13 things to do on oahu: a one week island itinerary
With the pace of today’s world, it’s easy to get pulled into the routine and busyness of our everyday lives to the point where we end up living in a reactive state. We try to keep on top of our to-do’s like we’re playing the Whack-A-Mole arcade game. Our schedules fill up, and the days go by without us giving much thought to how we’re spending them. At least, that’s the tendency for me. Busyness is a reality of life in some respects, but I’ve found it important to intentionally break from it regularly. Rather than simply going about our routines because we always have, every now and then it’s helpful to stop and step outside those routines so we can examine them—evaluating what’s working, and what’s not. Which habits are helping you toward the life you want, and which aren’t.
Obviously, this doesn’t always happen through a trip to Hawaii. More often, it’s taking a random, middle-of-the-week vacation day or even just unplugging from social media and email for a few days. But this past month, I did get to visit Hawaii for the first time! Some college friends and I had talked about taking a reunion trip to the islands this summer, but by the time it was starting to look like it wasn’t going to happen anymore, my friend Kirsten and I were already so excited about the idea, we determined to make it happen anyway!
We ended up staying with a family friend of mine, Raelean, who lives on the island of Oahu—and her warm hospitality ended up being a highlight of the trip! Raelean has a beautifully giving and encouraging heart, and she’s one of those people whose presence makes it clear she’s spent a lot of time in the presence of Jesus. I enjoyed starting each morning at the breakfast table with her, chatting over eggs and big bowls of fresh, tropical fruit.
Anyway, the trip was just what my heart needed. Hawaii was the perfect place to rest and recalibrate, and I left feeling rejuvenated and ready to continue co-creating with God the type of life that reflects the vision He’s given me.
In order for that to be the case though, I had to be intentional in planning our itinerary. While I’d already spent some vacation time on a trip to Iceland and London this summer, it wasn’t exactly restful (which is fine, because that wasn’t the point), but it was a priority for Hawaii to be just that. I love everything about planning itineraries—researching the best spots, mapping locations, crafting a schedule and figuring out what makes sense to do when. We ended up landing on an itinerary that was the perfect mix of relaxation as well as some activity (because exploring is definitely something that fills me up too 😊). If that sounds like your kind of vacation as well, I hope our one week Oahu island itinerary below can be a helpful resource when it comes time to plan your next trip!
13 THINGS TO DO ON OAHU
1) HIKE DIAMOND HEAD SUMMIT TRAIL
This trail was a bit crowded as far as hikes go, but you just can’t beat the view of Honolulu it offers, or the striking stretch of crystal clear blue waters below. Be sure to snag a window seat on your flight in to catch a view of this crater from up above—its sheer magnitude is incredible!
2) TAKE SURF LESSONS AT WAIKIKI BEACH
A first-timer, I was a little nervous to give surfing a try but once I made it up, it was such a rush! It took me four times, and I found out the reason I kept falling was because I kept looking at my feet. Turns out all along, all I needed to do was look up—a fitting analogy. Our instructor from Moku Hawaii was fun and encouraging, and he even attached a GoPro to our boards to capture these awesome shots, as well as the video I posted on my Facebook page.
After a full and active day, we were more than ready to enjoy our first Hawaiian dinner at A&G Grill, a favorite of Raelean's in Waianae. The salmon was so good, we ended up going back for second's the next night!
3) GO SWIMMING WITH DOLPHINS
The 6am call time for our excursion with Dolphin and You was more than worth it—this was easily my favorite thing we did the whole trip. Dolphins swam directly below us as we snorkeled on the surface, and we swam within a few feet of giant sea turtles! I could try to describe how much better everything was down where it’s wetter under da sea (😉), but I’ll let the beautiful shots captured by Paulphin Photography do the talking. Oh, one last thing. You’ll see from the photos, we got interviewed for a local news segment talking about our experience swimming with dolphins—pretty cool!
4) SNACK ON FRESH PINEAPPLE AT THE DOLE PLANTATION
If you're planning on visiting North Shore, be sure to stop for fresh pineapple slices at the Dole Plantation—it's on the way! They also have Dole Whip (you know, the same yummy concoction you can buy outside the Tikki Room at Disneyland) but after learning all about pineapples and how to pick the perfect one, I couldn’t pass up a big ‘ole cup of the juicy fruit in its natural form. My favorite part of this experience was learning that it takes two years for pineapple to harvest fruit—TWO YEARS. It made me think of all the times I’ve enjoyed this fruit, having no clue as to the time it took to be ready for me. Pineapple served as a reminder to me that beautiful things take a long time to become. It was a reminder that the growing pains we experience will one day produce sweet, refreshing fruit—fruit that will feed many.
