5 Top Spots in Oahu, Hawaii

5 Top Spots in Oahu, Hawaii

The moment Oahu came into view from the airplane, I was mesmerized. The topography is striking - rocky, curved, and abrupt waves of land with intermittent craters and valleys pushed up against the waves of the sea. And the views from the land did not disappoint either. Oahu is incredibly unique. Within a short drive you can experience beaches on any coast, climb a mountain, hike in the rainforest, or walk the bustling city streets lined with high rises and a fusion of Hawaiian and Japanese culture. Before our trip had hardly began, I knew this was somewhere I would want to return. Below are my 5 not-to-be-missed stops on the beautiful island of Oahu.

 
 

 

PEARL HARBOR

  • A visit to Pearl Harbor is a must for any Oahu stay. I originally thought the infrastructure at Pearl Harbor was smaller and comprised only of the USS Arizona Memorial, however this is not the case. The complex consists of the USS Arizona Memorial, USS Missouri, USS Bowfin and Museum, and the Pacific Aviation Museum in addition to several other outdoor memorials.
  • Pearl Harbor is the highest-visited destination in Oahu, and therefore to get the most out of your visit, prepare and plan ahead. Unfortunately, we were not able to see the USS Arizona Memorial, which I will explain further below, but we did explore most of the complex, and spent a large amount of time  (good amount of time? big chunk of time? quite awhile?) on the Bowfin submarine.  
  • If you want to see the USS Arizona Memorial, plan to arrive when the Visitor Center opens (7am), or shortly thereafter. 1300 FREE timed tickets are given out each day, first come first serve, but they usually run out within the first hour or two. There is plenty to see and do at the visitor complex before and/or after your USS Arizona Memorial stop. The memorial tickets include your ferry ride, which is the only was to get to the memorial. You can also add an audio tour for $7.50.
  • All of the attractions at the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center are very affordable. If you want to spend the entire day here, you can buy an all-inclusive attraction pass called the “Passport to Pearl Harbor” ($65 adult, $35 child) - a $7 savings.
  • We did the USS Bowfin Submarine & Museum, which took several hours. The audio tours at Pearl Harbor are informative, well designed, and very easy to follow. Getting to follow along with the history of the vessel and hear stories from its crew while exploring the decks made this stop a very moving, memorable, and recommended experience.
  • Parking is free. The site does not allow any bags or purses of any kind on the premises, but they do have lockers for $5. Hours are 7am to 5pm, 7 days a week. Be sure to have your ID with you because some areas may require this as Pearl Harbor encompasses active Military land.
 
 

 

DOWNTOWN HONOLULU/WAIKIKI  

  • Downtown Honolulu is so unique. The skyscrapers make it easy to find. But unlike NYC, there’s breathable space between the buildings, allowing the sea breeze and the occasional glimpse of Waikiki Beach to sweep through.
  • Downtown is easy to walk and hard to park, so walking or “Ubering” is recommended!
  • Amazing food, culture, and shopping with a Hawaiian and Japanese flare.
  • Be sure to stop at Shirokiya Japan Village Walk. Not only is the food delicious (this is where I got my sushi and boba tea fix), but it’s also an experience. Our AirBnB host said that this is a favorite spot among the locals and that it’s the only place of its kind. There is food, shopping, art, and even a live radio show. You walk into what looks like a mall, but then step into what feels like a bustling Japanese town.  
 
 

 

MANOA FALLS TRAIL

  • Considered a rainforest, one of Hawaii’s “micro climates” – Manoa Falls is transformative. It’s hard to believe that it’s just a 15-minute drive from the city or the beach.
  • What caught my attention first, was the amazing canopy. It really feels like its own little world. The trail contains over 5000 plant species, including Banyan and Eucalyptus, along with native Hawaiian plants.
  • That beauty must have been why some Jurassic Park scenes were filmed here!
  • You should not swim in the falls – there is a bacteria (endemic to Hawaii) that can cause leptospirosis, a flu-like sickness.
  • The hike is 1.6 miles round trip and includes a stop at the 150-foot waterfall. I have read that rainfall directly affects the flow of this fall, so sometimes it can be a trickle and other times it can be gushing. Luckily, when we came to visit, the fall was ample.
  • $5 parking, and no other entry fees. There is a snack shop, “Rainbow’s End,” and restrooms available.
  • The trail tends to be muddy and very slick – good hiking shoes or running shoes with good grip are best.
 
 

 

HANAUMA BAY

  • This place is the definition of beauty. The land of the parking lot is elevated, giving you a magnificent aerial view oh Hanauma, before you walk or trolley the path to the beach level.
  • Voted 2016’s #1 Best beach in US by Dr. Beaches.
  • The beach offers incredible offshore snorkeling. I have never seen so many diverse and colorful fish, so close to shore. It’s also common to come across a sea turtle.
  • The bay is a Nature Preserve and Marine Life Conservation District. After years of neglect and overuse the area is now thriving and heavily protected to keep it that way. Visitors are required by law not to touch or interfere with the wildlife or coral. Before you are able to go to the beach level you watch a video about the bay, its history, and how to help protect it.
  • Loved by tourists and locals alike the beach fills to capacity quickly. Plan to arrive early.
  • Park is open form 7am to 6pm in winter and 7am to 7pm in summer, closed on Tuesdays.
  • $1 to park. $7.50 entry fee. $20 gear rental available.
  • There is a hill from the parking lot to the beach. You can take a tram down and up, or walk (Tram is $2.50 RT)
  • Small coolers are allowed and there is a snack bar at parking level.
 
 

 

KOKO CRATER TRAIL

  • Koko Crater Trail is made up of 1,400 “steps” to the Pu’u Mai summit made from the remnants of a cable car track used to transport military personnel, equipment, and supplies during WWII.
  • The first third is easier, but the next two thirds are significantly steeper, including a brief span in which the tracks are far apart with no ground underneath. Top elevation is 1200ft. 
  • Be prepared with lots of water and good shoes. 
  • Free to park and hike.
  • At the peak you are rewarded with an unobstructed 360-degree views looking down on Diamond Head, Hanauma Bay, Makapuʻu Head, Hawaii Kai, Honolulu, and the Koko Head Crater Botanical Garden. 
  • Be prepared for a strenuous journey - but an incredibly rewarding one! 
 
 

 

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Melissa Sperber1 Comment