Oahu in 5 Days: a guidebook for getting the most out of your visit

Oahu will captivate you in every way. Dream beaches, unforgettable tours and shows... Join me and I'll show you some of the best things to see and do in 5 days in Oahu.

Joaquín Montaño

Joaquín Montaño

10 min read

Oahu in 5 Days: a guidebook for getting the most out of your visit

Kouloa Beach, Oahu | ©Colton Jones

Regardless of where you are staying, Oahu is a relatively small island (1,545.3 km²). By car it will take you barely 1 hour to go from the south end to the north end. That's why 5 days are more than enough to get around and visit this paradisiacal island of Hawaii in depth.

The itinerary that I am going to propose is designed to spend each day in a different part of the island. However, to make things easier, I recommend that as soon as you get from Honolulu airport to your accommodation you rent a car and let yourself be carried away by the unique charm of Oahu, one of the pearls of the Pacific.

Day 1: Honolulu

Discover all that Honolulu has to surprise you.| ©Cosmin Serban
Discover all that Honolulu has to surprise you.| ©Cosmin Serban

Paradisiacal beaches, incredible nature and a wonderful atmosphere, but that's not all there is to see in Oahu. If we focus on Honolulu, the capital of Hawaii is not too big, despite the fact that tourism is its main feature. People from all walks of life gather here, surfers, luxury travelers and backpackers.

Popular neighborhoods include the downtown shopping and entertainment district, while the arts district of Chinatown is the cultural quarter. Waikiki, which is also a district of Honolulu, you'll save for the next day so as not to overload the first.

Learn about the history of Pearl Harbor

Of all the attractions in Honolulu, Pearl Harbor is one of the most historically important. The attack on the U.S. Navy by Japan on December 7, 1941 was a decisive event in World War II.

Hiring one of the tours that take you to Pearl Harbor is a super interesting option. They will take you to see its visitor center, its exhibits, the Arizona Memorial, the USS Missouri, the Kawaiahao Church, the Mission Houses Museum, the Punchbowl Cemetery, the statue of King Kamehameha, Honolulu Hale, the Public Library or the Aloha Tower, among other places.

Book a tour to Pearl Harbor in Oahu

See the Iolani Palace

Back in Honolulu, the tour continues with one of the most interesting buildings on the island. Did you know that the only royal palace in the United States is in Honolulu?

The building, called Iolani Palace, dates back to the time when Hawaii was a monarchy. Until 1893 the castle was a royal residence and since 1962 it has been a protected monument.

Located in the capitol district, Iolani Palace is on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. You can take a guided tour and learn more about Hawaii's rich history.

Tour the Ala Moana Center

A half-hour walk from the palace is the Ala Moana Center, the world's largest outdoor shopping mall. If you're in the mood for shopping, this is the place for you, and it also has a fantastic children's play area that will delight the little ones.

How about a classic Hawaiian shirt? With more than 350 stores and restaurants, Ala Moana Center has everything from Hawaiian clothing and accessories to the most popular brands.

Plus, year-round activities galore take place there: shows, classes, cultural gatherings and all kinds of experiences to attend.

Grab some dinner before retiring

After spending the whole morning at Pearl Harbor and an extensive walk around Honolulu, you are probably tired.

And since you have quite a few days ahead of you, I recommend that you end the day with dinner at the mall itself. Inside you will find plenty of options, so you won't have trouble choosing something you like.

Buy a ticket for the Honolulu Sightseeing Tram

Day 2: Waikiki

Waikiki Beach| ©Images Alight
Waikiki Beach| ©Images Alight

Despite the crowds, Waikiki is a must-see. You can't say you've been to Hawaii without having been here as it is Honolulu's most famous district.

Ninety percent of Honolulu's hotels are in Waikiki, so if you're staying in the capital you have a good chance of staying here.

Spend a few hours at Waikiki Beach

Waikiki is one of the most famous beaches in the world and the ideal place to stop and adjust to the time difference. There aren't many other places where you can see surfers piling into the ocean to catch the perfect wave.

However, although this white sand beach is a surfer's paradise and worth the spectacle, if you have children with you or fancy a quieter swim, the best thing to do is to move to the southern part of the beach, where the waves are attenuated by the breakers.

Practice sports in the sea

For Hawaiians surfing is almost a religion, its practice goes back centuries and centuries ago, so if you've never picked up a surfboard, you're in the ideal place to start. You can rent one for just over $ 10 or hire a surf lesson.

