TOP 20 Things to do on your next trip to Oahu, Hawaii
1. Purchase a Haku Lei
Hawaii has the most beautiful scenery, green mountains, beautiful clear water, and flowers. On our latest trip to Oahu I decided I needed a flower crown! I know how diva of me… but I can’t explain in words how beautiful they are and pictures just don’t do it justice. You can find many local businesses and people on Instagram who make “Haku Leis” or flower crowns for purchase. I found Haku Lei Haleiwa through Instagram, I loved her work, and even more I loved that she offered her work to god. “Each haku lei I make is unique and made with love and aloha. I don’t make haku leis for the money, I do it for the smiles and to share Gods word” I highly recommend you check out her amazing work on Instagram, she does personalized haku leis for special occasions weddings etc.
2. Go to a Palm Tree Forrest
What is so fascinating about palm trees? I can’t really tell you but they are definitely photogenic and a great backdrop for any photo. We found this secluded palm tree Forrest on the north shore at Dillingham Ranch. When you arrive at the ranch, park on the side of the road, and enter through the fence toward the palm trees. Trust me you can’t miss it. Now I do want to disclose that I have NO idea if we were allowed to be here on the property or not, so enter at your own risk. I do know they have events at the ranch like weddings. When we went, we had the place to ourselves. And believe me it was beautiful! So serene and surrounded by palm trees, we had our own little tropical paradise.
3. Dive with One Ocean (Pelagic Shark Dive)
Within the last couple years, Bala and I have visited Oahu twice. And both time we have dove with One Ocean Diving and Research. Ocean Ramsey is the founder of One Ocean which includes its “Pelagic Shark Program” or what some people simply refer to as “The snorkel with sharks without a cage.” Ocean has worked in the water with over 32 different species of sharks around the world. With an extensive educational and professional background in marine biology. Oceans masters research is the basis for the pelagic program and public participants will get an in depth glimpse at the current study trends in cognitive ecology and social systems of sharks. Ocean has also worked more than a decade as a professional SCUBA, Free dive instructor, and professional safety diver for productions and research programs around the world. Check out her Instagram @oceanramsey and @juansharks
Their website states this program “Is an extensively developed program based on shark behavioral research and data collection integrating educational information adapted for the general public to utilize in order to reduce or avoid adverse shark interactions. Specific survey sites identified as natural aggregation areas are used to approximate local shark populations and movements by surveying the number of sharks present in specified areas and depth profiles during specific times of the day and year. The Pelagic Shark Program starts when you board the One Ocean Diving research and dive vessel, “Pono Kai.” You’ll board the 27ft white vessel with a blue canopy at the commercial loading zone of Haleiwa Harbor. Your guides will welcome you onboard and the crew will set you up with fins, a mask, and snorkel, and optional rash guard. Your captain will give you a safety briefing and very important information about the vessel and emergency protocol in case of the unlikely event of an accident/injury (Rest assured OneOceanDiving staff and owners have a 100% safety record and are trained experienced experts working for over ten years in water with sharks, focusing on shark behavior, and train and run regular emergency response drills for trauma.)
“After the safety briefing the vessel will leave the harbor and begin the 10-15 min trip out to the survey/dive site. On the ride out your marine biologist and safety diver/Divemaster will give you a lot of fascinating and useful information including:
- What types of marine animals you will see both near and offshore.
- What species of pelagic fish and sharks to look for and how to tell the difference between each species.
- How to determine gender and the differences in behavior
- What specific behavior/body language to look for.
- How the animals biology and physiology effect their behavior.
- How your behavior effects their behavior.
- How to deter or entice a shark or pelagic animal.
- You will also learn about how weather and seasons effect the animals behavior and how it can effect your specific trip based on the current weather pattern.
- You will learn about Mano (sharks) and their significance in Hawaiian and Polynesian culture.
- You will learn about the current studies and how to contribute or support the ID program and Hawaii Shark Count
- Very important information about how to safely and respectfully swim around sharks as well as what to do in the unlikely event of an adverse approach or presence of agnostic body language, this “Safety Rules and Guidelines” information will be shared within the last five minutes prior to getting into the water so it is fresh in your mind.
