From 2012 to 2015, my wife and I attended and both graduated from Brigham Young University-Hawaii, which is located on the island of Oahu. While we lived on the island we tried to explore every part of the islands as possible. We like to claim that we know the islands like the back of our hands! Naturally, we’ve been asked dozens of times by friends and family the best places to see, eat and explore during their vacation to Hawaii. We’ve compiled a list of pictures, links, best adventures and an interactive map of things you must see and do, places you NEED to eat and other, off the beaten path activities that you can add to your vacation! We are huge hiking advocates, so a lot of our must see’s include hiking. We hope this blog gives you a good idea of things that you cannot miss while you are in Hawaii. We hope this helps and we would love your feedback! Have fun!
Since we lived on Oahu during our undergraduate degree’s we tend to know the most about this island. Your stereotypical vacation to Oahu would generally consist of visiting Waikiki, Pearl Harbor, The Dole Plantation and the Polynesian Cultural Center. Although these are all great options when visiting Oahu, we want to give some other great options that you may not know about.
Oahu favorite hikes:
- Lanikai Pill Box (Kailua) – Easy
- Koko Head Crater (Hawaii Kai) – Intermediate
- Ka’au Crater (Honolulu) – Hard
- Ehukai Pillbox Hike (Haliewa) – Easy
- Diamond Head (Honolulu) – Easy
- Makapu’u Lighthouse (Waimanalo) – Easy
- Stairway to Heaven (Kaneohe) – Extreme *Trespassing
For other great hiking ideas, you can click the links to our favorite adventure websites here:
If you are going to go for the Stairway to Heaven hike, (which I highly recommend), below are a couple of good sites to read over to prepare yourself.
If you are concerned about the guard and getting ticketed, you can attempt the “back way” via the Moanalua Saddle. The Moanalua Saddle my be the legal way to the stairs, but I would say it is much more dangerous. You hike along sheer cliff drop offs the last couple miles of the ascent. If you attempt it from Moanalua Saddle, I would recommend crampons, good hiking boots and hiking poles. Be careful & good luck!
Best places to eat on Oahu:
- Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck (Kahuku & Haleiwa) – Get the Garlic Shrimp Scampi!
- Ted’s Bakery (Haleiwa) – Get the Chocolate Haupia Cream Pie
- 7 Brothers (Kahuku & Laie) – Paniolo Burger & Fries are a must
- Angels Ice Cream (Laie) – Melona Shave Ice w/sweetened condensed milk & ice cream
- Matsumoto’s Shave Ice (Haleiwa)
- Teddy’s Bigger Burgers (Honolulu & Kaneohe)
Favorite Beaches on Oahu:
- Waimea Beach (Haleiwa) – Jump off the rock when the water is calm!
- Lanikai Beach (Kailua) – Rent a kayak and paddle out to the islands off in the distance
- Sunset Beach (Haleiwa) – Great place to… well… watch the sunset!
- Pounder’s Beach (Laie) – Excellent shore break waves to pound you in to the sand
- Waimanalo Beach (Waimanalo) – White sand beach, generally pretty empty
- Banzai Pipeline (Haleiwa) – This is a world-renowned surf break where they hold many surf competitions each year
- Waikiki Beach (Honolulu) – Mellow waves, great for beginners
- Halona Beach (Hawaii Kai) – Beautiful cove along the East side of the island
Favorite Lookouts on Oahu:
- Tantalus Lookout (Honolulu) – Beautiful drive looking up over Honolulu
- Pali Lookout (Honolulu) – Quick stop when driving on the Pali Highway
- Makapu’u Lookout (Waimanalo) – Hike up the hill to the light house
Best Oahu Snorkeling:
- Hanauma Bay (Must pay to get in) – very crowded and touristy, but some of the best snorkeling on the island
- Sharks Cove – generally lots of fish and mellow water during Summer months
- Electric Beach – Go early in the morning, right after sunrise, warm water from the power plant across the street attracts dolphins! Bring something to float on because the swim to the pipes can be long and taxing
Favorite Oahu Waterfalls:
- Manoa Falls (Easy) – small entrance fee per vehicle to park
- Sacred Falls (Intermediate) – Enter at your own risk, this hike is considered trespassing
- Maunawili Falls (Intermediate)
Learn how to surf/stand-up paddle board
- Queen’s Beach (Waikiki) – you can rent a board by the hour here on the beach
- Haleiwa Beach Park (Haleiwa) – lots of surf class options
- Turtle Bay (Kahuku)
- Malaekahana Beach “Castles” (Laie)
- Ahupuaʻa ʻO Kahana State Park (Kaaawa) – calm water great for paddle boarding or kayaking up the river or in the bay
- Kawela Bay (Kahuku) – no waves, great for learning to stand up paddle board
Splurge worthy Oahu adventures:
- Shark Cage Diving (Haleiwa)
- Skydiving (Wailua)
- Parasailing (Honolulu) – you can usually find coupons in travel brochures at the airport and downtown Waikiki
- Sunset Catamaran Tour (Honolulu)
Favorite Kauai Hikes
- Wailua Falls (Intermediate) – most people just drive to the lookout over Wailua Falls, but we recommend hiking down to the base of the falls. Very steep and muddy, but take your time and wear good shoes, because this is one of our favorites on Kauai
- Kalepa Ridge Trail Lookout (Hard) – Incredible hike past Kalalau Lookout, only 2 miles round trip, but you hike along a ridge. Some parts are exposed. I recommended bringing crampons to avoid slipping on muddy hikes with exposed ridges!
