How to spend one week in Oahu, Hawaii

Aloha!

My perfect holiday will usually include a mix of tourist and cultural activities, as well as time to relax and unwind. But let’s face it, if you have a week to spend somewhere chances are you aren’t going to be building in too much time to sit around not doing much. So this isn’t the itinerary for 7 days in Oahu that’s going to be building in days laying on the beach not doing much of anything. If however, you are interested in a well-rounded Oahu itinerary that gives you a good taste of the Hawaiian experience on Oahu, including the main tourist items as well as some more unique experiences, then this is the Oahu 7 day itinerary you need.

This is based on staying in Waikiki, the main tourist hub of Oahu.

Day 1 – Scenic

Arriving in Waikiki

Day 1 is of course always going to be dependent on your flight plans, but if you are arriving from Australia then there’s a good chance that you’ll be arriving on an early morning flight. This is great if you can sleep on a plane and arrive refreshed to make the most of the day, but if you’re like me you could do with a little help staying awake to get on the right time.

Once you have passed through customs and exited the airport you can follow the signs for the Waikiki shuttle run by Roberts Hawaii. A one-way ticket will cost you USD $17 per person for drop off at your hotel in Waikiki.

 

Pro-tip #1: You can also book your return shuttle at the time of purchasing your fare to Waikiki so this is one less thing to worry about. Alternatively you can book your return shuttle online.

 

If you are traveling in a small group a taxi may be more cost effective. My flight home was too early for the shuttle pickup and it cost me just under USD $40, not including a tip.

 

Pro-tip #2: If you are on an early morning flight it is well worth it to look at hotels that offer an early check-in option. Mine cost me USD $50 additional for a 10am check-in, however they let me straight into my room at 8.45am when I arrived and the ability to have a shower and a lie down made it the best $50 I spent!

 

Country Sunset Photography Tour

Now you may think I’m bonkas for recommending a tour on the day you arrive but there is logic to my madness.

Your stay will be a whole lot easier if you can get straight onto the US time, and a little help staying awake to do that isn’t a bad thing! This particular tour also picks you up from your hotel after Midday, so you have plenty of time for a nap and freshening up, or margin for error on delayed flights.

I was looking for things that were a different experience and being an avid photographer the idea of a photography tour instantly appealed to me.

Oahu Photography Tours aim to show you the parts of Oahu that you probably wont see on other tours and excursions, at the same time showing you the places where you can take great photos. The guides are not only incredibly personable and knowledgeable about their island, they are also professional photographers and no matter what you’re using, even a little camera the size of a credit card like one lady on my tour had, they will have tips for you.

There are a range of tours on offer of various duration but the Country Sunset appealed to me for the amount of the island it covered that I wouldn’t have otherwise seen, and because I love sunsets. We finished with sunset on Pipeline beach, known for its famous waves. Surfing is naturally one of the popular things to do on North Shore Oahu. You also get to visit the famous North Shore food trucks for a late lunch/early dinner, which will probably tide you over until breakfast the next day.

Different tours run on different days of the week. So check out their website or the links below for what may suit you. The Panoramic link below is the Country Sunset tour and I’ve also recommended a few of their other tour options.

Activity Level: Light. Transport is provided as part of the tour and there is some light walking between destinations.

Price: USD $89.95 per adult, $69.95 per child

Duration: 7.5 hours

 

Pro-tip #3: I found these guys on Groupon, and while there were no specials on this tour on Groupon at the time it is worth a look to see whether there is a deal on the tour you want to do.

Sunset on the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii, taken fom Pipeline beach

Sunset on the North Shore Oahu

Day 2 – Scenic/Adventure

A Day at Kualoa Ranch

When I was planning my Hawaii trip, Kualoa Ranch was the number one recommendation from people who had been. If you’ve heard about Jurassic Park Hawaii, you’ve heard about Kualoa Ranch.

The location from Jurassic Park where Sam Neill and the children are running from dinosaurs

Superimpose some dinosaurs and you have Sam Neill and the children running across the plain in Jurassic Park!

