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Top 10 Things To Do on O'ahu

Here are a few of my favorite things to do on the island of O'ahu.  I've tried to include a little bit of everything for all types of visitors, old and young, couples and families, adventurers and those that just want to chill-out.  We're so blessed to live in such a beautiful place and I hope that you all get to experience a little of the magic that we get to call home.  Even if you're just here for a few days, if you have the time, try and check a few of these things out - you won't regret it! 
~ Nicole (Best Day Ever Hawaii)  


1. The Aloha Swap Meet

The Aloha Swap Meet is a fun spot to visit and one of the best open-air markets around.  Over 400 booths selling everything from tasty local snacks like freshly cut coconuts to cool seashells to handmade jewelry, clothing and so much more.  A really cool spot to see and get inexpensive, fun gifts for all your friends and family back home.  You could also find cool & unique wedding favors (think dashboard hula dolls, seashell leis, hawaii shot glasses, lauhala fans).

Open Saturday's, Sunday's, 8am-3pm and Wednsdays 6:30am-3pm.  Best days are weekends... there are more vendors.  Located near Pearl Harbor, so you can make a double trip out of it.  Make sure to bring your walking shoes and sunscreen - Lots of walking and it gets pretty hot.  Also - bring cash, many of the vendors don't accept credit cards...  and be ready to negotiate prices.  You can often ask for a deal if you are buying more than one item.  

Visit the Aloha Swap Meet Website for more info. 


2. Go to a Hawaiian Luau

While in Hawaii, you must, absolutely must, go to a Hawaiian Luau.  They're a ton of fun and give you a little taste of the island culture.  You'll also get an authentic Hawaiian meal including a startchy pudding called - poi, delicious roasted pig cooked for many hours in an underground oven or imu, a tasty homemade coconut pudding and much more.  You'll see a fantastic hula and tahitian dance show with fire dancers and you'll leave with lots of fun photos .  Plus, when is it not fun to enjoy good looking and talented Hawaiian dancers by the sunset while sipping on Mai-tais?!  Even as a local who grew up here on the islands, I still think Luau's are a ton of fun and always thoroughly enjoy myself whenever attending one. 

We feel that the best luau's on the island of O'ahu are the Paradise Cove Luau out on the west shore of O'ahu and the Polynesian Cultural Center Luau out on the east/north shore.  There's another at Sea Life Park that is a good 3rd runner up.  Make sure to check with them about transport, as often you can schedule a ride when you book a ticket so you don't have to worry about driving (or drinking and driving).   For more info. click on the Luau website links below. 

Paradise Cove Luau - WEBSITE
Polynesian Cultural Center - WEBSITE
Chiefs Luau at Sea Life Park - WEBSITE


3. Drive up to the North Shore

The North Shore is about a 1 hour drive from Waikiki and a drive totally worth taking.  It's a long stretch of beautiful beaches, plus lots of little food and surf shops and artsy galleries.  During the winter months the waves get up 50 feet out here, but in the summer, it's a great place to go for a swim.  The beaches are vast and the ocean gorgeous, it's a different feel from the south shore of O'ahu and a must-see.  

First, visit Haliewa town.  Drive up early, get some coffee and a homemade blueberry cream cheese scone from the Coffee Gallery.  Then do a little shopping at the surf shops, visit the art galleries and then get a big shaved ice from Matsumotos as a late morning snack.  Continue driving North towards Turtle Bay.  Stop to see the turtles at Lanikea Beach.  Then go for a swim at Waimea Bay, jump of the rock if you're up for an adventure or just sun bathe for a bit.  

Continue driving up North and go snorkling at Sharks Cove.  Across the street from Sharks Cove (by Foodland) is a great place for lunch called Pupukea Grill.  They have the best plate lunches and awesome acai bowls. There are beaches all the way up to the point of the North Shore, by Turtle Bay Hotel.  One of the prettiest is all the way up North past Pupukea called Kawela Bay.  It's very close to Ted's Bakery where you can also grab a late snack or a chocolate Haupia Pie to take back with you.

Make a day out of exploring the area, take lots of pictures ~ soak in the beach vibes, sun and blue water.  Hawaii doesn't get better than this!


4. Go Snorkeling at Hanauma Bay

One of the prettiest bays on the island is called Hanauma Bay.  It is on the South-East shore of O'ahu and about a 30 minute drive from Waikiki.  Formed by a volcano, Hanauma Bay is an amazing piece of nature, something you won't see anywhere else in the world.  Although it's become quite touristy, it's still worth the trip as the marine eco-system here is fantastic.  You'll see hundreds of brightly colored yellow, black, pink, and blue fish, Hawaiian eels and sometimes monk seals too.  Snorkel gear can be rented at the beach so if you didn't bring any, not to worry.  Bring sunscreen, towels and snacks and make a day of swimming the entire bay, you won't be disappointed!


