The island of O’ahu is probably the most famous of the Hawaiian islands to visit, mostly because of Honolulu and Waikiki beach. It’s nickname is “the gathering place” and isn’t that the truth! People of every ethnicity have come from around the world to live, work, and vacation on O’ahu for generations now. Ever wondered what to do while you’re here? Who said Hawai’i has to be expensive? This is only the beginning, but a great start to a real vacation in Hawai’i without breaking the bank.
For City People:
Unfortunately for die-hard city people the state of Hawai’i isn’t known for its many cities. In fact, Honolulu’s population is only 340,000ish people. While living here I know people from school or work that mention seeing me in town and tell me about it later. I thought I left small town life back in Maine! Even though O’ahu is easily the most populated island of Hawai’i it really isn’t all that large. However, that doesn’t mean a city person can’t have a great time!
The first and most obvious choice of course! Honolulu is the capital of Hawai’i and the largest city in the state. I have a whole blog post planned on the ultimate guide to Honolulu as it deserves. The nightlife in Waikiki rivals Las Vegas with it’s beautiful lights. Every Friday there is a huge celebration in the city (fire works off of Fort Derussy Beach Park). Whether you explore Chinatown, Downtown, Waikiki, or Ala Moana, Honolulu is the place to be on O’ahu.
Price: It depends on what you do!
In the Downtown area is the 10 story clock tower right next to the water. Cruise ships enter the city here. Although it states it’s the second famous landmark of Honolulu after Diamond Head I don’t believe this is true. I have visited the tower myself many times and it is always empty. This is great if you want to get a good view of the harbor. There is also a marketplace full of restaurants and shops to stop at.
Price: Free, except for parking. Just take the bus (A, E, 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 9, 13, 19, 20, 40, 42, 43, 55, 56, 57, etc. all go through Downtown).
It might come as a surprise to some but O’ahu has some of the world’s biggest malls. Ala Moana is the world’s largest open air shopping mall. It has well over a hundred stores to choose from. Although you’re here to save money a lot of people come to Hawai’i to spend it. There are plenty of shopping opportunities all over the island (especially in Waikiki).
Ala Moana Shopping Center
As I said, it is the largest open air mall in the world and if you love brands this is the place to be. They have Versace, Chanel, Rolex, and others. If you like cheaper stores they have Macy’s and Ross is coming soon. On the main level they even have their own grocery store, Foodland Farms. Not to mention the dozens of restaurants in and out of their food court.
This place is so good it deserved it’s own blog post. Everything you can find in one of those Waikiki ABC stores is here and at much cheaper too. Just hop on bus 42 and you’ll get there in an hour from Waikiki (give or take depending on traffic). Everything Hawaiian is sold at this place; little turtles, sarongs, Aloha shirts, luggage, artwork, and so much more! This is the place for souvenirs.
Price: $1 per person to get in.
King’s Village Shopping Center
Don’t want to leave Waikiki for a good shopping experience? Then don’t! Although I have heard they will be tearing this place down and making into a condominium complex, before that happens you can shop here! Little shops sprinkled with history and authentic foods from all over Asia is what you’ll see here.
If you’re coming to Hawai’i bring your camera! I couldn’t believe it could be more beautiful in person than it is in camera. O’ahu is filled with mountain views, ocean views, and city views at nearly every angle. You won’t want to put the camera away. Even if you don’t have a DSRL camera after this you may want to buy one. It’s that beautiful. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a more photogenic place (I wonder if I’ll eat my words later). An underwater camera might also be worth it.
Mount Tantalus Lookout
This place is actually a bit tough to get to. No buses come near it. The closest goes over 2 miles away. You’ll need a car if you want to go there that’s for sure. It’s at the end of a narrow road and only has a few places to park. Once you’re there though you’ll see all of Honolulu, the ocean, and then some.
Kaka’ako Waterfront Park
If you don’t like sand this is the “beach” for you. It’s all large volcanic rocks. When you get there, the homeless people in tents look creepy. Once you walk passed them without a problem it’ll be worth the view you get of Honolulu and the ocean. When the swells are high surfers are out and you can watch them for a while too. FYI the bathroom situation isn’t great, go beforehand if you must.
Kailua Beach Park
You can’t visit Hawai’i without getting a good picture of a beach. Although the white sand is imported that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it! Get great views of the mountains extending into the blue-green waters. Sit back on a bench and enjoy yourself for a while. This is the rainy side of the island so you might want to look into the weather reports before going.
Pu’u O Mahuka Heiau State Historic Site
Don’t beat yourself up, I can’t say the name either and no it doesn’t have “an American name.” I’ve looked. This is also a harder place to get to as the buses don’t go near it. The closest one gets a mile and a half away and it’s a steep hike if you’re walking or biking the rest of the way. After a narrow and twisty road you’ll see the site. The actual historic site doesn’t have much there, it’s the view you see from the site of Waimea Bay below is what you want a picture of. Worth the drive.
