Best 5 days in Oahu itinerary: Covers whole island!
Are you looking for the perfect itinerary to spend 5 days in Oahu?
Oahu is the first Hawaiian island that I visited and it was so amazing! I did a lot of research before my trip to Oahu to ensure that I am able to see and do everything that is unique to Oahu!
Oahu is the most popular Hawaiian Islands and home to Honolulu city, which is the capital of Hawaii state. Oahu is also the most visited Hawaii island as compared to Maui and Big Island!
This itinerary covers Honolulu and Waikiki, South Shore, Windward Side and North Shore of Oahu, thus giving you a taste of everything in Oahu.
By following this itinerary, you will see the famous attractions in Honolulu like Diamond Head, Waikiki and Pearl Harbor. Explore snorkeling at the famous Hanauma Bay.
Spend a day visiting the windward side (east) of the island and visit Kualoa Ranch and Polynesian Cultural Center. Take a day trip to North Shore to see Dole plantation and Waimea Falls.
Let’s get into the details of an epic Oahu itinerary for 5 days!
Day-wise Oahu itinerary for 5 days
This Oahu 5 day itinerary starts from your first full day on the island and ends at the last full day in Oahu, not counting the travel days. It is packed with 5 full days of sightseeing, hiking and water activities.
If you have fewer days you can do the activities that most interest you, and if this is too much for your Hawaiian vacation you can always leave out some stuff to add more relaxation time at the beach or resort.
This is a highly customizable itinerary and you can always switch days around based on your preference or when you are able to get reservations of certain activities and historical or National sites.
You can also extend this Oahu itinerary to 6, 7 or even 10 days by spreading activities out and giving more time at each location.
This 5 day Oahu itinerary is planned by regions to minimize driving time so that you get maximum time each day to enjoy the beaches and activities.
Day 0 : Arrival day, relax at resort
This is the day you will arrive in Oahu from either mainland USA or from somewhere else in the world.
The journey to Oahu, Hawaii is long and tiring, and after getting your luggage, getting your rental car or finding your ride, and reaching your hotel you might be exhausted.
This 5 day Oahu itinerary starts from the next full day on this island. Take this arrival day to get yourself to the Hawaiian time zone, get settled, check out your awesome accommodations and explore the area around your resort, hotel or vacation rental.
If there is a beach nearby, take in some fresh island air and some amazing ocean views. Watch the famous Hawaiian sunset over the beach and get some dinner at a nearby restaurant.
Most importantly get a good night’s sleep to enjoy all the amazing stuff planned out for you in this Oahu itinerary!
Day 1 in Oahu: Diamond Head crater hike and Waikiki Beach
Most visitors prefer staying in the Waikiki area of Honolulu. Honolulu is the capital city of Hawaii and Waikiki is a neighborhood in Honolulu city. Waikiki is where the highest concentration of resorts and tourist activities are.
Waikiki is the number one tourist attraction and Diamond Head and Waikiki beach are the most visited places in Oahu.
On Day 1 in this 5 day Oahu itinerary, will explore the Waikiki Beach area and hike to the Diamond head crater.
Diamond Head crater hike
Get an early start on our first day to do the most popular hike in Oahu, the Diamond Head crater. This iconic dormant volcano crater is seen from the Waikiki beach and is a famous landmark in Oahu.
The hike is uphill all the way with some uneven and some paved switchbacks, and has some steep steps towards the end. If you reach the top you will be rewarded with sweeping panoramic views of the Waikiki beach, resort area and the ocean.
The hike is around 2 miles long with 500 feet elevation and is of type out and back. Its uphill to the top and then downhill on the way back. It is very crowded due to it’s popularity.
Note: You need to make a reservation for parking and entry before you visit the Diamond Head State Monument. You can make reservations at the Hawaii State Parks official website.
Spend the rest of the day on Waikiki beach which is one of the most popular beaches in Honolulu.
You can partake in the wide range of water activities that are available here or just spend your day relaxing on the beach, it’s up to you! After the morning hike you have earned it!
Top things to do on Waikiki Beach:
- Walk along the two mile perfect sand beach
- Take a Catamaran Cruise
- Submarine ride
- Dine at the restaurants with ocean and beach views
On Waikiki beach, I took a Submarine ride with my family as I was curious to see what the bottom of the ocean looked like! It was amazing and we even saw some marine life like turtles, fish and even a scuba diver! We also saw some sunken ship artifacts.
In the evening I highly recommend taking a Catamaran sunset cruise and watching the spectacular Hawaiian sunset.
