Taylor-Lanikai2

Ho'omaluhia botanical garden on Oahu. One of the top things to do.

Hawaii has been a bucket list trip for me since I was a young child. My parents enjoyed their honeymoon in Hawaii and raved about how magical it was. I knew I had to go at some point and decided to venture to the Hawaiian Islands of Oahu and Maui for 10 days during March 2021. Based off of my experience, I am excited to share the 10 best and memorable things to do on the island of Oahu in Hawaii!

Some fun facts about Hawaii are that there are total of 137 islands, but only eight of them are recognized and seven are inhabited. The eight islands based off of popularity are Oahu, Maui, the island of Hawaii (also known as The Big Island), Kauai, Molokai, Lanai, Niihau and Kahoolawe. The capital of Hawaii is Honolulu, which is located on the island of Oahu. It became the 50th state on August 21, 1959.

A woman enjoying a beach day on Lanikai Beach in Oahu - one of the top things to do

In addition, the popular ocean sport, surfing, was invented in Hawaii; Maui’s volcano – Mount Haleakala is the largest dormant volcano in the world; Hawaii is the only U.S. state with two official languages – English and Hawaiian; the word Aloha means both hello and goodbye and the state still honors its royal past by celebrating Kamehameha Day on June 11.

During my 10-day trip to Hawaii, I adventured with fellow travel blogger Alex of East Coast Contessa. We spent the first half of our trip on the island of Oahu and the second half on the island of Maui, discovering West Maui and Hana. Both islands were absolutely beautiful and offered a lot of wonderful gems, but they both differed as well.

Visiting Byodo-in Temple in Oahu - one of the best things to do

In this article, discover the 10 best things to do on Oahu, Hawaii. Also, read about my experience staying at The Equus Hotel, a charming boutique hotel located in Honolulu.

**Please note that this blog post uses affiliate links meaning that if you make a purchase via my affiliate link, I receive a small commission at no additional cost to you. I only promote and talk about products and services that I have used and like. During my time on Oahu, The Equus Hotel in Honolulu hosted me for four nights. The Hawai’i Polo Club also hosted me on a trail ride.


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Top 10 Things to do on Oahu

Traveling to Hawaii in 2021:

Palm trees in Hawaii

Even though Hawaii is part of the United States, there was a quarantine mandate when I traveled there in March 2021. Everyone traveling to Hawaii from mainland USA can test out of the 10-day quarantine for Oahu, Maui, Molokai, Lanai and the Big Island. By following the state’s Safe Travels testing program. (Kauai joined the Hawaii Safe Travels Program on April 5, 2021.)

For those traveling to Hawaii and want to avoid the 10-day quarantine, you can take an NAAT PCR test from a Hawaii Trusted Traveler testing site within 72 hours from the last leg of your trip. Since I flew from Newark Airport in New Jersey to Honolulu with a layover in Los Angeles, I needed to take my test within 72 hours from when I departed LAX. (Please be mindful of the time differences.) You can see which testing sites are part of Hawaii’s Safe Travels Program. I took my test at American Family Care+ Urgent Care.

A woman at ho'omaluhia botanical garden, one of the top things to do on Oahu

After getting my negative test results back, stating that I took it at a Trusted Traveler‘s site, I had to enroll in Hawaii’s Safe Travels Program where I uploaded a PDF file of my negative test results and filled out a health questionnaire within 24 hours prior to the last leg of my trip. I then received a QR code that allowed me to hop on my flight to Hawaii. (Please make sure you follow all directions because you will only get one QR code!) Alex had to do the same thing, but she traveled from Evansville Regional Airport in Indiana to Honolulu with a layover in Dallas/Fort Worth.

Please note that when you fly United Airlines, you could save time when you arrive in Hawaii by getting “Cleared” ahead of time. All you have to do is show your QR code from the Safe Travels site and your ID to the customer service desk during the last leg of your trip (so I did mine at LAX) and they will issue you a wrist band that you quickly show upon arrival in Hawaii.

A bayan tree in Waikiki, Oahu

In addition, since both Alex and I traveled from Oahu to Maui, we needed to take a second rt-PCR test in Oahu within 72 hours before we departed to Maui because there are inter island restrictions. Since we were only in Oahu for four days, we had to take our tests on our second day. (As of April 9, 2021, all travelers to Maui will need to take an additional test when they land in Maui to avoid a 10-day quarantine.)

We took our PCR test at The National Kidney Foundation of Hawaii at The Monarch Hotel in Honolulu. They take walk ups and it was a self-swab test. (It was super easy to do and there is someone instructing you through the entire process.)

We got our negative results via email within six hours after we took our test. Once we got our results, we uploaded them onto the Hawaii Safe Travels site again, filled out another health questionnaire within 24 hours prior to our departure to Maui and got another QR code that we needed to present upon arrival on the island.

Traveling to Oahu:

A woman enjoying a morning at ho'omaluhia botanical garden

Getting to Hawaii was fairly easy. I flew from Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey to Honolulu International Airport in Hawaii on the island of Oahu with a short layover in Los Angeles International Airport in California. (Coming home, I flew from Maui’s Kahului Airport to Newark with the same layover at LAX.) I found super affordable flights through Skyscanner!

When you arrive in Hawaii, I HIGHLY recommend renting a car on whatever island you choose to visit so that you can explore and not miss out on anything. Oahu’s TheBus is known as Hawaii’s best public transportation method and you can take it to different areas around the island. Oahu also has Uber, Lyft and regular taxis!

Where to Stay on Oahu – The Equus Hotel:

A woman enjoying her hotel stay at The Equus Hotel in Oahu

When it comes to where to stay on the island of Oahu, I recommend the Waikiki area! During my four nights in Oahu, I stayed at The Equus Hotel, which is located in Honolulu on Waikiki’s Upper West Side. (I also had the opportunity to stay at The Equus’ sister hotel in Cody, Wyoming back in September 2020 called Chamberlin Inn.)

I absolutely loved how The Equus was conveniently located from Waikiki Beach, downtown Waikiki, Ala Moana Center (one of the world’s largest shopping malls) and Honolulu’s renowned restaurants and shops. The hotel was also a short drive to all of the beautiful nature and historical hot spots Oahu is known for that I talk about below.

Paniolo Bar at The Equus Hotel in Honolulu

The Equus Hotel is known as Hawaii’s Best Lifestyle Boutique Hotel and it offers comfortable rooms, a welcoming bar that is open for everyone to enjoy delicious food and beverages and there is also a refreshing dipping pool to cool off in!

The Rooms at The Equus Hotel:
The hotel room at The Equus Hotel in Waikiki

When it comes to the rooms at The Equus, they are quaint and comfortable! I stayed in the Deluxe King room, which features a king-sized bed, a balcony that overlooks Waikiki’s high-rise buildings and an ensuite bathroom. The room also came with high-speed WIFI, a refrigerator, safety deposit box, flat screen television, coffee machine and more!

In addition to the Deluxe King room, The Equus Hotel also has a Deluxe Two Double Beds room, Bamboo Queen room, Classic Two Double Beds room, Executive King room and Classic King room.

Sustainability at The Equus Hotel:
Avocado toast from Paniolo Bar and Cafe at The Equus Hotel

The Equus Hotel is known as the First Green Hotel in Wakiki! While still providing the comforts and charm of a boutique hotel, The Equus is an environmentally friendly accommodation that preserves the beauty of Hawaii and educates their guests on practicing sustainability.

Staying at The Equus Hotels, one of the top things to do on Oahu

At The Equus, all appliances are GreenStar rated; room amenities are non-toxic and biodegradable; bath amenities that are partially used by guests are donated to a local non-profit for the homeless; there is a strict recycling program; no chemicals are used on the hotel’s landscaping; old uniforms, linens and furniture is donated to local charities and the Paniolo Bar at the hotel partners with sustainable distilleries that offer local and sustainable spirits.

The Paniolo Bar at The Equus Hotel:
A woman enjoying a drink at Paniolo Bar at The Equus Hotel

Whether you are staying at The Equus Hotel or not, one of the top things to do on Oahu is enjoy The Paniolo Bar and Café. In fact, my favorite part of staying at The Equus Hotel in Honolulu was enjoying the bar and café both in the morning for breakfast and in the evening for happy hour drinks!

A pineapple almond Danish from Paniolo Bar and Cafe at The Equus

The breakfast in the morning was absolutely amazing! You can choose from a latte to a cappuccino as well as a mimosa to an Irish coffee! Paniolo Bar & Café also offers avocado toast, bagels and lox, ham and cheese croissant sandwiches, assorted pastries and more.

On our first morning, both Alex and I savored the delicious avocado toast with an Irish coffee that was presented beautifully and during our last day, I had a pineapple and almond Danish with an Irish coffee and Alex had the bagel with lox along with an espresso martini.

