Do you dream of palm trees, turquoise waters perfect for snorkeling, scuba diving, and surfing? Of eating tropical fruits, fresh seafood, and rainbow shave ice? I know I do, which I was I was thrilled to finally visited Hawaii in conjunction with my trip to Fiji and Tonga. Not only was it perfect for breaking up a long, long, long, long, flight but it also made for a really fun travel destination. Considering heading here yourself? Here’s how to spend 1 week in Hawaii and my picks for the ultimate Oahu Itinerary.
Getting to Hawaii
For those who live under a rock, Hawaii is an island. Actually, I’m lying. Hawaii is a state that is made up of a number of islands. You can get here by boat (normally a cruise unless you are a master sailor in which case- can we be friends?), but most people will arrive by plane. In my experience in planning my own trip to Hawaii, the cheapest (and fastest) airport to fly into was Honolulu Airport on Oahu. This is the island that I stayed on and will use for the basis of this 1 week in Hawaii article. While you can island hop, it can be expensive and if you only have one week in Hawaii then you may as well set up a base on one island and explore. There’s more than enough to see and do on Oahu and I’m sharing my favourites in this Oahu itinerary.
Tip: I use skyscanner to find the cheapest flights.
Getting around Oahu
As is the case with all Hawaiian Islands, the easiest way to get around is to rent a car. However, I know this isn’t always an option, especially for those travelling solo to Hawaii like I did. Don’t worry though, you won’t be stuck. There are ways to get around both Honolulu and the island.
In terms of Honolulu area, if you want the easy tourist route that hits the popular spots, consider getting tickets for the Waikiki Trolley which is a hop on hop off bus. You can get 1,4, or 7 day passes here.
You can also use the local bus system which is creatively called ‘The Bus’. The Bus is pretty good for getting around Honolulu and the nearby areas such as Pearl Harbour or Hanauma Bay. Your best bet is to buy daily passes as it’s the same price for that as it is for 2 trips. Buses can be cramped and busy, but the drivers are friendly and it is cheap.
The same bus service works on the whole island, however these journeys tend to be pretty long. I originally thought I’d take the bus up to the North Shore for a day trip but that wasn’t really realistic when I timed it out. I could have gone and spent a night somewhere there, but The Bus also isn’t ideal for carting your luggage around either.
If you do want to explore more of the island, your best bet is to book day trips- there are lots of good ones that I’ll share later. Or, you could hire a taxi or private transfer to take you. Taxis and private hires aren’t cheap but, let’s be honest, nothing is in Hawaii.
Pssst. Looking to save money on your vacation? Check out my article on how to explore Hawaii on a budget.
Where to Stay in Waikiki
For my one week in Hawaii, I chose to base myself in Waikiki then relied on day trips and The Bus to get around for site seeing and tours. While I didn’t love that the main Hawaii I experienced was a big city, I also recognized that without renting a car, it really is the best bet.
Honolulu is surprisingly big and it does take a while to get around. Since I’m a beach girl I chose to stay in Waikiki which I actually really liked. Cute shops, cool restaurants and bars, and gorgeous stretches of beach made it the ideal place to stay for a beach vacation. I definitely recommending choosing this part of Oahu as your base for your stay.
Need some recommendations?
If you are on a tight budget or looking to meet people, try Waikiki Beachside hostel. It’s definitely not the best hostel I’ve stayed in (bring ear plugs) but, the location was great and it was really easy to meet people.
Hostels not your thing? Try the Surfjack Hotel. I stayed here for a couple nights at the end of my trip because I needed some privacy. It was about a 10-15-minute walk to Waikiki Beach and had a cool on-site pool. Rooms were spacious and kind of funky- definitely fit the island vibe. I really liked it there. Another couple of great resort-hotel type picks in Waikiki include: Outrigger Waikiki Beach Resort and the Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki.
Or, if you are really looking to splurge then try the Moana Surf Rider hotel. It’s THE hotel to stay at in Waikiki and you can’t beat the location. I walked by a few times and definitely wished I had a bigger budget so I could stay there.
Another option, especially if you are planning on staying in one place for your 1 week in Hawaii, is to consider an Airbnb. These tend to be a bit further from the ocean but are an affordable option with the added perk of having cooking facilities which may come in handy during your vacation. Never used Aibnb? You can get $45CAD off your first booking here.
The Best Things to do in Oahu: My Oahu Itinerary Favourites
Considering that Oahu is a pretty small island, it sure has a lot to see and do. Some is free, some is pricey (but worth it) so my biggest word of advice to is do a bit of planning ahead of time and figure out what it is you really want to see and do. A lot of the day trips and tours fill up quickly so your best bet is to book your spot in advance. With that in mind, here are my favourite things to do in Oahu that you should definitely consider adding to your Oahu itinerary.
