Aloha fellow island adventurers!
Let me tell you, I’ve been on more than my fair share of Hawaiian vacations with my boyfriend. From Kauai’s lush landscapes to the volcanic wonder that is Big Island, we thought we’d seen it all. But let me tell you, Oahu takes the cake for the perfect 1-week vacation destination!
You see, as someone who has explored every corner of these tropical gems, I’ve come to realize that Oahu truly has it all: from bustling Honolulu nightlife and Waikiki’s white sands to secret waterfalls and unforgettable cultural experiences. So trust me when I say that this 7-day itinerary I’m sharing with you will make your Oahu adventure easy, efficient, and absolutely amazing.
We all know vacations can be stressful at times – picking the right activities for your interests, avoiding tourist traps, and making sure you truly get a taste of island life. That’s where I come in! This guide is tailored for every kind of vacationer out there; whether you’re a hiking enthusiast, beach bum or culinary connoisseur.
Warning: After following this itinerary, you might find yourself daydreaming about moving to Hawaii permanently. Don’t say I didn’t warn ya!
Alright folks, buckle up those seatbelts (or should I say flip-flops?) and let’s embark on a week-long journey through our favorite corners of Oahu!
Day 1: Have a fun day in Waikiki and settle in
Just because you arrived today, doesn’t mean you can’t squeeze in some amazing experiences. Regardless of your checking time, you can visit some amazing beaches and restaurants before or after setting into your hotel. These beaches and restaurants have amazing accommodations and good parking for your rental.
1. Kuhio Beach or (The Ponds)
This is a great first stop because Kuhio Beach is a calm water beach, and part of the famous Waikiki beach. The beach is within walking distance from most hotels in Waikiki. It has a great and easy entrance into the water with a nice shallow section, making it perfect for swimming. The beach is even fenced by two long concrete walls into the ocean, making it a perfect family spot. If you have not checked into your hotel yet, you can enjoy this beach because it also has showers, bathrooms, parking, lifeguards, and local food concessions.
2. Honolulu Cookie Company Waikiki – The trademark pineapple cookie
After swimming at the ponds, check out the Honolulu Cookie Company for snacks, presents, and souvenirs (located at Hilton Hawaiian Village). This is the pineapple cookie trademark shop of Hawaii, and it has great shortbread cookie options. The store is fun and reminds me of a small perfume shop.
The cookies are perfectly packaged to keep for your friends, or you can enjoy them as a snack at the beach. They have some amazing flavors including Mango Macadamia, Dark Triple Chocolate Macadamia, Guava, and Mango Macadamia. They have winter special flavors too. Whatever box you choose you will love it.
3. Duke Kahanamoku Beach in front of Hilton Hawaiian Village
Enjoy this lagoon and sandy beach right in front of the Hilton for a swim, snorkel, or just a beautiful walk before dinner (open to the public!). The view is gorgeous and the water is super calm for swimming and snorkeling (as you would expect from Hilton). It’s about a 1-mile walk from Morimoto Asia, or drive there (there is public parking). This beach usually isn’t crowded and it’s the perfect spot to watch the sunset. On Friday nights there is even a fireworks show.
4. Happy Hour at Morimoto Asia – modern Japanese with a Waikiki beach view
This restaurant is less than 400 feet from Kuhio Beach (The ponds) and has one of the best happy hour menus for a late lunch, or some drinks and snacks before dinner. They serve high-end Japanese and have a renowned chef. Happy hour lasts from 5 pm to 7 pm every day and you can enjoy the discounted menu from the beautiful covered seating outside, overlooking the ocean. Try the rock shrimp and wagyu meatball sliders with delicious papaya slaw, and some cocktails, all under $10.00 each.
5. Enjoy fine dining with a view at the Beachhouse at the Moana
Treat yourself to a high-end affordable dinner on your first night. The Beachhouse at the Moana has an incredible view and the patio is right on the beach. Make sure to reserve a table ahead of time (I recommend the outside seating).
They have a 3-course and 4-course tasting menu, so enjoy a fine dining experience and pair some quality wine with your choices. For appetizers, I recommend my favorite, the crab cake, and butternut squash curry.
