One of the most popular getaways in the United States, Oahu is a Hawaiian island paradise enveloped by golden sands, leading to turquoise waters. If you’re looking for an unforgettable Hawaii vacation, nothing beats spending one week in Oahu.
On the island of Oahu, Hawaii, Waikiki and Honolulu present a modern backdrop of attractions, restaurants, and vibrant nightlife. Lying in wait behind the skyline are soaring mountains, volcanic craters, epic coastlines, and beautiful rural landscapes. Any trip to Oahu, even if you’re tight for time, can unlock the island’s best, presenting equal opportunities for both relaxation and adventure.
Not sure where to go in Oahu in one week? Plan your trip with this complete 7-day Oahu itinerary.
Where to go in Oahu in one week: A complete itinerary
On this one-week itinerary, you’ll be able to explore every corner of Oahu, from its white sand oasis to its lush jungles. You’ll have ample time to enjoy the best of Honolulu and Waikiki, without missing out on the hidden gems that are found throughout.
We’ve written more about getting around Oahu at the end of this guide, but it can be a tricky island to navigate. To make the most of this experience, it’s best to hire your own car. With your own wheels, you can take more time to enjoy the island’s top sights.
While you won’t want to leave, 7 days in Oahu is a great amount of time to spend on the island. With a scenic road trip to each region every day—and ample time to explore—you’ll leave having ticked all the boxes.
Day 1: Waikiki
After touching down at the airport in Honolulu, enjoy a 45-minute trip southeast through Honolulu on your way to Waikiki. Home to the famous Waikiki Beach, the iconic shoreline has long been a popular tourism destination.
In the 1800s, Waikiki was the go-to spot for Hawaii’s high society. Later in the 20th century, the upscale Moana Surfrider Hotel opened, setting Waikiki on the path to a tourist mecca in Honolulu.
Waikiki is lined with beautiful white sand beaches and waterfront restaurants. You could spend all day on Waikiki Beach watching the surfers roll in and out before basking in the stunning sunset.
It’s easy to get around on foot with museums and historic sites within walking distance and Diamond Head just a brief trip away. But day one is all about sun and sand. Here’s where you should go:
One Honolulu attraction that needs a spot on your Oahu itinerary is the picturesque Waikiki Beach. As popular as ever, it continues to live up to its sparkling reputation. With the turquoise Pacific Ocean tumbling towards the shoreline, and the city skyline hovering in the background, Waikiki Beach is a sight to behold.
The shore stretches on for two miles so you can venture a little further down in order to find your own patch of sand. From wherever you lie down your towel, you’ll have magnificent views of Diamond Head, with the chance to learn to surf on Hawaii’s famous breaks.
Further along from the main section of Waikiki Beach is the low-key Kuhio Beach. As it’s just away from the vibrant scenes, travelers to this part of the shoreline can make the most of shallow and calm waters. The tranquil nature of Kuhio Beach is perfect for families who can enjoy a safe swim closer to shore.
The beach features several so-called swim walls that are closed-off swimming areas and great for young kids. Importantly, the epic views remain and the entire beach is patrolled by lifeguards. Back on the sand, grab some shade underneath the swaying palm trees, or hang out in the park behind Kuhio Beach.
In front of the Hilton Hawaiian Village, Kahanamoku Beach offers two options for beachgoers. On the west end of Waikiki Beach, you’ll enjoy the patented white sands of Oahu, crystal clear waters, and calm seas. But it’s the other aspect of Kahanamoku Beach that separates it from other famous beaches on the island.
Here you’ll find a closed-off lagoon on the other side of the beach. The man-made lake is enveloped by golden sand and offers electric blue water devoid of any tumbling waves. If you’re looking for a spot to wade and disconnect from the world, this is it.
If you want to toss a little culture into your first 24 hours in Honolulu, venture into downtown Honolulu to check out some of the city’s cultural sites. Keep on the lookout for top Honolulu tourist attractions like Ala Moana Center, Honolulu Museum of Art, and Iolani Palace, the only former royal palace in the United States.
Day 2: Central Oahu
Offering a look into Hawaii’s storied past, on day two, make your way to Central Oahu. Departing Waikiki, you’ll have a brief one-hour drive towards the mountains and the largest harbor on the island.
Without the sandy beaches, Central Oahu is often overlooked by travelers. But rather than drive on through, explore the history of Hawaii, tour coffee farms, and try delicious local rum at KoHana Distillers.
