Aloha! Your Travel Guide to Exploring Oahu


I'm still so baffled at one thought that keeps repeating itself: how the hell did I ever just stay in Waikiki for an entire week on my first trip to Hawaii in 2008?  Although I hate to admit it, I too was one of the tourists that fell into the trap of sticking around the most touristy part of the island – and missing all the beautiful wonder Oahu has to offer outside of Waikiki Beach.

I'm really excited, however, that on my latest trip to Honolulu, my sister and went out exploring Oahu with our Zipcar and stumbled upon the most incredible places, beaches, scenery, and adventures. Read on for my best tips for exploring Oahu, and how you too can have a truly unique experience on this beautiful island.

My Guide to Exploring Oahu

Step 1: Book a vehicle with Zipcar

exploring oahu north shore with our zipcar

You will never explore the island right if you don't have a car of your own. Though you can certainly jump on a tourist bus that will take you around the island, there is something so much more freeing and enjoyable about having your very own car, your own tunes, and your own will to travel the island as you please. We took an SUV Zipcar around the island, which had an awesome sunroof, was easy to get to and from in the nearby parkade in Waikiki, and took the hassle of getting a traditional car rental out the equation. I simply used my existing Canadian Zipcar membership and brought along my Zipcard – and voila, freedom to explore!

Step 2: Have an active day in Lanikai

Lanikai Pillbox Hiking Trail Oahu

Sure, you can simply meander towards Diamond Head and do that hike like most Waikiki tourists do, but I highly recommend going the extra mile (quite literally) and heading to the east coast beach of Lanikia where you'll find a much better hike: the Pillbox hike! Here, you'll have a steady, moderately challenging 30 minute hike which will leave you with the most breathtaking view once you reach the top. The best part is, you get to cool off at the beautiful, quieter beach of Lanikai when you come back down.

Step 3: Hit the North Shore (once or twice)

north shore oahusharks cove oahu north shore

We enjoyed the North Shore so very much that we ended up coming back twice during our week exploring Oahu. The chill vibes and serene beaches will have you at first glance, and we just couldn't get enough. Though we explored the larger beaches of Waimea Bay (which is across from Waimea Valley where they shot Jurassic Park) and Bonzai Pipeline, we actually found our favourite beach just next to Shark's Cove – Three Tables Beach – who's name is characteristic of the three tiny island like structures that lay off the shore. You can swim out to them, and enjoy a secluded view of the ocean, but we specifically loved this beach for its quaint size, large blue waves, and walking distance to the food trucks. PS. I highly recommend the Shrimp Tacos!

Step 4: Stop and "Sea" Turtles

exploring oahu

On your way out of the North Shore – or on your way in, for that matter – be sure to stop at Turtle Beach to see the Sea Turtles swimming around near the shore. If you get lucky, you may even capture some photos of the sea turtles relaxing up on the sand. You'll know you've reached the right beach when you encounter a stretch of the road with a ton of cars parked along the street and tons of tourists with their lenses pointed towards the waves.

Step 5: Take a Sunset Cruise

waikiki sunset cruise atlantis cruiseswaikiki mai tai sunset cruise atlantis cruises

Just off the shore of Waikiki, you'll find opportunities for a greater vantage point of the skyline and Diamond Head from the water when you book a sunset cruise. I recommend taking the sunset appetizer cruise with Atlantis Cruises. They provide a free shuttle to the pier from Waikiki, and they'll keep you feeling great with Mai Tai's and appies for the most gorgeous time of night on Oahu – sunset!

These may seem like small and insignificant pieces of a week-long trip, but I promise you: the extra effort involved in exploring Oahu beyond Waikiki Beach will absolutely make your memories! Aloha!