Oahu is the first stop for many visitors to Hawaii and it offers so many amazing things to do! It can be overwhelming figure out how to fit everything in. We’re taking out the guesswork by showing you the best Oahu itinerary for 7 days – you’ll explore stunning beaches, take in important historical sites, eat amazing food and get a taste of traditional Hawaiian culture.
We know that not everyone spends one week on Oahu, so we’ve structured our suggestions below to give you an Oahu itinerary for 3 days as well using the first half of the week itinerary – for practical reasons, this is basically a “Highlights of Honolulu” itinerary. But stick with us! If you need an Oahu 4 day itinerary, you can just pick an additional day from the options based on your interests. If you’re staying on Oahu for four days or more, there are lots of awesome choices for activities and places to stay (besides Waikiki).
Your exact itinerary depends somewhat on where you stay on Oahu – if you’re staying more than a few days, use this guide to help you decide.
Getting around Oahu
Renting a car on Oahu
It can be tough to decide whether or not to rent a car on Oahu. On the one hand, a car gives you the freedom to come and go and to explore the best Oahu scenic drives. It also allows you to use your time most efficiently since you won’t be waiting around for a bus or trolley or making stops you don’t need. If you stay outside of the big city, you need to rent a car. Check here for the best prices.
At the same time, rental cars on Oahu can be surprisingly expensive and many hotels in Waikiki charge huge parking fees – think $45 per night, even if you end up spending the day lounging on the beach and don’t drive anywhere.
One potential option if you’re staying in Honolulu/Waikiki is to rely on walking, Uber and public transportation for part of the time and just rent a car for one or two days if you want to go further afield. It’s definitely worth pricing out a few options and comparing different companies.
Uber on Oahu
Uber is legal in Hawaii, though with increasing regulation over the last few years and more on the way. Even so, state law recently changed to allow Uber and Lyft to pick up at airports. Uber is an easy way to get around southern Oahu, from Pearl Harbor to Hanauma Bay.
But it isn’t cheap. A one-way ride from Waikiki to Pearl Harbor or Hanauma Bay will cost around $30. You also may not be able to get a return ride from further reaches of the island like the North Shore.
TheBus on Oahu
You may be surprised to know that Oahu has better public transportation than many parts of the mainland! TheBus runs all over the island for just $2.75 per ride. Kids 6-17 pay just $1.25, while younger ones ride free on a parent’s lap.
TheBus can get you just about anywhere you’d want to go… but maybe not as quickly as you’d like. The ride from Waikiki to Pearl Harbor by car should be around half an hour in the morning, but a full hour on TheBus. Taking TheBus to Haleiwa requires around two hours – double what it would take you in a car.
Read more: How to visit Hawaii without going broke
An interesting option for visitors staying in Waikiki is the Waikiki Trolley, a hop-on-hop-off bus that hits all the Honolulu tourist hot spots. Unlike TheBus, there are very few stops on many of the lines. They’re even themed based on tourist interests: Pearl Harbor, Shopping, Dining and a super-fast Diamond Head Express!
The biggest downside of the Waikiki Trolley is the cost: a one-day pass will cost you $45 (but as of this writing includes the next day as a bonus), a four-day pass to use during a week is just over $60 online and a seven-day pass to use over ten days is around $70. Get the details here.
Since Oahu tourism operators know that many visitors prefer not to rent a car, they often offer transportation. Sometimes it’s included in the price of an activity, other times it’s an extra $10-15 per person. Many activities on the North Shore and Windward Coast offer pickup at Waikiki hotels. You’ll need to calculate how those costs add up compared with the cost of a rental car.
You can also book a Diamond Head tour or a Hanauma Bay tour if those sites are high on your priority list but you’re concerned about transportation.
Read more: What to pack for Hawaii
No matter how long you plan to stay on Oahu, three of your days on the island should look about the same. Start with this core of activities as you plan your Oahu itinerary.
