I recently took a trip to Oahu and spent a total of about 36 hours (or 1.5 days) there. Of course, we had to hit up as many of the highlights as we could, weather permitting.
So what exactly can you fit into an Oahu itinerary with less than 2 days? Well, we got 1 hike in and spent the rest of the time eating for the most part! If that sounds like your definition of a good time, follow my itinerary below for 1.5 days of super-ono food consumption heaven!
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2 DAYS IN OAHU: AN OVERVIEW
Two days in Oahu is not a lot of time, I know! But when Papu invited me to visit for just a weekend, I couldn’t say no!
Since many travelers, myself included, typically visit Hawaii for way longer than 2 days, let’s start with who this itinerary is good for and how you can best optimize your trip during such a short time.
If you happen to be visiting as a layover of a business trip or are stopping in Oahu as part of a larger island-hopping adventure, you might actually find yourself in Oahu for 2 days or less! This itinerary will be perfect for you.
You’ll find that most of the activities listed in the itinerary are clustered by Waikiki/Honolulu. We purposefully did this to minimize the amount of driving we’d need to do. Because all of the activities were so close together, it’s very easy to knock them all out in a day or two.
After all, when you only have 36 hours in Oahu, who wants to spend a good chunk of that driving in the car?
So without further ado, let’s get into the itinerary! Consider checking out some of the hikes and restaurants I did as part of your West Shore/Waikiki adventure!
2 DAYS IN OAHU: ITINERARY
DAY 0 – Land in HNL, pick up a rental car. Check in to the hotel.
Upon landing at the airport at 10pm, the car rental lady asked where all of our luggage was, because no one goes to Hawaii with just a backpack/weekender bag in hand! Because we had no luggage, she offered us a “cute” convertible or a Prius. We chose the Prius (more leg room!).
Since we were going on such a short trip, accommodations didn’t really matter to us. We stayed at Hostelling International Honolulu purely for the price! Not a bad stay, but for a longer trip, I’d probably want more privacy.
Late Night Meal: Zippy’s
A Hawaiian staple; had to do it! I got the Korean fried chicken plate, my friend got the chili and fried chicken plate. For fast food, this was pretty amazing. I could envision many drunken nights ending with a huge platter of meat, rice, chili, and mac salad. If we had a Zippy’s on the mainland, why would there be any use for McDonald’s or Burger King anymore?
Pro Tip: Get the Korean fried chicken and the chili. I don’t like chili, but this… is something else. I’ve even gone so far as to try to recreate it for dinners! It’s so, so good.
DAY 1 – Wake up to Kona coffee
Papu and I woke up very early in the morning and just hung out as we were both jet-lagged and couldn’t sleep anymore.
We enjoyed some Kona coffee provided by the hostel, packed up our stuff, and headed out to begin our adventure of a day!
Get malasadas at Leonard’s Bakery
Malasadas stuffed with haupia. That’s all I need to say!
Papu and I shared a few other flavors of the malasadas so that we could taste them all, including chocolate pudding, guava, the plain one, and haupia. We also got a slice of the butter mochi.
I’d highly recommend the butter mochi, the haupia malasada, and the plain malasada which is what they’re known for.
Spend the morning hiking Koko Head
No matter how fit you are, Koko Head will have you huffing and puffing, dripping with sweat.
First off, what is Koko Head? Basically, the Koko Crater Trail is a Stair Master workout all the way up the 1000+ stairs, with a rewarding panoramic view up top.
As challenging as it sounds, hiking the Koko Head trail is super fun as people passing each other are continuously motivating or complaining to each other. It’s pretty, entertaining, and a very popular hike on Oahu. Highly recommended if you’re going to be spending any amount of time in HI!
Since I had just come back from Europe after completing the Tour du Mont Blanc where I trekked mountains 10 days in a row, this hike really wasn’t bad for me.
The views are absolutely amazing here on a clear day. It was windy at the top once you get over the ridge, which is just what we needed, seeing as how the sun was blistering hot that day.
Pro Tip: If you can manage to wake up early, Koko Head makes for a great sunrise hike. I’ve done this hike during sunrise on other Oahu trips and let me tell you, it’s one of the most epic times of day to see the island from that high up!
Get lunch at Kyung’s Seafood
Wow, that hike took a lot less time than we had anticipated. We even took our time stretching after and changing into bathing suits and prancing in the grass. Well, at least I did. It’s 11am now, are Korean restaurants even open?
They were! And let me tell you, the meat jun is not to be missed here. We got a combo plate of poke, meat jun, and rice. Holy moly was this amazing.
I was gushing to the owner about how delicious our plate was, and she said their meat jun was the best on the island. Obviously, I have no idea if that’s true or not, but I certainly believed it by the taste of the food.