5.  Hike the Makapu'u Lighthouse Trail

Right around the corner from Hanauma Bay is the family friendly paved hike that leads up to a little lighthouse and a breathtaking view of the Eastern shore of O'ahu.  The hike is called the Makapu'u Lighthouse Trail and it is an easy but steep walk up around the side of a mountain.  A fun and easy outdoorsy hike for young and old alike.  The view at the top is the best part and a great spot to stop and rest and take photos.  Added bonus - during the winter months there are lots of whales that come and stay right off the eastern shores.  It is very likely that you'll seen one or two (sometimes many more) during the months of January through March.


6.  Picnic at Ho'omaluhia Botanical Gardens

Ho'omaluhia Botanical Gardens is a spectacular and large botanical garden surrounded by huge mountain cliffs located in Kaneohe on the windward side of the island.  It is the Hawaii that you see in Jurassic Park and read about in magazines.  Lush jungle like plants, beautiful flowers, wild chickens, and all on a little lake.  It's the perfect spot to have an afternoon picnic and just relax.  A great spot for kids, couples, even family get-togethers.  It's one of those spots that is kind of hidden but totally worth finding.  Bring bug spray just incase, and sunscreen if you burn easily.  There are picnic tables and lots of little spots to explore.  


7.  Surf Lessons in Waikiki

When in Hawaii, learn to surf!  I mean you have to at least try it once, right?!  The best place to learn is on the waves at Waikiki Beach.  There are tons of other people out trying to learn as well so there will be nothing to be embarrassed about, everyone is just out to have a good time.  You'll find lots of surf lesson spots along the beach and you'll be able to rent large longboards that are easy to stand up on.  It'll be tough in the beginning but if you can just get up once, it'll be worth it.  Nobody is a good surfer on their first try, but everyone has fun catching waves.  The more you practice the better you'll get.  It's a must do when visiting Hawaii.  


8. Ko'olina Lagoons

The ultimate vacation spot, Ko'olina lagoons, are located out on the West shore of O'ahu, about a 45 minute drive from Waikiki.  It is the place that you'll dream about when you leave, the perfect spot to lay out in the sun and roast all day in-between random dips into the blue salt water.  It's the place that makes you want to sip on pina-coladas and mai-tais with a good book.  It's also a fantastic place for families and kids!  Most visitors, love this place, and as a local, I love it too...  it's a bit out of town, but worth the drive. With the calmest waters and fine white sand it's the perfect spot to spend an afternoon relaxing by the sea.  There is one problem though, parking can be tough.  If you're patient and wait it out you'll get a spot.  There is also a paid lot at the last lagoon, however, the beginning lagoons are my favorites.  Lots of places to shop and eat within walking distance as well.  


9. Visit Kualoa Ranch

Kualoa Ranch, has a little bit of everything, and it's a great spot to visit for young and old alike.  Ride ATV's through the beautiful valley, go horseback riding on trails up in the mountains, take a ferry out to a secret beach, go zip lining through the treetops or go on a movie tour and see all the gorgeous places that were filmed in this magical place.  I'm including this spot because it's something different, something that you don't do every day, something that lets you really appreciate the beauty that the island of O'ahu has to offer.  Tours are reasonably priced and the landscape up here is gorgeous.  It's the Hawaii you see in the movies - literally.  


10. Friday Night Fireworks in Waikiki

Every Friday night there is a free firework show in Waikiki.  It starts at 7:45pm in front of the Hilton Hawaiian Village Hotel but the fireworks can be seen from just about any part of the Waikiki Beach. The closer you get to the Hilton Hawaiian Village the better.  

Enjoy some happy hour drinks and live music at Dukes Waikiki then walk over to see the sunset on the beach followed by a fireworks show that feels so close it's as though it is going off just for you.  You could also have a fancier dinner at some place ocean front to enjoy the show, try BLT Steakhouse and ask for a table with a fireworks view! 

As long as we're talking about things to do at night - there's also usually a ton of live music around.  Check out the bar and pool area at The Modern Hotel, Tiki's Bar and Grill, the Mai Tai Bar in Ala Moana, the Republik near Ala Moana, the Moana Surfrider, the Halekulani Hotel and Dukes Waikiki (Sunday evenings are best!) for some excellent live local music with great cocktails. The downtown Chinatown area is also a fun and hip area to enjoy some dancing if you're over the Waikiki scene.