There are only a handful of places in the world that I love so much that I’d want to visit at least once a year, and that’s Hawaii, Japan, Taiwan, and Canada. I figured that Oahu would be the best destination for me to post my suggestions for next, because I lived here for 3 months in 2010 and thoroughly explored the island and fell in love with it to the point where it has become one of my favorite destinations in the world. There are some who would say “if you hate people, go to one of the lesser-populated islands instead,” but I love that Oahu has the best of both worlds. Just head over to Kailua or North Shore and it feels like one of the less-populated islands. When you get bored, come back to Honolulu and its great food and fun things to do! I love Oahu, and for those of you who hate Oahu, I hope you will give it another chance after checking out this post.

Again, since it’s been a while since I last overhauled this list, please let me know if anything is out-of-date or if you have any suggestions. As usual for American cities, Yelp is the best place to double check whether a restaurant I mentioned is still open, and to find more awesome suggestions! While living in Honolulu, I was part of the Honolulu Yelp Elite, and they’re a great group of people who love their food. Look for the Elite badge next to their reviews!

*** means I highly recommend it

Activities

Name Comments
***Bishop Museum & Planetarium*** History of Hawaii, science museum, special traveling exhibits, and Planetarium shows with telescope viewings.
***Pali Lookout*** Great view of Kailua and the windward side. Really windy area. Parking may cost $ unless you’re kama’aina (free).
Pearl Harbor – USS Arizona Memorial, USS Missouri Historical site, free admission (first come first serve)
***Polynesian Cultural Center*** Supposedly their Ha Breath of Life show is AMAZING. Lots of coupons available. The luau dinner is not known to be as good.
Chinatown (First Fridays) Join local folks and visitors alike on the first Friday of every month for Chinatown’s First Friday evening festival. Chinatown and downtown galleries, museums and studios are open to the public for this popular event that provides an opportunity to experience the artistic and cultural resources of Honolulu. Festivities include live music, street entertainment, open cafes and bistros. antique stores — and even a tattoo parlor. The bars are going to be PACKED!
Paradise Cove Luau Amazing beach luau at sunset. But the food isn’t very authentic and it’s not very good…it’s definitely catered to tourists. But the sunset part and the activities make it worth it.
***Snorkeling at Shark’s Cove***

Snorkeling – Shark’s Cove is a local secret

(right next to Pupukea beach park): saw turtles every time, plus a monk seal. Stay to the right side of the cove (when facing the ocean) …the turtles like to hang out on that side. ***Do NOT touch the turtles. It’s against state law. You’ll get fined a few hundred bucks.***

***Snorkeling at Hanauma Bay***

Everyone goes to Hanauma Bay to snorkel, but that’s where all the tourists go, so it can get really crowded and the sand could get kicked up, which may cloud your view.  There is an entrance fee of $7.50, which is free for kama’aina, and a parking fee of $1.00. If you want to save money and you’re not kama’aina, I recommend Shark’s cove for snorkeling. 🙂

– Rentals are available for $11, but there are long lines

– You have to watch a 15 minute nature conservation film before you’re allowed onto the beach

– Check out the Toilet Bowl (http://www.hawaiiweb.com/oahu/sites_to_see/toilet_bowl.htm)

*Note: Hanauma Bay is closed every Tuesday

Other places to snorkel If it’s a Tuesday and you can’t go to Hanauma Bay and the North Shore or West side of the island are too far for you, check out Kaiona Beach Park, just past Sandy Beach. It’s a very small beach with a little parking lot and has bathroom facilities. There’s a little reef with fish and sea turtles!
Kayaking to the Mokulua Islands Takes about an hour. You could also paddle to Flat Island (bird sanctuary) which is shorter.
***Byodo-In Temple*** Beautiful Japanese Buddhist temple that makes you feel like you’re in Japan in a memorial/cemetery area called Valley of the Temples (my grandparents-in-law are buried here, it’s probably the most beautiful cemetery I’ve ever seen in my life), koi pond, zen garden
Wet ‘N Wild Waterpark Frequently has special deals like 50% off or free admission. More for kids, most of the rides are pretty low-key and not very extreme or thrilling.
Makapuu Tide Pools Go early-ish, before 3, when the sun goes over the mountain
Surfing or Stand Up Paddle (SUP) Waikiki is usually the best place to learn and/or take lessons, but if you’re good, North Shore is the place to go. Ala Moana is most convenient.
Sea Life Park Has dolphin encounters, sea lion show, etc. Like Sea World but not as big.