Once arriving at the aggregate zone the marine biologist/divemaster will enter the water 1st to survey the pelagic species, ID specific individuals present, determine the most dominant individuals, and number of pelagics present for the research data set. After the initial information is shared with the captain on board you will don your snorkel gear and walk down the swim ladder and into the water to float on the surface while the sharks and other pelagic species swim around the boat. The marine biologist will constantly monitor the sharks, other pelagics, and public program participants for changes in behavior and social dynamics.”
We absolutely loved our dive with the sharks! The first time, not gonna lie, I was terrified. But once in the water it was actually meditating to watch the sharks swim and live in their natural habitat. They truly are beautiful creatures. On our second dive this last year I was way more comfortable in the water. It’s without a doubt that we will dive with One Ocean anytime we visit Oahu. Our first dive we were lucky enough to dive with Ocean Ramsey herself! We learned so much from her, the crew, and the sharks of course. Sharks are often criticized and misrepresented in society, especially by the media and Hollywood. But as you can see by the videos, humans fish and sharks are able to peacefully coexist and sharks are not mindless man eating monsters. They are apex predators and serve a vital role in our marine life and eco system. I highly recommend you check out @oneoceandiving page and their website.
4. Go snorkeling at Three Tables
Three tables is a well known tourist spot on the North Shore of Oahu. Parking is right on the street and then you walk out to the ocean. When we went the beach was pretty busy, but hardly anyone was out snorkeling in the water. We have our own fins goggles and snorkel but there are plenty places around to rent equipment, and some vacation rentals come with snorkel gear. The water and under the sea life was absolutely amazing! The water was so clear and perfect for GoPro cameras (; we were even lucky enough to spot a sea turtle! It was a baby one and it was so cute! Please be respectful of the ocean and it’s inhabitants. Don’t touch the sea turtles and don’t litter. It’s extremely disrespectful to these animals and bad for the eco system.
If swimming with the fishes isn’t for you, there’s plenty of sand at Three Tables to sunbathe and there’s also trees for shade. After our snorkel dive, we relaxed under the trees and dried off. There also happened to be a man playing a ukulele about 10 ft away from us. It was seriously magical like something out of a movie. Wasn’t planned or expected. But aren’t those always the best moments?
Hawaii is all so famous for its surfing spots and surf competitions. Our first visit to the island was during the month of November and that is when the Pipeline Surf Competition takes place. Professional surfers from around the world come to compete on the 20ft plus waves. We went to the surf comp and watched the surfers on the north shore, and also got to meet Jamie Obrian right next to the famous Volcom House. Unfortunately during the surf comps, the surf spots are not as open to the public.
Two spots that we surfed ourselves was Waikiki and Chuns Reef. When surfing in Waikiki is can be kind of crowded. Parking is the farthest thing from ideal, and not to mention expensive. However a good thing about surfing Waikiki is that there are plenty of surfboard rentals right on the beach. Our most recent visit we made a couple trips to Chuns Reef on the north shore. This time around our vacation rental supplied us with two foam longboards which was very convenient. Chuns is a great spot for learning to surf, parking is good, and it’s not too busy. However if you are new to surfing, or swimming in the ocean. I do warn you to be very careful as it is a Reef with many rocks and coral, hence the name “Chuns Reef.” If you fall off your surfboard, or walking in or out from shore be careful of the rocks underneath. They are very sharp and we both cut our feet pretty bad just standing still, SO BE CAREFUL! I do believe there is also a mobile surf lesson truck right at the entrance to the beach, that offers lessons and boards.
6. Go to Lanikai Beach
Both times we have visited Oahu we have gone to the famous white sand beach on the east side of the island known as Lanikai Beach. Lanikai is in the town of Kailua, and is also close to another beautiful beach called Waimanalo. If Lanikai is packed with tourists, just drive a little further down to Waimanalo. It’s just as beautiful. I would highly recommend spending an entire day to drive around the island, and stop at all the different beaches. When visiting Lanikai, do be careful when parking. The parking is in a residential area but be careful and read the signs before you park to avoid getting tickets. Also don’t leave any valuables in your car. When we were parking an officer told us a lot of break ins happen in the neighborhood, especially if they know it’s a rental car. So be careful! But to end on a good note, enjoy the beautiful beach, the views, the sand, and the turquoise water is to die for!
