How To Plan For Your Oahu Vacation
Updated: Jun 11, 2019
The Island of Oahu, often known as The Gathering Place, is true to its name. For centuries, this extraordinary island ringed by white-sand beaches has welcomed the foreigner into her arms.
The showpiece of the Hawaiian archipelago, Oahu is an intriguing mix of ancient and modern, East and West, urban and rural. From hidden waterfalls to seaside surf towns, from historic battlegrounds to authentic luaus – Oahu has it all. Let your journey of discovery begin.
Oahu is warm all year with the average temperature hovering around 78°F. You can refer to the chart above for a guideline on average temps during the time you’re planning your visit.
One thing to keep in mind though, is that Oahu has different microclimates, while the temps listed above are accurate for Honolulu, if you plan on hiking up mountains it may be a little cooler.
As for rain...☔
There are two main seasons:
The dry season when there’s less rainfall from April to October.
And the wetter season when it tends to rain more from November to March.
In the graphic below, you can check out average rainfalls for the greater Honolulu area throughout the year. The measurements are listed in inches.
What Kind Of Clothes Should I Pack?
If you’re like most visitors, you’ll pack too many clothes for your Oahu vacation. Here are some ideas for smart packing:
Shorts and t-shirts are fine for daytime sightseeing.
If you want to dress up a little for dinner in restaurants, men can pack a pair of khaki trousers and a collared polo shirt. Or he can pick up an Aloha shirt that is considered acceptable wear in every situation. Women can pack a sundress, casual skirt, and blouse, or capri pants outfit.
Pack a light sweater or jacket for the plane ride to Hawaii, and for late night outings.
Also bring a light rainproof jacket in case you go hiking, or for a boat ride on the open ocean.
Bring two bathing suits so that you always have a fresh dry one ready for a swim. And don’t forget a bathing suit coverup for those times when you have to walk through common areas from the pool or beach.
Flip flops or lightweight sandals are fine for sightseeing. If you plan to go hiking, you’ll need a pair of sturdy hiking shoes.
Bring a couple of pairs of jeans that are fine to wear everywhere from restaurants to outdoor activities.
Lay of the Land
Oahu is a compact island that’s only 44 miles long by 30 miles wide. Oahu is generally drier on the western side of the island and wetter and greener on the eastern side. It has five distinct districts that are each unique in their terrain and popular activities and attractions.
Honolulu and Waikiki Area
The Honolulu and Waikiki area is where you’ll land at Daniel K. Inouye International Airport. This district spans from Pearl Harbor to Makapuu Point on Oahu’s southeastern shore, 25 miles away. It encompasses all of downtown Honolulu, the Waikiki area, Diamond Head, and the majority of hotel and shopping venues on the island.
RELATED POST: What To Do In Waikiki - The Ultimate Travel Planner
Central Oahu is a broad valley between the Koolau mountain range in the east and the Waianae mountains in the west. There isn’t much sightseeing here since it’s filled with neighborhoods like Mililani, Wahiawa, Waipio/Waikele that line the H-2 Freeway on the way up to the North Shore.
The North Shore
North Shore spans 17 miles of coastal area with more than 50 beaches nestling in a long sandy drive along Oahu’s northernmost tip. Some of the most famous surfing beaches, like the Banzai Pipeline, Waimea Beach, and Sunset Beach can be found in this area between Ka’ena Point in the west and Kahuku Point in the east.
This is big wave country!
Especially from November to February, when many professional surfers from around the world gather here to get in on the giant surf. But all year round you can enjoy walking through Haleiwa Town, the beachside surf village famous for its eating places and boutiques.
East Oahu is also called Windward Oahu and covers the area from Makapuu Point up to the small town of Laie abutting the North Shore. It’s a beautiful drive up Oahu’s eastern coast dotted with small neighborhoods clinging to the green mountainsides.
