The Ultimate Oahu 4-Day Itinerary For Budget Friendly Travelers

Hawaii is a vacation destination most people dream of experiencing at least once in their lives. The combination of the beautiful scenery, alluring weather, and enriching culture all contribute to make it one of the most popular honeymoon destinations as well!

Picking an itinerary for a 4-day trip to Oahu can be hard. There are so many things to do and see, ranging from shopping for high-end luxury goods to going on backpacking adventures.

If you’re visiting Oahu for the first time, picking where to go and what to see might seem even harder. My goal is to help you discover some of the best things to do on a 4-day Oahu itinerary!

This itinerary brings you to all parts of the island, so you can really experience Oahu’s majestic beauty and culture.

Whether you’re sunbathing on a beach on the North Shore or hiking Koko Head Crater, here are the best things to do for a 4-day Oahu itinerary.

Disclosure: Go City kindly provided me with a comped pass to discover the power of their city passes in Oahu, but all opinions are my own. You’ll get nothing but honest thoughts from me! This post may also contain affiliate links. You won’t be paying a cent more, but in the event of a sale, the small affiliate commission I receive will help keep this blog running/pumping out useful and free content. Thanks a lot!


How To Get To Oahu

Honolulu International Airport (HNL), the one that you’re most likely flying into, is conveniently located in Honolulu. The HNL airport is about 20 minutes away from Waikiki and about 45 minutes away from Haleiwa (a town on the North Shore).

There are plenty of ways to get to and from the airport upon arrival or departure. If you’re staying in Waikiki:

  • You could rent a car right from the airport.
    • We like renting with Hertz because their free Gold Rewards Membership allows you to skip the counter entirely and go right to your assigned rental car. This is so valuable in Hawaii, where almost everyone else flying in also needs a rental car. And rental car lines get long.
  • You can get to downtown Waikiki via TheBus route #20.
  • You could also take a taxi or rideshare to your hotel for a relatively low fare. 

We usually stay outside of Waikiki if we can help it because we like other parts of the island so much more. Hotels and resorts in the Waikiki area typically charge an arm and a leg for resort fees and parking, which I am not a fan of.

By staying outside of Waikiki, we’re able to rent a car for the entirety of our trip because we’re usually able to park our car wherever we want–free of charge!


How To Get Around Oahu

Waikiki / Honolulu area

If you’re happy staying in the Waikiki / Honolulu area for the majority of your trip, then a car rental is not needed. There are plenty of great public transportation options that make it easy to travel around the main areas of Oahu, like the bustling downtown area and popular tourist attractions.

There’s an excellent local bus system called TheBus, that mostly services Honolulu and Waikiki, but has lines extending out to just about every major town on the island.

Catching a ride on TheBus is very straightforward. Just stand in front of the bus stop, and wait to be picked up. Once onboard, make sure to pay attention to each stop, as you’ll have to pull the stop cord to request a stop.

Fares are reasonable and transfers are allowed. For more information, check out TheBus’ website for info on departure times, system maps, ticket prices, and more.

Ridesharing services, like Uber and Lyft, are now available in Hawaii as well. These may be cheaper than hailing a taxi, so make sure to download your preferred service to your phone and compare prices.

If you plan on walking or biking as your main form of transportation, this is best in the Waikiki and Honolulu areas. These areas are very pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods and you’ll find plenty of restaurants, attractions, tours, and other exciting sights just by exploring on foot or bike.

How To Get Around Oahu - TravelsWithElle

The rest of the island

Those looking to explore past what Waikiki offers and do as the locals will prefer to rent a car.

Renting a car is the most popular option for travelers visiting Oahu. Because the island is spread out with lots and lots of things to do in many of the island’s neighborhoods, you can see a ton more with a car rental.

If you plan on exploring parts of the island outside of Waikiki, a car is absolutely necessary and you will not regret the decision of renting one. Even if you are staying in Waikiki, without a car, you’ll be pretty much confined to that area.

That will make for one heck of a mediocre vacation in Hawaii because the best parts of Oahu are outside of the Honolulu area!

Driving in Oahu is easy and straightforward, though traffic can sometimes be an issue during the busy months of the tourist season and during rush hour on weekdays.

Be aware that speed limits in Oahu are generally lower than those in the continental United States and are strictly enforced.

You can rent cars directly at the airport. Many rental car companies require drivers to be 25 years of age or older.

We typically like to rent from Hertz. With their free-to-join Hertz Gold Membership program, you’ll get counter-free pickup (great for skipping those long Hawaii airport lines), and even mobile alerts with your exact rental car and its location before you arrive.