Day 2: Discover the windward coast
Make the best of the windward coast by starting early and making your way down the list. To do these four activities set aside 9 to 10 hours on the coast. It will take you about 32 miles to visit all 5 destinations (and about a 1-hour drive with traffic and stops). Personally, I love all the activities on this list. Try to hit them all.
1. Byodo-In Temple – A beautiful Japanese Buddhist temple
Start your morning with a relaxing and fulfilling walk through the Byodo-In Temple in the Valley of the Temples Memorial Park. The temple is tranquil, well maintained, and has beautiful sites to enjoy. It is open to all faiths. While enjoying your time here, make sure to admire the abundant koi pond, turtles, peacocks, and swans that are home on these grounds.
Ring the several-ton peace bell before entering the temple which will bring you happiness and longevity (Who doesn’t want some of that?) And check out my favorite – the 18-foot-tall Lotus Buddha statue inside. Feel free to meditate or just enjoy the unique site.
2. Grab food at Haleiwa Joe’s Haiku Gardens
Haleiwa Joe’s Haiku Gardens is right on the road between the Byodo-In Temple and Hoomaluhia Botanical Gardens. They serve great and unpretentious food including fresh seafood, American, and steak. The view from the outside seating area is amazing, as you look out into the smoky mountains and jungle.
The locals love this place because the portions are large, hardy, and incredibly tasty. Try the crab legs, prime rib steak, or one of many fish on the menu. They also have large, strong, and tasty cocktails. This is a hidden gem, so don’t miss it.
3. Hoomaluhia Botanical Gardens
This is the most beautiful botanical garden on the island, made popular by amazing Instagram photos posted by visitors. You can do a 20-minute drive through these amazing 400 acres, or set aside 2 to 3 hours to walk around, have a picnic, and enjoy the best collection of exotic plants on the island. You can get the digital map of the grounds at the visitor center, and enjoy a picnic by the lake. I like that many of the plants are labeled so it’s a great opportunity to learn about your surroundings.
4. Kaneohe Sandbar – Sand beach in the middle of the ocean
The best way to enjoy the Kaneohe Sandbar is to do a tour which includes a boat ride, lunch, and group snorkeling. That way you have a boat to keep your things dry, a nice burger lunch, and an instructor that keeps you safe. This is an amazing spot, where the water on the sandbar goes from ankle deep to waist deep. Look to visit at low tide. Asides from breathtaking, deserted island photos, you can enjoy a fun crystal clear water snorkel and exploration far from the city.
5. The 6 island villages at Polynesian Cultural Center
Taking a tour at the Polynesian Cultural Center will give you unlimited access to the amazing villages and exploration of their time and culture, a canoe ride, and an evening show (Breath of Life show). There is hands-on activities fun for couples and children. Also, there is a quality Alii Luau Buffet with more than enough food for an authentic and filling dinner. (Keep the Orchid flower lei as a souvenir). Best of all, the money helps fund the university program on Polynesian studies.
Day 3: Explore the North Shore
The North Shore is a 1-hour drive from Waikiki and a worthy day trip. The 7 miles of beach are known as prime surf spaces (for professional competitions) in the winter. And in the summer months, it’s a worthy place to swim, hike and encounter green turtles.
1. Watch Pro Surfers at Banzai Pipeline
Checking out the pro surfers’ master the waves should be on everyone’s list, regardless of whether you are a surfer or not. The Pipeline is one of the most photographed waves in the world because of its uniformity, specific shape, and closeness to the beach. For the best pro-pipeline action head to Ehukai Beach Park on the North Shore of Oahu. Many professional contests are held here in the winter months including the Billabong Pipeline Masters. But no matter when you visit, you are guaranteed to see some extremely talented surfers at their best.
2. Waimea Valley Trail – The cant miss waterfall hole for swimming
This trail and waterfall have great organization, paved trail roads, amenities, and lifeguards at the swimming hole. At the entrance, there are usually workshops for crafts and sometimes hula lessons and performances. But what you want is the 1.9-mile out-and-back trail which ends at Waimea falls and swim hole.