Enjoying an Irish Coffee from Paniolo Bar and Cafe, one of the top things to do on Oahu

During the afternoon and evening, Paniolo Bar & Café offers creative cocktails from mezcal drinks to martinis and snacks such as truffle fries to a charcuterie board. In addition, every Friday from 6pm to 8pm, Paniolo Bar hosts local bands for guests to enjoy a live music experience!

Other Amenities at The Equus Hotel:
The lobby at The Equus Hotel in Honolulu

The Equus is also in connection to the Hawai’i Polo Club (that I talk more about below). Both the hotel and polo club are owned and managed by the wonderful Dailey family! At Hawai’i Polo Club, guests can get half off of horseback riding and they can also enjoy picnicking with a gorgeous view, swimming in the Pacific Ocean or simply relaxing at the beach!

All guests at The Equus will also receive complimentary Sunday polo tickets at the club on the North Shore as well as VIP seating that offers amazing Hawaiian cuisine!

A woman enjoying the pool at The Equus Hotel in Waikiki - one of the top things to do on Oahu

Everything at The Equus Hotel is equestrian themed with Ralph Lauren-inspired touches throughout. Even the lounge at the Paniolo Bar and Café features an equestrian theme!

Also, The Equus Hotel has a refreshing dipping pool with a cabana house for more private seating and relaxation. There are also stringed lights and tiki torches surrounding the poolside area.

10 Things to do on Oahu:

Explore Waikiki Beach and Downtown Honolulu:

A woman enjoying a day at Waikiki Beach in Honolulu - one of the top things to do on Oahu
Waikiki Beach:

A trip to Oahu would not be complete without exploring the popular Waikiki Beach area as well as downtown Honolulu. Spending at least one day in Waikiki should most definitely be on your list of top 10 things to do on Oahu, Hawaii!

Waikiki Beach is one of the most popular beaches in the world! It features two miles of white sand beaches, comforting aqua blue waters and high-rise beachfront hotels. Not only can you enjoy a beach day at Waikiki Beach, but you can also watch surfers, enjoy outdoor events and more!

A woman at Ala Moana Park in Waikiki

During a beach day on Waikiki, you can admire stunning views of Diamond Head, which is an extinct volcano that you can also hike to! Waikiki Beach also features Ala Moana Regional Park that you can stroll through and enjoy a nice outdoor workout. There are also tennis courts, bike paths as well as restaurants in this lovely park. You can also find stunning bayan trees in Ala Moana Park!

Waikiki Restaurants:

Downtown Waikiki is absolutely stunning as it features renowned restaurants, the Ala Moana Center (which is an upscale, four-level shopping mall), galleries and more!

Below are the restaurants Alex and I ate at during our time in the Waikiki Beach area that you should put on your bucket list of things to do in Oahu:

Ala Wai Boat Harbor in Waikiki, Oahu

The Grove Restaurant & Bar at The Modern: Located steps away from The Equus Hotel is The Modern. At the hotel, there is a rooftop terrace that features a pool and lounge seating along with alfresco dining at The Grove Restaurant & Bar that overlooks the Ala Wai Boat Harbor.

During our lunch at The Grove, I enjoyed the fish tacos and Alex had a burger. Everything was delicious! They also have refreshing beers from local breweries, crafted cocktails, renowned wines and fresh Hawaiian tropical juices.

Dinner at Maile's Thai at Ward - one of the top things to do on Oahu

Maile’s Thai at Ward: One of the best restaurants on Oahu and one of the top Thai restaurants I’ve visited in the United States is Maile’s Thai in Waikiki. Mike from The Equus recommended this amazing place to us!

Maile herself was inspired by her family’s traditional Thai, Lao and French cooking. Her culinary career flourished at Thai Chef in Lahaina, Mekong Thai Restaurant, Paesano Ristorante Italiano in Manoa and she was also the managing partner at Assaggio Ristorante Italiano. She opened up her own Thai restaurant in 2008!

During our evening at Maile’s Thai at Ward, I had a white sangria while Alex had a martini. I also savored the pad see ew dish with chicken and Alex had the pineapple curry with chicken. We then ended our dinner by enjoying mango sticky rice for dessert!

Ramen and sushi from Chiba-Ken in Waikiki

Chiba-Ken: Since Oahu has a lot of Japanese influence, we couldn’t go without visiting a sushi restaurant. During one of our evenings in Waikiki, both Alex and I grabbed a nice Japanese dinner at Chiba-Ken, which was also recommended to us by Mike from The Equus.

We both enjoyed a Japanese Asahi beer with ramen and a salmon avocado roll. Everything was delicious!

Brunch at Basalt in Waikiki - one of the top things to do on Oahu

Basalt: Located within Dukes Lane Market & Eatery is Basalt. (Dukes Lane Market & Eatery is similar to Eataly!)

Basalt is an award-winning restaurant that features an incredible brunch and dinner menu along with a great happy hour and wine list. Chef Keith Kong makes international dishes and seasonally inspired small plates that everyone loves.

We visited Basalt for brunch one morning and were amazed by how good it was! Both Alex and I got the Hawaiian French pressed coffee with a guava mimosa. For our actual meal, I had the signature charcoal buttermilk pancakes that came with guava-strawberry sauce, whipped cream and mixed fresh berries. Alex had the French toast that included coco-macnut crunch, whipped cream and maple syrup!

A fish dinner from Ko Tiki in Honolulu

Kō Tiki Terrace and/or Duke’s: During our last night on Oahu, we met up with travel vlogger Mahna of Maza Travel. (It was amazing meeting her for the first time after being friends on Instagram for over a year!) The three of us were originally planning on going to Duke’s in Waikiki, but we unfortunately didn’t realize that you need to make reservations way in advance. (Duke’s is known for its Hawaiian cuisine and famous hula pie.)

Instead, we enjoyed dinner at Kō Tiki Terrace, which featured a tiki bar, pool, tiki torches and lounge seating. During our time at Kō Tiki Terrace, I savored the rice bowl with mackerel, which was the fish of the day, and it was delicious!

Downtown Honolulu:
Downtown Honolulu at night

Even though we didn’t spend too much time in downtown Honolulu, some of the most popular things to do are to explore Chinatown and eat at some of the authentic Chinese and dim sum restaurants there.

Other things to do in Honolulu are to participate in a chocolate making class at Madre Chocolate, walk through the Hawaii Art Museum, catch a show at the Hawaii Theatre and more. There are also numerous shops and other great restaurants in downtown Honolulu. You can also schedule a fun cooking class!

Learn How to Surf:

Surfing in Hawaii - one of the top things to do on Oahu

Following a day spent in Waikiki, another one of the top things you must do during your time on Oahu is take a surfing lesson. Since surfing was invented in Hawaii, taking a lesson on your vacation is a perfect and fun thing to do!

Unfortunately, Alex and I ran out of time and didn’t take a surfing lesson of our own during our trip to Hawaii, but I did have the opportunity to take one during my time in Peniche, Portugal in May 2019. If you have the opportunity to learn how to surf, it is best you do it in Waikiki as you will make great memories!

For those who aren’t up for surfing and would rather try something different, I recommend doing a windsurfing lesson! I was lucky to have had the opportunity to try windsurfing for the first time during my trip to Aruba in October 2020. It was awesome!

Enjoy the Views at Nu’Uanu Pali:

A woman enjoying the views at Nu'Uanu Pali lookout - one of the top things to do on Oahu

One of the best things to do during your time on Oahu is visit the Nu’Uanu Pali Lookout, which is a five-mile drive from downtown Honolulu.

This breathtaking lookout features panoramic views of the Windward Coast that features Lanikai Beach, which I talk about below! We got to visit Nu’Uanu Pali later in the afternoon on our second day, after we spent the day at Waikiki Beach, and it was absolutely beautiful! That moment was when I first got a taste of Hawaii’s beautiful nature.

Nu'Uanu Pali nature

It is free to get into Nu’Uanu Pali and it costs $3 USD to park your vehicle. The lookout is open from 4am to 6pm every day. It is a popular spot for sunrise!

Nu’Uanu Pali is also an historical site! Known as the Battle of Nuuanu, King Kamehameha united Oahu under his rule in 1795 and there was a battle that took the lives of hundreds of soldiers. These soldiers were forced off the cliffs at Nu’Uanu Pali. People have reported paranormal activity at this lookout spot.

Take a Tour through Pearl Harbor:

Pearl Harbor on a beautiful day - one of the top things to do on Oahu

On our third morning in Oahu, we visited the historical site of Pearl Harbor. This should definitely be on your list of top things to do during your time on Oahu!