Renting a Car In Hawaii - TravelsWithElle


Where To Stay In Oahu

Staying in Honolulu/Waikiki can be a good idea for first-timers, as it puts you close to plenty of introductory things to do, places to eat and shop, and tourist attractions.

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:

If you have more budget to play with, we especially like these hotels:

Waikiki - Where To Stay In Oahu Hawaii

If you’d rather get off the beaten path a little, I would actually recommend staying in a VRBO vacation rental or hotel on any part of the island other than Waikiki. While Waikiki is beautiful and convenient, it is also very developed, meaning it’ll have more of an impersonal city feel.

Other parts of Oahu are way more scenic!

My favorite part of the island to stay is in Kailua, located on the East Shore. Lanikai Beach, named one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, is located on the Eastern part of the island, too.

Best lodging/transportation combination: Rent a car + rent a vacation home/private room in a neighborhood with driveway parking or street parking outside of Waikiki. Free parking = more money to spend on other parts of your vacation!


Oahu 4-Day Itinerary: Day 1 – Waikiki

1. Wake up to Kona coffee and pastries

Kona Coffee Purveyors - Best Things To Eat In Oahu

Typically on our first day in Hawaii, we’re jetlagged. If you also happen to be jetlagged, then why not start your first morning off with a casual stroll and a walk to a coffee shop?

One of our new favorite coffee shops in the Waikiki area is Kona Coffee Purveyors. Aside from their high-quality coffee, there’s something else that draws us there each and every morning. The undeniable pastries by b. Patisserie (originally from San Francisco, CA)!

Do not miss the croissants and the kouign amanns, they are all baked to perfection.

I always get the black sesame kouign amann–in SF where we live, you can only get these twice a year on Chinese New Year and National Kouign Amann day. In Hawaii, you can get these every single day!

2. Spend the morning hiking Koko Head

36 Hours On Oahu, Hawaii - www.travelswithelle.com

No matter how fit you are, a Koko Head hike 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!

The views are absolutely amazing here on a clear day.

36 Hours On Oahu, Hawaii - www.travelswithelle.com
Views from the top of Koko Head. And me…resting.

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!

Read More: The Packing List for Hawaii and Other Tropical Beach Destinations

3. Get malasadas at Leonard’s Bakery

Leonard's Malasadas - 4 Day Oahu Itinerary For Budget Friendly Travelers

Malasadas stuffed with haupia. That’s all I need to say!

Whenever we’re in Hawaii, we always pick up a few flavors of the malasadas so that we can sample them all. Some of our favorites include the chocolate dobash, plain, and haupia. We also try and order a slice of the butter mochi (my personal favorite sweet treat)!

I’d highly recommend the butter mochi, the haupia malasada, and the plain malasada which is what they’re known for.

Pro Tip: If the line at the original Leonard’s location is too long, you could visit their food truck location in East Honolulu.

4. Get lunch at Kyung’s Seafood

36 Hours On Oahu, Hawaii - www.travelswithelle.com

If you’re looking for a more off-the-beaten-path restaurant, head to Kyung’s!

Let me tell you, the meat jun is not to be missed here. Our go-to dish is a combo plate of poke, meat jun, and rice. It always tastes so fresh and amazing.

On my last trip, 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.

5. Get an afternoon coffee and go shopping

36 Hours On Oahu, Hawaii - www.travelswithelle.com

At this point, being potentially jetlagged and all, you might be tired. A very casual activity is to walk around the Waikiki area, grab some coffee, and hunt for gifts and local treasures.

Kai Coffee Hawaii is a great coffee stop. They have an extremely delightful and creamy macadamia nut latte.

On the shopping front, you could pop in and out of the shops on Kalakaua Avenue in Waikiki, head to Ala Moana Shopping Center, or visit the Don Quixote superstore (a Japanese market, like a Walmart, but with tons of pre-made Japanese / Hawaiian / Korean food as well).

Pro Tip: I highly recommend checking out Don Quixote as an alternative to Foodland or the ABC Stores. To save some money, buy your souvenirs, coffee beans, and snacks to bring home here!

Read More: Oahu Hawaii: Top Tips For First Timers

6. Cool yourself off at Waiola Shave Ice

36 Hours On Oahu, Hawaii - www.travelswithelle.com

A complete hole in the wall, Waiola is one of our favorite shave ice spots. They excel at their mochi balls, which is why I love them! The passionfruit, guava, and lychee flavors are our go-to.

For some of the best li hing candies on the island, head inside the Waiola store. Their li hing mangos and sour belts are some of the most potent and delicious we’ve tasted!

