Oahu Travel Guide: What to do on the Island

In April, I surprised my husband by visiting him in Oahu while he was on a family trip. I had originally told him I couldn't go because I couldn't get the time off from work. But, after finding an ideal flight and rearranging some work obligations, I was able to make it happen! I only went for three days (way WAYY too short), but I really savored every minute there. I tried to make the most out of my short trip and overall, I have to say, I just had an amazing time spending a few days with Jeff in one of his favorite places in the world (he lived on Oahu for three years and we actually met in Honolulu). So, Oahu definitely has a special place in our hearts.

I've actually only been to Oahu twice: the first time being when Jeff and I met 6 years ago, the second being this recent visit. Both were relatively short trips, so I am by no means an expert on what to do and where to go. But I thought I'd share some of my favorite activities/ places to see that I would 100% recommend to any first time visitor.

I saw this sticker in a parking lot and thought it was so quintessentially Hawaiian =)


1. Eat at Cinnamons

Jeff has been telling me for years about this restaurant! It's one of his favorites and a go to whenever he's back in Oahu. He's always raved about their "guava chiffon pancakes" which sounded heavenly to me ( I have a major sweet tooth). I didn't make it here last time I was in Hawaii, but on this trip I made it a priority to stop by. No surprise at all, I ordered the guava chiffon pancakes, as well as one of their famous red velvet pancakes.

I meannnn....

They were everything I anticipated and more! The pancakes were SO fluffy, and probably some of the best I've ever eaten. Guava chiffon were my favorite: they were exceptionally tasty, a bit tangy with the guava sauce, yet still sweet and buttery. The red velvet did not fall short either! I felt like I was having cake for breakfast lol. If you're a big pancake fan, this is a must for you when on the island, especially since they offer seasonal flavors as specials (like gingerbread or pistachio almond).

For the savory breakfast lover, their Hawaiann omelette with Kalua pork was delicious (Jeff's choice). You can also try a loco moco- a popular local dish containing rice, an egg, gravy and potato mac salad with a choice of either a hamburger patty, roast beef, hash, prime rib or kalua pig.

guava chiffon pancakes- just order them!

red velvet pancake

2. Go to Lanikai Beach

This water though!? Need I say more?

Lanikai is for sure my favorite beach in Oahu. I think the pictures really speak for themselves as to why. We spent a few hours here on a Friday morning/early afternoon and it was so relaxing. I'm a big beach bum and can easily spend days on a beach laying out, taking the occasional dip and reading a good book all while enjoying the view. Being from northern CA , where we don't have beaches, just oceans (hah), I really cherished my time here.

3. Hang out in the North Shore

I just loveeee the North Shore. In my opinion, it is the cutest, laid-back surfer town filled with delicious food, good shopping, and more beautiful beaches.

Stretching for more than 7 miles, the beaches of the North Shore are known especially for hosting premier surfing competitions during the winter months. Between November and February, the massive waves can sometimes swell up to thirty feet or more. But, from May to September, the waves are calmer, creating a better atmosphere for swimming.

Exploring Haleiwa -a charming town located in the heart of the North Shore

First things first, coffee! When in the North Shore, stop by Kono's for one of their deliciously famous breakfast burritos and an iced vanilla macadamia nut coffee (pictured above).

If you're looking for a healthier breakfast option, The Sunrise Shack is a must try for their avocado toast, papaya and acais bowls. I loved their papaya bowl so much, I went back a second day in a row to grab one!

Such a picturesque view

After eating breakfast, we headed to Waimea Bay, Jeff's favorite beach on Oahu. It is very popular and visitors can bodyboard, surf, snorkel, swim, fish or even cliff jump (pictured below). The water is also stunning here, but I did find it was a bit rougher than Lanikai . But by all means, it was still calm enough to swim and hang out in.