Shopping

***Aloha Stadium Swap Meet*** Souvenirs, food, clothing, car seat covers, jewelry, and much more and much cheaper than even Walmart or anywhere else. $1 admission per person but if you have the Qpons app installed on your phone, it’s $1 for 2 people.
***Ala Moana Shopping Center*** The biggest outdoor mall in the country. It’s seriously huge. Definitely recommend checking out the Japanese dept store Shirokiya there. 2nd floor has a really yummy food court!
Ward Center Not as big as Ala Moana, but nice outdoor/indoor mall with lots of good restaurants and a movie theater. Kua’Aina Burgers, Ka Restaurant and Lounge, and Goma Tei are here.
Pearlridge Center Indoor mall, not as impressive as Ala Moana or Ward.
Waikiki – Waikiki Beach Walk, International Market Place, etc No explanation needed.
Aloha Towers Marketplace
Royal Hawaiian Center

Beaches

***Lanikai Beach*** Voted one of the nicest beaches in the world, very fine sand, like flour. Definitely my FAVORITE beach in Oahu. Beautiful view of the Mokulua Islands. Very few people come here, which is nice…very romantic. =)
Kailua Beach Similar to above but this is a public beach (e.g. has facilities).
Ala Moana Beach Park Great place to run, surf, BBQ, or just chill. Really convenient and large park/beach. Lots of wedding photos done here.
Sandy’s Beach Popular place to body surf. Dangerous though.
***Waimea Bay Beach*** Can jump off a huge rock (you’ll see people doing all kinds of flips).  Popular for surfing too. Very close to Haleiwa.
Sunset Beach Popular for surfing also.
Laniakea Beach/Turtle Beach/Chan’s Beach a couple miles east of haleiwa… you’ll see a dirt parking lot on the right side and a grove of trees on the left – beach is on the left. big turtles!
Pipeline Beach World famous surfing competitions held here
Kaena Point Beach aka Yokohama Bay Where the locals hang out. If you go to the very end, after a short easy hike (1 hour max), you get to see the monk seals.
Waimanalo Beach Park 3 miles of beach; not very much ppl; great if you want an escape. Tends to be cloudier on this side though…but great if the sun is out
Waikiki Best surfing for beginners; very mellow waves; tons of shops and restaurants (Waikiki Beach Walk); Dukes in Waikiki; Surfing at Canoes in Waikiki
***Kualoa Regional Beach Park*** Great view of Chinaman’s Hat. Large park with lots of grassy space and beach too.

Hikes

***Diamond Head Trail*** Easy, $1 per person or $5 per car, touristy, great ocean view with whale sightings if lucky. Go to Diamond Head Health Bar for some great acai bowls afterwards, or to the KCC Farmer’s Market on Saturdays!
***Lanikai Pillboxes*** mostly for locals, amazing on a clear day
***Makapuu Lighthouse*** Easy paved 2 mile hike; can see whales
***Koko Head Ridgeline*** 1048 stairs up, 0.5 miles, really strenuous. Known by locals as Nature’s Stairmaster…literally. Almost 360° of panoramic views of the south, east, and west shores. Go early in the AM, otherwise you will probably pass out from the sun and heat because there is NO SHADE. Or go in the afternoon when the sun is going down, but it makes it more difficult to see. Look up directions to Koko Head District Park, then drive to the very end. There’s a parking lot on the left and near a baseball field. Park there and walk up. You’ll see other people going up or coming back down to help you find the trail. Note: people coming down have the right of way – stay to the right when you see someone coming down.
Likeke Waterfall Easy hike. A 30-foot cascade nestled below the Pali Lookout and accessed via the Likeke Trail. It is popular with eco-tours and has a shallow (ankle deep) swimming hole. Starting from the Pali Lookout, the hike is about 3 miles roundtrip.
***Maunawili Falls*** Easy, you can jump off the ledge and into the water, hike, jump, and swim! Located in Maunawili Valley on the windward side of Oahu. Nice swimming hole and waterfall. Second most popular waterfall hike after Manoa Falls. 1.5 mile hike from trailhead on Kelewina Street.
***Kuliouou Ridge Trail*** 5 mile roundtrip, don’t do it when it’s muddy like I did. Beautiful 360° view up at top.
Kahana Valley Trail
Mariner’s Ridge Trail Easy, short. NOT a sanctioned hike. General rule is the residents only become upset when you make noise, leave trash or take all the parking in the neighborhood. Best to park two blocks away and walk in.
***Manoa Falls*** Very popular with tourists. Nice high falls but shallow swimming hole. One mile hike.
Waterfalls
Stairway to Heaven (Haiku Stairs)

Illegal now, but people have done it. There’s a guard posted. Google/Yelp how to get around the guard, or ask a local.

*Update 2016: DO NOT GO ON THIS HIKE. Due to lack of maintenance over the years and landslides, parts of it are wiped out and it is VERY dangerous. Many people have lost their lives attempting this and bypassing the guards. Hopefully one day this will become privately owned and fixed up/maintained to be safer for all.

Customized Circle Island Tour (Counter-Clockwise):

  1. Tantalus Lookout – beautiful view of Honolulu
  2. Scenic Viewpoint just before the Halona Blowhole – ask Jae about the tunnel
  3. Halona Blowhole/Sandy Beach
  4. Lanikai Beach (and Kailua Beach if you want, but Lanikai is way better)
  5. Kualoa Regional Park/Chinaman’s Hat
  6. Shrimp Trucks in Kahuku − Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck (most famous one), Fumi’s Shrimp Truck, or Famous Kahuku Shrimp Truck (btw you can just order a half plate if you’re not hungry)
  7. Turtle Bay Resort
  8. Ted’s Bakery – get the haupia chocolate cream pie (that’s what they’re famous for), but my personal favorite is the lilikoi cheesecake cream pie!
  9. Sunset Beach (optional)
  10. Waimea Bay Beach Park – watch people jump off the big rock and do cool dives
  11. Matsumoto’s Shave Ice (Haleiwa) – most famous shave ice place
  12. Kua’aina Burgers (original location) – get the avocado burger!
  13. Dole Plantation – get the pineapple ice cream with fresh pineapple topping!
  14. Tanioka’s Seafood – this should be the first stop if you’re doing a Clockwise Circle Island Tour. Get some poke to go and enjoy it on the ride!

Good Eats – look up locations on Yelp

Best Hawaiian Food

  • **Tanioka’s** – BEST poke and poke selection on the island, a bit out of the way, but good stop on a Circle Island tour (best done on a clockwise trip)
  • **Helena’s**
  • **Diamond Head Market & Grill** — portabello mushroom sandwich so good here, also really good desserts (lemon crunch!), basically everything is good here. Also great for brunch.
  • Ono Hawaiian Food – get the combination plate with laulau and Kahlua pork
  • **Yama’s Fish Market** – awesome poke, also known for their haupia sweet potato dessert
  • ***Alicia’s Market*** – this is technically a grocery store, but they have a huge poke selection, so I love coming here to order several varieties of poke and take it home to eat with my own rice (or take it to the beach!)
  • ***Ahi & Vegetable*** – the poke bowls here are fresh and amazing, and are served on sushi rice (not commonly served this way at other places, but tastes great)
  • **Zippy’s** – really good loco moco, also very famous for their chili, many locations
  • Rainbow’s Drive Inn – plate lunches, where Obama used to go, popular for post-surfing fooding
  • Nico’s Pier 38
  • Tamashiro’s – really good poke too
  • Side Street Inn – famous, but I thought it was ok
  • Kaka’ako Kitchen (Ward Center)
  • Highway Inn

Best Spam Musubi

  • **Mana Bu** – seriously really good musubis of all kinds
  • 7-Eleven – they have some good spam musubis, but not a huge variety
  • Iyasume Musubi – a bit more variety, but Mana Bu’s is still better
  • Honolulu VAMC – this is where I worked! The café downstairs has really good musubis in the morning. I loved the spam/egg/furikake musubis and would often get one for breakfast.

Best Expensive Fusion Food

  • **Alan Wong’s** – really good: the plantation iced tea, the poke-ball appetizer, opakapaka, and all the desserts are good.
  • **Ka ‘Ikena** – the culinary school’s restaurant, really good fine dining for a bargain, but only open certain times of the year, great sunset view too
  • Roy’s – the one in Hawaii Kai is much better than the one in Waikiki, awesome sunset view over the ocean, great desserts too

Best Sushi

  • **Kuru Kuru Sushi** – BEST sushi, freshest, conveyer belt style
  • Sansei – 50% off after 10 pm, located in Waikiki
  • Genki – multiple locations, conveyer belt style, good garlic ahi
  • Morio Sushi
  • Doraku – Emperor roll

Best Japanese Food

  • ***MARUKAME Udon*** – best and cheapest udon you’ll ever have in America, Japanese cafeteria style. This restaurant is originally from Japan and almost always has a line down the block. It’s worth the wait. You HAVE to go here, and you might even go twice or more in one trip!
  • **Curry House** – Japanese curry (katsu curry is famous here), really good takoyaki too
  • **Tokkuri Tei** – Japanese izayaka
  • ***Shirokiya Japan Food Walk (Ala Moana Mall*** Shirokiya was always high on my recommendation list but the new renovations and expansions has COMPLETELY SURPASSED all my expectations. It feels like Japan. Spacious, with plenty of seating under beautiful wisteria and cherry blossom decorations, tons of food stalls (some recognizable names there such as Marion ice cream crepes and Iyasume Musubi), and $1 beer. Incredible. You MUST  MUST MUST go here. Many of the stalls offer free samples too.
  • **Shokudo** – happy hour 4-6pm pupus (appetizers), VERY well known for their honey toast
  • Irifune – known for their furikake ahi
  • Hakone Restaurant at Hawaii Prince Hotel
  • Tae’s Teppanyaki

Best Ramen

  • **Tenkaippin** – definitely THE best ramen on the island; get the Pan Tai ramen!
  • **Jimbo’s** – actually udon, but best udon on the island
  • Gomaichi – known for their Tan Tan ramen
  • Goma Tei – known for their Tan Tan ramen too
  • Ramen Nakamura – oxtail ramen

Best Korean Food

  • **Yakiniku Camellia Buffet** – all you can eat Korean BBQ
  • **Million’s Restaurant** – open late, has really good dolsot bibimbap and meat jun (meat jun is like really thin bulgogi meat sandwiched within egg, it only exists in Hawaii)
  • **Sorabol** – variety of Korean food, good seafood pancake
  • Soon’s Drive Inn – best known for their meat jun and fried mandoo (dumplings)

Best Chinese Food

  • **Sweet Home Café** – Taiwanese hot pot, super famous, get there early, it’s SO GOOD.
  • **Libby’s** – known for manapua
  • Chun Wah Kam – manapua
  • Char Hung Sut – manapua
  • Mei Sum – dim sum
  • Tai Pan – dim sum
  • Royal Garden – dim sum in Waikiki

Best Desserts

  • **Bubbies** – ICE CREAM MOCHI of all flavors! Sooo good. My favorites are lilikoi (passion fruit), lychee, peppermint, and sakura (basically like vanilla bean).
  • The Alley Restaurant – lemon crunch cake
  • Diamond Head Market & Grill – lemon crunch cake, Diamond Head torte, muffin scones

Best Acai Bowls

  • **Fresh Café**
  • **Diamond Head Cove Health Bar** – get the Da Cove or Mauna Kea bowls
  • **Blue Hawaii (Ala Moana Mall) **
  • Bogart’s
  • Robeck’s
  • Jamba Juice
  • Mocha Java Café (Ward Center)

Best Frozen Yogurt

  • **Yogurstory** – has popping boba…also great place to chill and hang out (it’s a café too)
  • Menchi’s
  • Tutti Frutti – definitely get the popping boba toppings

Best Bakery

  • **Ted’s Bakery** – best chocolate haupia pie, can be bought at Foodland (there’s one in Ala Moana Mall), if you go to the North Shore original location, get the lilikoi cheesecake!!!
  • **Leonard’s Bakery** – MALASADAS!!!! Suuper famous. Try the Li Hing malasadas.
  • **Liliha Bakery** – known for their coco cream puffs and sweet bread French toast; open 24 hr
  • **Otto Cake** – known for their cheesecakes, different flavors everyday
  • **St. Germaine’s Bakery** – delicious guava or lilikoi (passion fruit) chiffon cakes
  • Hokulani Bake Shop – known for their cupcakes
  • Cake Couture – cupcakes also
  • The Little Oven – rarely open

Best Shave Ice

  • **Waiola** – the SOFTEST shave ice ever, lots of options too (like mochi, ice cream, custard, etc), possibly one of the best
  • **City Café ** – Taiwanese shave ice, I love the custard and mochi toppings here
  • **Shimazu Store** – really soft as well, and large servings, lots of options
  • **Ailana Shave Ice** – lots of combos, kinda like Waiola, but actually has seating
  • Matsumoto’s – North Shore (Haleiwa), most famous, but not the best on the island
  • Aoki’s – next to Matsumoto’s, maybe a little better but still not the best

Best North Shore Shrimp Trucks

  • **Giovanni’s** – most famous one
  • Fumi’s – Taiwanese shrimp truck but they’re pretty much all the same
  • Kahuku Famous Shrimp

Best Burgers

  • **Teddy’s Burgers** – a local favorite for teri burgers, many locations
  • **Kua’aina Burger** – original location North Shore, also one in Ward Center. Definitely get the Avocado Burger.
  • Kiawe Grill – famous chuck burger
  • W&M Burger

Best Brunches

  • **Dreamer’s Café** – BEST kimchi fried rice, also really good brunches
  • Grand Café and Bakery
  • **Café Kaila** – everything is good here!
  • **Eggs and Things**
  • Boots and Kimo Homestyle Kitchen – Portuguese sausage and banana macadamia nut pancakes
  • Diamond Head Market & Grill
  • Creampot

Best Garlic Chicken

  • **Mitsuken**
  • Sugoi
  • Gullick’s Deli

Best Pho

  • Ha Long Pho Restaurant – really cute place too
  • **To Chau** – in Chinatown, can have a really long wait, but the pho is actually authentic and good. They used to have soup nazi-style service, but the last few times I’ve been have been much better.

Markets

  • ***FOODLAND AT ALA MOANA*** – you MUST go to this!!! The locals love the poke bar here and there’s also a wine bar, shave ice bar, ice cream mochi (Bubbies) bar, bakery, and more. It’s the most amazing market I’ve ever been to in the world, and I love my Berkeley Bowl West very much, but it’s no comparison to this. 😉
  • Costco – yup they sell poke here! Great place to buy snacks in bulk to take home to your coworkers/family/friends
  • Sam’s Club
  • Target
  • Walmart
  • Foodland – kinda like their Safeway competitor, known to have really good poke and desserts (they sell Ted’s Bakery pies)
  • **Don Quijote** – it’s like being in Japan!
  • Keeaumoku Supermarket – Korean, the newest one on Keeaumoku St (aka “Korea-moku”)
  • Palama Supermarket – Korean
  • Queen’s Supermarket – Korean

Malls

  • Ala Moana Mall – largest outdoor shopping center, 3 stories, lots of great things here (Shirokiya, Blue Hawaii, Genki’s, Mai Tai Bar, huge food court, etc etc), lots of upscale stores catering to Japanese tourists
  • Kahala Mall
  • Pearlridge Mall
  • Windward Mall
  • Waikele Outlets

Best Bars/Lounges

  • **Bar 35** (Downtown) – really good pizza & beer
  • **Indigo** (Downtown) – known for lychee martinis!
  • **Uncle Bo’s Pupu Bar & Grill** (Kapahulu)
  • Ka Restaurant & Lounge (Ward Center) – cool ambiance
  • JJ Dolan’s (Downtown) – known for their pizzas & beer
  • Kanpai Bar & Grill (near Ward Center) – good bar food (kalbi, chow mein, etc), sports bar
  • Mai Tai Bar (Ala Moana Mall) – pretty popular for locals with live entertainment most nights
  • BambuTwo Café (Downtown)
  • Manifest (Downtown)
  • Formaggio (Downtown) – wine bar
  • Café Duck Butt (near Ward Center) – Korean bar food (kinda expensive), has private room karaoke too
  • Karaoke Hut – private room karaoke, kind of run down, but best selection of songs
  • Blue Ribbon – a more swanky bar, with both public and private room karaoke
  • Genius Lounge – house sake $5 (6-8 pm)
  • Yard House (Waikiki)
  • Senor Frogs (Waikiki)
  • Ryan’s Bar & Grill (Ward Center)
  • Gordon Biersch (Aloha Tower Marketplace)
  • Don Ho’s Island Grill (Aloha Tower Marketplace)
  • There’s a bunch more in Downtown/Chinatown, just ask Jae

Nightlife

  • Zanzabar Nightclub – always hear this on the radio
  • Ocean Club in Restaurant Row – good happy hour on Thursdays and good looking crowd
  • Level 4 Club – Saturdays, Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center, dancing/clubbing, always crowded and always happening
  • The Pearl – another club for Fri/Sat, in Ala Moana
  • The W Hotel – hip crowd in Waikiki, was bought out, may be dead now
  • Skyline – Sheraton Waikiki’s Hanohano Room
  • Tsukiji’s – Ala Moana
  • Ginza – happening Asian club, door charge $30
  • Dave & Buster’s – offers Taco Tuesdays. $1 taco, $5 chips, $3 corona. On Wednesday night it turns into a happening place for college kids.