I will admit that visiting Pearl Harbor in Hawaii was a somber, but educational experience. I enjoy World War II history and visit specific sites when I travel.

In the past, I visited Hiroshima in Japan, Auschwitz in Poland and then Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. When you visit all of these historical sites, you think to yourself, “how could something like this happen by humans to humans?” By educating ourselves through taking these tours when we travel, it educates not only ourselves, but it also teaches our loved ones and helps prevent something horrible like this from happening again in the future.

Pearl Harbor tour on Oahu

During World War II, Japan bombed the naval base at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Over 2,300 people were killed and it was the event that brought the United States into World War II. Please note that Pearl Harbor is part of the National Park Service and it only costs $1 USD. You will need to book your ticket a few days in advance! I also recommend going early in the morning like we did.

A tour through Pearl Harbor will tell the stories of those who were there, the events that led to the devastation as well as American history in general. During your tour, you will also take a boat ride to the Peace Memorial at Pearl Harbor. While you’re on the boat, you will see white plaques sticking out of the water. Those plaques indicate where ships sank on December 7, 1941.

The Pearl Harbor Peace Memorial and USS Arizona

The Peace Memorial stands above the USS Arizona, which is the only ship that sank that wasn’t taken out of the water. Over 900 people died on the USS Arizona because they were sleeping when the devastation happened and it didn’t allow them enough time to evacuate the ship. Their bodies are still on the ship to this day right below the memorial. It is haunting and sad! In addition, survivors of Pearl Harbor have been asked to have their urns placed with their fellow crew members down in the USS Arizona when they passed away many years later.

When you are at the Peace Memorial, you can actually see parts of the USS Arizona sticking out from the water. There is a map at the memorial that indicates what parts of the ship are sticking out. The oil from the USS Arizona still lingers in the water, even after 80 years. It is said that it will take at least 500 years until that oil is completely gone. At the memorial, there is also a room that lists every person whose lives were taken on December 7, 1941.

Adventure around the North Shore:

The beach at Hale'iwa on the North Shore

One of the most beautiful spots that you cannot miss out on during your trip to Oahu is the North Shore. There are beautiful beaches, stunning waterfalls, great food trucks and plenty of adventure!

One of the top things to do on Oahu is enjoy the food trucks on the North Shore. After our tour of Pearl Harbor, we made our way up to the North Shore where we first saw the beautiful beach at Hale’iwa!

Exploring the North Shore - one of the top things to do on Oahu

From Hale’iwa, we made our way to Waimea Falls, but due to heavy storms from previous days, we ended up finding out that it was closed. During a trip to Waimea Falls, you can go hiking, admire the falls, enjoy the exotic plants on the botanical garden walk and learn about Hawaiian culture and history.

After finding out that we unfortunately couldn’t visit Waimea Falls ourselves, we made our way to Fumi’s Shrimp Truck. There are numerous food trucks that you can enjoy along the North Shore where you can grab delicious Hawaiian food, poke, fresh seafood, shaved ice and more!

Shrimp lunches from Fumi's Shrimp Truck on the North Shore

We chose to go to Fumi’s because they are known to be one of the best food spots on the North Shore. During our lunch at Fumi’s Shrimp Truck, I got the buttered garlic shrimp and Alex enjoyed the coconut shrimp. Both meals came with rice, corn and a piece of pineapple. It was amazing! We also got Dole Whip with our lunch for dessert.

(If you have time and are looking for something to cool off with, definitely visit the famous Matsumoto Shave Ice in the town of Haleiwa. The beach town of Haleiwa is also cool to explore, eat and shop!)

Horseback Ride at Hawai’i Polo Club:

A woman enjoying a horseback ride at Hawai'i Polo Club - one of the best things to do on Oahu

Another one of the best 10 things to do on Oahu, Hawaii is to go horseback riding on the breathtaking beach trails at the Hawai’i Polo Club in Waialua on the North Shore. Like I’ve mentioned above, during a stay at The Equus Hotel, guests can enjoy complimentary polo watching on Sundays and half off of trail rides any day of the week. The polo club also hosts weddings and special events!

Horseback riding at Hawai’i Polo Club was one of the most memorable things I did during my few days on Oahu. There were spectacular views of the ocean and also gorgeous views of the mountains. The water was a stunning bright blue and on certain days, you can also see sea turtles, whales and even Hawaiian monk seals.

Horseback riding trails on the North Shore
Photo by Alex of East Coast Contessa

When you book a trail ride at Hawai’i Polo Club (make sure you book a couple days in advance), you could choose between a Private Ride, Sunshine Ride or a Sunset Ride. You can also do polo and riding lessons!

During our trail ride, our guide Claire took us along the beach, through grassy areas and more. I was amazed by how breathtaking it was. Whether you are traveling to Oahu alone, with a friend or two, a significant other or with your family, definitely put this experience on your bucket list!

A woman enjoying a trail ride at Hawai'i Polo Club on Oahu

Overall, our tour was around two hours long and the ride itself was perfect for all riding skill levels! You can bring your camera and phone with you, but you are not allowed to bring backpacks or purses. Your guide will also have a saddle bag to hold your belongings. Since it started to rain during the second half of our trail ride, our guide Claire was able to put our electronics in the saddle bag.

Hawai’i Polo Club also has cute goats on the property for you to pet! They are super friendly.

Admire the Views and Exotic Nature at Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden:

A woman enjoying Ho'omaluhia botanical garden - one of the best things to do on Oahu

One of the most breathtaking spots on Oahu and also one of the top 10 things to do on the island is visit and walk through the Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden. It is open from 9am to 4pm every day and it is also FREE!

The Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden is not only heavenly, it is also a peaceful escape! Located on 400 acres within a half-hour drive from downtown Honolulu are these gorgeous gardens that represent botanical collections from the Philippines, Malaysia, Tropical America, Polynesia, India, Sri Lanka and Africa.

A woman wearing a flower crown in Oahu

A lot of people say that Ho’omaluhia Botanical Gardens remind them of Jurassic Park. There are many filming locations from Jurassic Park in Hawaii, but on Oahu, the movie was mainly captured at Kualoa Ranch (which you can also visit as well). Many people also think that the movie was filmed in the botanical gardens because it looks just like the mountains on Na Pali Coast in Kauai, where it actually did take place.

During a visit to Ho’omaluhia Botanical Gardens, you can go fishing, set up a campsite, enjoy a picnic, walk around and more! There are also plenty of photo spots in this gorgeous park as well.

Visit Oahu’s Japanese Temple:

A woman walking around Byodo-in Temple - one of the best things to do on Oahu

As I have mentioned above, Hawaii, especially Oahu, has a lot of Japanese influence and there is even a non-practicing Buddhist temple on the island! One of the most beautiful and peaceful things to do on Oahu is visit Byodo-In Temple that is situated at the bottom of the gorgeous Ko’olau Mountains in the Valley of the Temples Memorial Park. (The temple isn’t too far from Ho’omaluhia Botanical Gardens and it costs $5 USD per person!)

Byodo-In Temple was made in memory of the first Japanese immigrants to Hawaii. This temple is a smaller replica of the Byodo-In Temple in Uji, Japan, located in the stunning Kyoto prefecture. In fact, visiting Byodo-In Japanese Temple in Hawaii brought me back to Japan, which was one of my top five favorite destinations.

Byodo-in Temple on Oahu

The temple grounds are absolutely stunning as they feature lush gardens, a koi pond, meditation areas and more. You can walk into the temple, see the Buddha and light a candle and incense stick. (Please make sure to remove your shoes before walking inside the temple.)

In addition, there are also walking paths around the temple grounds and it is a wonderful way to enjoy nature and see wildlife!

Spend a Beach Day at Lanikai Beah in Kailua:

A woman holding a coconut at Lanikai Beach on Oahu

Known as Oahu’s “most beautiful” beach, Lanikai Beach is renowned to be a favorite amongst many who visit the island.

During our last full day on Oahu, Alex and I visited Lanikai and from the moment we got on the beach, we understood why people love it so much! The views were beautiful, the ocean was calm and a lovely blue color (Lani Kai means Heavenly Ocean) and there were so many spots to set up your stuff and relax.

Spending a beach day at Lanikai Beach - one of the best things to do on Oahu

Also, there are numerous rowing boats and kayaks located along Lanikai Beach that you can rent for a couple hours. You can also head into the town of Kailua and grab food or shop!

Attend a Traditional Hawaiian Luau:

A woman with a flower crown on in Hawaii

One of the best experiences to enjoy during a trip to Hawaii is to attend a luau! Both Alex and I were supposed to attend the Ka Moana Luau at Sea Life Park during our time on Oahu, but unfortunately, the event was canceled due to inclement weather. We were really bummed out about it. (We did try rebooking another luau during our time in Maui, but unfortunately, you have to book it way in advance and they all were filled through the end of the month.)

