Oahu Itinerary Suggestions
The Gathering Place Itineraries
In Hawaii, Oahu is the third-largest island. It has been dubbed the "gathering place" as it is one of the most inhabited islands and tourists commonly visit it. Oahu has so much to offer to all its visitors. This island's unique blend of various cultures and cuisines makes it an exceptional place to vacation.
You can take the time to become enlightened at Iolani Palace by the history of King Kalakaua and Queen Liliuokalani. Or, you can enjoy the views from Kahanamoku Beach or the excitement of surfers on Waikiki Beach. Head to the North Shore, where enticing foods and private beaches await your arrival. Picnic on the sands of Waimea Bay and bask in its marvels. Whatever you choose to do, Oahu has everything to make your stay on this island noteworthy.
How to use our Oahu itineraries for your trip
Oahu 'Pack-and-Go' Wayfinder Guides for daily excursions
Ultimately, we've designed our Oahu itineraries around a set number of on-island Oahu days: offering one, two, three, four, five, six, seven-day itineraries for exploring the island, soaking in the best sights, and ensuring your precious time (and/or money) on Oahu is used wisely. We've tried to balance our itineraries between those who seek adventure and those looking to find a good beach and relax. Overall, we want your experience to be exactly what you've dreamed of when planning your Oahu trip.
For each island, including Oahu, we've attempted to split up the itinerary days by sorting attractions according to their geographic proximity; i.e., on Windward Oahu day, you'd explore the best of east Oahu's attractions, beaches, and activities. Our itineraries are not meant to be followed consecutively necessarily, which would probably be exhausting, but instead as a grab-and-go resource for 'mapping' your trip - think of us as a Wayfinder's guide to each Hawaiian Island. If you have four days on Oahu, then selecting either our three or 5-day itineraries will likely work well for you, where you'd have an extra day in one case and need to trim off a day's activities in another, respectively. We always like to travel by making day-by-day plans, putting the most important attractions and activities (the must-see and do) upfront, and if the weather doesn't cooperate one of those days, we switch that day with another. That way, we always get to the important stuff first, and if we have to skip anything, it's ideally the minor attractions only.
We've provided all Oahu directions via Google Maps when possible, as Google Maps works on all platforms and across all devices. You should be able to pop the directions into your phone or tablet and go. To help you visualize each day's itinerary, we've also provided overview maps that help you get your bearings.
On-page resources for Oahu...
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Why use our Hawaii Itineraries for your visit to Oahu?
For nearly 20 years now, we've been visiting Oahu and making detailed notes about what Oahu's highlights are and what visitors like yourself simply must-see based on the limited time you've allocated for each Hawaiian Island.
It isn't easy and can even be overwhelming to start planning a trip to Hawaii. One quick look on our website, and you'll soon discover there are hundreds of possibilities; a variety of sights to see, a plethora of beautiful beaches to choose from, and a diverse set of incredible trails that criss-cross each of the islands. Honestly, you could spend months on Oahu and not see and do it all.
Having a reliable guide, that's key. We'd genuinely love to be your guide to the island of Oahu during your stay, and we hope you find our itineraries resourceful while planning your trip.
Overview of Oahu - the 'Gathering Place"
There's a reason Oahu is known as The Gathering Place, as it offers so much to attract- and keep- the attention of locals and tourists alike. Oahu may be number three in size among its fellow islands in the Hawaiian chain, but it is first in population. Nearly 900,000 people share Oahu's 600 square miles of mountains and beaches - that's a full three-quarters of the state's population. Oahu is primarily defined by the state capital of Honolulu, Pearl Harbor, and the world-famous Waikiki Beach. These areas host thousands of tourists daily.
Honolulu is the state's capital and major financial center. It is also home to the main campus of the University of Hawaii. However, Honolulu wasn't always the main seat. Until 1845 the capital of the Hawaiian Kingdom was located on the island of Maui. King Kamehameha III ordered the move, and the Iolani Palace was built later.
But Oahu is much more than Honolulu or Waikiki - it may well be the most beautiful of all the major islands. You simply have to know where to go to experience the beauty that is Oahu. We'll attempt to introduce you to as much of Oahu beyond Waikiki and Honolulu as possible in our daily itineraries.