Otherwise known as Hollywood’s Hawaii set, the 4000 acre Kualoa Ranch has been the filming location for Hollywood blockbusters including Jurassic Park, Jurassic World, King Kong, Godzilla, 50 first dates and Jumanji 2. Along with the sprawling hills with imposing mountain ranges keeping watch, Kualoa Ranch was also a military outpost in WW2, and has a number of bunkers located on the property. The largest of these bunkers, Battery Cooper, winds deep under a mountain and has featured in movies and Television episodes. It is now partially a working set and partially a museum of movie memorabilia from films shot there.

The entrance to WW2 bunker Battery Cooper on Kualoa Ranch. The bunker goes into the mountain.

Entrance to Battery Cooper

Battery Cooper is the largest WW2 bunker located on Kualoa Ranch Oahu. This is a set from the television series Hawaii 5-0

A Hawaii 5-0 set in the WW2 bunker Battery Cooper

Velociraptors and Tyrannosaur display inside WW2 bunker Battery Cooper, Kualoa Ranch Oahu

Jurassic Park display inside Battery Cooper

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kualoa Ranch is on the other side of the island, and close to an hours drive from Waikiki. You can add a shuttle transport to your booking if you aren’t hiring a car. A round trip on the shuttle is USD$15 per person.

Given there is so many options with regards to tours and activities, and you’re going to the effort of getting there, it’s worthwhile planning to spend the day. You can select your tours individually, or select a package which bundles a number of tours together and includes lunch on the sustainable ranch. Each tour will show you a different aspect of the property.

Check out the options on the Kualoa Ranch website. I can recommend the Experience package.

Depending on your package the shuttle will drop you back in Waikiki early/late afternoon. If you haven’t already, take the opportunity for a stroll on the beach and scope out the tourist drag.

Activity Level: This will depend on your chosen activities. Many of the Kualoa Ranch tours you’ll be sitting in a bus with some light walking around, but there are also more physical tour options available.

Price: Entirely dependent on the activities you want to do. The tours range from USD $45.95 to $129.95 for Adults, or you can get three tours packaged together for a better price starting at $119.95. The packages also include a buffet lunch.

Duration: Tours start at 1 hour and range up to 2.5 hours for the Zipline Tour.

 

Pro-tip #4: Some tours book out weeks in advance so book this one early!

 

Day 3 – Water

Swimming with wild Dolphins

It has been a bucket list item of mine to swim with dolphins for a very long time. I had attempted this twice before, the first time in New Zealand where the weather was too bad for the dolphins to be located, and once in Australia, which was cancelled due to lacking numbers. On both occasions I was offered an alternative date, which was a lesson I applied when planning this trip.

 

Pro-tip #5: Schedule this activity early in the itinerary. Dolphins are wild animals and providers can’t give any guarantees about success on a given day, but most will offer a discounted rate to schedule another day. If you’ve tried this at the end of your trip you’ll have no room for a second attempt.

 

There are a number of tour operators that are rated well and offer this activity. However they will all depart from a bay on the other side of the island so the availability of a car will influence your choice. It was the inclusion of transport from Waikiki that led me to choose Dolphins and You.

 

Pro-tip #6: I saved money on this tour by purchasing through Groupon. The price for the basic tour was no different but there was a good discount on the photo package addon. Check the fine print, the Groupon voucher can only be used for the second tour. Enjoy your sleep-in. For non-US residents you won’t be able to purchase on your credit card as they require a card registered to a US address. Paypal however will work just fine.

Pro-tip #7: Get the photo package. The dolphins aren’t going to come right up to you and even with an underwater camera I wasn’t lucky enough to snap some good photos but with the photo package you’ll receive a USB with the images from your tour taken on a professional camera. Unless its something you do regularly, its probably something you’ll want to remember! You’ll also receive a selection of some of their best images. There was no video with mine and the water isn’t great visibility beyond a certain distance so its probably not worth paying the extra for that.

Underwater photo of two Dolphins swimming in ocean. Reproduced with permission of Dolphins and You.

