While the world abounds with breathtaking tropical landscapes and vibrant cities, no place better combines such pleasures than Oahu (one of six major islands in the state of Hawaii). It’s the perfect blend of town and country, where you can indulge in meals prepared by Michelin-starred chefs at night, and then hike through lush rainforests filled with the perfume of guava and lilikoi the next morning or learn to surf the perfect crystalline waters that surround the island. Whether you’re seeking a romantic getaway, an outdoor adventure-packed trip or a quiet, restorative vacation, it’s all at your fingertips on Oahu. All you need to do is come with your curiosity, an open mind and a bit of your own aloha spirit, and you’ll find that Oahu and her people will open their arms to you.
When most people think of O‘ahu, the first thing to come to mind tends to be the State’s epicenter for tourism: Waikiki. Home to the famously pink Royal Hawaiian Hotel, and once upon a time, the live shows of the late, great Don Ho as well as the original Waikiki Beach Boys, which were a group of gifted watermen that included the three-time Olympic Gold Medalist swimmer Duke Kahanamoku.
Nowadays, people from all over the globe flock to this skyscraper-packed, ocean-side area of the city for its high-end shopping, fine dining, beachfront cocktail bars and the pellucid aquamarine waters. And even though Waikiki is crowded, it is far more laid-back than any other equivalent urban area in the US. The easy-going vibe is, after all, one of the things that makes Hawai‘i so special.
Waikiki, to be clear, is just a small part of Honolulu, the State’s capital and one of the most dynamic and cultural melting pots across the globe. Such diversity abounds in Honolulu’s vibrant foodie scene, which can be enjoyed by people on any budget. Hawaiian, Japanese, Thai, French, Jamaican, Himalayan, Chinese, Vietnamese, Italian, Korean and Mexican are some of the seemingly innumerable ethnic cuisines offered in this cosmopolitan melting pot of the world. In addition, sandwich shops, juices bars and coffee shops abound. And for those with an itch for shopping, there is always the main strip in Waikiki, which abounds with couture and island-style boutiques as well as the world’s largest open-air shopping center, Ala Moana.
However, great food and high-end shopping are not the only things on offer in Honolulu. It is also the arts, cultural and historical hub of Hawai‘i with some of the best galleries, live music and theater venues, museums and the once home to the monarchy, the stunning I‘olani Palace. Combine these with the pleasures of Waikiki Beach, it’s more than enough keep local urbanites satiated on all fronts.
After you manage to indulge in all that Honolulu has to offer (get started with this itinerary to Honolulu in 24 Hours), be sure to explore the rest of the island. The first place to head is Kailua, which is a large beach town known for the white sand beach of Lanikai, the Mokulua Islands and that kick-back beach town vibe. If you travel further along the eastern coastline, you’ll find yourself on a two-lane road lined with palm trees. Everything about this drive is verdant and tropical, but the lushest areas tend to be Kahalu‘u, Kualoa and Ka‘awa.
Keep on driving and you will eventually end up on the famed North Shore, also known as the Seven-Mile Miracle, which refers to the seven-mile stretch of perfect surf breaks that come to life with each and every winter swell. If you want to catch a glimpse at the wild world of professional surfing, be sure to stop at Waimea Bay or Ehukai Beach, which is home to the feared and revered break known as ‘Pipeline’. The best months to catch big wave surfing are November through February. In the summer, the waters are calm and wonderful for swimming, stand-up paddle boarding and snorkeling. Be sure to grab lunch in Hale‘iwa because it has some of the best lunch spots on the entire island.
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Whatever you do, make an effort to journey beyond the streets of Waikiki and see how the locals live. By checking out a farmer’s market, kicking back in a coffee shop and trying out some of the more challenging hikes or a new (for you) ocean sport, you’ll get a taste of what it’s like to live on O‘ahu – and you may just take a bit of paradise and the aloha spirit home with you.
