Are you planning a vacation to Oahu? Let me share our family's Oahu 5-day itinerary with you. We had so many fun things planned that we did. I have done the hard work of planning, now you don't have to! Especially if this is your first time traveling to Oahu, it can be overwhelming to try and decide what to do.
If you love to travel as much as we do, what about a 10-day travel itinerary for Ireland? Or maybe even the best beaches in Algarve, Portugal? Maybe you are looking for tropical? Let me share some of our vacation ideas to Ek Balam ruins in Mexico.
Things To Note
Oahu is a busy island. If there are specific things you really want to see while you are here, make reservations! Even if you aren't typically a planner, it is best to make sure you have some of those activities secured ahead of time.
Be sure to check and make sure things are open before you come. Covid has changed so much on the Hawaiian islands. I was surprised at how many things are still closed, or only open for limited hours and days. Be sure to check and recheck before coming.
Although Hawaii is an expensive vacation, there are still ways to save money, I will note them each day listed below. One of my biggest tips, before we get into anything, is to stop by the grocery store and grab some groceries there! We hit Costco as soon as we got into town and stocked up for our trip. Our hotel had a mini fridge and microwave, and we put them to good use. We ate out several times but really cut down our dining costs by eating breakfast at the hotel and packing a lot of our lunches.
We arrived in Honolulu at about noon. If you do not utilize Google flight tracker or other flight trackers, you should! This was how we got our tickets for so much cheaper than we had anticipated. We flew to Honolulu International Airport.
We also picked up our rental car there. This was my first experience using Turo and I have nothing but good things to say about the car and owner we rented from!
After arrival, we had a few hours to burn before we could check in. On this first day, decided to visit the Byodo-in temple. It is a beautiful non-denominational temple set in the stunning Valley of the temples. It was a short drive from the airport, taking about 20 minutes. We thought this was such a great place to see when first arriving. There are crowds, but not too bad. Plus, after a travel day, it is pretty quiet and serene. Just what we needed. It is a beautiful place to visit, but not so large that it takes all day to explore.
When we had explored the grounds to our satisfaction, we headed to the Lotus Hotel for check-in. This was our first visit to O'ahu and I knew we didn't want to stay right in Waikiki, but close to it. This hotel was perfect for us. It was close enough to everything, but still very quiet. It also has a great view of Diamond Head Crater, of course.
There were several smaller beaches near our hotel that we visited after settling in. We also had dinner right on the beach at, while it wasn't the best meal I have had, the scenery couldn't be beaten and the staff was awesome.
We did sunset on the south end of Waikiki beach where it was less crowded, but we still had amazing views.
We got an early start and headed for the Makapu'u lighthouse trail. This is an easy 1.5-mile hike with lovely views of the windward coast of the island. It is one of the most popular hikes in that area. It was easy to find on Google maps and had a parking lot with space, as long as you get there early, just like anywhere on the island.
The trail is paved the whole way up, and while it is a bit of an incline, it is doable by just about everyone. The views are spectacular and not to be missed.
Next up we were headed to Lanikai Beach. However, on the drive over we passed Waimanalo park and it was so beautiful we decided to stop there. The views were too pretty to pass up. One of the best things about this area of the island is you cannot go wrong with any beach. The water is beautiful, pristine, and the perfect shade of blue. It is known for its beautiful beaches.
We stayed at the beach for several hours, swimming, relaxing, and running the drone.
After this, we headed into Waikiki. Hubby wanted to see Pearl Harbor National Memorial and we wanted to hit the Aloha Swap meet. I made reservations for him with a deluxe package. This allowed him to visit all the sites and museums, except the USS Arizona Memorial. That is a separate reservation all in itself. He said the whole area was well done and enjoyed the hours he spent there.
Now, the Aloha Swap meet was also so cool. If you are looking for souvenirs, GO HERE! We got everything we were looking for at such great prices. It is all locals selling goods in this area. It is on Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday from 10 am-3 pm. But, a lot of the vendors start packing up early- about 2:30.
Next up were mermaid caves. Let me say, first of all, this area is not as well kept up as the others we had visited up to this point. When we were there, there were piles of trash all over. Maybe it was just that day, but maybe not. However, the caves were really cool. It is a rocky, uneven area, so be careful navigating. A tip- be sure to go at low tide, you can climb down into the caves for a cool experience.
