Hawaii is a perfect tropical paradise – whether you choose Kauai, Maui or Oahu, you can always count on the islands for some Aloha magic.
Dubbed “Garden Isle”, Kauai lives up to its moniker with lush landscapes, flanked by the dramatic Napali coast & rustic Waimea Canyon. Maui has the spectacular Hana coast, awe-inspiring Haleakala crater & beautiful I’ao valley. Trying to decide if you should go to Maui or Kauai? Read this article on what to consider in making your decision.
I discovered that Oahu too, has its own frequency of cool — different from Kauai & Maui, yet familiar in its haunting beauty. It was also our first travel jaunt with a baby in tow! Here are top spots where I went Mojo hunting & found it in Oahu.
Pupukea Tide Pools
Location: North Shore
Good for: Snorkeling, Shrimp Trucks, Catching Sunset
Pupukea Tide Pools are a great location to take kids snorkeling — the tide pools are shielded from the ocean’s current. (check the weather & current in winter, though!). Talking to locals and joining them to catch the sunset here was a simple & serene experience.
Moonrise at Sunset Beach
Location: Sunset Beach, North Shore
Good for: Catching sunrise/sunset, beach bumming & surfing
It’s not just the sunrise & sunsets that were magical in Oahu, the moonrise was just as enchanting.
Good for: Waterfall view, hiking
A relatively easy, and beautiful jungle hike, culminating in a 150-foot waterfall. Do take tons of bug spray though!
China Wall, also called “Spitting Cave of Portlock”
Good for: Catching sunset, Cliff-diving, Stargazing
This is a hidden gem, legendary amongst locals as the spot to go to catch beautiful sunsets. To get to this secret spot, you have to drive through the residential Portlock area and go down a steep track, through a back alley. Watch out for wasps! Also, the cliff is super steep, each step represents a layer from the lava formation. There are no rails, but from here, you can hear the roar of waves crashing & lose yourself in a 360 panorama of the ocean.
Location: Windward (East) Side
Good for: Snorkeling, Scenic Lookout
World class snorkeling awaits at this pristine bay. The preserve is closed on Tuesdays. More info here
Ehukai Beach & Banzai Pipeline
Location: North Shore
Good for: Watching giant waves in winter; surfing, beach bumming
When I visited Ehukai beach, it was the perfect idyllic beach on a hot summer’s day. In winter however, the Banzai pipeline sees 50 foot tall waves, and is host to world famous surf competitions.
Location: Pali Highway
Good for: Scenic lookout
Why so serious, Pali lookout? But ooofff, those cliffs and mountains! That descending fog! This highway was one of my favorite drives in Oahu.
Koko Head Regional Park
Location: Windward Side
Good for: Scenic lookouts, road trip, hiking
Driving on the winding Kalanianaole Highway is a treat, because you get to explore the Koko head area. Home to the now dormant Koko Crater, which erupted over 35,000 years ago, this scenic drive includes several look out points of interest: Hanauma Bay, Lānaʻi Lookout, Halona blowhole & Sandy Beach. If you’re ready for a butt-kicking hike, the Koko Head Trailhead awaits: a steep climb of 1,000 steps, atop the hill to get panoramic views.
If I had to pick my most favorite beach in all of Oahu, this would be it. Warm aqua blue waters, white sand lining up against the Molokai islands, aka “Chinaman’s hat” island is the postcard perfect beach getaway. Neighboring Kailua Beach is also equally beautiful. If beaches are more your scene, here’s a list of the best beaches in Oahu.
Location: North Shore
Good for: Art Galleries, Eateries & Shrimp Trucks, Shaved Ice
North shore town Hale’iwa is home to small art galleries & the ever popular Giovanni’s shrimp truck. My favorite pit stop though, was Matsumoto’s shaved ice! (Try Aoki’s Shaved Ice — with Mango, Passionfruit & Coconut…yumm!). I recommend getting there before 11 AM to avoid the crowds.
Polynesian Cultural Center
Location: North Shore
Good for: Theme park, Cultural activities, Activities for kids
A mini theme park, with different Polynesian island park pockets: Fiji, Samoa, Tahiti, New Zealand. Each island park has its own “village”: replete with village grounds, huts, displays & cultural demonstrations, ranging from dances & musicals to cook-offs & welcoming ceremonies. There’s also an IMAX theater on site, which is great place to hang out should it start to rain.
