I had the privilege of visiting the beautiful island of O’ahu in Hawaii this August and stayed with a local! One of my best friends from college lives in Honolulu with her husband, so I got to stay with them and explore the island from her point of view.
Today, I am sharing the best places to eat, drink, catch a sunset, beach it up and explore the island based off of my time there + tips and tricks on how to best navigate while visiting. This is not your typical O’ahu travel guide since we didn’t spend much time in the famous city of Waikiki (tourist central), but if you’re looking to have an authentic, locals experience sprinkled in with some touristy things, then you’re in the right place! Check out my O’ahu story on Instagram to see video + more images of my full trip.
I spent 4 magical days in O’ahu (and 2 in Maui) for reference. This island is spread out, so I would definitely recommend renting a car to get the most out of your trip. Keep in mind that while Uber and Lyft are available, the prices are significantly higher than those on the mainland.
This goes without saying, but please make sure to be respectful of the culture, land, sea, and traditions of the Hawaiian people. Keep the land and oceans clean!
If you’re gearing up for your trip to Hawaii or any other tropical destination, make sure to check out my ultimate tropical vacation packing list guide here.
How to Spend Your Vacation in O’ahu, Hawaii
Experience a luau
While in Hawaii, you MUST experience a luau! I say experience because that’s exactly what it is. We went to Germaine’s Luau, which was such an incredibly fun night! My friend has been to a few different luaus and says that this one is the best!
The location sits waterside with beautiful views of the vibrant blue ocean and has tons of family-style tables where you sit to enjoy the show. The night starts with a shell lei and greeting with your party cousins and aunties, then you enter and get to do your own thing for a bit before the real party begins (which meant lots of photo and wine-drinking time).
Once all guests are seated, you get to see the ritual pig roasting ceremony and eat from a huge buffet filled with local delicacies! After the feast, the show starts! I don’t want to give too much more away, but just trust me when I say this is an experience you don’t want to miss. We did the Hibiscus package which includes 3 drink tickets, priority seating (and eating), the buffet dinner and a shell lei greeting. This is the package I’d recommend!
PS- if you go to Germaine’s Luau, get the Chardonnay. The wine pours are HEAVY lol.
Visit the Dole Pineapple Plantation
I didn’t know what to expect at the Dole Pineapple Plantation, but it exceeded my expectations. Besides the delicious dole whip, there is something here that everyone in your group will love.
We did the walking garden tour and learned about the history of the company (it’s troubling AF, to be honest) and all of the indigenous plants and flowers on the property. It was gorgeous! After we finished walking the grounds, we headed inside the main building for some dole whip, fresh cinnamon sugar macadamia nuts, and souvenirs galore. I picked up almost all of my souvenirs here- they have everything from t-shirts to Christmas ornaments to pineapple facemasks and chapsticks. Try getting here early when it first opens to avoid long lines.
Catch an unforgettable sunset in Ko Olina
After dinner in the Ko Olina area, we walked over to the Four Seasons and checked out their private beach area to catch the most magical sunset I’ve ever seen. Even if you’re not staying at the property, you can still do this! They have several bars and restaurants, so just grab a drink and then explore the grounds. I wouldn’t recommend driving here though due to parking costs (there is lots of other free parking within walking distance).
The sun sets on this side of the island (westside), so the views over here are insane!
Beach it up at Kailua Beach
I had a me-day while I was visiting O’ahu, and I spent most of it at Kailua Beach! This beach was recommended to me by every local I met while there because of its safety, beauty, and lack of tourists. It’s also rated as the number 2 most beautiful beach on the island!
Everything about this beach was perfection. The water is pristine and crystal clear, the sand is soft, the people are kind and the views are gorgeous. There was lots of free parking, but it fills up quickly. I got there at 8 am and grabbed one of the last parking spots! There are also public restrooms on-site.
The drive here was honestly one of the best parts of visiting this beach! If you’re coming from the Honolulu area, you’ll take the H3, which has incredible views of the jungle and rolling green hills. I legit felt like I was in the Jurassic Park movie! Also check out the neighboring Lanikai Beach, which is ranked #1.
Visit Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden
Speaking of the Jurassic Park movie, the Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden was probably the closest I’ll get to living out my dino movie dreams. The grounds are filled with lush greenery, exotic plants and views for days. There is no admission into this attraction, which makes it even sweeter. Drive all the way to the last stop and hang out on one of the many benches (or bring a blanket to lay on) and just take in the views.
