Updated: December 15, 2021 (added: hotel, atv update, shirokiya, places & new eateries)
THINGS TO DO AND EAT IN OAHU:
It’s been awhile since I’ve added any new city guides to my site. I’ve been getting a huge amount of requests these past few weeks for Hawaii, so I’ve finally decided to add a new post! People have been asking me which island they should visit, but I can’t really say because I’ve only been to Oahu! Why? Because it’s foodie paradise! We would’ve loved to island hop and visit the other islands, but our time was limited.
Continue reading below to see my tips and recommendations!
Where to stay – If you prefer to stay in a busier area where all of the tourists go, Waikiki is a great place to be in! You’ll find that many of the businesses here will close much later than the rest of the island. Looking for a quieter and more relaxing area? North Shore would be the place to go. Everything here closes much earlier, but you can still find plenty of beautiful beaches and great eateries! Before planning the trip, I asked a few friends what area they’d recommend us staying in. The majority selected North Shore, because it was more laid back. Because we had so many mixed reviews, we decided to spend the first half of our trip in North Shore, and the second half in Honolulu. That way we could experience both! If we were to go again, I’d probably spend most of the trip in Honolulu first, and then unwind and relax in North Shore at the end of the trip, for about two days. That way, I could get some rest before the long flight home and returning to the “mainland.” When we stayed in Honolulu, we stayed about 10 minutes away from Waikiki. It was better this way because we wouldn’t have to pay for overnight parking at a hotel. Those parking fees are outrageous!
Hotel Update: 12.15.21 – We went back to Oahu earlier this year in March/April, and decided to stay at Hilton’s Hokulani Waikiki. It was PERFECT for our group of 15! The suites were spacious and the bathroom was huge. There’s a separate living room with a sofa bed, as well as a kitchenette. It was great being able to bring back our food, use the stove, and store our liquor in the freezer, haha. The bathroom had a standing shower, as well as a separate bath tub, two sinks, and the toilet had it’s own separate space, which was definitely nice when it came time for all of us to get ready. It says it sleeps up to 4, but you can probably fit up to 5-6 people. We booked four rooms and it was more than enough space for all of us. Did I mention there’s a rooftop pool and jacuzzi? On certain nights, they play movies and there’s even a full bar! The location was pretty central to everywhere we wanted to go in Waikiki. The beach was a short walk away, and there were plenty of places to eat and drink nearby. I highly recommend this hotel and would definitely stay here again the next time we visit. The only downside was that the only option for parking is valet, but there’s in-and-out privileges so it wasn’t too bad.
Car Rental – If you’re only planning on staying in Waikiki and not exploring the rest of the island, you can get by without renting a car. You still have the option of taking a ride share like Uber or Lyft. We ended up renting a car because we wanted to go all over the island, and we definitely didn’t regret that choice. Do keep in mind that you have to pay for parking almost everywhere in Waikiki, unless you’re lucky and find street parking. We stayed in an Airbnb at both locations, so the parking was free at those properties.
THINGS TO DO:
Kualoa Ranch & Private Nature Reserve* – The 2-hour ATV tour ($129.95 + tax) was one of our absolute favorite activities we did. We spent our first day in Oahu riding ATV’s through 4000 acres of private nature reserve and it was magical! We got to see great views of the mountains and ocean, as well as stopped at a few movie sites. If you’ve seen Jurassic Park, 50 First Dates, Hawaii Five-0, Pearl Harbor, Lost, and Godzilla, these are among a few of the many movies that were filmed here! We rode in a group of six individual ATVs, plus our tour guide. If you take the 1-hour ATV tour, you’ll be riding with a group of maybe 20+? We were definitely glad we did 2 hours instead of 1, because time just flew by! If you’re uncomfortable about driving your own ATV, there’s also the option of riding a multi-rider ATV with the tour guide. Kualoa Ranch also offers other tours and activities such as horseback riding, zip lining, and more, if you’re not into ATV’s.
Update 12.15.21: When we went back earlier this year, we were sad to hear that they no longer offered single-rider options. We ended up doing the 2 hour multi-passenger UTV tour and it was still fun! Our group had 5 vehicles, so we had about 2-4 people in each one. Even though we’ve been before, we were taken to different sites this time around! I guess it just depends on who your tour guide is. After each stop, you have the option of switching out drivers, if you want to take turns. I recommend bringing a bandana or gaiter and sunglasses, to cover your face. If you go on a dry day, your face will be covered in dirt by the end of the tour! If you’re lucky, you’ll go on a day that’s a little wetter. The weather feels much cooler that way too and dust won’t keep flying at you.