- Kalalau Trail (Intermediate-Extreme) – If you are looking for a taste of hiking the Na Pali coast, you can hike 2 miles to Hanakapi’ai Beach and then another 2 to the 300 foot waterfall, Hanakapi’ai Falls. If you have permits, proper gear and the time, you can hike the entire Kalalau Trail which is usually done over a few days, totaling 11 miles each way
- Turtle Cave (Intermediate) – Short hike down to a cave and waterfall, generally there are turtles in the cave and dozens of turtles in the water over near the waterfall off in the distance
- Queen’s Bath (Easy) – Quick hike down to the ocean wall. Queen’s Bath is a rock formation of a large pool of water next to the ocean. Be careful when the surf is high, many people have died here
Favorite Kauai Lookouts
- Kalalau Lookout (Kapaa)
- Waimea Canyon Lookout (Waimea)
- Kilauea Lighthouse Overlook (Kilauea)
- Hanalei Valley Lookout (Princeville)
Splurge worthy Kauai adventures
- Island Helicopter Tour – if you’re a thrill seeker and photographer you might consider paying extra for the doors off helicopter experience
- Na Pali Coast Rafting Tour – Incredible half day trip along Kauai’s Na Pali coast. If you opt to do a rafting excursion over a catamaran, you will generally be able to enter the sea caves along the coast
The most popular tourist attraction on Maui is the two lane, 64 mile, Road to Hana. This is a 1-2 day long activity which has dozens of stops along the trip including beaches, waterfalls, and scenic lookouts. We recommend staying in the town of Hana at least 1 night, that way you can go back and explore more of the road to Hana on the second day.
Favorite stops on Maui’s road to Hana
Waianapanapa Black Sand Beach – if you’ve never seen a black sand beach, you’ve gotta stop here!
- Kaihalulu Red Sand Beach – rare red sand beach is a must stop along the road to Hana
- Waioka Pond “Venus Pools” – awesome pools and waterfalls for cliff jumping
- Pīpīwai Trail (Intermediate) – Unreal hike to a massive waterfall, passing through a bamboo forest
- Seven Sacred Pools at Ohe’o – Beautiful pools at the end of the road which can be explored & swam in
Other must see stops around Maui
- Haleakala National Park – Incredible park with views of the island & volcanoes. Dress warm and visit both during the day and the night. Star gazing, sunset and sunrises are unreal on Haleakala!
- Pe’ahi “Jaws” Surf Break – During the winter months, “Jaws”, an enormous wave is surfed by big wave surfers
- Molokini Crater – Beautiful, partially submerged volcanic crater off the coast of Maui. Snorkeling tours are available.
- Helicopter Tour – If you can afford it, take a helicopter tour over the Molokai Sea Cliffs. They are the tallest in the world!
- Drive the lesser popular ends of the island – The North West and South East ends of the island are windy, one lane remote roads, that are not typically driven by tourists. I have driven both roads and have really enjoyed exploring lesser driven paths.
Must do Big Island Adventures:
- Swim with Dolphins (Kona) – Paddle out at sunrise in a rented Kayak at Kealakekua Bay. A large pod of dolphins swim here almost every morning at sunrise- its an amazing sight to see.
- Sunset on Mauna Kea – Sunset on top of Mauna Kea has got to be the most incredible sunset we’ve ever experienced. Mauna Kea towers over the Big Island at 13,000ft. Stick around after the sun goes down, because the stargazing is out of this world. Dress warm!!
- Scuba/Snorkel with Manta-ray’s (Kona) – This dive is one of the best in the world! Swimming with manta ray’s at night is an unforgettable experience we highly recommend
- Volcanoes National Park
- Waipi’o Black Sand Beach (Waimea)
- ‘Akaka Falls (Hilo)
- Rainbow Falls (Hilo)
- South Point (Naalehu) – This is the southern most point of the USA! Amazing cliff jumping and a rare Green Sand Beach you can hike to
- Punalu’u Black Sand Beach – One of the Big Islands most pristine black sand beach!
Thanks for reading
We hope this blog made your vacation planning much easier! Hawaii will always have a special place in our heart. Enjoy your vacation and please give us your feedback. Let us know if we’ve missed anything. Aloha!
-Andrew & Haley