7. Take a helicopter tour
Thanks to Magnum Helicopters, we were sponsored to take a helicopter tour over the island. And this isn’t your average helicopter tour, it is a doors off extreme tour that lasts about an hour and toursover the entire island. If you ever watched the Magnum P.I. television series, you might remember the iconic helicopter flown by TC in the show. Magnum Helicopters has replicated that exact aircraft for the doors off adventure.
During your flight you will get to see: Keehi Lagoon, Honolulu Harbor, the Aloha Tower, Punchbowl, the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, Koolau mountains, Ala Moana Beach Park, Magic Island, the Ala Wai Yacht Harbor and Waikiki Beach, Diamond Head, Kahala, Hanauma Bay, Sandy Beach, Makapuu Point and lighthouse, the estate where TV’s Magnum P.I. was filmed, Waimanalo, Kailua, Kaneohe Bay, Coconut Island, which was used for the opening shot of the TV classic Gilligan’s Island, Chinaman’s Hat, known as Mokoli’i, Jurassic Park (Kaaawa) valley, where scenes from a dozen major motion pictures have been filmed, Sacred Falls, a delicate and splendid 1,000-foot cascade, North Shore, Sunset Beach, Pipeline and Waimea Bay, the Dole Pineapple maze, and lastly Pearl Harbor, the Arizona Memorial and the Battleship Missouri.
KEEP IN MIND: the Doors Off helicopter tour is not for everyone. This is a thrill ride combined with a scenic tour. Your hair will be flying everywhere, you might get wet from the rain, and it is very very VERY windy. Just like some people love roller coasters and some don’t, the doors off tour is the same. On your tour you must wear closed toe shoes, sunglasses or some kind of eye protection, long hair must be tied back or put up, if bringing phones or cameras they have to be secure with a wrist strap, and no GoPro sticks longer than 6 inches. You might also want to bring a jacket for comfort, as I mentioned it is very windy.
On our flight, we were both excited. However shortly after takeoff it got really choppy, and I started getting the feeling of losing my stomach every couple minutes. After about 20 min I just got used to it. However Bala was very nauseous after the tour was over. Now don’t get me wrong this was so much fun! The views from up high in the sky is such a unique way to experience the island. I’m just sharing our experience with you to show you it’s not for everyone. We personally love thrill rides, roller coasters, we ride on boats and planes, we’ve both skydived however we still felt sick on and after the tour. So just a heads up (:
8. Visit the North Shore, Haleiwa
Our first time traveling to Hawaii we stayed in Waikiki half the time, and Ko Olina the other half of the time. During that vacation we paid North Shore a visit for one day. And after that we decided if we ever traveled to Oahu again, we would have to stay in North Shore. I will be posting all the places we stayed on my next blog post. But for now let’s talk about how adorable the north shore is! Haleiwa is a historic town on the North Shore of the island, filled with beach houses, surfers, cute little shops, and world renowned restaurants. There is also a whole strip of famous food trucks from tacos to sushi you want it you got it! And of course Haleiwa has some great Instagram spots. The quaint little town has colorful buildings, great scenery, and is also home to the infamous Instagram spot of the angel wings. (Located outside the shaved ice place) whether you plan to stay in North Shore or another part of the island, you must put North Shore/Haleiwa on your list of places to go!
9. Waimea Bay and Rock Jump
Also on the north shore is the beautiful Waimea Bay. This gorgeous beach, is a great place for laying out on the beach and taking in the views, kayaking, snorkeling, or daring to jump off of the Waimea Bay Rock Jump. You can’t miss it, it’s the only big rock in the bay, and there are usually tons of people standing on the rock waiting to jump. You can even spot it from the road. If you plan to jump, it’s a pretty easy climb up, just be careful when jumping the water isn’t very deep so be prepared to brace your landing.
10. Crouching Lion Hike
First off I will start by saying this was the dirtiest hike I’ve ever been on. Don’t wear anything too nice because if it’s dry you will be covered in dust and dirt and if it’s raining or wet you’ll be trekking through the mud. Now this hike is not for the mild hiker. It’s is constant uphill, and there are a lot of parts that require you to hold a rope and hike up steep parts. The hike up in my opinion was quicker than the way down. Just because the hike down is very steep, and takes a little more effort to not fall and slide down the mountain. And some parts you do end up sliding. Which is why I say it’s a very dirty hike. We were covered in dirt by the end of the hike. Also make sure to bring enough water! It was very humid when we hiked. But trust me once you reach the top the view is more than worth it.