Lanikai Pill Box Hike** – This is one of the hikes I’d repeat, over and over! Anyone who goes to Honolulu should experience this hike at least once. It’s about a one-mile roundtrip hike that’s mainly a dirt trail that consists of rocks and gravel. Be sure you go to both pillboxes! Once you get to the second pillbox, you’ll be glad you did! The views are absolutely stunning.
Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail & Lookout* – Almost everywhere you go on the island will have breathtaking views! This was among one of my top spots. It’s a pretty easy hike going uphill the entire time. Along the way, there’s a few rest stops and lookouts, as well as pillboxes you can easily get to.
Spitting Cave – I wish we were able to spend more time here! We got here shortly before sunset and sat around admiring the view. Listening to the waves crash against the rocks were so relaxing!
Laniakea Turtle Beach – If you’re hoping to see sea turtles sometime during your trip, this might be one of the best spots! Located in the North Shore, you can find them more often during the summer months, when the water is calmer.
Diamond Head – This is one of the easier trails that we took during our trip to Honolulu. If you want to go to one of the most popular trails that shows panoramic views of Honolulu, and an extinct volcano, this is it! I recommend going as early as possible to beat the crowds.
USS Arizona Memorial (Pearl Harbor) – This memorial marks the resting place to all of the sailors and marines killed on USS Arizona, during the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. It’s only accessible by boat, so keep an eye on the weather and wind speeds! If it’s too windy, the boats to the memorial may be suspended or cancelled by the US Navy due to high winds. You can book your tickets up to two months in advance, or visit at 7 am the day before your visit. There’s also 1,300 free walk-in tickets that are released daily, but it’s first come, first serve.
USS Missouri Battleship ($29-$72) – If you’re into American history you may like to tour the battleship! Missouri was the last battleship commissioned by the United States. It’s also known as the site of the surrender of the Empire of Japan, which ended World War II. You have the option of taking a guided tour around the battleship, or exploring on your own. The doors close at 4PM, so give yourself plenty of time to see the entire ship!
Byodo-In Temple – Walking through here made us feel like we were back in Japan again! After all, it’s a replica of a temple in Kyoto. Admission to the temple is $5 and parking is free!
Lanikai Beach* – Of all the beaches that we went to while we were in Oahu, this was one of my personal favorites. The sand here was the most soft, powdery and clean compared to everywhere else we got to visit.
Don Quijote Supermarket (12.15.21) – I almost felt like stepped foot into a store in Japan when we got here! They have everything that you would need or want. There’s plenty of souvenirs, hot food, poke by the pound, groceries, household items, and even alcohol! Outside of the supermarket, there’s lots of food stalls that serve hot food items as well. I recommend going to the one in Honolulu, because the other locations were much smaller and didn’t offer as many items.
Costco (12.15.21) – Yes, you read correctly, Costco. It’s a little different than the one you often go to in the mainland. They sell so many items that you often can’t find here in Texas. We ended up grabbing items like Hawaiian Hurricane popcorn, Chef Morimoto’s Mimosan ramen (which can now be found at Teso Life Carrollton), Hawaiian Brand chips, other snacks we usually don’t see, and POG juice (pomegranate, orange and guava – DO NOT SKIP THIS). You can also find other items like fresh poke, lomi lomi salmon, portuguese sausage, saimin noodles, lau lau, poi, and so much more! If you’re planning to get sarongs, Hawaiian shirts or lei’s, Costco is usually a good place to get it, because prices are so much higher in the touristy areas.
Other places we’ve been:
Spitting Cave, Sunset Beach, Waikiki Beach, Tokidoki Mural, 7sketches Mural, Audrey Kawasaki Mural, Waimea Valley, Waikiki Boardwalk, Waikiki Yokocho, Shirokiya Japan Village Walk, Ala Moana Shopping Center, Waimea Falls Park, BAIT, ABC Stores
PLACES TO EAT:
Shirokiya Japan Village Walk* – This is the perfect place to go if you’re in a group. It’s a food hall filled with many Japanese eateries! You can find anything from ramen, katsu, onigiri, drinks, and much more. Definitely make a stop here sometime during your visit to Honolulu.