If you have the opportunity to attend a Hawaiian luau, it will definitely be one of the best things you’ll do on Oahu! A traditional luau features live music, vibrant cultural performances from Hawaii and greater Polynesia as well as traditional hula cuisine.

Popular luau dishes are poi (taro plant root), Kalua pig (pulled pork), Laulau (meat wrapped in taro plant), Haupia (coconut pudding) and poke (raw fish served with shoyu, green onions, kukui nut and seaweed).

(Alex’s mom made us beautiful, homemade flower crowns and seashell headbands. Click here to get one for your Hawaii trip!)


A woman at the Japanese temple on Oahu

I hope you all enjoyed discovering the top 10 best things to do on Oahu during a Hawaii trip and reading about my stay at The Equus Hotel. I had an amazing time exploring Oahu and making memories with Alex! If you have any questions, please email me at [email protected]

Basic Facts of the United States:

Currency: United States Dollar, Capital: Washington D.C., HI State Capital: Honolulu, Time Zone: Hawaiian-Aleutian Standard Time

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36 Comments

  1. Kim Deer on March 25, 2021 at 12:29 am

    This blog was not only a pleasure to read and learn about the history of the island of Oahu but also the photography was amazing ~ you look stunning in all your photos and Oahu has some breathtaking views. It was very interesting to see the pictures of where Pearl Harbor took place. Love the Japanese temple and the beautiful horse tour on the beach ~ I hope to get back to the Hawaiian islands one day ~ especially after seeing all these beautiful photos. Great blog and amazing photography ~

    Love you,
    Mom xoxo <3

    • Taylor Deer on March 25, 2021 at 7:58 pm

      Thank you mom! It was definitely a great trip! 🙂 Love you too!

  2. Tommy Carlock on March 25, 2021 at 3:40 pm

    Amazing article. I want to leave for Newark and get on a plane and go! Super informative details not to miss the gotcha’s of covid testing. The pics are amazing. The food pics made me hungry and the views made me believe their is more to life outside of this horrible year we had. Thanks so much for sharing this. My wife and I are definitely using this as a way to travel when we go. So glad you had a great trip! Where you going next? Ha!

    • Taylor Deer on March 25, 2021 at 8:00 pm

      Thank you so much Tommy! I’m glad you found this article to be helpful! I’m heading to the Smoky Mountains next. 🙂

  3. Francesca on March 27, 2021 at 8:19 pm

    It looks like you had the best time in Oahu! I’m glad you made it to Basalt. You have given me a few things to add to my list for next time. The Hoomaluhia botanical garden and the Japanese gardens look awesome!

    • Taylor Deer on April 2, 2021 at 10:46 am

      I really did Francesca! it was such a nice time. Basalt was so delicious. Loved those charcoal pancakes 🙂

  4. Cosette on March 28, 2021 at 4:42 am

    Oahu looks so beautiful. Bummer that some things couldn’t go through because of the weather. The food looks delicious.

    • Taylor Deer on April 2, 2021 at 10:47 am

      It really was a breathtaking place. Also I truly did love the food. 🙂

  5. Katie on April 3, 2021 at 12:28 am

    Wow, such a detailed post – it looks like you had an incredible time in Hawaii! I would love to learn how to surf and visit some of those beautiful beaches. I Will definitely try a horseback ride next time – looks like so much fun! Thanks for the inspiration, have bookmarked for future travels!

    • Taylor Deer on April 3, 2021 at 10:45 am

      Thank you so much Katie! It really was a great trip. 🙂

  6. Neha on April 3, 2021 at 6:51 am

    This is so lovely post! Hawaii is so high my bucket list. Your pictures are so lovely.

    • Taylor Deer on April 3, 2021 at 10:45 am

      Thank you so much Neha! It really was a great trip. 🙂

  7. Paula Martinelli on April 3, 2021 at 8:17 am

    OMG…I love this so much. I just cannot believe I haven’t visited Oahu yet, and looking at your photos and reading about the top places to visit makes me want to jump on the plane. The food looks great, and the ocean and mountains in Hawaii are a representation of a paradise. The Japanese Temple is one of my favorite places I would love to visit. Thanks for sharing this amazing guide.

    • Taylor Deer on April 3, 2021 at 10:46 am

      Thank you so much Paula! It really was a great trip and Oahu has a lot of awesome spots. 🙂

  8. Taylor Taverna on April 3, 2021 at 10:41 am

    Omg this is such a helpful guide! Your trip looked so so fun! I cannot believe that I’ve still never been to Hawaii. I absolutely need to change that soon. Thanks for sharing girl 🙂

    • Taylor Deer on April 3, 2021 at 10:47 am

      Thank you so much Taylor! You would totally love Hawaii! It is such a great trip. 🙂

  9. Michelle on April 3, 2021 at 10:56 am

    It looks like you had a fabulous trip, Taylor. I love all of the advice that you give about traveling during the pandemic. It sounds like they have tried to make it as easy as possible. Hawaii has been on my bucket list for so long!

    • Taylor Deer on April 3, 2021 at 1:50 pm

      I definitely did Michelle! Also thank you, I believe it is my responsibility as someone who has been traveling during this time period to provide as many resources as possible. 🙂

  10. Brittany on April 3, 2021 at 11:29 am

    This is such an amazing post, Taylor! So informative & helpful, especially the part about the Covid test. We are about to go through that process, so it’s helpful to have someone to learn from! All your photos are beautiful, too. It makes me so excited to go next week! Thanks for sharing 🙂

    • Taylor Deer on April 3, 2021 at 1:53 pm

      Thank you so much Brittany! You’re going to have an amazing time on your trip. 🙂

  11. Katy on April 3, 2021 at 11:33 am

    The photos from your vacation are *magical*! I’ve traveled all over the world but somehow have never yet made it to Hawaii. I hope to make it there soon. The detailed information about traveling during the pandemic is also very helpful.

    • Taylor Deer on April 3, 2021 at 1:54 pm

      Thank you so much Katy! You definitely have to get to Hawaii at some point. It is absolutely beautiful! 🙂

  12. Chirasree Banerjee on April 3, 2021 at 1:11 pm

    Loved all the pictures especially that rainbow one! Your post reminds me of my visit to this beautiful place.

    • Taylor Deer on April 3, 2021 at 1:54 pm

      Thank you so much Chirasree! It really is an amazing destination. 🙂

  13. Sarah on April 3, 2021 at 2:02 pm

    What a perfect post! Definitely saving this for when I can go to Oahu! I’m so annoyed that my uncle who has lived there forever just moved to the mainland and I’ve never visited haha! Incredible photos!

    • Taylor Deer on April 3, 2021 at 11:00 pm

      Thank you so much Sarah! Ah that’s happened to me before when my grandparents used to flock to Florida for the winter. I never went because I used to dance competitively in high school. You totally have to visit Oahu at some point. 🙂

  14. Natalia on April 3, 2021 at 2:21 pm

    Taylor, I want to go! it looks so beautiful in oahu! so obsessed with it!

    • Taylor Deer on April 3, 2021 at 11:01 pm

      You totally have to go Talia! It is so beautiful there 🙂

  15. Denise on April 3, 2021 at 2:50 pm

    Such an awesome trip! A perfect escape from all of the craziness of the last year. Great photos!

    • Taylor Deer on April 3, 2021 at 11:01 pm

      Thank you Denise and it really was an amazing trip. 🙂

  16. Anita on April 3, 2021 at 3:40 pm

    Hawaii looks like a paradise to me because of your stunning photos and awesome article. I would like to visit this place someday. Thanks for sharing.

    • Taylor Deer on April 3, 2021 at 11:01 pm

      Thank you so much Anita! It really is a gorgeous place 🙂

  17. Jade on April 4, 2021 at 2:43 am

    I’m so jealous, I need a tropical vacation so desperately! Thanks for sharing your beautiful photos and experience. I love your bathing suit btw! Thanks for sharing.

    • Taylor Deer on April 4, 2021 at 11:55 pm

      Thank you Jade! It really was a great trip. Hope you get to go in the near future. 🙂

  18. Caroline @ PACKTHESUITCASES on April 4, 2021 at 10:28 am

    I think I said something similar on Instagram but that horsey hotel is so me! My horse would want to come along too. Hawaii looks beautiful and I love the Japanese connection (my favourite place!).

    • Taylor Deer on April 4, 2021 at 11:57 pm

      Yes, it is such a fun hotel and horseback riding was so memorable! 🙂

Leave a Comment





Taylor-Lanikai2

Ho'omaluhia botanical garden on Oahu. One of the top things to do.

