We stayed in Oahu, Hawaii as part of our round the world trip in February 2019. We flew from Los Angeles into Honolulu and stayed in Oahu for 7 days before departing to New Zealand. Since we are traveling for an entire year, we were on a strict budget but still wanted to see part of Hawaii. We chose to stay on one island for an entire week for more opportunity to explore the area rather than try to island hop and pay for additional costs of boats or planes.
We booked a hostel in Honolulu before arriving on Hostelworld.com. I ended up choosing the Polynesian Hostel Beach Club Waikiki, from all the options of places to stay in Waikiki. It is just a couple blocks from Waikiki Beach, has free pancake breakfast, free beach gear, surf boards to rent and a kitchen so we could cook a lot of our own meals. We stayed in a basic double bed private room with a shared bathroom for around $42 per person per night (which I consider somewhat expensive, but it is Hawaii). The hostel also had a board of activities which you could join and meet other travelers, some of which were free. Once we arrived we noticed the street that our hostel was on seemed to be the place where most hostels were located anyway. The location was excellent. Every evening, no matter what we were doing, we would make the quick walk to Waikiki Beach to enjoy the sunset.
Transportation on the Island
Since we were on a strict budget and car rentals in Hawaii can be costly, we decided to take TheBus (that is the name of the their transportation system in Oahu) around the island. For a day pass of $5.50 you can get anywhere on the island, it just might take more time than if you had your own car. If you have Google Maps or Apple Maps, you can easily figure out the bus route and time table to anywhere you need to go. The only downside is that the buses are often several minutes late from what their timetable would say, but hey, they are on island time.
Flying into Honolulu means you have probably been traveling for at least 6 hours. Arriving in the Honolulu airport, take an Uber or Shuttle to your hostel. Sadly, luggage is not allowed on the public bus system so you have to take a different (more expensive) form of transportation to your hostel. After checking in to the hostel, we were starving for dinner and wanted to explore the area. We wandered a bit and decided to get a panini at Tucker & Bevvy, a little sandwich shop that boasts its picnic food, and brought it back to the beach. We enjoyed watching the sunset while eating our delicious paninis.
On our first morning in Hawaii we enjoyed waking up without an alarm and eating the free pancake breakfast from the hostel. After breakfast we grabbed some free beach gear from the hostel and headed straight to the beach. Waikiki Beach is very scenic and one area even has a seawall to keep out the big waves (and sharks if you’re scared).
One quick note about sunscreen in Hawaii- please make sure you have a reef-safe sunscreen. If you are unsure which brand to buy, try reading this. It is important for the aquatic life that you do this. You can purchase reef-safe sunscreen in Oahu, but it will be more expensive than buying it before you leave.
Once you get hungry from swimming and enjoying the sun at the beach, take a 25 minute walk (or quick bus ride) to Kono’s for lunch. Kono’s is famous for their slow roasted pork and Luke said their Old-School pork sandwich was to die for. My vegetarian self had an avocado veggie wrap that was also very good!
Just steps away from Kono’s is dessert at Leonard’s Bakery! This place is a must when visiting Oahu! They specialize in homemade malasadas, which are Portuguese doughnuts without a hole. Oh man, are they delicious! Luke and I each had two originals since they were only $1.30 per doughnut. They serve them to you warm, so make sure you have room for them after your lunch!
On our walk back to the hostel we stopped by the Safeway grocery store for some groceries since the hostel had a kitchen to use. We headed back to Waikiki Beach to relax before making dinner at our hostel.
Wake up early, fill up on the free breakfast at the hostel, grab some free snorkel gear and head to Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve. The entrance fee for the reserve is $7.50. The earlier you get there the clearer the water will be to see the coral and fish. They do rent snorkel gear when you arrive there but it is very expensive. If the hostel is out of snorkel gear for the day, you are better off stopping by one of the many ABC stores and picking up some of your own snorkel gear for about $7 before you get on TheBus. You can get to the Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve by taking TheBus from Waikiki beach, at the time of writing this, February 2019, it was bus #22 and only came about once an hour. Buy the day pass for TheBus for $5.50 so you can get there and back. This bus ride will take about 45 minutes to 1 hour. To be budget friendly, pack a lunch. They have a snack bar at the nature reserve but it was quite expensive. We packed PB & Js, granola bars and carrots with hummus to avoid this. We also packed two water bottles, and they had stations you could refill them at on the beach.
