My husband recently graduated with his masters degree in Healthcare Administration, so we knew we had to go somewhere absolutely amazing to celebrate! After looking into several options, we decided to jump all over the cheap airfares from a Southwest Airlines sale and head to the beautiful island of Oahu, Hawaii! This was both of ours first time in Hawaii and in order to satisfy our FOMO we decided to spend an entire week there and explore as much of the island as we could get to. Obviously, there is no way to see everything in a single week, but we felt pretty good that we were able to experience all the sides. Here are Top Ten Unforgettable Experiences in Oahu PLUS one secret that no one will tell you about! (Hint- it has to do with a beach and sea turtles).
When you’re done with this article make sure you read about How To Avoid This Rookie Mistake in Oahu, Hawaii!
Polynesian Cultural Center
This has got to be first on my list of the best adventures to have while visiting Oahu, Hawaii! The Polynesian Cultural Center is a non-profit organization that provides an immersive experience and a look at the exciting heritage of the Pacific Islands. Our #1 Pro Tip would be to get there right as it opens as there is so much to do on their 42 acre property. We arrived right at opening and honestly wondered if we were going to be able to fill up the entire day with things to do. *facepalm* We didn’t even get through a 1/4 of what the Polynesian Cultural Center has to offer.
During the day I would recommend wandering to each village and watching one performance and participating in a hands-on activity. Our favorite interactive experience had to be creating “Maui” Fish hook necklaces at the Carver’s Workshop while being taught the history of woodworking and other craftsmanships. Also, if you ask Steve or I, sitting down and watching the Samoan Performance had to be our favorite one! It was incredibly interesting learning how to crack open a coconut, watching someone climb a coconut tree in 5 seconds, and being given bamboo crowns all while laughing at the comedic performance. They also provide a free tram tour to the Laie Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and Visitors Center.
Be sure to purchase the package that includes the authentic Luau experience! Being able to feast on Polynesian cuisine while watching the performances made for the perfect break. Steve’s favorite food was the roasted pig while I enjoyed one (or two) yummy pineapple bars! At night, the most talked about event occurs, the evening performance put on by the students from Brigham Young University-Hawaii. I have been able to witness several cultural shows, like in Peru & Mexico, but I have never seen such a spectacular performance as this one! I won’t spill all the details of the show, just know that this was my favorite part! A big thanks the Polynesian Cultural Center for providing us Discounted Media Passes.
Hoomaluhia Botanical Gardens
Throughout Oahu, there are several different botanical gardens to visit, but I would recommend visiting the Hoomaluhia Botanical Gardens. This was one of the first places we visited after flying to the island and it was the perfect way to start off our vacation. Their mission statement is to “make a place with peace and tranquility” and they have done a fabulous job at that! Entrance is free and is opened for 9am-4pm. In order to get the photo pictured below, you’ll have to visit outside of their open hours and enter the open gate to the left side of the entrance. They don’t like people stopping and getting out of their cars during the day, for obvious reasons.
The first time we decided to come in the morning and we captured beautiful sun-lit images. Unfortunately, when it was time to take some couple photos, the sun came out from behind the clouds and made it impossible to get well-exposed images. So when we were driving past the gardens on the last day we were there we took a slight detour and tried again and had much better luck! We were told that in the morning most of the clouds are usually gone and you’ll get brighter photos. However, if you are looking for some moody images, visit in the evenings and the clouds usually dip down and partially cover the mountains before sunset.
Lainkai Pillbox Hike
This hike is consistently ranked as one of the top hikes when visiting Oahu so we knew that we had to check it out. Start early in the morning or go late at night, do not attempt this hike during the day because it gets so hot! As there is not a parking lot at the entrance of this hike, you’ll have to park along the street and then walk to the entrance that is marked with a cardboard sign. If in doubt that you’re on the right trail, then look for the rope that you’ll use not 2 minutes from the start of the trail. If you find that rope, you’re on the right trail. There are two pillboxes at the top of this hike but honestly we didn’t think it was worth hiking to the second one. The first provided all the excellent views that we needed. Wear sunscreen, bring water, and plan to be out for an hour.