The core of Oahu in the Waianae Mountains presents amazing vistas, of towering peaks and deep valleys. Among it all are historic estates, like the Dole Plantation and the Aloha Stadium.
One major landmark in Central Oahu that’s not to be missed is Pearl Harbor. The site of such tragedy on December 7th, 1941, continues to attract almost 2 million visitors a year, some eight decades later.
Visitors coming to Pearl Harbor won’t just experience one activity or attraction. The harbor now encompasses a series of historical viewpoints, museums, and the chance to embark on ship tours.
Some of the tours are free and some are paid. Begin at the Visitor Center, where you can map out your day to get the most of the somber yet enlightening experience.
Day 3: North Shore
From the Pearl Harbor National Memorial, it’s time to head through the mountains, or along the scenic west coast to Oahu’s North Shore. After a day of plantations, mountains, and history, reconnect with the island’s stunning beaches. Along with Waikiki, the North Shore is a hotspot and belongs on any Oahu road trip.
If you’ve arrived between November and May, the North Shore is one of the best places to join a whale watching tour or catch surfers trying to tame the barrels at Laniakea Beach. You can also embark on one of the best hikes on the island, a trek to Waimea Falls.
When you aren’t venturing out to see whales or swimming at the beach around Waimea Bay, head across to Waimea Valley. Here, you’ll find a beautiful tropical botanical garden and a waterfall with a large swimming hole manned by lifeguards.
That waterfall, of course, is Waimea Falls, located at the endpoint of one of the Oahu’s coolest hikes. The water roars down over 45 feet into a massive swimming hole. Jump in to quickly cool off after the one-mile hike.
On your way back, take some time to experience the gardens home to 5,000 different species. Much of Hawaiian plant life is endemic; you can’t find it anywhere else on earth.
A lot of travelers choose to stay at Turtle Bay Resort, one of the few resort options on Oahu’s North Shore. But for more of a beach bum experience, kick back in the relaxing beachside town of Hale’iwa. Soak in the authentic local experience close to all the attractions around the North Shore.
The town is home to several local art galleries exploring Hawaiian culture and creativity. You’ll likely stumble across a number of mouthwatering food trucks on your strolls throughout town.
Perhaps the best reason to visit, though, is that Hale’iwa is a part of the Seven-Mile Miracle, referring to the insane surfing to be had along the northern coast.
A mile north of Hale’Iwa, Laniakea Beach is a small sandy shore that is easy to miss. Also known as Turtle Beach, Laniakea is a popular spot to experience some of the best snorkeling on the island on your 7-day itinerary.
When the water is calm, you can make the most of the amazing clarity as you float along the surface. With your eyes peeled, keep a lookout for Hawaiian green sea turtles.
But be careful: Laniakea is renowned for its strong current, a part of what makes the beach one of the great surf spots on Oahu.
Day 4: South Oahu
After living the beach bum life on Oahu’s North Shore, wake up bright and early to capture the morning sunrise before getting on the road to South Oahu.
It only takes an hour of scenic driving to get from the top to the bottom of Oahu. (Or just 15 minutes from Waikiki.) On the island’s south shore, you can experience some of the finest natural landmarks on the island.
South Oahu—home of Diamond Head Crater, gorgeous beaches, golf courses, and Koko Head Crater—is a place where outdoor adventures are as common as sunbathing on the beach. And you can do it all while having Waikiki and Honolulu within striking distance.
Also known as Le’ahi, Diamond Head Crater is the towering volcanic formation that dominates the surrounding skyline. From along the eastern and southern coasts, you’ll see its dramatic summit, a peak that’ll feature in photo after photo.
Those with an itch for adventure will be stoked to know there’s a well-maintained trail that’ll take you to the very top of Diamond Head. A 1.6-mile round trip, the Diamond Head Summit Trail gains 560 feet of elevation.
On a hot day, the trail can be a challenge. But with many benches along the way, you’ll have ample opportunities to catch your breath. Continue on to the summit for epic panoramic views of Oahu and the Pacific Ocean.
After getting back down from the dizzying highs of Diamond Head, cool off on your next adventure to Hanauma Bay. Home to an underwater preserve featuring a kaleidoscope of bright colors, the bay is another unforgettable location for snorkeling.
Trade your hiking boots for fins and a snorkel and get exploring in the Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve. The ecosystem is based on an old volcanic crater, now teeming with tropical fish and pristine coral. Keep an eye out for more turtles and even reef sharks, don’t worry, they aren’t dangerous.