The trail takes under 1 hour to complete round trip and picture stops are included. The hike is full of rainforest vegetation and exotic, native, wildflowers. The waterfall is over 30 feet tall and a safe easy place to swim. Don’t think this is a boring waterfall, because the brave have cliff jumping options.
3. Go snorkeling at Shark’s Cove – Tidal pools and exploring in the shallow end
Sharks Cove is part of the Pupukea Beach Park and most of the beach is made of lava. That means a great place for small sea creatures to explore and admire. Since there are tidal pools made of lava, it’s a good place to snorkel or soak in the shallow end. Take a relaxing walk and explore the critters, or take a snorkel and swim. Either way, this is a peaceful, non-crowded spot to spend a few hours.
4. Observe the sea turtles at Laniakea Beach
Laniakea Beach is also known as Turtle Beach because of the large and friendly population of green turtles that live here. Visiting this beautiful beach almost guarantees a close encounter with some green turtles sunbathing and enjoying the sand. They are here year-round, but the best time of year to visit is between May and October. Asides from the turtles this is a beautiful, non-crowded beach to take an easy swim and enjoy a quiet time at the beach.
5. Dole plantation tours
Even if you are not a big fan of organized tours, you will enjoy the Dole plantation. They offer a customizable tour that can last from 30 minutes to many hours. This is a great opportunity to learn about our food sourcing, agriculture, and how pineapple cultivation is part of the local culture. The Pineapple Garden Maze takes about 40 minutes for adults and children alike. The Pineapple Express Train ride is a blast and lasts 20 minutes. Working hours are from 9:30 am to 5:30 pm and you can buy tickets for individual attractions or combo packages at the on-site ticket booths
Day 4: Journey to the Leeward coast
If you are not a big fan of crowded beaches, fast pace activities, and in-your-face tourism, the Leeward is your oasis for the day. The Leeward coast is home to the quiet and friendly Ko Olina lagoons, multiple secluded hikes, and some family fun.
1. The Maili pillbox hike – perfect morning hike with a panoramic view
Start your morning with an exceptional but short hike to the Maili pillboxes. This hike takes about 35 minutes one way (with pictures and water stops) and is a 1.7-mile hike round trip. The trail is not crowded in the morning and provides great vegetation and jungle-like paths to the top. At the end of the trail, you will find the bunkers, which give the trail its name. This is a good spot to enjoy the ocean, mountain, and vegetation panoramic views. This is an exceptional spot. Have a peaceful secluded breakfast here and appreciate your surroundings.
Note: If you choose to hike this trail before dawn, for the sunrise, bring a flashlight.
2. Ko Olina Lagoons
7 different manmade and natural lagoons make up the Oceanside of KO Olina. Even though this is a front side of an amazing resort it is open to the public, and a great place to enjoy a couple of hours of swimming and snorkeling in the calm lagoons. There are different depths to the lagoons so you can safely try some watersports or just walk the beaches and sunbathe. The resort offers some great accommodations in one spot.
So if you get hungry check out La Hiki, Noe, or Mina’s Fish House restaurants. For amazing high-end drinks check out Waterman Bar & Lounge or Dr. Mai Tai’s. A family-friendly option for lunch and deserts is offered at Aulani’s Disney Resort & Spa.
3. Wet n Wild aqua park – exciting rides, cabanas, and family luau
This is a fun getaway for families and couples. It was voted into the top 10 attractions on the island and offers more than 25 exciting attractions on 29 acres of lavish tropical landscaping and natural cliffs. The best way to enjoy this park is to make reservations ahead of time (you must reserve a cabana for luxurious privacy). If you plan to make a day of it, you can also enjoy the Chief’s Luau while here. The luau is funny, and family-friendly and includes a world champion fire-knife dance.
4. Swim with Dolphins in the Wild
If you prefer an adventure in the real Ocean instead of the waterpark, check out one of the agencies for a tour in the area. This is the best area on the island for spotting dolphins. My favorite agencies offering affordable and high-quality tours, are Ko Olina Ocean Adventures boat tour agency and Oahu Dolphin Divers in Waianae.
The turtle and dolphin snorkeling tours are safe and accompanied by trained professionals. The plan is that this will take about 4 hours and ask ahead what amenities are included in the price. If you spent the morning at Ko Olina lagoons, it’s the perfect spot for pick up and returns from your adventure.
