The Ultimate Guide to Oahu Hawaii – Best Beaches, Waterfalls, Hikes and More

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.

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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 Best Hikes on Oahu

Haiku Stairs (Stairway to Heaven)

Drone View of Top of Stairway to Heaven Hike on Oahu Hawaii - The Ultimate Guide of Oahu Hawaii, Best Hikes on Oahu
Drone View of Top of Stairway to Heaven

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!

H3 Tunnel from stairway to heaven hike on Oahu Hawaii - The Ultimate Guide of Oahu Hawaii, Best Hikes on Oahu
H3 Tunnel from Stairway to Heaven hike

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.

Looking down at the top of stairway to heaven on Oahu Hawaii - The Ultimate Guide of Oahu Hawaii, Best Hikes on Oahu
Looking down at the top of the Stairway to Heaven hike

Three Peaks (Olomana Ridge)

At the top of the second peak on the Olomana hike looking at the Potato Chip Olomana Third Peak - Olomana is one of the best hikes on Oahu part of the The Ultimate Guide of Oahu Hawaii and Best Hikes on Oahu
Potato Chip Olomana Third Peak

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.

Pali Notches

Pali Notches one of the best hikes on Oahu Hawaii - The Ultimate Guide of Oahu Hawaii, Best Hikes on Oahu
Climbing back up the first notch!

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.

Pali Puka

Walking on the edge at Pali Puka, another steep hike on Oahu Hawaii - The Ultimate Guide of Oahu Hawaii, Best Hikes on Oahu
Walking on the edge at Pali Puka

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.

Pali Puka Hole in the rock on Oahu Hawaii - The Ultimate Guide of Oahu Hawaii, Best Hikes on Oahu
The outlook at Pali Puka

Crouching Lion Hike

crouching lion hike one of the best hikes on the east side of Oahu Hawaii - The Ultimate Guide of Oahu Hawaii, Best Hikes on Oahu
View from the top of Crouching Lion

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.

Upper Makua Cave

Upper Makua Cave on the West Side of Oahu Hawaii The Ultimate Guide of Oahu Hawaii, Best Hikes on Oahu
Enjoying the views of the west side.

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.

Pillbox Hikes on Oahu

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.

  1. Lanikai Pillbox Hike
  2. Ehukai Pillbox Hike
  3. PuuOHulu Pillbox Hike

Lanikai Pillbox Hike

Lanikai Pill Box Hike is one of the most popular pillbox hikes on Oahu Hawaii - The Ultimate Guide of Oahu Hawaii, Best Hikes on Oahu
Enjoying the views from one of the pillboxes.

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!

Ehukai Pillbox Hike

Sunset at the Ehukai Pillbox one of the hikes on the North Shore of Oahu - The Ultimate Guide of Oahu Hawaii, Best Pillbox Hikes on Oahu
Sunset at the Ehukai Pillbox

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!

Ehukai Pillbox
Hanging out at the Peace Sign at the Ehukai Pillbox

PuuOHulu Pillbox Hike

Puu o Hulu Pillbox
Watching the sunset at Puu o Hulu Pillbox

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.

Other Hikes on Oahu

Diamond Head

Diamond Head Hike Oahu the most popular hike on Oahu that over looks Waikiki - The Ultimate Guide of Oahu Hawaii, Best Hikes on Oahu
Back in 2015, taking the family up Diamond Head

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.

Koko Crater Railway Trail

Koko Head Hike on Oahu Hawaii over looking Hawaii Kai -The ultimate guide to Oahu and the best hikes on oahu
View from the top of the Koko Head Hike

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!

Koko Crater Railroad - The Ultimate Guide of Oahu Hawaii, Best Hikes on Oahu
Hiking back down the old World War II Railroad at Koko Crater.

Koko Crater Arch

koko arch trail heading towards Hawaii Kai - The Ultimate Guide of Oahu Hawaii, Best Hikes on Oahu
Relaxing under the Koko Crater Arch

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!

Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail

Makapuu Lighthouse Trail near Makapuu Beach - The Ultimate Guide of Oahu Hawaii, Best Hikes on Oahu
The lighthouse up close.

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.

Makapu’u Tidepools

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!

Hanauma Bay Ridge Hike

Hanauma Bay Ridge Hike overlooking Hanauma Bay - The Ultimate Guide of Oahu Hawaii, Best Hikes on Oahu
Hanauma Bay Ridge Hike with Koko Crater in the background

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.