Photo reproduced with permission of Dolphins and You

The shuttle will collect you from a central location in Waikiki and transport you to Waianae Harbor, on the east side of the island, where you will board the boat for your trip. You will then be given your snorkel gear and wetsuit if you have hired one. Once the captain spots dolphins the call goes out to gear up and one by one everyone jumps in the water with one of the guides serving as the marker for everyone to gather around. We were lucky enough to have a large pod of Hawaiian Spinner dolphins resting beneath us, a few of which swam around or surfed the waves on the surface.

After the dolphin snorkel the boat will move to another location and guests have the opportunity for another snorkel, and the chance to see some more of the local marine life. Turtles are a frequent sight, as are the brightly colored fish. The crew will put out a selection of water toys, including a large slide off the top deck into the water.

Lunch is served while the crew puts on a hula show, before returning to the harbor and the shuttle back to Waikiki.

Activity Level: Moderate. While you’ll be equipped with buoyancy vests for safety this is an activity in the open ocean and you’ll need some level of swimming ability.

Price: USD $156 per adult and $100 additional for a video and photo package. I got it for $189 through Groupon. Wetsuits can be hired for an additional $10 per person and snorkeling gear is included.

Duration: For the second tour my pickup in Waikiki was just before 10am and I arrived back a little before 5pm.

 

Snorkeling at Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve

If swimming with dolphins isn’t your thing but you are still keen to fit in a water day then a snorkel at Hanauma Bay might be for you. I didn’t make it there unfortunately, but it was highly recommended to me by other travelers. Famous for an abundance of Sea Turtles and marine life within the reef, it is one of the most popular destinations on Oahu. Expect it to be busy, they will grant entry to only 3,000 visitors per day so get there early.

You can make your own way to Hanauma Bay and take your time, or go as part of an organised tour which can often include transportation and snorkel gear. The tour below includes all snorkel gear and a tour with a guide, and you are free to remain afterwards.

Since I didn’t make it here myself, you can check out another bloggers account of finding sea turtles in Hanauma Bay.

 

 

It’s also important to note that Hawaii has recently passed legislation banning the sale of sunscreens containing chemicals which can be harmful to the reef. The one below is one of the few SPF 50+ in this category. It’s also useful to have your own towel and a waterproof pouch for your phone if you would like to attempt your own photos.

/>

You can also check out my other tips on packing for Hawaii.

Day 4 – Culture/Shopping

Hawaii is renowned for its shopping, and the shoppers of you are probably wondering when I’m going to give you time to indulge. Today is the day for you!

But first, a recommendation a little outside of the usual tourist stuff.

Before you head off for your day, you’ll have something to do at 7am for your day tomorrow so make sure to be in wifi!

Hawaiian Ukelele Factory Tour

This was hugely appealing to me as an avid music lover and amateur musician, but the ukelele is so integral to the Hawaiian culture that I would encourage everyone to consider adding this to their trip.

image of me making a ukelele keyring at KoAloha Ukelele, prior to my tour of the factory

My ukelele keyring

KoAloha Ukelele is a family owned and operated company that has been making premier quality instruments for over 20 years. The tour will commence in the showroom at 9am, with examination of the various ukelele’s on sale and constructing a miniature ukelele keyring to understand how the instruments are put together.

While the glue on your keyring instrument dries, your host will escort you into the factory itself and proceed to show you every step in the process of making the instruments, from the obtaining and cutting of the Koa wood, to the bending of the wood, construction and polishing. You will see what makes their instruments unique and innovative, and so highly regarded. Lloyd took me through the factory, and proudly showed me the wood that he had put aside to make the marital ukelele for his son. Due to the rare waves in the Koa wood, already an incredibly expensive material, the completed instrument will be incredibly valuable.

This is a really fun and interesting experience and I’m really glad I made time in my trip for it. Lloyd also passed on some great tips for the rest of my trip.

KoAloha Ukelele Factory is located on Kona Street in Honolulu. From Waikiki take the #13 bus and ask the driver to let you know when to get off. An all day pass for the bus will cost you USD $5.50, for as many rides as you want.

 

Pro-tip #8: The bus is one of the easiest ways to get around outside of Waikiki. On your phone bookmark the site moovitapp.com or download the Moovit app for up to date information on all routes and times.

