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Honolulu/Oahu Travel Advice

Hey Guys!!

I need some tips, if anyone has been. We're going to hawaii in September. Getting in Friday @ 1pm and leaving tuesday @ 1pm (3 full days & 2 half). Im thinking of staying in Waikiki since that seems to be a big hub and have plenty of things to do. My SO mainly just wants to spend time at the beach/snorkle. I really want to do a hike and see more of the natural/local side of Oahu as well as hit tons of good food.

Edit: We found tickets RT for $180 and jumped on them! We will definitely save all of your tips for the other island and plan another trip :)

My questions are -

  1. Should we stay all 4 nights in waikiki? Or is it worth staying a night or two elsewhere on the island like turtle bay?
  2. Is it worth renting a car? I would love to see other parts of the island, but not sure how good public transport is or if parking is miserable/expensive.
  3. Which beach would you guys recommend? Is the waikiki beach super overcrowded and touristy?
  4. Any recs on snorkling? Should we bring our own gear or has anyone had a good experience with a tour group theyd recommend? I'd be willing to book a spot on a boat tour if they do something like that.

Any other travel tips are much appreciated. Thanks ya'll!

Posted by
4370 posts

There is not great snorkeling on Waikiki. There is a beach called Kaimana beach by the zoo that has reasonable snorkeling just off the cement barrier. There are organized trips to Hanama Bay State Park you can take. I rented a car, so I drove there myself. I love driving around the island especially on the east and north side where there are fabulous beaches. Rental cars have been extremely expensive in Honolulu and to the extent that they are at times unavailable. Maybe that will ease up by September. I recommend the Hawaii Revealed guide for Oahu

EDITED TO ADD: I was there twice during the pandemic so obviously things were atypical. In regards to Turtle Bay, it was closed, but the beach is public. The snorkeling there wasn't great, but fine. There are food trucks within about 4-5 miles of there that we liked. Other than that, it's pretty sparse. There also is the Disney/Four Seasons property. We snorkeled at what the guard told us was "Secret Beach", it was by the first public parking lot. It was very nice snorkeling, but it is very hard to get parking at those beaches.

I stayed with my daughter both times, except for the 3 days I spent at Surf Jack on Waikiki, that I recommend if you like more "low key" places. It was 4 blocks off the beach.

Posted by
19 posts

Thank you! I will definitely order the Oahu revealed, I saw that on an older thred but I wasn't sure if the advice would still be applicable.

Posted by
2949 posts

Hanauma Bay is definitely the best place to snorkel on Oahu. It is closed at certain times (used to be all day Wednesday, for example) to allow the environment to rest after being overrun by so many people. So check the schedule.

Beach preference really depends what you like. If you want a non-crowded, non-touristy experience, you need to go elsewhere than Waikiki. However, one thing we greatly enjoyed at Waikiki was an outrigger canoe ride. They put you in the canoe with a few other tourists, with a guide/paddle master who tells you when to paddle hard to catch a wave. And they take photos of you that you can buy. It was loads of fun.

The "Revealed" guide will describe a variety of beaches so you can choose what suits you. Some big waves are around to the west of Honolulu by Makaha; there's also the windward side, of course, where world class surfing competitions are sometimes held. Also be aware sometimes certain beaches are closed because of Portuguese man'o'war (jellyfish) that sting badly. So again, check the schedule when you're there.

Posted by
357 posts

I took a morning snorkel trip from Waikiki Beach right behind one of the hotels. It was great, sailed out beyond the breakers where it was calmer and spent about an hour snorkelling with the turtles. Then a light lunch while we sailed out around Diamond Head. A very enjoyable and relaxing time. If you want more info pm me and I will dig it out as to where and who runs the trip. They do afternoon and early evening cruises too. Equipment was supplied.

I have taken the bus from the North Shore to Waikiki - takes about an hour. You need a jacket as the air con is fierce! Have stayed at the Turtle Inn,l lovely hotel but pricy - many Hawaii hotels charge an additional fee to use their beaches, pools etc on top of their normal fees and Turtle Inn is one of them.
Best beaches for swimming and lounging are on the North Shore and you need a car to find them. Hotels are sparse - look for cottage rentals.