Remember, the preserve is only open from 8 am to 4 pm; be sure to give yourself plenty of time.
Koko Head Crater Trail
From Hanauma Bay, continue your eastward journey along the shore in South Oahu to the Koko Head Crater Trail. After an invigorating swim, you’ll be up for the challenging trek. A steep hike to monumental views, the trail follows an abandoned railroad track used in the Second World War.
Over the 1.6-mile return journey, you’ll experience a real-life Stairmaster. The trail features a total of 1,000 thigh-burning steps. You’ll want to take your time, especially on a hot day. But after only 100 steps, you’ll have magnificent coastal views to enjoy as you catch your breath.
Makapu’u Beach Park
After a monumental day in South Oahu, with multiple leg-burning hikes and a spectacular snorkel trip, reward yourself with a relaxing experience at Makapu’u Beach Park.
Grab your towel and your favorite beach gear at set up shop along Makapu’u’s soft white sand. Once you’re fully recovered from the Koko Head experience, wander down to the tide pools formed by black lava.
Before heading onto your accommodation for the night, pay a visit to Makapu‘u Point Lighthouse Trail. The walk to the historic red-roofed monument is a simple 2-mile return journey. Enjoy beautiful views of Molokai and keep your eye out for whales.
Day 5: Inland Oahu
Encompassing the region around Waimanalo Forest Reserve, Inland Oahu showcases some of the finest nature and mountainous terrain on the island.
After exploring the coast, head on a short drive north to the town of Manoa. Here, you can explore the Manoa Heritage Center and the gorgeous Lyon Arboretum.
Continue further into the hills to trek to Manoa Falls or hike the Lulumahu Falls Trail. For those who like to hit the fairway, Inland Oahu is also home to the scenic Royal Hawaiian Golf Club while the nearby town of Maunawili is home to Olomana Ridge.
One adventure you must embark on when traveling through Inland Oahu is the Manoa Falls. The short but sweet journey whisks you into another dimension far away from society as you trek through the dense bamboo jungle with the canopy creating contrasts of shadows and light.
After trekking through the forest—now home to guava and wild ginger—you’ll begin to hear the subtle sounds of the tumbling waterfall. The music grows in earnest. Soon, you’ll be standing in front of an immense 100-foot cliff with the falls cascading down. Just a mile and a half return journey, it’s one of the easiest waterfalls to witness on Oahu.
Nu‘uanu Pali Lookout
After returning to the car after a mesmerizing experience at Manoa Falls, next up on day five is the Nu’uanu Pali Lookout. From your side of the lush Ko’olau Mountains, join the Pali Highway that’ll take you towards the Windward Coast.
The scenic route is one of the most memorable drives you’ll do during your Oahu trip, taking you all the way to the stunning lookout. On top of rugged, jaw-dropping cliffs you’ll be in the spot where Kamehameha the Great took power of Oahu. (The same man eventually united all of Hawaii.)
As for the viewpoint well, you can take in the panoramic vistas of the Ko’olau Range and the windswept eastern coast.
Day 6: Windward Coast
Upon completing your drive along the Pali Highway, you’ll leave behind the skyscrapers on Honolulu for something more remote, rugged, and enchanting. With more rain than other regions in Oahu, the Windward Coast is lush, its mountains which shoot out of the Pacific are densely forested and the beaches shimmer under the Hawaiian sun.
A totally different world, the eastern coastline showcases a more relaxed way of life, removed from the high-end resorts. Here it’s all natural. The beaches tend to be quieter, but no less scenic. And the veritable buffet of local hikes will keep you busy until the sun dips below the horizon.
With soft white sands and electric blue water that couldn’t get any bluer if it tried, Kailua Beach is often rated as the second most beautiful beach in Oahu. (And Ii’s a bit of a tough call, considering the beach next door is number one.)
But what makes Kailua Beach worth a visit—and, for some, a better beach than neighboring Lanikai—is the amount of space on offer. With more soft white sand and blue water to play in, you can spread out and find your own patch of paradise.
In Kailua Beach Park, visitors can also make use of the beach amenities, including showers and picnic tables.
After some time at Kailua, see what all the fuss is about and make your way over to Lanikai Beach. After a short stroll, enjoy the glistening sands with translucent water lapping the coastline. Take your time basking in the serenity under the shady palm trees before jumping in the water yourself.
