What is the best beach on Oahu

Oahu Travel Guide - Beaches, Hikes & Attractions in the Heart of Hawaii

No wonder Oahu is also known as the heart of Hawaii - after all, this is where most Hawaiian adventures begin and end. But Oahu is not only the gateway for most travelers, Oahu is also centrally located in the middle of the archipelago - right in the heart. In terms of size, Oahu is the third largest Hawaiian island, but by far the most populous. Translated, Oahu means something like a meeting place, and of course that applies above all to Honolulu, the capital of Hawaii and thus the 50th state of the USA.

When most hear about Oahu, they think of skyscrapers and Waikiki Beach, which made Hawaii famous. But the island has so much more to offer than just skyscrapers and overcrowded beaches. If you move a bit away from the melting pot in the southwest, you will find rugged mountain ridges, impenetrable jungles and lonely beaches - often only a few kilometers away from each other. I would like to share all of my tips for Oahu with you in this article.

Who is Oahu for?

Because of its great diversity, Oahu is actually the right island for everyone. Those who want lonely island life will find the perfect conditions in the north and east; those looking for a vibrant nightlife and culinary highlights should stay in Honolulu for at least a few days. Hikers and active vacationers also get their money's worth on Oahu. There is something for everyone. I particularly like the mix: one day I can have breakfast in stylish cafés, hike through the jungle, climb mountains and end the day in a chic bar in the evening. This is the vacation I want it to be.

In any case, I can only recommend every Hawaii traveler to stay a few days on Oahu, to recover from the long flight and only then to one of the other Hawaiian islands (e.g. Kauai) to break up. I myself was on Oahu for four days at the beginning and at the end (once in the north and once in the south and I could have stayed there longer.

By the way: This is where it goes my tips for your Hawaii vacation including island guide and route suggestions for 2-3 weeks and here to mine Kauai Travel Guide!

Oahu: Getting There & Getting Around

Since Hawaii International Airport is located on Oahu, almost all Hawaii travelers get there first. Numerous airlines fly to the archipelago - we flew with Delta ourselves and did not pay 800 euros for our flights in November with a change in L.A. So it is worth looking for bargains. To be honest, I was totally amazed that you can fly to Hawaii so cheaply - I always thought it was such an “out of reach” destination.

As in the rest of the USA, there is nothing to avoid having your own rental car. We have our Jeep Wrangler over Sunny Cars booked. To be honest, an off-road vehicle is absolutely not necessary to get around Oahu, but I've always wanted to drive one and where is that better than in Hawaii. After all, it's the most popular rental car model there. What I particularly appreciate about Sunny Cars are the all-inclusive services such as unlimited kilometers, fully comprehensive insurance with reimbursement of excess, reimbursement of damage to glass, roof, tires, underbody including oil pan and clutch, so that I don't have to worry about any damage . However, be careful here: the local landlords often suggest that you don't have all these extras! It is best to simply point out to the employee that all damage is covered by the insurance in Germany.

And another important note: Since cars are often broken into by petty criminals in Hawaii in general, you should not leave any items in the car and always carry your valuables with you or leave them at the accommodation!

The most beautiful excursion destinations & activities on Oahu

The road network on Oahu is well developed. Even if the island is not exactly small, almost everywhere can be reached within an hour's drive. So there is really no need to change accommodation on Oahu. Nevertheless, I found it quite nice to stay once in the south and once in the north during my trip in order to enjoy the different flair of the regions. I like the bustling southeast around Honolulu, but also the relaxed surfing vibe in the north. This contrast is particularly noticeable when you have spent a few days on site. But of course that is a matter of taste. I would personally avoid the area around Waikiki Beach, because not only are the beaches overcrowded there, but everything is also mega expensive - from hotels to restaurants to shops.

The most beautiful beaches on Oahu

Oahu is just the perfect island for a beach vacation. There are countless palm-lined secluded bays and beaches, of which I of course could only visit a few myself. The further north you go, the more beautiful they usually become. Here are a few recommendations from beaches that I personally liked very much.