O‘ahu is one of those places that you can visit year-round and have a blast. At the very least a five-day stay is recommended, but only if you’re determined to get out of the tourist hub of Waikiki and explore. If you do not plan to rent a car, moped, bicycle or to utilize public transportation, then you’ll miss out on some stunning beaches, mind-blowing hikes, edifying cultural and historical sites as well as some of the best restaurants in the US.
The busiest time to travel to Hawaii is during winter and early spring, approximately between mid-December and mid-April. Visitors from the U.S. mainland arrive by the planeload then, seeking sunshine and a tropical escape from cold weather back home. Hotel rates are generally higher during peak season, and the Christmas to New Year’s holiday period and spring break weeks are even more expensive. But even in high season there are deals to be had during slower times, such as early January after New Year’s.
Summer is the other high season for travel to Hawaii, when U.S. mainland families take vacations during the school holidays. The summer travel season extends from the Memorial Day holiday weekend in late May through the Labor Day holiday weekend in early September. Travel dips slightly during early June, then picks up again for the rest of the summer until mid-August, when kids head back to school.
That leaves very few months for off-season travel to Hawaii, a destination that stays reasonably busy year-round. You may find the best travel deals during the hot, dry, and windless months of September and October. The other, briefer shoulder seasons for Hawaii travel are between November and mid-December and from mid-April through May, when the weather is milder and cooler, though slightly wetter. For more information and advice about Hawaii’s weather and climate, click here.
Of course, there are exceptions to the general trends described above. Some hotels and resorts, as well as many vacation rentals, condominium complexes, bed-and-breakfasts and campgrounds, are now charging the same rates year-round. Airfares go up and down throughout the year, and at almost any time you may find good deals, depending on airline fare sales, new routes and carriers, etc. The only time when airfares and accommodation and car-rental rates all rise simultaneously is during holiday periods like Christmas to New Year’s and around Easter in March or April. Things get so busy then that many hotels charge triple and book up a year in advance, flights are expensive and overbooked, and rental cars sell out completely.
O‘ahu has a wonderful climate year-round, which usually ranges in temperature from 66-89ºF (19-31ºC). While it’s predominantly sunny, it is not unusual for it to rain briefly in the early morning as well as the evening. For most of the year the heat is tamed by the gently cooling trade winds that roll through, but during the summer the trades sometimes vanish and the air can feel thick and overwhelmingly hot. While this is great for the surfers who love glassy, perfectly shaped waves, it can make mid-day hours unbearable for those who don’t plan to spend their time at beach.
The East Side of O‘ahu is the rainier, windward side of the island, and the West Side, the leeward, more arid side. As one might expect, the landscapes dramatically reflect this difference so plan your adventures accordingly. That said, during the typical rainy season of March-April, you can expect the majority of the landscape to be lush and verdant and for rain to make regular, if not daily appearances during your visit.
And for all those surfers out there, keep in mind that summer swells hit the South Shore (Waikiki/Diamond Head/Ala Moana), while massive swells start arriving on the North Shore as early as September and stick around as late as February or March. Fair warning: if you’ve never surfed before, be sure to take some lessons from a local before paddling out on your own. If you’re a well-seasoned surfer but have never before surfed in Hawai‘i, it would still behoove you to chat with the lifeguards and gather some advice about at the break you plan to paddle out at. Hawaiian waters are stronger than and unlike any most people have swum or surfed in, so caution and respect for the ocean is advised.
Ultimately, the ideal months in regards to temperature and weather are January, May, June and September.