Geographically speaking, Oahu is made up of two separate but overlapping volcanoes, known as a volcanic doublet. Its asymmetrical butterfly shape is formed by two mountain ranges: the Waianae Range in the west and the Ko'olau Range in the east. Slicing through the center is the flat Leilehua Plateau. Recent (geologically anyway) volcanic eruptions in the southeastern portion of the island which formed the Diamond Head, Koko Head, and Punchbowl craters can be blamed for Oahu's uneven shape.
The eastern coast of Oahu is hemmed in by a gorgeous mountain range and boasts a trifecta of the island's best beaches. The eastern region offers many visitors an escape from the bustling Waikiki scene while still offering the proximity to the shopping and activities of the nearby city just a half-hour drive away.
The famous north shore of Oahu is a surfer's paradise, especially in the winter months when the surf is up. The monster waves and laid-back atmosphere have professional surfers flocking to Banzai Pipeline and Waimea Bay to ride some of the most killer waves in the Pacific. About an hour's drive from Honolulu, this region has a surprisingly unpopulated feel to it. Many miles of beaches stretch along this portion of Oahu, making it a popular haven for those looking to relax in the sun.
The central region is where a large portion of the island's residents live. For the most part, there isn't much here for the typical island visitors - just a few scattered beaches. However, Central Oahu has one of the island's most significant attractions: Pearl Harbor and the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial. More than one million people a year pay their respects to the many military personnel who lost their lives during the Japanese attack. Many of these men and women and veterans of many wars are laid to rest in Punchbowl National Cemetery at Pu'owaina Crater (Punchbowl).
The leeward or west side of Oahu is called Wai'anae and is filled with pineapple fields.
Beyond the skyscrapers and decidedly urban nature of the southern tip of the island in Waikiki & Honolulu is an Oahu of outstanding natural beauty and old-time charm. For the traveler looking to experience a modern paradise, Oahu has it all - the excitement and culture of a large metropolitan city, the unspoiled beauty of tropical coastlines and verdant mountains... plus everything in between. Hopefully, our daily itineraries for Oahu will help you experience the very best that Oahu has to offer, regardless of how long your stay is.
Accommodations on Oahu & Where to Stay Summary
On Oahu, you’re probably staying in Waikiki; it’s where the vast majority of travelers book their rooms. If you haven’t yet decided where to stay on Oahu, we can help with that too, be sure to check out our Where to Stay on Oahu article for the best tips and suggestions on where to book your stay. Don’t worry if Waikiki isn’t you’re starting point, as there are several accommodations, b&bs, inns, etc. scattered across the island. Regardless of where you’re staying, we’ll still help you plan accordingly.
Be sure to also read our Best time to Visit Oahu article for an in-depth look at when the best time to visit Oahu is for your travel party.
Getting Around Oahu
On Oahu, even with the public transit options, like ‘TheBus’ available, a rental car is still one of the best options for getting around the island and viewing all the sights we detail in our itineraries. The rental rates in Hawaii are often some of the cheapest anywhere in the world because the competition is typically fierce.
Summary of what to pack on your Oahu trip
Regardless of how much you’ve traveled in the past and where you’ve been, there is one good rule to follow when coming to Hawaii, leave as much as you can at home. Seriously, bring only what you’ll need during your stay and nothing more. For starters, schlepping around three suitcases is NOT what you want to be doing after getting off a long plane ride. Next, consider that long pants, dress clothes, and anything else formal really have no use in Hawai‘i (unless you are staying in a very exclusive resort). Chances are a pair of shorts and an old Aloha shirt are all you’ll need for even some fine dining.
As far as clothing goes, that’s usually a few pairs of shorts, several T-shirts, sandals or flip-flops (slippahs as Hawaii residents call them), and a good visor or hat, anything made of a cotton blend is usually good. A light jacket might also be nice for those visits to higher elevations.
With the motto, “less is more” in mind, here are a few other items to bring. Sunblock (the UV on Hawai‘i is typically 10+ in the spring, summer, and fall), a backpack (for any hikes) and a water bottle, slippers (flip flops, shower shoes, zoris), mask, snorkel, and fins (or rent locally instead), two bathing suits (one to wear while the other dries) and a cover-up, your phone or a camera, lightweight raincoat or poncho (for mountain/rain forest hiking), bug spray with DEET (for any forest hikes), flashlight (if the sun goes down before your hike ends or for night walks on the beach), hiking boots and hiking rods, and most importantly a list of all your troubles to leave behind. For more information on what to pack, seeing our What to Pack When Visiting Hawaii article.
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