An abbreviated Oahu itinerary for 3 days
If you’re planning to spend 3 days in Oahu, you’ll be able to see some of the island’s most famous highlights. Honolulu (and it’s famous touristy southern neighborhood, Waikiki) may not be the most charming part of the island, but for a quick visit it’s the most sensible home base.
Evening activities in Waikiki
Waikiki offers a few free noteworthy evening activities, but they depend on the day of the week.
On Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday you can watch a free hula show in Waikiki near the statue of Duke Kahanamoku at the Kuhio Beach hula stage. There were very skilled adult women performing and the kids also got a kick out of seeing girls their own ages up on stage! The evening kicks off with a torch lighting ceremony at 6:30pm (February – October) or 6pm (November – January). Arrive a little early to snag a good seat, and bring a blanket or travel towel to sit on.
On Fridays at 7:45 the Hilton Hawaiian Village has a lovely fireworks show that lasts about ten minutes. Even if you aren’t staying at the resort, you can get a great view of the fireworks along the coast while you dig your toes into the sand.
Essential Honolulu itinerary for first-time visitors
Day 1: Recover and relax
If you’re visiting Oahu from anywhere outside of Hawaii, you almost certainly have a big time zone change to contend with! Lucky for you, one of the best things to do on Oahu is spend a lazy day on some of the island’s gorgeous beaches. The fresh air and sunshine will help your body adjust to the new version of “day”. The only thing you need to plan is which beach you’ll visit – check out this roundup to find your perfect spot.
Day 2: Get a taste of the city
You may be on a tropical island, but Oahu offers so much more than beaches and palm trees. The island has fascinating history and culture that would be a shame to miss. So hang your swimsuit up to dry and head into the city for your second full day. Since you still won’t be fully adjusted to the Hawaiian time zone, take advantage of your early wake-up to pack in some of Oahu’s most important sites.
Start your day with a sobering trip to the Pearl Harbor historic sites to pay homage to those who died during the attack that catapulted the United States into World War II. You can visit the Pearl Harbor Visitors Center, USS Arizona Memorial (currently closed for repair until approximately Fall 2019), USS Bowfin submarine, USS Missouri battleship and the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum. The Visitors Center opens at 7am, with the first movie showing at 7:30am; other sites in the complex open at 7 or 8am. You can spend as little as two hours at the site or as long as several days depending on your interests!
Just a short drive from Pearl Harbor is a true gem: the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum, a place to celebrate and explore the history, culture and environment of Hawaii and its Pacific Island neighbors. This museum is so good that we visited twice when we went to Oahu, and nearly went a third time! It’s perhaps the most unique museum in Honolulu.
Some of the best exhibits are a planetarium show that teaches you how to be a wayfinder like the ancient Polynesians who first sailed to Hawaii, a showcase of the linguistic and cultural similarities of the islands that make up the “blue continent”, a simulated volcano where you go see real lava up close and personal, a garden full of endemic and culturally significant plants and so much more. To say that we loved the Bishop Museum is an understatement. If you are a member of an ASTC museum back home you can get in for free. Otherwise you can get discounted admission through the Entertainment Book or the Go Oahu card.
The final stop on your Honolulu tour is Iolani Palace. It’s America’s only royal palace, though sadly it was only in use as such for about a decade in the late 1800s. The audioguide tour teaches visitors about the struggle for Hawaii’s royalty (the ali’i) to balance a desire for modernity with maintaining autonomy. We found the building beautiful and the story engaging. The tour provides important context for understanding the divided views among native Hawaiians today. You can visit Iolani Palace every day except Sunday, from 9am to 4pm.
Want to save money on these activities and more? See whether the Go Oahu card is the right choice for you.
The best way to end your day is with a gorgeous Hawaiian sunset. There are so many great places to see the sunset on Oahu, all along the island’s west coast. Since you’ve adjusted a little bit to the Hawaiian time zone, take the opportunity to check out one of the free evening activities mentioned above.
Day 3: Explore Oahu’s natural beauty
Even though Honolulu is a huge city, it’s also close to two of Oahu’s most famous places: Diamond Head and Hanauma Bay. Yes, the island offers other great easy hikes and other snorkeling options; but if you’re short on time, it’s hard to beat the convenience of these two!