Pro-tip #9: Carry the right change for your bus ticket. The drivers don’t carry change and the ticket machine will not dispense it either.

 

Activity Level:  Light. The factory is small and there is minimal walking required.

Price: AUD $37 per person, or about USD $25. The booking is through Airbnb experiences. The company website also mentions a free factory tour at 1pm, I can’t say how this would differ to the tour I had but I felt it was worth the price anyway.

Duration: 90 minutes

Image of ukeleles being shaped around moulds

Shaping Ukeleles

 

Shopping at Ala Moana

I have paired a trip to the huge Ala Moana shopping centre with the Ukelele Factory as it is a 5 minute walk between them. There is a large food court and plenty of bargains to be found.

Pro-tip #10: The buses do have signs indicating that anything taking up a large amount of space that would prevent someone having a seat is not permitted. I took my small backpack and only had one additional carry bag, but if you shop up a storm you may need to look at an Uber back to your hotel.

If the Ukelele Factory is not your style and you’d prefer to spend the whole day shopping you may wish to think about a trip to the Waikele outlets instead. About 30 minutes from Waikiki, there are over 50 outlet stores at Waikele. You can take an organised tour from Waikiki or book a shuttle through Roberts Hawaii for USD $18 per adult for a round trip.

Before you shop check out this guide to the best Hawaiian souvenirs.

Day 5 – History

A Day at Pearl Harbor

Pearl Harbor was without a doubt one of my favourite experiences in Oahu, and definitely one that is not to be missed by visitors. However there are some misconceptions about visiting that can be confusing. It is easy to think you need to go on an organised tour in order to be guaranteed entry, but this is not the case. While an organised tour might be exactly what you want to do, it’s important to understand what they do and don’t include when choosing your tour, and realise that they will often be quite time limited at the site and include other activities before or after that might not interest you.

I went solo to Pearl Harbor, and I spent the entire day and still ran out of time to see everything.

So lets start with the basics to help inform your decisions.

There are four locations as part of the Pearl Harbor historic site;

  • USS Arizona Memorial
  • USS Bowfin
  • Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum
  • USS Missouri

 

USS Arizona Memorial

The USS Arizona memorial is built over the remains of USS Arizona, sunk in the Japanese attack upon Pearl Harbor in WW2. It is currently unable to be boarded, as repairs are required to re-anchor the memorial to the floor of the harbor and the potential for un-exploded ordinance makes this a painstaking process. Boats run at regular intervals taking visitors out to the memorial and circling it instead, however, whether the boats will run is determined by the US Navy on a daily basis. The day I visited they did not run due to weather.

The Arizona memorial is incorporated in an audio tour narrated by Jamie-lee Curtis that is well worth doing.

The USS Arizona Memorial marks the resting place of the USS Arizona battleship, sunk in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor

USS Arizona Memorial marks the resting place of the USS Arizona Battleship

USS Bowfin

The USS Bowfin is a decommissioned US Navy Submarine active in both WW2 and the Korean War period, now permanently homed at Pearl Harbor. Visitors can board the Bowfin and walk through its interior. There is also an audio tour available.

 

Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum

A shuttle ride from the Arizona and Bowfin locations, the Aviation Museum is housed in two WW2 hangers and includes a number of WW2 era planes, flight simulators and a growing collection of other vintage aircraft.

 

USS Missouri

Also a shuttle ride from the Arizona and Bowfin the USS Missouri was the last US battleship, and the one upon which the parties to WW2 signed the document of surrender which ended the war. Visitors can spend hours walking the decks and passages of the ship.

USS Missouri, a decommissioned battleship at Pearl Harbor

USS Missouri

So now that you know what’s there, what do you want to see?

My view is prioritise the whole Arizona section with the audio tour, and the USS Missouri. I spent the bulk of my day on these two, with a quick walk through the Bowfin. I unfortunately ran out of time to visit the Aviation museum.