Local Events & Festivals
Sony Open Hawai‘i
Moanikeala Hula Festival
Chinese New Year (sometimes in February)
Chinese New Year (also in January
NFL Pro Bowl
Great Aloha Run
Hawai‘i Chocolate Festival
Wanderlust Yoga & Music Festival (occasionally in March)
Wanderlust Yoga & Music Festival (also in February)
Lei Day Celebration
Cinco de Mayo Street Festival
Na Hoku Music Festival
Lantern Floating Hawai‘i Ceremony
Honolulu Rainbow Film Festival
King Kamehameha Day Floral Parade
Walter MacFarlane Memorial Regatta – Waikiki
Hawai‘i All-Collectors Show
The Annual Ukulele Festival
Surf Film Festival
Hale‘iwa Arts Festival
Made in Hawai‘i Festival
Duke’s Ocean Fest
Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar Festival
Greek Festival of Hawai‘i
Okinawan Festival (occasionally in September)
Hawai‘i Food & Wine Festival (occasionally in September)
Okinawan Festival (also in August)
Hawai‘i Food & Wine Festival (also in August)
The Hawaiian Islands are located in the Hawaii–Aleutian Standard Time (HAST) Zone. It is also referred to Hawaiian Standard Time (HST). HST is UTC-10:00.
To check the local time on O‘ahu, click here.
The State of Hawai‘i does not participate in the Daylight Savings Time (DST). The clocks remained unchanged.
Prices often fluctuate dynamically depending on capacity, seasonality and deals. We don’t want to lead you astray by quoting exact prices that quickly become wrong. To give you a rough idea for budgetary planning purposes, though, we have indicated general price ranges for all points of interest.
Price ranges are quoted in US dollars ($).
See & Do
N/A => Not applicable
$ => Tickets less than $10 per person
$$ => Tickets $10 to $25 per person
$$$ => Tickets over $25 per person
$ => Rooms less than $150 for a double room
$$ => Rooms $150 to $300 for a double room
$$$ => Rooms over $300 for a double room
$ => Up to $15 for average main at dinner (or lunch/breakfast if no dinner is served)
$$ => $15 to $30 for average main at dinner (or lunch/breakfast if no dinner is served)
$$$ => Over $30 for average main at dinner (or lunch/breakfast if no dinner is served)
N/A => Not applicable
$ => Tickets less than $10 per person
$$ => Tickets $10 to $50 per person
$$$ => Tickets over $50 per person
Fly the Friendly Skies
Airfares are a fickle thing. When you need it to be low, it’s high. And when prices dip, what happens? You can’t get off work to travel. Sigh.
But you can get notifications from companies like Kayak, which will email you when airfares drop. Type your destination and the dates you are watching and boom, when there’s a deal, you’ll hear about it immediately via your inbox.
Sites like Momondo also display prices for multiple airlines, so you can compare rates without visiting individual airline sites.
That said, there is an advantage to visiting an individual airline’s site. Why? Because some of their really great deals don’t show up on the aggregator airfare sites. Most airlines share limited-time, super-specials via their Facebook pages or email blasts. So it pays to be their ‘friend’ or subscribe to their e-mailings.
Have Car, Will Travel
Like airlines, car rental rates are all over the map. Companies like Expedia and Hotwire offer comparison price shopping.
There are also name-your-own-price sites, like Priceline, where you tell ‘em what you want to pay and they hook you up with a car rental company who can fit the bill. There are some great deals here, if you are not too picky about the make and model of your rental.
Zipcar is another choice for rentals. Available in many major cities and college towns in the U.S., Zipcar is a great alternative for super-short term rentals. Picture this scenario: you are in a big city with terrific public transportation, so you don’t need a car. But then you hear about an amazing restaurant 20 miles away in the suburbs. You can’t go home without trying it. A taxi would cost a fortune. You’d have to wait a long time to get a return taxi. Open the Zipcar app; search for a nearby Zipcar locale. You need to apply for membership and download the app in advance. Memberships cost about $7 a month; rentals are about $8 to10 per hour; gas and insurance are included. Foreign drivers can apply and you don’t need to pay a monthly fee if you’re an occasional driver (from $25 per year for a membership).
