It’s March in Portland and as most of you know, I’m clawing at the wall. I’ve convinced myself that I love the rain (and I do), but the grayness and chill are driving me mad. So leave it to me to frantically book flights and start researching the best things to do in Honolulu, Hawaii.
So Will and I made plans to fly out to Hawaii (since we’re both working from home) and found our days chock-full of activities and adventure in paradise. In this post, I share the best things to do in Honolulu, Oahu.
This glorious sunshine is just what the doctor ordered! Read on for everything you need to know!
Tips for Visiting Honolulu
Use reef-safe sunscreen
- Always wear sunscreen And since chances are good you’ll take a swim in the tropical sea, make sure to pick up reef-safe sunscreen before your visit. The reason? The active ingredients in traditional sunscreen cause irreversible damage to reefs. Not cool, do the right thing and pick up this sunscreen before your visit (you’ll save $$).
Carry sanitizer with you
- It’s the age of COVID, baby — sanitizer for the win. I LOVE these little guys, we discovered them on a flight and now buy them in bulk when we travel. Super simple to use and easy to pack, we never left the hotel without them.
Best time to visit Oahu
- The best time to visit Oahu is September thru mid-December and from mid-April thru early June. Not only is the weather better (less chance of rain) but there’s less crowds and rates are a less than during peak season.
Best Things to Do in Honolulu
#1. Catch Sunrise at Lanikai Beach
If you’re planning to visit Honolulu, you better believe you should catch sunrise at (arguably) the prettiest beach on the island. Seriously, we see photo shoots here every single time we visit. Hard to blame them, this beach is stunning and it’s hard to think of a better way to start the day.
After sunrise, take a quick dip in the ocean or head to the nearest cafe for a morning treat. We drove to Whole Foods for a quick breakfast bite and swung by a cafe for Americanos before continuing on for the day.
#2. Hike Diamond Head
If you’re looking for things to do in Honolulu look no further than the Diamond Head trail. It’s the most iconic hike on the island and once you see the panoramic views from the top, you’ll know why.
The 0.8-mile hike is steep, but doable. Believe me when I tell you the views are worth the effort. Go during sunrise to avoid crowds and catch the sun greeting the valley floor — the gates open at 6am. We made the mistake of arriving mid-day and had to wait 20 minutes to find a parking space.
Helpful to know: There’s an admission fee to hike Diamond Head, it’s $5 per person or $10 per car. There’s a little food cart near the visitors center – swing by for a pineapple after your hike, you’ve earned it! 😉
#3. Visit Pearl Harbor
Don’t make the mistake of assuming that Pearl Harbor is just for history buffs! Take the time to visit this important historic site during your visit. I was surprised to learn that you can ferry to the USS Arizona for free (but you should be a reservation at least 3-days in advance).
With that said, we weren’t aware that we had to make reservations beforehand but got lucky. We arrived an hour after it opened and promptly placed our name on a wait list and got in. Give yourself an hour or two to soak in the importance of this moving museum.
#4. Catch Sunset at Waikiki Beach
Waikiki Beach is a beautiful thing. Just when you think it can’t get any better than a golden Hawaiian Beach, you’ll notice Diamond Head looming in the background. But believe me when I tell you it gets even better, Waikiki Beach is phenomenal during sunset, don’t miss it!
I don’t want to paint a false picture here, it will be incredibly busy during sunset but it’s an experience you simply can’t miss.
#5. Grab drinks at Duke’s Bar
Since we’re friends, I’m letting you in on another secret — just when you think it doesn’t get any better than sunset from Waikiki Beach, I say go a step further and swing by Duke’s Bar (right on Waikiki Beach) for sunset drinks.
Arguably the most iconic bar (on the most iconic beach) in Honolulu — Duke’s Bar offers great drinks in a setting that is hard to beat. Come here for sunset (show up 1 hour early because the wait can get long) for an easy-going evening you won’t soon forget.