Lanikai Beach

Lanikai Beach is located in the east of Oahu and is often described as the most beautiful beach on the island or one of the best in the world. Of course, this is also reflected in the number of visitors. Even if the beach cannot be compared with Waikiki Beach in this regard, it is still quite well attended. In any case, it is worthwhile to enjoy the white sandy beach with the literally translated name “Heavenly Ocean” for a day of bathing. This is of course most beautiful after the exertion of the pillbox hike (see hikes below), which starts nearby. Or you can rent a kayak and set off on a tour to the so-called Mokes, the two offshore twin islands that are the iconic landmarks of the place. If you want to have the beach all to yourself, you should come early in the morning for sunrise.

Laniakea Beach

Laniakea Beach on the north coast is also known as Turtle Beach. However, the beach must not be confused with the Turtle Beach Resort, which is located further south, which is one of the largest and only resorts in the north of the island. There have been no turtles there for a long time. But probably on Laniakea Beach, because it is almost rare there if there is not a turtle lying on the beach to sunbathe. The Hawaiian shower Honu, the green sea turtle, is one of the endangered species - however, one way or another it should be self-evident to keep at least three meters away from the majestic animals and not disturb them. To ensure this, there are volunteers at Laniakea Beach who inform visitors about the turtles and mark the no-go zones with a red rope. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has also put up signs. The beach itself is rather small and rocky, but nicely lined with palm trees.

Kalaeoio Beach Park

Kalae’o’io Beach Park is, in my opinion, the most perfect postcard beach on Oahu. The inconspicuous sandy beach is located directly on the Kamehameha Highway on the east coast of Oahu. Directly behind the palm-fringed beach, the high, green mountains rise up, which are so typical of the island and form a perfect postcard panorama. Despite its beauty, mostly locals are in the water here.

Kawela Bay

Kawela Bay is one of the most secluded beaches on Oahu. It is located very close to the Turtle Bay Resort on the North Shore and can only be reached via a short walk along a signposted path through the forest. But the walk alone is worth it, because you will pass a huge banyan tree, which has already been the location of various films and series, such as “Lost”. The beach itself is a perfect place to relax. The water is calm (even in winter when there are high waves everywhere on the north coast) and turquoise blue and the narrow sandy beach is lined with coconut palms and ironwood trees, so that you will always find a shady spot.

Hanauma Bay

Hanauma Bay is one of the most popular and most visited beaches in southern Oahu. However, it's not so much about the beach, but about the underwater world. Because the nature reserve in the form of offshore, shallow coral reefs is the habitat of 300 different Hawaiian fish species. And so most of the visitors come here to snorkel. The chance of swimming with turtles is also very high here - but especially in the early morning hours right after sunrise, when it is not that crowded and a visit is most worthwhile.

Cockroach Cove

Surrounded by the cliffs with hidden caves and clear, turquoise water, the small bay is more of an insider tip among the beaches in the south. It is right next to the Halona Blowhole, where you can park your car in the parking lot. From there a stairway leads directly down to the beach.

Makapu’u Beach

The view from Makapuu Point Lookout over the west coast and the green hills in the background alone is worth a stop. But the beach itself, which consists of various small bays and to which a path leads down, is worthwhile. In winter you even have the chance to spot whales off the coast - especially from the Lookout, of course.

Sunset Beach

At Sunset Beach, the name says it all. It is located on the north coast and is very popular with surfers. If you don't surf, it's best to come to sunset and indulge in the magic of the Hawaiian sunsets over a fresh coconut.

Rocky Point Beach

Rocky Point is located between Pipeline Beach and Sunset Beach and is another famous surfing beach. It owes its name to the lava stones that are scattered on the beach. The Rocky Point is mainly visited by locals and is perfect to watch them surfing or to experience the power of the high waves at the water's edge.

Sharks Cove

Shark’s Cove is a lava rock beach on the North Shore and part of Pupukea Beach Park. It is popular not only because of its spectacular underwater rock formations, but also because of the diverse underwater world that romps in them. You can even admire the many colorful fish from the surface of the water without a snorkel. Every now and then a sea turtle or harmless whitetip reef sharks stop by. Because of the pointed lava stones and sea urchins, we recommend wearing bathing shoes!