Drive from Kualoa to Kahana Bay
Location: North Shore
Good for: Nature & Scenic drive; Activities for kids & adults; Adventure
This drive is serene & tranquil: even our baby seemed to enjoy it! I heard fantastic things about Kualoa Ranch from both my Hawaiian local & travel friends — you can rent an ATV here, go on an horseback riding adventure, mountain bike, kayak to nearby islands or even go movie tours (several scenes from Jurassic Park were filmed here). If I were to return to Oahu, this is where I would come back!
Good for: Shopping, Restaurants, Resorts
Waikiki is tourist heavy, at any given time of year. It scores points for its accessibility to resorts, restaurants & shopping. For a first trip with le bebe, we never had to worry about running out of diapers/wipes or clean water. A few favorites I discovered in Waikiki & strongly recommend for eats:
Kona Coffee Puveyors
Kuhio Avenue Mall Entrance — International Marketplace
2330 Kalakaua Ave #160, Honolulu
Why It’s Great: Artisan, locally sourced & roasted Kona coffee, with (wait for it….) Macademia nut milk. Ohhhhh ssweeeettt heeavveen! #mojyo right there
Heavenly Island Lifestyle
342 Seaside Ave
Why It’s Great: The brunch wait time here is totally worth it! It’s THE spot for eggs-benedict, I especially love the candied Okinawa purple potatoes & lilikoi (passionfruit) butter. I’m literally drooling while writing this. The fresh juice blends & pitaya bowl were also excellent.
933 Kapahulu Avenue
Why It’s Great: Malasada, aka, Portugese custard-filled doughnuts. (Ie, when Creme Brulee & Tiramisu have a fried baby. It’s good enough that you ignore bad analogies like this one 😛 ) .They’ve even got a Malasada-mobile food truck to dole out the goodies.
Honolulu Cookie Co.
Multiple locations in Waikiki — see here
Why It’s Great: Cookies. In ridiculously amazing tropical flavors like Guava, Mango, Passionfruit, Coconut. And Kona mocha coffee. Do I really need to say more than Hawaiian “get in my belly” and keep-it-coming cookies?? I rest my case.
Location: Koko Marina Center
7192 Kalanianole Highway, Honolulu
Good for: Hanging out with friends & family!
Correctomundo, I’ve got a whole section on this terrific restaurant. Because it really is that good! It’s hard to say whether it’s the food alone, or the ambiance or the fact that Kona brewery has a gorgeous ocean view that’s the draw here. Whether you’re out here with friends, on a date or like us, with a bambino in tow, this brewery is a perfect retreat. Also, they make a killer Mai-Tai that might have tipped the scales in ranking the awesome vibe of this place. Try the burrata pizza with the balsamic reduction = heaven!
Most Over-rated Stop: Turtle Beach aka Lanieaka Beach
See that lone sad dude next to the stroller?? Looking lost & wondering why, oh why, did I drive 2 hours in the blistering heat, with a wailing baby in the back to see a Turtle beach…with no turtles? Don’t let this happen to you, folks! We got there to see 1 giant turtle, marked off in the middle of the beach with ropes for a “scientific study”. The remaining turtles were by the water, but there were so many tourists by 2 PM, it was a total wash out. I suspect though, early morning is a good time to get here, have the place to yourself & enjoy seeing the turtles truly chill on the beach, without the tourist “take my selfie, with the turtle, ma!” assault, every few seconds.
Other Notable Areas & Experiences
Here are places I didn’t go on this trip, but recommend based on my research & talking to locals. Links below to plan your trip:
- Valley of Temples/ Byodo-In Temple: modeled after its namesake temple in Kyoto. I’ve been to the original in Kyoto, and it is absolutely worth the visit!
- Pearl Harbor: for history & military buffs
- Diamond Head Hike: For panoramic views of the city
- Lanikai Pillbox Hike: I consistently heard this was the place to go for a sunrise hike in North Shore.
- Kayaking to Molokai Islands: Half a day kayaking excursion to Molokai, aka, “Chinaman’s hat” island.
- Stairway to Heaven hike: Infamously strenuous, with stunning scenery on this hike. Access is closed from one side, and due to broken stairs, it’s not only dangerous, but illegal with a $1,000 fine for trespassers. There is a legal & safer way to do the hike, check out the link for details.
Whether it’s adventure, nature & scenery, shopping or the foodie scene — Oahu has much to indulge travelers looking for a good dose of Mojo!