If you are visiting Oahu, Hawaii, be sure to take some time to get outside of Waikiki to visit all that the island has to offer. Pay your respects at Pearl Harbor; step on the USS Missouri, the last World War II battleship of the United States; go snorkeling and swimming at Hanauma Bay; climb the Diamond Head volcanic crater that looms large above Waikiki; visit a tropical rainforest and hike to the Manoa Falls there; and spend some time swimming or kayaking along some of Hawaii’s best beaches. Interested? Come along and let me highlight some of these things. Be sure to click on my podcast link at the bottom of this article for even more information about visiting Oahu.
If at all possible, rent a car at the airport and drive to your hotel so you can easily get around to all Oahu has to offer. Traffic is pretty intense in Honolulu and Waikiki, but rental cars are not expensive. Just pack your patience!
Begin the first day by paying respects to those who gave all for freedom at Pearl Harbor. Visit the Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor. To avoid lines, book free tickets in advance at the official website here: https://www.nps.gov/valr/planyourvisit/fees.htm.
The USS Missouri is also located at Pearl Harbor, just across the harbor from the Arizona Memorial. The “Mighty Mo” was the last World War II battleship built and the last to be decommissioned. Tour the ship and stand on the deck where the Japanese signed the surrender ending World War II, completing your tour of the “bookends” of the United States entry into World War II and final victory of the war. USS Missouri admission is $29. Check here for the latest updates and information: https://ussmissouri.org
One of the most beautiful places in the world, Hanauma Bay was formed in the curved crater of a volcano. One million visitors annually come here to swim and snorkel or just to observe the beauty of the area. All first-time visitors watch a short video before entering the park to learn about the marine life, preservation and safety rules for the park. It is forbidden to touch the coral reefs in the bay.
Hanauma Bay is open daily from 6 am until 7 pm, except for when it is closed on Tuesdays, Christmas Day and New Years Day. The parking lot fills up early each morning, usually by 7 am, so this is a great place to visit while your body is still adjusting to Hawaii’s time zone if you are coming from the continental United States. Another option is to take the #22 Bus from Waikiki for $2.50. Admission to Hanuama Bay is $7.50 for adults. Children under 12 are free. Parking is $1.00. Lockers and snorkeling gear are available for rent, but bring your own towel. There is a small gift shop and a snack bar, and you may bring a small personal cooler with your own snacks and non-alcoholic beverages. The walk from the entrance to the bay is down a steep hill. There is a tram service between the upper level and the lower level ($1.00 down / $1.25 up).
Diamond Head looms above all of Waikiki, but if you have the energy for a moderate hike, the best way to really see it is to climb to the top of the cone of this ancient volcanic crater overlooking the Pacific Ocean and Honolulu. This is another great option for an early morning, and it is only a 15-minute drive from Waikiki. Gates to the trail open at 6:00 am. The hike to the top takes about two hours round trip. Be sure to bring a water bottle. The 99 steps near the end of the hike are steep, and you have to climb through a military bunker to get to the best view at the top.
If you visit Diamond Head later in the day be aware that no one is permitted to hike after 4:30 pm, since the hike takes about a two hours (round trip) and the park closes at 6 pm. Parking is limited and the park can get busy, so be sure to arrive well in advance of 4:30 pm.
Manoa Falls Tropical Rainforest Hike and Waterfall
Less than six miles outside of Waikiki, walk less than a mile through a tropical rainforest to reach Manoa Falls, a 150 foot tall waterfall. The 1.6-mile round trip trail is well marked, but it can be slippery due to the rainfall conditions. Most of the trail is fairly level along the Waihi Stream, although you will need to navigate over, under, and through some huge tree roots.
Toward the end of the walk, there are a few boulders that you will need to climb around, but it is not too strenuous. Wear sturdy shoes. Wash the bottoms of your shoes well when you are finished and do not swim at the base of the waterfall. The water here can be infected with Leptospirosis, a bacteria that causes a disease that thrives in this environment.