5. Kaena Point Trail (bird sanctuary and hike with a lava shore)
There are two paths to hike to Kaena Point. I prefer the Wai’anae side because it offers better views. This trail is recognized as the best hike on the island and offers a 4.8-mile round trip trail that will take you about 3 hours to complete and return to your starting spot. If you are worried, know there is no significant elevation gain, and the trail is generally flat. If you do this hike in the winter, you can spot some whales and other wildlife.
Day 5: A day for romance and relaxation
A vacation wouldn’t be complete without a day of pampering, romance, and one-on-one time with your partner. These activities will bring you closer, ignite the spark, and let you experience the magic of Oahu. Do them in this order for maximum effect.
1. Soak up the Nature at the Moanalua Gardens
This is the perfect spot to take a morning walk and enjoy this 26-acre park full of shade and flowering plants. The park is spread out and spacious with a symbolic monkey pod tree, which is a sight to see. There is also a large koi pond, taro patches, and bridges leading over the winding stream. Here you will feel secluded and at peace, while still being in the city. Bring some breakfast and coffee and if you are lucky you will also get to see a hula show.
2. Lava Massage & Day Spa couples massage
Whether you choose an individual or couples massage, you will have a top spa experience at Lava Massage & Day spa. The rooms have exceptional views, everything is impeccably clean, and the service is at the top level. The best way to secure you get what you want is to book online and get in touch with their friendly staff. I personally recommend the couples massage and hot stones for 105 minutes. The COCO package is also a top pic that includes a full body massage, a mini facial, and a Lilikoi sugar foot scrub. No matter what package you choose, you will leave relaxed, calm, and pampered.
3. Manoa Falls Trail – Hike to a waterfall and swim hole
This is the most impressive waterfall on the list at 150 feet tall. To get to it, it’s an easy hike at 1.6 miles round-trip and about 40 minutes each way (with multiple water breaks and picture stops). No noteworthy elevation gain, so the hike is family-friendly. Some risk takers will take a swim here, but I recommend just enjoying the sight. Bring a snack and enjoy the shade, before heading back.
4. Winery Oeno – Beat Island Style Wine Tasting
Do this as an afternoon activity and enjoy some unique local wine and snacks. This is the only winery on the island and is located in a small space in an industrial area. You will taste the most tropical and unique wines including watermelon, pineapple, and coconut. Along with the wine tasting, you will have a friendly and knowledgeable host. He will teach you about the process and tasting without being pretentious. Don’t forget to grab some bread and garlic dip while you enjoy learning about this small winery.
5. Pacific Star Sunset Buffet & Show Cruise
The Pacific Star Sunset Buffet & Show Cruise aboard the Star of Honolulu is the best and most worthwhile sunset cruise in Oahu. Choose from the buffet, casual, or deluxe options. It is the best deal for the money and asides from a beautiful coast-long boat ride you get an excellent bar, freshly prepared buffet dinner, and a luau show.
Needless to say, there is plenty of food and drink for everyone and the bartenders make great cocktails. The Polynesian dancers are skilled friendly and put on a great show. This is a good way to end your evening as you enjoy a one-of-a-kind sunset and high-end dinner with a professional and friendly staff.
Day 6: Enjoy all the attractions of Honolulu
Honolulu is the hub of Hawaii and attracts the best of everything. Here you can find the best and biggest display of culture including museums, traditional Luaus, and natural preserves that house incredible species of plants and sea life.
1. Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve – the perfect snorkeling experience
The number of people that can visit the Hanauma Bay Natural Preserve is limited each day, so you need to book and plan ahead. Make reservations ahead by visiting the Honolulu parks & Recreation website. The park is open from 6:45 a.m. to 4 p.m. and has limited parking, so get there early. It will be very worth it. The Preserve is home to more than 400 species of tropical fish, many corals, and green turtles. This is the perfect place for snorkeling. The water is calm and there is a large shallow end for walking and exploring or swimming. They have nice clean bathrooms, showers, and a snack bar. Feel free to bring your own food and even a small cooler with nonalcoholic drinks.