For an amazing view of the Windward Coast and Lanikai Beach itself, trade the sand for dirt and embark on the Pillbox Hike. The moderate two-hour trek whisks past old military bunkers toward a panoramic viewpoint with views over the coastline.
As you continue to travel around Oahu, you may sense an air of familiarity with some of the island’s scenery. You aren’t crazy. Oahu is a popular filming location and its dramatic landscapes have been featured in box office hits like Jurassic Park and, the show everyone loves or hates, Lost.
The Kualoa Ranch was a filming location in Jurassic Park and is a great way to get a behind-the-scenes look at one of Hollywood’s most iconic movies. The ranch has been owned by the same family for generations and is a predictably stunning valley.
Keep in mind that any trip to Kualoa Ranch must be on a guided tour.
Polynesian Cultural Center
If you still have time after your Kualoa Ranch experience, venture further up the coast to the Polynesian Cultural Center. One of the coolest places to see on Oahu, the center celebrates the island’s Polynesian culture.
The Polynesian Cultural Center is hard to pin down as a tourist attraction as it’s got a little of everything. Explore its 42 acres of tropical bliss and six Polynesian villages.
The most popular activity at the Polynesian Cultural Center, however, is taking part in an evening luau, including a delicious serving of traditional Hawaiian food and a cultural show.
Day 7: Leeward Coast
From the lush Windward Coast, turn your attention to the dry and always sunny Leeward Coast on the last day of your Oahu experience. After a day trip on the other side of the Pali Highway, you’ll soon find yourself in a different landscape.
Less developed than Waikiki to the south, the Leeward Coast features a series of off-the-beaten-path attractions, from beautiful small towns and rural landscapes to quiet beaches that offer mesmerizing sunsets.
With two major resorts, you can pick between a rural escape or a high-end retreat, all the while enjoying the picture-perfect scenery.
One of the best beaches on the Leeward Coast can be found in Yokohama Bay. On the northwest tip of Oahu, Yokohama Beach is a secluded stretch of golden sand far removed from the atmospheric Waikiki Beach. While a lot of travelers circumnavigate Oahu on their road trip, few take the brief side trip to the bay. And that’s great news for you!
Yokohama Beach is pristine in every sense of the word. You can enjoy the blue water as it tumbles upon the beach without a hint of development in sight. The towering Waianae Mountain Range creates the perfect backdrop for a perfect beach day,
Ka’ena Point Trail
If you’re ready to end your time at Yokohama Beach or want to take a break from the glistening shores, embark on a scenic hike along the Ka’ena Point Trail. From Yokohama Bay, go on a 2.5-mile one-way journey to the point along switchback trails that caress the rugged coastline.
Enjoy amazing views of Yokohama Bay and the Waianae Coast as you walk. Soon, you’ll be met by moon-shaped coves and mirrored tide pools before reaching Ka’ena Point. Here, you can walk along Keawaula Beach or check out abandoned military pillboxes.
Where to stay in Oahu
A five-minute drive to Waikiki Beach and fifteen minutes from Diamond Head, The Surfjack Hotel & Swim Club is a great base for your time in Waikiki. The hotel comes with an outdoor pool, with live entertainment and private cabanas for hire. The suites and bungalows are cozy and Surfjack has an onsite restaurant.
Just a five-minute walk away from the golden sand of Waikiki Beach, the Laylow, Autograph Collection, is an upscale boutique hotel great for couples and families. The romantic deluxe room will welcome couples back after a fun day on the road. The family-oriented room options suit larger crews making their way to Oahu.
With stunning coastal views, a block back from Waikiki Beach, the Aston Waikiki Beach Tower is a luxurious all-suite property. With fully equipped kitchens, you can enjoy a lovely meal while enjoying the views. When you aren’t by the beach, you can swim in the outdoor pool and laze on the spacious terrace.
Getting around Oahu
Although trips usually take only an hour, like all Hawaiian Islands, the best way to get around Oahu is by renting a car. This will allow you an easier time making your way through a scenic but often rugged landscape. As you’re seeing Oahu in one week, it’ll allow you to travel on your own terms.
It’s easier to get around Honolulu and Waikiki on public transport thanks to the Waikiki Trolley and The Bus. These options are great for quick trips around the city—and even to get to Pearl Harbor.
For experiences further afield, we’d suggest booking day tours if you don’t want to hire a car.
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