Local's Guide to the Best of Oahu, Hawaii
While Oahu is the most populated Hawaiian island and can be touristy, there is a myriad of beautiful spots and things to do. Honolulu is heavily influenced by Japanese culture and that’s another reason I’m drawn to this island. Skip the chain restaurants you find in every big city on the mainland and go local all the way for meals. There are serene white sand beaches that will make you think you are in Tahiti and the marine life is bountiful. There are many different kinds of land and sea experiences on Oahu, from crowded and sometimes boisterous Waikiki to the quiet upscale resorts of Ko Olina and the chiller North Shore. There is something for everyone and that is why this island is referred to as “The Gathering Place," where you will find the warm welcome of Aloha everywhere you turn.
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Where to stay in Oahu
The Ritz-Carlton Residences, Waikiki Beach
Featuring the highest-located pool in Waikiki, the Ritz-Carlton Residences offer a place to truly feel the comfort of home in Hawaii.
$100 hotel / resort credit.
Upgrade & extended check-in/out whenever possible.
Prince Waikiki - Honolulu Luxury Hotel
Contemporary hotel in Waikiki with poolside experiences and world-class golf at Hawaii Prince Golf Club.
On gorgeous grounds just outside Waikiki, this historic hotel has an award-winning restaurant and quiet stretch of beachfront.
Upgrade to next room category upon check-in, subject to availability
Daily Upcountry breakfast at Plumeria Beach House, for two guests per bedroom
$100 USD equivalent Resort or Hotel credit utilized during stay
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Things to do in Oahu
Manoa Falls & Leon Arboretum
Hike to Manoa Falls to be immersed in lush Hawaiian foliage, trees and tropical flowers in this sacred land. The hike is less than 2 miles out and back with a moderate incline. You’ll want to have bug spray and good shoes with traction as the rocky trail can be a bit slippery, especially if it rains. There is a fee for parking in the lot. Walk through the Lyon Arboretum before you get to the Manoa Falls Trail parking lot and treat your senses to almost 200 acres of tropical rainforest featuring thousands of exotic plants, flowers and trees. Parking and entrance is free to the arboretum, but check to the schedule before heading there.
Take a snorkeling and boat tour with Kaneohe Bay Ocean Sports out to the sandbar in Kaneohe to swim with the turtles. Kayak in clear canoes and hang out on a platform with couches on the water. You’ll have a gorgeous backdrop of mountains and many shades of blue sea for some amazing photos and memories. If you are super nice to the crew, they might even take you to see the heart reef — especially if you have a proposal in mind.
Head to Lanikai Beach for a beautiful am-I-in-Tahiti? experience. The palm-fringed white sand beach with crystal clear light blue waters and tiny islands off the coast feels like paradise. It’s impossible to find parking in this neighborhood with the parking restrictions (and unreliable cell phone signals) so you will want to get a ride to and designate a pick up time here. There is some wind and no shade, bathrooms nor food services here, so you will want to bring your own shade, drinks and food. I love this almost secret spot! Kailua Beach Park is a good alternative if you want better access to parking and facilities. The hike to Ka’Iwa Ridge or Pillbox Hike with stunning views is also nearby if you need more activity in your day.
Be a tourist
There are a few touristy things that are must-do’s as well like hiking up Diamondhead to see incredible views of Honolulu, getting a surf lesson at Waikiki Beach and heading up to the North Shore during the winter to watch the big wave surfers. Even if you do them just once, you will never forget these iconic experiences!
Places to Eat & Drink in Oahu
Goofy is located on the 2nd floor of a small touristy strip mall behind the Hilton Hawaiian Village in Waikiki. It’s a bit hard to find, but you will see why there is usually a line of people who have put their names down to wait for a table in this small restaurant. The food is organic and fresh, nothing like you will find on the mainland. From the taro English muffins to the loco moco and the open-faced Hawaiian omelets, everything is delicious. They also have a larger sister restaurant called Heavenly Island Lifestyle a few blocks away which is located off the lobby of the Shoreline Hotel. Highly recommend going to both for a bit of a different experience and for the organic, locally-sourced fresh fruit smoothies, juices, eggs Benedict, avocado toast, açai bowls and specially-crafted cocktails.
Creme Pot: The fluffiest pancakes you have ever had can be found at this Vietnamese-French inspired breakfast/brunch spot next to the Ala Wai Canal. They also specialize in eggs Benedict on a hash brown potato pancake instead of the traditional English muffin and it’s absolutely scrumptious! Dine indoors in a sweet, eclectic room under the chandeliers or on the patio underneath the flowering vines. Go after 9:30am to avoid a wait. Cash Only.
Maguro Spot Waikiki is a not-so-secret find since there is always a line. You line up and choose the kind of fish, base (rice or salad) and toppings you want in your poke. The fish is ultra-fresh and so are the greens and so you have just about the most delicious poke bowl you have ever had from a tiny hole-in-the-wall a couple blocks from one of the most famous surf spots in the world.
The Pig and the Lady and the more casual sister restaurant Piggy Smalls are great options for lunch on the days they are open. You’ll experience mouth-watering modern dishes inspired and infused with Vietnamese spices and herbs like noodle salads, specialty pho, french dip banh mi sandwiches and fried chicken wings. It is also a great dinner options if you can snag a reservation.
Okonomiyaki Chibo, on the Waikiki Beachwalk, offers some great lunch specials. While I’m not a fan of okonomiyaki (savory Japanese pancakes,) some people love them and they do them well here. This restaurant reminds me more of a wine bar than an okonomiyaki place. I always opt for the fresh grilled Ahi or steak lunch plates, which are amazing here. They have an extensive wine and exotic cocktails menu and offer lots of options for steak and seafood, including lobster.
Katsumidori Sushi is located on the first floor of the Prince Hotel Waikiki. You will find a casual, but busy, traditional Japanese restaurant loved by guests and locals. The sushi is so incredibly fresh and delicious that it will leave wondering why your dinner bill wasn’t much, much higher!
Try Vein at Salt Kakaako (an outdoor shopping place with cafes, local boutiques and a cool vibe) for a Hawaiian-inspired Mediterranean dinner. Dishes like Grilled Spanish Octopus with Chimichurri and Uni Carbonara are innovative and tasty. They also offer some great signature cocktails like the Yuzu Margarita and there is indoor and outdoor seating.
Island Vintage Wine Bar: Everyone who has been to the Royal Hawaiian Village shopping center knows Island Vintage Coffee and Island Vintage Shave Ice, but many don’t know that if you head up to the second floor past their Coffee and Breakfast Bar, they have a wine bar which serves outstanding farm-to-table dinners that can be paired with some very good wines. You’ll be dining indoors, but the restaurant is located next to some lush greens on the Royal Hawaiian Hotel grounds. Reservations are highly recommended.
Don’t miss the malasadas at Leonards Bakery. These Portuguese donuts are best when fresh and hot. Try the haupia (coconut,) guava or macadamia nut creme filled malasadas.
Need to Know
Looking for more travel inspo in Hawaii? Check out my guide Eat, Hike & Explore Natural Beauty on Kauai.
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