Ride-sharing companies, Uber and Lyft, are also ubiquitous in major cities. Through a smart phone app, you can line up rides all over town. It’s convenient because no money changes hands (payment is made through the app) and it’s usually cheaper than a taxi. Another bonus? After requesting a ride, you can see where the driver is on a map, so you know that they are on their way and how long it will be. Try that with a cab.
Money Saving Tip: Costco, because of its behemoth size and price negotiating power, offers great low prices for most major car rental companies. Yes, you need to purchase an annual Costco membership first, but it more than pays for itself with what you’ll save with a typical week’s car rental (i.e. searches turn up a mid-size car through Costco for $225 and a comparable car through another aggregator for $325.)
Did You Know: Budget Car Rental offers drivers residing at the same address (i.e. unmarried partners or BFFs) complimentary extra driver coverage. Other car rental companies charge upwards of $10/day. By the way, when renting in California, there are no additional driver fees by law.
Hopefully, your trip to (or within) the U.S. goes without a glitch. But what if an expected situation arises? Will you lose the money you invested in the trip? Will you need quick cash to cover sudden costs? Will you need quick cash to cover sudden costs?
Travel insurance policies are meant to cover these unexpected costs and assist you when problems arise. The fee is typically based on the cost of the trip and the age of the traveler.
Most travel insurance providers offer comprehensive coverage that usually includes protection for the following common events:
Trip Cancellation: About 40 percent of all claims fall in this category.
Medical: Health services in the U.S. are expensive for the uninsured. This is a major reason to consider purchasing insurance. Whether you break a leg or need a blood transfusion, you will likely incur costs far higher than you might pay in other nations. And what if you have an accident that requires transportation to a major medical center? Air ambulances alone could set you back $15,000 to $30,000.
Trip Interruption: For example, if you become ill during your trip or if someone at home gets sick, and you have to get off the cruise ship or abandon a tour. The insurer will often pay up to 150% of the cost of your trip to get you home.
Travel Delay: Insurance usually covers incidentals like meals and overnight lodging while you wait to travel home.
Baggage: Insurance will typically cover lost and mishandled baggage.
Some insurance companies allow you to purchase a policy that allows you to cancel for any reason. This may cost more (often 10% or more), but it is worthwhile for certain travelers.
Do I need travel insurance?
If your trip costs $4,000 to $6,000 (or more), it’s probably a good idea. Your age and health are important factors. So is your destination. If you’re traveling to a hurricane-prone area during hurricane season, for example, you’ll probably want some coverage “just in case”…no matter what.
Your English language skills are also an important factor. Insurance policies often include concierge services with 24-hour hotlines that can connect you quickly with someone who speaks your language.
How do I choose an insurance provider?
Do your homework; check around.
The largest insurers in the U.S. include Travel Guard, Allianz and CSA Travel Protection. Smaller reputable companies include Berkley, Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection, Travel Insured International and Travelex. You may also find deals through aggregator sites like Squaremouth and InsureMyTrip.
Many airlines and travel companies also offer travel insurance when you book your flight (often contracted with the above major players).
If you have pre-existing health conditions: Many policies have exclusion policies if you have a pre-existing medical condition. But companies also offer waivers that overwrite the exclusion if you purchase the policy within a certain time frame of paying for your trip (e.g., within 24 hours of buying your cruise package). Again, it’s best to check the fine print.
Credit card insurance: If you buy your airfare or trip with a credit card, you may be partially covered by the credit card’s issuing bank. Check directly with the company to find out exactly what’s covered, as many have “stripped down” coverage and restrictions.
The travel insurance business is expanding and evolving rapidly. As “shared space” lodging options like VRBO, AirBnB and Homeaway become more popular in the travel and leisure market, so does the need for insurance for both property owners and travelers.
For more information, visit the US Travel Insurance Association.
U.S. dollars come in $1, $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100 bills. They are all the same size and color, so non-Americans have an understandably tricky time telling them apart. The $2 bill is in circulation but rarely seen.