I would recommend parking off of Kamehameha Hwy near Ahupuaʻa ʻO Kahana State Park. You will see other cars parked as well, as it is a very popular hike. Once you park you will need to look across the street, and look for a speed limit sign, and then a do not pass sign, right after the second sign you will see a dirt passage through the trees. And then follow the trail from there. The hike up is about 30-45 min. Make sure to take lots of pictures from the top, the view of Kahana Bay is incredible!
11. Lanikai Pill boxes Hike
This hike was a breeze compared to the Crouching Lion. However we did decide to do this hike last minute and all we had was flip flops. So if I could go back and change one thing it would definitely be to wear closed toed shoes. This hike is very easy, children and people of all ages go up. But again flip flops are not ideal (:
If you enter in Lanikai pillboxes on your maps app on your phone you can literally drive up to the trail head. However you can’t park here. I recommend parking a little ways down in the neighborhood. Just be respectful of the residences, don’t block any drive ways, and make sure you are legally allowed to park there to avoid getting a ticket.
The top of the trail looks over Kailua, and the Molokai islands. The structures at the top of the ridge, which are called the “Lanikai Pillboxes”, functioned as Coast Artillery observation stations in 1943. The raised concrete platforms had high-powered observing instruments to fix a maritime vessel’s position from the station. In military terms, a pillbox actually means a defensive site.
The hike itself is about 20-30 min to the first bunker. And if you are feelin up to it you can continue up to the second one. There are tons of people that frequent this trail. We decided to go up before sunset and we stayed until the sun went down. It was beautiful. However the hike down in the dark was not ideal! Make sure you have your phone light or a flash light on you because it can be steep and slippery.
12. Go to the Botanical Gardens
Located in Kaneohe is the beautiful Ho’omaluhia Botanical Gardens. You can drive in for free. And the views are incredible! There’s huge luscious green mountains and a jungle of gardens below. Feel free to drive around and take in the scenery.
13. Rent a motorcycle
A little disclosure before I talk about renting a motorcycle. YOU MUST HAVE A MOTORCYCLE LICENSE in order to rent. NOT A PERMIT a license only. Also read up on the laws for motorcyclists in Hawaii ahead of time. They differ from California. Helmets and shoes are optional. You must wear some form of eye protection. And no lane splitting is allowed.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way (; let’s talk about how awesome this adventure was! We rented from Chase Rentals in downtown Waikiki. We reserved our motorcycle ahead of time online, and paid in person. There was also a security deposit for possible damages, but each deposit varies depending on which bike you choose in accordance to how much the bike is worth. The process is really quick! The workers were very helpful, and they also had parking for our vehicle while we rode the motorcycle (which is amazing considering it’s in Waikiki, parking is expensive and scarce!)
We started our ride through Waikiki, around diamond head, along the Pali highway, stopped in hanauma bay, drove by Lanikai, Makapuu and circled back around. Now keep in mind hawaii rains on and off. Be prepared to get wet! We personally liked the couple rain sprinkles we got, it was kind of refreshing.
14. Swim with the dolphins
There are many options to where you can swim with the dolphins in Hawaii and I must warn you my opinions are very skewed and biased when it comes to this topic. There is a seal life park and various resorts that have dolphins in captivity for your meet and greet pleasure. However we don’t support that, just like with the pelagic shark dive, we support keeping the animals safe in the wild, and happy in their natural habitats.
Luckily we found a free dive with wild spinner dolphins that is held on the west side of Oahu in Waianae. The company we dove with is called Dolphin Excursions, Hawaii Inc. The entire tour lasted about 4 hours. You meet at the Waianae boat harbor, gear up, and then enjoy snorkeling and diving with wild spinner dolphins. We drove to the harbor but there is options for hotel pickup and drop off. Snorkel equipment is available for use and life jackets as needed. We also go to see a variety of colorful fish and sea turtles. When the boat portion is over you come back to the harbor and have an included breakfast or lunch at the Spinners Cafe. The thing we loved about this tour is that they don’t invade the dolphins space or hurt them. They let the dolphins come to us, and interact as they want. Nothing is forced and it’s all natural. It was so incredible to hear the dolphins talking underwater and swimming together. One of the best things I’ve ever done.