#6. Snorkel Hanauma Bay
Prior to our visit, I didn’t realize that Hanauma Bay has an admission fee of $12. Honestly speaking, I was conflicted about paying for beach access because it just felt wrong. Also, there’s free beaches all over Oahu, is Hanauma Bay worth it?
After our visit, I can confidently say yes (which is why I recommend it here). Will snorkeled with sea turtles and schools of fish while I read on the beach. The beach is so beautiful and the snorkeling experience here is the arguably the best on the island.
Cost: $12 per person, $3 to park
#7. Order an acai bowl from Island Vintage Coffee
I discovered Island Vintage Coffee on my second-to-last day on Oahu and was kicking myself for not finding it earlier! Learn from my mistake and swing by — but word to the wise, go early because this place is no secret, it gets busy fast.
I visited around 3pm the first time and there wasn’t a line. Little did I know how lucky I was because when I returned the next morning around 8:30am, we waited in line for over an hour! Worth it? Worth it.
Cost: $13- $15 per bowl
#8. Get brews at Waikiki Brewing Company
Our hotel was a few blocks from Waikiki Brewing Company so we decided hop in for a quick bite. As folks that hail from Portland, Oregon, we definitely know a thing or two about great brews and Waikiki Brewing did not disappoint.
Will ordered a French dip and I opted for the sausage sandwich, both hit the spot!
Cost: $15- $18 per dish, $6 per brew
#9. Visit Byodo-In Temple
Honolulu’s Byodo-In Temple is a Buddhist temple located in the Valley of the Temples Memorial Park (perhaps the most beautiful cemetery I’ve ever laid eyes on). The temple was dedicated August 1968 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the first Japanese immigrants to Hawaii.
Ever since our visit to Japan, Will and I have become enamored with Japanese temples and shrines. When we caught wind of the Byodo-In Temple in Honolulu, we made sure to visit.
It’s an incredibly peaceful and humble experience that feels completely removed from the city. I highly recommend this for anyone needing a break from the stimulation of the busy streets and beaches.
Admission: $5 per adult
#10. Get a burger from Rainbow Drive-In
One of my favorite things to do when visiting a new city is asking locals about their favorite spots to eat and play. We found so many unexpected gems over the years by following up on local’s recommendations and boy, Rainbow Drive-In was a great find!
Our Uber driver suggested it for a quick and inexpensive lunch and we made an effort to check it out. GREAT burgers for less than $5, had to beat that. Also, seems like mostly locals come here to eat, so it felt like we were in on a little secret.
#11. Get hot malasadas from Leonard’s Bakery
Malasadas made their way to Hawaii by Portuguese cane field workers in the late 1800’s. What is a malasada? It’s a warm Portuguese donut without a hole, fried to perfection (crispy on the outside and soft on the inside) filled with a delicious flavored-cream of your choosing.
And yes, it is just as delicious as it sounds — akin to beignets. They are so good and simply can’t be missed when you’re visiting Honolulu.
Our favorite malasadas came from Leonard’s Bakery — a gem of a bakery opened in 1953. We stumbled upon it by accident but I’m convinced the serendipitous happenstance was not a coincidence at all.
Since Leonard’s Bakery makes these delicious treats only once ordered, you can expect a hot malasada and a wait, but it’s completely worth it because the line moves quickly. My favorite was the original flavor and Will’s favorite was the guava flavored malasada.
Cost: $1.35 per piece
#12. Get a Bloody Mary from Restaurant 604
Yet another recommendation that came from a local. Our favorite coffee barista suggested that we check out Restaurant 604 after visiting Pearl Harbor for great brunch and views. We were so glad they suggested it because it never crossed our radar until that point.
But apparently we’ve been living under a rock our whole lives. Turns out this spot is VERY popular. We waited in line for an hour but didn’t mind too much — the Bloody Mary was worth it and I’m sure you’ll love it too.
Oh, and the burger from here was the best we had on the island, so don’t miss that either. 😉
Cost: $12 Bloody Mary, $16 burger, $15 salmon bites
#13. Relax, relax, relax!