If you stay in Waikiki you do not need a car - The Bus is excellent and cheap - a ticket is $2.00, or it was last year, even from the North Shore!

Posted by
4370 posts

If you happen to end up at "Electric Beach", for snorkeling, make note of the warnings. The current is strong there. We snorkeled without fins, but fins are very necessary at Electric Beach. I wouldn't bother with fins for Hanama Bay, for the most part, it's too shallow.

Posted by
4370 posts

The first time I went to Oahu, I did a lot of searching for a hotel not in Waikiki. I learned there is Turtle Bay, the area where Four Seasons/Disney is, downtown and Waikiki. Oahu was specifically planned for the hotels to be concentrated in Waikiki. Now there are rentals in various spots around the island, but for resorts/hotels. It is mostly Waikiki. The bus service is great, though it is not convenient for Hanauma Bay. Also, FYI, if you have more than a carry on suitcase, the bus won't pick you up.

Posted by
800 posts

September is my favorite time to do Hawaii; most of the tourists are gone, the kids are in school, and the weather is good. I have only stayed on Waikiki 3 nights in 3 weeks on Oahu. I prefer the area around Makaha, but it's not for your normal tourist. I don't scuba. I used to surf, but not so much any more.

Unless you have to be in the city, I recommend you look around and find a place up on the North Shore for a couple nights. Hike into Waimea valley. Take your wet shoes (if you don't have some get them ASAP, I recommend Teva) so you can wade out and stand under the waterfall.

Don't pack heavy. You don't need anything more than you can carry in an overnight bag. One pair sandals, one pair shoes, swimsuit, shorts, a couple shirts, sweatshirt, and you're good. If you need something else buy it there. Do hit the flea market in the stadium ASAP. get your boogie board, extra shirt, souvenirs there.

if you hike take water! Ke'ana Park is really nice. The Hilton Lagoon has fireworks shows that are worth seeing. Ft Derussy is worth the visit. Ala Moana Park is fantastic early in the morning (before 8) when there's almost nobody around. The Polynesian Cultural Center in Laie is the best Luau.

If you're DOD/Military PM me and I'll give you some places off limits to everyone else.

As noted above, get the blue book. don't worry bout the edition too much, you can usually find one at the thrift stores for a couple bucks.

FYI my brother will be over there the last week of June. Rental cars are averaging $700/day (not a misprint).

Posted by
5495 posts

I don't know if it is an urban legend or not, but I heard that some people are renting u-haul trucks and driving them around since they are so much cheaper than rental cars right now.....

I like the Waimanalo Beach area.

Posted by
1793 posts

We just used the bus in .honolulu. I wouldn‘t do it again, but use taxis.

don‘t get a car unless you are going out if the city.

Posted by
4370 posts

I used both lyft and uber in Honolulu for more local transportation. It worked well and it was significantly cheaper than a taxi. However, my impression was that taxi, uber, lyft, weren't too keen on driving well out of Honolulu, because it was difficult to find a rider to go back to Honolulu.

Posted by
122 posts

I would reconsider Waikiki. I don't know your objective for this quick Hawaii trip. If I had 3 days in Hawaii, I'd do Kona, Big Island. Close to the airport, many bars/restaurants in walking distance, and much better snorkeling. 3 days in Hawaii isn't alot of time. Waikiki is touristy, traffic is a mess. If you are bringing your own snorkel gear, then I would assume you aren't just changing planes in Honolulu.

Also, you must follow the Hawaii Safe Travels program. If covid tests are still a requirement, you must go to the trusted traveler providers. There aren't many of them, so plan ahead. Check the Hawaii Safe Travels site regularly so you know before you go. If you don't follow the program to the T, they will send you home as soon as you step off the plane.

Posted by
48 posts

Good tip about the COVID test requirement. An article in our local paper had a horror story about folks who had a COVID test done by a major regional hospital chain and the state of Hawaii wouldn’t accept it. I think they had the choice of quarantining for two weeks or just turning around and heading home.

