Oahu, with its beautiful landscapes and wonderful cultural attractions, is an ideal Hawaiian destination for travelers seeking an escape from the bustling city life. While Waikiki is popular for its vibrant scene and world-renowned beach, there are other captivating spots on the island that offer unique experiences and a more tranquil atmosphere. This article will delve into the hidden gems of Oahu, guiding you on where to stay and what to do outside the busy Waikiki area.
Ko Olina, the North Shore, and Honolulu are just a few places that showcase the true essence of island life. The serene beaches, luxurious resorts, and local attractions make them ideal alternatives for travelers looking to explore new horizons while avoiding the crowded Waikiki. With a little exploration, you can discover the beauty and charm of these locations, immersing yourself in a blend of relaxation and adventure.
Each area offers something different and unique to cater to your travel preferences. Whether you seek a peaceful retreat, outdoor activities, or an authentic cultural experience, Oahu’s lesser-known regions will surely leave you feeling rejuvenated and inspired. So, let’s pack our bags and uncover Oahu’s best-kept secrets as we embark on this island exploration together!
Where To Stay
The North Shore of Oahu offers a laid-back vibe and a more authentic Hawaii experience compared to the bustling city of Honolulu. This part of the island is famous for its beautiful beaches, lush green landscapes, and world-class surfing opportunities.
Haleiwa is a charming and historic town located on the North Shore. It’s a perfect spot to relax and enjoy the Hawaiian lifestyle. The town has a pedestrian-friendly area with boutique shops, delicious restaurants, and art galleries to explore.
- Fun Fact: Haleiwa was once a sugar plantation town, and its plantation-era architecture has been preserved to this day.
- Things to do: Explore the town’s art scene, try the famous shaved ice, or learn to surf at one of the nearby beaches.
Sunset Beach is another popular destination on the North Shore, world-renowned for its stunning sunsets and epic surf breaks. During the winter months, the beach becomes a mecca for surfers, as it hosts some of the world’s most prestigious surfing competitions.
- Interesting Story: The beach’s name comes from the fact that it provides some of the most beautiful sunset views on Oahu.
- Things to do: Relax on the beach, watch professional surfers in action, or take a stroll along the shoreline.
Turtle Bay Resort
Turtle Bay Resort is the largest accommodation option on the North Shore, featuring 401 guest rooms, 42 beach cottages, and ocean villas. Guests can enjoy a variety of amenities, including golf courses, tennis courts, and a spa.
Prices for accommodations at Turtle Bay Resort:
|Accommodation Type||Price Range|
|Luxury Ocean Villa||$479 – $900|
|Standard Room||$250 – $470|
- Things to do: Relax by the pool, indulge in water activities or pamper yourself at the luxurious spa.
Enjoy your stay on the North Shore of Oahu and experience the laid-back atmosphere, beautiful beaches, and rich Hawaiian culture.
East Oahu offers a quieter and more relaxed atmosphere compared to the bustling Waikiki. With beautiful beaches, charming towns, and various activities, this region is an excellent choice for travelers seeking a more laid-back experience.
Kailua is a beautiful beach town known for its stunning white sand beaches and friendly community atmosphere. The famous Kailua Beach and Lanikai Beach are perfect spots for sunbathing, swimming, and kayaking. In the town, you’ll find a variety of quaint shops and delicious restaurants.
Fun Fact: Kailua Beach has been consistently voted one of the best beaches in the United States.
Things to do:
- Visit the Kailua Beach and Lanikai Beach
- Kayak to the Mokulua Islands
- Explore the town’s shops and restaurants
Kaneohe, situated on the eastern shore of Oahu, is known for its lush landscapes and the picturesque Kaneohe Bay. The bay is home to the famous sandbar, a popular spot for boat tours, picnics, and snorkeling.
Interesting Story: Kaneohe is the filming location of several popular TV shows and movies, such as “Jurassic Park” and “Lost.”
