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Oahu Travel Tips: What to Know Before Traveling to Oahu?

Oahu is by far the most visited Hawaiian Island. Home to Honolulu (the state’s capitol) and Waikiki (Hawaii’s bustle tourist hub), there’s a LOT going on on Oahu. It’s easily the island with the most attractions and sites to tour, see, and do (even though every island has plenty to do) so information about how to have the best vacation on the island is in demand. I’ve got 15+ posts on Oahu on this site (not including the other islands or general Hawaii planning posts)…that’s a lot of info! To pull it all together in one palce, this page is going to serve as home base for all of my Oahu travel tips. 

First things first…if there’s one post on my blog you’ve got to read it’s this one: Hawaii Travel Tips. It’s not island specific, but it covers things like which airports to fly into on each island, the scoop on illegal vacation rentals, rules about not touching wild animals that are federally protected in Hawaii, the unspoken rules for driving on the island, how to get along with locals, what to expect and MORE. It’s a whopper of a post (7000+ words) and it’s definitely one you don’t want to miss. Check it out here

Where to Stay on Oahu

This is where it all starts when you’re planning your trip. The big question is to stay in Waikiki or not. To be honest, I have a love hate relationship with Waikiki. Mooooostly hate, but there are times when it can be fun. There are a lot of pros and cons for staying in Waikiki and staying somewhere else on the island though. 

One of the most helpful posts on my site is this breakdown of where to stay on tOahu. It’s got pros and cons of each area, specific recommendations on hotels and resorts plus my picks for family friendly places, honeymoon resorts, and budget options. Read that post  here.

More where to stay posts:

Enjoy the finer things in life? You’re going to want to read about the best Luxury Resorts in Hawaii

Like things a little smaller and more personal? Check out my favorite Boutique Hotels in Hawaii

Need more detailed info? Read detailed reviews about my stay at Disney’s Aulani Resort

Oahu Condos: Are you really trying to watch the budget? Or just want more space to spread out with friends and family? You’re definitely going to want a condo or vacation rental. There are a ton of condos and vacation rentals on Oahu (plus areas where most rentals are illegal) so it’s a little overwhelming. This post breaks down not just different condo complexes, but also which areas are totally fine to rent places through Vrbo and Airbnb and which areas you need to watch out for. Besides great info, I’ve rounded up a lot of options under $100/night

3-7 Day Oahu Itineraries

The Best Oahu Itineraries: I’ve noticed that people either seem to book their airfare and hotel first and then figure the rest out, or they want to lay out an itinerary and then decide how to book their flights (how long to stay) and where to stay. Either way, having a solid itinerary (even if it’s just a lot of built in relaxation time peppered with some activities) can make your vacation sooooo much better. You’re going to want to pay close attention to this post to learn the ins and outs of putting together a good itinerary. How many days do you need on Oahu? What are the true “don’t miss” things? I’ve got that covered plus SEVEN detailed days laid out for you that you can mix and match to create your perfect vacation. Read that post here

The Island by Area

If you’d like to see things broken up by area on the island, check out these area specific guides that include places to stay, places to eat, and things to do: 

Guide to Oahu’s North Shore (cute surf towns, the “country,” and plenty of off the beaten path spots to check out)

Guide to Ko’olina (laid back resort area on the west side-a world away from Waikiki) 

Guide to Kailua & the Windward Side (small town vibes with the most beautiful beaches in Hawaii)

Rentals Cars on Oahu

You absolutely will need a rental car. Hawaii is not an all-inclusive destination where you’ll arrive by shuttle and never leave your resort (I mean you could do that…but it’s pretty expensive just to get to Hawaii so most people want to actually see Hawaii. If you want a cheaper resort only vacation, just go to Mexico). 

Also, Oahu is a pretty large island. Throw in not the greatest roads and a lot of traffic there’s 1 million people on this island!) and it can take a while to get around. Oahu is the only island with any kind of reliable public transportation. The Bus and trolley system is pretty good for getting around Waikiki and ok for Honolulu, but if you’re wanting to venture much beyond the city (and you definitely should) you’re going to need a car. 

I always book through Discount Hawaii Car Rentals. They’re seriously the only company I ever use. They’ll give you the very best prices, you don’t have to reserve with a credit card or pay until you show up, you can cancel and re-book anytime if you find a better rate, and they usually have a special that adds additional drivers for no fee. It’s a no brainer. Click here to check rates for your trip.

And you can read more about the rental car situation in Hawaii here

Oahu Restaurant Recommendations

If you’re anything like me, your vacation probably revolves a bit around where you’re going to eat. Oahu has the best food scene of all the islands. If you want to try out some local style food on Oahu, here’s a great round up: 

Best Food on Oahu: 18 Local Restaurants You Need to Try

Oahu Activities

One of the top questions I get asked is when the best time to book activities/tours/excursions is. Honestly, if there’s something you know you want to do for sure…you should book it as soon as you can. There’s no advantage to waiting until the last minute. You won’t find better deals and more than likely you’ll end up missing out because things sell out. In the post COVID landscape, so many activities and tours in Hawaii (luaus, snorkeling tours, ziplining, atv rides, even RESTAURANTS) are fully booked 2-4 months in advance. 

Riding ATVs at Kualoa Ranch: If you’ve ever watched any of the Jurassic Park movies with your jaw on the ground, you’re going to want to go to Kualoa Ranch. So many movies have been filmed there and it’s a visitor’s paradise with so many different tour options to choose from. 

Paradise Cove Luau Review: Oahu’s most popular luau by far. 

Aulani Luau Review: A hidden gem on the Oahu luau scene. 

Best Spas on Oahu: For when you just need to chill for a bit. Recommendations for Waikiki, Turtle Bay, and Ko’olina. 

Things to Do on Oahu

Need even more things to do on Oahu? I’ve got a few posts that will give you some more ideas. 

15 Things to Do on Oahu: Some of the most popular and must do activities on Oahu.

31 Things to Do in Waikiki & Honolulu: The best things to do in Hawaii’s most popular tourist area.

5 Things to Skip on Oahu: Because sometimes knowing what to skip is as important as knowing the “must dos.”

Miscellaneous Hawaii Planning Posts

Want more Hawaii planning info? Here are some of my best posts:

Which Hawaiian Island to Visit: Maybe you’re settled on Oahu or maybe you’re still trying to decide. This post will breakdown each island and help you figure out which one is right for YOU. 

The Best Time to Visit Hawaii: Cheapest time of year to go? Best weather? When are the whales in town? I’ve got all that info here

How Much Does the Average Trip to Hawaii Cost? Another top question I get asked. 

Hawaii Trip Planning Timeline: How far in advance should you start planning? Do you book for airfare or room first?

How to Find Cheap Flights to Hawaii: But also, which are the BEST flights to Hawaii regardless of price. 

Luxury on a Budget: Some of my best tips for finding NICE places to stay at cheaper prices.

How to Survive the Long Flight to Hawaii: Just exactly how long is the flight to Hawaii? Plus tips on what to bring and how to fight jet lag. 

The Ultimate Hawaii Packing List: 26 things you don’t want to forget at home!

What to Wear in Hawaii: Casual is the name of the game in Hawaii, but here are some specifics of the kinds of clothes you’ll probably want to pack.