Update (12.15.21): Sadly, this food hall is still closed due to COVID-19. We were so bummed that we couldn’t go back here on our last trip! It was set to open during our trip, but it kept getting postponed. Yelp states that it may reopen by the end of this month (Dec. 31st, 2021, but I wouldn’t count on it. I suggest checking online to see if they’ve reopened, before making the drive out here!
Waikiki Yokocho Gourmet Alley – This is another Japanese food “alley” that’s smaller than Shirokiya Japan Village Walk. It’s a great way to explore all of Japan’s best culinary exports, all in one place. There’s restaurants specializing in everything from hand-made sushi, Michelin-endorsed ramen, rare whiskies, innovative desserts, and so much more!
Update (12.15.21) – This is another food hall that has closed indefinitely due to covid. Another alternative that you can go to is Ohana Hale Marketplace! The vibe isn’t the same, but there’s plenty of food options in there.
Ohana Hale Marketplace (12.15.21) – Since our other favorite food hall options were closed, I had to look and see if there was anything else that came close. Ohana Hale Marketplace offers plenty of eats to choose from. You can find everything from Japanese food, Chinese food, multiple poke shops, boutiques and other finds!
Hale’iwa Bowls* – This was something I craved for every morning! The acai bowls were absolute perfection. It was so fresh and satisfying. There was always a long line when we drove by here, but the wait wasn’t very long after we ordered.
Tonkatsu Tamafuji* – I’ve been craving for good tonkatsu ever since having Maisen Tonkatsu in Japan. This comes veryyy close to it! I’ll definitely be coming back here because it totally hit the spot!
Papa Ole’s Kitchen** – This was pretty high up in our list of favorites! We might’ve gone twice in one day. Their loco moco was the best out of the places we’ve tried. The patty was flavorful and the gravy was great. Their pulehu ribs were pretty awesome too!
Helena’s Hawaiian Food* – The pipikaula ribs and chicken long rice was our favorite here!
The Pig & The Lady** – We had so many dishes here that I lost count! My favorites were the pandan cocktail called, “redivider” (pisco, pandan and coconut water), ahi tataki on Spanish toast, pb&j, and the smoked pork jowl. The other dishes we tried were pretty good too. I can’t wait to be back to try the others!
Tim Ho Wan* – If there’s a Tim Ho Wan in a city that I’m visiting, I always make time to visit! Everything we had at this location was delicious and definitely satisfied all of our dim sum cravings that day. I even took some of their baked bbq pork buns to go, for the plane ride home! Those are definitely a must.
Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck – Of course we had to stop by the infamous shrimp truck that everyone talks about! We wanted to try more than one flavor but didn’t want to order an entire plate for each. Instead, we ordered the half & half. Hot and spicy was our favorite compared to the garlic scampi. As for the rice, it was just mushy and unappetizing.
Alicia’s Market – This was one of our very first stops when we got to Honolulu. As soon as we picked up our rental car, we went straight here. It reminded me of the Asian rice boxes I usually get back home, but with the addition of poke. And oh my… the poke! I’m drooling just thinking about it.
Musubi Cafe Iyasume – If you need a snack, this is the perfect choice! You can find dozens of different spam musubis, rice balls, bentos and more.
Maguro Brothers – I went to the location in chinatown and found it tucked inside the Kekaulike Market. The fish was fresh and you can even add uni to your poke bowl!
Boots & Kimo Homestyle Kitchen – Known for their brunch items and onolicious pancakes, it did not disappoint! If you go here, you musttt get the pancakes with their famous macadamia sauce. It was delicious!
Ono Seafood* – I haven’t tried any poke places in Oahu that I didn’t like. This was one of my top choices! The fish was so fresh and buttery. I’m so glad I was able to make it here before leaving to the airport. I brought it on the plane to eat as a snack and it was so satisfying!
Han No Daidokoro* (12.15.21) – I was so excited to hear that they were opening one in Honolulu, because this was one of my highlights when I went in Japan! (Although, it was probably due to the $15 all-you-can-drink option, which is not offered in Honolulu.) Unfortunately, it didn’t give me the wow factor that I had during my first experience, but this location was also still relatively new at the time. For someone that goes here their first time, they would probably enjoy it much more than I did. There’s different combo and a la carte options to choose from! Some of us chose the Miyazaki option while others chose the Washu option. If you’re into Japanese yakiniku bbq and A5 wagyu beef, this is the place to go. Even though I may have just been exhausted that day, or other unpleasant occurrences that happened that night may have been an influence, I would definitely give it another chance if I were to go back to Oahu.
