Your Guide to O'ahu

travel Oct 09, 2019

After spending a month on "the Gathering Isle," I created a solid breakdown of O'ahu and what you need to see, eat and do in each area. On O'ahu, there's so much to eat, so much history to see and endless things to explore. Pro-tip: go to O'ahu to explore, less to resort. If you want to resort, go to any of the other islands.

Let's jump into the fun stuff.

Windward (East)

White sand beaches, lush terrain, and calm, aqua waters




‘Ai Love Nalo (all vegan, so fresh, so good)


Waimanalo Bay (we loved this pretty beach)

Halona Beach (cove near Halona blowhole)

Makapu’u Beach



Makapu'u Lighthouse Hike (1 hour, 2 miles roundtrip)




Cinnamon’s (just go for the Guava Chiffon Pancakes. They were rated one of The 15 Best Pancakes in America by Time Out - so worth it)

Banan (best matcha latte on the windward side)

Nalu Health Bar & Café

Down to Earth (all-vegetarian grocery store with an AMAZING hot bar)

Beet Box Cafe (fave restaurant on Windward side)

Assaggio's (For Italian outside of Waikiki, this is your best option. Also the veggies are SO fresh + flavorful)

Lovin Oven (this vegan pizza place has better pizza than most real pizza places - we loved it so much, we hugged everyone working AND dining there on our way out)

Maui Tacos (touristy + expensive, but go for the mango taco salad)

Himalayan Kitchen (family-run hole in the wall with flavorful Indian food)

Kalapawai Market (have dinner at the Kailua Town location for cute outdoor dining with yummy, fine food)

Tokoname (great Japanese/sushi)



Lanikai Beach (small, scenic beach with a clear view of the mini islands, "the mokes")

Kailua Beach (beautiful white-sand, clear + shallow-watered beach. Voted best beach in US)



Lanikai Pill Box Hike (1-1.5 hours, 2 miles roundtrip)

Olomana Three Peaks Trail (3 hours, 3 miles roundtrip)

Maunawili Falls Hike (2-3 hours, 3.5 miles roundtrip)

Wiliwilinui (3 hours, 4.5 miles roundtrip)


Farmer's Markets

Kailua Farmer’s Market (outside Whole Foods on Thursday evenings + Sunday mornings at Kailua Elementary School)




Kaneohe Sand Bar (Make friends, jump on their boat, go here)


Ho'omaluhia Botanical Gardens (Beautiful. Must do.)

Byodo-In Temple (Zen-est place on island)

Tropical Farms Macadamia Nut (mac-nut treats-galore)


North Shore

Surfers, big waves, food trucks, mellow vibes




Raised by the Waves (the turmeric 'Olena Bowl is heaven)

Kahuku Farms (healthy, farm-to-plate lunch. Get the açai bowl)

Sunrise Shack (roadside shack for smoothies & other healthy, fresh goodies)



Polynesian Cultural Center (A must-do experience. Learn about Polynesian culture through entertainment and activities.)

Kua Loa Ranch (outdoor activities on beautiful land)




Ted’s Bakery (get a slice of pie)

The Beet Box Cafe (amazing vegetarian breakfast, brunch, lunch and snacks)

Surf N Salsa (honestly, great tacos from this truck)

Banzai Sushi (well-known sushi spot)

Matsumoto Shave Ice Haleiwa’s (get the Ichiban Special: shave ice with ice cream, condensed milk, adzuki beans, and mochi, all in a waffle bowl)



Ehukai Pillbox Hike (1 hour, 2.11 miles roundtrip)


Waimea Bay (rock-jumping, iconic bay)

Sunset Beach (big wave surfing during the winter, mellow waves during summer)

Laniakea Beach (turtle-spotting)


Snorkeling Spots

Shark's Cove (rocky area with lots of fish named for the shape of the rocks, not the sharks)



Waimea Valley Botanical Gardens (culture, waterfall, gardens)


Leeward (West)

Golden, sandy beaches, Four Seasons Resort, arid climate, local territory


As a quick pro-tip: this side is respectably, the local side. We weren't invited here, nor did we know where to go. We took a day trip to the Four Seasons so I won't speak to too much else on the Leeward side.



Island Vintage Coffee (Vegan poke bowl is worth snacking on)



Naupaka Spa (luxury spa in the Four Seasons featuring some indigenous influence)


South Shore

Populated beaches, hotels, restaurants, shopping, cityscape


Hawai'i Kai


Bubbies Homemade Ice Cream and Desserts: (Mochi Ice Cream)


Reef Pirates Diving (scuba diving)


Snorkeling Spots

Hanauma Bay (scenic snorkeling bay)



Koko Head Crater Railway Trail (1 hour, 1.4 miles roundtrip) - most intense hike, go at sunrise


Diamond Head


ARS Café Gallery (artsy hand-brewed coffee shop with some yummy toasts)

Koko Head Cafe (brunch staple around town)

Da Cove (delicious açai bowls pre-hike)



OPEN SPACE YOGA (ashtanga, hatha, kundalini, prenatal, restorative yoga and more—for yogis of all levels)



Diamond Head Crater Hike (overcrowded, but beautiful view - 1 hr, 1.6 miles roundtrip)