You’re probably in Hawaii for a reason, no? Let your hair down, forget about work, linger at the dinner table past any point of reason and talk with your special someone about nothing at all.
Have a blast, enjoy the life you’re living — you must be doing something right to end up in Honolulu!
Things to Do Outside Oahu
Have a rental car? Great! Check out the places below!
#14. Take a drive to Oahu’s North Shore
Oahu’s North Shore blew me away — it has a completely different feel from the touristy south shore & Waikiki Beach area. What’s more, the north shore has incredible greenery and hillsides (I couldn’t get over the natural beauty).
#15. Try shave ice from Matsumoto’s
One thing I didn’t know before visiting Hawaii was all the rave around shave ice. How foolish I was! There’s several great spots to choose from on Oahu but my favorite (easily) was Matsumoto’s Shave Ice — it is SO good!
I’ll be honest, several of the places we tried were rather unmemorable and I was close to giving up on this refreshing treat until we tried Matsumoto’s and now I’m hooked.
We ordered liliko (passion fruit) and it hit the spot, next time I think I’ll order the coconut flavor as well.
Cost: $3 for small shave ice (pictured above) — small size can easily be split between two people.
#16. Visit a botanical garden
As you can suspect, the north shore has so lovely, quiet botanical gardens. Since they offer a great reprieve from the busy beaches and restaurants, I highly recommend visiting them during your trip, perhaps a picnic?
We visited Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden and were surprised to learn it was free! I can’t recommend the experience enough!
#17. Visit the Dole Plantation
I know some folks consider the Dole Plantation to be a tourist trap — and I get it. But you don’t have to spend money here unless you want to. We simply wandered the grounds and marveled at how cool the pineapple plants were before picking up a soft-serve Dole Whip on our way out.
(P.S. Dole Whip lives up to the hype, although it’s more tart than I imagined).
In any case, you can’t come to Oahu without swinging by, even if only for a few minutes.
#18. Visit Kualoa Ranch
Jurassic Park anyone? Kualoa Ranch is a very famous filming locations. There’s various tours offered around the ranch, my favorite being the horse back riding tour.
Here’s some helpful info about Kualoa Ranch.
#19. Swing by Seven Brothers (for burgers and milkshakes)
Gosh, the burgers here are SO good! And the milkshakes? Arguably the best on Oahu. Seven Brothers is a fan-favorite with locals and tourists alike for good reason, the food is delicious!
Make sure to visit, I suggest ordering any of the burgers, macadamia nut shrimp and a milkshake.
Cost: $16 for burger, $15 for macadamia nut shrimp
#20. Order the butter garlic shrimp from Fumi’s
Let me say this… If I could transport myself back to any meal on Honolulu, it would be this one, it’s that good. I’m still thinking about this meal.
Another big hit we’ve heard about is Giovanni’s Shrimp, we plan to swing by during our next visit.
Cost: $14 for a plate of garlic butter shrimp.
Note: Fumi’s is CASH ONLY. We had to drive to an ATM because we weren’t aware of that — learn from our mistake.
Best Eats Oahu
Okay, this is obviously my favorite section for good reason — Oahu’s food scene is SO good — especially the plethora of fresh seafood, fruit and great tacos — what’s not to love? Let’s cover the restaurants you can’t miss during your visit.
- Marukame Udon: We first tried this place in Kyoto and I’ve been dreaming of it since. Seriously, just ask my husband. When I found out this udon-heaven was a mere 20-minute walk from our hotel, I just about lost it, it instantly became the thing I was looking forward to most.
- Island Vintage Coffee — my favorite acai bowls on the island
- Ono Seafood — arguably best poke on the island
- Ahi Assassins — great poke
- Musubi Cafe Iyasume — go for musubi!
- Paia Fish Market — go for fish tacos
And there you have it, I hope you enjoyed this quick list of the best things to do in (and outside of) Honolulu, Oahu.
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