Coins in wide circulation include the penny (one cent), nickel (five cents), dime (ten cents) and quarter (25 cents). The 50-cent and one-dollar coins are seen occasionally.
Smaller businesses may not accept $50 or $100 bills, so have twenties or smaller bills in hand. ATMs usually dispense $20 bills.
If you get money from an ATM machine, you may incur charges (often $2 or $3 per transaction). Check with your bank before you leave home to find out which, if any, U.S. banks will allow you to get cash without an extra charge. Many grocery stores, gas stations and major retail outlets let you get a limited amount of “cash back” when paying for your goods — this is an easy way to get cash while on the go.
Credit and debit cards are accepted widely throughout the U.S.
Don’t forget to call your debit and/or credit card company before you travel to inform them of your planned itinerary. This goes for U.S. residents traveling out of state. If you don’t do this in advance, you risk having your card denied/declined when you try to use it in a destination far from home. You should also call your company immediately to report loss or theft. The numbers to call are usually on the back of the card — which doesn’t make sense if it is lost or stolen. So make a note of them and store them where you’ll have easy access.
Recently, companies have been issuing cards with embedded chips that prevent counterfeit fraud. Banks and merchants that don’t offer the chip-and-PIN technology are beginning to be held liable for fraud. Check with your bank and credit card company for details on your specific cards.
Tipping is a cost you must build into the budget for any U.S. travel experience, whether urban or rural. Tipping is most relevant to dining out and hotel stays, but other costs should also be taken in to consideration. General guidelines include:
For excellent service, plan to tip 20% on the total bill, before taxes. For less-than-stellar service, 10-15% is customary, as an imperfect experience is often not solely the responsibility of the server. In many states, servers work for below minimum wage and live mostly on tips, so consider the ramifications of your tipping decisions.
To complicate matters, many restaurants in the major metropolitan areas — New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco — are moving to a no-tipping model in which service is included. The verdict isn’t yet in on whether this new model will stick, so be sure you understand the tipping policy at each restaurant you visit.
Oh, and one more complication: Sometimes a tip is automatically included, usually for groups of six or more people. But at least it will be itemized in plain sight on the bill, if you look closely for it.
Most bell staff receive $1 to $2 per bag they assist with; if someone carts all of your bags up to your room, expect to tip $5 to $10.
Tips for housekeeping are also good form. The rule of thumb is $2 to $3 per day and about $5 per day in higher-end properties.
At properties with concierge services, consider tipping concierge staff who assist you in planning activities, making reservations or acquiring tickets around $10 to $20 per day. Concierge staff do not normally expect a tip for simply orienting you with driving directions or public transportation info. Car valet staff expect $2 when returning your car. Spa employees (massage therapists, aestheticians, etc.) usually see 20% tips on their services, whether performed at the spa or in your room.
Invariably, there are incidental costs associated with being on the road. Make sure to budget between $10 and $40 per day for batteries, lost phone chargers, bug repellent, headache medicine, sunburn relief and other personal items you might have forgotten. If you’re traveling with kids, consider the snack budget. Local grocery and drug stores will be cheaper than tourist shops for all of the above.
Sales Taxes, Lodging Taxes & Resort Fees
In Hawai‘i, the combined total for state and local taxes on all retail goods and services varies from 4.7% to 5.5%, depending on where you are. In general, cities have higher taxes than rural areas do. Taxes are not usually included in display prices, unless otherwise stated.
Lodging tax also varies by location in Hawai‘i, ranging from 12.5% to 15%. This tax applies whether you are staying at a private vacation rental, a bed-and-breakfast or a full-fledged hotel. Taxes are not usually stated up front in the advertised room rate. Neither are the mandatory nightly “resort fees” being charged by an increasing number of hotels. Sometimes this fee covers internet access, parking, and a few incidentals, while at other times it’s merely a surcharge for amenities that should be free. Beware that third-party booking agents, especially online, often don’t include resort fees in their reservation charges, so you may be unhappily surprised by the final bill when you check out.