Colorful angel wings we found Painted in Haleiwa

Next stop, which is a must, is visiting one of the many local food trucks. Giovanni's is super famous and popular in the North Shore , but to be honest, it didn't leave a lasting impression on me during my last trip to Oahu. So this time around, we hit up Big Wave Shrimp's food truck on a recommendation from a local friend. I actually really enjoyed my meal. Jeff and I shared the garlic shrimp and beef combo plate (twas' fireeee) that is pictured below. I also had a bite of his aunt's spicy shrimp ( which came in a red sauce) and loved it. Overall, this was a great meal to indulge in.

Fun fact: this food truck was also featured on the Food Network's Diners, Drive- In's and Dives...so you know it's legit! =)!

Jeff grabbed a strawberry lemonade from "Wow Wow Hawaiian Lemonade"- a popular local juice bar

Turtle Beach!

(Also known as Laniakea Beach- For decades Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles have frequented this area more than any other spot on Oahu)

On both my trips to the island, I was lucky enough to spot a few turtles while visiting this beach. They aren't always present, but when they do show up, it's quite a fascinating site to see. Federal law does prohibit visitors to touch the turtles, so there are red ropes around each animal ensuring that a person doesn't get too close. But if you happen to be swimming in the ocean, it could be likely that one swims up to you (this area is known for good snorkeling when the waves are flat and the water is clear).

A trip to the north shore is incomplete without a stop at Matsumoto's shaved ice! I admit, it's a bit of a tourist trap complete with lines out the door. But they serve a delicious shaved ice ! We got three flavors: Guava, lillikoi and passion fruit and added condensed milk and ice cream. It was the perfect treat to refresh us after walking around the nearby shops.

Lastly, I would highly recommend renting a stand up paddle board or booking a surf lesson. Jeff and I rented stand up paddle boards and spent one morning exploring the Anahulu River in Haleiwa. It was a beautiful and scenic river surrounded by stunning vegetation and filled with plenty of sea turtle sightings. It was such a relaxing activity.

4. Take a walk in Honolulu and check out all the Pow Wow Murals

Each spring, artists from all over the world hit the streets of Honolulu's Kakaako district for the annual Pow Wow street art festival, painting dozens of murals that stay up until the next year's event. The colorful walk-through gallery, which spans several blocks, makes for some great (and super instagrammable) photo ops. I thought I would share some of my favorite pieces that I came across on my walk.

This piece blew my mind- so beautiful!

The annual event also includes talk-story opportunities with the artists, block parties, exhibitions, concerts and more.

5. Go on a Hike

Ok, spolier alert. I've never actually gone on a hike in Oahu. I haven't spent enough days there to do it (yet)! But, Jeff has gone on plenty of hikes and after seeing some of his photos, this is a top to-do list activity for me the next time we go. Some of his favorite hikes include

Koko Head :

In all, the round trip hike is just under 2 miles, but as you climb closer to the summit, the volcano becomes steeper, creating a pretty tough hike. Not to mention, there is no shade from the sun, so this trail is even more challenging when you consider the heat/direct sunlight. However, the view from the top is breathtaking with sweeping views of Hanauma Bay, South Shore Beaches, Hawaii Kai, and even views into Honolulu.

Photo taken from here

Diamond Head :

Diamond Head sits near the eastern edge of Waikiki’s coastline. As one of Hawaii’s most recognized landmarks, it is known for its historic hiking trail, stunning coastal views, and military history. Diamond Head State Monument encompasses over 475 acres, including the interior and outer slopes of a crater.

Photo taken from here

Lanikai Pillbox :

A relatively easy hike, Lanikai pillbox can take anywhere from 60 to 90 minutes round trip. This hike boasts a beautiful panoramic ocean view of Kailua, and two white sand beaches, Lanikai Beach and Waimanalo Beach, along with two islands in the distance.

Photo taken from here

Hawaii, overall, is just so breathtakingly beautiful and I hope to explore this state more in the future. I would love to visit the other islands and really look forward to future travels / memories to be made here =) .

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