Start your morning off with a refreshing walk up to the top of Diamond Head. Just grab a taxi or TheBus from your hotel: admission is $5 per car or $1 per person if you’re on foot. You can find more insight into the Diamond Head hike here, but in summary it’s a very manageable walk. The elevation gain is 500 ft and distance is 1.5 miles each way. However, the trail can be a little uneven so you need to wear either sneakers or hiking sandals, but boots or trail runners aren’t necessary.
You’ll appreciate the early start since much of the trail is unshaded. Even so, make sure to wear plenty of sunscreen! Also be sure to have plenty of water on-hand, which we always find easiest with our Camelbaks. Don’t forget your camera for that classic Diamond Head view.
Once you get back down to the parking area you can either pick up your rental car or grab one of the many waiting taxis and have them bring you straight to Hanauma Bay. The drive takes just over 20 minutes by car or about 45 minutes by bus.
This is one of the best snorkeling spots on Oahu, though admittedly it’s also one of the most crowded. You’ll pay $7.50 per adult to enter and $1 to park. Before entering the water, you need to watch a brief safety video – if you plan to return, register at the front of the movie so that you can skip it next time.
Don’t have your own snorkel gear? No problem, you can rent it when you get down to the beach. You can expect to see all different types of fish and a wide variety of coral. The water is generally pretty shallow, so there’s no need for much swimming (or fins). For some of the best snorkeling at Hanauma Bay, head all the way to the left when you arrive at the beach and explore along the natural rock wall. If you’re worried about transportation or don’t want to deal with the logistics of renting snorkel gear, a guided tour of Hanauma Bay will help you enjoy a low-stress afternoon in the water.
What to bring to Hanauma Bay:
-reef-safe sunscreen – this is our new favorite!
–waterproof camera (we tried these and they didn’t work well underwater)
–snorkel gear (read our complete guide to kids snorkel gear if you have young ones with you) – don’t forget the defogger
–wet bag or waterproof beach bag for your swimsuit
-our favorite fish chart
Scheduling note: Hanauma Bay is closed every Tuesday to give the reef and its inhabitants a break. Feel free to swap day 2 and day 3 if need be!
If you’re saying goodbye after just those 3 days in Oahu, we wish you much aloha on your journey! Sticking around longer? Here’s the rest of your Oahu itinerary for 7 days (give or take a few).
Oahu itinerary for 7 days
If you’re staying on Oahu for more than just a few days, you might consider staying somewhere outside of Waikiki/Honolulu. It’ll be quieter and give you more of a feeling that you’re on a remote tropical island – which you are!
Day 4: The North Shore
One of the coolest parts of Oahu is the North Shore, and it’s worth spending a day exploring the area. There’s enough to do that if you love it you can definitely spend several days on the North Shore.
We recommend starting your day on the North Shore with a visit to Waimea Valley. You’ll find the island’s most beautiful botanical gardens and several miles of walking trails leading to a (sometimes raging, sometimes swimmable) waterfall. Along the way you’ll have the opportunity to see traditional Hawaiian homes, play Hawaiian games and even meet local craftspeople selling their wares. Just remember that you’re in the jungle and apply bug spray liberally!
When you finish at Waimea Valley head across the street to Waimea Bay, home to the famed “jump rock”. I won’t tell you whether or not to jump – that’s your call! But you’ll find calm waters in the summer, boogie boarding waves in the shoulder seasons and some good surf in the winter when swells come to the North Shore.
If you’re a snorkeler, head north to Shark’s Cove (Pupukea) to explore the sea life in the rock pool. This isn’t nearly as developed a site as Hanauma Bay, so you’ll probably want to bring your own snorkel gear or buy a cheap set at Foodland. It’s also advisable to wear either fins or water shoes to protect your feet.