The views of the Waikiki beach and the Diamond Head from the boat are out of this world and the glow of the sunset makes it even more amazing.
Day 2 in Oahu: Manoa Falls, Pearl Harbor Memorial and explore Honolulu
After exploring the Waikiki neighborhood on Day 1 and spending some amazing time on Waikiki beach, on Day 2 we will explore other areas in Honolulu city.
Start your morning with a short but amazing hike to the Manoa Falls.
Later visit the Pearl Harbor National Memorial which is one of the most popular things to do in Honolulu.
Use the rest of day 2 to explore other areas in Honolulu listed below if you’d like or go back to your hotel / resort / nearby beach.
Manoa Falls hike
Waterfall hikes are very popular in Hawaii and Manoa Falls hike is one of the best waterfall hikes. This is a very scenic hike through a lush rainforest and bamboo forest and the 150 feet tall waterfall is just spectacular.
The hike is less than 2 miles round trip and has some elevation of around 600 feet. The hike is not paved, and muddy and can be wet if it rained recently.
The drive to Manoa Falls trailhead is only a short 15-20 minute drive from Honolulu. There is a $7 parking fee per vehicle at the trailhead. Swimming is not recommended at the base of the waterfall.
Pearl Harbor National Memorial
Pearl Harbor Memorial is the most visited Historic site on Oahu due to its significance in US history, as the attack on Pearl Harbor subsequently led to the entry of the US into World War II.
Reservations and tickets are not required to visit the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center and Pearl Harbor National Memorial, or to walk the grounds, or visit the museums.
According to the National Park Service website, reservations are strongly recommended for the USS Arizona Memorial Programs and are available on the NPS website.
The USS Arizona Memorial Program reservation includes a shuttle boat ride to reach the USS Arizona Memorial, time at the Memorial and ride back to the harbor. The USS Arizona Memorial is built above water over the remains of the sunken ship.
Use the rest of Day 2 in your Oahu itinerary to explore the city of Honolulu. Honolulu is the state capital and the most populous city in Hawaii. It is brimming with recreational activities, history, arts and culture, shopping, dining and entertainment.
Top things to do in Honolulu
- Hike the Diamond Head Crater
- Water activities at Waikiki Beach
- Visit Pearl Harbor National Memorial
- Hike to Manoa Falls
- Shopping in Ala Moana Center
- Visit historic Iolani Palace
- Honolulu Zoo
Iolani Palace is a National Historic Landmark site in downtown Honolulu. This is a sacred palace where Hawaiian royalty used to reside in the late 1800s.
The palace now offers a variety of tours to give visitors a glimpse of Hawaii’s royal heritage. You can check the official Iolani Palace website for tour reservations.
Honolulu Zoo is a great escape from the city and the beaches to see animals in natural surroundings. If you are traveling with kids this is a great place to spend a few hours in the day.
The zoo is beautifully landscaped and there is a large variety of animals to see. You can see unique frog species, turtles and even a Komodo Dragon here.
There is a playground here as well that kids will enjoy. There is a parking fee and an admission fee to visit.
Ala Moana Center
Ala Moana Center is the largest open air shopping hub in Honolulu and one of the biggest open air shopping centers in the world. You will find everything here from high end designer brand stores to department stores.
They also have a huge food court and a variety of restaurants. Spend your evening here browsing the stores and you can have dinner at one of the restaurants or at the food court.
There is free live entertainment here on most days and you might just catch a hula dance while there!
Day 3: South Shore side of Oahu – Hanauma Bay snorkeling, hiking
On Day 3 of your Oahu itinerary, take a road trip away from the hustle bustle of Waikiki to the scenic Southeast and windward (east) part of the island with excellent beaches, snorkeling and hiking.
You can spend your morning at Hanauma Bay for some excellent snorkeling. Then you can choose to do the unique Koko crater hike and/or explore the other top things to do in the southeast and windward side of Oahu listed here.
Top things to do in South Shore of Oahu
- Snorkeling at Hanauma Bay
- Koko Head Stairs hike
- Makapuu Point Lighthouse Trail
- Kailua Bay and beach
- Lanikai Pillbox Hike
If you do not want to hike today, you can also just enjoy the scenic coastal ride and do beach hopping. There are several excellent beaches on the southeast part of the island.
Snorkeling at Hanauma Bay
Pack a picnic lunch and your snorkeling gear and spend your Day 3 morning on Hanauma Bay for some excellent snorkeling. The beach here is amazing!
Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve is the top snorkeling destination in Oahu, and is located on the southeast coast of Oahu. It is only a 25 minute drive from the Waikiki resort area to Hanauma Bay.