Waikiki Beach

Once a retreat for the Hawaiian royal family in the 19th century, the beach in the Honolulu district of the same name is the island's most popular and touristy beach. Personally, I was very disappointed. Even though I knew beforehand that the beach would be lined with skyscrapers and the opposite of being quiet, I also found the flair there (for example compared to Copacabana in Rio, which is just as popular and much visited) not particularly beautiful and “Hawaiian”. For me, Waikiki Beach is not one of the most beautiful beaches in Hawaii and I would save myself a visit next time.

More beaches on Oahu

Other recommended beaches on Oahu:

  • Haleiwa Beach - While most of the beaches on the North Shore are challenging even for advanced surfers, this cove is perfect for beginners and for bathing
  • Waimea Beach - is known for its huge waves in winter and is ideal for watching the best surfers on the island at this time. In summer you can also swim, snorkel and dive here
  • Electric Beach - owes its name to the nearby power station and is therefore absolutely not a postcard beach. A visit is especially worthwhile because of the underwater world, because here good swimmers have the opportunity to snorkel with turtles and dolphins.

The most beautiful walks on Oahu

As already mentioned at the beginning, Oahu, like probably all Hawaiian islands, is a paradise for hikers and climbers. There are numerous hikes to viewpoints, on cliffs, mountains and through the jungle, so that there is something for every skill level and every taste.

Lainkai Pillbox Hike

The Lanikai Pillbox Hike or Kaiwa Ridge Trail is one of the easiest hiking trails on Oahu that starts in Lanikai on the east side of the island. It's around 0.6 miles from the start of the trail to the second pillbox (former bunker). Depending on where you parked, there is still a good bit more. The actual starting point of the hike is in a small side street that branches off from Ka’elepupu Drive - directly opposite the Mid-Pacific Country Club. Further up there is a small sign that indicates the pillbox hike. Because of the first steep ascent at the beginning, the hike is classified as moderately difficult, but - especially compared to other hikes on Oahu - it is very easy and can be mastered even by inexperienced hikers if they have good shoes.

After the first ascent, the hike goes up on a fairly wide ridge path, which already offers great views over the coast of Lainkai and the offshore twin islands. The two bunkers offer great photo opportunities and provide a little shade on the back on hot days. If you like, you can follow the hiking trail further, but then we started the way back to spend a little more time at Lainkai Beach. By the way, this hike is especially beautiful at sunrise.

Olomana Three Peaks Hiking Trail

The three peaks of Olomana are also known as the Three Peaks of Oahu. The Olomana Hiking Trail is less of a hike than a via ferrata and really only for experienced hikers and climbers. I myself have been climbing up the mountains in the Alps since I was able to walk, and yet the Olomana Hike was the hardest hiking trail I have ever walked. And I have just reached the first summit and only just barely because I turned around about 5 meters below the top!

Anyone who takes on the challenge should definitely know what they are doing, know when it is time to turn around and only tackle the hike in good, dry weather. The start of the hike is Luana Hills Golf Club. You can park on Auloa Road in front of and after the bridge, from there you continue on foot along the road. You pass a guard hut and a little later you see the entry to the trail on the left side, which is marked by a sign. It's only about 1.5 kilometers to the first summit, but the climb is steep. The path increases in difficulty. At the beginning it goes through a muddy forest and later along the ridge and upwards.

The first climbing passages only come on the last third of the way. Those who have made the first summit (but also a little below) can throw a fantastic view of the rest of the way and the landscape of the Lu’ward. After the first peak, the path becomes even more difficult, if you dare to go as far as you can. It is important that the way back only leads the same way and that you have to save enough energy for the way back.

As I said, the path ended just below the first peak after I had a panic attack and thought I would die up here. After I calmed myself down, my sister and I carefully climbed back down and were sooo happy when we had made the worst parts. If I had had a harness and had there been ways to secure it, the hike itself would not have been a problem for me. But considering the fact that a wrong grip, an old rope or a shaky kick would have carried me 400 meters down, I preferred to give up - no matter how close I was to the (first) summit.