Posted by
4370 posts

You do need to watch the Hawaii Safe Travels website. They've been taking COVID very seriously. However, they have been changing/improving the requirements. Soon anyone vaccinated IN Hawaii will be allowed to travel between the islands and then soon to between Hawaii and the mainland. Next step beyond that is to accommodate anyone vaccinated in the U.S.

In some respects I have to agree with the above comments about Oahu and Waikiki. I've been going to Oahu because that is where my daughter lives. The first time I was prepared to be underwhelmed because I always heard that the other islands are better. They probably are, but I did find an awful lot to love on Oahu. I've been around the island a handful of times and explored less visited places I found in the Oahu Revealed book (BTW, there is a separate Revealed book for every island, I believe) I really enjoyed staying on Waikiki a few days, but I was there when the island was basically closed to tourism. When I was back in March, it was busier. I, myself, would not like to be on Waikiki in high tourist season. It's all high rises and traffic is bad, parking is difficult. I also think I wouldn't enjoy Oahu as much without a car. We've been to amazing places that you can't get to otherwise. In March, we saw albatross, including newborn and albatross couples doing courtship dances. We've also seen monk seals, green sea turtles and lots of fish.

Incidentally, in terms of weather, I enjoyed October much more than March. Warmer ocean temps., much less rain.

Posted by
19 posts

Thanks for all the replies :)

It's sounds like a car will be an expense and hassle, but may be worth it to explore the island more off the beaten path. I think I might pick a day or too so we can plan our travels with it.

Since waikiki sounds like a tourist trap, I'm going to scope out stays away from that area near some of the more remote beaches. I was looking at a few tours but they seem a bit overpriced for what they are. Has anyone been to these spots? Are they worth the pitstop or are they just tourist traps too?
* Waimea Waterfall
* Byodo-In Temple/Chinaman's hat
*Diamond Head State Monument

Posted by
8832 posts

I found the climb up Diamond Head worth the effort.

Having seen more impressive waterfalls on the other Islands, Waimea Falls ( Oahu) looks like a "swimming hole with a water feature". Whether it is worth the stop, depends on what you want to do. Go swimming in a special area or see a magnificent waterfall?

The falls in Waimea Canyon on Kauai are much more visually striking. ( future trip)

Posted by
4370 posts

Diamond head was worthwhile. I believe a bus gets very close. I wouldn't pay for a tour to go there. Chinaman's hat is a rock in the ocean. The beaches in that area/side of the island are beautiful. I didn't go see the temple. You can also take a bus to the state park/Waimea falls. I did not go see it, however.

You definitely want to do Hanauma Bay. When I was there you had to get there very early to get a spot for the day. Now, I think they might be working on an online sign up system.

You might look at hotels up by the zoo and towards Diamond Head. It's somewhat quieter up there.

Posted by
836 posts

While Waikiki can be very crowded with tourists I think it will be the best place for your short trip. Just about anywhere else will take over an hour to simply get from the airport to your destination. Do not underestimate how long it takes to get from point to point on Oahu. Traffic can be awful. And without a car it would be very difficult to get anywhere. If you stay on Waikiki you can walk to Diamond Head and up to the crater. Start early and bring water. Or take the city bus to the base and hike up from there. You can also get tours out to the more popular snorkeling beaches or arrange things with Charlie's Taxis or an Uber/Lyft driver. Another easy hike with a beautiful view is Makapuu Lighthouse Trail. It's on the way to Kailua Beach Park, where you can enjoy the beach and watch amazing kite surfers, and the Byodo-In Temple. All of which would take up a full day. You don't mention an interest in history or art but Pearl Harbor is a very moving experience. The Doris Duke Museum of Islamic Art is one of a kind.

Posted by
4370 posts

I agree with Trotter. As I said in an earlier post, unless you stay at AirBnB or a small place on the North Shore (which is about a 40 minute drive from Honolulu) your choices are Downtown Honolulu, Waikiki, Four Seasons/Disney area on the Southwest side of the island (with not much close) or Turtle Bay (also nothing very close). If you look at places up by the zoo and closer to Diamond Head it is quieter, and also a beach that more locals tend to go to.