1 Week in Hawaii: The Perfect Oahu Itinerary for Your First Visit

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Do you dream of palm trees, turquoise waters perfect for snorkeling, scuba diving, and surfing? Of eating tropical fruits, fresh seafood, and rainbow shave ice? I know I do, which I was I was thrilled to finally visited Hawaii in conjunction with my trip to Fiji and Tonga. Not only was it perfect for breaking up a long, long, long, long, flight but it also made for a really fun travel destination. Considering heading here yourself? Here’s how to spend 1 week in Hawaii and my picks for the ultimate Oahu itinerary for first time visitors.

psst: Looking for a travel credit card with lots of perks (like lounge access) that will also allow you to earn points for travel? This is what I use and recommend. 

Aloha Mahalo Benches in Hawaii

Getting to Hawaii

For those who live under a rock, Hawaii is an island. Actually, I’m lying. Hawaii is a state that is made up of a number of islands. You can get here by boat (normally a cruise unless you are a master sailor in which case- can we be friends?), but most people will arrive by plane. In my experience in planning my own trip to Hawaii, the cheapest (and fastest) airport to fly into was Honolulu Airport on Oahu. This is the island that I stayed on and will use for the basis of this 1 week in Hawaii article. While you can island hop, it can be expensive and if you only have one week in Hawaii then you may as well set up a base on one island and explore. There’s more than enough to see and do on Oahu and I’m sharing my favourites in this Oahu itinerary.

1 Week in Hawaii: Getting around Oahu

This is my Happy place rainbow coloured sign in Hawaii

As is the case with all Hawaiian Islands, the easiest way to get around is to rent a car. It allows you the most freedom and takes away any stress or time limits. That being said, I know that renting a car isn’t always an option, especially for those travelling solo to Hawaii like I did. Don’t worry though, you won’t be stuck. There are ways to get around both Honolulu and the island.

In terms of Honolulu area, if you want the easy tourist route that hits the popular spots, consider getting tickets for the Waikiki Trolley which is a hop on hop off bus. You can get 1,4, or 7 day passes here.

You can also use the local bus system which is creatively called ‘The Bus’. The Bus is pretty good for getting around Downtown Honolulu, Waikiki, and the nearby areas such as Pearl Harbour or Hanauma Bay. Your best bet is to buy daily passes as it’s the same price for that as it is for 2 trips. Buses can be cramped and busy, but the drivers are friendly and it is cheap.

The same bus service works on the whole island, however, these journeys tend to be pretty long. I originally thought I’d take the bus up to the North Shore for a day trip but that wasn’t really realistic when I timed it out. I could have gone and spent a night somewhere there, but The Bus also isn’t ideal for carting your luggage around either.

If you do want to explore more of the island, your best bet is to book day trips- there are lots of good ones that I’ll share later. Or, you could hire a taxi or private transfer to take you. Taxis and private hires aren’t cheap but, let’s be honest, nothing is in Hawaii.

Pssst. Looking to save money on your vacation? Check out my article on how to explore Hawaii on a budget.

Where to Stay in Waikiki for 1 Week in Hawaii

Surfjack hotel Hawaii

For my one week in Hawaii, I chose to base myself in Waikiki then relied on day trips and The Bus to get around for site seeing and tours. While I didn’t necessarily love that the Hawaii I experienced was a big city, I also recognized that without renting a car, it really is the best bet.

Honolulu is surprisingly big and it does take a while to get around. Since I’m a beach girl I chose to stay in Waikiki which I actually really liked. Cute shops, cool restaurants and bars, and gorgeous stretches of beach made it the ideal place to stay for a beach vacation. I definitely recommend choosing this part of Oahu as a base for your stay.

Need some recommendations?

If you are on a tight budget or looking to meet people you can try  hostel. Honolulu has a couple and I stayed in one in Waikiki but it wasn’t great. It was pretty dirty, the staff was unfriendly, and it was so loud. So I can’t really recommend it. 

That being said, there are some nice more affordable hotel options. Try the Surfjack Hotel. I stayed here for a couple nights at the end of my trip because I needed some privacy. It was about a 10-15-minute walk to Waikiki Beach and had a cool on-site pool. Rooms were spacious and kind of funky- definitely fit the island vibe. Another favourite is the Royal Hawaiian which you may recognize as the pink hotel on Waikiki Beach. Other popular picks include the Waikiki Beachcomber by Outrigger and the Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki.

