Kevin and I lived on Oahu for only four months but we jam-packed as much funfilled adventure as we possibly could. Below is our guide of Oahu and what we would recommend to our friends and family or to those looking for an adventurous trip to Oahu.
If you’re traveling to Hawaii and not sure which Island to go to, consider checking out our other Hawaii posts.
If you think traveling to Hawaii is too expensive, consider learning how to accumulate thousands of frequent flier points and miles without having to fly or stay at hotels! We created an online course that teaches you exactly how to redeem flights for as little as $5.60.
We paid less than $100 to get to Hawaii from New Jersey!
Ok back to the Oahu now!
The map below pins every location we went or intended to go to. If you have any questions leave a comment below!
For you’re convenience we broke the post down into sections. Click one of the links below to jump to a particular section if you need your information fast!
The Stairway to Heaven hike is one of the novelty hikes on Oahu. It is absolutely amazing and when the weather is clear it arguably has the best views on the island. Most people trek up for sunrise and sneak through the woods to the base of the trail while it’s dark out to avoid the guards/cops. There are two entry points on the Stairway to Heaven hike. You can access it from the stairs in the front; this way is technically illegal, or there is a ridge trail connected to the summit of Stairway to Heaven that is legal but more difficult. If you are looking for some unbelievable photos, this is the hike to go on!
Note: This hike is illegal and locals, as well as tourists, are advised not to hike it. If caught trespassing you could receive a fine of up to $1,000 and an issued court appearance.
Arguably the most difficult hike on Oahu, Three Peaks (properly known as Olomana Ridge) is one for the thrill seekers. It is located on the windward side of Oahu right outside of Kailua. This hike requires some rock climbing/rock scaling to access the three different peaks. The first two peaks are the easiest of the three. The last peak is known as the “potato chip” because of its narrow path and its 400ft drop-offs on each side. If you decide to hike Olomana Trail remember to go on a clear day with no chance of rain or wind. You do not want to get caught up there when bad weather arrives, this hike has already taken the lives of four hikers. As always, hike at your own risk.
To the right of the Pali Lookout is where the trailhead for Pali Notches is located. Pali Notches is also known to be one of the most difficult hikes on Oahu. Although relatively short, it is straight up the edge of a cliffside as you approach the two man-made notches. To get past the notches you have to rock climb your way up and down while battling crumbling rock. Luckily, hikers in the past installed ropes that you can use to assist you on the way down and up, but make sure they are sturdy before you start! Past the notches is the “chimney” which is where things get serious. Similar to the third peak of the Olomano Ridge trail, it is very narrow and you can fall to your death on either side if you are not careful.
Again, hike at your own risk.
On the other side of the Pali Lookout (left side) is the Pali Puka Trail. Pali Puka is a great trail to test your fear of heights. This trail scales a cliff on the way to the summit which is a hole in the rock that overlooks Kaneohe. This trail can also be very dangerous, we do not recommend hiking this trail when windy or if any bad weather is in the forecast.
A less crowded hike on the windward side north of Kauloa Ranch is Crouching Lion. Crouching Lion offers amazing views of Huilua Pond once you reach its summit. It is relatively short but has a steep incline. Try to avoid this hike if it just rained, the trail will be very muddy and the water will be brown from the muddy stream runoff.
The west side of Oahu gives you a perspective of what Hawai’i was like before the tourist industry arrived and Honolulu became overpopulated. The hike up to Upper Makua Cave offers a beautiful view of the coastline looking north towards Kaena Point.
WARNING: Do not leave any valuables in your car, this spot is known for theft. Kevin and I actually parked in a location where our car could be seen the entire way up.
If you’re looking for some World War II historic landmarks then you should definitely do a pillbox hike. On Oahu, there are three popular pillbox hikes.
This hike is on the windward or east side of the island overlooking Lanikai and the Na Mokulua Islands (“The Mokes”). The Lanikai Pillbox Hike is relatively easy when dry but if it rained within the last 24-hours expect some slippery mud hills to scale. This is a great hike for sunrise but bring your headlamp since you will be trekking up the mountain in the dark. Be sure to capture the sun rising over the mokes!
This pillbox hike is on the Northshore and you can find the trail easily by walking up the driveway of Sunset Beach Elementary School and veering left. There are two pillboxes on this hike but make sure you stay left when the trail splits or you will miss them entirely. This hike is great for sunset and the easiest pillbox to hike of the three. For anyone wondering, this is the pillbox with the peace sign!
This pillbox is also commonly referred to as the “pink pillbox hike”. It is located on the west side of Oahu and is the most physically demanding out of the three. It’s not too difficult but it is straight up and consists of many switchbacks. If you like hiking in the evening this hike provides unbelievable sunsets.
Diamond Head is easiest and the most popular hike on Oahu. It offers beautiful views of the south side and overlooks Waikiki. This hike is heavily trafficked but you can beat the crowds if you go in the morning. There is a fee of $5 per vehicle.
