O’ahu, known lovingly as “the gathering place,” is a center of culture, cuisine, and entertainment. With all of the options “gathering,” as the name demands, it was hard to pick just a few must-do’s worthy enough to be part of an O’ahu bucket list. Don’t worry, we love a good challenge, so here they are (in no particular order):
The only official royal residence in the states, Iolani Palace offers a look back into Hawai’i’s history. Built by King David Kalākaua in 1882, it was home to the Kingdom’s last monarchs and stands tall, a solemn reminder of Hawaiian royalty and its chapter of the past. Restored to a shadow of its former glory, the palace hosts tours where you can learn about the roots, stories, and realities of Hawai’i’s past that didn’t end up on the postcards and brochures. Be prepared to leave the palace humbled, awoken, and ready to learn more about Hawai’i and its past.
Head’s up: Call ahead to reserve tickets and confirm any updates to the tours and availability. There are certain policies, like a dress code and photography restrictions, in place to respect and maintain the integrity of this revered landmark. Please be sure to review them before booking your tour.
Waiola Shave Ice
Enjoyed as a snack or dessert, “shave ice” has been a fan-favorite for both visitors and locals. Since 1940, Waiola Shave Ice has been keeping their sugar-happy customers of all ages smiling, all while serving one of Hawai’i’s most famous frozen delicacies. You can choose from a rainbow of flavors and toppings, to take your shave ice (pro-tip: no one says “shaved”) to the next level. With over 50 flavors, and your choice of mochi or condensed milk to top it off, it’s easy to try a new flavor combination with every visit.
Head’s up: No admission fee, the cost is whatever you order. We recommend you start with the small $3 option and build from there – you can always go back in for more, but you can’t save the leftovers if you buy one that’s too big!
North Shore Food Trucks
The variety of food trucks available along the North Shore of O’ahu provides an incredible opportunity to celebrate the different flavors of Hawai’i. You get fusion, to say the least, and an explosion of different cultures. Some debate that the shrimp trucks are the stars of the show, but it’s the fact that you can bounce between Thai, Brazilian, and Korean options, and try something new every day of the week. Some businesses use locally-harvested produce, or even offer vegan or keto items on their menu, to accommodate a number of dietary preferences.
Head’s up: At this time, admission and parking is FREE. We do recommend you plan your “North Shore truck hop” ahead of time to confirm business hours. Bring water, allot time for parking (or plan to park nearby and walk), and time to wait in line, whether it’s lunchtime or not.
Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail
If you want to hike to a spot with gorgeous views after a short (relatively less-rugged, yet moderate level) hike, search no further. Type “Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail” in your GPS – you’ll be directed to park (for free!) at Kaiwi State Scenic Shoreline, which opens up at 7am HST. The trail is 2 miles, allowing the whole family to join in, strollers and all. The lighthouse, built in 1901, is not accessible, however, there is a lookout area at the end. There you can see it, bright red and proud, against the cliff face. You should plan ahead and bring a pair of binoculars if you want to see whales and birds – whale migration season is from November through May.
Head’s up: At this time, admission and parking is FREE. Don’t forget to bring water, wear sunscreen, and give yourself time to take in all the views!
Aloha Stadium’s Swap Meet
The swap meet at Aloha Stadium is O’ahu’s all-in-one open air marketplace with everything you need to start off shopping for the day. Since 1979, the swap meet has blossomed as the go-to spot where crafters, artists, and vendors gather to offer Hawaii’s best of the best. Handcrafted apparel, art and accessories are just a few of the treasures one can find here. You can find the perfect piece of jewelry to gift, or treat yourself to yummy local snacks and goodies.
Head’s up: The cost of admission is less than $3 per person, with discounts for those with identification. Plan ahead and double check hours of operation. Bring water and wear shoes you’ll be comfortable walking in for long periods, in case you’re not able to park nearby.
It’s helpful to plan your visits in advance to ensure you’re prepared for any speed bumps along the way. Whether you want to explore the history of O’ahu or try out the newest and latest digs, knowing where to go is half the battle. Save these tips for your next outing or trip and you’ll be sure to have a good time!