Oahu: Itineraries and getting the most out of your visit

Out of all of the Hawaiian islands, Oahu is certainly the most talked about and the most visited. From snorkeling to hiking, from watching surfers catch their best wave to shopping in Waikiki, from picnics on the beach to 5 star eateries, visitors can see and do it all. With long sunny days coupled with average temperatures in the 70’s and low 80’s, Oahu provides a great climate for just about any island activity you can imagine.

But with so much going on, how does one get the most out of their visit? The key is to plan ahead and learn when and where the crowds will be. Here’s a bit of starter information to help you plan the best Oahu vacation possible.

How to make the most of your time on Oahu

Due to Oahu’s location, climate and size, visitors will find a variety of activities, both day and night. Some of the activities include laying on the beach, snorkeling, scuba diving, hiking, shopping, sightseeing and sampling shave ice along with other Hawaiian favorites.

Hawaii itself is known for its rich history and strong culture that has stood the test of time. Because of this, you’ll find lots of different cultural activities and sites around the island. If you’re not up for finding everything yourself, there are a number of guided tours available that will lead the way. Dolphins and whales are a common sight off of Oahu and provide lasting memories. If you’re looking for a great wildlife experience, it’s best to hire a guided tour. This way you’ll be much more likely to see one up close while staying safe.

On Oahu restaurants reign king with international dishes alongside Hawaiian cuisine. You’ll also find several different Farmers Markets that offer low priced veggies and fruits. These are perfect to visit because they are not well advertised and thus attract a very small number of tourists. The key is to not be shy and try a bit of everything.

Sample Itineraries

Depending on how long your visit is, you’ll be privy to a great combination of relaxation and adventure. Here are a few sample itineraries that include a mixture of culture, food and fun.

Day 1

  • Hike up to the top of Diamond Head, an extinct volcano.
  • Visit world famous Hanauma Bay where you’ll get the chance to swim with a variety of marine life.

Day 2

  • Visit the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial as well as other parts of Pearl Harbor.
  • Take in a night of cultural dancing and food at the Polynesian Cultural Center.

Day 3

  • Visit famed North Shore and its white sand beaches and great shopping. A must stop is Matsumoto Shave Ice.
  • Take a stroll along Asian architecture at the Byodo-In Temple. Just remember to keep your voices down as this is a place of relaxation.

Day 4

  • Take a snorkel trip out to see dolphins, sea turtles and more. A popular choice is Dolphin Excursions.
  • Experience the land with a horse back ride across the country. There are many different tours available with Happy Trails Hawaii leading the pack.

The most popular attractions for visitors include the Honolulu Zoo, Sea Life Park, the Bernice P. Bishop Museum, the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial and the Polynesian Cultural Center. These attractions are best paired with one more attraction or a few hours of shopping, sightseeing or laying on the beach.

When and where to avoid

Every year, 4.5 million people visit Oahu. Keep in mind that Oahu is only about 44 miles long and 30 miles wide. Because of its small size, popular beaches and attractions often become crowded during certain times of the day. Luckily, with a little planning you can avoid the crowds and get the most out of each activity. Below you’ll find some information regarding when and where to avoid.


  • Humana Bay – As the most advertised snorkeling experience, Humana Bay fills up quickly. The best times to go are early morning and mid afternoon. This way you either get there before everyone else or arrive when the first rush of the day is leaving. After all, the last thing you want is to be bumming into 10 people as you’re trying to enjoy the reef.
  • Waikiki – Honolulu itself is a large city that’s home to 100,000s of people and the main portal for visitors throughout the year. Waikiki is its heart. Because of this, traffic can become intense at times and lax at others. The key is to plan your driving around rush hours. Now remember, because the Hawaiian islands are 3 hours behind the west coast, many people start their work day earlier in order to stay in line with the mainland.


  • Honolulu International Airport –  Depending on what time your flight lands, you’ll find that the airport can become a bit of a trap. With 100s to 1,000s of people flying in and out everyday, you can start to feel a little claustrophobic. The key is to get in and out, that way you can start your dream vacation.
  • Ala Moana Center – Located in Waikiki, this large outdoor shopping mall is home to 100s of high end stores. Due to it’s easily assessable location, it is also a magnet for all of the shoppers in the area. This drives the prices up. There are plenty of other stores found throughout the island that cater to both high end shoppers and those on a budget.

Go Oahu Card

If you plan on visiting a large number of attractions during your visit, it might make sense to look into getting a Go Oahu Card. This card is a powerful tool in helping to save money during your trip. With the card you’ll gain access to 35 different attractions found around the island. Also, because you can purchase the card before your trip, you’ll have ample time to plan your days, helping to allow you to avoid the traffic and crowds.

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  1. Oahu Amanda says:

    Thank you for the tips ! I have cousins visiting and have forwarded to give the a good overview! They will have me of course but I wanted to send them something to get started.

  2. Liz says:

    When is shoulder season, or does it exist in Oahu?