So if you’re looking to take a trip to Honolulu, that means you’re looking to take a trip to Oahu!
In simple terms, you can generally think of Honolulu as the name of the city (and county), and you can think of Oahu as the name of the island.
So, is it possible to enjoy Oahu without spending a lot of money when you’re on the island?!
Some of the top things to do on Oahu can be FREE (or cheap!) so it is totally possible to have a good time in Hawaii on a budget when you’re a first-time visitor to Hawaii!
No tours necessary!
Oahu itinerary for a first trip to Hawaii
Below is a mini Oahu travel guide and ideas for traveling to Hawaii and ideas on things to do in Oahu.
These activities on the list below can also be perfect for a first trip to Hawaii, as it will allow you to experience different things about Hawaii!
If you want a little more Oahu beach time, it will be pretty easy to adapt this itinerary by taking out an activity or 2 so you can head to the beach early afternoon to hang out. On each of the days, there are different beaches you can choose from in the area if you want to experience the different beaches of Oahu.
Below you will first find the quick list of some of the top things to do on Oahu.
Then there will be a bit more on how to plan the days, including getting around Oahu on a budget from place to place by using Honolulu public transportation.
Is 3 days in Oahu enough?!
Well of course the more days you have on Oahu, the better! But with this 3 day Oahu itinerary you’ll get a taste for different parts of the island. It will include the 3 top areas on the island – Waikiki, the North Shore, and the east side of Oahu. So in that sense, 3 days can actually be a perfect amount of time to spend on Oahu. You can experience a little bit of different parts of Oahu in just a few days!
Hopefully this can give you a better idea on how you can plan out your time for these activities during your days on Oahu! For this plan, you’ll need 3 FULL days in Oahu.
11 best things to do in Oahu in 3 days
1. Hiking to Diamond Head crater summit
Best views of Waikiki
2. Snorkeling at Queen’s Beach
One of the best snorkeling spots in Waikiki
3. Cycling on Biki bikes
4. Shopping on Kalakaua Avenue
Main street in Waikiki
5. Snorkeling at Shark’s Cove
One of the best snorkeling spots on the North Shore
6. Eating at North Shore food truck
A North Shore classic
7. Beach lazing at Sunset Beach
In winter, this area of the North Shore can be a top spot for watching surfers catch world-class waves
8. Turtle spotting at Laniakea Beach
Turtles are wildlife so they do what they want, but this can be a reliable spot to see turtles
9. Snorkeling at Hanauma Bay
One of the most popular snorkeling spots on Oahu
10. Hiking the Makapuu Point Lighthouse Trail
Possible chances of spotting whales from shore during whale season
11. Beach lazing at Lanikai Beach
Amazing beach on Oahu with famous views of twin islands
Notably, the above list is missing a few “very Hawaii” activities. A little bit about some of them below, but in short, you may also want to make time for:
For a different type of Hawaii itinerary on other Hawaiian islands you can choose:
- 3 days jam-packed Hawaii itinerary with scenic drives (Maui)
- 7 day jam-packed Hawaii itinerary circle island with scenic drives (Big Island)
You’ll want a car for at least a part of the time on each of these islands. If you’re still figuring out which Hawaiian island to visit, you can see the comparisons for 2 of the islands!
Now more below about planning out your days on Oahu!
Here's some info on Hawaii trip prep!
- Best shoes for hiking in Hawaii
- The perfect type of shirt for swimming in Hawaii
- Do you need water shoes for Hawaii?
- THE top things to pack for Hawaii
PLUS... Oahu tour, or on your own: Can you visit Pearl Harbor without a tour?
Iconic hotels on Oahu
- Royal Hawaiian pink hotel – The pink hotel you can spot from a plane as you’re flying into Honolulu airport! There’s the Royal Hawaiian bakery here if you want to stop in.
- Hilton Hawaiian Village – There’s a beachfront lagoon in front of the resort with beach rentals. They also do Friday night fireworks every Friday (although you might want to catch that away from the hotel!) If you watch Hawaii Five-0, you’ve probably seen this hotel a lot on TV!
- Moana Surfrider – Called the “First Lady of Waikiki,” it’s on the list of the National Register of Historic Places. You can admire the architecture of this heritage hotel as you’re walking on Kalakaua Avenue in Waikiki!
A few more details on how to further plan your 3 days on Oahu to see if you’ll want to follow this itinerary for your first trip to Hawaii!
How to put these things into a 3 day Hawaii itinerary?!
Day 1 on Oahu
Quick list of things to do in/near Waikiki for day 1
- Hiking the Diamond Head trail ($1-5)
- Snorkeling in Waikiki at Queen’s Beach (FREE)
- Biking in Waikiki ($8)
- Shopping on Kalakaua Avenue
Stay close to “home”!
