities such as hula dancers, fire spinners, and singing, all in one. To top it off, they serve traditional Hawaiian foods such as poi, poke, huli huli chicken or kalua pork, and of course beer and mixed drinks.
Here are the best luaus in Oahu
Ali’i Luau at the Polynesian Cultural Center. Dinner and show, baby! Say aloha to one of the most popular and successful luaus in Oahu. This one covers so much history all while staying true to what luau is all about.
‘Aha’aina Luau at the Royal Hawaiian Resort is near Waikiki and is therefore within walking distance. This luau takes places where Hawaiian royalty once held their luaus.
Chief’s Luau at the Polynesia Cultural Center is another big personality luau! This one caters not only to the eyes but also to those with dietary needs such as gluten free, vegan, and vegetarian. They also offer transportation from Waikiki to the center!
- Eat some food!
Of course you’re going to eat in Oahu. But where are the best places to eat in Oahu? I’m someone who does NOT want to eat at a chain when I’m visiting a new place. So here are the best kept secrets of where to eat in Oahu.
The Best Restaurants in Oahu
Kona Coffee Purveyors. Located in Waikiki, this is both a coffee shop that will shame the ‘Bucks and Dunkin. Locally sourced coffee from the Big Island of Hawaii with delicious and tasty patisserie. Yes!
Best breakfasts in Oahu:
Koko Head Cafe. Local hawaiian flavors meets modern service and a hip dining space.
Best breakfast treat in Oahu:
Leonard’s Bakery. This is a staple in all Hawaiian’s diets that live on Oahu. They exclusively serve malasadas. What are they? It’s a Portuguese stuff donut. They are deep fried, coated in sugar, and pumped full of the creamiest custard fillings ranging from local passionfruit flavors such as lilikoi to chocolate!
Best lunch in Oahu:
Spouts Sandwich Shop on the North Shore. Local fresh ingredients meets the tastiest sandwich you’ll ever eat! This is a great stop if you’re making a big circle around the island and want a quality refuel.
Kahuku Farms! Truly farm to table dining in Oahu. This local farm-to-table approach includes gluten free options and a great reprieve from busy Honolulu, located on the North Shore as well.
Hukilau Cafe. Does this sound familiar? Don’t be a Forgetful Lucy! It’s name inspired the cafe in 50 First Dates with Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore. Although the cafe in the film isn’t actually a real place, the Hukilau Cafe does exist in Laie, Oahu! Get yourself the Chicken Katsu lunch plate! Be warned, the normal/large lunch plate is enough to split for two people. So if you want to save a few bucks, only get one and share! (do bring cash as I THINK they’re cash only).
Best treats in Oahu:
Matsumoto Shave Ice. This is the OG best spot in Hawaii to get shave ice. NOT shaved ice. Skip the regular shave ice and get the Ichiban special. Think of it as elevated ice cream, sweetened condensed milk, beans (they’re sweet too), the flavors, shave ice, and mochi all in a delicious waffle bowl! While you’re there, do a little shopping in the shopping center. There’s a great surf shop there and they have some very cool and super cute local gear to wear which far exceeds that junk you’d pick up at the airport later that just says “Hawaii”.
Haleiwa Bowls. Looking for something healthy, tasty, and totally Hawaiian? Stop by Haleiwa Bowls for the best acai bowl on the island or a fresh fruit smoothie! Located on the north shore!
Best Dinner in Oahu
Helena’s Hawaiian Food. Since 1946, this Hawaiian staple has been serving up real, authentic, and no-frills Hawaiian food. The place isn’t fancy but it’s some of the best on the island! Check out the poi and short ribs!
The Pig and the Lady – located in Chinatown, this Vietnamese fusion restaurant melds Hawaiian and Vietnamese flavors! Apparently it’s also super in vogue (is that expression even in vogue anymore) for celebs to stop by!
Duke’s Restaurant in Waikiki. Okay, total transparency. I’m only adding this restaurant in here because it seems that everyone recommends it. But my experience was mediocre. The prices are high and the quality isn’t any better than any other place. Plus it’s super touristy. If you’re nearby and want to make reservations, go ahead. It’s got a lot of history. Be sure to order a maitai while you’re there.
Best Poke in Oahu
Poke is a staple in Hawaii, much like their lunch plates. Poke is typically a sashimi grade fish, white rice, some sort of seasoning sauce on the fish, and some fresh veggies. You’ll never feel more Hawaiian than when you’re chowing down on poke. (By the way, if you’re wondering what type of poke to try, start with shoyu and then go from there getting more creative! I like the spicy too!)
FYI: ahi is tuna poke. Tako is octopus
Ken’s Fresh Fish – located in Laie, Oahu, this no frills place is always fresh, never frozen poke deliciousness.
Taniokas Seafoods and Catering has some delicious poke options as well! The large is VERY Large, by the way.
Ono Seafood in Honolulu has a ton of great varieties and is conveniently located not too far from most resorts in Waikiki.
3. See some history and culture!
Hawaiian culture is important because they are the true natives of the islands. As visitors, understanding their culture and way of life is helpful so we can best practice aloha and Aina (love of the land).
Visit Iolani Palace. Once home to the monarchs of Hawaii before they were overthrown in the 1800s, this beautiful palace still stands tall and proud, ready to welcome you in to show you all the beauty of Hawaii through the ages.
