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10 Must-Read Oahu Travel Tips for First-Timers

10 Must-Read Oahu Travel Tips for First-Timers

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Are you visiting Oahu for the first time? Check out these amazing Oahu travel tips for first-timers that will save you stress!
This list of Oahu travel tips was written by family travel expert Marcie Cheung and contains affiliate links, which means if you purchase something from one of my affiliate links, I may earn a small commission that goes back into maintaining this blog.

Oahu is one of my personal favorite places to visit in the world. I’ve visited Hawaii more than 40 times and about half of those Hawaii trips involved time on Oahu.

Since I love Oahu so much, I figured I should write up some of my top Oahu tips and tricks that I’ve learned from traveling there SO many times over the years.

I hope this post helps you plan your perfect Oahu family vacation!

Traveling to Oahu Tips For an Awesome Trip

Planning Your Oahu Visit

Planning your trip to Oahu is super exciting! When you’re thinking about visiting Oahu, the best time to visit Oahu is really important.

Best Time of Year to Visit Oahu

You’ll want to choose a time when the weather is just right and it’s not too crowded. April to June and September to mid-December are usually the best.

Image of Marcie Cheung of Marcie in Mommyland and her son in the ocean at Waikiki Beach.
We like to visit Oahu in November. Photo credit: Natalie with Flytographer

You’ll get sunny days and fewer tourists. Plus, you might even find some cool deals on hotels and flights!

How Many Days in Oahu?

Now, how many days should you spend in Oahu? Well, if you want to see a lot of the island, plan for at least 5 to 7 days. This gives you enough time to explore the famous beaches, hike up beautiful trails, and maybe even catch a luau.

Find out how to book family photos in Hawaii by a mom who's done it on Oahu, Maui, Kauai, and the Big Island! Image of a family of four holding hands with Kualoa Mountains in the background
It’s SO pretty when you get out of Waikiki! Photo credit: Natalie with Flytographer

Oahu has so much to offer, from surfing in Waikiki to exploring the North Shore, so you don’t want to rush your visit.

Remember, Oahu is more than just Honolulu; there are lots of other awesome places to check out! So, make sure you give yourself enough time to really enjoy everything.

Where to Stay in Oahu

If you’re visiting Honolulu for the first time, you’ll likely want to stay in Waikiki. It’s one of the best areas to stay on Oahu!

You’ll find lots of beachfront restaurants, cool shops, and fun things to do there. Plus, it’s where most of Oahu’s hotels and resorts are, and they fit all kinds of budgets.

Image of a boy in an infinity pool on Oahu. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung of Marcie in Mommyland
My kids always insist that we have a good pool! Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

Since driving and parking in Waikiki can be tricky, it’s easier to just stay there. You can walk or take the Waikiki Trolley to get around.

Once you’ve been to Oahu a couple of times, you might think about staying in another part of the island, like Ko Olina (where the Aulani Disney Resort is) or the North Shore (where you’ll find Turtle Bay Resort), for a new adventure.

Here’s our full list of awesome kid-friendly resorts on Oahu that we personally recommend.

Getting Around Oahu

If you’re staying in Waikiki and don’t want to drive around Oahu, you really don’t need a car. Almost all the big places to see on Oahu have a shuttle bus that will pick you up from Waikiki. Many day trips and luaus do this too.

The best part about not renting a car in Waikiki is saving a lot of money on parking. Parking in Waikiki can be super expensive, whether it’s at your hotel overnight or in a parking lot.

Image of Marcie Cheung of Marcie in Mommyland riding in a car near Kualoa Ranch on Oahu
I definitely recommend getting out of Waikiki with a rental car for at least 1 day. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

But, if you do want to rent a car for some days to explore Oahu, it’s easy to do so right in Waikiki.

Sometimes we rent a car just for a day to go on Oahu day trips. Then we return it at night so we don’t have to pay for parking while we sleep.

If you’re staying somewhere else like Ko Olina or the North Shore, I really think you should rent a car for at least part of your trip. My favorite place to rent a car in Hawaii is Discount Hawaii Car Rental. They usually have the cheapest rates.

Taxis and Ubers

If you’re staying in Waikiki, it’s pretty easy to get taxis and Ubers to take you around town. Otherwise, it’s hard to rely on them if you’re staying in Ko Olina or the North Shore.

If you are staying outside of Waikiki and need transportation to and from the airport, I highly recommend that you arrange that ahead of time.

