My favorite things to do on Oahu
First off – HAPPY NEW YEAR! This was the first year in a long time that we didn’t celebrate with a staycation at Disneyland, but honestly it felt so refreshing to take some time off and just relax at home after our whirlwind wedding month. Now it’s time to do everyone’s least favorite start-of-the-year task(s): take down all the Christmas decorations and get ready to go back to the non-pajama clad grind.
I’m trying to keep my mind in vacation-mode as long as possible, so here’s a little roundup of some of my favorite things to do on Oahu. Though, honestly, pretty much everything we’ve ever done on Oahu is a favorite. Check out my Hawaii tag if you’re interested in reading about catamaran rides, powered hang gliding, zip-lining, and more.
Snorkeling at Hanauma Bay
Hanauma Bay is a PARADISE. This was our 3rd trip out to the nature preserve off Oahu’s eastern shore, and it definitely won’t be our last. It’s a fabulous spot to snorkel, though admittedly can get pretty crowded in peak season.
Tips and tricks: it’s $1 to park at the 300-spot parking lot at Hanauma Bay (but the lot will often fill up, so get there early). It’s an additional $7.50 per person (if you’re over the age of 12 and not a Hawaii resident) to get a ticket into the reserve. Before you can make the walk down to the bay, all guests must watch a short video explaining proper behavior in the bay and around the wildlife — especially concerning the coral that dots the ocean floor near the shallows of the bay. Oh, and the park is closed on Tuesdays!
You can rent snorkels, flippers, and lockers down at the beach for a pretty reasonable price, but we actually bought snorkels at Target on the way there and just rented the fins. Oh, and you can bring floaties and boogie boards down to the beach if you’d like, too.
Wave watching on the North Shore
Winter means big wave season on Oahu’s North Shore. This was our first visit to the island outside of spring or summer, so we were pretty stoked to catch the iconic Hawaiian mega surf. And by catch, I mean watch, cause I’ve surfed exactly one time in my life and it involved a professional doing the paddling for me.
The drive along the North Shore is gorgeous, whether you get out the car or not (though, come on, you should). Aside from the beaches, there are also a ton of great eats with that hometown Hawaii feel: shrimp trucks, fruit stands on the side of the road, and casual homestyle restaurants at the historic Haleiwa town.
Waimea Bay is a state beach park, located along the North Shore. The last time we were here, the lot was full and we had to find parking along the highway and hike down. This time, it was empty. The Bay can get pretty massive swells in the winter, but everything was relatively calm during our visit. Not a lot of waves, and not a lot of tourists. Just us, a dotting of rain, and a bunch of chickens (Hawaii in a nutshell).
As a respectable adult with a healthy Blue Crush obsession (a holdover from my middle school days, I swear), I was SO excited to drop by Pipeline and watch some surf. They were just wrapping up the annual Billabong surf competition, and there were a ton of people still out in the water.
The waves weren’t as epic as I’ve seen in the movies (and YouTube vids), but it was still pretty impressive. One of the folks on the beach told us that they’d had 25ft swells just a week before, so I guess it really just depends on your timing. But hey, I got to see a lazy, sleeping monk seal, so it was a 100% success in my book.
The Laniwai Spa at Aulani
Believe it or not, in all our visits to Aulani, this was our very first time using the Laniwai Spa. And omg, why did we wait so long!? We booked a couples massage to recoup after our wedding, and it was absolutely DIVINE. Genuinely the best spa experience I’ve ever had.
It’s definitely a splurge, but I truly feel like the cost is worth it. Our massage was 80 minutes, but we had access to the Laniwai hot tubs for an hour before our appointment, and then again afterwards. And they’re not just hot tubs — they also have a “room temperature” tub, and a cold (55 degree) tub that brave souls can use as an ice bath. The Laniwai outdoor area also has lounge chairs where you can relax and order food or smoothies, plus a circular shower section with a ton of different shower heads with varying water types and pressure.
We hung out in the hot tub for about half an hour before our appointment — even ducked into the cold tub for literally a second — before they came and retrieved us for our 80 minutes of actual heaven. Le sigh. I think every Aulani visit is going to have to include a trip to this oasis. RIP, wallet.
Obviously, our aaaaabsolute favorite thing to do on Oahu is GET MARRIED. More on that later. 😉