 

Pearl Harbor Tickets

Entry to the USS Arizona Memorial is free, however if you haven’t reserved a ticket you will need to rock up early and get one of the 1,300 tickets that get issued for the Arizona Memorial on a first come first served basis. The Visitors Centre opens at 7am.

These tickets will not include admission to the other three locations.

Tickets become available online for purchase and reservation at 7am the day prior to entry . I recommend the USS Arizona Memorial + Passport Package for USD $72 per adult. This includes entry to all four locations, audio tour at the Arizona and shuttle between locations. You will need to arrive at the Pearl Harbor Visitors Centre to collect your tickets at least one hour prior to your scheduled boat run out to the Arizona.

Pro-tip #11: Wear clothing with pockets, or find a clear plastic carry bag – I saw one person using a clear toiletries bag. Anything which can conceal items is not permitted on the site.

 

Getting to Pearl Harbor

Don’t do what I did and just assume you’ll hop on a bus.

You absolutely can, but as Pearl Harbor is nearly 90 minutes by bus and only about 25 minutes by car it does seem to be a waste of time.

If you don’t have a car, the Waikiki trolley runs to and from Pearl Harbor at less than USD $50 per person, which will likely be cheaper than an Uber.

If there is a group of you, I understand you can also organise a private shuttle. I couldn’t find information about this online but your hotel should be able to assist. Uber would also be cost effective for more than one person.

Otherwise the push seems to be to get you on an organised tour.

 

Activity Level: Moderate. It’s not difficult but be prepared for a lot of walking.

Price: Passport package covering all four sites is USD $72 per adult

Duration: I arrived a little after 9am and ran out of time for the Aviation Museum, even staying til nearly 5pm.

For more detail on Pearl Harbor, including the most frequently asked questions, you can check out my post on Pearl Harbor here.

 

Day 6 – Scenic/Physical Activity

Sunrise Photography

An early one this morning as you head to one of the top spots for a Waikiki sunrise as recommended by the boys at Oahu Photography Tours.

The length of your stroll will of course depend on where you are staying, but you are going to be heading for the Hilton Hawaii Village and then walking around behind it, where you will find a rock jetty that offers a great view of the sun rising over Waikiki. The morning I did this there were probably another fifteen people that showed up so the earlier you can secure a spot the better. It also means you can capture the great pre-sunrise light too.

Image of sunrise over Waikiki taken from the rock jetty behind the Hilton Hawaiian Village

Sunrise over Waikiki

My favourite shot of the morning actually came from the lagoon nearby, walking around the far side to capture the reflections on the water.

Reflection of sunrise on lagoon at Hilton Hawaiian Village

Sunrise reflections

Pro-tip #12: Don’t forget your tripod! 

After the sunrise take a stroll down along the beach for more photo opportunities before the beach gets crowded.

Waves washing up on beach strolling towards Waikiki Beach

Treat yourself to a nice breakfast on the beach. Dukes does a great buffet.

Activity Level: Light. An easy stroll.

Price: Free

Duration: Approximately 2 hours

 

Hike Diamond Head

You can see Diamond Head looming from just about everywhere in Waikiki. The 760 foot summit of the extinct crater offers spectacular panoramic views and the chance to see more remnants of WW2, as it served as a lookout post for the US military.

Diamond Head is a really easy bus ride out of Waikiki on bus route #23. It does however mean a bit more of a walk than if you have a car, as the buses do not go right up into the crater where cars are able to park for a fee. If you want to extend your hike even further you can walk from Waikiki to Diamond Head in about an hour.

While not what I would call a challenging hike, it will definitely get your heart rate up as you climb. The path has been roughly cemented, so while you aren’t clambering over a lot of loose rocks you will still need good footwear. There is also a couple of sets of stairs and a tunnel through the rock which was pretty cool. There are plenty of spots on the way up to stop and catch your breath.

Set of stairs on Diamond Head hike leading to a tunnel through the rock

Stairs leading to the tunnel

Tunnel through rock on Diamond Head hike Waikiki

Tunnel through rock

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The views from the top are pretty exceptional, it is easy to see why it was a military lookout point.

looking out from inside the military observation bunker on Diamond Head Waikiki

View from inside the observation bunker

 

Looking out towards Waikiki and Honolulu from the top of Diamond Head crater

Waikiki and Honolulu from top of Diamond Head

If you are so inclined, I did read that it is a good vantage point for sunset from the top. Ensure you commence your hike prior to last entry at 4.30pm and park outside of the crater grounds to ensure you don’t get locked in.