Next time, we want to go back and try their plate of sashimi. It is a seafood restaurant after all! 100% would recommend dining here.
Take a dip in Queen’s Beach
I was bummed about the extremely ominous clouds looming over the valley, over the East side, and likely over Lanikai Beach, so we decided to beach on the West side, where there wasn’t a cloud in sight. That’s Hawaii weather for you.
Queen’s beach was just okay for swimming, only because there wasn’t a lot of room to go deeper into the water because of the rocks/reef. Having said that, this beach would have been amazing for snorkeling!
On the plus side, there was a large grass area speckled with huge trees providing ample shade, which is rare for beaches. I think I would come back here to picnic, read a book under the trees, people watch, or eat at the cafe connected to the beach.
If I were to recommend a beach on Oahu, I would hands-down choose Lanikai Beach or Kailua Beach, which are both located on the East Shore. Superfine white sands, no rocks in the water to scratch you up, turquoise smooth waters.
Get an afternoon coffee and go shopping
At this point, being jetlagged and all, we are tired. We decided to walk around the Waikiki area, grab some coffee, and hunt for island house slippers at the ABC Stores.
Kai Coffee Hawaii had this extremely delightful and creamy macadamia nut latte. Get it hot… even though it’s already hot outside. You know what, it’s probably delicious cold as well.
On the shopping front, we had no luck with the slippers. The only place we spotted the slippers that we wanted was at the Don Quixote supermarket (a Japanese market, like a Walmart, but with tons of pre-made Japanese / Hawaiian / Korean food as well).
I highly recommend you guys check out Don Quixote as an alternative to Foodland or ABC Store. To save some money, buy your souvenirs, coffee beans, and snacks to bring home here!
Read More: Oahu Hawaii: Top Tips For First Timers
Cool down at Waiola Shave Ice
Shave ice is pretty much like water, right? We decided we had to get either ice cream, shave ice, or açaí bowl during this trip at least once, so here we are.
A complete hole in the wall, Waiola excels at their mochi balls, which is why I love them! The passionfruit flavor is definitely the way to go.
Get an afternoon snack at Ono Seafood
At this point, we were so hungry, so we each got our own small portion of poke over rice. This was to be considered dinner #1!
Ono Seafood has been killing it in the poke game since I first went to Hawaii years, years ago. Of all the flavors we tried, shoyu and spicy mayo were the best ones.
Foodland’s shoyu poke is too salty for me, and this was pure perfection. This was my second time getting Ono in life, and I would come back time and time again!
Do more shopping
After getting poke, we drove back to the Waikiki area to check out the 88tees store, where Papu wanted to get some shirts for his family. This is a very cute store selling an assortment of clothing items for men, women, and children.
Afterward, we hit up about 3-4 grocery stores in search of food souvenirs to bring home.
Pro Tip: Not sure of what to bring back from Hawaii? Some of my favorite things to bring home include coffee beans, li hing mango slices, li hing candy, guava pound cake, butter mochi, lilikoi butter, macadamia nut shortbread cookies.
No matter what destination I visit, I always make it a point to browse local grocery stores; dreaming about all the things I could buy and bring home is an entertaining activity in itself.
Get dinner at Rainbow Drive-In
After shopping, we ate again! Rainbow Drive-In is often considered a must-eat. Many people order their iconic mixed plate.
While that is not what I ordered, I did see a bunch of people in line ordering the same thing, so I guess that’s where I went wrong. I ordered the loco moco and the chili over rice. Both were just okay, nothing life-changing.
If you do end up eating here, order the Mixed Plate! It comes with teriyaki beef, fish and breaded chicken so you get a little bit of everything. As a bonus, ask for gravy on top or on the side if you want an extra kick of flavor.
I’ll have to give them another try when I go back in a few months!
Study Hall Sports Bar and Grill
After resting up for an hour or two, we decided to check out the nightlife and ended up at Study Hall Sports Bar and Grill.
What we experienced was lots of drunk college students, waitresses walking around with a pizza pie trying to sell slices for $2, karaoke and jukebox music. Quite a sight!
As an alternative for nightlife, I’d recommend a tiki bar such as Tikis Grill & Bar or a lively dive bar such as Suzie Wong’s Hideaway.
DAY 2 – Get McDonald’s
I know what you’re thinking— who goes to McDonald’s in Hawaii?? I do, every single time.
But I am there for one thing and one thing only! Their pies! Their taro pies and haupia pies are top-notch and only offered in Hawaii. I’m not a fan of their normal apple pie, but as soon as you substitute taro or haupia instead of apple, I am immediately obsessed.
I guess I am just obsessed with taro, haupia (coconut), ube (purple yam) and mochi things in general. The first time I had the haupia pie, I was on Kauai in May. This time around in October, the haupia pie was unavailable and taro was the featured pie flavor. If you ever get the chance, try both!