Best Waterfalls on Oahu

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

Lulumahu Falls one of the best waterfalls on Oahu The Ultimate Guide of Oahu Hawaii, Best Waterfalls on Oahu
The base of Lulumahu Falls

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

Luakaha Falls - The Ultimate Guide of Oahu Hawaii, Best Waterfalls on Oahu
All to ourselves at Luakaha Falls

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

Hamama Falls Oahu - The Ultimate Guide of Oahu Hawaii, Best Waterfalls on Oahu
Hanging out at Hamama Falls

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.

Manoa Falls

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.

Upper Manoa Falls

Upper Manoa falls - The Ultimate Guide of Oahu Hawaii, Best Waterfalls on Oahu

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.

Upper Manoa Falls lookout over Waikiki The Ultimate Guide of Oahu Hawaii, Best Waterfalls on Oahu
Looking out from the top of Manoa Falls.

Maunawili Falls

Manuawili Falls Trail Head The Ultimate Guide of Oahu Hawaii, Best Waterfalls on Oahu
Manuawili Falls Trail Head

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).

Waimea Valley Falls

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!

Waimano Falls

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.

Instagram Worthy Locations

Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden

Ho'omaluhia Botanical Gardens - The Ultimate Guide of Oahu Hawaii, Instagram worthy locations on Oahu

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.

China Walls

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.

Secret Beach

Unfortunately, I am not going to disclose the location below.  However, if you do enough research you’ll be able to find it!

Secret Beach Dock - The Ultimate Guide of Oahu Hawaii, Instagram worthy locations on Oahu
Dancing on the dock of the bay.

Best Beaches on Oahu

Bellows Air Force Beach

Bellows Airfield Base Beach on the east side of oahu hawaii - The Ultimate Guide of Oahu Hawaii, best beaches on Oahu
Can’t beat driving the jeep right on the beach.

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 Beach

Alan Davis Beach - The Ultimate Guide of Oahu Hawaii, best beaches on Oahu
Aerial view of Alan Davis Beach

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

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.

Makapu’u Beach

Makapu'u Beach - The Ultimate Guide of Oahu Hawaii, best beaches on Oahu
Makapu’u Beach lookout near the trailhead of Makapu’u lighthouse.

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

Sandys Beach Oahu - The Ultimate Guide of Oahu Hawaii, best beaches on Oahu
Sandys Beach in between sets.

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.

Sandys Beach The Ultimate Guide of Oahu Hawaii, best beaches on Oahu
Beach break at Sandys Beach.

Waimanalo Beach

Waimanalo Beach - The Ultimate Guide of Oahu Hawaii, best beaches on Oahu
View of Rabbit Island from Waimanalo Beach

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 Park

ehukai beach park - The Ultimate Guide of Oahu Hawaii, best beaches on Oahu
When the waves are pumping don’t be surprised to see a “Warning: No Swimming” sign.

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.

Lanikai Beach

Lanikai Beach next to Kailua is a very popular beach over looking the mokes. The Ultimate Guide of Oahu Hawaii, best beaches on Oahu
Relaxing at Lanikai

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.

Sunrise at Lanikai Beach - The Ultimate Guide of Oahu Hawaii, best beaches on Oahu
Sunrise at Lanikai Beach

The Na Mokulua Islands (The Mokes)

The Mokes Tidepool The Ultimate Guide of Oahu Hawaii, best beaches on Oahu
Taylor enjoying a tidepool on “The Mokes”.

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.

The Mokes The Ultimate Guide of Oahu Hawaii, best beaches on Oahu
Rent a Kayak or SUP and paddle out to the Mokes for a beach day.

Kailua Beach

Sunrise at Kailua Beach The Ultimate Guide of Oahu Hawaii, best beaches on Oahu
Sunrise at Kailua Beach

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!

Drone view of Kailua Beach The Ultimate Guide of Oahu Hawaii, best beaches on Oahu
Bird’s eye view of Kailua Beach

Ko Olina

Ko Olina Beach Sunset The Ultimate Guide of Oahu Hawaii, best beaches on Oahu
Sunset at Ko Olina

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 Beach

Waimea Shore Break The Ultimate Guide of Oahu Hawaii, best beaches on Oahu
Heavy shore break when the surf was huge.

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!

Best Snorkeling Locations on Oahu

Electric Beach

Snorkeling at Electric Beach The Ultimate Guide of Oahu Hawaii, best snorkeling on Oahu
Snorkeling at Electric Beach

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!

Makua Beach

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!

Hanauma Bay

Hanauma Bay Ridge Trail - The Ultimate Guide of Oahu Hawaii, best snorkeling on Oahu
Hanauma Bay Ridge Trail

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.

Our Oahu Map

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!

Wanderlusts guide to Oahu Hawaii
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Taylor Mathers

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