We’ve been traveling to Oahu for the last 8 years to visit Alan’s brother and sister-in-law. They’ve lived in Honolulu for almost 20 years and paradise is home for them! We’re lucky enough to stay with them and explore the island like locals do, so over the years we’ve discovered the best things to eat, see and do on the island. The first time we visited Oahu, I was pregnant with Harlee and we spent about 2 weeks split between Honolulu and the North Shore which I highly recommend if you’re able to do. If not, definitely plan to stay out of Waikiki unless you really want that hotel experience.
Where to Eat
Oahu does not have a shortage of great places to eat whether you are in Waikiki, Honolulu or the North Shore. We trusted Alan’s brother and sister-in-law for recommendations, plus we just trusted our guts and sense of smell! Alan and I are both adventurous eaters (even while preggers) so we were open to the food trucks and divey spots around Oahu.
Marukame Udon, Waikiki
Honolulu Museum of Art Café + Coffee Bar, Honolulu
Little Village Noodle House, Chinatown
Pig & the Lady at Honolulu Farmer’s Market
Fumi’s Shrimp Truck, North Shore (although Giovanni’s is the most popular with tourists, locals like Fumi’s better!)
The Elephant Truck, North Shore
Matsumoto Shave Ice, Haleiwa
Waiola Shave Ice, Honolulu
Floralia, Honululu (delish Vegan pizza)
There are so many beautiful beaches in Oahu and you’ll love exploring every single one of them. While the beaches in Honolulu and Waikiki are very busy because of hotels, there are a ton of other beaches that give you that sense of paradise without the crowds. If you have a car, then head to one of these spots below which we love! Parking is easy (with the exception of Lanikai) and you’ll get to explore new parts of the island and taste some local food trucks.
Magic Island – Magic Island is a manmade peninsula with a shallow lagoon at the east end of Ala Moana Beach Park. It’s perfect for kids because of the shallow water and no waves. There’s plenty of shady trees so you can also picnic in the park.
Waimanalo Bay Beach Park – this gorgeous and secluded beach has the majestic Koolau Mountains as a backdrop! It’s right next to Bellows Field Beach. The water is crystal clear and since it’s not so busy, it’s perfect with kids.
Bellows Field Beach Park – Bellows is part of a military base, but it’s open to civilians on weekends. It’s not busy but is a beautiful beach with bathrooms, picnic essentials and tons of parking.
Kahana Bay Beach Park – if you want to kayak, then head to Kahana! Located near Lanikai it’s another incredibly beautiful beach. You can kayak from the bay up a calm river into the secluded Kahana valley. The water is calm enough for kayaking with kids (Harlee went but I stayed back with Violet).
Lanikai – Lanikai is recognized as the most beautiful beach and it doesn’t not disappoint. Parking is rough so be sure to plan ahead and get there early.
Waimea Bay – if you love the beach and appreciate surfing, check out the huge swells and dozens of surfers.
What to See
Anywhere we travel, Alan immediately looks up the architectural gems to check out. Since I had picked Oahu as our travel destination, I decided to handle the outings for the trip. I first heard about Shangri La about 10 years ago and knew I wanted to see it the next time I traveled to Oahu. Shangri La is a beautiful masterpiece and the former house of Doris Duke. It contains the largest collection of Islamic Art and Collectibles in the country and is not be missed. Off the beaten path is the Liljestrand House designed by Vladimir Ossipoff. It is a modernist gem in the hills above Honolulu and captivated Alan and I from the moment we walked in. The tours are small and led by the son of the original owner who also grew up in the house. If you like modern design and art, make a point to visit Liljestrand.
Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve – Hanauma Bay is the best way to see Oahu’s marine life and is a great spot for everyone. It gets really packed so arrive early if you want to snorkel. **Hawaii is not requiring reservations to go to Hanauma Bay and they’re also limiting visitors so check out this site for most updated info).
Iolani Palace – I like the palace because it combines history with great architecture.
Honolulu Museum of Art – This is a great arts museum and the cafe is really, really good.
What to Do
Be sure to make time to explore the North Shore if you’re staying for more than 4 or 5 days in Oahu. The vibe is very different from Waikiki and there are a lot of beautiful places you can stop along the way. It can take about 1.5 hours to get to the North Shore non stop, but it’s worth it! If you’re staying at one of the hotels you can dedicate a 1/2 day to explore Waikiki. The main drag is like any other city with a row of luxury shops and hotels. I love the Royal Hawaiian and Surfrider Hotels. We stay with Alan’s brother and sister in law and I highly recommend Tantalus & Round Top if you’re looking for gorgeous views and something away from the hustle bustle of downtown.
Haleiwa – I love this beach town which reminds me a lot of Tulum or Mal Pais in Costa Rica. Lots of great food trucks, small shops, and pretty beaches along the North Shore.
Diamond Head – Hike Diamond Head! I hiked it at 7 months pregnant and survived and plenty of people and kids do it. Definitely plan to arrive in the morning (around 7 or 8) to beat the heat and to take in the views.
Friday Night Fireworks + Cocktails – If you’re looking for a Friday night happy hour or ice cream date with the kids, then the Waikiki fireworks show is fun. The fireworks show usually begins at 7:45pm and lasts about 5 minutes.
Keiki and Plow – Adorable place for kids to play and spend some time outdoors that’s not the beach!
Children’s Discovery Center – great activity for kids when you just want a moment indoors. Harlee loved exploring this center when she was 3 and again at 7.
KCC Farmers’ Market – It’s one of the best farmers’ markets I’ve been too. There are so many delicious fresh and prepared foods to buy. It’s near Diamond Head so you can plan to hike early and then head to the market after for some delish eats. It’s