What to Do, Eat, and See in O’ahu, Hawaii — O’ahu Travel Tips


Something I often find myself thinking about during these awfully troubled times is that I was somehow lucky enough to visit O’ahu in 2020. Yes, like, *this* *year* 2020. I agree, it’s wild.

Back in late February—before *gestures wildly* all this—I accepted an invitation from the O’ahu Visitors Bureau for a four-night trip to Hawaii’s capitol island. I had never been to Hawaii before and, to be honest, I had sort of written it off as a generic destination for honeymooners who lacked imagination. (I’m an asshole, I know!)

But believe me, O’ahu is so much more than white sandy beaches and breathtaking sunsets (though there’s plenty of that too)—and it’s definitely not just a stopover island. It has a rich cultural history, top-notch restaurants, and loads of adventurous activities. Also important: Everything the sun touches is beautiful and makes for ex-cell-ent Instagram content.

I know it’s going to be a while before any of us can travel again, but that doesn’t mean you can’t start planning your next fantasy vacay. Here’s how to build the most Instagrammable trip to O’ahu.

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Stay Right on the Beach (I Mean, Duh)

Maybe this is a given. But when I’m price shopping hotels and I see that the spot on the beach is a hell of a lot more expensive than the place a five-minute walk from the beach, my inner frugal grandmother always kicks in.

But if you’re schlepping all the way to Hawaii, don’t you think you should treat yourself to a hotel where you can literally watch the sunset from your bed?

Actually, quick tangent about the aforementioned schlepp: I flew direct from New York to O’ahu on Hawaiian Airlines and it takes a *while,* as in, the flight itself is over 11 hours. And uh, just a warning—Hawaiian Airlines does not offer wifi???? 😅??? The way the flight attendant explained it to moi is that they want you to lean into unplugging and being on vacation the second you step on the plane, which, okay, fine. What Hawaiian Airlines lacks in internet connection, they at least make up for in food. Normally, airline food makes me feel a whole lotta meh, but the meals on my flight were delicious. Everything was influenced by the cuisine of Hawaii—the breakfast bite was made with coconut, there were chocolate-covered macadamia nuts galore, and what seemed like an endless supply of fresh juices.

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Back to your accommodations. For several nights, I stayed at the Moana Surfrider, a historic hotel right on Waikiki Beach, that’s within walking distance of tons of restaurants, shops, and other hotels. The room itself was pretty standard, but there was a lovely balcony with an amazing view overlooking the beach. Book

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I spent some time wandering around the grounds of the Royal Hawaiian, the millennial pink hotel next door. Can’t vouch for the rooms, but all the outdoor areas were charming. Book

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And if you really want to splurge (hey, after the year we’re having, we’ve all earned it), book a room at the Four Season Ko Olina. You will feel like royalty. The beds were heaven. The balcony made me want to ditch my life in New York and move in. And the pool scene! There is a stethoscope-wearing gentleman by the name of Dr. Mai Tai who roves around the pool deck fixing cocktails for anyone in need of some “medicine.” Book

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Hike Ka’ena Point

This state park runs along the coastline on the northwest corner of the island, and I’m not being dramatic when I say the views are spectacular. The “hike” itself was more like a leisurely, pretty flat, three-ish mile walk with boulder-y beaches and crashing waves on your left and soaring cliffs to your right. Once you’ve made it to the Ka’ena Point Natural Area Reserve, where it looks like the ocean goes on forever, you and your partner can take a pic like this and then regret it for years to come:

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Visit

Visit an Organic Farm

I’m not much of a ~farm girl~ but the afternoon I spent at Kahumana Organic Farm & Cafe nearly changed that. Touring the 25-acre property to see where they grow rainbow carrots, beets, watermelon radishes, and more, I was greeted with straight-up sweeping views of the Waianae Mountains:

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^Anyone else getting major Lost flashbacks?

Kahumana, one of the largest organic farms on the island, is also home to a lil lunch spot that serves all the super-fresh treasures from their grounds. Call me naive, but veggies just taste better when you know they were plucked from the earth mere hours ago.

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Make Time for Art

Coming from a culture-saturated city like New York, I can be a bit of a snob when it comes to museums. But the Honolulu Museum of Art (and its beautiful courtyards) put me swiftly in my place. During my trip, they were showing an exhibit called 30 Americans, which featured work by some of the most *major* African American artists in history (Jean-Michel Basquiat! Kehinde Wiley! Kara Walker!).

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Art on the island isn’t confined to the one museum—far from it in fact. If you’re more of an outdoor cat, take a POW! WOW! walking tour through the Kaka’ako district of Honolulu where international and local artists have created large-scale murals and installations on the sides of city buildings.

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Eat! So much!

If you don’t go to the following restaurants, I will be mad at you.

  1. Noe Italian: Before you go all “why would I eat Italian food while I’m in Hawaii?!” on me, I have two words for you: Maccheroni. Neri. It’s buttery pasta with even buttery-er king crab. F*cking delicious.
  2. Piggy Smalls: Come here to fill up on pho, banh mi, and brisket, shrimp, and pork belly flatbread wraps served family-style. It’s the same team behind Chinatown’s The Pig & The Lady, which is also worth checking out.
  3. Kamehameha Bakery: Their specialty is the poi glazed donut, but I could also mainline their banana fritters every day of the week.
  4. Waikiki Yokocho: Descend a short escalator ride and you’ll be transported 4,000 miles away to a new continent entirely. This Japanese food hall has tons of fast-casual restaurants—all of them affordable—offering a range of options, including ramen, tempura, sushi, green tea, and curry. Heads up, though: Because of Covid-19, everything is closed right now.
  5. Mina’s Fish House: Traditional Hawaiian fish house meets Michelin-starred upscale menu with gorge ocean views. Order the ‘If Can, Can’ cocktail, served in a so-kitschy-it’s-cute Spam can.
  6. Ahi Assassins: You can’t visit O’ahu and not eat poke! These guys pride themselves on only serving sustainably-sourced, Hawaiian wild line-caught fish, so you can chow down on Too Much Tuna.
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      Learn How to Surf

      You’re on vacation! Try something new! If you book a lesson with Faith Surf School, you show up for a class right on the beach and do some land work before even stepping foot in the water. Great for beginners.

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      So…any questions? Besides the obvious why does 2020 suck so much and when will I get to go on vacation again? I’m right there with you, bb. In the meantime, there’s no law against online shopping in preparation for future trips, just saying.

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