Or, if you are really looking to splurge then try the Moana Surf Rider hotel. It’s THE hotel to stay at in Waikiki and you can’t beat the location. I walked by a few times and definitely wished I had a bigger budget so I could stay there.

The Best Things to do in Oahu: My Oahu Itinerary Favourites

Considering that Oahu is a pretty small island, it sure has a lot to see and do. Some is free, some is pricey (but worth it) so my biggest word of advice to is do a bit of planning ahead of time and figure out what it is you really want to see and do. A lot of the day trips and tours fill up quickly so your best bet is to book your spot in advance. With that in mind, here are my favourite attractions and things to do in Oahu that you should definitely consider adding to your Oahu itinerary.

Snorkelling at Hanauma Bay, Oahu’s Top Snorkel Site

Hanauma Bay

Oahu has no shortage of snorkeling spots but for those looking for a beautiful, easy spot to get to without having to hire a guide or take a tour, I recommend Hanauma Bay. It’s an easy bus ride from Waikiki and has a beautiful beach with a restaurant and change rooms on site making it perfect for a day trip. Hamauma Bay can get busy and crowded (especially on holidays and weekends) but I still thought it was worth it. While I didn’t see any of the Hawaiian green sea turtles, the snorkeling offered plenty of multi-coloured corals and some bright reef fish plus the beach was gorgeous.

Please note that there is a small fee to enter and I do recommend bringing your own snorkel gear. I absolutely loved it here and came twice during my 1 week in Hawaii. 

Watch the Surfers at Waikiki Beach

Watching surfers at Waikiki Beach

Waikiki Beach is the busiest beach in Oahu, but you can’t leave the island without spending a little bit of time here whether it’s for swimming, or watching the sunset. The surfers here riding the waves are a pretty iconic site and, for those interested, you can even take some lessons or just rent a board. 

Friday Night Fireworks in Waikiki

If you have 1 week in Hawaii, then you will likely be in Oahu for the Friday night fireworks in Waikiki. They aren’t particularily special fireworks per say, but I’m a sucker for fireworks any day so seeing these were pretty fun. I watched from the beach, though you need to be pretty selective about where you go because some of the beach hotels block the view. You can also watch from the water if you book a boat tour.

Circle Island Tour of Oahu

Circle Island Tour Hawaii

If you don’t plan on renting a car and exploring the island on your own, then definitely take a full day circle island tour. There are dozens of operators for this, though some of the stops on this 1-day itinerary differ a little bit. The one I did went to a coffee farm, the Dole Plantation for pineapples (where I had my first ever Dole whip- so good!),Waimea Bay, Haleiwa Town, the famous North Shore food trucks, and even a cocktail stop. We had a TON of fun and I loved being able to get out of the city and see the sites with a local.

Want to book a circle island tour? Try this one.

Spot the Wild Dolphins of Hawaii

wild spinner dolphins in Hawaii

Oahu is known for it’s spinner dolphins which are beautiful to see out in the water. Prior to 2021, you could actually swim with them. However, while some people and businesses allowed you to swim with the dolphins in Hawaii ethically and responsibly, some didn’t. Sadly, it got to the point where laws had to be put into place to stay away from the dolphins for their safety and protection. While you can no longer swim with the dolphins in Hawaii, you can still go out and search for them in an ethical and responsible manner. This tour offers dolphin viewing as well as snorkel stops and, depending on the time of year, maybe some whale sightings. 

Whale Watching in Hawaii (Winter Only)

Humpback whale in Hawaii

Love whales? Me too. Hawaii is one of the best places to see humpback whales, especially on the North Shore. However, it is a seasonal activity that can only be done in the winter months. Whale season in Hawaii runs from November until May with the best viewings from January until March. While you can’t swim with the humpback whales in Hawaii (you can in Tonga and French Polynesia) the whale watching tours are a great way to see them up close.

Book your whale watching tour in Hawaii here.

Shopping in Waikiki

Shopping may not seem like one of the top things to do in Hawaii but I happened to be there a couple months before Christmas so I had a lot of fun checking out the shops in Waikiki and finding fun and unique things for friends and family back home- especially the women I was shopping for. From spa and bath products to unique beachy jewelry and more, there was lots to choose from. I might have even picked up a couple of fun things for myself (no regrets). 