5) ENJOY AN ACAI BOWL AND FIND THE HIDDEN TREE SWING ON NORTH SHORE
I found out about this tree swing from one of my favorite bloggers and let me tell you, it is NOT easy to find! Photos of it are plastered across Pinterest and travel blogs but it turns out, no one shares the exact location because doing so could lead to the state taking them down. But there’s actually multiple tree swings across Oahu. Each one has the coordinates of the next swing written underneath—it’s like a little treasure hunt. North Shore is also the place to get a real coconut to drink water from. They’re sold at fruit stands and truth be told I didn’t like the taste, but it was still fun to try!
If you follow along on Instagram it should be no surprise I’m acai-obsessed, and this one from Banzai Bowls was quite possibly the best I have ever had (this was another idea inspired by Barefoot Blonde). Banzai is located in North Shore, so we grabbed one to eat while we watched the sunset at well, Sunset Beach—the perfect way to end our second day!
6) HIKE THE STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN
Otherwise known as the Haiku Stairs, this was one of the most breathtaking hikes I’ve ever done. Its 3,922 steps will lead you straight into the clouds. Go prepared with snacks and lots of water—it’s only about 3-4 hours round trip, but the humidity will take it out of you and beware, as it’s extremely windy up top. Also, be sure to go early as it gets hot and well, the hike isn’t exactly allowed due to a small section of stairs on the lower part of the hike that are damaged, as you’ll see in the first photo. The guard simply warned us to be careful, but rumor has it they sometimes issue fines.
Since this hike is basically the equivalent of doing the Stairmaster for 3 hours straight, your legs will be Jell-O when you're done and you won't want to do anything but bum out on the beach the rest of the day—at least, that's all we had the energy to do! We went with Lanikai Beach and loved it so much, we ended up spending our entire last day there as well. You'll hear more on Lanikai later on in this post, because it earned its own spot on the list!
7) RIDE ATV'S AT KUALOA RANCH
Home to several film locations including Jurassic Park, Kualoa Ranch is stunning, and riding ATV’s is the perfect way to see it! This is the one activity we debated whether to spend the money on, but I’m so glad we did—it was unique and ended up being one of my favorites.
8) VISIT THE POLYNESIAN CULTURE CENTER
From climbing palm trees to grab coconuts, to fire-twirling, to basket-weaving, to canoe rides, to choreographed tribal dancing, there's so much to see, learn, and do at this Polynesian-themed park.
9) GO SNORKELING AT HANAUMA BAY
You could spend all day staring at the beautiful variety marine life at what's known as one of the best snorkeling spots in the world—which is exactly what we did. Be sure to arrive early—before 9am to be safe—as they limit the number of people allowed in to preserve the embayment. Kirsten’s family had snorkel gear we were able to take with us, but they do rent it out if you don’t have your own.
10) VISIT PEARL HARBOR
You can't visit Oahu without visiting this site where a sobering part of our nation's history took place. Having done a state report on Hawaii in elementary school and learned so much about Pearl Harbor, it was especially surreal to finally visit in person.
11) SNAP A 'GRAM AT THE KAKAAKO STREET MURALS
Kakaako is a commercial and retail district in Honolulu where you can find beautiful street murals—and at least one or two people posing for their perfect Instagram shots at all times. Each of the Kakaako street murals is unique, and every season new layers of paint are added, making them ever-transforming kaleidoscopes of beauty. Just like you and me.
12) GO TO A LUAU AT PARADISE COVE
If there's a better way to spend your final evening in Hawaii than by eating copious amounts of Kalua pork and sipping drinks with fresh pineapple plopped on top while watching dancers hula to the backdrop of a sunset, I'd like to know what it is. Luaus are offered all across Hawaii, but we opted for the one at Paradise Cove.
13) LOUNGE AT LANIKAI BEACH FOR WHITE SAND AND TURQUOISE WATERS
When planning our itinerary, we set aside our final day for a beach day at whichever beach ended up being our favorite from all the ones we spent time at throughout the week. Once we visited Lanikai, it was a no-brainer—its white sand and crystal clear, bluest of blue waters were a dream.
I hope you enjoyed hearing about our trip and seeing some of the photos—thanks for taking the time to read! Have you been to Hawaii? What were some of your favorite spots? Let me know in the comments! Whether on a trip or in our own backyards, here’s to choosing adventure and making memories that last twice as long as the tan lines they give us.