Aloha Kitchen Waikiki* (12.15.21) – There’s a good selection of brunch items to choose from, but the main star was the soufflé pancake! You can’t go wrong with coconut cream and macadamia nuts, and it can easily be shared with everyone at the table. I think they serve different soufflé pancake specials each month, because I’ve seen them offer an ube cream one! If I get a chance to go back again, I’d definitely try something different like the wagyu or kalua pork loco moco next time.
Mochi Do Hawaii (12.15.21) – The flavors rotate daily, but you can often find flavors like ube, melona, yuzu, pandan and other unique flavors. Be sure to check their instagram page for updates!
抹茶スタンドMaiko (Matcha Cafe Maiko) – Found in Honolulu, there’s also a location in San Francisco, Las Vegas, and soon, Houston! So happy to have a place closer to home. I’m sure I’ll be making stops here pretty often when I’m in town.
Leonard’s Bakery – This Portuguese bakery is known for popularizing the malasada. What’s a malasada? It’s a Portuguese donut without a hole. These fried pillows of dough are coated with original (plain sugar), cinnamon sugar, or li hing, and then filled with your choice of filling (custard, chocolate or haupia). It’s best eaten when it’s hot! Soo good!
Matsumoto Shave Ice – We couldn’t go to Hawaii and NOT get Hawaiian shaved ice! The flavors were all so good! As for the mochi here, we were not a fan. The ones we had were flavorless and starchy. I’d definitely get it again though, but without the mochi. The ice cream and condensed milk were the perfect addition!
Honolulu Cookie Company – Do not leave Hawaii without grabbing a box of these delicious shortbread cookies! You can’t go wrong with any of the flavors. I got the variety box that came with all the flavors. There’s also a location in Vegas!
Gaslamp Speakeasy* – Hidden within a bar called Kailua Town Pub & Grill, you’ll need a password to get in! You can make reservations on their website and they’ll text you the password the day of. The mixologist here definitely knows his craft. He creates cocktails based on what fruits are in season and also offers a variety of different Japanese whiskies, among many others.
Nomu Waikiki – Whenever I see guava on a menu, I always get it! I tried the guava moscow mule and ended up getting a few more! The matcha old fashioned here is the first I’ve seen. If you’re into old fashioned’s and matcha green tea, this is definitely something to try. They also had Japanese whiskey highballs on draft here, but it tasted watered down to me.
Other places we’ve been:
Food: Kahuku Superette (poke), Island Vintage Coffee North Shore (lox and cream cheese on taro bagel), Fumis Kahuku Shrimp, Curry House CoCo Ichibanya (japanese curry rice), Romy’s Kahuku Prawns & Shrimp, Inc.* (butter garlic prawns), McDonald’s (Hawaiian breakfast, spam, haupia/taro pie), Uncle Woody’s BBQ Corn, Seven Brothers (paniolo fries & burgers), Ramen Nakamura (oxtail ramen), Mike’s Huli Chicken, Marukame Udon, Ceviche House, Hukilau Cafe (breakfast/brunch), 7-eleven (musubis, onigiri, katsu, ube & haupia slurpees), Ocean Taste* (poke bowl), Iro Iro Place (character dim sum baos), Nana Ai Katsu (kurobuta kasane tonkatsu), Fat Cheeks Hawaii* (truffle bacon lobster roll), Bo’s Kitchen (chili wontons), Rainbow Drive-In (local eats), Yogurstory* (brunch), Pho One (the sate here is good! we put it in our pho), Kalapawai Market
Desserts: Ted’s Bakery (chocolate haupia cream pie), Paalaa Kai Bakery (snow puffies), Hawaiian Sweet Potato Factory, Kushikatsu Tanaka, Ubae (ube cheesecake and more), Kamehameha Bakery Inc. (poi and haupia donuts), Kona Coffee Purveyors (b. patisserie’s black sesame kouign-amann*), Waffle & Berry (açaí bowl), Waikiki Chocolates (bon bons)
Final Notes (12.15.21) – We didn’t get to do as many things compared to the first time we went, because we were in such a large group the second time around. But we definitely revisited some of the places we enjoyed the first time. If you see asterisks* next to any of the places above, those are some of the ones I would go back to again.
For more photos or places I haven’t listed, you can find it on IG under the hashtag #sherrytravelsoahu
Check back later for more updates on this guide!