What a workout! Over in Hawaii Kai, you can trek all the way up 1,048 steps to the top of Koko Crater Railway. At the top of the crater, you will see an old World War II bunker where you can take a minute to enjoy a snack and let the views sink in. Bring your water bottles, this hike has very minimal sun coverage and becomes very hot during the day.
Koko Crater Railway Trail is a great hike for both sunrise and sunset!
Lightly trafficked, Koko Crater Arch is the only arch on the island. To get to the arch you need to park near the Halona Blow Hole off Kalanianaole Hwy. Use the AllTrails application to get to the trailhead and find all the trail details so you don’t go off the beaten path!
This is a very easy hike for all ages! The Makapu’u Lighthouse Hike is fully paved and more like a walk with an incline. This hike offers views of both the south and east side of the island and in the winter time, you can see whales breaching in the ocean below if you’re lucky. This hike is the furthest east point on the island.
Towards the top of the hike to Makapu’u Lighthouse, you will find a path on the right (near the whale watching sign) that leads to the Makapu’u Tidepools. This trail contains small switchbacks that lead back down the mountain to the rocky surface below. This hike is fairly easy, however, it does contain a lot of loose rock so be careful while hiking. If you plan to go to the tidepools make sure the waves are small and it’s safe to swim!
Most people think of Hanauma Bay as one of the best snorkeling spots on Oahu. However, it is is also a moderately-trafficked hike. You can hike the rim of Hanauma Bay and see amazing views of both the bay and Koko Crater.
Hint: You can also reach a rock table if you hike all the way to end! Use your best judgment when approaching the rock table, the waves can be very dangerous.
If you’re a hiker than we can safely assume you probably like waterfalls as well. Many may not know this but Oahu contains hundreds of waterfalls, especially when it rains. If you’re ever on the island during heavy rainfall head over to the H3 to see waterfalls flowing down the ridge near the Stairway to Heaven hike.
Below is a list of some of the waterfall hikes on Oahu. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to visit all of them so some may be missing photos.
Lulumahu Falls is right off the Pali Highway, 15 minutes from Waikiki or Kailua/Kaneohe. It is a relatively easy hike, rated moderate for some (we are two twenty-something-year-olds who move fast!), through a farm, passed a water reservoir and an old water retention pond. From there you make you’re way into the forest along the Lulumahu stream to the beautiful falls.
Note: Using satellite mode on your map application on your phone will make it easier to locate and navigate the trail. There are several trailheads that start around the same location.
WARNING: Do not leave any valuables in the car! The parking lot (which is right off Pali Highway) is notorious for break-ins.
Luakaha Falls is near Lulumahu falls but instead of taking the trail to Lulumahu you go right towards the Kaniakapupu Ruins. If you were looking a map Luakaha Falls is part of the Nu’anu stream. Unfortunately, these falls are on private property (if you’re not in the water you’re actually on someone’s property) so they are very hard to get to. People commonly see the falls from the top which is not considered trespassing. We have heard stories of the owner letting her dogs out on trespassers enjoying the falls. Luckily for us, we didn’t encounter any dogs or yelling neighbors.
Note: Be prepared to trek through a bamboo forest. This is not an easy hike.
Hamama Falls is Kevin’s favorite waterfall other than Upper Manoa Falls. Even though it is relatively easy to get too, the falls reminded him of the Pacific Northwest. Hamama Falls is about a 1.5-mile hike each way, slightly uphill but relatively easy and moderately trafficked.
The most popular waterfall on the Oahu island, Manoa Falls is a heavily trafficked hike and usually has a consistent flow of water. It is very easy to get to and a very popular hike for tourists. It is $5 to park unless you decide to save a few bucks and park in the neighborhood around the trailhead. However, this adds about a mile in distance to the total round trip hike.
This is not for the faint of heart but easily our favorite spot! This is a lightly trafficked hike and requires some serious rock climbing and use of ropes. Please do not hike to Upper Manoa Falls if you do not feel comfortable with your ability to hold your body weight by a rope while scaling a rock wall. If you do feel confident in your abilities then we highly recommend it as you have a beautiful view of Waikiki and can enjoy a natural infinity pool all to yourself.
If you like to cliff jump then Maunawili Falls is the waterfall for you! This moderately trafficked hike is sure a muddy one so don’t bring your favorite shoes. In terms of cliff jumping you have your options. There is a 6-8-foot jump, a 15-foot jump, and a 30-foot jump. We heard there are even higher ones but we wouldn’t recommend them since the water is pretty shallow (maybe 8-10 feet).
If you’re up on the North Shore there is a waterfall in Waimea Valley. Kevin and I didn’t get a chance to see this one but it was on our list. When we get back to Oahu we will make sure we check it out!
Another waterfall we didn’t get to hike to but wish would have is Waimano Falls. This hike is on the north side of the H3 tucked away in the forest.
Note: You may think what about Sacred Falls? We are well aware of Sacred Falls but we also know it is closed for a reason. It is a sacred place to the local Hawaiians and is currently closed after a landslide killed a group of hikers. We heard heavy fines are given if people are caught hiking to and/or from Sacred Falls and we advise against it.