Take a Hike

Hawaii sunset hike

Oahu has tons of hiking trails, a couple of which are just outside Waikiki and can easily be reached by public transit. Perhaps the most popular hike is Diamond Head which offers a scenic overlook over Waikiki and the ocean. Just make sure you check opening and closing times ahead of time, we tried to go for sunset only to discover it was closed.

Another really popular hike in Oahu is Koko Head Crater. This hike is made up of over 1200 ‘stairs’ formed by old train tracks. You should probably be a comfortable hiker to tackle this one as it can be a bit precarious at points but the viewpoint at the top makes it look like it’s worth it.

Perhaps the most iconic hike in Oahu is the Stairway to Heaven or the Haiku stairs. If you use Instagram no doubt you’ve seen several travel ‘influencers’ posting shots from this hike. Well, guess what? This hike is actually illegal and as of 2019 comes with a hefty fine of nearly $1000. The stairs are now considered to be too dangerous and there have been several deaths here. So, do yourself a favour, and skip this one during your 1 week in Hawaii. 

Step into the Scenes of Your Favourite Movies

Oahu is a popular filming locations for several well-known movies including the latest Jumagi, the Jurassic Park series, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Pearl Harbour, Blue Crush, and many more. If you are a big movie fan in general, or love one of these specific movies then you may be interested in heading to the scenes where they were filmed.

Perhaps the most popular filming location in Hawaii is Kualoa Ranch which was the filming location for one of my favourites: Jurassic Park (love me some dinosaurs). A visit here does have to booked as part of a tour, but it’s a fun way to spend a day.

Another fun place to stop if you are renting a car is Turtle Bay Resort. You don’t have to stay here to visit (though it is beautiful and if you have the budget you may want to), but it’s worth popping into the bar to have a drink and check out the beach views. This is where Forgetting Sarah Marshall was filmed so you’ll probably recognize a lot of the scenery.

Learn about the History of Pearl Harbor

Pearl Harbor and American flag

You can’t come to Hawaii without knowing a bit of history behind Pearl Harbor; home of the infamous bombing that kickstarted WWII. Pearl Harbor takes nearly an hour to get to by bus from Waikiki (so time your visit accordingly) and is comprised of several museums. Admission to the USS Arizona Memorial is free, though tickets are limited so I do recommend taking advantage of the book 1 day in advance option online. Booking opens at 7am for next day tours and costs $1.50USD to reserve your spot. These tickets are limited so get them while they last. You can get them here.

You can also visit with a guide to see other parts of Pearl Harbor as well. Take a look at this tour.

Embrace the Island Life

Food Truck North Shore Hawaii

Hawaii may be part of the USA, but it has its own culture and plenty of cool things to see, do, learn about, and try.

One of the best ways to enjoy your 1 week in Hawaii is to make sure you try plenty of local food. If you love seafood and fresh fruit, you’ll be in heaven in Hawaii. Two of my Hawaiian favourites are poke bowls and rainbow shave ice, but there’s way more to try. Even if you don’t consider yourself to be experimental with food, do yourself a favour and pick one local spot for a meal rather than joining the massive queue at The Cheesecake Factory. 

Another fun way to get your Aloha on is to join a Luau. Now, you need to know going in that these cater to tourists. It’s not a local thing that you happen to stumble upon. Oh, and they tend to come with hefty pricetags. But, you’ll get a pretty lei, a delicious meal, and an impressive show that makes for a fun night out. Book your Luau tickets here. 

You can also learn more about the Hawaiian culture. The Polynesian Cultural Centre is a popular place to visit. There are six Polynesian villages to explore. You can also stay the evening and take part in their Luau. 

Uncover the Royal History of Hawaii

Iolani Palace, Honolulu

Did you know that Hawaii had a royal family? Before it became part of the USA, Hawaii was a kingdom that was ruled by it’s own monarchs. In fact, Hawaii is the only place in the USA that has  a real royal palace.

The Iolani Palace was finished in 1882 and served as the home for the last king of Hawaii. Funnily enough, this palace actually received electricity before the White House. Today, travellers to Hawaii can visit this Iolani Palace and take a tour to discovery the history of Hawaii and it’s royal heritage.

For those interested in Hawaii’s history and culture, another must during your 1 week in Hawaii is the Polynesian Cultural Centre. It’s one of the top-rated places to visit in Oahu and and offers some great experiences. There are multiple ticket options depending on the type of visit you wish to have. You can learn more here.