2. Easy hike to Makapu’u Point Lighthouse
This is an easy and paved trail that can be done any time of day. It’s a little over 2 miles round trip, and shouldn’t take you more than 1.5 hours including all the stops for pictures (take your time). Also, there is not too much elevation gain. At the tip of the trail is an extraordinary lighthouse from the early 1900s and a 600-foot sea cliff towering above Makapuʻu Beach. This is a perfect spot to have a picnic for lunch or some drinks and snacks before heading back. This hike is not only easy but well worth it for the panoramic views of the open ocean and mountainside.
Note: There is very little shade on this trail so wear a hat and sun protection. If hiking early in the morning or after sunset, don’t forget a flashlight.
3. Bishop Museum – The biggest gathering of Polynesian artifacts on Earth
The museum is 14 miles from the Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve and about 17 miles from the Makapu’u Point Lighthouse trail. So whatever your morning activity, you are not far from this hidden gem. This collection was started in the 18-hundreds and stretches on 3 spacious floors of the building. You will love the tattoo exhibit, modern street art, and the history of boats from ancient to modern times.
First-time visitors can easily spend 2 to 3 hours here. It’s easy to get tickets online or at the door. The highlight for me personally is the shows at the planetarium. There are several diverse shows available (some are also kid-friendly). Try the Ngā Tohunga Whakatere: The Navigators. The show lasts about 45 minutes and is exceptionally well done. There is a well-stocked snack bar with food and drinks, so make it a mini meal.
4. Best Luau on the Island (Waikiki Starlight Luau at Hilton Hawaiian Village)
The best can’t-miss luau on the island is also the closest one to Waikiki beach. Book the Waikiki Starlight Luau at Hilton Hawaiian Village before your trip to make sure you get the package and seating you want. The setting of the luau is right next to the Duke Kahanamoku Lagoon with an incredible ocean view and the only open-air luau available.
The entire experience lasts about 3 hours and includes, a lei, welcoming drink, hula lessons (optional), a dinner, live music, and a show. The show has many dances for the Polynesian culture but the most impressive is the fire knife dancing. The show is moved inside if there is rain, so there is no need to cancel.
5. The Ala Moana Centre – Biggest and best shopping mall
Get you’re shopping done in time, and pick up the souvenirs, gifts, and things for the road you haven’t found savaging Oahu yet. Don’t be put off by the shopping mall because it offers so much. Asides from being the biggest open-air mall in the world, they often have music or hula shows to enjoy while here. There is lots of parking and over 350 shops, restaurants, and businesses.
Many of them are locally owned and run, but there are also large department stores. To get around the huge space efficiently they have their own app for navigating the mall and stores. Still plan to spend 2 to 3 hours here for sure. My favorite stop is the Diamond Head Chocolate Company with handmade high-end chocolate. It makes the best present. For food check out the local Blue Hawaii Lifestyle which serves fresh tropical smoothies and sandwiches, or Han No Daidokoro which is an amazing Korean BBQ spot.
Some events are more advertised than others. On your last day go slightly off the beaten path and forget the beaches. Instead, visit and do the enriching activities that will create lasting memories. Pick and choose, depending on your departure time, or do them all. Most of these can also be done on a rainy day, do just swap itinerary days if you need to.
1. Liliha Bakery – Best malasadas since the 50s
Grab an authentic Hawian treat for breakfast before getting started for the day. Liliha Bakery has been working since the 50s and is a local staple. You can smell this shop way before you enter and will get hungry immediately.
They have all kinds of baked goods but are most famous for their large selection of perfectly prepared. Malasadas. Asides from the original (which can keep fresh all day), try the Lilikoi, coconut custard, and Azuki flavors. This is the most authentic treat you will find on the island. Just make sure to arrive early, or they will be gone.
2. Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum – historic and vintage aircraft from World War II
Set aside about 2 to 2.5 hours to visit the exhibits and vintage plains at Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum. There is a tower tour (control tower which is 15 floors up) and two large warehouses with vintage plains that are well worth the time and money. During the tower tour, you can get great historical facts concerning the attack in WWII.
The staff is knowledgeable and open to questions. There are great labels and information available. Among other things, here you can see bullet holes in jets, old war birds, and carrier plains. There is a flight simulation you can do and it lasts about 7 to 8 minutes. You will also feel good about paying admissions since this is a non-profit organization.