More interested in surfing (or at least the surfers)? You’ll find them a bit further north at Sunset Beach. This isn’t the best beach for little kids due to the steep drop off almost as soon as you enter the water, but in the shoulder seasons it can be good for boogie boarding. Even in October and November we spotted some surfers offshore just a little to the north. Once you get deeper into the winter swells, this is a great place to watch surfers on Oahu!
If you have some time in the evening, head to funky little Haleiwa town to soak up the quintessential Hawaii surfer vibe. While you’re there, grab some shave ice at Matsumoto or Aoki’s and then catch the lingering sunset.
Read more: Where to find the best shave ice on Oahu
A different evening option if you won’t be heading to the Polynesian Cultural Center (more on that below) is to attend the acclaimed Toa Luau at Waimea Valley. We’ve heard that it’s the best luau on Oahu! The festivities begin at 5pm with cultural activities and continue with dinner and a show long into the evening. The price of the luau ticket includes your admission to Waimea Valley, whether you choose to visit the valley first thing in the morning or shuffle the day around to arrive around 3pm to explore the gardens and waterfall before the luau begins. You’ll find more information here.
Day 5: Beach day!
After spending the last few days hustling around to explore the best of Oahu, it’s time to give yourself a break! Check out a new beach and bring a good book. This is an especially good time to check out the Windward Coast of Oahu, which offers spots like the soft white sands and crystal-clear snorkeling of Lanikai Beach and the perfect-for-boogie-boarding waves of Kailua Beach next door. Get more Oahu beach inspiration here.
If you do head to the Windward Coast, you have two great options for dinner:
-For cheap and casual food, head to The Hibachi in nearby Kaneohe for pupus and a huge range of incredibly fresh, delicious poke.
-For a nicer sit-down meal in a beautiful setting, go to Haleiwa Joe’s. The Kaneohe location backs onto the lush Ko’olau Range with a lovely garden below. It’s best before dark, so go on the early side to put your name down (the wait can easily be an hour!) and then stroll in the garden while you wait.
If you’re visiting with kids, this is a great day to schedule a Character Breakfast at Disney’s Aulani in Ko Olina and then spend the day at the tranquil lagoons nearby. It’s also worth hopping to nearby Paradise Cove to see if you can spot sea turtles lounging on the beach – it’s reported that you’ll have the best luck around mid-day.
Day 6: Try a new adventure
What’s a trip to Hawaii without a little adventure? Oahu’s got it all!
One of our favorite things to do on Oahu is kayaking in Kaneohe Bay on the Windward Coast. The water is fairly calm and you go visit some wonderful offshore spots like the Mokolua Islands or the sandbar. Bring your snorkel gear to dive in and explore the diverse sea life. If you’re really lucky (like we were) you’ll even get to swim with wild sea turtles on Oahu! Check out these two great options:
–Beginner and family-friendly kayak/snorkel trip in Kaneohe Bay – book here
–Adventurous kayaking and snorkeling to the Mokes
Of course, Hawaii is the home of surfing. If you’ve never tried it before, there’s no time like the present. Waikiki is one of the best places to learn to surf thanks to the wide range of waves available. You’ll learn to surf fastest in a private lesson, but if you want to save a little money you can arrange a small group class too. There are even special lessons for kids!
Really want to get your adrenaline pumping? Try out parasailing on Oahu! You can effortlessly glide hundreds of feet over the breathtaking scenery of Koko Head and the Ko’olau Range before landing gently on the nearby beach.
A new option on Oahu is ziplining on the North Shore! You’ll traverse eight ziplines as you enjoy views of the mountains, the ocean and a working farm in between. Get all the details here.
Day 7: Polynesian Cultural Center
You can’t leave Hawaii without getting a taste of native Hawaiian and Polynesian culture. There’s no better place to do it than at the Polynesian Cultural Center in Laie, on the east side of the North Shore. In case you don’t have a rental car, they offer paid transportation. You can even combine your PCC visit with an Oahu “circle island tour”.
