Here's my Oahu 7 day itinerary describing what to see and do on Hawaii's most populous island.
Highs & Lows
The Byodo-In Temple is beautiful and the drive there is breathtaking
Got seasick after swimming with sharks :(
This is a family-friendly itinerary that took place in the week leading up to Christmas, but can be taken any time of the year. It includes hikes, sightseeing, adventurous activities, and a trip to Pearl Harbor.
We were usually able to pack multiple activities or destinations into a single day, so I've divided up our O'ahu itinerary by things to do so you can pick out your favorites and construct your own O'ahu family vacation.
- Diamond Head Crater. This is a popular hike as it delivers beautiful views of the ocean, crater, and Honolulu. It's a moderately easy hike because it's so short—about 1.5 miles roundtrip—but it's steep. The trail gets busy fast so make sure to arrive early.
- Manoa Falls. Another popular hike above Honolulu that leads you through a rainforest to a stunning 150-foot waterfall. It's an easier hike than Diamond Head, and our family member who bowed out of the former was able to take on the latter hike. Parts of the hike were very muddy when we went, so proper shoes are a must.
- 'Iolani Palace. Before Hawaii became the 50th state in the U.S., it was an independent monarchy. 'Iolani Palace in Honolulu was the country's royal residence, and remains the only royal palace in the United States. Here, you can marvel at the architecture while learning about past Hawaiian royalty and the tragic overthrow of its monarchy.
- Pearl Harbor. The attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 was the catalyst for the United States entering into World War II. You can watch a video detailing the history of the attack, and take a short ferry ride out to the USS Arizona Memorial, which is a structure situated across the sunken remains of the USS Arizona battleship.
- National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. In the Punchbowl Crater overlooking Honolulu is a cemetery in honor of American servicemen and women. Over 50,000 veterans and their dependents are interred there, including victims of the attack on Pearl Harbor. There is a beautiful memorial overlooking the sprawling cemetery grounds.
- Byodo-In Temple. Nestled in a picturesque valley on the east side of O'ahu is a replica of a centuries-old Buddhist temple in Japan. It is used as a place of worship by travelers from all over the world, but peoples of any faith are welcome to walk the grounds and admire the intricate architecture.
- Dole Plantation. Toward the center of O'ahu you will find acres of pineapple fields belonging to the Dole agricultural company. There are two tours to choose from, a maze, and a large gift shop for pineapple enthusiasts. This would be a good stop for families on their way to the North Shore.
- Hanauma Bay. This idyllic nature preserve formed from the cone of a volcano sits just east of Honolulu and is famous for its vibrant marine ecosystem. There is a fee to park and enter the reserve, and visitors watch a short safety and educational video about the bay before heading down to the beach. Recently the park began capping the number of daily visitors, so it's best to get there early.
- Kahe Point/Ko Olina. If you're not interested in paying to snorkel, there are numerous spots along Oahu's west coast. Kahe Point (aka Electric Beach) is a great spot for snorkeling with warm water outflowing from a nearby electric plant. For less intrepid snorkelers who don't wish to be out in the open ocean, Ko Olina has several manmade lagoons to explore.
- Kualoa Ranch. A lush valley on Oahu's east coast has earned the nickname Jurassic Valley for being the filming location of the first Jurassic Park, and has been the site of many other movie shoots since. There is no shortage of tours to take in the valley, from e-biking to horseback riding and Jeep expeditions. For our family, we enjoyed the stunning views from a 3-hour zipline tour.
- Swimming with Sharks. If you're looking for an up-close and personal shark experience, it's important to choose a company that does so responsibly. Companies providing ethical wildlife experiences will note they are against chumming the water to bring sharks near, as it interferes with their natural behavior. We used a travel book that gave the names of several reputable companies to choose from, and had our experience off O'ahu's famous North Shore.
- Shopping. In its pre-pandemic heyday, the Shirokiya Japan Village Walk at Ala Moana Center was a massive Japanese food court with an endless array of culinary choices. Sadly, it has since closed down, but Ala Moana (which holds the title for the world's largest open-air shopping center) still boasts two large food courts and hundreds of retail options. Other notable shopping areas around Honolulu include Royal Hawaiian Center, International Market Place, Kahala Mall, and the Waikiki Shopping Plaza.
Q & A
Restaurant recommendations?If we weren't out exploring the island during mealtime, we'd walk to a nearby restaurant in Waikiki. Hawaiian cuisine is delicious no matter where you go, but environmentally conscious travelers should be aware many fast-casual places will serve food in Styrofoam containers, even if you're eating in.
Packing tips?Bring some good closed-toed shoes in case you end up on a muddy hike or an adventurous excursion—like zip lining—that won't allow flip flops on the tour.
Transportation Tips?We rented a car to explore O'ahu, but when we were around Waikiki we explored the beach, shops, and restaurants on foot.
Booking details?Family booked hotel accommodations online, and we used a travel book for attraction ideas and tips on how to find an ethical place for swimming with sharks.