Crouching Lion Hike

The Crouching Lion Hike is a short but steep hike that offers breathtaking views of scenic Kahana Bay, Kaaawa town, and the rocky cliffs of Pu’u Manamana. Unfortunately, the trail is officially closed, which is checked by security on some days. Unfortunately, on the first day we were in the area, I left my hiking boots at the hotel. We met a couple who just did the hike with a few locals who assured them that you can still hike.

When we came back the next day, however, there was a police car at the start of the trail, which is why we unfortunately couldn't do the hike ourselves. I still can't explain how such a moderate trail closes while the Olomana trail is still open. If you want to do the hike at your own risk despite the ban, you should definitely check beforehand whether there will be controls on that day in order to avoid expensive fines.

Moanalua Valley Trail to the Stairway to Heaven (legal!)

Probably the most famous and still forbidden hike on Oahu are the Stairway to Heaven. 3,922 steps lead up an imposing mountain ridge. The stairs were originally built by the US Navy in 1942 as a top secret building for the transmission of radio signals to ships in the Pacific.The stairs were then opened to the public until 1987 when they were deemed unsafe for disrepair. Today you run the risk of paying a fine of up to $ 1,000 if you climb the stairs in a prohibited manner.

But there is a legal alternative that gives you the same view over the steps: namely the Moanalua Valley Trail. To do this, you have to leave it to the left after about 2.4 miles (4 kilometers). Then it's back on the same trail, so that you have to cover a total of 8 kilometers on steep, muddy paths. I haven't done the trail myself yet, but it will definitely be on my list the next time I'm in Hawaii.

You can find even more hikes in the following recommended blog post with the 10 most beautiful hikeson Oahu.

More excursion destinations & activities on Oahu

In the following I would like to introduce you to all other excursion destinations that are not hikes or beaches. You can easily combine many of them in small road trips - for example, along the Kalaniana’ole Highway (72) and the Kamehameha Highway (83) to the south and east and even to the north. Unfortunately, I didn't make it to the west coast, but a road trip on the 93 is also worthwhile here.

Honolulu

Honolulu is really an impressive metropolis. You have the most beautiful view of the city from Diamond Head, which the Crater Hike of the same name leads to in around 30 minutes. Incidentally, the one also begins very close by Manoa Falls Trailwhich leads through the jungle to the Manoa Falls. Unfortunately, you cannot bathe in them. What I particularly liked about Honolulu as opposed to Waikiki is that China Townwhere we at The pig and the ladyWe ate excellent and completely untouristically Vietnamese (many vegan options!) as well as the Iolani Palace, the former royal palace of the Hawaiian royal family.

Pearl Harbor

On a trip to Hawaii, there is hardly anything without a visit to Pearl Harbor. Admission to the site and numerous exhibitions is free, but a generous entrance fee is required to visit the ships.

Hoomaluhia Botanical Gardens

As soon as you pass the palm-lined entrance to the Hoomaluhia Botanical Gardens, you feel as if you are in the movie Jurassic Park. A road leads through the botanical garden, which you can use for free during opening hours from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The entire park is 400 hectares and is criss-crossed by numerous hiking trails. But the drive through the park alone is so beautiful that we went there twice. Even if the park offers countless photo opportunities - stopping in the middle of the street is prohibited. It used to be different, as proven by numerous photos on Instagram. You will find an equally beautiful, alternative photo spot at the very other end of the park (dead end), where you will not get in the way of other cars when taking your photos.

Kalaniana’ole Highway Road Trip

If you follow the Kalaniana’ole Highway east from Honolulu, one of the most beautiful road trips on the island awaits you. Along the road there are numerous viewpoints to the Coco Crater or the Spitting Caves as well as the Makapuù Lookout with fantastic views over the coast and inland. If you like, you can continue north on the country road along the east coast and visit numerous postcard beaches.