First, our favorite source for things to do on Oahu is a book called "Oahu Revealed" by Andrew Doughty from Wizard Publications. Before my wife and I did a 15th anniversary vacation to Oahu two years ago, we bought this book and the Fodor's book. We found Oahu Revealed to be much more useful, and enjoyed its flavor of "helpful snark" (a la "this place is really a tourist trap").
Based mainly on that book, here's stuff that we like:
Place to Stay:
- We wanted to stay away from Waikiki so we investigated places in Kailua and Kane'ohe and happened upon Schrader's Windward Country Inn. We love it. I say now: it's not fancy, it's rustic, it's in the middle of a neighborhood, it's not polished spic-and-span clean. But they have a great view of the mountains from the lanai, have kayaks and snorkeling equipment you can reserve (for free), have breakfast bar (with local delicious fruit) every morning, have mojitos Friday evenings, an excellent luau dinner with local music on Wednesday evenings, and a weekly boat trip into Kaneohe Bay to the reef and the sandbar on Saturday.
- Diamond Head is nice, but there are a lot of people so sometimes it's like being in a line of ants. However, the views are spectacular.
- If you like falls, Manoa Falls and the Wai'hehe Falls hikes are very nice and highly doable. Each is 1-1.5 miles each way, the Wai'hehe is more of a hard climb than Manoa. Kapena Falls is supposed to be nice too.
- Kuli'ou'ou Ridge Hike is really astounding. The first half is up hill through jungle, then forest, then open ridge but it's not too frightening (and I don't like open heights). The reward is a stunning view of the island from Pearl Harbor to Kailua. Excellent hike.
- If you're truly daring you could do the Haiku Steps. They are officially "closed" but are regularly hiked. It's essentially metal stairs with handrails that go up a ridge, "up" being the operative word. More info available on the web.
- Hanauma Bay is supposed to be great, but we've always heard it's really crowded with tourists (not like us, oh no :-).
- Our favorite place is Shark's Cove, at Pupukea Beach Park. Get there early, so the water is still and there's less people, but the snorkeling was great. I saw turtles there two years ago.
- The reefs in Kaneohe Bay have good snorkeling, once you get out there (see the hotel above or I think there might be trips run from Kaneohe or Kailua harbors).
- Lots of nifty botanical gardens in Oahu: Hoomaluhia is really nice and lush, Koko Crater is more desert-y but decent (and has a ridge trail) Waimea Bay Audobon Center is solid.
- Of course, parasailing is fun. We used Extreme Parasailing in Honolulu (Kewala Basin).
- There is serious shopping in Waikiki, especially Ala Moana Center (ultra-posh shops) and Ward Center (not-so-ultra-posh).
- Dole Plantation was fun, for the pineapple history and varieties in the garden, for the maze, and for every kind of pineapple/tropical-related item you could imagine in the gift shop.
- Polynesian Cultural Center is rather good, and your ticket (both parking and admission) gets you in free for the following three days. So don't feel like you have to cram all the activities and shows into one day. Take two!
- Two years ago, we did surfing lessons at Hale'iwa Surf N' Sea. A lot of fun, and we both actually got up a few times! (pictures are somewhere)
- Tons of places to eat all over the island. Really, you can walk into any grocery store, get great fish and go to your hotel and cook it and have an astounding dinner just like that. Also get Poke (sashimi tuna "salad") which is really good.
- Agnes's Bakery in Kailua has great malasadas, which are Portugese sugar donuts that are more cakey/eggy than regular donuts. They make them fresh, so take a seat and eat them and you will die of mouth joy.
- On your way to PCC, stop by Shrimp Shack just as you enter Punalu'u (yellow truck on left/west/non-beach side of road, you can park on the pullout on the right). Really good food. Or try any of the half-dozen other shrimp shacks in Kahuku, north of PCC.
- We've eaten at both Lucy's and Buzz's in Kailua and find them both okay but not spectacular and thus overpriced. Both have atmosphere, especially if you're outside at Lucy's. Both can be a bit loud.
- Our favorite place is Grass Skirt Grill in Hale'iwa, at the south end. Small, but delicious. After that, have shave ice (with azuki beans and ice cream) at Aoki's (north end). Just as good as the ultra-famous Matsumoto's, but the lines are a LOT shorter.
- In general, my wife and I agree that one should either splurge and go for expensive but excellent, like Alan Wong's or Le Mer, or go simple and cheaper and tasty like Grass Skirt Grill or a Shrimp Shack or a plate lunch place (L&L Drive-Inn for example).
- As you know, LOST films in Oahu so if you're a LOST fan there's many opportunities to see sights from episodes or even run into actors from the show. Many of the hikes/sites listed above have hosted various scenes in LOST episodes. Lost Virtual Tour (www.lostvirtualtour.com) is a great place to find out info about locations and episodes.
- One example: the falls at Waimea Valley Park is where Kate/Sawyer found the dead bodies and the suitcase.
But the LOST ultra-place-of-all-places is the LOSTies Beach, where the LOSTies camp is, along with Mr. Eko's church and other places. It's between Papa'iloa Beach and Hale'iwa Beach. LOST Virtual Tour has directions from Papa'iloa Beach.
When I went there two years ago, I parked at Hale'iwa Beach Park, then went north past the trees and right/northeast from there. The beach is public property, but the land from the vegetation inward is private, so stay on the beach and you're fine. It's about 1/2-3/4 mile to the LOSTie beach. Added bonus: You might see turtles up on shore (Way cool!).
The LOSTie camp, and Mr Eko's church and other things are all in the vegetation, behind the yellow caution tape. Be cool, say hi to the security guard, and they'll probably be okay with you taking pictures. And you can point your camera down the beach, (west-ward), stand by the water, and *poof* you're on LOST Beach!
I really like the island a lot because it has a little bit of everything, from city sights to nature sights. For those going to Oahu, have fun! Hope these little hints help.