First Timer's Guide to Oahu
Having planned my fiancé and my dream wedding at Kualoa Ranch for the last couple of years, Oahu has been the basis of a lot of our travel. Getting to know industry professionals on the wedding and hotel scale has been amazing and really opened up my eyes to Oahu. Home to Honolulu, I feel as though Oahu gets looked down upon by adventure and off-the-beaten-path travelers, but truthfully Honolulu is part of why I love the island so much. You're in downtown Honolulu and 30 minutes later you're overlooking the cityscape while hiking up to a waterfall. Having grown up an hour away from NYC, that is totally my vibe.
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Where to stay in Oahu
The Royal Hawaiian, a Luxury Collection Resort, Waikiki
Iconic pink-walled property on Waikiki Beach with 528 warmly decorated rooms and suites.
$100 hotel / resort credit.
Upgrade & extended check-in/out whenever possible.
Serene and elegant Waikiki accommodation with top-tier service, award-winning cuisine and unique amenities in a beautifully designed space.
$100 resort credit.
Upgrade & extended check-in/out whenever possible.
Four Seasons Resort Oahu at Ko Olina
Oahu’s most luxurious beach resort, with postcard-perfect Pacific Ocean views, a playground of pools, lagoons and ocean watersports, and a prized kids’ club.
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Things to do in Oahu
Kualoa Ranch: Home of Jurassic Park, this 4000 acre lot offers all kinds of activities like ATVs, Horse Back Riding, Catamaran cruise from the Secret Island and more. Yes, I did say Secret Island. It's absolutely EPIC. Not to mention, this is my wedding venue! There are about 8 other "venues" on-site and for any couple who is engaged or considering a wedding on Oahu, it's absolutely worth the visit.
Sand Bar Oahu: Still on the East side of the island, about 1 mile off-shore in Kaneohe, where there are lots of tours and activities available. Ever thought about playing volleyball in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with some of the most beautiful mountains in your background? Many say this activity is the best kept secret on Oahu.
Shopping in Waikiki: It's no secret that Waikiki is home to all the designer shops on Oahu. Did you know that like Europe and Asia, you can get taxes back on your designer purchases? Consider waiting to buy that YSL wallet on your next vacation to save $$!
Brewery or Mead Tours: Manoa Meadery is home to Oahu's finest bee farm. Not only do they make delicious Mead, they have some of the best honey I've ever tasted. If you're not into mead, consider all the amazing breweries on Oahu. From the North Shore to the West, there are some amazing beer flights to be consumed.
Waterfall Hikes: If you're staying along Waikiki, I highly consider the Manoa Falls. This one is super easy and fun, unless it's raining, then it's a bit slippery! Whenever we land super early and are not ready to check-in, this hike is usually my first "I made it to Hawaii" view. Other noteable hikes are Waimano Falls, Waimea Falls and Lulumahu Falls.
Chinatown: Although you might be traveling to Oahu to get away from the hustle and bustle, Chinatown located in downtown Honolulu is home to some of the best food I've ever tasted. For someone who has yet to travel to Asia, this is definitely what I imagine it to be like in my head.
Beach Highlights: Sharks Cove, Hanauma Bay and Lanikai are some of our favorite beaches on Oahu, not only for the sun but the snorkeling is superb as well. If you're spending the day at Sharks Cove, go to the Foodland across the street first and pick up your favorite pound of Poke, Maui Onion chips and spend the day the local way.
A Day in Haleiwa: This special part of the North Shore is admired by so many for so many reasons. The North Shore is home of the most celebrated surf breaks in the world. Haleiwa is no exception to that. It is home some of the best surf and beach shops I've ever been to. Just such a fun vibe, and lovely shops to enjoy.
Places to eat & drink in Oahu
DECK: Inside the Queen Kapiʻolani Hotel, this spot has great brunch deals and local Mimosa flavors. The views here are lovely, overlooking the palms of the Honolulu Zoo amongst the beautiful Diamond Head.
Cinnamon's: There are a few locations on Oahu. This spot is a local's favorite, and loved by all. If you go, please try one of their special coffee or cocktail drinks. Your drink may even come out with lava if you order the right thing. The cinnamon pancakes are what they are known for, but make sure to give anything macadamia nut inspired a try too.
Doraku Sushi: Located in the International Market Place in Waikiki, this sushi spot is a must-try. You can find this restaurant on almost every Oahu sushi list and it is absolutely there for a reason. In-between shopping through one of my favorite outdoor malls, take a break here.
MonkeyPod: Can't go here without getting one of their famous Mai Tais! MonkeyPod is my fiancé and my favorite. It's actually joining the Waikiki Restaurant scene in 2023 with an addition into the Outrigger Reef hotel! (Our wedding hotel, how perfect!?) My favorite dish here is easily their Macademia Nut Crusted Fish, but you really can't go wrong here. Great kids options too! On most nights their location in Ko Olina has live music. This location is right across the street from the Disney Aulani + Four Seasons!
SKY Waikiki: Ever wanted to overlook the beautiful Pacific Ocean? Well here you can. Not only does this restaurant offer some of the best views, but the menu ain't half bad either. They do have a happy hour, but most tables are reservations only. They do accept walk-ins and bar spots, but keep in mind this place does get very busy around sunset.
Beach House at Turtle Bay: When my family and I stayed in Kanoehe, this was a hotspot. Set on a golf course, you get some special views around sunset. This menu is American-centered with Pacific-Asian flare. When you need a break from all the seafood, this is a great and well-priced option.
Hy's Steakhouse: My fiancé and I have a hard time going to Oahu without having a date night here. Their Caesar Salad is made right in front of you and is easily the best on the island. A bit pricy, but it is absolutely a well-known steakhouse for that reason. Absolutely worth it every time.
Maguaro Brothers: Home of the best Sashimi I've ever had. For the "let's do sunset on the beach and hang" dinner, this is a must-visit. This restaurant has scarce hours but it's mostly because they sell out so quickly. So don't be surprised if you show up past 9pm and they are closed.
Need to Know
For more travel tips, check out Fora Advisor Brit Healey's guide, Bucketlist-Worthy Oahu, Hawaii.
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This is part of our ongoing series on travel to travel to Oahu, and our longer series on travel to Hawai'i.