Hawaii has been a bucket list trip for me since I was a young child. My parents enjoyed their honeymoon in Hawaii and raved about how magical it was. I knew I had to go at some point and decided to venture to the Hawaiian Islands of Oahu and Maui for 10 days during March 2021. Based off of my experience, I am excited to share the 10 best and memorable things to do on the island of Oahu in Hawaii!

Some fun facts about Hawaii are that there are total of 137 islands, but only eight of them are recognized and seven are inhabited. The eight islands based off of popularity are Oahu, Maui, the island of Hawaii (also known as The Big Island), Kauai, Molokai, Lanai, Niihau and Kahoolawe. The capital of Hawaii is Honolulu, which is located on the island of Oahu. It became the 50th state on August 21, 1959.

A woman enjoying a beach day on Lanikai Beach in Oahu - one of the top things to do

In addition, the popular ocean sport, surfing, was invented in Hawaii; Maui’s volcano – Mount Haleakala is the largest dormant volcano in the world; Hawaii is the only U.S. state with two official languages – English and Hawaiian; the word Aloha means both hello and goodbye and the state still honors its royal past by celebrating Kamehameha Day on June 11.

During my 10-day trip to Hawaii, I adventured with fellow travel blogger Alex of East Coast Contessa. We spent the first half of our trip on the island of Oahu and the second half on the island of Maui, discovering West Maui and Hana. Both islands were absolutely beautiful and offered a lot of wonderful gems, but they both differed as well.

Visiting Byodo-in Temple in Oahu - one of the best things to do

In this article, discover the 10 best things to do on Oahu, Hawaii. Also, read about my experience staying at The Equus Hotel, a charming boutique hotel located in Honolulu.

**Please note that this blog post uses affiliate links meaning that if you make a purchase via my affiliate link, I receive a small commission at no additional cost to you. I only promote and talk about products and services that I have used and like. During my time on Oahu, The Equus Hotel in Honolulu hosted me for four nights. The Hawai’i Polo Club also hosted me on a trail ride.


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Top 10 Things to do on Oahu

Traveling to Hawaii in 2021:

Palm trees in Hawaii

Even though Hawaii is part of the United States, there was a quarantine mandate when I traveled there in March 2021. Everyone traveling to Hawaii from mainland USA can test out of the 10-day quarantine for Oahu, Maui, Molokai, Lanai and the Big Island. By following the state’s Safe Travels testing program. (Kauai joined the Hawaii Safe Travels Program on April 5, 2021.)

For those traveling to Hawaii and want to avoid the 10-day quarantine, you can take an NAAT PCR test from a Hawaii Trusted Traveler testing site within 72 hours from the last leg of your trip. Since I flew from Newark Airport in New Jersey to Honolulu with a layover in Los Angeles, I needed to take my test within 72 hours from when I departed LAX. (Please be mindful of the time differences.) You can see which testing sites are part of Hawaii’s Safe Travels Program. I took my test at American Family Care+ Urgent Care.

A woman at ho'omaluhia botanical garden, one of the top things to do on Oahu

After getting my negative test results back, stating that I took it at a Trusted Traveler‘s site, I had to enroll in Hawaii’s Safe Travels Program where I uploaded a PDF file of my negative test results and filled out a health questionnaire within 24 hours prior to the last leg of my trip. I then received a QR code that allowed me to hop on my flight to Hawaii. (Please make sure you follow all directions because you will only get one QR code!) Alex had to do the same thing, but she traveled from Evansville Regional Airport in Indiana to Honolulu with a layover in Dallas/Fort Worth.

Please note that when you fly United Airlines, you could save time when you arrive in Hawaii by getting “Cleared” ahead of time. All you have to do is show your QR code from the Safe Travels site and your ID to the customer service desk during the last leg of your trip (so I did mine at LAX) and they will issue you a wrist band that you quickly show upon arrival in Hawaii.

A bayan tree in Waikiki, Oahu

In addition, since both Alex and I traveled from Oahu to Maui, we needed to take a second rt-PCR test in Oahu within 72 hours before we departed to Maui because there are inter island restrictions. Since we were only in Oahu for four days, we had to take our tests on our second day. (As of April 9, 2021, all travelers to Maui will need to take an additional test when they land in Maui to avoid a 10-day quarantine.)

We took our PCR test at The National Kidney Foundation of Hawaii at The Monarch Hotel in Honolulu. They take walk ups and it was a self-swab test. (It was super easy to do and there is someone instructing you through the entire process.)

We got our negative results via email within six hours after we took our test. Once we got our results, we uploaded them onto the Hawaii Safe Travels site again, filled out another health questionnaire within 24 hours prior to our departure to Maui and got another QR code that we needed to present upon arrival on the island.

Traveling to Oahu:

A woman enjoying a morning at ho'omaluhia botanical garden

Getting to Hawaii was fairly easy. I flew from Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey to Honolulu International Airport in Hawaii on the island of Oahu with a short layover in Los Angeles International Airport in California. (Coming home, I flew from Maui’s Kahului Airport to Newark with the same layover at LAX.) I found super affordable flights through Skyscanner!

When you arrive in Hawaii, I HIGHLY recommend renting a car on whatever island you choose to visit so that you can explore and not miss out on anything. Oahu’s TheBus is known as Hawaii’s best public transportation method and you can take it to different areas around the island. Oahu also has Uber, Lyft and regular taxis!

Where to Stay on Oahu – The Equus Hotel:

A woman enjoying her hotel stay at The Equus Hotel in Oahu

When it comes to where to stay on the island of Oahu, I recommend the Waikiki area! During my four nights in Oahu, I stayed at The Equus Hotel, which is located in Honolulu on Waikiki’s Upper West Side. (I also had the opportunity to stay at The Equus’ sister hotel in Cody, Wyoming back in September 2020 called Chamberlin Inn.)

I absolutely loved how The Equus was conveniently located from Waikiki Beach, downtown Waikiki, Ala Moana Center (one of the world’s largest shopping malls) and Honolulu’s renowned restaurants and shops. The hotel was also a short drive to all of the beautiful nature and historical hot spots Oahu is known for that I talk about below.

Paniolo Bar at The Equus Hotel in Honolulu

The Equus Hotel is known as Hawaii’s Best Lifestyle Boutique Hotel and it offers comfortable rooms, a welcoming bar that is open for everyone to enjoy delicious food and beverages and there is also a refreshing dipping pool to cool off in!

The Rooms at The Equus Hotel:
The hotel room at The Equus Hotel in Waikiki

When it comes to the rooms at The Equus, they are quaint and comfortable! I stayed in the Deluxe King room, which features a king-sized bed, a balcony that overlooks Waikiki’s high-rise buildings and an ensuite bathroom. The room also came with high-speed WIFI, a refrigerator, safety deposit box, flat screen television, coffee machine and more!

In addition to the Deluxe King room, The Equus Hotel also has a Deluxe Two Double Beds room, Bamboo Queen room, Classic Two Double Beds room, Executive King room and Classic King room.

Sustainability at The Equus Hotel:
Avocado toast from Paniolo Bar and Cafe at The Equus Hotel

The Equus Hotel is known as the First Green Hotel in Wakiki! While still providing the comforts and charm of a boutique hotel, The Equus is an environmentally friendly accommodation that preserves the beauty of Hawaii and educates their guests on practicing sustainability.

Staying at The Equus Hotels, one of the top things to do on Oahu

At The Equus, all appliances are GreenStar rated; room amenities are non-toxic and biodegradable; bath amenities that are partially used by guests are donated to a local non-profit for the homeless; there is a strict recycling program; no chemicals are used on the hotel’s landscaping; old uniforms, linens and furniture is donated to local charities and the Paniolo Bar at the hotel partners with sustainable distilleries that offer local and sustainable spirits.

The Paniolo Bar at The Equus Hotel:
A woman enjoying a drink at Paniolo Bar at The Equus Hotel

Whether you are staying at The Equus Hotel or not, one of the top things to do on Oahu is enjoy The Paniolo Bar and Café. In fact, my favorite part of staying at The Equus Hotel in Honolulu was enjoying the bar and café both in the morning for breakfast and in the evening for happy hour drinks!

A pineapple almond Danish from Paniolo Bar and Cafe at The Equus

The breakfast in the morning was absolutely amazing! You can choose from a latte to a cappuccino as well as a mimosa to an Irish coffee! Paniolo Bar & Café also offers avocado toast, bagels and lox, ham and cheese croissant sandwiches, assorted pastries and more.

On our first morning, both Alex and I savored the delicious avocado toast with an Irish coffee that was presented beautifully and during our last day, I had a pineapple and almond Danish with an Irish coffee and Alex had the bagel with lox along with an espresso martini.