Rent a Jeep
Nothing says Hawaii like cruising around in a jeep! We rented our jeep from Turo (because Turo is awesome and we consistently save so much money on a rental car by going through them). If you want $25 off your next car rental, use this code. And hey, maybe a jeep isn’t your thing. But I know for a fact that Turo also has nice mustangs or convertibles to choose from as well.
This beach has got to be one of the best kept secrets in Oahu! Found on the west shore, this small cove is known to be the ideal place for sea turtles to sunbathe! We stayed on the west side of the island for two days and the first visit to this beach was unsuccessful in spotting any of the turtles. After chatting with a few locals while there, they too were surprised they were not out that day. We decided to come back the second day and were rewarded with a whole hour alone with five beautiful sea turtles! It has got to be one of the coolest experiences in my life. There are plenty of signs that teach you what to do while around the sea turtles, like staying 20 feet away and not feeding them. Please, please, pretty please follow these simple rules while visiting this beach so everyone can continue to enjoy it, especially the sea turtles! The beach is accessed by a public beach access path between two houses in the neighborhood. So if you’re not staying nearby, you’ll have to park your car along the street and then take dirt path to the beach.
We were told about this gem before we arrived on the island as the best place to snorkel! And that it was. This was the second beach that we visited on the island and we were not only excited to play in the waves (because they were the perfect body boarding size) but also to get out past the waves and observe some beautiful fish. We were also told that this is the spot to see dolphins! Because of the Electric Power Plant nearby, the water is warmer and attracts all sorts of sea-life. You’ll for sure want to rent some googles, snorkel, fins, and a life jacket to spend the day on this beach.
Kayenta Point and Makaha Beach
This had to be the most beautiful drive on the entire island. I am sure all times of the day are great, but a sunset drive along this road is a must! Kayenta Point is the furtherest you can drive on the west side of the island and provides spectacular views for all those who are up for the trip. There are several pull-out spots along the route that make for a great photo-op. You’ll also want to stop at Makaha Beach to watch the sun go down. All the locals agree that this is the favorite beach to watch the sunset. There are quite a few signs warning that it is a high theft area so make sure you lock your cars and don’t take too many valuable items with you. We never ran into a problem.
You’ll also want to stop at Makaha Beach to watch the sun go down. All the locals agree that this is the favorite beach to watch the sunset. There are quite a few signs warning that it is a high theft area so make sure you lock your cars and don’t take too many valuable items with you. We never ran into a problem.
Chances are if you are making the trip up to North Shore, you’ll drive past the Dole Plantation. While we didn’t purchase any tours or get tickets to the maze, we did enjoy two dole whips together in the shade. For me, this was just a tad bit touristy so I personally wouldn’t recommend spending too much time here. Rather, take a moment to walk around the grounds, get a treat, and then continue on to your next adventure.
Kailua Beach/ Lankai Beach
These have to be the most family-friendly beaches that we experienced during our trip. Beautiful expanses of soft sand are unmarred by any rocks which makes it easy to get in without any water shoes on. It was relatively quiet (besides the weekend) and had plenty of space to spread out. We personally liked Kailua Beach a little better, but Lankai was a quick walk to get to when we wanted a change of scenery. Parking is sparse, so get here early or you may find yourself walking a bit after parking alongside a town road. The solution? Stay at Kailua Beach Properties and you can literally take a 1 minute walk from your cottage to the beach. Score!
Makapuu Point Lighthouse Trail
After lounging all day on the beach, we decided to burn off some of those calories we had been eating by conquering the Makapuu Point Lighthouse Trail. This relatively short hike is family friendly with its paved path. However, it is uphill the entire time so come in the morning or evening to avoid the heat of the day. The entire time you’ll be rewarded with killer views but the best has got to be from the very top! There is plenty of parking at the base of the trail and once you’re done and sweaty, take a dip in the Makapuu Tide pools!
I hope you are able to experience these 10 unforgettable adventures while exploring Oahu, Hawaii!