If you want a good picture of the beautiful Oahu ridgeline, then head to the Ho’omaluhia Botanical Gardens. It is free and the picture above is from the beginning along the road that leads to the ridge.
Note: You are not allowed to take pictures in the middle of the road, so we advise you to go early before it opens.
No longer a secret, China Walls is jamming almost every day for sunset. It is known for tourists who want to soak in the views, teens who are looking for a good cliff jump with friends, and surfers in search of a good wave or two. Do be careful at this spot though, if the waves are pumping people unaware of their surroundings can be swept into the ocean if hit by a large enough wave. Also, beware if you decide to cliff jump, some may have a hard time getting back out of the water if the ocean is rough.
Unfortunately, I am not going to disclose the location below. However, if you do enough research you’ll be able to find it!
This beach is on the windward side of Oahu and only accessible on weekends. At Bellows Air Force Beach you can drive your car right on the beach and park it right next to where you want to lounge out. We recommend a 4wd drive vehicle on the beach since we have seen multiple cars get stuck in the soft sand. This beach is not cleaned so expect to see some plastic debris from the ocean. It will open up your eyes in regards to the damaging result of plastic. Please try and reduce your plastic usage and bring all your trash with you when you leave!
Alan Davis is a small beach on the south side that has clear waters and a little cliff jump spot. To get here you need to hike a 20-minute trail starting from the Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail.
Sunset Beach is on the North Shore and can get crowded when the waves are good (as most North Shore beaches do). This beach is notorious for some of the biggest waves on the island, other then Waimea Bay.
Fun Fact: Sunset Beach hosts a surf competition every winter on the World Surf League in addition to The Billabong Pipe Masters and the Volcom Pipe Pro.
On the windward side of Oahu, Makapu’u Beach has a heavy shore break. No surfers are allowed in the water until the lifeguards leave for the day at this beach. When the waves are really big, the lifeguards here will not let you swim in the water unless you are properly equipt with fins.
Sandy’s Beach is a beautiful and popular white sand beach with another heavy shore break located on the south side of Oahu. This is a swim friendly beach but be aware of the big waves crashing right on the sand. This is the beach that provides Kook Slams with 80% of its videos.
On the windward side south of Lanikai and Bellows Air Force Beach, Waimanalo Beach offers a beautiful stretch of white sand and clear water. The only negative of this beach is the line of tents along the road and parking lot that is home to a large homeless population.
Ehukai Beach is on the North Shore and a lot of tourists actually mistake this beach for Pipeline. If you are looking for Pipeline simply walk a block left and you will be right in front of it. Ehukai Beach is mainly sand bottom so it’s a more friendly surf spot in the winter and nice swimming spot in the summer.
Voted the most beautiful beach on Oahu, it is now one of the most crowded beaches on the island. At Lanikai Beach, the water is absolutely beautiful and you’ll have amazing views of the Na Mokulua Islands.
The Na Mokulua Islands also known as The Mokes are two islands on the windward side of Oahu about a mile paddle from Lanikai Beach. The Mokes are accessible by kayak, stand up paddleboard, surfboard, or sailboat. Once on The Mokes, you can relax on the beach, hike, or swim. Do not be surprised if you see a monk seal napping on the sand!
WARNING: Only make the trek over to The Mokes when the winds are light and the surf isn’t too big. There have been a lot of horror stories of tourists flipping their kayaks and getting hurt along the reef.
Note: There are no commercial activities allowed at The Mokes on Sunday’s so plan accordingly.
Kailua Beach is adjacent to Lanikai Beach and easier to find parking. It offers beautiful waters and views much like Lanikai Beach but be aware of a brown water advisory if it recently rained!
On a calm day with minimal wind, this beach is a go too!
If you’re in the mood for a resort/touristy atmosphere then look no further than the Marriot Resort in Ko Olina. Ko Olina has amazing sunsets since it is located right on the west side of Oahu.
Waimea Bay is notorious for its massive waves in the winter and the boulder on the left side of the beach. At any given day when the surf is flat, you will see the boulder lined up with people cliff jumping into the water. This spot is a must!
Our favorite snorkel spot, Electric Beach ranges from 10-40 feet deep. Electric Beach is next to an electrical plant that uses the ocean water for energy and then pushes it back into the ocean. Since this plant pushes used water back into the ocean it creates a surge of warm that attracts an abundance of marine life. It is common to see turtles here and if you’re lucky you will run into a pod of spinner dolphins!
To the left side of Makua Beach, there is a reef where you can snorkel off of. Here you may also have a decent chance of seeing dolphins!
The most popular snorkeling spot on the island, Hanauma Bay is on every tourist’s list. It costs $7.50 per person unless you are under 12 years old, active military or a local Hawaii resident.
We figured sharing is caring so we uploaded our map that we used during our time in Oahu. Below is a map of every spot we went to (in green) or wanted to go to (in blue). Unfortunately, not every spot on the map is detailed in this post. If you have any questions, feel free to leave a question in the comments section!
Planning a trip to the Big Island of Hawai’i? Here is our...January 4, 2019