A Traveler's Bucket List: Oahu
Oahu island is known as the "Gathering Place" for good reason, most of Hawaii’s population lives here and has the most visitors than any other island. Even residents on the neighbor islands love to hop over for a weekend trip on this busy and plentiful island. Honolulu, Waikiki, Pearl Harbor, North Shore are all iconic places you have heard of before. But if you have traveled to Hawaii you know it is more than just movie sets, beaches and Mai Tais. Hawaii has a rich culture as well as a tumultuous history.....
To understand it better a visit to Bishop Museum and Iolani Palace is highly recommended upon arrival. Iolani Palace is where the USA illegally held the last reigning Queen Lili’uokalani under house arrest. You will learn about Hawaiian history, culture, the monarchy, island geology (formed by volcanoes) and issues that effect current events in Hawaii today. Queen Lili’uokalani’s book called Hawai’i’s Story is also highly recommended.
Next, get a guide book like Oahu Revealed, read it front to back, but especially read the Hawaiian language pronunciation guide at the end so you are not fumbling over names of places, streets and people. This will help you SO much! Common words you’ll learn during your stay:
aloha - greeting, love
mahalo - thank you
keiki - children
ohana - family
wahine - woman
kane - man
‘aina - land
mauka - toward the mountain
makai - toward the ocean
kapu - forbidden
puka - hole
pau - finished
pau hana - happy hour
pupu - appetizer
shi shi - to pee
slippers - flip flops
sore - pain
Where to Stay
Many travelers opt to live in Waikiki or Kaka’ako where furnished studio/apartments are easy to find with many amenities close by. Make sure there is parking included. The most affordable housing is in Honolulu and the West side like Ewa. If you’re not into city living and don’t mind a longer drive then Kaneohe, Kailua, Waimanalo and Hawaii Kai are nice. Furnished housing will run anywhere from $1500-4000+ monthly. Renting a room in an apartment/house is always the most affordable. Check Furnished Finder, Airbnb and Hawaii travel nurse groups on Facebook for good options.
Car and Parking
A car is a must on all the islands. You can ship your car from the West coast for about $1000+ with companies like Pasha and Matson. Renting a car through national companies will cost a pretty penny. Renting a used “island car” is the most economical through private rental companies like Baba Rentals, Tom’s Auto or individual car rentals through Turo and Facebook groups. Most hospitals are in Honolulu and parking can be challenging, Queens and Straub specifically. Some choose to take the bus, Uber or get a scooter. Driving is definitely possible but you’ll have to get creative with parking. Free street parking above the H1 is available as well as $8 daily parking at the Blaisdell with free shuttle service to/from Queens.
Things to Do
Waikiki is the easiest place to learn to surf with a consistent soft sandy break and surfboard rentals right on the beach. Canoe surfing is also a lot of fun. Catamaran sailing tours (booze cruises) leave right from the beach for great views of the island. Check Groupon for snorkeling and boat tour deals. The Hilton Hawaiian puts on a fireworks show every Friday night at 8pm.
Ala Moana and Magic Island is more of a local beach park close to Waikiki. Great place to jog, paddleboard, play volleyball, watch sunset, surf, join an outdoor workout or yoga class. You can pay for SUP yoga classes and sound bath immersion right on the beach.
Pearl Harbor is free to visit. Arrive early in the morning to avoid crowds and the heat. Book tickets to the USS Arizona Memorial in advance. Highly recommend the first boat in the morning to avoid the heat.