See the Polynesian Cultural Center. Even if you don’t make their luau, you can drop in and learn even more about Hawaii, Polynesia, and all the amazing things that they’ve brought us over the years.
Visit Pearl Harbor. This visit can be done in a group or on your own. If you’re in a time crunch, just go without the group and make your reservations here. Getting in is free but you’ll need a ticket/reservation to see the USS Arizona.
4. Go surfing!
Whether you’re athletic or not, surfing is for everyone! You’ll want to be sure to book in a lesson with some local pros! You can jump on AirBnB to find reservations with locals or go through a local company. Here are some of the best surf lessons in Oahu.
5. Take a hike!
Easy Hikes in Oahu
Waimea Valley Trail – this is a paved trail with lots of gorgeous trees that leads to a waterfall. You can swim in it and lots do. There are warning signs for a bacteria in the water that is common in Hawaii.
Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail – another paved trail with a parking lot. Bring cash for the friendly fella that sells the most delicious fruit smoothies out of his van there. Down below the trail is Pele’s Chair, a geological lava rock feature that is very famous. There’s also a beach. Bring water shoes as there was some glass on the beach when we went.
Moderate Hikes in Oahu
Diamond Head Summit – this is probably one of the most famous hikes in Oahu, located next to Waikiki and best done at sunrise, this moderate hike up takes you to the top of an ancient volcanic crater for spectacular views of the island of Oahu
Check out more of the hikes at All Trails
Visiting Hawaii wouldn’t be complete without a little trip or three to some great shopping. Here are some great places to visit for shopping
Ala Moana Center – this shopping center is a SUPERMALL with the literal coolest Asian food court in it that’s the size of a city. It has like 100 different Asian restaurants in it. Ala Moana Center is home to many mainland stores as well as some local ones too.
Luxury Row – walking distance in Waikiki, this is home to Gucci, Balenciaga, and all those other luxury brands you know you wanna scope out.
Haleiwa Store Lots – On the North Shore, this is home to Matsumoto’s Shave Ice (and that cute surf shop too). Definitely stop in for more local goodies!
7. Beach Days!
Hawaii is literally surrounded by beaches (it’s an island, aloha!). Here are some of the best beaches in Oahu to visit!
Lanikai Beach – located on the east side of Oahu, this is a great beach for sunrise and to avoid the mega-touristy areas. You can even paddle board out to some of the uninhabited islands about a mile off the coast!
Hanauma Bay – this beach is actually the cone of an extinct volcano as you can see in the photo. It’s a crowded beach but for good reason. There are limited reservations available each day so be sure to apply for the day you want to visit!
Waimanolo Beach – this is THE beach in Oahu. Perfect for sunrise portraits and lots of relaxation, it’s located on the east side of the island away from touristy stops.
Yokohama Beach – this is the sunset beach for portraits! Located on the west side of Oahu, it’s another more secluded and less touristy beach.
Kailua Beach – on the east side of the island, is considered one of the nation’s best beaches!
8. Be a Tourist!
I don’t mean to shame tourists. I just prefer to not be associated as one since they can be very entitled and obnoxious. As long as you practice aloha (a welcoming and kind spirit) you’re going to be welcome anywhere in Hawaii.
Here are some of the fun things you can do as a tourist in Oahu.
Visit Kualoa Ranch – this ranch has appeared in countless films including Jurrasic Park, 50 First Dates, Mighty Joe Young, and many others. They have a lot of options but I recommend the ebikes over the ATVs (less dusty!) or the movie tour if you’re into that.
Nuuanu Pali Lookout – the most beautiful lookout that you drive and park at. $3 fee to park via an app. It overlooks the northshore and west side of the island. It’s totally worth a stop and some selfies!
Dole Plantation – ever wondered how a pineapple is grown? This is the place for you. It’s super tourist but super fun! We stopped by twice and grabbed dole whip and some souvenirs because I love pineapples.
Island Water Sports Hawaii – have you ever seen those little underwater carts you float/drive with a bubble helmet and you can look out into the ocean while driving around that little cart? Yeah, that’s this. Go do it. It’s so cool!
Maita’i Catamaran Tour – you HAVE to take a boat ride while in Hawaii! We took this one and had a blast meeting a new friend on her birthday! We cannot wait to go back and visit sweet Pam again! (check Groupon for deals on this trip!)
VIP Tours and Activities – we did this tour on our last visit and it was a blast! You can sit back, enjoy the history, and not have to drive. It’s an all day excursion and bring cash for souvenirs and goodies. Also bring some cash to tip the tour guide. Overall, I’d recommend it! Check Groupon for deals on this.
Schedule a Oahu Photo shoot with New Adventure Productions!
9. Elope, renew your vows, or book a photoshoot with me! We visit Hawaii often and if you can make your trip overlap mine, do I have a deal for you! Click over to check out our Hawaii portrait prices. If you’re thinking of eloping in Hawaii, Oahu, The Big Island, of Maui, you can head over to our Hawaii Elopements page!
Whatever you do, commemorate your visit with a photoshoot! I have some great spots picked out for couples and families and you’ll leave not only with amazing memories but also gorgeous photos you can cherish forever.
There you have it! The Ultimate Oahu Visitor Guide for 2022! Don’t hesitate to reach out to book your elopement, destination wedding, or portrait session. We are in Hawaii often working so I’m also happy to add some new friends to our itinerary!
Mahalo and Cheers!
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