7. Get an afternoon snack at Ono Seafood

36 Hours On Oahu, Hawaii - www.travelswithelle.com

Ono Seafood has been killing it in the poke game since I first went to Hawaii years, years ago. Of all the flavors we’ve tried over the years, the shoyu and spicy mayo are the best ones in our opinion.

Foodland’s shoyu poke is typically too salty for me, and this was pure perfection. I come back time and time again!

8. Visit Iolani Palace

Iolani Palace - 4 Day Oahu Itinerary For Budget Travelers

For an immersive taste of Hawaiian history, head to Iolani Palace in the afternoon for an interactive self-guided audio tour. This attraction is not to be missed for history buffs!

Located in Honolulu’s capitol district, this regal structure and National Historic Landmark was home to the Hawaiian Kingdom’s two final monarchs, King Kalakaua, and his sister and successor, Queen Liliuokalani.

Marvel at the ornate architecture, see the furnishings made for royalty, and learn all about the building and its former occupants.

The inside really is as picturesque as the outside of the building!

Note: This attraction is included with a Go City Oahu All-Inclusive Pass

Iolani Palace - 4 Day Oahu Itinerary For Budget Travelers

9. Makani Catamaran Sunset Sail

Makani Sunset Sail - 4 Day Oahu Itinerary For Budget Travelers

There’s no better way to see your first day off than on a boat! Take a two-hour catamaran trip along the coast of Waikiki to see the city and Diamond Head from a very unique perspective.

From the deck of the boat, you’ll get stunning coastal views of Oahu and see the amber glimmer of the sun as it sets over the city’s landmarks.

While you’re enjoying the views, you’ll get to enjoy a great selection of drinks to toast the perfect trip. The best part? The drinks are unlimited (even the alcoholic ones)!

Once you’re on the water, be sure to look out for Hawaii’s native ocean life. Turtles, dolphins, and even humpback whales are typically spotted. On our sunset sail, we saw dolphins!

Note: This attraction is included with a Go City Oahu All-Inclusive Pass! Because it is a Premium attraction, you’ll need to get an All-Inclusive Pass of 3+ days.

10. Get a casual dinner at Zippy’s

Zippys Zip Pack - 4 Day Oahu Itinerary for Budget Travelers

Zippy’s is a Hawaiian staple; you have to try it at least once while you’re on the island!

If you need some pointers, opt for the Zippy’s Zip Pac, Korean fried chicken plate, or the chili and fried chicken plate. I also personally love the chicken long rice.

For fast food, Zippy’s is pretty amazing. I mean, if we had a Zippy’s on the mainland, why would there be any use for McDonald’s or Burger King anymore?

Pro Tip: You need to try the chili, even if you’re not a fan of chili. I typically 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.

Other stops in Waikiki/Honolulu to consider:


Oahu 4-Day Itinerary: Day 2 – North Shore

1. Green World Coffee Farm

Green World Coffee Farm - Oahu North Shore Itinerary

Green World Coffee Farm is a small local coffee farm consisting of 7 acres of land with approximately 3,000 arabica coffee trees. Green World Coffee buys green beans from local farms across Hawaii such as Maui, Molokai, Kauai as well as Waialua, which is located on the North Shore of Oahu.

In addition to a large gift shop selling everything from coffee, tea, and other local merchandise, they also offer a full menu of drinks that can be purchased off the espresso bar.

At the gift shop, there are free coffee and tea tastings! Personally, the chocolate mint tea was unique and delicious! And because they roast their coffee daily, you know you’ll be tasting fresh beans whether you buy beans to take home or order a drink.

After you pick up your drinks and gifts, head out back to the little coffee farm area to enjoy a few moments outdoors before heading back in your car for your next stop.

2. Dole Plantation

The Dole Plantation, located just a few minutes from the previous stop on the North Shore of Oahu, is a fun stop for the entire family. Established by James Dole in 1899, the company now ships 170 different food products to over 90 countries.

If you’re traveling with children, you may want to consider doing the Pineapple Express Train Tour and the Pineapple Garden Maze. The Plantation Garden Tour provides visitors with a pleasant stroll through cute little pineapple plants on display.

While you’re strolling through the gardens, be sure to stop to read the informational displays and presentations, where you’ll learn all about the history of the pineapple.

After you’re done exploring the outdoor grounds, head into the plantation country store where you’ll find a huge (and I mean huge) variety of Dole Plantation gifts, local snacks, and gifts. Sure it’s touristy, but still a lot of fun to look through.

In the cafeteria area, you can find foods and refreshments to enjoy including their iconic Dole Whip. And if you’re looking to bring an actual pineapple home, they have those for sale too!