Enjoying an Irish Coffee from Paniolo Bar and Cafe, one of the top things to do on Oahu

During the afternoon and evening, Paniolo Bar & Café offers creative cocktails from mezcal drinks to martinis and snacks such as truffle fries to a charcuterie board. In addition, every Friday from 6pm to 8pm, Paniolo Bar hosts local bands for guests to enjoy a live music experience!

Other Amenities at The Equus Hotel:
The lobby at The Equus Hotel in Honolulu

The Equus is also in connection to the Hawai’i Polo Club (that I talk more about below). Both the hotel and polo club are owned and managed by the wonderful Dailey family! At Hawai’i Polo Club, guests can get half off of horseback riding and they can also enjoy picnicking with a gorgeous view, swimming in the Pacific Ocean or simply relaxing at the beach!

All guests at The Equus will also receive complimentary Sunday polo tickets at the club on the North Shore as well as VIP seating that offers amazing Hawaiian cuisine!

A woman enjoying the pool at The Equus Hotel in Waikiki - one of the top things to do on Oahu

Everything at The Equus Hotel is equestrian themed with Ralph Lauren-inspired touches throughout. Even the lounge at the Paniolo Bar and Café features an equestrian theme!

Also, The Equus Hotel has a refreshing dipping pool with a cabana house for more private seating and relaxation. There are also stringed lights and tiki torches surrounding the poolside area.

10 Things to do on Oahu:

Explore Waikiki Beach and Downtown Honolulu:

A woman enjoying a day at Waikiki Beach in Honolulu - one of the top things to do on Oahu
Waikiki Beach:

A trip to Oahu would not be complete without exploring the popular Waikiki Beach area as well as downtown Honolulu. Spending at least one day in Waikiki should most definitely be on your list of top 10 things to do on Oahu, Hawaii!

Waikiki Beach is one of the most popular beaches in the world! It features two miles of white sand beaches, comforting aqua blue waters and high-rise beachfront hotels. Not only can you enjoy a beach day at Waikiki Beach, but you can also watch surfers, enjoy outdoor events and more!

A woman at Ala Moana Park in Waikiki

During a beach day on Waikiki, you can admire stunning views of Diamond Head, which is an extinct volcano that you can also hike to! Waikiki Beach also features Ala Moana Regional Park that you can stroll through and enjoy a nice outdoor workout. There are also tennis courts, bike paths as well as restaurants in this lovely park. You can also find stunning bayan trees in Ala Moana Park!

Waikiki Restaurants:

Downtown Waikiki is absolutely stunning as it features renowned restaurants, the Ala Moana Center (which is an upscale, four-level shopping mall), galleries and more!

Below are the restaurants Alex and I ate at during our time in the Waikiki Beach area that you should put on your bucket list of things to do in Oahu:

Ala Wai Boat Harbor in Waikiki, Oahu

The Grove Restaurant & Bar at The Modern: Located steps away from The Equus Hotel is The Modern. At the hotel, there is a rooftop terrace that features a pool and lounge seating along with alfresco dining at The Grove Restaurant & Bar that overlooks the Ala Wai Boat Harbor.

During our lunch at The Grove, I enjoyed the fish tacos and Alex had a burger. Everything was delicious! They also have refreshing beers from local breweries, crafted cocktails, renowned wines and fresh Hawaiian tropical juices.

Dinner at Maile's Thai at Ward - one of the top things to do on Oahu

Maile’s Thai at Ward: One of the best restaurants on Oahu and one of the top Thai restaurants I’ve visited in the United States is Maile’s Thai in Waikiki. Mike from The Equus recommended this amazing place to us!

Maile herself was inspired by her family’s traditional Thai, Lao and French cooking. Her culinary career flourished at Thai Chef in Lahaina, Mekong Thai Restaurant, Paesano Ristorante Italiano in Manoa and she was also the managing partner at Assaggio Ristorante Italiano. She opened up her own Thai restaurant in 2008!

During our evening at Maile’s Thai at Ward, I had a white sangria while Alex had a martini. I also savored the pad see ew dish with chicken and Alex had the pineapple curry with chicken. We then ended our dinner by enjoying mango sticky rice for dessert!

Ramen and sushi from Chiba-Ken in Waikiki

Chiba-Ken: Since Oahu has a lot of Japanese influence, we couldn’t go without visiting a sushi restaurant. During one of our evenings in Waikiki, both Alex and I grabbed a nice Japanese dinner at Chiba-Ken, which was also recommended to us by Mike from The Equus.

We both enjoyed a Japanese Asahi beer with ramen and a salmon avocado roll. Everything was delicious!

Brunch at Basalt in Waikiki - one of the top things to do on Oahu

Basalt: Located within Dukes Lane Market & Eatery is Basalt. (Dukes Lane Market & Eatery is similar to Eataly!)

Basalt is an award-winning restaurant that features an incredible brunch and dinner menu along with a great happy hour and wine list. Chef Keith Kong makes international dishes and seasonally inspired small plates that everyone loves.

We visited Basalt for brunch one morning and were amazed by how good it was! Both Alex and I got the Hawaiian French pressed coffee with a guava mimosa. For our actual meal, I had the signature charcoal buttermilk pancakes that came with guava-strawberry sauce, whipped cream and mixed fresh berries. Alex had the French toast that included coco-macnut crunch, whipped cream and maple syrup!

A fish dinner from Ko Tiki in Honolulu

Kō Tiki Terrace and/or Duke’s: During our last night on Oahu, we met up with travel vlogger Mahna of Maza Travel. (It was amazing meeting her for the first time after being friends on Instagram for over a year!) The three of us were originally planning on going to Duke’s in Waikiki, but we unfortunately didn’t realize that you need to make reservations way in advance. (Duke’s is known for its Hawaiian cuisine and famous hula pie.)

Instead, we enjoyed dinner at Kō Tiki Terrace, which featured a tiki bar, pool, tiki torches and lounge seating. During our time at Kō Tiki Terrace, I savored the rice bowl with mackerel, which was the fish of the day, and it was delicious!

Downtown Honolulu:
Downtown Honolulu at night

Even though we didn’t spend too much time in downtown Honolulu, some of the most popular things to do are to explore Chinatown and eat at some of the authentic Chinese and dim sum restaurants there.

Other things to do in Honolulu are to participate in a chocolate making class at Madre Chocolate, walk through the Hawaii Art Museum, catch a show at the Hawaii Theatre and more. There are also numerous shops and other great restaurants in downtown Honolulu. You can also schedule a fun cooking class!

Learn How to Surf:

Surfing in Hawaii - one of the top things to do on Oahu

Following a day spent in Waikiki, another one of the top things you must do during your time on Oahu is take a surfing lesson. Since surfing was invented in Hawaii, taking a lesson on your vacation is a perfect and fun thing to do!

Unfortunately, Alex and I ran out of time and didn’t take a surfing lesson of our own during our trip to Hawaii, but I did have the opportunity to take one during my time in Peniche, Portugal in May 2019. If you have the opportunity to learn how to surf, it is best you do it in Waikiki as you will make great memories!

For those who aren’t up for surfing and would rather try something different, I recommend doing a windsurfing lesson! I was lucky to have had the opportunity to try windsurfing for the first time during my trip to Aruba in October 2020. It was awesome!

Enjoy the Views at Nu’Uanu Pali:

A woman enjoying the views at Nu'Uanu Pali lookout - one of the top things to do on Oahu

One of the best things to do during your time on Oahu is visit the Nu’Uanu Pali Lookout, which is a five-mile drive from downtown Honolulu.

This breathtaking lookout features panoramic views of the Windward Coast that features Lanikai Beach, which I talk about below! We got to visit Nu’Uanu Pali later in the afternoon on our second day, after we spent the day at Waikiki Beach, and it was absolutely beautiful! That moment was when I first got a taste of Hawaii’s beautiful nature.

Nu'Uanu Pali nature

It is free to get into Nu’Uanu Pali and it costs $3 USD to park your vehicle. The lookout is open from 4am to 6pm every day. It is a popular spot for sunrise!

Nu’Uanu Pali is also an historical site! Known as the Battle of Nuuanu, King Kamehameha united Oahu under his rule in 1795 and there was a battle that took the lives of hundreds of soldiers. These soldiers were forced off the cliffs at Nu’Uanu Pali. People have reported paranormal activity at this lookout spot.

Take a Tour through Pearl Harbor:

Pearl Harbor on a beautiful day - one of the top things to do on Oahu

On our third morning in Oahu, we visited the historical site of Pearl Harbor. This should definitely be on your list of top things to do during your time on Oahu!

I will admit that visiting Pearl Harbor in Hawaii was a somber, but educational experience. I enjoy World War II history and visit specific sites when I travel.