But if surfing is not your thing, in Waikiki you will find other interesting options such as parasailing, an activity full of adrenaline in which you can reach an altitude of up to 150 meters flying over the crystal clear waters of the bay.

Book a parasailing experience

Visit Diamond Head Volcano

A short distance from Waikiki Beach is one of the best hiking trails on Oahu: the one that leads to Diamond Head.

Diamond Head volcano can be seen from anywhere in Waikiki, but seeing it is not the same as feeling it. Getting to Diamond Head Crater is a must for first-time visitors to Oahu.

The final part is an ascent through a trail that takes you through tunnels and old military remains and ends in a view of all of Honolulu that you can't miss. In 1 or 2 hours round trip you have it ready.

From Waikiki, if you have a rental car, you will reach the end in a few minutes. If this is not your case, don't worry, you can get there by bus.

Return to Waikiki to have dinner and enjoy the night

When you return to Waikiki, it's time to look for a place to have dinner. If you want to try something typical and reasonably priced, here are some options:

  • Teddy's Bigger Burgers: huge burgers, with a reputation for being very juicy, are waiting for you at this place.
  • Zippy's: the best thing about this place is the variety on offer, although the signature dish is the chili.
  • Búho Cantina: if you are looking for a lively place, Buho Cantina usually has live musical performances almost every night.

Afterwards, if you have enough energy left, you can go to one of the pubs or bars that populate Waikiki Beach. This area has the best atmosphere on the island and, for that reason, is one of the must-see places for those looking for things to do in Oahu at night.

Day 3: East Coast

Lanikai Beach| ©Jon Parise
Lanikai Beach| ©Jon Parise

Oahu's east coast offers miles and miles of breathtaking cliffs, water-filled volcanic craters and almost deserted paradisiacal beaches. The stretch that runs along this part of the island is one of the most beautiful roads in the world.

On the East Coast of Oahu there are plenty of wide beaches that are much less visited than those of Waikiki. I'm going to present you with an itinerary from Waikiki to the northeast end of the island so you won't miss any of them.


If you leave Waikiki you must take highway 72 to get to the first beach of this itinerary. If you have already been to the beaches of Honolulu, Makapu'u will surprise you, as you will find it much less crowded than you are used to. However, you will also have to pay more attention to the waves and currents.

Most people who come here to visit the picturesque Makapuuy lighthouseare surprised to find this beautiful beach located in a small bay with fine, soft sand cascading into the sea.

There are dark lava rocks around the beach, and the beautiful Makapuu Lighthouse stands like a beacon on top of the mountain.

Lanikai Beach and Koko Head

Heading north out of Makapuu on Highway 72, and along breathtaking cliffs and miles of magical deserted beaches, you finally reach the paradisiacal Lanikai Beach, where both Barack Obama and Elvis Presley enjoyed their summer vacations. Don't miss the view from Koko Head Crater.

The walk to the top of this volcano is ideal to lose some of the calories you have been accumulating so far due to the delicious, but often copious Hawaiian meals.

You'll walk over the now disused U.S. Army railroad tracks, up a not inconsiderable 1048 steps.

Kualoa and Jurassic Park

A four-minute drive from Lanikai Beach is another exceptional beach. Kailua Beack Park, declared one of the most beautiful beaches in the United States. Dust-white sand, crystal-clear waters and gentle, steady winds.

Leaving Kailua you will have to take Highway 630 to connect with Highway 83 that will take you further north to Kualoa. The amount of adventure activities that can be done in Kualoa is really impressive.

In addition, it is a magical enclave where many Hollywood movies have been filmed. In fact, one of the most demanded activities in the area (and in the whole island) is related to one of the most famous movies filmed there: Jurassic Park.

Book a Jurassic Park tour in Oahu


To finish the tour, you can finish up Highway 83 to the north end of the island where you will find Malaekahana Beach.

More than a mile long, this beach is located in the bay from which it gets its name. It is perfect for long walks and sunbathing.

Bid farewell to an intense day with a dinner cruise

Despite the intensity of the journey, the distances on the island are not very long. It is possible, therefore, that you can be back in Waikiki in time for a dinner cruise in the waters of Oahu.

Besides the quality of the food, the best part of the cruise may come afterwards. To the rhythm of soft music you will be able to watch the sunset and Honolulu light up.

Day 4: West Coast

Makaha Beach Park| ©Ken Lund
Makaha Beach Park| ©Ken Lund

The west side of Oahu is much hotter and drier. It is the least touristic part of the island and here you will find places that you will not see in any guidebook. Between secluded coves and postcard landscapes you can feel the real Oahu ruffle your skin.