Dole Whip Dole Plantation - Oahu North Shore Itinerary

🍍 Discover Dole Plantation on a guided day trip

Enjoy exclusive access to the Dole Plantation on The North Shore Dole Pineapple Day Trip with a guide. You will be able to follow Dole’s process from planting to packaging the pineapples. Moreover, you will visit other highlights on Oahu Island like GreenWorld Coffee Farms, Old Haleiwa Town, and the Waialua Sugar Mill.

BOOK THE TOUR HERE

 

Pro Tip: Parking gets crazy here, so try to arrive around 9:30 am when they open. You’ll get the shortest lines at all the attractions–gift shop, train rides, maze, etc.

3. Haleiwa Town

Haleiwa Town - Oahu North Shore Itinerary

Located about 1 hour from Waikiki (15 minutes away from Dole Plantation) is Haleiwa. Along with the North Shore of Oahu, this area is known as the surfing capital of the world!

Historically, Haleiwa is an old community dating back to the 1900’s contributing to the sugar plantation industry.

Once you pass Haleiwa’s iconic sign with the surfer, you’ll find a bunch of cool surf shops, boutiques, art galleries, and local food joints housed in plantation-era buildings.

Once you drive in, you will be able to tell that Haleiwa is the social and artistic hub of the North Shore. You’ll find lots of food trucks, shave ice joints, and acai/smoothie shops, and lots of people sitting around enjoying them!

Jenny's Shrimp Haleiwa Town - Oahu North Shore Itinerary

Haleiwa Town - Oahu North Shore Itinerary

Take a stroll around the various plazas that make up Haleiwa for an hour or two, including the old Waialua Sugar Mill. The sugar mill features local crafts, products, and services in a unique, old-Hawaii setting.

Shops include the North Shore Soap Factory, Charley Walker’s All Surf Glassing, Haleiwa Surfboard Company, Old Sugar Mill Brand Coffee & Chocolate, the weekly Saturday morning Farmers’ Market, and more.

You may want to get Matsumoto’s Shave Ice now, but if you’d like to get some real food in your belly first, you can always come back later in the day for it!

4. Haleʻiwa Bowls

Haleiwa Bowls - The Perfect Oahu North Shore Itinerary

Acai bowls are such a refreshing treat after a beach day or during a hot and sunny day out in the North Shore.

Haleʻiwa Bowls serves up some of the most delicious and beautiful acai bowls and smoothies on the North Shore of Oahu. If you’ve been looking for an antioxidant fix in Hawaii, this is the place to get it!

We ordered a large Local Bowl to share and were pleasantly surprised to find poi in our bowl! With the almond butter we added, our acai bowl was extra nutrient-packed and filling.

What I love about Haleʻiwa Bowls is that they use real, straight-up acai (as opposed to an acai blended base with other fruits). It’s also the perfect amount of frozen, which is really important because Hawaii is so hot all the time!

Haleiwa Bowls - The Perfect Oahu North Shore Itinerary

Not feeling acai right now? No problem. A great alternative further down the road is Sunrise Shack, located about 7 miles east of Haleʻiwa Bowls. If you’re not feeling up for acai in the morning, you’ll have a second chance later!

5. Get lunch at Poke For The People

Time for lunch! While there are tons and tons of great options in the North Shore, I would highly recommend Poke For The People. While writing this now, I am drooling and dreaming about the freshness of the fish…

We ordered a 2-item bowl with the shoyu ahi and the daily special, creamy garlic marlin. The quality of the fish was perfection. The sides that came with our poke bowl also complimented the fish so well!

Personally speaking, Poke For The People has made it on our top 3 best poke spots we’ve had on the entire island! Don’t miss this one!

6. North Shore Macadamia Nut Company

North Shore Mac Nut Farm - Things To Do In North Shore Oahu

Can you really go to Hawaii and not eat a whole bunch of macadamia nuts? The best place to get mac nuts to snack on (or to bring home as gifts) is straight from the source!

The North Shore Macadamia Nut Company has been a working macadamia nut farm in Waialua since 1972. I love stopping here for mac nuts gifts when I’m in the North Shore–this last time around, we left with 6 bags total to bring back to our family/friends back home.

You have to know that these aren’t just the regular boring macadamia nuts you find in your local Walmart or Target. We’re talking about all kinds of great flavors, including coffee-flavored, cinnamon-flavored, lilikoi-flavored, coconut-roasted, and more.

The best part? They have free samples so you’ll know exactly what kind of deliciousness you’re going to get before even buying.

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AUTHOR

Elle Leung

My name is Elle and I'm a travel blogger and adventurer based in California. I love helping people plan trips and create unique itineraries based on their interests and their budgets. I'm a huge fan of outdoor adventures and doing off-the-beaten-path things in my state (and all around the world too)!

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