Oahu's shoreline is simply stunning. (Photo: Marriott International)
As the most populous Hawaiian island, Oahu is a treasure trove of cultural activities. Old and new merge in Honolulu — the urban heart of the state and a true international city — which is a hub for world-class dining, entertainment, designer boutiques and cultural institutions.
Beyond the capital city’s skyline, Diamond Head is the most recognizable landmark. The volcanic tuff cone attracts visitors with hiking trails that lead to striking panoramic views. Go outside the capital and the landscape changes immediately: Sleek, glass-clad high-rises give way to lush hillsides and oceanfront villas, where a casual, more laid-back atmosphere dominates.
But no matter where you are one the island, life revolves around the ocean — and when the surf’s up, everyone’s on the beach. It’s easy to see how this lifestyle gave rise to the island’s nickname of the “Gathering Place.” Now it’s your turn to join in.
As always, check for travel restrictions and closures before planning your trip.
Friday: Explore Hawaiian History
Start with a hearty breakfast at Over Easy, a casual café that serves the most delicious brunch bowls, before grabbing a towel and plenty of sunscreen for a day on Hawaii’s most famous and visited beach: Waikiki. Soak in the hot Hawaiian sun, snorkel and take a surf lesson with Sparky’s Surf School — the waves at Waikiki are ideal for beginners.
After some time in the sun, fuel up for the afternoon. Lunch is a short walk away at Barefoot Beach Café, where you can enjoy poke or a garlic shrimp bowl and the ocean views. Then it’s time for some history.
Not many people realize that Honolulu has the only royal palace in the country — built at the end of the 19th century, Iolani Palace was the home of Hawaii’s last reigning monarchs. After touring the palace, spend the rest of the afternoon in the Bishop Museum. With millions of artifacts, it is the largest museum dedicated to studying and preserving the history of Hawaii and Polynesian culture.
Alternatively, Hawaii’s Plantation Village, a living history museum and botanical garden, reenacts life on Hawaii’s sugar plantations from the mid-1800s until the 1950s, when sugar was the state’s biggest export.
Come dinnertime, head back to Honolulu. Explore the many flavors of Hawaii at Hula Grill, which serves fresh seafood and Oahu-grown produce. Afterward, experience Honolulu’s famous nightlife. Hideout at the Laylow has a spacious lanai overlooking vibrant Kuhio Avenue — it’s the epitome of an urban oasis with plenty of people-watching, great cocktails and live music.
Saturday: Get Moving
You don’t have to travel far to escape the hustle and bustle of Honolulu. In fact, Oahu’s most prominent natural landmark sits right beyond Waikiki. After picking up breakfast at legendary Leonard’s Bakery (their malasadas, or Portuguese doughnuts, are world-famous), drive to Diamond Head.
Hiking to the top of the crater is not just a great way to get moving — it also rewards you with some of the most beautiful vistas over Honolulu and the South Shore.
Helena’s Hawaiian Food is another staple on the Oahu culinary scene and a good lunch stop. The casual hole-in-the-wall specializes in local dishes such as kalua pig, poi, and pipikaula. If you still have room after lunch for dessert, stop by nearby Liliha Bakery, known for their “Cocoa Puffs” and “Poi Mochi” doughnuts, before a 50-minute drive to Laie.
Spend the afternoon in the Polynesian Cultural Center, a 42-acre attraction that explores the heritage of the Pacific Islands. The center is divided into villages, each representing a different island, where you can experience traditional aspects of island culture through hands-on activities.
Polynesians were famously good voyagers, so back in town, honor that tradition by taking a guided sunset tour in an outrigger canoe. The two-hour-long Polynesian Canoe Sunset Sail includes dinner and refreshments — plus heavenly views of the island.
If you just want to enjoy light bites on the sail, dock and head over to the award-winning fine-dining restaurant Chef Chai, an elegant eatery where chef Chai Chaowasaree fuses fresh local ingredients with Asian-influenced flavors. Post-dinner drinks and panoramic vistas of Honolulu are courtesy of Sky Waikiki, a trendy bar and lounge located on the 19th floor of a Waikiki high-rise.
Sunday: Dive Into Surf Culture
Today, leave busy Honolulu behind and make the 35-minute drive to the North Shore of Oahu, a surfing mecca. The region’s so-called Seven Mile Miracle is a stretch of beaches famous for their waves. But you don’t have to be a master surfer to enjoy this charming side of the island.
Haleiwa, a historic little town on the North Shore, has surf shops, boutiques and art galleries. Grab an açai bowl at Island Vintage Coffee and explore the town before hitting the famous Waimea Bay.
In the winter, you can see surfers riding 30-foot waves, while in the summer the waters are prime for swimming and snorkeling. (Of course, just lounging along the shoreline for people-watching is always an option, too.)
In this part of the island, Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck at 56-505 Kamehameha Highway has been a local legend since 1993 — it’s worth braving the line. Paper plates come piled high with plump shrimp doused in a sauce of your choice, all over two scoops of white rice.
Next up, visit Waimea Valley, a lush and diverse park, comprising mountains, forests and a dramatic waterfall. Start at the Waimea Valley Visitor Center for a map and information about tours and trails (admission is charged). From there, an easy 1.5-mile trail leads to Waimea Falls, a 45-foot-high waterfall that, depending on weather conditions, you may be allowed to swim under.
If ocean views are more your speed, head instead to the Ehukai Pillbox trail. It starts behind Sunset Beach Elementary School and takes only about half an hour to get to the top, where you’ll find a great vantage point to take in the North Shore scenery. There are also abundant botanical gardens showcasing more than 5,000 tropical plant species.
That hike deserves a hearty dinner: Pounders Restaurant in Laie serves fresh local produce, pasture-raised meats, locally caught seafood and Hawaiian-style pizzas. After dinner, head to Breakers Restaurant & Bar, where top-notch live music and drinks are abundant.
Marriott recognizes the Hawaiian language’s use of diacritical marks, including the ‘okina and the kahakō. However, because these marks aren’t always accurately rendered by common web browsers, we have omitted them on these web pages. This is in accordance with the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau (HVCB) and its Island Chapters.