Popular Oahu Day Trips

Pearl Harbor

When you start looking for things to do on Oahu, you’ll see a lot of tours for Pearl Harbor. Some of these tours can be expensive, but visiting Pearl Harbor itself is actually free, and so is parking. But, you need to plan ahead.

Image of a dad and two boys on the USS Battleship Missouri in Hawaii
My family enjoys visiting the USS Battleship Missouri. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

You can book free tickets online or try to get one of the free tickets they give out each day when they open.

The free tickets will get you into the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial and the museum. But, if you want to visit the U.S.S. Missouri, the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum, or go inside the U.S.S. Bowfin Submarine, you’ll have to buy tickets or a tour. These places are really interesting and I think they’re worth the extra money.

Getting to Pearl Harbor from Waikiki is easy. If you don’t have a car, you might want to join a tour that includes a ride. You can also use Uber or a shuttle to get there. See my tips for visiting Pearl Harbor with kids.

North Shore Oahu

What you might not know is that the North Shore is really far from Waikiki/Honolulu. During rush hour, it can take up to two hours to get there.

I get worried when people say they’ll visit Pearl Harbor in the morning, then go to the North Shore in the afternoon, and come back to Waikiki for dinner. That’s just too much for one day. The North Shore should be a whole day trip by itself.

Image of Maori dancers at Toa Luau in North Shore Oahu. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung of Marcie in Mommyland
Toa Luau is one of the best luaus on Oahu. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

If you’re going there, plan to spend the entire day. Maybe even book a luau there instead of rushing back to Honolulu. My favorite is Toa Luau at Waimea Valley. It’s phenomenal!

And, I really suggest you download the Oahu Shaka App before you go. It’s an audio tour guide that works with GPS and tells you about the places in Oahu you’re driving by. It’s not expensive and is one of the best apps for traveling in Hawaii.

Polynesian Cultural Center

One thing that really bugs me is when people wonder if they need a whole day at the Polynesian Cultural Center. Trust me, you do.

It’s in Laie, about an hour’s drive from Waikiki. The center opens at 11:45 a.m., so you’ll want to head out from Waikiki in the morning, especially if you plan to grab breakfast on the way.

My kids love exploring the villages at the Polynesian Cultural Center. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

When you get there, you’ll find so many shows and activities. There’s just too much to see and do in a short time. They have six Polynesian villages, canoe parades, canoe tours, a luau, and the “Ha: Breath of Life” show.

If you’re staying for the luau and the show (which I really think you should), you’ll be there until around 9 p.m. That’s a full day! So, think carefully about doing something else early in the morning, or you might be too tired. You can check out my complete review of the Polynesian Cultural Center for more info.

Book Oahu Attractions & Tours in Advance

When you visit Oahu, there are some popular things to do that you just can’t miss! But remember, you need to book them in advance.

I highly recommend the ATV tour at Kualoa Ranch! Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

Places like Kualoa Ranch, where you can see where movies like Jurassic Park were filmed, are super popular. Also, make sure to get Hanauma Bay reservations for snorkeling and Diamond Head Crater reservations for hiking. These spots are really cool, but they can get busy, so booking ahead is smart.

One tip: don’t book a luau for your first night on Oahu. You might be really tired from the time difference, and you want to enjoy it fully!

What to Wear on Oahu

Heading for an Oahu vacation? Here’s your Hawaii packing list and some Hawaii vacation tips on what to wear. In Hawaii, you won’t need as many clothes as you think. Pack light!

For the beach, bring swimsuits, sun hats, and flip-flops for the whole family. If you’re going to a luau, wear something comfortable and tropical – like a flowy dress or a Hawaiian shirt with shorts. For hiking, everyone should have sturdy shoes, light t-shirts, and shorts or leggings.

Don’t forget sunscreen, sunglasses, and a reusable water bottle.

What to Eat on Oahu Tips

Planning to eat your way through Oahu? Get ready for some delicious authentic Hawaiian food! Oahu restaurants offer amazing things to eat.

Image of Marcie Cheung of Marcie in Mommyland with Dole Whip at Dole Plantation.
I highly recommend trying Dole Whip! Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

You’ve got to try poke, a local favorite made with fresh, raw fish and tasty seasonings. Fish tacos are another must-try, packed with the flavors of Hawaii.

For a real Hawaiian experience, dig into a plate lunch – it usually has rice, macaroni salad, and a choice of meat, like teriyaki chicken or kalua pork.

Kid-friendly restaurants in Oahu serve these local dishes in a fun, welcoming atmosphere. And don’t miss the famous North Shore shrimp trucks for some mouth-watering garlic shrimp.