Beaches on Oahu are abundant from large crowded ones to smaller hidden ones. The surf changes depending on the time of year. In the winter months the North Shore has massive waves and in the summer it’s almost as flat as a swimming pool and great for snorkeling. Check the surf forecast before you go on websites like Magic Seaweed, Surfline and NOAA. Some popular beaches:
South Shore - Waikiki, Ala Moana, China Walls, Hanauma Bay, Halona Beach Cove, Sandys
East Side - Waimanalo, Lanikai, Kailua, Kahana Bay
North Shore - Mokuleia, Puaena Point, Laniakea, Waimea Bay, Pipeline, Sunset, Kawela Bay
West Side - Ewa, White Plains, Ko Olina, Electric, Makaha, Makua, Yokohama
Hikes - Oahu is known for its hiking and ridge hikes! Starter hikes include: Diamondhead Crater, Manoa Falls, Koko Crater stairs, Kuliouou Ridge, Makapuu Lighthouse, Lanikai Pillboxes, Lulumahu Falls, Kealia Trail. There are several easy hikes through the state maintained trail system Na Ala Hele - check out their website for an interactive map. A few favorites are Makiki Valley Trail, Manoa Cliff Trail and Kalawahine to Pauoa Flats to Nuuanu Lookout.
*Many of the well known hikes on social media are technically off limits due to trespassing on private land and difficulty levels. Please do your research before attempting any difficult hikes. A hike may be a short distance but have vertical rock walls to scale. The old crumbling lava rock and knife edge ridges cause even experienced hikers to have major falls, rescues and deaths each year on Oahu.
Other Oahu Highlights
- Farmers markets everywhere! KCC, Kaka’ako, Blaisdell, Kailua are a few delightful ones
- Honolulu Museum of Art and Shangri La Museum of Islamic Art
- Rent kayaks to go to the Mokulua islands off of Lanikai beach
- Boat tour to Kaneohe Bay Sandbar
- Byodo-In Buddhist Temple
- Kualoa Ranch movie sites, atv, ziplining, horseback riding tours
- Swim with sharks on the North Shore (try to avoid the cage dive operators)
- Snorkel at Sharks Cove in the summer
- Whale watching tours in the winter
- Attend a surf competition at Banzai Pipeline or Sunset Beach in the winter
To save money, shop for local produce at farmers markets, enjoy happy hours and bring your Costco card!
Best Happy Hours - Haleiwa Joe’s, Moku Kitchen, Signature Prime Steak & Seafood, Sansei Sushi, Doraku Sushi
Best Acai Bowls - Da Cove Health Bar, Tropical Tribe, Haleiwa Bowls, Banzai Bowls
Best Poke - Foodland, Redfish Poke Bar, Nico’s Pier 38, Yama’s Fish Market, Fresh Catch Kapahulu, Off The Hook, HanaPa’a Market
Best Hawaiian Food - Helena’s, Da Ono Hawaiian Food, Waiahole Poi Factory, Highway Inn
Best Shave Ice - Waiola Shave Ice, Matsumoto Shave Ice, Uncle Clay’s House of Pure Aloha
Best Coffee Shops - Coffee Talk, Morning Brew, Morning Glass Coffee, Coffee Gallery, ChadLou’s Coffee Roasters, Sunrise Shack
Best Breweries - Hana Koa Brewing, Lanikai Brewing, Kona Brewing, Honolulu BeerWorks, Waikiki Brewing, Maui Brewing
Best Outdoor/Rooftop Lounges - Swell Restaurant & Pool Bar at Alohilani, Hideout at Laylow, Buho Cocina, Sky Waikiki Raw & Bar, Mai Tai’s at Ala Moana, Rumfire at Sheraton, Tchin Tchin! Bar, Skull & Crown Trading Co
Other favorite restaurants: Duke’s Waikiki, Marugame Udon, Paia Fish Market, The Pig and the Lady, Fete, Maharani Indian Cafe, Kalapawai Cafe (dinner), Waioli Kitchen & Bake Shop, Million Korean Restaurant, Koko Head Cafe, Roy’s, Monkeypod Kitchen, Mariposa at Neiman Marcus
*Instagram accounts to follow to learn more about Hawaii, Native Hawaiian issues and current events:
I hope you enjoy your time on Oahu! Remember to always respect the places you visit and the people you meet in Hawaii. This is their land and home. Feel free to message me on Instagram @healthytravelnurse for any questions.
Written By: Laura, MedVenturist & Travel RN
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