It was Hank's Haute Dogs for dinner, and although I am not a huge hot dog fan, these are worth it!
We ended the night on Tantalus Lookout point. This area gives you the best views of downtown Honolulu and the surrounding areas. It was so beautiful. Just know, parking is limited and fills up fast, so get there early.
North Shore was on our list, and today we headed there first thing. We had heard many good things about Laneakai Beach- for the sea turtles, so we headed there first. From Diamond head, this is a bit of a road trip- the drive was about an hour. Driving doesn't bother us though, so it wasn't a big deal. I know it is for some, so decide which is best for you.
The North Shore of Oahu is a very cool area. I have a brother who won't stay anywhere else when they come to Hawaii. It is a much more laid-back vibe here, and quieter than Waikiki for sure.
The beach had those beautiful turquoise waters Hawaii is known for. But it also had SEA TURTLES! Seeing them was a bucket list of mine for this trip and we did it. We got to the beach at about 9 am, and it was already pretty busy.
Next, we headed to Shark's Cove for snorkeling. We had plans to do Hanauma Bay but didn't make our reservations early enough. Shark's Cove is a popular area for snorkeling though, just make sure to do this in the summer months if you are not a strong snorkeler, as the winter months have rougher water. Most people consider this one of the best places to snorkel on the island.
There is a rental shop just across the street from Shark's Cove, called Shark's Cove Rentals where we rented our gear. It is $20/per person for the gear for the day. I think this is pretty inexpensive for the amount of time you can spend snorkeling. There is also parking right behind the rental place as well, this is good to know as parking is a premium in the area. There are also some great food trucks here in the parking lot too. We went with Seven Brothers burgers for lunch and it was awesome!
Even though I have a little anxiety about the water, I soon overcame it by seeing all the amazing fish in the cove!! It was so cool and we saw such a huge variety of fish. We gave this a 10/10. It is a little rough in the area though, and plenty of rocks, but even with this, it is a must.
After this, we headed to the Polynesian Cultural Center. This was another place we were really excited about as we had heard so many good things about it. And let me tell you, the experience did not disappoint. This is one of the most popular attractions on Oahu, make sure and book early! We did the Alii Luau package. It was a group-guided tour with the luau and night show.
The villages are the perfect place to learn about 6 Pacific island cultures. I loved gaining a better understanding of each one and its traditions.
The luau was so good too, don't miss this. Not only was there a wide variety of foods, but live music and a show during dinner as well.
"Ha, Breath of Life" was certainly the highlight of the whole day. It is a spectacular show that just blew us away!
Don't forget, this is a popular place, so book those tickets well in advance!
On Day 4, we decided to do a tour. After a lot of research, I went with the North Shore Beach Bus tour. It had the best ratings and was highly recommended by so many people. This tour is really great if you have not rented a car as you will see so much of the island on this one tour. Let me list a few things we saw on this tour:
- Makapu'u viewpoint
- Halona blowhole
- China Man's Hat
- Lunch at Fumi's- a delicious shrimp place on the North shore
- Excursion to Waimea Bay and Waimea Valley- this area is so cool with stunning botanical gardens. Even without the tour, you need to add this to your list! Just know, if it has been dry, there are no falls. We found this out on our visit.
- Kayaking at the North Shore- we had time and hit Masumotos for shave ice. If you have not tried it, you need to!
- Dole pineapple plantation and of course the famous Dole whip. Let me tell you if you have not experienced it (I would call this an experience), you need to! It is the creamiest pineapple ice cream.
- Last was a quick tour of downtown Honolulu and a little view and explanation of the Iolani Palace.
Day 5 was our last day on the island. I knew we would be a little tired, so I decided not to schedule too much into our day.
The one thing we scheduled for the day was parasailing. While this is not my thing, it is my family's. We used Xtreme Parasail and my husband and the kids loved it!
After parasailing, we headed back to the hotel to clean up. Everyone was a little tired, so we decided to spend the rest of the day exploring Waikiki and just chilling.
We had poke for lunch, as we had not tried that in Hawaii yet. Ono Seafood is such a cool little place with really high-quality seafood.
From there, we parked the car and explored the Ala Moana Center. It was great to wander around, do a little shopping, and stretch my legs for the long flight home.
Whether you choose to follow our itinerary or use bits and pieces of it, I hope my suggestions will help you to have the best Oahu vacation ever! It is a gorgeous area and perfect for exploring.