Having just one day on Oahu is a likely scenario since it is often a layover place for connecting flights to other islands. In facts, if booking your own flights it's a good idea to give yourself on day on Oahu before continuing on to your final destination of Maui, Big Island, or Kauai. Oahu offers four very different sides of the island, each with its own character and unique things to see and do and thanks to the small size of the island, it's feasible to visit at least two sides of the island if you wish, and a complete circle of the island is doable too.
One thing to keep in mind while navigating around Oahu and through Honolulu is traffic - morning and afternoon rush hours are intense - so heading out of Honolulu in the morning is the best bet with limited time. Begin your day at 8 a.m. and if you can wait about 40 minutes for breakfast, head out to Haleiwa on the North Shore. For a sit down, home style cafe breakfast stop into Cafe Haleiwa. Eggs, pancakes, home fries, coffee, several Mexican dishes, and muffins make for a very filling and rather quick breakfast. For those more in the mood for a bagel and coffee drop by the Coffee Gallery. They serve up local and really good coffee a variety of ways, along with amazing and unique pastries, smoothies, are all available. it's order at the table but they provide tables and free internet access.
Since this itinerary is for just one day, it's straight to the beach from here. Waimea Bay is famous for its fine white sand, calm swimming in the protected bay in the summer time, and it's huge pounding surf during the fall and winter months. On the way to the bay enjoy the views along the coast line road. Surfers carve up wavers at Laniakea and Chun's reef, the vibrant blue There's may not be a more beautiful beach on a North Shore morning. The water is bright blue, the wind is calm, the bay can't be beat. If the waves are really big you won't be swimming here, but that means no where the North Shore is swimmable. Spend about an hour enjoying the beach before moving on.
Beautiful Waimea Bay — Photo courtesy of go hawaii
Now it's probably around 11 a.m. or a little after. Head back towards Haleiwa and if you're hungry stop into Haleiwa Joe's for a chart house style meal where they use a lot of fresh local fish for entrees and burgers along with steaks, salads, and Pacific style appetizers. For a tropical dessert drop by Matsumoto Shave Ice for one of the famous sweet and cold cones. There's likely to a line but it will probably be minimal at this time of day. Some days it can take a half hour of waiting in line, that's how famous their shave ice is.
At about 1 p.m., just in time to head back into Honolulu before the traffic gets heavy. For those in search of more beach time, sunning and swimming - or surf lessons - at Queen's Beach in Waikiki is a good choice. The beach will be busy, but the water is usually pretty mellow, and surf lessons are a perfect highlight to a Hawaiian vacation. If you're more in the mood for shopping to pick up somethings to remember your trip by, you can go mainstream at Ala Moana Mall, or cruise through Waikiki where there's a varied array of name brand stores, surf shops, jewelry, and the really fun International Marketplace where a seemingly endless array of vendors sell all things local style. It's pretty affordable too.
It's nearing day's end now and a good time to head back to the hotel, or prepare for a late flight, depending on your schedule. If you have a room showering before dinner may serve as a relaxing break from the day's activities, or a quick rinse at the beach's showers will do. When it comes to dinner in Honolulu, the city is your oyster. Below are several wonderful options and the rest is up to you.
For Japanese food (minus sushi) drop into Irifune (563 Kapahulu, 808.737-1141). Homestyle with a very unique decor, the B.Y.O.B. restaurant serves up a broad spectrum of Japanese dishes, from katsu to curry to avocado and ahi tar tar. There may be a slight dinnertime wait, but it's usually pretty quick. Service is good and friendly and dress is casual. If it's anyone birthday in your party let the staff know - there will be an interesting surprise later on. Try the banana crepe with vanilla ice cream for dessert. They are closed on Sunday and Monday and they are very much worth a try.
For a more formal, but not over the top dinner make reservations at Duke's Waikiki (2335 Kalakaua Ave., 808/922-2268), a true classic Hawaii restaurant. Serving fish, steaks, and other entrees all with a Pacific flair, Duke's never fails to satisfy and is located on the ocean in Waikiki. Makes a great place for a romantic dinner or a fun night with a large group.
An abundance of seafood prepared local style can be enjoyed at Sam Choi's (580 Nimitz Hwy., 808/545-7979). The place is huge, the chef is famous, and the seafood is prepared in nearly every way imaginable. There's a full bar here along with locally brewed beers. Boats and other ship supplies decorate the place and hang from the ceiling. A good place for the family or large group. This is a good stop if you need to get to the airport soon, it's close.
Roy's (226 Lewers St., 808/923-7697) has a well planned menu of Hawaii fusion cuisine. Located in Waikiki, Roy's is a good place for casually dressing up and enjoying date night, family time, or a group of friends. A full bar and great desserts highlight the amazing menu of seafood, steaks, salads, and some vegetarian dishes.
Happy eating and good night!