3. Waikiki Aquarium – Best family activity
This is the second oldest aquarium in the US and is the perfect place to see the native tropical fish and sea life of Hawaii. It’s run by the University of Hawaii, so proceeds go to their educational program. They have both an inside and outside aquarium area and you can spend an hour or more exploring here.
Everything is well labeled and there are interactive elements and touch screens with additional information about the sea life. Though this is not a very big aquarium it has a great collection of fish, turtles, eels, coral, and even seals. Check out my favorite, the jellyfish! Check out the gift shop for original souvenirs.
4. Take an art tour at the Honolulu Museum of Art
This is the best-hidden gem of them all. The Honolulu Museum of Art has an enormous collection of art and artifacts with over 50 thousand pieces on display at all times. They also have an amazing collection of Asian art. Here you have the opportunity to see a film at the Doris Duke Theater, take an art class, or enjoy the exhibits. You can take a guided tour through the displays or just wander around on your own. Either way there is much to see and learn here. It’s a unique place and unlike most art museums in the US. They attract famous artists from all around the world and are the largest in the state.
5. Beach Sunset Yoga Hawaii – Beautiful sunset and guided yoga
This small yoga practice is a perfect relaxing activity for everyone, regardless of your level or experience. It’s also a perfect way to end your vacation. Here you will enjoy the flawless views of the ocean, beach, and a magical sunset, while you meditate and stretch. Try the dynamic evening sunset class by the Waikiki Oceanfront position and Diamondhead Backdrop and you will love it.
The instructors are attentive, and friendly, and adjust to everyone’s level of fitness. The class lasts between 75 to 80 minutes and is available in the morning and evening every day. Make sure to wear comfortable clothing, bring a towel and also water. The class is outside, so don’t bring a lot of stuff with you.
Oahu is a paradise for vacationers. It is impossible not to enjoy one’s stay when surrounded by some of the best beaches, hikes, and restaurants in the world.
If you are lucky to have a 7-day vacation on Oahu, you shouldn’t miss out on this itinerary, because it offers the tried and tested activities you can’t miss.
For the best luau, look no further than the Waikiki beachfront at Waikiki Starlight Luau at Hilton Hawaiian Village.
For the best and most diverse jungle experience, you must visit the Hoomaluhia Botanical Gardens.
Experience the best gastro offer at the Beachhouse, Morimoto Asia or Ko Olina’s Noe, and Mina’s Fish House restaurants.
Explore the entire itinerary and make the most out of your vacation.
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Have a great vacation!
Are 7 days in Oahu enough?
Yes. 7 days is the perfect amount of time to spend in Oahu, especially if you are looking for an active vacation and wish to see many sites. Take advantage of your time on the island and drive around to the different shores of Oahu, while making Honolulu and Waikiki your base. Don’t miss out on visiting the Leeward coast, North Shore, and windward coast. Amazing beaches, tropical hikes with stunning views, excellent dining, and exciting tours are just some of the things you can experience.
What is the best island to visit in Hawaii for the first time?
The best island in Hawaii to visit for the first time in Oahu. Take at least 7 days to explore this island. The island offers calm secluded shores as well as all the excitement of Honolulu and Waikiki. The beaches here are famous for snorkeling and swimming in the summer and professional surfing competitions in the winter. There are many cultural activities in Oahu, so take some time on your first visit to learn about the history and culture by visiting the Polynesian Cultural Center, Bishop Museum with the biggest gathering of Polynesian artifacts on Earth, and the Honolulu Museum of Art.
How long does it take to drive the island of Oahu?
If you were to drive the costs of Oahu it could take about 12 to 13 hours to do. That’s why it’s great to rent a car in Oahu and make day trips to all the shores. Driving in Hawaii is generally simple and the roads are well maintained and in good condition year round. In fact, Oahu has the best signaling and roads in the state. Since the island is very well developed and has good infrastructure there are also driving services available such as Uber and Lyft. Use a rental or a driving service to make day trips to the North Shore, the Leeward coast, and the windward coast.
Last Updated on April 6, 2023 by Brigitte