Valley of the Temples
Even if you aren’t religious this is still a great area to see. At the end of the road is a small parking lot for a replica of a temple in Kyoto, Japan. If it were an actual temple the grounds would be too sacred to have tourists visit. The temple itself is very beautiful (as are the others in the same area) but if you drive up further you get a great view of the ocean. Again the buses don’t really come out here. It’s nearly a mile walk uphill from the closest bus stop so again, a car is best.
Price: $3 per person
Route 61/Pali Highway
Driving out of Kailua and Kaneohe on Route 61 back to Honolulu has a viewpoint where you can see the whole valley and mountains meet the sea. The buses come out this way as well however they don’t stop. There are only a few parking spaces but it’s worth the great views you see right before you go into the tunnel. Again, this is the rainy side of the island so look out for the weather beforehand.
For Beach Goers:
How could someone come all the way to O’ahu in Hawai’i and not go to a beach? This is the place for beach hoping. Just skip Waikiki altogether and go out to the real beach of O’ahu and Honolulu. I also hate to break it to you but most of the sand on O’ahu is imported (usually from California) but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it! The surfing is the best over here.
Magic Island Lagoon
On the east end of Ala Moana Beach Park is a small peninsula with a lagoon in the middle. This is Magic Island Lagoon. It has a great view of Diamond Head while you’re enjoying the sand, the surf, and the rocks. I’ve noticed it tends to be less crowded than Ala Moana also. They have mile markers too in case you wanted to pick up jogging while you’re in Hawai’i.
If you want to see coral this is the beach you want. It deserved a whole blog post about itself too. The waters are so clear. Snorkeling is famous at this beach. It also has viewing decks on the Cliffside to take a good look at the water before going in! You have to watch a short video before entering the sand so you won’t disrupt the coral and wildlife that lives there.
Price: Parking is $1 and it’s $7.50 to enter unless you’re military or kama’aina, then it’s free.
This is a tough beach. The water breaks right at the sand so if you’re hardcore this is the beach for you. Also, if you don’t have a car the bus stops right there! The parking lot is a good size too. This is the place locals go since it’s far away from Honolulu even with the bus stop so close.
Waimanalo Beach Park
I’m surprised this isn’t the beach everyone flocks to. It’s trees that line the sand are beautiful and the water is so bright it’s like neon. The bus stops right in front of it too so it’s easy to get to. There is plenty of sand space to go around for other too. If you want a quiet beach getaway this is it.
Outside of Waikiki this is another famous beach. The parking is minimal and on a sunny day it’s crowded. However, it’s also a beautiful beach and if you want to get away from the ocean for a while just up the road is Waimea Valley with a waterfall to view. The buses do stop here and are probably a better option since parking is so hard to find.
To be honest, I’m not all that into hiking. However, O’ahu is full of hiking spots even I’ve heard of. Whether you want to hike to get the good views, you want to work out with the trees, or you want to disconnect from technology and get close to nature this is the place you want to do it. Bring your cameras because Hawai’i is a beautiful place! There are several more hikes than this around the island too, I’ve already lived here for nearly a year and still haven’t heard of all of them.
Diamond Head Hike
I’ve heard hit and miss things about whether or not this is an easy hike. Some say it’s easy, some say for beginners it’ll be tough. I can tell you it’s a short hike, .8 miles one way. At the top you’ll get a great view of Honolulu, the ocean, Waikiki, and the mountains in the distance. If you’re into hiking this is the place to do it because it comes with a great view!
Price: Not sure, I’ve heard both free or $1.
Stairway to Heaven
This hike is technically illegal. Too many people have gotten injured over the years so they’d like to take it down. There is even a guard and you can get arrested or fined for hiking here. Nevertheless it’s still a popular place to hike. It’s almost a right of passage here. Everyone talks about the stairway to heaven.
Price: Free, if you don’t get caught.
Kaena Point State Park
This is on the far west side of the island. The buses don’t go this far either so you’ll definitely need a car to get you most of the way there. After a hike you’ll see a “secret” beach showing you the surrounding area. The rocky shoreline makes awesome picture taking opportunities too.
For History Buffs:
Hawai’i has such a unique history. Before any settles came here each island has its own chiefs and chieftesses that ruled different areas. It was very divided. In 1795 Captain Cooke is the first known white settler to visit Hawai’i. Chief Kamehameha noticed this division and set out to unify all of the islands of Hawai’i and by 1810 this was accomplished and he named himself King Kamehameha the I. In 1893 Queen Liliuokalani ruled over the islands before rebels took over and it became the Republic of Hawai’i, eventually becoming a territory of the United States and then the 50th state in 1959.
