In May I fulfilled a lifetime dream and flew to O’ahu, Hawai’i to spend a week with my best friend. When I booked the trip 8 weeks prior, I knew I wanted to participate in all the amazing adventures she’s been sharing with me since moving there. We had a FaceTime date to discuss things to do in O’ahu and plan out a loose itinerary. We ended up doing everything and more! I am excited to share my list of the top unique things to do in O’ahu and why!
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The Best Sunrise Hike in O’ahu: Lanikai Pillbox Hike
When planning this trip, I knew wanted adventures. O’ahu is full of them! We started with the most popular sunrise hike on O’ahu. The Kaiwa Ridge Trail, AKA the Lanikai Pillbox Hike. The significant time difference meant that early morning outings weren’t a problem at all! We spent the first few days doing things early! My first morning, we hiked the infamous Lanikai Pillbox trail. It’s a short (1.8 mi) but steep hike and heavily trafficked, so grab a head lamp and start early. We stopped at the first of two pillboxes (military machine gun enclosures) because I didn’t want to overdo it prior to our big hike the next day. It was windy and steep but the path is plenty wide to feel safe. You can’t beat the view of the sun coming up over the Mokulua Islands (Mokes). Not a bad way to start my first full day in Hawai’i!
Kayak or Paddle Board then Hike Up Mokoli’i Islet
Mokoli’i is a tiny islet 1/3 mile offshore of Kualoa Point in O’ahu. Getting there and hiking to the top was one of my favorite O’ahu adventures! You can kayak (which is what I did), swim with snorkeling gear or paddle board there. I wore these athletic water shoes and they were perfect for this outdoor activity.
Hike Moanalua Valley Trail (to Haiku Stairs/Stairway to Heaven)
When I started researching what to do in O’ahu, HI, I came across some videos of the Haiku Stairs. While hiking those stairs is illegal, upon researching a bit, I discovered that you can hike Moanalua Middle Ridge (or Moanalua Valley Trail) to the top of the Haiku Stairs and get the same incredible view. We agreed that we wanted to do this together and for the 8 weeks prior to my trip, this is what I was training for. The trail is listed as 10.5 miles with 5,029 ft. elevation gain.
And I didn’t quite make it.
After hiking for 5 hours we came to a rock climbing portion where ropes were required to summit. I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned but I’m incredibly afraid of heights. Over the years I have put myself in countless situations to face this fear, and I have every time. But I got to this point where I was partially up these rocks and physically could not continue. I had a full blown panic attack because I could not trust the ropes with my full body weight and I didn’t trust my upper body strength in the mud, that high up. I decided not to continue the last 20 min. of the hike. And you know what?
I’m okay with that decision! More than okay. Look at what I accomplished! Look at the view I had while I waited for my bestie to summit and return. Absolutely stunning views! We met a ton of people on the trail and got to take a little break before we headed back down (the real challenge, if you ask me!) I am so grateful to my bestie for always adventuring with me. I will never forget this experience and highly recommend it!
Explore the Botanical Gardens
In O’ahu, outdoor activities are plenty but they don’t all have to be strenuous. While not necessarily top attraction in O’ahu, we chose to visit Hoʻomaluhia Botanical Garden in Honolulu on my last day. I am so glad we did because the Atlanta Botanical Gardens in one of my bucket list places at home, but the Ho’omaluhia Gardens are completely different. The gardens are huge and there is so much natural beauty to see. Pack lunch and lay down a blanket to enjoy near the water, stroll the gardens and discover something new. There are so many unique things to do in Hawaii, and the botanical gardens are unlike anywhere else in the nation. If you’re looking for things to do in O’ahu for couples, why not plan a day date to the gardens. I dare say it might be a great spot to get engaged!
Hike Maunawili Falls Trail
I love that each of the hikes we did together on O’ahu were so beautiful but different. The Maunawili Falls Trail is a moderate hike, just around 3 miles out and back, and takes 2.5-3 hours total. It was very heavily trafficked while we were there — so much so that I didn’t get any photos of the waterfall for all the people, but an enjoyable hike that was so beautiful.
Also, I totally slipped off a rock and into the river. I gave up at that point and just walked through the few times we crossed! In hindsight, I could’ve worn the same athletic water shoes I mentioned before.
Snorkeling is a must-do in Hawai’i! Unfortunately, our snorkeling adventure was a bust because the waves were too high and I wasn’t feeling comfortable. We didn’t have much time that day to visit a different location, but there are tons of options available to you if you’re not having any luck where you start. I will definitely get out there again next time so that I can achieve my dream of seeing sea turtles!
Top snorkeling locations in O’ahu include:
- Hanauma Bay
- Queens Beach
- Kuilima Cove (Turtle Bay)
- Sharks Cove
- Three Tables
- Kahe Point Beach Park (Electric Beach)
Rent and Ride Bikes Around Town
You can rent bikes all over the island, but if you’re planning on staying a while, check Facebook Marketplace and Craigstlist to see if you can find a cheap beach cruiser to use during your visit. We rode bikes to the beach, to grab coffee, run to the store, grab food, and visit the local shops. It was such a fun way to get around town and I highly recommend it for your active O’ahu vacation.
Yoga on the Beach in O’ahu
Last, but not least, plan a sunrise stretch or yoga on the beach! My friends and I went to a small area near where we were staying in Kailua but look at this gorgeous stretch of sand at Kaiona Beach in Waimanalo, HI. Just stunning! Afterward, visit a food truck unlike any other for a delicious, $10 Açaí bowl. Priceless.