Oahu Vacation Ideas
How to Put It All Together

I have lots of Oahu vacation ideas but I don't believe that one size fits all. Listed below are some samples based on the most requested activities. Everybody has different needs, budgets and interests but this will give you an idea of how I start to plan people's vacations. Click on the link below that is of interest to you and see if that gives you an idea.

Don't forget to consider logistics such as commuting times and how you will feel energy wise before planning your next activity. Only you know if you want to live every minute to the max or spend as much time as possible laying by the pool or on the beach. Most folks want a mixture of both. Also see this list of things to do on Oahu.

Start Here With STEP 1 before delving into the list below

1 Week On Oahu
5 Days on Oahu
3 Days on Oahu
Half Day or Less Ideas
Day Trip Ideas
Traveling With Small Kids
More "Mature" Travelers
Return/Repeat Visitors
Adventurous Visitors
Vacation Planner Schedule Form
Which Activities Are Where?
Check Pricing & Availability On Activities


Oahu Vacation Ideas- Start Here


Step 1-How long are you here for?

5 days? 7 days? Determine that first. What time do you arrive?

If you arrive early afternoon and you feel up to it theoretically you could do a luau the first evening for dinner and have a great Hawaiian welcome but I think it's best not to chance that you'll feel up to it.

5 days here is really 3 days. The first and the last day are travel days. The last day is only an activity day if you have a late flight in which case the bellman at your hotel will probably hold your luggage for you.

Some hotels have hospitality suites that can be used at no charge for 30 minutes or so based upon availability. You must make an appointment for this. I happen to know that Embassy Suites is one of those hotels.


Step 2-What do you want to see, do or experience?

Continuing on ask yourself what you would like to do. Need ideas? Try glancing at the list of things to do here on oahu. If I stick with the 2 things I hear the most it would be Pearl Harbor and the Polynesian Cultural Center and/or a luau.


Step 3-Mapping it out schedule wise

Space yourself out and don't overschedule yourself. You are here to have fun and relaxation is probably part of what you want to do. Some people schedule themselves so fully that it seems like they're going to need a vacation from their vacation.

Some people love that and only have a limited time to live it up and feel they may never get back here so they go for it. However, for the vast majority of people having every minute scheduled is just too much.

TIP: USE A PLANNER such as this to sketch out your time here. See the sample one I did here (excuse my scritch scratch:))

For Pearl Harbor I almost always suggest to people to do it their 1st full day here because it is an early morning activity (between 6-7am start) and they are waking up early anyway.

Hawaii is behind the rest of the world time wise and most peopleare up super-early at 3, 4 or 5 am due to the time difference.

Their bodies think it's much later back in whatever time zone they came from so take advantage of that before you adjust.

Knock it out the way and then chill the rest of the day afterwards.


TIP: Don't have 2 full 8-10 hour days scheduled back to back and don't have yourself getting up at the crack of dawn to go fishing or to go to Pearl Harbor if you are going to have to be up late the night before.

Example: For full day activitivies like Polynesian Cultural Center DON'T schedule a full day activity the following day unless you don't have a choice. You'll be tired and won't want to do a full tour.

If anything do something that's in the evening or do a short late afternoon activity like a helicopter ride or light shopping. A beach or pool day is even better.

Definitely DON'T schedule yourself to get up early and go to Pearl Harbor because you won't get back to your hotel until 10:30pm.


Step 4-Mapping it out location wise

There's something to be said for stretching yourself too thin distance wise too. People don't realize that even though we are on an island certain things are far from one another or are time/energy consuming.

For instance I am not a fan of trying to do Pearl Harbor in the morning and then trying to drive around the island. Pearl Harbor still takes the better part of half a day when factoring in driving there, parking, checking in, waiting and touring it. Afterwards it takes time to reach the north shore let alone to see it.

Another example would be trying to go to Sea Life park to swim with the dolphins and then going to a luau on the near west side such as Germaine's or Paradise Cove luau. You would be setting yourself up to drive from the eastermost part of the island to the west.

Not only is that exhausting you haven't factored in stopping back at your hotel room to freshen up before jumping into 1.5 hours of rush hour traffic to get to the luau. This would be AFTER driving 40-45 minutes to get back from Sea Life Park. See what I mean?

See below for more information...

Back to Top of Oahu Vacation Ideas





Oahu Vacation Ideas-Sample Itineraries

1 Week on Oahu


Monday-Pearl Harbor (it starts early; take advantage of the time difference being on your side) Half day activity factoring in commute time. Dinner at a restaurant.

Tuesday-Polynesian Cultural Center with a luau dinner (full day starting late morning or lunch time until 9:30 pm (10:30pm return to Waikiki).

Wednesday-Rest/beach or Shopping

Thursday-Circle Island Tour or North Shore (both full days for the most part)


1. Rest/beach/shopping
2. Dinner cruise


Back to Top of Oahu Vacation Ideas



5 Days on Oahu


Monday-Pearl Harbor or North Shore

Tuesday-Polynesian Cultural Center or Kualoa Ranch or Snorkel on West Side

Wednesday-Rest during the day and do a luau, dinner cruise or sunset sail in the evening.

Thursday-Leave (if your flight is late leave it with the bellman & reserve a hospitality suite if available at your hotel for a couple of hours to shower & freshen up. These are usually free if available.

Hilton Hawaiian Village & Embassy Suites are 2 examples.) Go to the beach or do a 1/2 Circle Island Tour of the East Side of the island.


3 Days on Oahu

Basically you have 1-1.5 days to do what you really want to do. Most people in this category are either on their way to another island or returning from another island before heading home. Others are boarding one the 7 day interisland cruises that most likely leaves on Saturday.