King David Kalakaua built the palace in the 1870’s and it remains the only place in the United States that once resided royalty. The palace itself has been restored to when he ruled and taking a tour you’ll learn more things about the history of Hawai’i and it’s rulers. Each room has it’s own color and meaning.
Price: Walking around the outside is free. Touring the inside is $21.75 per person unless you are active duty military between memorial day and labor day, then it’s free. Parking is metered, take the bus.
Right off of Waikiki and Fort Derussy Beach Park is the Army Museum. This also explains the history of Hawai’i and especially what happened during World War II before and after Pearl Harbor was attacked. It has many Hawaiian war artifacts as well and the buses go right up to it making it very easy to get to.
These are way off the beaten track. The site itself is mostly stones and trees in a unique pattern. There is only one small old sign explaining that the site used to be used when a child born into a family of high standing was born. Although there is a gate, it’s easy to walk into the park whether or not it’s open. There isn’t any parking and there isn’t much commercialization at all. If you like off the beaten path you’ve found it.
Now here’s a place full of history. I’m sure you’ve heard of the morning of December 7, 1941 when the Japanese attacked Hawai’i, essentially attacking the United States. Many died on that morning and the USS Arizona still sits at the bottom of the harbor. On the service is a memorial site. Before you go in you watch a video explaining the history and are reminded this is a tomb for hundreds of men. On the grounds there are many museums to visit and there are some graphic pictures and explanations. In the summer it gets busy and might by worth the convenience fee of buying tickets online, any other time of year you’re fine.
Price: Free for the USS Arizona. There is a $4 bag fee, don’t bring one if you want to save money as wallets and cameras are fine to carry. Seeing the Bowfin and USS Missouri costs money.
For the Hawaiian Experience:
Although Hawai’i is more than it’s dancing and flowers we still want to see that while we’re here, don’t we? It’s definitely the most famous known tradition Hawai’i has to offer. While you’re on Oahu it’s no different. You don’t have to spend over $100 per person to see a show, there are free ones on O’ahu and you can ever get free lessons for yourself. When you learn hula you also learn the Hawaiian language. It’s a win/win!
Ala Moana Shopping Center Hula Show
This is a quick 20 minute show in the Ala Moana Shopping Center at their Center Stage. The seats are mighty uncomfortable and are hard to find. You may have to stand in order to get a good view (there is more seating on the second floor). Every day at 1’clock the show starts with modern hula and ancient hula practices and you can learn some Hawaiian also.
Kuhio Beach Hula Show
Every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday from 6:30-7:30 (November-January it’s 6:00-7:00) there is a free hula show on Kuhio Beach. This beach is right next to Waikiki beach and isn’t hard to miss at all. Seats are first come first serve so get there early and it is a different on depending on the day of the week. Photography is welcome!
For Those With Money:
I know I said this was supposed to be for those that are on a budget and for the cheap, however, some of the best things on the island cost money. Paying for things doesn’t have to feel bad, especially when you know they’re worth it in the end. This way you know what’s worth spending your money on and what isn’t (hundreds of dollars to tour Pearl Harbor isn’t!). That way you won’t be ripped off.
Hawai’i is known for it’s pineapples. If you’re really into it visit the Dole Plantation in Wahiawa. They have tours of the plantation, a maze you and your family can enjoy, and new food combinations to try. To get there you’ll have to get on a bus out of Waikiki first (8, 19, 20, 42) to the Ala Moana Shopping Center and transfer to the 55 that goes straight there.
Price: There are free activities, but depending on what you want to do it’ll cost money. Go to their website here for rates, it’s the easiest way.
The islands of Hawai’i are beautiful and need to be seen from the air. Oahu is not exception. From jagged mountains, beaches that roll into the blue-green waters of the ocean, or buildings jetting into the sky in Honolulu they need to be seen! Most companies won’t charge more for doors on or doors off. I suggest doors off, you get better pictures that way!
Price: $150+ per person, depending on the company and package. Usually you must have at least 2 people and they will want the weight of everyone.
Along the north shore of O’ahu you can fly one-on-one in the air on a powered hanglider! Lessons start out at 30 minutes or can go on for 60 if you have the time (and budget, of course). There are a few different options for companies. Buses don’t really go toward Dillingham airfield (where this takes place) so a car would be best in getting there and back again.
Housed in the north shore, the Polynesian Cultural Center houses 6 island nations of Polynesia and their culture. Each country has their own language, history, and style of dance to showcase. While getting to a from the center is it’s own challenge without a car I say it is definitely worth the price.
Price: $85+ per person, depending on the package