Here I am going to show you a small itinerary that starts from Honolulu heading west. This tour includes a Hawaiian temple, a Luau show and a formidable beach.

Makaha Beach Park

The first point of the itinerary of this fourth day is a 50-minute drive from Honolulu. If you don't have a rental car you can also go from Honolulu to Makaha Beach by public transportation. One option is to take the C line of Country Express Makaha.

However, to continue with the itinerary later it is best to go by car, as some points are difficult to reach otherwise.

Makaha Beach Park is a fantastic beach for swimming, surfing and bodyboarding. The sea is calmer in summer. In winter, the strong swell and dangerous current make it suitable only for experienced surfers. Anyway there are lifeguards on the beach, so if you are not sure, check with them.

Makaha Beach is rarely crowded, except on weekends, when local families come for picnics. My advice is to do the same and spend the whole morning in the area.

For divers there is the well-known location of Makaha Caverns which is 150 meters from the beach. You can get there by boat or swimming, whichever you prefer!.

Ku'ilioloa Heiau Temple

Leaving the previous beach heading south, at one end of Pokai Beach Bay, you will find Kane'ilio Point, a long peninsula where you can visit Ku'ilioloa Heiau, an ancient Hawaiian temple that will not leave you indifferent.

From here you will have a wonderful view of the entire west coast. It is believed that in the past this place was a kind of school for everything related to fishing and sailing.

Once you have made the usual visit, you can relax on the beach of Pokai Bay, which is quiet and cozy thanks to its large breakwater. This wide beach is great for families with children.

Paradise Cove Luau

Leaving Pokai Beach on Highway 93 you will reach Kapolei, from here it is very easy to get to Paradise Cove Luau.

You can't leave Oahu without witnessing a Luau. This traditional Hawaiian spectacle will leave you in awe. One of the best Luau shows on Oahu awaits you at Paradise Cove

Please note that the entire luau, including dinner, can last almost five hours. Of course, for a supplement you can hire a transfer back to your hotel.

In addition, in Paradise Cove you will also find Hawaiian music, typical games of the islands, ceremonies with all their color and splendor, fishing courses, flower showers, the best sunset, and the night, what a night.

Buy a ticket for a Hawaiian show

Day 5: North Shore

Waimea Waterfall| ©boaski
Waimea Waterfall| ©boaski

Truly, the things to see on Oahu's North Shore are almost innumerable. For starters, you'll enjoy its extraordinary wildlife, walk through rainforests and live unforgettable experiences in the wilderness.

Bay after bay, the north offers something new. There are coral reefs suitable for snorkeling, and it won't be too difficult to have the privilege of seeing the Hawaiian monk seal suddenly emerge from the water and lie on the beach.

Waimea Falls Park

Waimea Falls, located in the park of the same name, is a great place to start the first day's itinerary. From Honolulu, by car, it will only take you an hour to reach the place from where the trails start.

The area is a true paradise for surfing, with a rich wildlife and fantastic nature. If you get tired of the sea, you can walk through the Botanical Gardens of Waimea Falls Park and swim under a waterfall.

Be careful not to pick up any of the tempting pineapples from the many plantations you pass! You may be fined!

Book a tour of North Oahu

Dive with sharks

On the North Shore itself, specifically in Haleiwa, just 15 minutes from Waimea, you will be able to live an absolutely unforgettable experience: a dive with sharks.

To do so, you will have to board a cruise ship that will take you to the observation point. Once there, the most exciting and, for sure, complicated part remains: to enter an underwater cage and dive to see these formidable animals swimming a few meters away.

Dive with sharks in Oahu

Eat ground shrimp in a Food Truck

Back on land, off Haleiwa and Kahuku, on the north shore of Oahu, there are several shrimp farms and what better way to eat ground shrimp with garlic and pineapple than straight from a Food Truck?

If you haven't had the chance to try this typical Hawaiian dish, this is your chance. There's no better place for it than here. You can practically watch the shrimp come out of the sea and onto your plate.


To end the day, and also the trip, nothing better than returning to Waikiki to experience a different Hawaiian show. The Rock-A-Hula mixes tributes to legendary singers like Elvis or Michael Jaxkson with more traditional performances like the fire knife dance.

Depending on what you're looking for, you can choose a normal ticket (only to the show) or one that includes dinner and original cocktails.