To reach Manoa Falls Trail from Waikiki, head southeast on Kalakaua Avenue toward Kaiulani Avenue and turn left. Continue onto Kanekapolei Street, and then use any lane to turn left onto Ala Wai Boulevard. Use the right two lanes to turn right onto Kalakaua Avenue. Turn right onto South King Street, and turn left at the first cross street onto Punahou Street. Continue onto Manoa Road. Keep left to stay on Manoa Road. After passing Waakaua Street, find free parking along the final residential stretch of the street. It’s a 0.4 mile walk to the trailhead. Or, continue driving along Manoa Road and follow the signs for $5 parking on the right hand side. After parking, continue following the road toward the mountain. At a fork, veer right toward a fence with signs marking the Manoa Falls trailhead.
Lanikai Beach and Kailua Beach Park
Lanikai Beach is often rated the number one beach in Oahu, and Kailua Beach Park often ranks as the second most beautiful out of the Oahu beaches. And, they are next door to each other. Lanikai Beach, though, is in a residential area with little parking. Fines for parking in the wrong places are $200! So, drive by Lanikai, and park and swim at Kailua.
Kailua Beach Park has bathroom facilities, beach showers, and picnic tables located on the park grounds. Kailua Beach Park offers beautiful calm waters for swimming, and there is a natural sea rock wall that stretches a hundred yards or so into the ocean that helps form some waves suitable for boogie board surfing. Several companies rent kayaks at Kailua Beach Park.
If you don’t want to drive to Kailua, one option to consider would be to take a full day tour from Waikiki with Kailua Sailboards and Kayaks, Inc. The day includes pick up from Waikiki hotels between 7:30 and 8:30 am, a two-hour guided kayak excursion well-suited to beginners, lunch, and two hours of beach time with snorkel gear and boogie boards provided before return to your hotel by 3:30 pm.
For information or to book, check the website below:
To drive to Kailua from Waikiki, take the H-1 Freeway west to Pali Highway. Turn right onto Kailua Street and merge left at the intersection toward the ocean. Turn right onto Kawailoa Street, and continue over a small river stream bridge. Turn left into Kailua Beach Park.
When you leave Kailua Beach Park, at least drive by Lanikai Beach just a bit further ahead. You will see the twin Mokulua Islands in the water just 0.75 miles off of Lanikai Beach. Lanikai Beach is just past Kailua Beach. Take Kawailo Road to Aalapapa Drive into Lanikai. Mokulua Drive leads out of Lanikai. If you can find parking along Mokulua Drive or one of its many side streets, there are several public access points to the beach along Mokulua Drive.
Learn about the history of the Hawaiian monarchy by visiting the only royal palace in the United States, the Iolani Palace, located in downtown Honolulu. The palace was the royal residence of the rulers of the Kingdom of Hawaii beginning with Kamehameha III under the Kamehameha Dynasty (1845) and ending with the last monarch of Hawaii, Queen Liliuokalani (1893) of the Kalākaua Dynasty, founded by her brother, King David Kalākaua. It is now a United States National Historic Landmark listed on the National Register of Historic Places. After the monarchy was overthrown in 1893, the building was used as the capitol building for the Provisional Government, Republic, Territory, and, eventually, the State of Hawaii until 1969. The palace was restored, and it has been open to the public as a museum since 1978.
Iolani Palace offers two tour options: a guided tour with a Palace Docent and a Self-Led Audio Tour. Both options include a tour of the first and second floors of the palace followed by self-guided exploration of the basement gallery exhibits. Plan about 60-90 minutes for either tour. Guided tours are $21.75 for adults and $6 for children ages 5 to 12. Self-led audio tours are $14.75 for adults and $6 for children ages 5 to 12. The museum is open Mondays through Saturdays 9 am – 4 pm. Closed on holidays. Check for updates and reserve tickets online to guarantee availability for the date and time of your choice at the official website here:
See the world’s largest collection of Polynesian cultural artifacts and natural history specimens at the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum, officially the Hawaii State Museum of Natural and Cultural History. Located in the historic Kalihi district of Honolulu, it is the largest museum in Hawaii.