Snorkelling at Hanauma Bay, Oahu’s Top Snorkel Site
Oahu has no shortage of snorkeling spots but for those looking for a beautiful, easy spot to get to without having to hire a guide or take a tour, I recommend Hanauma Bay. It’s an easy bus ride from Waikiki and has a beautiful beach with a restaurant and change rooms on site making it perfect for a day trip. Hamauma Bay can get busy and crowded (especially on holidays and weekends) but I still thought it was worth it. The snorkeling offered plenty of multi-coloured corals and some bright reef fish plus the beach was gorgeous.
Please note that there is a small fee to enter.
Watch the Surfers at Waikiki Beach
Waikiki Beach is the busiest beach in Oahu, but you can’t leave the island without spending a little bit of time here whether it’s for swimming, or watching the sunset. The surfers here riding the waves are a pretty iconic site and, for those interested, you can even take some lessons or just rent a board.
Friday Night Fireworks in Waikiki
If you have one week in Hawaii, then you will likely be in Oahu for the Friday night fireworks in Waikiki. They aren’t particularily special fireworks per say, but I’m a sucker for fireworks any day so seeing these were pretty fun. I watched from the beach, though you need to be pretty selective about where you go because some of the beach hotels block the view. You can also watch from the water if you book a boat tour.
Circle Island Tour of Oahu
If you don’t plan on renting a car and exploring the island on your own, then definitely take a full day circle island tour. There are dozens of operators for this, though some of the stops differ a little bit. The one I did went to a coffee farm, the Dole Plantation (where I had my first ever Dole whip- drool), a couple of gorgeous beaches up around the North Shore, Haleiwa Town, the famous North Shore food trucks, and even a cocktail stop. We had a TON of fun and I loved being able to get out of the city and see the sites with a local.
Want to book a circle island tour? Try this one.
Swimming with Wild Dolphins in Hawaii
Swimming with wild dolphins was the highlight of my one week in Hawaii. It wasn’t cheap, but it was worth every penny to be in the water with them swimming past me. Dolphins can be spotted all around Oahu, and you may get lucky and see them out while swimming or SUPing or kayaking, but if you are really set on seeing them then I definitely recommend a tour. The local tour providers know the dolphin pods in the area and the best places to find them. Plus, the company I used was incredibly professional and made it clear that the dolphin’s safety and wellbeing was the number one priority which, as an animal enthusiast, I was totally on board with. For those interested, I did this tour and you can read about my experience here.
Whale Watching in Hawaii (Winter Only)
Love whales? Me too. Hawaii is one of the best places to see humpback whales, especially on the North Shore. However, it is a seasonal activity that can only be done in the winter months. Whale season in Hawaii runs from November until May with the best viewings from January until March. While you can’t swim with the humpback whales in Hawaii (you can in Tonga) the whale watching tours are a great way to see them up close.
Book your whale watching tour in Hawaii here.
Shopping in Waikiki
Shopping may not seem like one of the top things to do in Hawaii but I happened to be there a couple months before Christmas so I had a lot of fun checking out the shops in Waikiki and finding fun and unique things for friends and family back home- especially the women I was shopping for. From spa and bath products to unique beachy jewelry and more, there was lots to choose from. I might have even picked up a couple of fun things for myself (no regrets). Cutest shops: Angels by the Sea and Pineapple County.
Take a Hike
Oahu has tons of hiking trails, a couple of which are just outside Waikiki and can easily be reached by public transit. Perhaps the most popular hike is Diamond Head which offers a scenic overlook over Waikiki and the ocean. Just make sure you check opening and closing times ahead of time, we tried to go for sunset only to discover it was closed.
Another really popular hike in Oahu is Koko Head. This hike is made up of over 1200 ‘stairs’ formed by old train tracks. You should probably be a comfortable hiker to tackle this one as it can be a bit precarious at points but the viewpoint at the top makes it look like it’s worth it.
Perhaps the most iconic hike in Oahu is the Stairway to Heaven or the Haiku stairs. If you use Instagram no doubt you’ve seen several travel ‘influencers’ posting shots from this hike. Well, guess what? This hike is actually illegal and as of 2019 comes with a hefty fine of nearly $1000. The stairs are now considered to be too dangerous and there have been several deaths here. So, do yourself a favour, and skip this one.
Step into the Scenes of Your Favourite Movies
Oahu is a popular filming locations for several well-known movies including the latest Jumagi, the Jurassic Park series, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Pearl Harbour, Blue Crush, and many more. If you are a big movie fan in general, or love one of these specific movies then you may be interested in heading to the scenes where they were filmed.
Perhaps the most popular filming location in Hawaii is Kualoa Ranch which was the filming location for one of my favourites: Jurassic Park (love me some dinosaurs). A visit here does have to booked as part of a tour (you can book one here) but it’s a fun way to spend a day.
Another fun place to stop if you are renting a car is Turtle Bay Resort. You don’t have to stay here to visit (though it is beautiful and if you have the budget you may want to), but it’s worth popping into the bar to have a drink and check out the beach views. This is where Forgetting Sarah Marshall was filmed so you’ll probably recognize a lot of the scenery.
