What to do in Only One Day in Oahu
So, you only have one day in Oahu and you want to make the most of it? There’s so much to see, so much to do, and so much to eat!
It’s alright, I understand! That’s why I’m here to make things easy for you by giving you an insider list of my personal favorite parts of Oahu. Lucky you, huh?
Why are you here?
Regardless of what brought you here, you only have one day. So, you need to ask yourself what you really care about.
Is it experiencing a new culture?
Maybe it’s trying something new.
Once you have that figured out, use my suggestions below to tailor your own experience to be perfect for you.
Get out of Waikiki and Enjoy Your One Day in Oahu
First of all, let me suggest that you skip Waikiki and downtown Honolulu altogether.
You’re only here for one day and honestly, Honolulu is similar to almost every other big city in the world – there’s shopping, tourist-traps, and tacky souvenir shops.
Not to say that Honolulu doesn’t have its gems, there are just more authentic experiences waiting for you beyond the city limits.
One Day in Oahu: Get the Authentic Hawaii Experience
Kaena Point, Oahu; Aaron Zhu, CC BY SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
More often than not, it can be difficult to get an authentic experience in a new place – at least when you’re there only briefly. To really get exposed to a culture, you have to escape the main tourism destinations and set out for a bit of adventure.
For a better look at natural Hawaii, I recommend making it out to the West side of the island. Compared to Honolulu, West Oahu is far less developed and deeper rooted in Hawaiian culture. It is here that you will see the true face of “island life”.
One of the best experiences I’ve had in Oahu was at the western point of the island, Kaena Point.
It’s a bit of a hike to get there, but it’s well worth it.
From the point you can get a great view of North Shore to your right, and West side to your left. There is also a Laysan Albatross Sanctuary at the point where you can observe the birds.
Just don’t disturb them!
If you’re not up for the hike, Yokohama Bay
"Yokes" as it's lovingly called, sits at the beginning of the trail and is as far as you can drive West on the island. It’s a beautiful white sand beach and is usually pretty empty.
The drive to Yokes is gorgeous and you’ll get the chance to see some ancient lava tubes on the way up! Just keep an eye out for for huge cave on the right side of the road. Ya can’t miss it.
One Day in Oahu: Where to go Hiking
Hanauma Bay, Oahu; Photo by Bruce Warrington via Unsplash
If you want to spend your day in Oahu out in nature but you’re not the ocean type, then I have some recommendations for hiking.
My favorite hike with a view is the Hanauma Bay Ridge Hike. It’s relatively short, but it’s fairly steep and you’ll certainly get some exercise! The start of the “hike” is paved, but there are plenty of offshoot trails that go “off-road”.
It’s tame enough to bring the whole family, and you’ll often see locals walking their dogs. The trail provides a scenic vantage point of Hanauma Bay, Koko Head, Hawaii Kai town, and Honolulu off in the distance.
If you arrive outside of Hanauma Bay’s operating hours you’ll need to street-park on Nawiliwili St or Polihale Pl and walk.
One Day in Oahu: Where to go Surfing
Waves at Turtle Bay, North Shore of Oahu; Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Tor Johnson
If you’re anything like me, then you’d want to go surfing during your only day on the island. That’s very understandable considering Oahu is a surfer’s paradise.
If you’re here during the winter, then you’re gonna want to head to the North Shore to take advantage of the seasonal North swells. This is for experienced surfers only! If this is you then I would recommend either Turtle Bay or Ehukai if the waves are a bit smaller.
If you’re a beginner, you might try surfing at Pua'ena Beach Park. You can also check out our blog post: The Best Beaches In Oahu For Beginner Surfers
If you’re here during the summer, then you’ll need to head South or East for swells. Summer South swells are common, and there will often be surf right in town. If you’re a beginner, then there really is no better place to learn than Waikiki.
But, if you know what you’re doing, I recommend you escape the crowd by going to a spot with a bit longer paddle like Diamond Head or Cromwell’s Beach. For Cromwell's, you'll have to street park on Kulamanu St.
One Day in Oahu: What to Eat
Display case of poke; Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Heather Goodman
You can’t visit Hawaii without trying the local cuisine even if you're only spending one day on the island! With a melting pot of cultures, Hawaii has some very unique foods with influences from many different places.
For breakfast, there are a few options for you to try. A local favorite is spam musubi – it’s kind of like a spam hand roll sushi. You can get it with egg and furikake (Japanese rice seasoning) if plain spam is too boring for you. I know it sounds kind of strange if you’re not used to eating the canned meat, but I promise it’s WAY better than it sounds! You can get a good spam musubi from any L&L Hawaiian BBQ, Foodland or really any convenience store on the island.
Another breakfast option for vegans or vegetarians is an acai bowl. Now, acai bowls aren’t exclusive to Hawaii, but you can get the iconic purple smoothie bowl here Hawaiian style with local fruits like papaya and pineapple, local macadamia nuts, and local honey. My favorite acai bowl spots are HiCravings on the way to West side, or Haleiwa Bowls on the North Shore. If you decide to try HiCravings, make sure to ask if they still have any Kulolo – an irresistible Hawaiian desert made from taro and coconut!
Lunch or Dinner
For lunch or dinner, there are a few mainstays you absolutely have to try. The first is fresh Hawaiian poke (pronounced poke-eh, not poke-ee). You may have heard of this delicious raw fish salad before – you may have even tried it – but you’ve never really had poke if you haven’t had it in Hawaii.
For those that don’t know, it’s a Hawaiian take on a Japanese dish, it’s a simple blend of raw fish cubes (most often fresh caught ahi tuna) and ingredients like soy sauce (shoyu), maui sweet onions, sesame oil, and fish eggs. The poke is served over a fresh bed of hot white rice, thus completing the poke bowl. Poke comes in many varieties and flavors, like octopus (tako) poke, spicy-mayo poke, and California roll poke – feel free to try them all!
Best Spot for Oahu Poke
Believe it or not, a local supermarket and liquor store chain called Tamura’s has some of the best poke on the Island for only $9.99! Otherwise, you can go to any Foodland (grocery store) on the island for delicious poke. But, make sure to pick a flavor that includes the word “fresh” in the name and doesn’t have a “previously frozen” label on it – the fish in these pokes will have been fresh caught right here in Oahu.
More Great Options
If fish isn’t you’re thing, then you have to try either kalua pig or Huli Huli chicken during your short stay here. The former is a native Hawaiian dish which originally involved cooking a whole pig underground in an imu (pit) using hot rocks. The pork is tender and flavorful, and a must-try if you haven’t had it before. Kono’s has the best kalua pig on the island in my opinion (there are locations throughout the island).
Huli huli means to turn or flip and the chickens are cooked exactly how their name suggests – on a spit! They are usually barbecued or smoked, but it’s the pineapple-based marinade that makes huli huli chicken so unique and delicious. My personal favorite huli huli chicken comes from Ray’s which is in Haleiwa (North Shore) near Malama Mart.
Well, the rest is up to you! Hopefully your one-day vacation in beautiful Oahu is enjoyable and full of aloha!
Don't want to plan your one day in Oahu yourself? Download Shaka Guide's Oahu app. There are four driving tours on the island that will take you to popular attractions, hikes, beaches, foodie stops, and local towns.