Take a journey through three different realms of Hawaii in the Hawaiian Hall. The first floor represents the Hawaiian legends and beliefs of ancient Hawaii. The second floor focuses on the importance of land and nature in daily life. Learn about the ali‘i, the ruling Hawaiian chiefs who were thought to be descended from gods and key moments in Hawaiian history on the third floor.
Explore Oceania in the Pacific Hall. Model canoes, woven mats, contemporary artwork, and videos of Pacific scholars are on display on the first floor. On the second floor, learn about the origins and migrations of Pacific peoples through the fields of archaeology, oral traditions, and linguistics.
The Hawaii Sports Hall of Fame is also located here. See pictures and memorabilia highlighting the accomplishments of Hawaii’s sports history.
Visit a Hawaiian garden and a science adventure center here, too. There is a planetarium at the science center. Check out the tours, programs and presentations that are scheduled throughout day.
The museum is open daily from 9 am until 5 pm, except for Christmas Day and Thanksgiving Day. Tickets are $22.95 for adults, and $14.95 for youth ages 4 to 17. Check for updates and purchase tickets online at the official website:
Oahu’s North Shore
If you have the time, spend a day visiting Oahu’s North Shore. See the expert surfers riding the largest waves on the island, watch giant turtles swim right near the beach, and see some of the least crowded beaches on the island. On your way there, see the Dole Pineapple Plantation and the Punchbowl Cemetery. See my article with podcast link here for spending a day (or more) on the North Shore:
After spending a morning at Hanauma Bay or Diamond Head or Manoa Falls, spend the afternoon enjoying Waikiki Beach. Take a surf lesson or see some of the highlights in my self-guided Waikiki walking tour (https://oneperfectdayin.org/2017/08/14/waikiki-honolulu-hawaii-10-highlights-things-to-see-and-do-walking-tour-maps-podcast-016-and-more/), or just relax on the beach. Be sure to hop on a catamaran and take one of the many options to see Waikiki from the ocean as you enjoy the catamaran cruise.
Oahu Hotel Options
The Outrigger Waikiki Beach Resort is right on the ocean in the heart of Waikiki. We like to stay here before our cruise to be in the center of the action, and so we don’t have to drive to visit our favorite restaurants during the busy times. The reasonably priced partial ocean view rooms are about $300 a night. There are a number of Outrigger properties in Waikiki.
The two properties on either side of the Outrigger Waikiki Beach Resort, the Moana Surfrider, a Westin Resort & Spa at Waikiki Beach (http://www.moana-surfrider.com) and The Royal Hawaiian (https://www.royal-hawaiian.com) are both Starwood properties. They are more expensive than the Outrigger, but these hotels are more historic, luxurious, have great locations, and get excellent reviews. And, you can use SPG or Marriott points if you are members of either of these reward programs.
The Halekulani (https://www.halekulani.com) is arguably the nicest and most luxurious property in all of Waikiki. It is right on the ocean with great views of Diamond Head. Even if you don’t stay here, try to visit at least once for the nightly music, hula dancing, and elegant sunset celebration on the beach.
Two other hotel options to consider if you do not want to stay in the hustle and bustle of Waikiki are Disney’s Aulani Resort in Ko Olina (https://www.disneyaulani.com) and the Turtle Bay Resort (http://www.turtlebayresort.com) on the North Shore. These resorts are destinations in themselves.
After you have enjoyed some time on Oahu, consider taking a cruise to see more of the Hawaiian Islands. Norwegian’s Cruise Line’s Pride of America ship leaves every Saturday for Maui, the Big Island of Hawaii, and Kauai. Stay tuned for my review of that journey soon!
Remember, to click on my podcast link below to hear more about visiting Oahu. Until next time, I hope all your travel days are just perfect!