Learn about the History of Pearl Harbor
You can’t come to Hawaii without knowing a bit of history behind Pearl Harbor; home of the infamous bombing that kickstarted WWII. Pearl Harbor takes nearly an hour to get to by bus from Waikiki (so time your visit accordingly) and is comprised of several museums. Admission to the Arizona Memorial is free, though tickets are limited so I do recommend taking advantage of the book 1 day in advance option online. Booking opens at 7am for next day tours and costs $1.50USD to reserve your spot. These tickets are limited so get them while they last. You can get them here.
Other parts of Pearl Harbor do come with fees including the USS Missouri and the USS Bowfin. It’s up to you if you would like to visit these sites as well. If you are a big history fan then you might want to consider the Passport to Pearl Harbor.
Embrace the Island Life
Hawaii may be part of the USA, but it has its own culture and plenty of cool things to see, do, learn about, and try.
One of the best ways to enjoy your week in Hawaii is to make sure you try plenty of local food. If you love seafood and fresh fruit, you’ll be in heaven in Hawaii. Two of my Hawaiian favourites are poke bowls and rainbow shave ice, but there’s way more to try. Even if you don’t consider yourself to be experimental with food, do yourself a favour and pick one local spot for a meal rather than joining the massive queue at The Cheesecake Factory.
Another fun way to get your Aloha on is to join a Luau. Now, you need to know going in that these cater to tourists. It’s not a local thing that you happen to stumble upon. Oh, and they tend to come with hefty pricetags. But, you’ll get a pretty lei, a delicious meal, and an impressive show that makes for a fun night out. Book your Luau tickets here.
Uncover the Royal History of Hawaii
Did you know that Hawaii had a royal family? Before it became part of the USA, Hawaii was a kingdom that was ruled by it’s own monarchs. In fact, Hawaii is the only place in the USA that has a real royal palace.
The Iolani Palace was finished in 1882 and served as the home for the last king of Hawaii. Funnily enough, this palace actually received electricity before the White House. Today, travellers to Hawaii can visit this Iolani Palace and take a tour to discovery the history of Hawaii and it’s royal heritage.
For those interested in Hawaii’s history and culture, another must is the Polynesian Cultural Centre. It’s one of the top-rated places to visit in Oahu and and offers some great experiences. There are multiple ticket options depending on the type of visit you wish to have. You can learn more here.
Do a Photoshoot
Ok, so I didn’t do this during my trip but I lucked in that our guide for the Circle Island tour was also a photographer and took some great photos for us. However, Hawaii is so beautiful and picturesque and tons of couples and solo travellers come and are interested in getting photos done. If that’s of interest to you, I highly recommend Localgrapher. I used them in Greece and was thrilled with the end result. You can check them out here.
Must Pack Items for 1 Week in Hawaii
Packing for a tropical vacation isn’t too tricky, but there are definitely a few must-have items that I strongly recommend you bring with you. One, because you’ll want them and two, because you’ll save yourself some money by bringing rather than having to buy while you are there. Here are my suggestions on what to pack for Hawaii.
- Dry bag: Perfect for keeping your clothing/towel/electronics dry for any beach days or time spent out on a boat. Get some here.
- A quick dry towel. Some resorts/hotels will give you beach towels but they tend to either be small or thick and slow to dry. I’m a big fan of this brand of quick dry towel for travel- plus they are big and perfect to dry off or use as a beach blanket. I love and use these ones.
- Reef Safe Sunscreen. Sunscreen is a must and a reef safe brand is the way to go. Especially since Hawaii is banning any non-reef-safe sunscreens. There are a few brands but I’m a big supporter of Stream 2 Sea products which have been tried and tested.
- Rash guards: Keep you safe from the sun and add a protective layer if you plan on surfing or paddle boarding or sneaky jelly fish. I love mine for snorkeling. Get one for women here or for men here.
- Lotion: Keep your skin moisturized after exploring in the sun with a good moisturizer. If you are worried about leaky bottles then try a solid lotion bar from MadeON Skin Care– I bring mine when I travel carry-on only.
Final Tips for Your Oahu Itinerary
Oahu is a lot of fun and a great destination to choose for your one week in Hawaii. Whether you are looking for adventure, culture, or just a laid back vacation, you’ll find what you are looking for on this tropical island. Just remember that Hawaii is a dream destination for many, so for the best deals and to avoid disappointment, your best bet is to book things (hotels, tours, etc.) in advance to avoid disappointment!
A Note on Travel Insurance in Hawaii
Please, do NOT travel without travel insurance! I’ve had to rely on mine twice before (once for damaged luggage, once because I developed a lung infection while traveling). While the cost may seem annoying and better spent elsewhere, trust me when I say you’ll be sorry if you don’t have it. For just a couple bucks a day, you can save yourself a whole lot of stress and money. I like to recommend SafetyWing for travel medical insurance. With prices starting at $37 for 4 weeks, they are one of the most affordable options I’ve found. Learn more about the importance of travel insurance here.