East Oahu is filled with white sand beaches that are perfect for ocean sports like snorkeling, swimming and bodyboarding. There’s rarely a day in East Oahu when there isn’t at least a rain shower or two.
West Oahu, also called Leeward Oahu or the Waianae Coast, is the dry side of the island. It encompasses a luxury tourist area known as Ko Olina with the Disney Aulani Hotel and manmade lagoons.
Driving past Ko Olina the H3 Freeway will end and you’ll be on a highway through neighborhoods with typical fast food restaurants and grocery stores. Yokohama Bay and Ka’ena Point are at the furthest points on the highway, but there’s no outlet and you’ll have to return the same way you drove in to return to Honolulu again.
The best advice for visitors to Oahu who want to explore this beautiful island is to Start Early and get out of Waikiki! Freeways get gridlocked with commuters each morning and late afternoon around Honolulu.
That being said, if you do plan on staying in Waikiki for a day of your vacation, grab our free walking tour and spend a morning or evening strolling through this popular beach learning it's history. You may also want to check out the Downtown Honolulu Walking Tour while you're at it.
Another recommendation would be to visit some outlaying areas. For example, you could spend the day checking out a couple of the numerous waterfalls on the island.
On Day 1 take the Circle Island tour and head to the North Shore so you can get an overview of the island and enjoy a leisurely day having breakfast along the way, stopping at beaches, and relaxing.
If you’re driving from Waikiki, it’s better to drive up through Central Oahu and stop in Haleiwa. This is the route we follow on the Shaka Guide Circle Island tour, which loops around the northern part of Oahu.
As you come around the northern top of the island, you’ll enter Laie on your way back down towards Honolulu, and it’s well worth your time to spend your afternoon (and maybe the evening here as well.) The Polynesian Cultural Center doesn’t open until noon and you’ll love visiting the seven Polynesian villages and watching the performances there.
If you stay for dinner and the popular Polynesian Night Show you’ll get out about 9pm. If you decide to stay overnight in the area, there’s a Marriott right there in Laie.
Day 2 you could devote the day to visiting Pearl Harbor and the Arizona Memorial. There’s also the Bishop Museum which is the largest repository of Pacific antiquities, and Iolani Palace, the last home of the Hawaiian monarchy.
By the afternoon you could enjoy a swim at the beach or pool and get ready for a leisurely dinner.
Day 3 might be a good day for outdoor activities like a hike to the top of Diamond Head. Or you can head out to Kualoa in East Oahu for some horseback riding or ATV tours in areas where movies like Jurassic Park and Jumanji were filmed.
There’s also a Zipline in Kualoa for especially brave souls.
You get the idea!
Change your activity level daily and maximize your energy flow to get the most out of your Oahu vacation.
How to Get Around
You should definitely rent a car for part of your vacation, but you don’t need to have a car for the entire time you’re on Oahu. Hotel parking is an expensive extra. Plan your itinerary ahead of time and you may find that you only need a car for the first part of your vacation while you’re on a Shaka Guide Driving tour, exploring distant areas like the North Shore or West Oahu.
The Bus system on Oahu is great.
You can get almost anywhere on the island by bus. You can even go around the entire island on the bus, but it’ll take you a long time because of the many stops along the way. So that may not be the best use of your time. But you can easily get from Waikiki to Pearl Harbor, Chinatown, Iolani Palace, or museums on the bus.
There are a lot of Ubers and Lyft cars in Honolulu. They can be taken to and from the airport easily and quickly.
There’s a bike sharing program called BikiBike that covers Waikiki and Honolulu. It’s great for short trips. Unlock a bike with your credit card or their smartphone app at any one of 130 stops, and ride it to your destination where there’s sure to be an another Biki dropoff point.
Simple and quick.
Exploring Oahu will be a delightful experience if you’re prepared and plan your trip ahead of time. Knowing what to pack, what the weather will be like, and what stops you want to enjoy along the way will free you up for a stress-free vacation.