In the past, I visited Hiroshima in Japan, Auschwitz in Poland and then Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. When you visit all of these historical sites, you think to yourself, “how could something like this happen by humans to humans?” By educating ourselves through taking these tours when we travel, it educates not only ourselves, but it also teaches our loved ones and helps prevent something horrible like this from happening again in the future.

Pearl Harbor tour on Oahu

During World War II, Japan bombed the naval base at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Over 2,300 people were killed and it was the event that brought the United States into World War II. Please note that Pearl Harbor is part of the National Park Service and it only costs $1 USD. You will need to book your ticket a few days in advance! I also recommend going early in the morning like we did.

A tour through Pearl Harbor will tell the stories of those who were there, the events that led to the devastation as well as American history in general. During your tour, you will also take a boat ride to the Peace Memorial at Pearl Harbor. While you’re on the boat, you will see white plaques sticking out of the water. Those plaques indicate where ships sank on December 7, 1941.

The Pearl Harbor Peace Memorial and USS Arizona

The Peace Memorial stands above the USS Arizona, which is the only ship that sank that wasn’t taken out of the water. Over 900 people died on the USS Arizona because they were sleeping when the devastation happened and it didn’t allow them enough time to evacuate the ship. Their bodies are still on the ship to this day right below the memorial. It is haunting and sad! In addition, survivors of Pearl Harbor have been asked to have their urns placed with their fellow crew members down in the USS Arizona when they passed away many years later.

When you are at the Peace Memorial, you can actually see parts of the USS Arizona sticking out from the water. There is a map at the memorial that indicates what parts of the ship are sticking out. The oil from the USS Arizona still lingers in the water, even after 80 years. It is said that it will take at least 500 years until that oil is completely gone. At the memorial, there is also a room that lists every person whose lives were taken on December 7, 1941.

Adventure around the North Shore:

The beach at Hale'iwa on the North Shore

One of the most beautiful spots that you cannot miss out on during your trip to Oahu is the North Shore. There are beautiful beaches, stunning waterfalls, great food trucks and plenty of adventure!

One of the top things to do on Oahu is enjoy the food trucks on the North Shore. After our tour of Pearl Harbor, we made our way up to the North Shore where we first saw the beautiful beach at Hale’iwa!

Exploring the North Shore - one of the top things to do on Oahu

From Hale’iwa, we made our way to Waimea Falls, but due to heavy storms from previous days, we ended up finding out that it was closed. During a trip to Waimea Falls, you can go hiking, admire the falls, enjoy the exotic plants on the botanical garden walk and learn about Hawaiian culture and history.

After finding out that we unfortunately couldn’t visit Waimea Falls ourselves, we made our way to Fumi’s Shrimp Truck. There are numerous food trucks that you can enjoy along the North Shore where you can grab delicious Hawaiian food, poke, fresh seafood, shaved ice and more!

Shrimp lunches from Fumi's Shrimp Truck on the North Shore

We chose to go to Fumi’s because they are known to be one of the best food spots on the North Shore. During our lunch at Fumi’s Shrimp Truck, I got the buttered garlic shrimp and Alex enjoyed the coconut shrimp. Both meals came with rice, corn and a piece of pineapple. It was amazing! We also got Dole Whip with our lunch for dessert.

(If you have time and are looking for something to cool off with, definitely visit the famous Matsumoto Shave Ice in the town of Haleiwa. The beach town of Haleiwa is also cool to explore, eat and shop!)

Horseback Ride at Hawai’i Polo Club:

A woman enjoying a horseback ride at Hawai'i Polo Club - one of the best things to do on Oahu

Another one of the best 10 things to do on Oahu, Hawaii is to go horseback riding on the breathtaking beach trails at the Hawai’i Polo Club in Waialua on the North Shore. Like I’ve mentioned above, during a stay at The Equus Hotel, guests can enjoy complimentary polo watching on Sundays and half off of trail rides any day of the week. The polo club also hosts weddings and special events!

Horseback riding at Hawai’i Polo Club was one of the most memorable things I did during my few days on Oahu. There were spectacular views of the ocean and also gorgeous views of the mountains. The water was a stunning bright blue and on certain days, you can also see sea turtles, whales and even Hawaiian monk seals.

Horseback riding trails on the North Shore
Photo by Alex of East Coast Contessa

When you book a trail ride at Hawai’i Polo Club (make sure you book a couple days in advance), you could choose between a Private Ride, Sunshine Ride or a Sunset Ride. You can also do polo and riding lessons!

During our trail ride, our guide Claire took us along the beach, through grassy areas and more. I was amazed by how breathtaking it was. Whether you are traveling to Oahu alone, with a friend or two, a significant other or with your family, definitely put this experience on your bucket list!

A woman enjoying a trail ride at Hawai'i Polo Club on Oahu

Overall, our tour was around two hours long and the ride itself was perfect for all riding skill levels! You can bring your camera and phone with you, but you are not allowed to bring backpacks or purses. Your guide will also have a saddle bag to hold your belongings. Since it started to rain during the second half of our trail ride, our guide Claire was able to put our electronics in the saddle bag.

Hawai’i Polo Club also has cute goats on the property for you to pet! They are super friendly.

Admire the Views and Exotic Nature at Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden:

A woman enjoying Ho'omaluhia botanical garden - one of the best things to do on Oahu

One of the most breathtaking spots on Oahu and also one of the top 10 things to do on the island is visit and walk through the Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden. It is open from 9am to 4pm every day and it is also FREE!

The Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden is not only heavenly, it is also a peaceful escape! Located on 400 acres within a half-hour drive from downtown Honolulu are these gorgeous gardens that represent botanical collections from the Philippines, Malaysia, Tropical America, Polynesia, India, Sri Lanka and Africa.

A woman wearing a flower crown in Oahu

A lot of people say that Ho’omaluhia Botanical Gardens remind them of Jurassic Park. There are many filming locations from Jurassic Park in Hawaii, but on Oahu, the movie was mainly captured at Kualoa Ranch (which you can also visit as well). Many people also think that the movie was filmed in the botanical gardens because it looks just like the mountains on Na Pali Coast in Kauai, where it actually did take place.

During a visit to Ho’omaluhia Botanical Gardens, you can go fishing, set up a campsite, enjoy a picnic, walk around and more! There are also plenty of photo spots in this gorgeous park as well.

Visit Oahu’s Japanese Temple:

A woman walking around Byodo-in Temple - one of the best things to do on Oahu

As I have mentioned above, Hawaii, especially Oahu, has a lot of Japanese influence and there is even a non-practicing Buddhist temple on the island! One of the most beautiful and peaceful things to do on Oahu is visit Byodo-In Temple that is situated at the bottom of the gorgeous Ko’olau Mountains in the Valley of the Temples Memorial Park. (The temple isn’t too far from Ho’omaluhia Botanical Gardens and it costs $5 USD per person!)

Byodo-In Temple was made in memory of the first Japanese immigrants to Hawaii. This temple is a smaller replica of the Byodo-In Temple in Uji, Japan, located in the stunning Kyoto prefecture. In fact, visiting Byodo-In Japanese Temple in Hawaii brought me back to Japan, which was one of my top five favorite destinations.

Byodo-in Temple on Oahu

The temple grounds are absolutely stunning as they feature lush gardens, a koi pond, meditation areas and more. You can walk into the temple, see the Buddha and light a candle and incense stick. (Please make sure to remove your shoes before walking inside the temple.)

In addition, there are also walking paths around the temple grounds and it is a wonderful way to enjoy nature and see wildlife!

Spend a Beach Day at Lanikai Beah in Kailua:

A woman holding a coconut at Lanikai Beach on Oahu

Known as Oahu’s “most beautiful” beach, Lanikai Beach is renowned to be a favorite amongst many who visit the island.

During our last full day on Oahu, Alex and I visited Lanikai and from the moment we got on the beach, we understood why people love it so much! The views were beautiful, the ocean was calm and a lovely blue color (Lani Kai means Heavenly Ocean) and there were so many spots to set up your stuff and relax.

Spending a beach day at Lanikai Beach - one of the best things to do on Oahu

Also, there are numerous rowing boats and kayaks located along Lanikai Beach that you can rent for a couple hours. You can also head into the town of Kailua and grab food or shop!

Attend a Traditional Hawaiian Luau:

A woman with a flower crown on in Hawaii

One of the best experiences to enjoy during a trip to Hawaii is to attend a luau! Both Alex and I were supposed to attend the Ka Moana Luau at Sea Life Park during our time on Oahu, but unfortunately, the event was canceled due to inclement weather. We were really bummed out about it. (We did try rebooking another luau during our time in Maui, but unfortunately, you have to book it way in advance and they all were filled through the end of the month.)