15. Hike Deadman’s Catwalk (or where it used to be)
Unfortunately this hike known as the Deadman’s Catwalk is officially dead. It was once one of the most beautiful, fairly easy, and most illegally trespassed hike on the island. You just can’t beat the views from the top. The “Catwalk” got its name from a cement slab at the top of the trail that used to be a launch strip for hang gliders. The slab had been spray painted over and over saying “the Deadman’s Catwalk.” For years the hike was illegal because it is on a military base and considered not safe. However trespassers hiked the trail daily. Before we hiked it, we were told there is security guards at the entrance and they give out tickets. We hiked up on a Sunday morning and didn’t see any security only fellow hikers in passing.
The hike is located on the Kamehame Ridge on Kamehame drive which you can gps on your maps app on your phone. We parked in a very nice neighborhood at the bottom of the trail head, again be respectful to the residences. Then you walk to the end of the road where you’ll come to a gate that says no trespassing. From there you follow the trail. There is one portion you have to squeeze through a hole in chain link fence on the edge of the mountain but other than that it’s a fairly easy hike. The hike takes about 45 min to the top. At the top the views of the blue blue water is breath taking. There are no words to serve it justice. And pictures only show a portion of its beauty! It looks like a painting in real life.
Now like I said the hike is no longer, and by that I mean they removed the cement slab, however the views are still there if you are interested in still hiking up.
16. Visit Pearl Harbor
Pearl Harbor is a must when visiting the island. It is such an important part of our nations history, and we wanted to go pay our respects to the fallen. You can schedule a tour online or just show up. We just showed up one afternoon and did a self guided tour. You can take tours out to the USS Missouri and USS Arizona but we didn’t. Another great way to see Pearl Harbor is on the helicopter ride. From the air you could see the sunken ships and it’s almost unreal. Definitely a great way to see the memorial.
17. Kayak to Chinaman’s Hat
There are many destinations to kayak to but we chose Chinamans hat. It’s on the east side of the island in Kaneohe. You can park at Kualoa Beach Park, plenty of free parking and then make your way to the beach. Trust me you can’t miss the island, it literally looks like a hat. Kayaking out there took a long longer than we expected, we were going against the current but we were surrounded by beautiful sky’s and water so it wasn’t that bad (; we were told that the water is known for having frequent hammer head sharks however we didn’t spot any, but just a heads up! Once you reach the small island you can bring your kayak up on shore and explore the island. You can even hike to the top!
We rented a kayak ahead of time from a rental shop on the north shore called Tropical Rush. They’re rentals are super cheap, they come with straps to tie down on your vehicle, and the workers were very helpful.
18. Rent a convertible or jeep
There’s no better way to experience the island than with the wind in your hair! Our first visit to the island we rented a convertible Camaro. And the last time we visited we got a Jeep Wrangler. Both were a ton of fun! The jeep was convenient for strapping down surfboards kayaks etc. To read more about our recommendations on rental cars on Oahu check out –> HOW TO SAVE: Oahu, Hawaii
19. Watch a sunset
Sunsets are definitely my fave! I always tell Bala all I wanna do is watch the sunset. Hawaii sunsets are so colorful and truly beautiful. Some of our favorite places to watch the sunset was at our beach house rental in Haleiwa, relaxing on our surfboards in the water, or one night we watched the sunset from the Lanikai Pillboxes. Regardless of where you decide to watch the sunset there’s not a bad seat in the house. Crack open a cold one and enjoy the serenity.
20. Hike to a waterfall
There are many waterfalls over the island of Oahu. On our latest trip we had planned to go to Maunawilli Falls, however our plans got changed a couple times due to weather. I still recommend hiking to it, the pictures look beautiful. Although that waterfall didn’t work out, we have hiked to the Manoa Falls trail, which is a public trail and is not illegal. It is an easy 1.5 mile hike, with an end point of a 150 foot tall cascade of water. The only piece of advice is to not hike back too late or in the rain like we did. We were sopping wet, cold, and had to navigate in the dark (: but it was an interesting adventure that’s for sure!
Another great Waterfall is the famous Sacred Falls. This massive Waterfall used to be open to the public for hiking but after a deadly landslide in the 1990’s the trail is now closed and trespassers are ticketed. However there’s still one way to spot it (; which is by flying over it! We got to see Sacred Falls during our helicopter tour and believe me its height is unimaginable.