What sets O'ahu apart from other Hawaiian islands? Honolulu, of course. It’s the only Hawaiian island with a bonafide city, complete with high-rises, loads of fine-dining options and enough shopping to keep you busy for an entire vacation. In other words, you will never run out of things to do. The world-famous beaches, of course, are a no-brainer. But here are additional ways to enjoy Oahu’s capital city when you need a break from beach lounging.
1. Take a very scenic run
Early birds will love City Running Tour’s Diamond Head sunrise running tour. Meet at the Honolulu Zoo for a 5 to 5.6-mile run. From Waikiki Beach, your guide will take you to the Diamond Head Lighthouse for photos at the famous surf spot lookout, through the Diamond Head crater and up to the top of Diamond Head for the grand finale: a dreamy 360-degree view of Honolulu, Waikiki and Hawaii Kai. It typically takes about 2.5 hours.
There’s also the option to take a waterfall run, historic downtown run or sunset run and yoga tour. Michael Gazaleh, the president and CEO of City Running Tours, says they have seen every type of runner, from beginners to a family of runners to people training hardcore for their next marathon. You can choose any mileage you’d like, from 2 to 26 miles.
2. Eat, drink and practice aloha
Foodies rejoice: If you visit in the fall, you can attend the Hawaii Food & Wine Festival. Get to know Honolulu-area chefs at several different events, all while devouring fresh, homegrown foods. This year’s theme, “Taste Our Love for the Land,” encourages residents and visitors to care for the island and its natural resources. Take part in volunteer opportunities led by local chefs through the Malama Aina Program for a deep dive into island culture and appreciation. Note: This year’s events will be held outdoors in small gatherings.
3. Lend a hand on vacation
Keep O'ahu beautiful by volunteering with Malama Hawaii, a program that encourages travelers to learn about island culture and give back. Many hotels are part of the statewide effort, including the Prince Waikiki in Honolulu, which offers guests DIY beach cleanup kits, a sustainable gift and the fourth night of your stay free. Beyond Honolulu, other Malama Hawaii activities include a helicopter tour with Paradise Helicopters, complete with a private landing and the chance to plant a native tree while learning how to contribute to the healing of this ecosystem. Guests at Outrigger Hotels & Resorts can take part in a 2-hour eco-adventure at Kualoa Ranch Private Nature Reserve, 4000 acres of land you might recognize from Jurassic Park, Jumanji and Godzilla. In a small group, you’ll hear about the importance of upland ahupuaa streams, the dangers of micro-plastics and how to help protect the natural beauty of the islands.
4. Eat a fancy donut
Stopping by Holey Grail Donuts for a treat is an absolute must. If you have time to wait in line, that is. The popular eatery, created by brother-and-sister duo Nile and Hana Dreiling, often has a line because they make each piping-hot donut to order. What makes this $4 treat so special? Its taro base has a fluffy interior with a crisp exterior (since it’s fried in coconut oil). Fun flavors change up often but be prepared for creative options like freshly picked lilikoi, dragonfruit lemonade and honey cream pineapple with Thai basil. Props to this clever farm-to-dough operation for making Instagram-worthy delicacies. If you’re on Kaua’i, you can also grab donuts at the original food truck. Pro tip: Stop by after the morning rush, and you might not have to wait in line.
5. Get artsy at a museum
Immerse yourself in masterpieces galore at The Honolulu Museum of Art, home to pop-up installations, a variety of exhibits and a summer nights program complete with a DJ and hands-on workshops. Grab a bite at the cafe or sit on the lawn for live music. The Hawaii State Art Museum, in the stately No. 1 Capitol District Building, is an awesome way to spend the morning or afternoon. Admission is free, and there are hands-on activities throughout the year. Pro tip: Afterward, put on your walking shoes and find as many outdoor murals as possible; there are several blocks sporting colorful street art.
6. Carve the waves and surf with a pro
If you are staying at Kaimana Beach Hotel, prepare to have bragging rights. You can take surf or standup paddleboard lessons from 2018 ISA World longboard surfing champion Kai Sallas. He’ll take you to a surf spot perfect for beginners where surfing first got its start. Or, if you're more advanced, he’ll help you move to the next level.
7. Forage for your food
Be an ethnobotanist for the day with Dr. Nat Bletter, founder of Madre Chocolate. Join his monthly foraging class (offered by Slow Food O’ahu) through Makiki to learn about the slow food movement and discover edible plants along the way. Bring a bag and fork along; you’ll get to enjoy a wild-plant salad at the end filled with things like nom nom fruit, pink peppercorns, macadamia nuts and banana blossoms.
8. Go boho-chic with a flower crown
Floral headdresses have a long history in Hawaii; Paiko, a botanical boutique in the Kaka’ako neighborhood, celebrates the sartorial statement piece known as the haku lei.
Sign up for a 2-hour, private-flower-crown-making session where you can make a tropical crown full of fresh flowers (think anthuriums and orchids) and gorgeous foliage (think ferns and eucalyptus). Plant materials are locally sourced, and the minimum amount of guests is six and the maximum is 20. Throughout the year, you can also take classes about succulents, bonsai shaping and ulana lau niu, the Hawaiian ancient art of weaving coconut fronds. Bonus: There’s also a DIY bar where you can pot your own plants if you so desire. Pick up gifts, like coconut planters, locally made soap and jewelry, while you’re at it. The Happy Haku offers private and group crown-making sessions, too.
9. Catch your own dinner
If you’re staying at Halekulani, which reopens Oct. 1, sign up for the Secret of Spearfishing experience. The 5-hour excursion, led by Makani Christensen of Keawe Adventures, brings up to eight guests aboard the Serendipity, a 47ft yacht. First, you'll learn about the ancient art form of spearfishing and how local communities are protecting the island’s fragile ecosystem from invasive species. Next, you'll hop into the water and use the three-pronged spearfishing device in an attempt to catch dinner. Afterward, chefs at Orchids, the hotel’s Mediterranean-style restaurant, are happy to cook your findings up for you.
You might also like:
Hawaii reimposes restrictions amid surge in COVID-19 infections
How to get around in Hawaii
Introducing Hawaii's national parks