From time to time, I get asked about vacationing on Oahu. I’m going to try to answer some of the most frequently asked questions, and maybe someone will happen upon this post and find it helpful.
What airport do I fly into? The only airport you can fly into on Oahu is the Honolulu International Airport (airport code HNL).
Where should I stay? If you are staying at a hotel, you really only have 3 options:
Aulani Disney Resort in Ko Olina – Ko Olina (Koh Oh-leenah) is on the west, or leeward side of the island, the opposite direction from the airport than Waikiki. It’s a Disney resort, and as such you will pay the price for the name. On average, around $300/night. They include a bunch of stuff at the resort in the price.
Turtle Bay Resort on the North Shore – The North Shore is, obviously, on the north side of the island. It is pretty much as far from Waikiki as you can get on the island. Turtle Bay Resort can cost $350+ per night. If you’ve seen the movie Forgetting Sarah Marshall, you’ve seen Turtle Bay Resort.
Waikiki Hotels – All of the other hotels on the island are in the Waikiki area. If you are coming to Oahu, and don’t want to spend $2K just on a place to sleep for a week, you’ll be staying at one of the gazillion hotels in Waikiki. Which one should you stay at? I have no idea. The only one I’ve stayed at is the Hilton Hawaiian Village. It’s gigantic and very touristy. Personally, I would search on Momondo or a similar site and find the cheapest one. After all, it’s not like you’re going to be hanging out in your hotel room all day, right?
Do I Need to Rent a Car? Is it necessary? No. But if you truly want to see the island, and see it at your own pace, you should. If you really want to experience Oahu, you are going to have to get out of Waikiki. I don’t understand the tourists who come all the way out here, and never leave Waikiki. That’s like visiting New York City, and never leaving Times Square. Sure, you can plan activities that have shuttle buses that pick you up and drop you off at your hotel. You can even take a driving tour of Oahu on a bus with 20 other tourists. I prefer to go at my own pace, stop where I want to stop, and spend as much time as I want there. The downside to renting a car is that almost every hotel on the island charges guests per night for the honor of parking in their parking garages. I never understood that. If I’m paying to stay at your hotel, shouldn’t a parking spot be included? The charge for the honor is seriously ridiculous too, usually between $25-$35 per night.
Should I Go To a Luau? If you’ve never been to one, sure. They can be fun. They include a buffet style dinner and a show featuring different Hawaiian dances and such. The downside to them is that they can be expensive ($80-$125 per person), and dinner can leave you feeling like a herded cow. They shuffle their guests along through the food lines very much like cattle. I haven’t been to a luau on Oahu (I went to one while visiting Kauai), but all of the locals here say Germaine’s Luau is the best one. Germaine’s is in Kapolei (Kah-poh-lay), which is out toward the west side of the island. My suggestion is to keep an eye out on Groupon/Living Social for Germaine’s. They often have 1/2 off deals on those sites. If you do go to a luau, try the poi. It gets a bad wrap, and the luau people don’t usually do it any favors by telling people to try it even though they won’t like it. Ignore them and try it without thinking you are going to hate it before you even take a bite. I like poi. It actually doesn’t have all that much flavor. The texture is a bit odd, but really, it’s not bad. It usually gets eaten with the other food, not on its own.
Should I Take a Surf Lesson? Assuming you have an interest in surfing, and good balance, sure. Will you become an expert surfer in your 1-2 hour lesson. No. You’ll maybe catch a few waves, and you’ll be exhausted by the time your lesson is over. I would do it on the North Shore rather than Waikiki, but I’m not a fan of Waikiki. I took a surf lesson from Sunset Suzy on the North Shore. My instructor’s name was Cooper, Suzy’s brother. He was great at explaining and demonstrating. We went out at Haleiwa (Hah-lay-eve-ah) Beach Park. The most exhausting part of surfing is paddling out to the waves. You paddle out, get lined up, and your instructor will tell you to when to start paddling to catch a wave. They’ll also give you a helping push to get you going. You then attempt to stand and either ride the wave or fall off. Then, you have to paddle yourself back out to the spot to catch the waves. I got lucky, and several times Cooper rode a wave in behind me and then towed me back out.
If you want to get out on the water on a board, but don’t know if you want to try surfing, I suggest SUP, Stand Up Paddle Boarding. SUP is actually pretty easy. The boards are huge and wide and thick. I have a SUP, have gone out on it many times, and have never fallen off. I took one SUP lesson in my Hawaii Kai neighborhood before I went and got a board of my own. I think if I had to pick a place again to take the lesson, I would do a Paddle lesson and tour on the North Shore. I haven’t done this tour or rented anything from this company, but I would take the SUP tour from Sea and Board Sports Hawaii. They give take you on a SUP tour up the Anahulu (ahnah-hoo-loo) River, where there are lots of Hawaiian sea turtles (called honu in Hawaiian). You get to try your hand at SUP, see the beauty that is the North Shore, and see the honu.
What is the Best Activity? This is a very subjective question, but my favorite activity Dolphin Excursions. It is on the leeward side of the island. They take you out on a boat, find the pod of wild spinner dolphins that live in the waters there, and then let you snorkel. They try to place the boat so that when you get in the water, the dolphins are swimming toward you and you can watch them swim under and by you. Yeah, it’s that cool. http://www.dolphinexcursions.com/
Which Beach Should I Go To? I certainly haven’t been to every beach on Oahu. Not even close. But I can tell you about the ones I have been to.