The water here is very shallow and you can just float and see a variety of tropical fish and coral reefs, making this a very family friendly snorkeling destination.
Hanauma Bay is also an excellent snorkeling destination for non-swimmers as you can just stand in the shallow water and see a variety of fish.
Online reservations to visit Hanauma Bay are released 2 days before at the Honolulu city website.
Tip ?: Tickets are released online 48 hours before and get sold out in minutes. If you do not get a ticket online, make sure to come here very early like at 6 AM before it opens as there is a huge line for walk-in tickets.
Parking here is limited and fills up early in the day.
Koko Head Crater Hike
Want to hike up an abandoned railroad track to the summit for some incredible crater and coast views? Then head to the Koko Crater Railway Trailhead at Koko Head District Park.
This hike is also called the ‘Koko Head Stairs‘ due to the stairs formed by the upward slope of the railway tracks. The hike is around 1 mile straight uphill with around 1000+ railway track steps and quite a bit of elevation.
The sweeping panoramic views from the top of the Koko crater and coast make the strenuous climb worth it! There are no facilities at the top. Bring lots of water.
Attempt it only if you have good knees and good health for all that uphill climb! Else there are other hikes like the Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail with coastal views.
I think the unique railway tracks make the Koko Head Crater hike so challenging, popular, and fun.
Makapu’u Point Lighthouse hike
Another popular but easy hike in the South Shore of Oahu is the Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail.
It is 2.5 miles round trip with only around 500 feet of elevation making this doable by most people. The hike is paved and has incredible coastal views and views of the Makapu’u lighthouse.
Kailua Beach is a beautiful beach on south east Oahu in Kailua Bay with soft white sand and perfect water for recreational opportunities.
Kailua Beach is a very popular beach for swimming, canoeing, parasailing, surfing, sunbathing and even for just enjoying the scenery.
Parking is extremely limited here, there are showers and restrooms at the beach entrance.
Lanikai Pillbox Hike
Another hiking alternative is to do the moderate to hard Lanikai Pillbox hike which is also called the Kaiwa Ridge Trail. This hike is relatively short, less than 2 miles round trip but the steep sections which need some scrambling are what makes this hike challenging.
The hike is a dirt road and is uneven in sections. The panoramic coastal views from the various pillboxes at the top make the hike worth it.
Day 4: Windward side of Oahu: Kualoa Ranch, Polynesian Cultural Center
On Day 4 of your Oahu itinerary, take a road trip to the windward (eastern side) of Oahu island. There are several amazing things to experience on this side of the island.
Top things to do on Windward side of Oahu
- Byodo-In Temple
- Kualoa Ranch tours
- Polynesian Cultural Center, Luau and Show
- Macadamia Nut Farm
- Nuuanu Pali Lookout
Nuuanu Pali Lookout
If you are staying in Honolulu, and take Hwy 61 to go to Byodo-In temple, then you can stop at Nuuanu Pali Lookout on the way.
This is a popular scenic overlook with panoramic views of the lush green windward side and the coast. There is a parking lot here with paid parking.
If you start early enough in your day you can visit the Byodo-In Buddhist temple on the way to Kualoa Ranch. The temple opens at 8:30 AM and you can buy admission tickets at the gate which is only around $5 per person.
The Byodo-In temple is a replica of a historic Japanese Buddhist temple in Japan. The grounds are beautiful to walk through and there is a koi fish pond that adds to the serenity of the temple.
It is a very peaceful and calming place and is a beautiful way to start your day!
Tropical Farms Macadamia Nuts
On the way to Kualoa Ranch take a quick stop at Macadamia Nut Farm which has a good variety of flavored macadamia nuts to purchase. They have free coffee samples to try.
The store also sells coffee, body lotions and soaps, souvenirs and gift items. Overall a fun stop.
Kualoa Ranch Tours
Kualoa Ranch is a very popular adventure park with jungle jeep excursions, ATV rides, ziplining and horseback riding.
There have been several movies shot here like Jurassic Park and the newer Jumanji. There are several activities to choose from, you can even do multiple depending on the time you have.
We did a Jungle Jeep expedition tour and got to ride their jungle expedition vehicles. The tour took us through the lush Hakipu’u rainforest and showed us the place where a scene of Jumanji was filmed.
The tour also included a short hike to an overlook to see panoramic views of Ka’a’awa and Hakipu’u valleys. The Jungle Jeep tour was the most favorite activity of my kids in Oahu.