Since we were getting ready to head to the airport, my friend ended up picking up 6 taro pies to bring home to his family. In hindsight, I should have also picked up 6 taro pies to bring home for myself.
And if you think normal McDonald’s coffee is good, Hawaii McDonald’s coffee is even better!
Read More: Best Hikes On Oahu For Every Type of Person
Get a pre-flight meal at Yama’s Fish Market
The last stop on this itinerary is to pick up Yama’s to serve as half lunch / half airport dinner. Of course, I got the laulau and two slices of the sweet potato haupia pie.
I’ve had Yama’s before, and it was just as good as I remembered!
Return rental car, head to the airport
Alas, our time in Oahu has ended! Upon returning the car, we sadly made our way to the airport.
Til next time, Hawaii!
TOP FOUR POPULAR TOURS IN OAHU
- Ultimate Circle Island Adventure with Waimea Waterfall: full-day tour featuring a ton of Hawaii’s landmarks, then lunch at the famous Fumi’s Shrimp Stand on the North Shore!
- Chief’s Luau Admission: experience a luau on Oahu, complete with a lei greeting! You can partake in a few activities before eating, followed by a Polynesian show.
- Turtle Canyons Snorkel Excursion from Waikiki: snorkel with green sea turtles, tropical fish, and more!
- Three Star Deluxe Sunset Dinner and Show: Watch the Hawaiian sunset while enjoying a 5-course dinner with live entertainment.
WHERE TO STAY IN OAHU
For this itinerary, the most convenient area to stay in would be in the Waikiki area. While it is convenient and close to a lot of restaurants, bars, and shopping, there are some drawbacks.
First off, because of how compact and populated this area is, street parking is hard to come by.
Do note that a lot of the hotels and resorts here charge both resort fees and parking fees. These fees range anywhere from $20-50 per night for parking and $15-35 per night for the resort fee.
So if you’ve found a hotel you like, be sure to check for these ‘hidden’ fees!
Many hours of research later–here are a few hotels that I’ve found to be the most budget-friendly in the Waikiki area, after accounting for all the added fees:
- Ramada Plaza by Wyndham Waikiki – no resort fee!
- Aqua Oasis – affordable, even with both parking and resort fees factored in.
- Polynesian Residences Waikiki Beach – affordable resort fee and parking fees.
WHAT TO EAT IN OAHU
You don’t have to spend a fortune in order to have a good meal in Hawaii. Be very open to eating at lunch trucks, it’s part of the culture there! Remember to carry some cash with you, as some of the food trucks in the North Shore are cash only.
Steer clear of restaurants in tourist-heavy areas like Waikiki and instead do as the locals do!
- Get some fast food at Zippy’s or Rainbow Drive-In. You must try the chili rice, and this is someone who really doesn’t enjoy traditional chili… must!
- Plate lunches and poke bowls are the way to go.
- Head to one of the many Foodland supermarkets around the island and pick up some beach picnic foods. Perfectly delicious prepared foods, including many varieties of poke, are available at reduced prices in supermarkets throughout the islands.
When on Oahu, you’re going to come across garlic shrimp. Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck or Fumi’s Kahuku Shrimp in the North Shore are great options for first-timers.
Now let’s touch on dessert. Are you even in Hawaii if you’re not eating shave ice? For dessert any time of the day, get yourself some Hawaiian shave ice. Waiola, Matsumoto and Uncle Clay’s House of Pure Aloha are three of the most popular options. Be sure to get extra toppings such as mochi/rice balls, condensed milk, or ice cream!
Lastly, if you’re in Honolulu on the last Friday of the month, don’t miss the Eat the Street food truck gathering. Held from 5 to 10 p.m. at 1011 Ala Moana Blvd.
SHOPPING FOR SOUVENIRS IN OAHU
If you’re looking to save money, bypass the malls in Waikiki and tourist-centric surf shops and instead, shop like a local.
Check out the Aloha Stadium Swap Meet on Saturdays. Open on Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays, the Aloha Stadium Swap Meet is bargain central for cheap souvenirs and Hawaiian shirts.
Walmart and Don Quijote are two great places to pick up discounted souvenirs like chocolate-covered mac nuts, Kona coffee, shortbread cookies, li hing candies, aloha shirts, lotions, tote bags, etc.
You can nab some unique, locally made items to bring home if you happen to be in Honolulu on the third Saturday of the summer months. Honolulu Night Market is a great place to stock up on clothing and jewelry crafted by local designers, as well as to enjoy art, entertainment, and food.
Looking for other unique souvenirs to bring home? How about some cans of specially-flavored Spam? Hawaiians consume the most Spam out of any US state – more than 7 million tins a year. You can find so many varieties and flavors of this stuff, it’s no joke!