Juicy Brew (so underwhelming looking, but some of our favorite food on island - get soba salad and a turmeric latte - you're welcome)

Kaimana Farm Cafe (we didn't get here, but it caught my eye every time - healthy + cute breakfast)

Town (casual, artesinal locally-sourced food)

Via Gelato (wonderful + awarded fresh-made gelato with flavors like salted caramel and haupia)

Leonard’s Bakery (I might be alone when I say this place is overrated, but try the Haupia filled malasada Portuguese doughnut)




Cafe Maharani (vegetarian Indian)

Peace Café (all vegan - try Soy Soba Salad and Hanoi Sandwich)

Down to Earth (all vegetarian market with the best hot bar)

Frostcity (Taiwanese snow ice - wild texture and unique flavors with fresh toppings)





Matcha Stand MAIKO (zen, delicious traditional matcha)

Kona Coffee Purveyors & Patisserie (luxe coffee & delicious pastries)

Island Vintage Coffee (wow, we loved working here - touristy, but great vibes + good mac nut latte)

Bills Hawaii (cute Aussie look and food, amazing Chopped Salad with halloumi)

Marukame Udon (freshly-made udon noodles with a line out the door)

Arancino Di Mare (Best Italian we found with people watching and good vibes).

Doraku Sushi (great sushi with great vegetarian options)

Dean & Deluca (not local, but a cute idea is to pick up some prepared yummy snacks here and have a picnic at Waikiki beach across the street)


Waikiki Beach (honestly, I really like Waikiki. Great surf, people watching and probably the cleanest tourist beach of all time. Fun vibes, but crowded)


FLO YOGA HAWAII (Outdoor classes at Waikiki’s picturesque Sans Souci State Recreational Park)

OHANA SPACE HAWAII (a variety of classes from meditation to yoga to dance)

PILATES O KA LA ROOFTOP PILATES AT THE SURFJACK (Not yoga, but every third Thursday, enjoy a dynamic group mat Pilates session while watching the sunset behind the Waikiki skyline from the Surfjack penthouse lanai)

SUNSET YOGA HAWAII (Sunset Yoga Hawaii’s morning and sunset yoga classes overlook the ocean on the quieter side of Waikiki.)



Ala Moana


Simple Joy (vegan Asian, simple and delicious)

Gomaichi (delicious, chewy ramen)

Uncle Clay’s House of Pure Aloha (shaved ice in a bowl of fruity syrup topped with things such as the signature sweet dream sauce, locally made ice cream from Lalamilo Farms, fresh fruit, mochi or adzuki beans)

SomiSomi (this entire post could just be about SomiSomi and their soft cones filled with taro, topped with Ube soft-serve and garnished with a fresh orchid. This place literally brought tears of joy to my eyes).

Thrils Soft Serve (get Rice Krispie Treat flavor in a black cone)



Ala Moana Beach (gentle waters, city beach)



Ala Moana Center (probably the most beautiful outdoor mall ever - walk, eat, shop)



POWER YOGA HAWAII (muscle burn and spiritual buzz)

YOGA FLOATS (SUP yoga horizon from the calm waters of Ala Moana Beach Park. Yoga Floats combines yoga with the uplifting qualities of the ocean and the beauty of Hawaii)




Water Drop Vegetarian House (vegetarian, Asian, cute, delish)

Taco Kabana (street-style tacos and Mexican food)

Opal Thai (insanely amazing Thai food - tell the owner what you like/dislike and he will surprise you with a three-course Thai meal - only go if you are not a control-freak)

Little Village Noodle House (authentic Chinese cuisine)

Helena’s Hawaiian Food (traditional Hawaiian food; Northwest of Chinatown.)

Alejandro’s (as delicious of a bean and cheese burrito as I've had in Mexico with flavorful salsas; 12 minutes inland from Chinatown)

Govinda’s (donation-based traditional vegetarian Indian buffet; 10 minutes inland from Chinatown)

Gulick Delicatessen (cheap local favorite with Asian and Hawaiian specialties; 12 mins inland from Chinatown)

Mr. Donut (you guessed it: donuts. Banana coconut has been recommended).

Wing Ice Cream Parlor (Thom Kha, Golden Milk, Thai Tea, Pineapple Thai Basil are just some of the exotic flavors - many vegan options as well!)


Lulumahu Falls Hike (13 minute drive inland, this lush hike takes 1 hour & 30 mins - 2 miles roundtrip)




Arvo (cute coffee shop)

Egghead Cafe (Taiwanese, unique breakfast options)

Moku Kitchen (part of the Merriman group of restaurants - good, fresh, locally-sourced and fun)



SALT at Our Kaka'ako (cute shops and yummy food) 


Historic Pearl Harbor, local dives


Pearl Harbor 


Pearl Harbor (seriously, seriously worth a trip)




Honolulu Kitchen (famous for buns called, manapua - which are filled with all kinds of good stuff)


Sasiya Thai Spa (holy shit - the best Thai massage outside of Thailand by the sweet owner herself - go)


Farmer's Markets

Aloha Stadium Swap Meet (Sun 6:30 am-3 pm, Wed & Sat 8 am-3 pm)


Most importantly, wherever you go and whatever you do, treat the 'aina (land) with love and respect. These islands are precious and sacred. With that in mind, enjoy.

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