Polynesian Cultural Center
Polynesian Cultural Center is a must do in any Oahu itinerary for first timers. It is a great place to learn about the different Polynesian islands and to immerse into Polynesian culture . All in all a great family friendly activity and lots of see and do here.
During your visit you can see 6 authentic island villages of Tonga, Tahiti, Hawaii, Samoa, Aotearoa with hands-on activities and small classes and shows. You can take a private or group guided tour, or do a self guided tour.
You can easily spend an entire day here. Try to come early in the day. The ticket is good for 3 days, so if you have more days, you can come back again for a self guided walk through the island villages.
Most packages come with the Alii Luau Polynesian buffet with live entertainment. They have the pig roasting ceremony as part of the luau.
There is an evening show here called the Ha: Breath of Life which was the most amazing fire and dance show I have seen till date. It was a remarkable storyline and performances were awesome.
I recommend doing a group guided tour of the island, the Alii luau and the Breath of Life show. The show was a perfect end to our day 4 in Oahu!
Day 5: Day trip to North Shore Oahu
On day 5 in your Oahu itinerary, take a day trip to explore the North Shore of Oahu. Oahu’s North Shore is less crowded and more peaceful than Waikiki beaches. There are plenty of things to explore here.
Top things to do in North Shore Oahu
- Dole Plantation
- Waimea Valley and Waimea Falls
- Waimea Bay Beach
- Shark’s Cove
- Sunset Beach
- Turtle Bay and Turtle Beach
First stop in our beautiful day trip to the North Shore Oahu is the Dole Plantation for all things pineapple? ! Pineapple is usually the first fruit that comes to mind when we think of Hawaii!
Dole Plantation has a huge cafeteria but the most popular item here is the Dole soft serve also called the Dole Whip. There is a long line to get this delicious treat!
The plantation is a working farm and grows several tropical fruits and flowers. There is a train ride called the Pineapple Express that will take you on a tour of the property.
They also have a Pineapple Garden Maze which is one of the World’s largest mazes. You can take self-guided tours of the many gardens here. Tickets for the train ride, maze and garden tours can be bought on the property.
Dole Plantation is around 40 minutes drive from Waikiki and a fun family friendly stop to spend a couple of hours.
Waimea Valley and Waimea Falls
Next stop on your Oahu North Shore road trip is the beautiful Waimea Valley and the breathtaking Waimea Falls. The Waimea Valley has a beautiful botanical garden and historical sites to explore along with the swimmable Waimea Falls.
The walk to Waimea Falls is around 3/4 mile one way through a paved path exploring various cultural and historic sites. It’s a beautiful walk with a huge variety of tropical plants and flowers to explore, and amazing views of the Waimea Valley.
Tip ?: Swimming is permitted at the waterfall depending on water conditions on a particular day. Please call the Waimea Valley admission office to inquire about the swimming status on the morning of your visit to avoid disappointment.
There is an entrance fee of around $25 per person to visit the Waimea Valley Botanical Gardens and Waimea Waterfalls. Life jackets are provided for free near the waterfall. They have a snack bar with hot food and drinks.
Waimea Valley is a beautiful well maintained place and a must visit on your day trip to North Shore Oahu.
Waimea Bay Beach
Right outside the Waimea Valley is the Waimea Bay Beach which is a great sport for swimming and surfing. The beach here is excellent with soft sand. There is a parking lot but it gets filled up quickly. There are restrooms here.
Sharks Cove is a rocky but shallow snorkeling spot which is perfect for families. The water in the tide pools here is quite shallow and you can just stand still and observe fish. The rocks can be very sharp so definitely bring water shoes to protect your feet.
There is parking, restrooms and showers here.
There is a great stretch of beach next to Sharks Cove called Sunset beach. Great place to take a break and have some beach time in your day.
Turtle Bay and Turtle Beach
Turtle Beach is at the northernmost region of Oahu and next to Turtle Bay Resort. This is a shallow beach great for snorkeling and watching Hawaiian green turtles?.
There is public parking, restrooms and showers at Turtle Beach. The beach is right next to Turtle Bay resort. Turtle Bay side of the resort is rocky and is excellent for surfing. You might catch some surfers there.
Day 6: Departure day
This brings us to an end of 5 excellent days in Oahu that will ensure you see all the popular sightseeing places and explore all parts of the island.
Where to stay in Oahu
Most first time tourists prefer to stay in Waikiki as it is very accessible and a lot of attractions are close by. Most tour companies pick from major resorts in Waikiki.