Spend the day enjoying the Nature Preserve. We ending up getting there at 9:30am and not leaving until 3:30pm. We saw crabs, parrot fish, angel fish, an eel, and so many more types of fish! It was a great time exploring! When we got back to the Waikiki area we relaxed then went to the beach to enjoy another sunset. After sunset we utilized the kitchen in the hostel and made ourselves some cheap spaghetti for dinner.
Start day 4 off with the free breakfast at the hostel again to gear up for the big hike of Diamond Head State Monument. From the hostel you can walk the entire thing or pay to take TheBus to the beginning of the hike, just make sure you route it on your phone first (we ended up walking around the entire crater). It only costs $1 per person to enter and the steep hike is heavily trafficked. Be sure to wear good shoes because it is a workout for sure! But the exercise will be well worth it when you get to the top and get panoramic views of Honolulu.
Head back to the hostel and make yourself lunch and rest for a bit before going on a Turtle Canyon Snorkel Adventure with Pink Sails Waikiki. We purchased our tickets on Groupon, for $89 for the two of us. They provide a free shuttle from different hotels and hostels in the Waikiki area which was helpful so we didn’t have to spend extra on TheBus fare to get to their boat. They also provide snorkel equipment so you do not have to bring your own. This might have been my favorite thing we did in Hawaii! It was so fun to get out in the water and snorkel with sea turtles!
For day 5 you’re absolutely going to need to buy a day pass for TheBus and pack a lunch for a waterfall hike and visit to Pearl Harbor. You’ll need to transfer on TheBus to get to bus route #5 which is the only route that will take you to the beginning of the hike. At the end of the bus route you get off and start hiking up through the neighborhood to the Manoa Falls trail. It is an easier trail, but quite crowded to get to the 150-ft waterfall.
When you’ve completed the hike, take the #5 bus back to the city center where you can transfer to another bus that will take you to Pearl Harbor. Visiting Pearl Harbor is important in understanding the history of Hawaii and you can actually visit for free! Their website says that over 1,300 free USS Arizona Memorial walk-in tickets are available daily on a first come first-serve basis but I’ve read these can sell out if it’s a busy day. The internet confused me bit about which ship you need to visit and such but if you want a general tour about the history of what happened and to go on a boat to the white memorial over the USS Arizona Memorial then its actually free! You can pay $1 online per ticket to reserve tickets for a specific day and time (which we did) just to make sure you get one of the tickets. The only sad thing is they are currently remodeling the white memorial so we were unable to go on the platform. But they still took us out on the boat and around the area that was attacked and gave us the history of everything that happened.
For our last full day on Oahu, we decided to get out of Honolulu and explore another area, to the city of Kailua. We bought another day pass for TheBus and took bus route #57 for about an hour to to visit the beautiful Lanikai Beach area. Before relaxing at the beach we decided to do the Kaiwa Ridge (pillbox) trail. This trail is extremely steep, and when we were there it was also slippery. But at the top you get panoramic views of the stunning scenery. Once you reach the first pillbox, keep going to the second one. It will definitely be worth it, the further you go on the trail the less people will be there.
After the hike we were super sweaty and hot, perfect time for the beach! The beach is very close to the end of the hike so we dropped our stuff in the sand and jumped in the water! You can also snorkel at this beach which was exciting to see more tropical fish. Lanikai Beach is just gorgeous and there is typically less people than at Waikiki so it was definitely worth the time to get there.
On your last morning in Hawaii wake up, enjoy the free breakfast at the hostel and then head to Waikiki beach one last time. Relish in the beautiful sun one last time before catching an Uber or shuttle to the airport!