Welcome to Oahu, where aloha isn’t just a greeting, but a way of life! I lived on this dreamy island for four months for a travel assignment and am thrilled to share my favorite experiences of that time with other travel nurses (or visitors) considering heading to this sunny spot.
This slice of paradise is the place for adventure-seeking, beach-going, nature-enthusiasts. Oahu is unique in that it offers both the option of a big city lifestyle or a laid back beach vibe, so there is something for everyone here. With that in mind, we’ve put together this Trusted Guide to Oahu to showcase the must-do’s during your stay on the island!
Oahu may be just 30 miles across, but there are hundreds of hikes to explore. Here are just a few I enjoyed during my time there:
The Wiliwilinui Ridge Trail offers epic ocean views and that lush rain forest feel. This hike is out-and-back, 4.7 miles total and rated moderately difficult, and once you reach the top, it rewards you with panoramic views of the entire island at the summit. Parking is limited as access is through an upscale gated community, so you have to grab a permit from the security guard to get in and park, a minor inconvenience that is SO worth it! 🏝
The Lanikai Pillbox Trail delivers incredible views of the two picturesque Mokulua islands. It’s a 0.9 mile, out-and-back trail rated moderately difficult. A bonus for the history buffs: this is a historic landmark. The hike leads up to a pillbox—a structure built in 1943 by the U.S. military as a lookout station to spot enemy ships during World War II. This summit is also known to have one of the best sunrise views over the ocean since it’s on the east side of the island. 🌅
The Makapuʻu Point Lighthouse Trail is a popular 2 mile, out-and-back trail rated as easy. This paved trail boasts coastline, Koko Head and Koko Crater views. The lighthouse was built in 1909 and can be admired from a distance. The vistas make for a great spot to whale watch from December-May! 🐋
For ocean enthusiasts interested in the mesmerizing world beneath the water, this is definitely the place to try snorkeling and/or free diving. If you are looking for a more local experience, check out Electric Beach (popular for spinner dolphins) or Sans Souci Beach (popular for sea turtles).
What better place to hang loose than Waikiki (beginners) or the North Shore (pros)? Oahu is a surfing mecca, and an ideal location to take a surf lesson. Want to be on the water, but not in it? Opt for a sunset sailboat tour with Pink Sails Waikiki or a boat trip with Trident Adventures (you can snorkel/scuba/jump out of a helicopter with them too!)
You may recognize Kualoa Ranch from multiple movie scenes, most famously Jurassic Park. Here you can take an ATV Raptor Tour, zip line, mountain bike or go horseback riding. The ranch is 4,000 acres of breathtaking tropical, well preserved beauty that you don’t want to miss!
Waimea Valley is a must-see on the North Shore side of the island. Here you can take a one mile stroll through stunning botanical gardens on your way to a pristine 45 ft waterfall. And yes, you can swim in this one! Take in the valley's rich Hawaiian cultural sites throughout the gardens as well.
After checking out Waimea Valley, head around the corner to Sunset Beach for it's namesake - an unforgettable sunset. The two mile stretch of white sand has a laid back, surfer vibe that’s perfectly relaxing to take in those gorg Hawaiian sunset views.
Be ready to diversify your palate in Hawaii! Prepare to indulge in interesting fruits, sauces and fresh seafood galore. For a quick bite, check out Kono’s, who serves the traditional Hawaiian 12 hour slow smoked Kalua Pork with rice and cabbage dish. Their breakfast bombers (breakfast burritos) are massive and a must try! Don’t forget to drizzle on their homemade guava BBQ sauce. To find them, just look for their epic logo: a pig on a surfboard.
For a more casual dining experience with fabulous views, try Haleiwa Joe’s. If you choose their Kaneohe location (surrounded by lush gardens), snag a spot early for sunset if you can. Think fresh seafood, huge steaks and fun island cocktails!
Check Paia Fish Market for that ocean to plate, iconic fresh catch fix. A Hawaiian fave that originated in Maui, but was so good they brought it to Waikiki. Get creative and try seafood anyway you’d like here- tacos, plates, quesadillas, burgers, pasta, or salad!
Satisfy your sweet tooth cravings at Leonard’s Bakery (great breakfast treats) or Matsumoto’s Shave Ice (perfect beach day splurge). Leonards’ specialty is a Malasada- a Portuguese donut, without the hole. I consider them a bigger, fluffier, more delicious version of a beignet. Matsumoto’s is extremely popular and often has a line out the door (you’ll see why). You can even add ice cream or condensed milk to your shave ice for a creamier twist. Create fun combos with their line up of flavors and see for yourself what all the hype is about!
My personal favorite caffeine supplier was Island Vintage Coffee. There are 3 locations on the island, and they brew the finest 100% Kona coffee in Hawaii. My go-to drink, which is also more like a dessert, was the Mauna Kea Iced Coffee- we’re talking sea salt caramel, a scoop of your flavor choice of gelato, and topped with black lava sea salt. Talk about unique, and insanely good!
For a healthier option, visit the super cute Sunrise Shack. Started by professional Hawaiian surfers, the sunny (literally yellow everywhere) and healthy lifestyle promoted here is sure to brighten your day. For the more health conscious consumer, you’ll be happy to find organic bullet coffee and superfood add-ons here!
After 5 years of travel nursing, my Oahu assignment easily takes the cake as my favorite! The abundance of nature, fresh food and rich Hawaiian culture make for an immeasurable experience. I can’t recommend it enough. Mahalo, and happy traveling!
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