We stayed at the Hilton Hawaiian Village in Waikiki and it was an amazing stay. The resort is a beach front property and they have several room types, even condos. The sunsets at Waikiki beach were spectacular. It was walking distance to several stores and restaurants.
Turtle Bay Resort is a great upscale place to stay on North Shore Oahu. If you want a more quiet location than the touristy Waikiki, or you want more time to explore the North Shore Oahu then this is a great place to stay.
Best Food to try in Oahu
Below are some popular food items that are a must try when in Oahu:
- Malasadas – Fried Portuguese donut filled with different flavors like custard, Nutella etc.
- Hawaiian Shaved ice – So many flavors and look so pretty!
- Fresh tropical fruits – Try the coconuts, pineapples, passion fruit and any other tropical fruits you can find
- POG – Is a juice blend of Passion fruit, Orange and Guava.
- Fish Tacos – The fresh fish imparts great flavor.
- Poke bowls – Available in so many different flavor combinations!
Travel tips for Oahu
Best time to visit Oahu
If you are trying to avoid crowds, Oahu peak tourist season is during school breaks, so June to August, 2 weeks of winter break and spring break in April are very crowded.
Summer break is usually less crowded than winter break. The 2 weeks during winter break from mid-December to January first week is the busiest tourist season as people fly to Hawaii to escape the harsh winters. But if that is when you can go, then go for it.
I visited Oahu in the first week of January with my family, and we really had a great time. Oahu is very laid back and everything is on island time here, which is relaxed.
September to November, and February, March months would be considered good months to visit if you do not have school going kids to worry about.
Prices of flights and accommodations will be much lower during these off season months and you will not have to deal with crowds everywhere.
How many days are needed for Oahu vacation
A would recommend a minimum of 5 to 7 days for a trip to Oahu. If this is the only island you are visiting like us, then a week would be great.
If you are island hopping, then also you should plan to spend at least 5 days in Oahu to see the main tourist attractions in Oahu.
How to get to Oahu
Flying into the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport (HNL) in Honolulu is the best way to reach Oahu. There are flights to HNL airport from most major US cities and even from international destinations.
How to get around Oahu
The Honolulu and Waikiki area are really developed and there is Uber available readily as it is a major city and state capital.
There are also several tour companies that will pick you from your hotel/resort and take you to tourist attractions. Several tourist attractions also offer pick-up/drop-off service at an additional charge.
The best way to see the island of Oahu beyond Waikiki would be by getting a rental car. With a rental car you will have the freedom to make any stops you wish.
You can do a hybrid approach too like we did, that is use tours and Uber in Waikiki and then do a rental car for the days you want to explore the North Shore, South Shore and Windward side of Oahu.
What to pack for trip to Oahu
Its best to bring most things you need with you as prices can be high here, considering most stuff is coming from the mainland. Below are a few essentials that you should definitely pack for a trip to Oahu:
- Hawaiian style clothes – Hawaiian shirts, summer dresses, shorts, t-shirts, skirts, sun hat/cap
- Footwear – flip flops and sandals for the beach. Shoes for hiking, Water shoes for snorkeling to protect your feet from sharp rocks in the water.
- Swimwear and that too several pairs!
- Reef safe sunscreen – And lots of it!
- Snorkeling gear – It’s cheaper to buy your own snorkeling gear then renting it daily.
- Backpack and reusable water bottle – For all the day trips to the North Shore and Windward Side and hiking.
- Ponchos – for the sudden pouring rain during your excursions in rainforests like Kualoa Ranch and the windward side
- Hiking poles or sticks – If you plan to do hikes like Koko Head for balance and support.
- Bug bracelets – For rainforest hikes. I get bitten by bugs a lot but my husband does not!
Final Takeaways: Oahu itinerary for 5 days
Oahu is an amazing vacation destination with excellent beaches, hiking, snorkeling, and waterfalls. It is also rich in Hawaiian history and culture. Pearl Harbor has a significant role in World War II history. This itinerary will help you get a glimpse of all the wonderful things to do and see in Oahu.
Summary of 5 days in Oahu itinerary:
- Day 1: Waikiki -Diamond Head crater hike and Waikiki Beach
- Day 2: Honolulu – Manoa Falls, Pearl Harbor Memorial and other Honolulu attractions
- Day 3: South Shore Oahu – Hanauma Bay snorkeling, hiking
- Day 4: Windward side of Oahu: Kualoa Ranch, Polynesian Cultural Center
- Day 5: North Shore Oahu: Dole Plantation, Waimea Falls, Turtle Beach
Visiting Hawaii? Check out my other posts in the Hawaii series: