3 Days in Oahu
Explore the hidden secrets of Oahu Island. Here is a 3 day itinerary for you to plan a perfect trip to Oahu
O‘ahu: land of myths. We're not talking about ancient Hawaiian myths. We're talking about the myths that exist about this island, both for visitors and for those who live on the neighbor islands (including me before I moved here to do this guide.) The biggest myth is that O‘ahu is Waikiki and Waikiki is O‘ahu. Nothing could be further from the truth. O‘ahu has all the wonder, adventure and discovery that a person could ever ask for—and far more.
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Oahu 3 day Itinerary
If you don’t want to walk great distances whenever you want to experience what Waikiki has to offer, the best location is on the ocean side of Kalakaua Avenue between Saratoga Avenue and the Waikiki Beach Center. The area around the Royal Hawaiian and the Moana Surfrider hotels is usually considered to be the center of Waikiki life.
Where to stay in Oahu
This list may assist you in planning what to bring. Obviously, you won’t bring everything on the list, but it might make you think of a few things you may otherwise overlook:
If you’re looking to spend the day at a beach, don’t feel compelled to bring everything with you from the mainland. Hawai‘i Beach Time (808-585-1474) rents everything beachy you can think of—from umbrellas to kayaks, beach chairs, surfboards, hammocks, etc. And their prices are fairly reasonable. Spend $50 or more and they’ll deliver it all to you anywhere on the island, for free.
What to Bring
Two bathing suits
Shoes—flip-flops, trashable sneakers, water shoes, hiking shoes
Shorts and other cool clothing
Camera with lots of storage
Light rain jacket and sweatshirt or light coat for some occasions.
Junk clothes for bikes, hiking, etc.
Mosquito repellent for some hikes. (Those with DEET seem to work the longest).
Hiking sticks (carbide-tipped ones work best here)
Cheap, simple backpack—handy even if you’re not backpacking
Hat or cap for sun protection
Reef-safe and water-resistant sunscreen (SPF 30 or higher)
Mask, snorkel and fins
Day 1 - Oahu Itinerary
If you haven’t checked out our one-day itinerary, you can do so here. We show you how to make the most of your first day on Oahu.
Breakfast at Eggs'n Things (Saratoga)
They've been around since 1974, and there's probably been a line outside from day one. Expect a wait no matter which of their three locations you choose. That's because they have a good breakfast selection with huge portions for relatively cheap prices. (The pancakes, though, are surprisingly flavorless. Same with the French toast. Best to stick to the eggs instead of the things.) Open at 6 a.m. for breakfast, there's usually no wait during the first hour. They're also open for dinner, but their breakfast fingerprints are all over items like steak and eggs or chicken fried steak. $10–$18. On Saratoga just off Kalakaua.
Afternoon Visit to Coral Crater Adventure Park
What would you do if you owned a 35-acre hole in the ground, the result of an abandoned military quarry that’s overgrown with trees and generally unloved? Turn 10 acres of it into an adventure park and team-building location, of course.
The zombie tour is like an escape room on steroids. You have to make your way through a makeshift military outpost, search for keys and door passcodes, find an antidote and rescue someone, all while killing zombies with a laser M4 (that actually recoils) and then zip line your way back to safety—in the dark.
To get to the canyon, take Waimea Canyon Drive from Waimea. They want you to go up from Koke‘e Road in Kekaha because they hope you’ll buy something there, but the views are better going up from Waimea. On your return from the canyon, you can take Koke‘e Road (between mile markers 6 and 7) down for a different view of the coast.
Early Morning Diamond Head Hike
Diamond Head is that iconic volcano crater that defines the Honolulu skyline. And just like the Statue of Liberty in New York, the St. Louis Arch and San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, you’re practically required to visit it.
Dinner and a Show at Ka Moana Lu‘au at Sea Life Park
Of the Lu‘au options that require travelling, Ka Moana Lu‘au at Sea Life Park is the closest. The grassy grounds are tucked into the Ko‘olau mountain range on the east side of the island, about a 30-minute drive from Waikiki.
There’s a simple stage with a long canoe, and behind that, you’ve got a commanding view (until the sun goes down) of the ocean and two offshore islands. Great setting, but remember: this is the windward side of the island, and sometimes that breeze can get chilly in the evening, so bring a jacket.
Lunch at Hau Tree Lanai
You ain’t gonna get out of this cheap, so let’s get that out of the way. Their location is next to San Souci Beach at the extreme southeast end of Waikiki in the New Otani Kaimana Beach Hotel across from Kapiolani Park. This puts them away from the more hectic part of Waikiki with beautiful views of their beach.
Evening at Kailua Beach
This lovely 2.5-mile stretch of delicious sandy beach fits nearly everyone’s profile of a beautiful tropical paradise. This is one of the best beaches on the island to simply stroll along as the waves splash your legs.
Four different offshore islands beckon the adventurous. And Kailua rarely gets the monstrous 30-foot surf that pounds the North Shore (see Banzai Pipeline in our app, if you’re curious about what we mean).
Breakfast at Duke’s Waikiki
As legendary as its namesake here in the islands, Duke’s has the sort of dreamy atmosphere that’s synonymous with Waikiki, and it’s one of our favorite places to eat breakfast. Some of the tables overlook a pool, while others overlook the famous surf spot. (Duke Kahanamoku was the sport’s first ambassador, the guy who introduced surfing to the American mainland.) Most, however, overlook other tables. Get there close to their 7 a.m. opening time to get a coveted railing table. Koa wood is everywhere, and the ambiance, though it can get a bit loud and crowded, is pleasing.
Afternoon Boat Tour
What’s not to love about spending the day on the water? The ocean off the leeward side of the island (meaning near Waikiki) tends to be fairly calm and somewhat protected. Whether you want to do a snorkel tour, whale watch or a sunset cocktail or dinner cruise, there are lots of boating opportunities off O‘ahu.
Ocean tours off Waikiki tend to be on giant boats. (It’s simple economics—getting a boat slip in Kewelo Basin is so valuable that anyone with a permit tends to use it for a big boat.) The exceptions are some of the boats that come right ashore at Waikiki.
The best one we’ve seen by far is the Spirit of Aloha that leaves from the Hilton Hawaiian Village pier. It’s $129 for 2.5 hours and includes lunch (deli only), snorkel and sail. For $109 you can go out in the afternoon minus the lunch but with two free alcoholic drinks (unlimited soft drinks). They provide full snorkel gear (including fins), but they make you wear an inflatable snorkel vest (which you don’t have to inflate), even if you’re an Olympic swimmer. The crew does a good job teaching people how to use the snorkeling gear, though the speech in the beginning is well-rehearsed and delivered without much enthusiasm. They’ll motor out and sail back from Diamond Head. This cruise is a little more subdued compared to some of their competitors. You’ll get two free drink coupons, but we predict that if you want more, you’ll hear, I’m buying, from one of the crew.
Morning at Pearl Harbour
There are three historic Navy vessels all moored near each other at the WWII Valor in the Pacific National Monument at Pearl Harbor. And, frankly, all three are worth your time. The sunken U.S.S. Arizona is the most somber of the three, the USS Missouri the most impressive in its scale, and the Bowfin the most interesting for observing what it must have been like to live in a submerged vessel. The Pacific Aviation Museum has restored vintage aircraft from the war over the Pacific.
Visiting the memorial is one of those must-dos on O‘ahu, and for good reason. Since there are so few WWII vets left, it makes WWII real for the rest of us. We know how WWII ended because we’ve lived our lives after the attack. But those men still entombed under your feet at the memorial only knew the shock and awe of how they died. And it’s not until you’re standing on the memorial, perched over the sunken ship, that the echo of their lives can be heard. And when you see the massive marble wall with their names engraved, only then does the beginning of WWII turn from an event that happened as part of our history to an assault that stole the lives of people like you and me and galvanized a nation.
Dinner and a Show at Rock-A-Hula Legends in Concert
OK, OK, the whole idea of celebrity impersonators is kinda lame, but Rock-A-Hula Legends in Concert is a thoroughly enjoyable experience. Besides, how else can you see Elvis and Michael Jackson together live in concert? Add in some Hawaiian hula and Tahitian dancing, and this is a wildly entertaining show that never fails to get people dancing in their seats.
The show is held in a 750-person theater on the fourth floor of the Royal Hawaiian Center in Waikiki. Elvis is a permanent fixture, as is Michael Jackson. The third slot is usually a current pop star, such as Katy Perry, but the lineup changes periodically, so you’ll have to check the website. The production value is over the top, and all of the performances are live (no lip-synching.) There's also a fire-knife dancer.
Lunch at Restaurant 604
Despite winning our least interesting restaurant name award, this is a great place to relax and get something to eat after visiting Pearl Harbor. This place is next to the WWII Valor in the Pacific Monument parking lot but hidden from view; walk up the road and go under the bridge. The restaurant is right on the water, with a fantastic open-air view of the harbor's east loch and a small marina. That bridge you went under to get here is the bridge to Ford Island, which, unfortunately, blocks the view of the military ships. The burgers here are perfectly moist and made with grass-fed beef from The Big Island. (The deluxe makes good use of bacon and avocado). Good fish tacos. Creative drinks from the bar.