There are some awesome photo ops here, so be prepared! There is a bathroom at the end of the trail, and it’s very clean.
Drink an authentic Mai Tai
The name “Mai Tai” translates to “the best” in Tahitian, and is one of the most popular cocktails on the Polynesian islands! It originated in California in 1944 and gained popularity in Hawaii in 1953.
I’m sure you’ve probably heard of or tasted this drink, but you may have tried an imposter that was loaded with concentrated fruit juices and cheap rum. The popular island drink has unfortunately gotten a bad wrap by drink lovers like myself due to its varied interpretations around the world, but in the islands of Hawaii, I’ve gotten to taste some amazing Mai Tais that have changed my perspective on this beloved drink!
The original recipe calls for a medium-bodied rum, lime, orgeat, orange curaçao, and simple syrup, garnished with fresh pineapple. So simple, tropical and delicious! On this trip, I ordered a Mai Tai whenever it was on the menu, and I am now a true Mai Tai believer.
If you only drink one Mai Tai, get it from Monkeypod Kitchen by Merriman, Ko Olina. Best Mai Tai on the island! They also have a great happy hour daily from 3 pm–5:30 pm & 9 pm–11 pm.
Eat delicious, local foods
I ate some very delicious food in O’ahu! There is a fusion of Polynesian, Japanese and Chinese foods in O’ahu that I was a bit surprised by, but it was all sooo good. These places below were some of my favorites:
- Poke: The Hibachi– A tiny spot near Kailua Beach with fresh, authentic poke. I recommend the spicy ahi and ponzu ginger ahi. They were out of salmon, but that’s what I’d get if I went back! They offer samples, so be sure to try before you buy. This spot is very small and casual, so prepare to eat standing, take-out or sit outside at the limited number of tables and chairs.
- Casual Hawaiian food: South Shore Grille– Oh man, this was my first meal when I touched down and I couldn’t stop thinking about it the whole time I was there! I honestly don’t think you could go wrong here because everything looked amazing, but I was a huge fan of the SG mixed plate. It came with kal-bi steak ( i subbed for ono fish), BBQ chicken and a fish taco with a side of tuna mac salad and rice (I recently started eating fish and poultry again after being a vegetarian for 5+ years). I also ordered a side of macadamia nut pesto and a spicy aioli sauce which were both the real stars of the meal. Go here at least once and you won’t regret it!
- Fancier Hawaiian-American food: Monkeypod Kitchen by Merriman, Ko Olina– Not only does this place have the best Mai Tai on the island, but also some of the best food. We went here for happy hour, which offers half-off most appetizers, pizzas, and drinks. We ordered the pumpkin patch ravioli, garlic truffle fries, corn chowder and lots of different pizzas. I had the Hamakua Wild Mushroom & Truffle Oil, which was sooo good! There are tons of other delicious meals to choose from if you want a heartier meal. Walk to the Four Seasons afterward to catch an epic sunset!
Go on a hike and see the best views on the island
One of my favorite views of O’ahu that I got to see was from the top of the Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail hike. This was such a fun and very doable hike and the reward was totally worth it. This hike will take you about 20 -30 minutes to get to the top and about 20-25 to get back down.
The hike is totally paved, so you don’t have to worry about getting hiking gear or being in tip-top shape to complete it. If you and your party are active, then this is a must!
Drive-up the coast for spectacular views
If you rent a car, you won’t want to miss driving up the Kalanianaʻole Hwy on the coast for some spectacular views. Along this road, you will have several opportunities to park (in designated parking lots) and get out to enjoy the views of the Pacific at Hanauma Bay, Lanai Lookout, Japanese Fishing Shrine, Sandy Beach, Makapu’u Tide Pools (pictured above) and more!
The Kalanianaʻole Hwy is the road you will take to do the Makapuu hike, so you can do this all in one swoop.
One other thing that came highly recommended, but we ran out of time to do, is to visit the North Shore! I hear it’s beautiful.
I hope you have an amazing trip to O’ahu! If you do any of the activities listed in this post, I would LOVE to hear from you! If you have any questions, comment below, email me, or shoot me a DM on Instagram.
Thank you for reading and sharing!