What is the thing that you want to do the most? For most people it's to go to Pearl Harbor or to maybe do some shopping and a dinner cruise. Is it to climb Diamond Head or go to the north shore? Decide.

If you won't be doing a formal tour and plan to drive around then rent your car ahead of time. Everybody else on the cruise ship probably has the same idea and car availability dries up fast particularly during peak times such as summer, Thanksgiving and Christmas.


Back to Top of Oahu Vacation Ideas



Half Day or Less Ideas

Pearl Harbor
1/2 Circle Island Tour
Helicopter ride (45 minutes but block off 3 hours)
Snorkel/Dolphin cruise on the west side (with an early 6:30 am start)
Surf lesson
Jet Ski


Day Trip Ideas

Go to the Big Island for a day or one of the other outer islands such as Maui or Kauai. Get a taste and see if you'd like to plan part of your vacation time there on the next trip. If staying on Oahu the following ideas listed below take most or all of the day.

PRICING & AVAILABILITY on day trips here


Full Day Activities

*Note: Even if the activity itself doesn't take all day the time starts to add up with round trip commuting and time for a meal.

Kailua-kayaking or exploring
Circle Island tour
North Shore-there's a lot to see and it takes at least an hour to get up there plus think about time to eat...
Sea Life Park
Pearl Harbor-if you see everything out there
Kualoa Ranch

Back to Top of Oahu Vacation Ideas




Oahu Vacation Ideas-Traveling With Small Kids

Atlantis Submarine-English speaking tours start at 11:00am. Times are 11, 12, 1, 2, 3:00. Allow a 2 hour window for this.

Sea Life Park- Interact w/ dolphins & other marine animal and there are shows throughout the day

Honolulu Zoo-Located at the edge of Waikiki

Waikiki Aquarium-Located 5-7 minute walk outside of Waikiki (eastern, Diamond Head end of Waikiki)

Children's Discovery Museum

Wet n Wild-adventure water park on the west side (full day if using their transportation)


Oahu Vacation Ideas-More "Mature" Travelers

Circle Island Tour (full day)
Dinner cruise
Aha Aina luau at The Royal Hawaiian Hotel on Mondays
Pearl Harbor
Sunset Cocktail cruise
Ride the trolleys through Waikiki & Honolulu

Back to Top of Oahu Vacation Ideas




Oahu Vacation Ideas-Return/Repeat Visitors

Been there, done that? How about a day trip to the Big Island? Take a doors off helicopter ride over the lava. Seen almost all the luaus and sick of them?

Try the luau at The Royal Hawaiian only on Monday nights. It's 5 star and great for foodies. Much smaller venue and very classy. Head over to one of the windward beaches and truly escape the crowds.

I bet you haven't gotten around to visiting the island of Molokai. It's a quick, easy day trip starting just before 8am and getting back at about 3. See Father Damien's settlement at Kalapaupa for those forced to live there who had Hansen's disease in the 1800s. See what life is like wayyyy off the beaten track and there is not a single traffic light on the entire island. More info here...

NOTE: Make sure your outer island day trip includes airfare. The price range should be $300-400+ on average depending on the island (and airfare). Molokai is usually the cheapest.






Oahu Vacation Ideas-Adventurous Visitors

Helicopter ride
Climb Diamond Head crater
Kayaking in Kailua
ATV or horseback riding at Kualoa ranch
Shark cage diving on the north shore
Snorkel & Dolphin watching off a boat on the west side
The volcano on the Big Island
Jet Ski

Back to Top of Oahu Vacation Ideas




Vacation Calendar

Use this vacation planner to get a visual idea of how you would like to lay out your vacation. Be sure to write in rest/relaxation, beach time and shopping on there. Write the day (such as Monday) and the date next to the days. Draw arrows through the blocks to see how your time is being used. Once you start to do this you will see that you do not have as much time as you thought you did.


Which Activities Are Where?

Oahu Neighborhood View

*Note: I've put estimated drive times from Waikiki (sans bad traffic) in parentheses:


North Shore

See my north shore page for more info (1-1.5 hours)
Shark Cage Dives (Haleiwa town)
Sunset Beach
Waimea Waterfall
Polynesian Cultural Center (Laie)
Shrimp Farms (Kahuku)


Pearl Harbor (30-35 minutes; 25 minutes if going early before 7am in a car)
Dole Pineapple Plantation (15 min from the north shore)


South Shore/Honolulu

Iolani Palace & King Kamehameha statue (15-20 minutes)
Diamond Head Crater (15 minutes)
Manoa Waterfall (25 minutes)
Atlantis Submarine (10-15 minutes)
Dinner cruises & Sunset cruises(20 minutes)

West Side/Leeward

Paradise Cove Luau (1 hour 15 minutes out; 45 minutes back)
Germaine's Luau(same as above)
Wet n Wild Adventure Water Park (50 minutes)
Snorkel/Dolphin watch cruises (50-60 minutes)

East Side/Windward

Kailua & Lanikai (35 minutes)
Sandy Beach (35-40 minutes)
Sea Life Park (swim with dolphins) (40-45 minutes)
Hanauma Bay (closed Tuesdays) (30-35 minutes)
Halona Blowhole (35 minutes)
The Pali Lookout (20-25 minutes)
Kualoa Ranch (45 minutes)
Tropical Farms (macadamia nut farm) (45 minutes)
Byodo-In Temple (40 minutes)


Back to Top of Oahu Vacation Ideas




Go to More Things To Do on Oahu

Return to Home