Day 2 in Oahu - Oahu Itinerary
Breakfast at Ted’s Bakery
They have an array of fresh-baked pastries, pies and cakes, whole or by the slice. Breakfast is simple and cheap at $6–$11. Lunch is great, including plate lunches, large burgers, shoyu chicken (which always sells out) and good garlic shrimp for $7–$17. Sit at the outside covered tables, or better yet, grab your food and head to nearby Sunset Beach, which is just to the southwest on Hwy 83.
Afternoon at Polynesian Cultural Center
It’s as far from Waikiki on O‘ahu as you can get—both literally and figuratively. Near the far northern tip of the island in La‘ie, the Polynesian Cultural Center is a laid-back re-creation of various island villages from across Polynesia. In addition to Hawai‘i, you can explore Tahiti, Tonga, Fiji, Aotearoa (New Zealand), Samoa and Rapa Nui (which you probably know better by the name Easter Island). They don’t pretend to be completely authentic—power outlets, plywood, electric lights and cell phones are ever-present—but it's definitely not a Hawaiian Disneyland with rides and dolphins leaping out of the water. What they’ve attempted to do here is to create a non-frantic environment where you can wander around at your leisure and learn about all things Polynesian. You'll see various styles of huts, cultural demonstrations, lots of dancing, spear-throwing and more. Coconuts trees, palm fronds and a meandering, cement-lined lagoon create an island atmosphere that’s certainly closer to reality than anything you’ll find in Waikiki.
Morning at Waimea Valley
The giant garden itself (1,875 acres) is beautiful, and the setting on the Waimea River is tranquil. Take the opportunities to veer from the main road and walk along the river. (If you don’t bring mosquito repellent down near the river trail, you’ll donate more blood than you ever knew you had.)
Most people make a beeline to the falls 0.75 miles away (and slightly uphill), then take their time coming back. There are changing rooms at the falls, if you brought your suit. The 40-foot-high falls dries up at times, especially in the summer. Someone here must have gotten scared by a lawyer, because you are required to wear a lifejacket if you swim near the waterfall.
Dinner at Teddy’s Bigger Burgers (Halei’wa)
A burger joint with the look and feel of a tiki bar and serving up high quality food—but you'll have to wait while they make it. Build your own (choose from 5-, 7-, or 9-ounce patties, or absolutely kill it by ordering the 18-ounce monster double), then add toppings, or pick one of the many specialties. Burgers are their signature item (they use ground chuck instead of the typical ground beef), but they also have a really good crispy chicken sandwich, as well as fish sandwiches. The shakes are just barely liquid enough to drink with a straw. You can skip the upgrade to the butter garlic fries. Turkey and veggie burgers available as well as a cheaper kids' menu. Located in the heart of Historic Hale‘iwa Town at Kamehameha and Mahaulu.
Lunch at Romy Kahuku Shrimp Hut
Located 0.75 miles past Kahuku Town (toward Hale‘iwa) after you’ve driven by their competitors. They harvest their shrimp and prawns that day, and the freshness shows. Garlic butter (No. 1) or the sweet and hot (No. 2) are even harder to peel than Giovanni’s, but the eggroll shrimp (No. 3) eliminates the work. Expect to wait 20–40 minutes unless you call it in. (They take the phone off the hook when it gets busy, though.) You get shrimp and rice for about $15. Make it prawns or sunfish, and the price goes up. The tables can be windy, so you might want to eat in the car. Cash only. (There’s an ATM there.) Might want to avoid the fresh sunfish. We’ve seen ’em dead in the holding tank.
Day 3 in Oahu - Oahu Itinerary
Hawaii Revealed App
That’s a lot of activity packed into 3 days! But we didn’t stop at simply reviewing the resorts, restaurants and activities. We’ve organized them based on prices, regions, and loads of other unique filters in one app. If you wanted to know more information, such as which resorts have an outdoor lanai, which restaurants have live music, and which activities need half a day or more, we’ve catalogued all of that information on our app, which you can filter through.
We have the same custom maps found in the book on our app, only now you can zoom in and quickly see what’s nearby, then tap on the activity to read more. The maps will also show you the distance between a resort and an attraction, making it easy to plan your Hawaii trip.
You can also find the following in our app:
- Sights Information including their location, pricing, contact details
- Adventure activities and their reviews
- A planner to save your favourites spots
- Maps to view nearby activities, resorts, restaurants and more
Download the Hawaii Revealed app to see all the real gems and not to be missed sights on the islands.
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Plan your Oahu Vacation with our Hawaii Revealed App
Check out our new Hawaii Revealed app with everything you need to know about where to stay, including unbiased reviews, restaurants, and activities. Download the app for free on iOS to get previews of the best-selling Hawaii travel guides in the palm of your hand. Choose in-app purchases for full access to details on each island.
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