Also, exploring Oahu food trucks is a great adventure in itself. They offer everything from tropical smoothies to fresh seafood, perfect for a family snack on the go. Dining in Oahu is a tasty adventure for the whole family!

Oahu Shopping Tips

Looking for cool places to shop on your Oahu vacation? Don’t miss these spots for some amazing finds and Oahu souvenirs!

The Royal Hawaiian Center and International Marketplace are right in Waikiki. They have everything from fancy stores to local boutiques, perfect for finding unique gifts.

If you love a good deal, check out the Aloha Swap Meet. It’s a huge outdoor market with lots of local treasures.

For a mall experience, head to Ala Moana Center. It’s one of the biggest malls with a mix of high-end shops and familiar stores. These places are great for picking up something special to remember your trip by!

Safety and Awareness in Oahu

Visiting Hawaii is super exciting, especially exploring places like Downtown Honolulu and the Waikiki area. Lots of visitors love these spots! But, just like any city, it’s important to stay safe.

Image of a Honolulu city bus in Waikiki. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung of Marcie in Mommyland
Keep an eye on your stuff on TheBus. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

Remember, always keep an eye on your stuff and stay aware of your surroundings. If you’re using the city bus or walking around, know where you’re going.

It’s okay to ask for directions if you’re lost. Most people in Hawaii are really friendly and happy to help. Just be smart and careful, and you’ll have a fantastic time exploring all the cool things Oahu has to offer!

Oahu Weather

Many visitors ask about the best time to visit Oahu’s North Shore and enjoy Hawaii’s weather. Well, Hawaii in the winter is warm and lovely, perfect for escaping cold places. But, it can also be rainy, so pack a light raincoat.

Image of a boy on a trail at Sunset Beach on Oahu. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung of Marcie in Mommyland.
Always check the weather before hiking or exploring on Oahu. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

Summer in Hawaii is sunny and hot, great for beach days and exploring. The ocean is usually calmer during summer, making it ideal for swimming.

If you want fewer crowds, try visiting in the shoulder season – that’s spring and fall. The weather is still nice, and you’ll avoid the busiest times. No matter when you go, Oahu’s always beautiful!

Image of a boy pointing at a sign that says Nut House This Way at a macadamia nut farm on Oahu. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung of Marcie in Mommyland
This sign was just too funny! Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

Tips for Oahu Travel FAQs

What’s the best way to get around Oahu?

You can explore Oahu by renting a car, using TheBus (Oahu’s public bus service), or taking taxis. Renting a car is great for flexibility and visiting remote areas, while TheBus is affordable and covers many tourist spots.

What are must-visit places on Oahu?

Don’t miss visiting Pearl Harbor, exploring Waikiki Beach, hiking Diamond Head, and experiencing the North Shore. If you love nature, the Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve is a must-see for snorkeling.

What kind of clothes should I pack for Oahu?

Pack light, casual clothes like shorts, t-shirts, and flip-flops. Bring a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen for protection from the sun. Also, pack a light jacket or sweater for cooler evenings.

Can I see a volcano on Oahu?

Oahu doesn’t have an active volcano. If you want to see an active volcano, you’ll need to visit the Big Island of Hawaii. Oahu has extinct volcanic craters like Diamond Head you can hike.

What are some good activities for kids on Oahu?

Kids will love visiting the Honolulu Zoo, Waikiki Aquarium, and the Polynesian Cultural Center. Beaches like Waikiki and Ala Moana Beach Park are great for swimming and snorkeling.

What local food should I try in Oahu?

Try local dishes like poke, loco moco, shaved ice, and plate lunch. Don’t forget to taste Hawaiian pineapple and attend a traditional luau for a complete Hawaiian experience.

Travel Tips for Oahu Wrap-Up

Out of all of the Hawaiian Islands, Oahu is a top family vacation spot attracting the most visitors. It’s full of popular attractions like Hanauma Bay, the USS Arizona Memorial, and Kualoa Ranch (where they filmed Jurassic Park movies).

I hope these travel tips help you plan your first trip to Oahu!

Looking for more Oahu travel tips? Check out The Ultimate Guide to Oahu Luau Experiences for Families, Best Places to Stay on Oahu, 15 Best Things to Do in Oahu with Kids, How to Visit Oahu on a Budget: Hotels, Car Rental & Activities, 9 Best Waikiki Hotels for Families Worth Booking, and 25 Amazing Things to do on Oahu with Kids!

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