If you have the opportunity to attend a Hawaiian luau, it will definitely be one of the best things you’ll do on Oahu! A traditional luau features live music, vibrant cultural performances from Hawaii and greater Polynesia as well as traditional hula cuisine.

Popular luau dishes are poi (taro plant root), Kalua pig (pulled pork), Laulau (meat wrapped in taro plant), Haupia (coconut pudding) and poke (raw fish served with shoyu, green onions, kukui nut and seaweed).

(Alex’s mom made us beautiful, homemade flower crowns and seashell headbands. Click here to get one for your Hawaii trip!)


A woman at the Japanese temple on Oahu

I hope you all enjoyed discovering the top 10 best things to do on Oahu during a Hawaii trip and reading about my stay at The Equus Hotel. I had an amazing time exploring Oahu and making memories with Alex! If you have any questions, please email me at [email protected]

Basic Facts of the United States:

Currency: United States Dollar, Capital: Washington D.C., HI State Capital: Honolulu, Time Zone: Hawaiian-Aleutian Standard Time

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*Anything could happen during your travels. Always make sure you are insured in case there are unforeseen circumstances such as lost luggage/theft, natural disasters, personal liabilities and more. Click here to get insured for your next trip.

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36 Comments

  1. Kim Deer on March 25, 2021 at 12:29 am

    This blog was not only a pleasure to read and learn about the history of the island of Oahu but also the photography was amazing ~ you look stunning in all your photos and Oahu has some breathtaking views. It was very interesting to see the pictures of where Pearl Harbor took place. Love the Japanese temple and the beautiful horse tour on the beach ~ I hope to get back to the Hawaiian islands one day ~ especially after seeing all these beautiful photos. Great blog and amazing photography ~

    Love you,
    Mom xoxo <3

    • Taylor Deer on March 25, 2021 at 7:58 pm

      Thank you mom! It was definitely a great trip! 🙂 Love you too!

  2. Tommy Carlock on March 25, 2021 at 3:40 pm

    Amazing article. I want to leave for Newark and get on a plane and go! Super informative details not to miss the gotcha’s of covid testing. The pics are amazing. The food pics made me hungry and the views made me believe their is more to life outside of this horrible year we had. Thanks so much for sharing this. My wife and I are definitely using this as a way to travel when we go. So glad you had a great trip! Where you going next? Ha!

    • Taylor Deer on March 25, 2021 at 8:00 pm

      Thank you so much Tommy! I’m glad you found this article to be helpful! I’m heading to the Smoky Mountains next. 🙂

  3. Francesca on March 27, 2021 at 8:19 pm

    It looks like you had the best time in Oahu! I’m glad you made it to Basalt. You have given me a few things to add to my list for next time. The Hoomaluhia botanical garden and the Japanese gardens look awesome!

    • Taylor Deer on April 2, 2021 at 10:46 am

      I really did Francesca! it was such a nice time. Basalt was so delicious. Loved those charcoal pancakes 🙂

  4. Cosette on March 28, 2021 at 4:42 am

    Oahu looks so beautiful. Bummer that some things couldn’t go through because of the weather. The food looks delicious.

    • Taylor Deer on April 2, 2021 at 10:47 am

      It really was a breathtaking place. Also I truly did love the food. 🙂

  5. Katie on April 3, 2021 at 12:28 am

    Wow, such a detailed post – it looks like you had an incredible time in Hawaii! I would love to learn how to surf and visit some of those beautiful beaches. I Will definitely try a horseback ride next time – looks like so much fun! Thanks for the inspiration, have bookmarked for future travels!

    • Taylor Deer on April 3, 2021 at 10:45 am

      Thank you so much Katie! It really was a great trip. 🙂

  6. Neha on April 3, 2021 at 6:51 am

    This is so lovely post! Hawaii is so high my bucket list. Your pictures are so lovely.

    • Taylor Deer on April 3, 2021 at 10:45 am

      Thank you so much Neha! It really was a great trip. 🙂

  7. Paula Martinelli on April 3, 2021 at 8:17 am

    OMG…I love this so much. I just cannot believe I haven’t visited Oahu yet, and looking at your photos and reading about the top places to visit makes me want to jump on the plane. The food looks great, and the ocean and mountains in Hawaii are a representation of a paradise. The Japanese Temple is one of my favorite places I would love to visit. Thanks for sharing this amazing guide.

    • Taylor Deer on April 3, 2021 at 10:46 am

      Thank you so much Paula! It really was a great trip and Oahu has a lot of awesome spots. 🙂

  8. Taylor Taverna on April 3, 2021 at 10:41 am

    Omg this is such a helpful guide! Your trip looked so so fun! I cannot believe that I’ve still never been to Hawaii. I absolutely need to change that soon. Thanks for sharing girl 🙂

    • Taylor Deer on April 3, 2021 at 10:47 am

      Thank you so much Taylor! You would totally love Hawaii! It is such a great trip. 🙂

  9. Michelle on April 3, 2021 at 10:56 am

    It looks like you had a fabulous trip, Taylor. I love all of the advice that you give about traveling during the pandemic. It sounds like they have tried to make it as easy as possible. Hawaii has been on my bucket list for so long!

    • Taylor Deer on April 3, 2021 at 1:50 pm

      I definitely did Michelle! Also thank you, I believe it is my responsibility as someone who has been traveling during this time period to provide as many resources as possible. 🙂

  10. Brittany on April 3, 2021 at 11:29 am

    This is such an amazing post, Taylor! So informative & helpful, especially the part about the Covid test. We are about to go through that process, so it’s helpful to have someone to learn from! All your photos are beautiful, too. It makes me so excited to go next week! Thanks for sharing 🙂

    • Taylor Deer on April 3, 2021 at 1:53 pm

      Thank you so much Brittany! You’re going to have an amazing time on your trip. 🙂

  11. Katy on April 3, 2021 at 11:33 am

    The photos from your vacation are *magical*! I’ve traveled all over the world but somehow have never yet made it to Hawaii. I hope to make it there soon. The detailed information about traveling during the pandemic is also very helpful.

    • Taylor Deer on April 3, 2021 at 1:54 pm

      Thank you so much Katy! You definitely have to get to Hawaii at some point. It is absolutely beautiful! 🙂

  12. Chirasree Banerjee on April 3, 2021 at 1:11 pm

    Loved all the pictures especially that rainbow one! Your post reminds me of my visit to this beautiful place.

    • Taylor Deer on April 3, 2021 at 1:54 pm

      Thank you so much Chirasree! It really is an amazing destination. 🙂

  13. Sarah on April 3, 2021 at 2:02 pm

    What a perfect post! Definitely saving this for when I can go to Oahu! I’m so annoyed that my uncle who has lived there forever just moved to the mainland and I’ve never visited haha! Incredible photos!

    • Taylor Deer on April 3, 2021 at 11:00 pm

      Thank you so much Sarah! Ah that’s happened to me before when my grandparents used to flock to Florida for the winter. I never went because I used to dance competitively in high school. You totally have to visit Oahu at some point. 🙂

  14. Natalia on April 3, 2021 at 2:21 pm

    Taylor, I want to go! it looks so beautiful in oahu! so obsessed with it!

    • Taylor Deer on April 3, 2021 at 11:01 pm

      You totally have to go Talia! It is so beautiful there 🙂

  15. Denise on April 3, 2021 at 2:50 pm

    Such an awesome trip! A perfect escape from all of the craziness of the last year. Great photos!

    • Taylor Deer on April 3, 2021 at 11:01 pm

      Thank you Denise and it really was an amazing trip. 🙂

  16. Anita on April 3, 2021 at 3:40 pm

    Hawaii looks like a paradise to me because of your stunning photos and awesome article. I would like to visit this place someday. Thanks for sharing.

    • Taylor Deer on April 3, 2021 at 11:01 pm

      Thank you so much Anita! It really is a gorgeous place 🙂

  17. Jade on April 4, 2021 at 2:43 am

    I’m so jealous, I need a tropical vacation so desperately! Thanks for sharing your beautiful photos and experience. I love your bathing suit btw! Thanks for sharing.

    • Taylor Deer on April 4, 2021 at 11:55 pm

      Thank you Jade! It really was a great trip. Hope you get to go in the near future. 🙂

  18. Caroline @ PACKTHESUITCASES on April 4, 2021 at 10:28 am

    I think I said something similar on Instagram but that horsey hotel is so me! My horse would want to come along too. Hawaii looks beautiful and I love the Japanese connection (my favourite place!).

    • Taylor Deer on April 4, 2021 at 11:57 pm

      Yes, it is such a fun hotel and horseback riding was so memorable! 🙂

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