9 Hawaiian Highlights in Oahu

Oahu is the 3rd and most recent Hawaiian island I’ve visited. I did a bunch of research before my trip, and came up with these 9 highlights that you must visit and check out next time you’re there!

Tantalus Lookout

Located at Puu Ualakaa State Park, you’ll get clear views of Honolulu and Diamond Head Crater. Come an hour before sunset! Parking right up close to the lookout is a pain, so there’s a larger lot right before you make the last turn into the lookout.

Waikiki Beach

Iconic, but crowded. Almost like a prettier version of Times Square, with upscale shopping areas. Waikiki Beach area has plenty of shops all around the area, from along Kalakaua Avenue, International Market Place, and the Royal Hawaiian Center. Definitely get a picture with the Duke Kahanamoku Statue, and try to catch a sunrise if you can (below)!

International Market Place

Oahu did a great job with this outdoor mall. It felt like an upscale tree house in some areas because of all the foliage and even small ponds in the middle. Very beautiful, and worth walking through!

Ala Moana Center

I’m truly a sucker for outdoor air malls, and the Ala Moana Center is supposed to be the largest in the world! There are 3 stories, plenty of luxury and non-luxury stores, and a very nice Foodland Farms. I made a new friend when waiting in line for mochi at a farmer’s market this morning and she recommended getting the poke at Foodland. I also stopped to get very expensive boba at The Alley, and the most unique thing I saw was a Dior cafe.

Shark’s Cove

A great snorkeling spot in Oahu, and protected by a rocky barrier. There are two distinct areas of Sharks Cove, the more popular being the left side. There’s a sandy beach that allows easy access, and the water is shallower here as there’s more places for you to stand up in waist deep water. The right side is also accessible but with deeper waters and the “entrance” is extremely rocky. It can be challenging to enter the water on the right side, and the rocks are slippery. Try your luck in spotting some sea turtles here!

Ho’omaluhia Botanical Gardens

One of the most instagrammed spots in Oahu is right at the entrance of the botanical gardens, and photography is now banned from the main roads! It’s dangerous to have people stepping into the middle of the road for pictures, so there are signs posted all throughout to keep off. The gardens are free to enter, and the area is pretty expansive with plenty of places to explore. I saw some signs for the end of maintained paths, but no trespassing signs.

Dole Pineapple Plantation

You can’t miss visiting the Dole Pineapple Plantation if you love dole whip like I do. Last time I was at Disneyland, I got 2 helpings. I think the dole whip here is more flavorful than Disney’s, and while more expensive, the portions are huge.

Makapu’u lighthouse Trail

This hike comes highly recommended by all blogs I looked into, and my new island friend I made at the farmers market also suggested this hike! It’s a steady uphill incline on a nicely paved road to the very end of the lookout point, with no direct access to the lighthouse itself. I clocked in at 2.5 miles round trip, and I would rate this hike as moderate with the added humidity as a factor for my trouble breathing.

Most people recommended going earlier in the morning (opens at 7am) to avoid the harsh sun, but as this is on the eastern side of the island, the sun is pretty much shining directly on you the entire time anyway. I think an evening hike might be better in this case, an hour or two before sunset.

Kualoa Ranch

Ka’a’awa Valley

It did take my parents a bit of convincing to fork over $52 a person for one of the tours at Kualoa Ranch. We did the jungle tour, which has a bit of everything: ancient Hawaiian history and mythology, film sets, and great views. You ride along in these custom built trucks that seat 16 people total, as opposed to the UTVs, or busses on some of the other tours. There are two points in which you are able to get off to get better views of the valley, including a short hike to the highest peak open to the public to get a view of both the Ka’a’awa Valley (Jurassic Park and King Kong film set) and Hakipu’u Valley (cattle ranch, Jurassic World, and King Kong too).

Bring bug repellant! I got bit by mosquitos a few times.

Hakipu’u Valley

Other Attractions

Some other recommendations that we either only stopped by briefly or didn’t get a chance to see:

Iolani Palace: This is the home of Hawaii’s last reigning monarchs, built in 1882 by King Kalakaua. There is an entrance fee of $25 for a self-guided audio tour, but they offer docent-led tours and other options. Right across from the palace is the King Kamehameha V Judiciary History Center. 30 years ago, my mom and grandma took a photo right next to the statue of King Kamehameha!

Aloha Tower: One of the most iconic landmarks in Oahu is this retired lighthouse.

Lanikai Pillbox hike: Other hikers mentioned this was a fairly steep hike with some scrambling on rocks. I decided that my parents weren’t up for that so we skipped this. BUT we did see a bunch of hikers at the top of the pillbox when we stopped by Lanikai Beach.

Diamond Head Crater hike: Reservations needed! I had no idea and didn’t want to go in the afternoon so we didn’t end up going. Definitely try to reserve in advance and go as early as possible to avoid the heat.

Matsumoto Shaved Ice: Located in the heart of old Haleiwa town and a notoriously long line. But, it moves quickly and is a great way to cool down. The flavors I got were strawberry, mango, and lilikoi. Would not recommend the strawberry (tastes more like cherry medicine) but the mango and passion fruit were great.

Hanuama Bay: Everyone’s favorite snorkeling spot but costs $12 per person to enter and an additional parking fee.

Pearl Harbor: Most of the museums and grounds of Pearl Harbor National Memorial are free for entry, but there’s additional fees to take a boat across to see the USS Arizona Memorial or step onto the USS Bowfin Submarine. Worth a visit to learn more about the history of this site and its significance before, during, and after WWII.

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