1. Makapu’u Tide Pools
The tide pools are surely something to you don’t want to miss on your trip to Oahu. The pools are a hidden gem located a little ways off of the Makapu’u lighthouse hike. On most days, the pools don’t attract too many tourists and can be a beautiful place to enjoy a quiet picnic while watching the waves crash against the shore. There are rocks to jump a short distance into the deepest pool. There are also lots of little creatures and fish to see swimming in each pool. Each pool is about the size of a swimming pool, which is fun when you come on a weekday and get a whole pool to yourself.
Make sure to pack sunscreen, water, goggles, snacks, and GOOD water/hiking shoes with good traction since you will be going down a very steep hike to get there. To get to the tide pools, you want to park in the same lot for the Makapu’u Lighthouse trail. When we went it was really crowded (Martin Luther King weekend) so we had to park on the side of the road across the street. If if looks crowded when you approach, just go ahead and park on the side of the road because once you turn into the lot it is nearly impossible to find a spot in and the road is very narrow and crowded which makes turning back around time-consuming. Once on the hike, continue up the paved trial until you come upon the whale information sign. Here, take a right and follow the path down all the way to the water, and you will come upon the pools. Coming down isn’t really difficult because you can pretty much see where you are going, but on your way back up make sure that you are following the white painted arrows. It is easy to go the wrong way since it all kind of looks the same.
A view of the pools from the trail above
Jumping off the rock into the deepest pool
The pools were just like a swimming pool
2. Lanakai Beach
Even though Oahu has an abundance of outdoor activities, sometimes it’s nice to do nothing and relax. Lanakai Beach is the PERFECT place for this because of its beautiful scenery. The clear blue waters stretch for only about a half mile and continues to rank among the top beaches in the world. Make sure you get there early because as the day goes on, parking and traffic get crazy. The beach is nestled in among a residential area so be aware of where your parking to avoid violations. Note: There are no restrooms or lifeguards at Lanakai Beach so take that into consideration.
3. Hanauma Bay
Hanauma Bay is one of my all-time favorite snorkeling spots. Because the reefs have such a high volume of tourists, it is closed on Tuesdays to prevent overuse. Admission is $7.50 and free to locals, military and kids 12 and under. Parking is only $1 but I would recommend getting there early because it tends to fill up fast. You are required to watch a short video before entering the park. Once you start snorkeling, the wait and crowd is worth it. The water is incredibly clear on most days and there are schools of colorful fish everywhere you look. They also have an information booth on the beach where you can identify all of the creatures you see. Within an hour of snorkeling, we had already seen an octopus and an eel! Don’t forget to bring or buy your own snorkel and mask before you come since renting one is $20!
4. Haiku Stairs
The Haiku Stairs was my favorite thing I did while in Hawaii. We woke up at 2 a.m. to climb the 3,922 steps and watch the sunrise from the clouds. It was breathtaking. Be warned though, if you are afraid of heights, aren’t in decent physical shape, or don’t appreciate adventure then this hike is NOT for you. Another thing is the hike is technically illegal so there are risks involved. Let me tell you though, the view at the top is SO worth it.
5. Cinnamon’s Restaurant
Cinnamons Restaurant has some of the best breakfast food on the island that you don’t want to miss out on. We got the Guava Chiffon pancakes and added some coconut syrup which they have on every table. They tasted AMAZING. Because the pancakes were so sweet we ordered the Eggs Benedict to split and balance everything out which I highly recommend doing. It was the perfect balance of sweet and salty and we had a hard time deciding which one tasted better. Cinnamons is also known for their Red Velvet pancakes so don’t forget to try those. This place can get very crowded on the weekends and peak breakfast and lunch hours so make sure you come early or are prepared to wait a little. However, once seated the service is good and the food is fantastic!
6. Manoa Falls
One of the great things about Oahu is that you can be on a beach snorkeling, and in the middle of the rain forest the next. Manoa Falls is about 20 minutes from Waikiki by car and is the perfect afternoon hike. It probably took us close to a half an hour to reach the falls. The scenery on the way to the falls is lovely. One thing that I was surprised by is how high the falls are. The flow isn’t super heavy but it is impressive how far the water falls. There is a little pool at the bottom where you can take a cool dip on a warm day.
You can’t go to North Shore without going to Pipeline. Here, you can catch a tan while watching some of the best surfing around. Locals and tourists alike all gather together to photograph, watch and participate in this entertaining spectacle. We just simply put “Pipeline” into our maps and parked on the side of the road near some houses. We then followed the someone who looked like they knew where they were going and they led us through a public pathway between houses to the beach. Just look for the pathway and the little letters (above) that say “Pipeline” on the fence of the house on the right side of the pathway.
8. Laniakea Beach (aka “Turtle Beach”)
Laniakea Beach is known as the beach where you are pretty much “guaranteed” to see sea turtles. Laniakea Beach is also located on North Shore. We went to this beach two days in a row and saw turtles both times. However, one day was WAY better than the other. The first day we came, we didn’t see any until a guide with a tour came by and pointed one out swimming in the water a little ways from the shore. The second day we came, there were two turtles just sitting on the beach and we spotted two in the water. It was such a neat experience to be able to see these amazing creatures in their natural habitat. If you are lucky, you will probably see a sea turtle while snorkeling on other parts of the island but if your trip is nearing a close and haven’t seen any yet, definitely stop by Laniakea.
9. Haleiwa Acai Bowls
Anyone who knows me, knows that I have an obsession with acai bowls. Hawaii is known for them and the best one I have had to date is called Haleiwa Acai Bowls on North Shore. An acai bowl is a berry smoothie-like base typically topped with bananas, honey, coconut and granola. You can add and substitute other toppings. At Haleiwa Acai Bowls, they have a variety of toppings to chose from. I added papaya to mine and my friend got papaya and chia seeds on hers. It’s the perfect healthy, filling and refreshing treat to walk down to the beach with on a warm day.
10. Go on a whale watch/do the Makapu’u Lighthouse hike
November-May is whale watching season in Hawaii. Peak season is January-March. During this time, you are almost guaranteed to see whales. When we were doing the Makapu’u lighthouse hike in January, we saw at least three whales jumping out of the water. The lighthouse hike is great because it provides a clear vantage point to see for miles. Granted, you see the whales at a distance and there are tours that you can go on by boat to get a closer look at them. We went on a boat in Maui (they have similar tours in Oahu) and got to get up close and personal with dozens of whales. We even had a mom and calf swim right under our boat! They call it “whale soup” during the early months of the year because all of the Humpbacks migrate to Hawaii from Alaska. Seeing these creatures was an unforgettable experience and if you are visiting during the winter months, be sure to book a tour and whenever you find yourself looking out at the water keep your eyes peeled!