Waikiki is the hot spot of Oahu, so assuming you’ll be staying in Waikiki, the first day on Oahu will keep you somewhat nearby where you’re staying so it won’t feel as exhausting.
How to get around on day 1
Walking can be a good way to get around Waikiki!
Diamond Head is a bit further, but it’s still possible to walk there as long as you don’t mind the extra time on feet!
Otherwise, there are a few different ways to get from Waikiki to Diamond Head.
Day 2 on Oahu
North Shore itinerary
Quick list of things to do on the North Shore for day 2
- Snorkeling at Shark’s Cove (FREE)
- Eating at a North Shore food truck ($10-15)
- Beach lazing at Sunset Beach (FREE)
- Turtle Beach (FREE)
How to get around on day 2
As a bit of a distance from Waikiki to the North Shore, renting a car can be the most convenient way to get to the North Shore.
This will be about a one hour drive.
Otherwise, you can get a bus from Waikiki to the North Shore, but expect it to take at least 2 hours one way with a possible bus transfer necessary.
If you’re going by bus, once you get on the North Shore, be prepared to walk a lot, or you can rent a bicycle ($25).
You can find a bicycle rental shop near the food trucks in front of Shark’s Cove.
See more for your Oahu itinerary: Planning a trip to the North Shore on your own
Day 3 on Oahu
Windward Oahu (east side)
Quick list of things to do on east side of Oahu for day 3
If you’ll be on Oahu during whale season (generally speaking November to May), then the Makapuu Point Lighthouse trail is said to be a good spot for a chance to see whales from shore! (There are free binoculars on the trail, but bring your own too!)
How to get around on day 3
Once again, as a bit of a distance from Waikiki, renting a car can be the most convenient way to get to the east side of Oahu.
But it’s also possible to get to this part of the island by bus as well.
If bus will be your mode of transportation, then you’ll want to minimize the number of activities for the day, or choose just 1 or 2 main areas.
The bus frequency isn’t the best when trying to get to windward Oahu, so you’ll also want to be prepared for potential waiting time for the bus.
See more for your Oahu itinerary: Planning a trip to the east side of Oahu on your own
What’s missing from this Oahu itinerary?!
Or more activities if you have 4 or 5 days in Oahu
I think there are 3 notable top things to do missing from this Oahu itinerary.
1. Pearl Harbor
You can make Pearl Harbor a trip of a couple hours, half day, or even a full day.
Pearl Harbor is home to the USS Arizona Memorial, an official national memorial. It can be worth visiting Pearl Harbor to get a deeper understanding of the tragedy that occurred here that could be said to have had a global impact.
It’s possible to visit Pearl Harbor without a tour.
See more for your Oahu itinerary: Planning a trip to Pearl Harbor on your own
2. Oahu waterfalls
Another thing Hawaii is known for is waterfalls! And there are waterfalls that you can see on Oahu.
The 2 most popular waterfalls for tourists to visit can be added into your 3 day Oahu itinerary if you want to make time for it. Both of these are waterfall hikes, and it could be good to maybe give yourself 2 hours or so for each.
Manoa Falls is kind of near Waikiki so you could do it as a morning activity on one of your days.
See more for your Oahu itinerary: Planning a trip to Oahu waterfalls
3. Hawaiian luau
For a Hawaiian luau (aka Hawaiian food and entertainment), you can make it a full day thing with a visit to the Polynesian Cultural Center that comes with hands-on activities, or you can make it a thing of a couple of hours by attending an evening luau.
This is a bit further away from the main tourist areas of Oahu. If you want to stay closer to “home” (if you’re staying in Waikiki!), or you don’t want to spend all day on this, then you can find an evening luau in Waikiki at the Hilton Hawaiian Village and the Royal Hawaiian too.
There is also the Ka Moana Luau at Sea Life Park, which is right near the Makapuu Point Lighthouse Trail.
Oh, and there’s a fun little free Waikiki hula show on the beach a few nights a week too! (Not comparable to a luau, but another activity to consider!)
So these 3 things are top activities on Oahu and are also very much worth considering.
It will just require you to replace one of the activities in your day, so it will depend on your priorities for what you find to be the most important!
But really, I think you can also have a perfect Oahu vacation even if you don’t manage to do these things during your short 3 days on Oahu.
And there are some ideas on how to spend 3 days on your trip to Honolulu!
For a Hawaii itinerary for the other Hawaiian islands WITH a car:
- 3 days jam-packed Maui itinerary with scenic drives
- 7 day jam-packed Big Island itinerary circle island with scenic drives
HAPPY 3 DAYS IN HAWAII!