Must Pack Items for 1 Week in Hawaii

Sitting on the wall in Hanauma Bay, Hawaii

Packing for a tropical vacation isn’t too tricky, but there are definitely a few must-have items that I strongly recommend you bring with you. One, because you’ll want them and two, because you’ll save yourself some money by bringing rather than having to buy while you are there. Here are my suggestions on what to pack for Hawaii.

  • Dry bag: Perfect for keeping your clothing/towel/electronics dry for any beach days or time spent out on a boat. Get some here.
  • A quick dry towel. Some resorts/hotels will give you beach towels but they tend to either be small or thick and slow to dry. I’m a big fan of this brand of quick dry towel for travel- plus they are big and perfect to dry off or use as a beach blanket. Take a look at these ones.
  • Reef-safe sunscreen. Sunscreen is a must and a reef safe brand is the way to go. Especially since Hawaii is banning any non-reef-safe sunscreens. There are a few brands but I’m a big supporter of Stream 2 Sea products which have been tried and tested.
  • I suggest bringing your own mask and snorkel because there are so many places around the island that you may want your own rather than relying on rental. Check out this set.
  • Good swimming gear! If you are a woman, check my list of tried and tested size-inclusive brands that I love for travel and the ocean here.
Psst: Wondering what my must-have travel items are? Here’s what you’ll always find in my bag.

Final Tips for Your Oahu Itinerary

Oahu is a lot of fun and a great destination to choose for your one week in Hawaii. Whether you are looking for adventure, culture, or just a laid back vacation, you’ll find what you are looking for on this tropical island. Just remember that Hawaii is a dream destination for many, so for the best deals and to avoid disappointment, your best bet is to book things (hotels, tours, etc.) in advance to avoid disappointment!

Ready to Book Your Trip?

Don’t forget travel insurance!

Please do not travel without travel insurance! I’ve had to use it multiple times throughout my travels and it has saved me thousands of dollars. You can learn more about travel insurance here. If you are looking for a provider I love and recommend SafetyWing. For Canadian readers, take a look at SoNomad.

Book your accommodation

I love and recommend booking.com for accommodation. They have a range of hostels, guesthouses, hotels, and resorts. Plus, the platform has a great loyalty program that means the more you book, the more you can save. 

Book your tours

My go-to tour provider that I love to recommend is GetYourGuide. They have options all over the world and partner with local companies for everything from day trips to food experiences and even airport transfers. 

Get connected

If you want to have data while travelling for online maps or any other needs, an esim is one of the easiest solutions. I’m a big fan of Airalo and have used their sim cards around the world from Brazil to Uzbekistan, Greece to the USA. It’s really easy- you download the app, pick what country you want an esim for, and after you purchase it follow the installation instructions. You can use promo code HANNAH3326 to save $3USD on your next esim purchase. 

Not sure what to pack?

I have destination-specific guides for some countries but you can also check my travel essentials and camera gear if you are looking for some ideas. 

Looking for a travel buddy?

Check out my group trips!

Only have one week in Hawaii? Check out this Oahu Itinerary perfect for first time visitors. #Hawaii #Oahu #Waikiki


  1. Stanley Konow on June 26, 2019 at 12:25 am

    Am a vet from World War 2, 91 years old, is this two big of a trip for us to make. If you have some good idears, for a trip like this for 10 days. konowstanley@gmail.com let me know.

    • Hannah Logan on June 27, 2019 at 1:09 pm

      Hey Stanley, this itinerary might be a bit busy/adventurous. But you may enjoy aspects of it. Hawaii is beautiful and has lots to offer

  2. […] get it. My first trip to Hawaii I spent about 1 week in Oahu and struggled to pick a place to stay. Did I want to stay downtown? By the beach? Away from Honolulu […]

  3. Tim on July 9, 2021 at 7:19 pm

    We’re about 70 and like short and not too strenuous hikes, are there places for that?

    • Hannah Logan on July 11, 2021 at 10:55 am

      I only know of the bigger/trickier hikes. Diamond Head might be an option but the path is quite uneven so depends on your comfort level. Maybe do a bit of research into it. If you ask locally, there might be other suggestions too!

  4. Jenny on January 19, 2022 at 1:27 am

    Can you please tell me where those Aloha/Mahalo benches are located?

    • Hannah Logan on January 19, 2022 at 12:30 pm

      They were up at the north shore in Haleiwa 🙂

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