Kahanamoku (Kah-hah-nah-moh-koo) Beach / Hilton Lagoon – The beach has nice sand, and nice views of Waikiki and Diamond Head, but it is always crowded with tourists.
Image by Hilton Hawaiian Village
Waikiki Beach / Kuhio (Koo-hee-oh) Beach Park – More crowded tourist beaches. They are pretty beaches (it’s hard to find one that isn’t), but man oh man are they crowded.
Image by Only in Hawaii
Eternity Beach – Officially it is Halona (Hah-loh-nah) Beach Cove, but most people call it Eternity Beach, because this is the beach where the famous scene from From Here to Eternity was filmed. To go to this beach, you have to park at the Halona Blowhole Lookout and walk down to it. The water can be rough here in the winter, so please be careful. Also, this is very much a local beach spot. It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes if it’s crowded down there, you might get a dirty look or two from a local who is unhappy that you are invading their space. Also be warned that if you park your rental car at the Blowhole, if might get broken into. It happens. Don’t leave anything of value in your rental car, no matter where you go. Your best bet is actually to just leave the car unlocked. At least then if someone wants to snoop, they don’t have to break the windows.
Sandy Beach Park – Called Sandy’s by the locals, this beach is on the windward (east) side of the island, not far beyond Hanauma (Hah-now-mah) Bay. It’s a nice beach, often crowded with local guys. Do not go here if you intend to swim unless you are a very strong swimmer. The waves break right at the shoreline and will pound you right into the sand. If you stop to look, observe the people on the beach and in the water. You’ll probably notice that there are only guys in the water. All the girls are up on the beach. That’s because we girls are not generally strong enough to fight our way out to swim here. If you want to swim, keep driving further north along Kalanianaole (Kah-lahnee-ahnah-ohlay) Hwy.
Image by Aloha-Hawaii
Makapu’u (Mah-kah-pooh-ew) Beach Park – The entrance to the parking lot for this beach is across the street from the entrance to Sea Life Park. I’ve never swam here, but there’s a heiau (hay-ow) there. A heiau is a Hawaiian temple from the old Hawaiian religion. Most are just remnants of what they once were, but they are considered sacred by the Hawaiian people, so if you visit one, be respectful. The beach also has nice views of Manana Island (aka Rabbit Island) and Kaokihaipu (Kah-ohkee-high-poo) Island. Rabbit Island is the tall one, and Kaokihaipu is the flat one. Both are state seabird sanctuaries.
Image by Wikipedia
Waimanalo (Why-man-ah-low) Bay Beach Park – Not Waimanalo Beach Park, Waimanalo BAY Beach Park. It’s past Waimanalo Beach Park, which is in the middle of Waimanalo town. This is my favorite beach. If I want to go the beach (and not drive to the North Shore), I come here. It is beautiful. White sandy beach, pretty views of several small offshore islands and the mountains. Also, very few tourists come here, so it’s much less crowded. The water generally has enough of a surf to be fun to swim or bodyboard, but not so much as to take all the fun out of it (like Sandy’s). At any given time you will see at least one, but probably more, Asian couples having wedding photos taken here. My only warning here, take the man-o-war warnings seriously if the flag and sign is up. Many people will be swimming anyway, but be wary. I have been stung here once, and I was only standing on the beach letting the water lap at my feet. It hurt, really bad, for a couple of hours. It left a lovely mark on my foot that took a little over a month to finally fade away. I can’t imagine being stung somewhere other than on my foot!
Kailua (Kye-loo-ah) Beach Park and Lanikai (Lah-nee-kye) Beach Park – These two beaches are right near each other. Both are beautiful, and both are great for swimming.
Image by Aloha-Hawaii
Kuilima (Koo-ee-lee-mah) Cove – A small cove at Turtle Bay Resort. It’s a good place to go snorkeling.
Sunset Beach – A great long stretch of pretty white sand along the North Shore. A great place to swim and play in the summer. In the winter, like with every North Shore beach, you can’t swim due to the high waves. Heed the signs and lifeguards. If they say don’t swim, don’t swim.
Image by Trip and Travel Blog
Banzai Pipeline – This is where all the big surf competitions happen during the winter on Oahu. It’s pretty much the same as Sunset Beach. Pretty, white sand, dangerous in winter.
Image by Backpackers Hawaii
Shark’s Cove – There can be some white tip reef sharks here sometimes, but it’s a great place to snorkel in the summer months.
Image by Aloha-Hawaii
Three Tables Beach – An excellent snorkel spot in the summer months. Lots of people climb onto the “tables”. Don’t do this if you aren’t wearing water shoes. There are lots of sea urchins on the tables, and stepping on one is a sure way to ruin your vacation.
Image by Sayali Ranadive via Pinterest
Laniakea (Lah-nee-ah-kay-ah) Beach – This beach is harder to visit than it used to be. The powers that be closed the parking across the street because it caused too much traffic back up. So now you have to park a bit further away and walk to it. But do. This is turtle beach. This beach is the only spot on Oahu where the sea turtles haul out and rest on the beach. Even in winter, when the surf is too high for swimming, stop here. Look at the waves as they roll in. You will see the turtles. Lots of turtles.
There are lots of other beaches on Oahu, those are the ones I’ve been visited. That’s all for now. I’m going to post some more on some of the other places and activities you can do while you’re here in the coming days.