Pro-tip #13: This is an activity for earlier in the morning or later in the afternoon. Avoid the heat of the middle of the day.

Activity Level: Potentially vigorous depending on your pace. It isn’t difficult but you are going up a 760 foot summit so it will lift your heart rate.

Price: USD $1 entry to the hike plus $5 if parking your vehicle. By bus $5.50 for a day pass.

Duration: Depends on your pace, and how long you spend at the top. Best to allow a few hours as the hike itself takes 1.5 – 2 hours.

If a guided tour is your preference, some options are below.

 

Day 7 – Culture or Water

Plan to spend your morning packing as there is a good chance that your flight is going to leave early tomorrow.

Pro-tip #14: Make sure you have your airport transfer organised!

My final day was an example of best laid plans going awry, so I’m going to include what I had planned to do, as well as what I actually did!

Option 1: Luau

A Luau is a traditional Hawaiian party or feast which usually includes some form of entertainment. There are countless options and they are quite expensive, but it is a traditional experience that most tourists like to enjoy at least once.

After a lot of research I had planned to attend the Polynesian Cultural Center, appealing due to incorporating other activities in addition to the dinner and shows, making it better value in my view. It is essentially a theme park within and is well reviewed by guests. It is on the other side of the island so about an hours trip from Waikiki, but transfers can be purchased in addition to your ticket. It is also an alcohol free venue.

Since I didn’t get there myself here is a good overview of the Polynesian Cultural Center from another blogger.

Activity Level: Light

Price: Dependent on the package prices start at USD $89.95 and go up to $242.95 for adults. The mid-level package that includes entry to the park, dinner and show is $122.95

Duration: 9 hours commencing at 12noon

Some other Luau choices are included below.

Option 2: Sunset Cruise

This option gives you the most part of your day to play with if there is any last minute activities or shopping you want to squeeze in. This is what I actually ended up doing on my final night in Waikiki and even got to witness a proposal and whales breaching in the distance!

Sun setting over the water on cruise out of Honolulu

My trip departed from the pier and travelled out into the open water, following the coastline. We had spectacular views of Diamond Head, the sun setting over the ocean and colourful skies over Honolulu.

sunset skies over Honolulu

My trip was privately organised, but some options are below.

Pier at night

Pro-tip #15: Remember a light jumper or jacket, it can get cool and sometimes wet!

Pro-tip #16: Take anti-nausea pills before hand if you are prone to motion sickness.

 

Activity Level: Light

Price: From USD $55

Duration: 90 minutes – 2 hours

 

Day 8 – Goodbye!

Say your farewells to this amazing place as you leave for home!

 

If you’ve never been to Hawaii before, you’ll find when you start researching that there really is an astonishing amount to do that could fill far more than 7 days in Oahu. This does give you a taste however, and a little bit of everything!

You might notice I’ve not included any restaurant recommendations in this itinerary. They have a post all to themselves and you can check out my Aussie Girls Guide to must-try places to eat in Waikiki.

Traveling with a baby? Check out Hawaii with a baby.

Planning a visit around the islands of Hawaii? Check out Hawaii Island Hopping.

Safe travels and enjoy!

7 day Oahu Itinerary including a combination of cultural, historical, land and water activity. #7daysinoahu #7dayOahuItinerary #PearlHarbor #PolynesianCulturalCenter #DiamondHead #Dolphins&You OahuPhotographyTours #KoAlohaUkelele #AlaMoana #SunsetCruise

7 day Oahu Itinerary including a combination of cultural, historical, land and water activity. #7daysinoahu #7dayOahuItinerary #PearlHarbor #PolynesianCulturalCenter #DiamondHead #Dolphins&You OahuPhotographyTours #KoAlohaUkelele #AlaMoana #SunsetCruise