Things to do:
- Take a boat tour of Kaneohe Bay and visit the sandbar
- Explore the Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden
- Visit the Byodo-In Temple, a replica of a Japanese Buddhist temple
Waimanalo is a small town with a rural feel, featuring stunning beaches and scenic landscapes. Waimanalo Beach offers a long stretch of white sand and turquoise waters, making it an ideal spot for beach lovers.
Fun Fact: Waimanalo is home to the oldest polo field in the United States, established in 1888.
Things to do:
- Enjoy the pristine Waimanalo Beach
- Take a hike at the nearby Waimanalo Forest Reserve
- Attend a polo match at the Waimanalo Polo Field
From charming beach towns to lush landscapes, East Oahu offers a more relaxed and authentic Hawaiian experience. With a variety of activities and unique attractions, Kailua, Kaneohe, and Waimanalo are excellent choices for your Oahu vacation.
Ko Olina is a resort area situated on the west side of Oahu. This area has all the amenities you’d need for a perfect vacation, offering a mix of luxurious accommodations, beautiful beaches, and a variety of activities for travelers to engage in1. Some popular choices include the world-renowned Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa, and the Four Seasons Resort Oahu at Ko Olina.
Fun Fact: Ko Olina translates to “Place of Joy” in Hawaiian, and the resort area was specifically designed to provide a very joyful experience for all visitors.
Things to do:
- Relax at one of the four beautiful man-made lagoons, offering a safe and tranquil environment for swimming and sunbathing
- Enjoy various water activities, such as scuba diving and snorkeling
- Visit the Ko Olina Golf Club for a leisurely round of golf
- Indulge in shopping and dining at the Ko Olina Station and Ko Olina Center
Makaha, located on the far west side of Oahu, is known for its laid-back atmosphere, beautiful beaches, and unspoiled natural beauty. This is an excellent option for those who want to escape the hustle and bustle of the city and experience a more relaxed and traditional Hawaiian vibe1.
Interesting Story: The area is famous for its legendary surfer, Buffalo Keaulana, who has been a prominent figure in the local surfing community for over six decades and has played a significant role in promoting the ancient Hawaiian tradition of surfing.
Things to do:
- Surf at the famous Makaha Beach, which is home to some of the best waves on Oahu
- Visit the Makaha Valley Country Club and golf course, which offers stunning views of the surrounding valley
- Take part in cultural activities and beach clean-ups organized by the local community
- Enjoy hiking trails and explore the lush Makaha Valley
Central Oahu is a region that offers a more laid-back and local experience as compared to the bustling tourist hubs like Waikiki. This area is home to charming towns, lush greenery, and a more authentic Hawaiian atmosphere. Here, we explore two notable towns in Central Oahu: Mililani and Wahiawa.
Mililani is a lovely and vibrant community located in the heart of Oahu. With its well-maintained parks, shopping centers, and residential areas, Mililani offers a relaxed and comfortable atmosphere for visitors looking for a more local experience.
Fun Fact or Interesting Story
- Interestingly, Mililani is one of the few towns on Oahu that was entirely planned and developed from scratch, making the layout and organization of the town quite unique and well-constructed.
Things to do
Some highlights of Mililani include:
- Visiting one of the many parks, such as Mililani Mauka or Mililani District Park
- Checking out Mililani Town Center, a shopping center featuring a variety of restaurants, shops, and a movie theater
- Exploring nearby nature trails offering beautiful views of the surrounding landscape and opportunities for outdoor activities
Wahiawa is a quaint and historic town situated on a plateau between two volcanic mountain ranges. Surrounded by lush agricultural lands and Lake Wilson, Wahiawa offers a unique and peaceful environment for visitors looking to escape the bustling city life.
Fun Fact or Interesting Story
- Due to Wahiawa’s location in the center of Oahu, many people call it the “Gateway to the North Shore” because it connects central and southern parts of the island to the famous North Shore beaches.