The PCC offers thematic villages for each Polynesian nation where visitors can watch performances, participate in crafts and even try foods representative of the homelands of the staff. There is representation for Tonga, Fiji, Tahiti, Samoa, Aeotearoa (New Zealand) and of course Hawaii. There are other fun activities like the stunning pageant of canoes, ukulele lessons and a double-hulled sailing ship. Read our full review for more information and tips for visiting the Polynesian Cultural Center, or check out their stunning intro video.
Once the villages shut down in the evening, visitors can attend a luau (which has a big crowd) or opt for an entertainment-free dinner (there are several buffet options as well as sit-down dining and food trucks in the adjacent Hukilau Marketplace).
The real entertainment begins at 7:30 with the Ha: Breath of Life show in the theater. Unlike a luau that’s performed by a few people at a time on a small stage, this theatrical-quality show has over 100 performers – all Polynesian – intermixing traditional storytelling with captivating performances. There’s a good reason Hawaii Magazine has named it the state’s best live show and it won the Tripadvisor Traveler’s Choice Top 10 award for the US! You can see a preview of the show and reserve your tickets here.
Why should you visit the Polynesian Cultural Center on your last day? Because it’s a long day and the evening show doesn’t end until 9pm – the equivalent of 2 or 3am for east coasters. You’ll enjoy the experience more once you’ve adapted to aloha time!
Other amazing things to do on Oahu
The reality is that every traveler’s visit to Oahu will be a different experience. It all depends on your interests, your budget and even where you stay. Hopefully the Oahu itinerary suggestions above will serve as a starting point for your own travel plans. If some of our ideas don’t strike your fancy, there are plenty of other choices around!
-Spend more time at the beach. Visiting Oahu’s amazing beaches is never a bad choice! During our five weeks on the island we went to the beach roughly four times per week, with a mix of lounging, playing in the waves, snorkeling and boogie boarding. If you’re visiting Hawaii because you just need an escape, don’t feel bad cutting back on other activities in favor of r&r. It’s your vacation!
-Go sophisticated. One of the most interesting things to do in Honolulu (which we unfortunately didn’t get to) is a tour of Shangri La, actress Doris Duke’s Islamic-style mansion. It’s a division of the Honolulu Museum of Art, which has a diverse general collection and is particularly noted for Asian art.
A great free museum in Honolulu is HiSAM, the Hawaii State Art Museum. Unlike the HMA above, HiSAM focuses on art created by Hawaiians or inspired by the islands. HiSam also hosts Friday evening and Saturday afternoon events for the public once per month.
-Take a day trip to another island. Yes, it sounds a little crazy. But if you have enough time on Oahu you can island hop and still be back by dinner. No worries about checking into a new hotel and finding your way around a new place just for a short visit! Check out these options for a day trip to Kauai from Oahu, an Oahu to Maui day trip and even a Big Island day trip from Oahu (this last one is a little crazy given the flight time and the sheer size of the Big Island, but it’s a good choice if you really want to see BI and can’t count on making it back to Hawaii!).
If you’re feeling more intrepid, you can book inexpensive island-hopper flights yourself and then grab a rental car for the day.
More resources to plan your trip to Hawaii
Travel planning resources:
Compare rental car prices for Hawaii
5 simple money-saving hacks for booking.com
General Hawaii resources:
How to visit Hawaii on a budget
What to pack for Hawaii
Is a cheap GoPro knock-off worth it?
Hawaii with kids:
What’s the best Hawaiian island for families?
Is it worth visiting Hawaii with a baby?
Top 10 things to do with kids on Oahu
The best snorkel gear for kids of all ages
Best Oahu travel guide book
Perfect 7 day Oahu itinerary
Where to stay on Oahu
Getting the most bang for your buck on your Go Oahu discount card
Insider tips for visiting the Polynesian Cultural Center
The best beaches on Oahu (and why to visit them)
Where to find the best shave ice on Oahu
The best easy hikes on Oahu
Kayaking to the Mokes with Twogood Kayaks
Family-friendly kayaking with Holokai Adventures
Visiting Pearl Harbor
Big Island resources:
Best Big Island travel guide book
Perfect 5 day Big Island itinerary
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