Things to do
Exciting activities to enjoy in Wahiawa include:
- Stopping by the Dole Plantation, where you can learn about Hawaii’s rich pineapple history and taste delicious pineapple treats
- Exploring Wahiawa Botanical Garden, a lush 27-acre garden showcasing tropical plants and picturesque views of the valley
- Taking a trip to the nearby North Shore of Oahu to enjoy the world-renowned beaches, surf spots, and relaxed atmosphere
Remember, when visiting Central Oahu, you’ll be able to explore its local charm and beauty, offering a more authentic glimpse into the Hawaii experience.
If you’re looking for affordable accommodation on Oahu outside of Waikiki, there are hostels available that offer a friendly atmosphere and budget-friendly prices. One such option is The Pagoda Hotel, which is close to Oahu’s award-winning public transportation, TheBus, and within walking distance to many fast-food places and cafes. For a more local experience, consider staying in the Ala Moana neighborhood, which is a commercial and residential area that doesn’t see as many tourists but still offers budget-friendly options.
Vacation rentals can also provide a cost-effective alternative when staying on Oahu outside of Waikiki. Lovers Hideaway is a modern rental home with ocean views, located in a Honolulu neighborhood within a short driving distance to coffee shops, restaurants, shopping centers, and beaches.
Fun Fact: Oahu is home to the beautiful North Shore, where you can find some of the best surf spots in the world, making it a popular destination for surfers and beach enthusiasts.
Things to do: While staying on Oahu, be sure to explore the natural beauty of the island, such as the iconic Diamond Head Crater, the lush Kualoa Ranch, or the stunning Hanauma Bay for snorkeling. Don’t forget to indulge in local cuisine, like poke bowls and shave ice, at the various food trucks and eateries around the island.
Choosing the Right Area for You
When planning your trip to Oahu and looking for a place to stay outside of Waikiki, there are several options that cater to different preferences. Each area has its own distinct charm and offers unique experiences.
The North Shore is popular among travelers who wish to be closer to nature. Home to the famous surfing hub, Haleiwa, it provides a laid-back atmosphere and a true taste of “country” Hawaii. With picturesque beaches, shrimp trucks, and lush mountains, it’s perfect for outdoor enthusiasts and surfers.
Fun Fact: The North Shore is known for its large waves during the winter months, attracting surfers from around the globe.
Things to Do: Surfing, hiking, exploring Haleiwa town, and trying local food trucks.
If you’re looking for luxury, the Kahala Hotel and Resort is one of the few beachfront properties outside Waikiki. Located on a private beach, this prestigious neighborhood offers an impeccable stay, while being just a short drive away from Honolulu’s attractions.
Interesting Story: The Kahala Hotel and Resort is known for hosting celebrities and presidents.
Things to Do: Relax on the private beach, indulge in fine dining, and visit nearby attractions such as Diamond Head or Hanauma Bay.
Downtown Honolulu is the ideal place for those who want to be close to the urban center of Oahu while avoiding the crowds of Waikiki. The area is in close proximity to the largest outdoor shopping mall, Ala Moana Center, and Ala Moana Beach Park.
Fun Fact: Downtown Honolulu is the center of government, finance, and commerce for the entire state of Hawaii.
Things to Do: Shopping, sightseeing, and immersing yourself in the city’s art and history.
Windward East (Kaneohe / Kailua)
The Windward side offers a more peaceful experience, with stunning beaches and lush landscapes. The towns of Kaneohe and Kailua present a slower-paced, family-friendly environment. Rental properties are often available in these areas, providing a cozy, home-like atmosphere.
Fun Fact: Kailua Beach is known for its powdery white sand and turquoise waters.
Things to Do: Visit Kailua Beach, experience a Polynesian performance, and explore the natural attractions of Kaneohe.
Each of these areas offers a different experience, catering to various travel styles. Evaluate your priorities and preferences and choose an Oahu location that best fits your dream Hawaiian vacation.