The east shore of Oahu in Hawaii makes for a great drive on an Oahu itinerary!

3 Days in Oahu: The Ultimate Oahu Itinerary for Your First Visit!

Considering a trip to Oahu? This 3 days in Oahu itinerary is the perfect introduction to the most visited island in Hawaii!

Even on a short 3-day Oahu itinerary, you can experience the best of the island, from glitzy Waikiki Beach and historic Pearl Harbor to the exciting Oahu north shore beaches, and the views from the top of the Diamond Head crater.

Hiking Diamond Head Crater in Oahu should be at the top of even a short 3 days in Oahu itinerary!
Hiking Diamond Head Crater is a must on your 3-day Oahu itinerary!

More than the other large Hawaiian islands, Oahu offers eclectic experiences likely to appeal to a variety of visitors. It is home to Honolulu, Hawaii’s only city, with lots of shopping and dining, and many resorts from which to choose.

Idyllic beaches, epic hikes, and high-adrenaline adventures like shark cage diving and winter surfing beckon to outdoor-loving adventure travelers.

Foodies will enjoy Honolulu’s many fine dining restaurants and popular hole-in-the-wall eateries, as well as the food trucks scattered around the island.

And families will be spoiled for choice when it comes to fun activities, from snorkeling with turtles to easy scenic trails and museums to surf lessons.

There are so many things to do on Oahu that we usually visit for a week or longer. But we recognize that many visitors to Hawaii have less time to spend on a single island. Hence this 3-day Oahu itinerary that encapsulates the best things to do in Oahu!

In this article, we will give you a day-by-day plan for 3 days in Oahu, plus suggestions for where to stay and eat.

Planning your trip to Oahu? Check out our 2024 guide to the most popular tours and excursions in Oahu!

And now, let’s get started discovering the ultimate 3-day itinerary for Oahu!

A view of Rabbit Island from Makapuu Point on Oahu's east side
A view of Rabbit Island from Makapu’u Point on Oahu’s east side

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Get Oriented: Oahu Geography + Where to Stay

Before we dive into our 3-day itinerary for Oahu, here’s a brief overview of Oahu’s geography.

Oahu is divided into four main regions: the south shore, the north shore, the east side, and the west side.

The south shore of Oahu is home to the city of Honolulu. It’s the only large city in Hawaii and the state capital. Honolulu includes the world-famous neighborhood of Waikiki.

Diamond Head seen from Waikiki Beach in Oahu, Hawaii
Diamond Head from Waikiki Beach on Oahu’s south shore

The north shore of the island is famous for its massive surf in the winter. Here you will find the small but charming community of Haleiwa.

The east side of Oahu features a very scenic coastline, with lots of gorgeous beaches, and small communities like Hawaii Kai, Kailua, and Kaneohe.

On Oahu’s west side is the resort community of Ko Olina and other small communities like Kapolei and Waianae.

By far the vast majority of visitors to Oahu base in Honolulu, where Waikiki offers a variety of resorts and hotels and you will find lots of options for dining and shopping. It’s also the starting point for many guided tours if you don’t want to rent a car.

While you will find the large chains in Waikiki, it’s worth considering a boutique hotel as well:  Halekulani for a splurge stay, the Lotus Honolulu for views of Diamond Head, The Laylow for its awesome location, or the Halepuna for its modern well-appointed rooms.

Halekulani Ocean View Room, Waikiki, Oahu
An ocean-view room at the Halekulani

The Royal Hawaiian is another iconic place to base in Waikiki. The pretty pink hotel has photo ops at every turn.

You could opt to stay in Ko Olina on the west side, especially if you plan to spend a lot of your 3 days on Oahu enjoying the local beaches and activities within your resort such as Disney’s Aulani or the Four Seasons.

But Ko Olina can feel a little out of the way if you want to experience Oahu as a whole.

The north shore of Oahu offers a laid-back vibe, with a small selection of resorts and other places to stay. Turtle Bay Resort is the most well-known north shore resort.

Note that in the winter, massive waves cause most of the north shore beaches to be closed to swimming, snorkeling and the like.

Short answer to the question of where to stay on your 3-day trip to Oahu? Waikiki!

The Royal Hawaiian in Waikiki, Oahu
The Royal Hawaiian in Waikiki

Renting a Car for your 3 Days in Oahu

While Oahu has the best public transport options of all the Hawaiian islands (see our guide to getting around Oahu), we suggest renting a car for maximum flexibility for exploring the island in the short time of 3 days.

Be warned, though, hotel parking fees can be steep in Waikiki. If you want to save the garaging costs, plan to rent for the day locally in Waikiki, picking up your car in the morning and dropping it off in the evening.

(Rental car prices may be cheaper at the airport though, so you will have to do some calculations before you book.)

>> Check price and availability for a car rental in Waikiki!

If you do not want to rent a car, plan to join a full-day circle island Oahu tour to see the main sights on the rest of Oahu, and spend two days enjoying the many things to do in Waikiki and nearby.

The Byodo-In Temple in Oahu, Hawaii
You will likely visit the beautiful Byodo-In Temple on a circle island tour of Oahu

You can even splurge on a private island tour if you want to structure your itinerary to cover only the places you want to visit.

Uber and Lyft are our mainstays in Waikiki: if you avoid the peak morning time, rides are plentiful and not that expensive.

3 Days in Oahu Itinerary

This first-time Oahu itinerary showcases the best of the island and is designed to help you cover the top Oahu attractions while allowing for some time at the beach and a couple of Oahu’s popular hikes.

Arrive the evening before and settle into your accommodations, and plan to leave on a really late flight on day 3, or the following morning.

You will need three full days in Oahu to do this itinerary justice!

Waikiki sunset from Halekulani balcony in Oahu
Taking in a blazing Waikiki sunset from the balcony of our hotel room!

Day 1 of your 3 Days on Oahu: Hiking, History and the Beach!

Today you will check three iconic Oahu attractions off your bucket list: Diamond Head, Pearl Harbor, and Waikiki Beach.

You’ll be doing a fair bit of walking, so lace up those walking shoes and start your day early!

Start your day with the Diamond Head hike

Hiking to the summit of the Diamond Head crater rewards you with spectacular views over Waikiki and the southeastern Oahu coastline.

Hiking the Diamond Head Trail in Oahu, Hawaii
Hiking to the top of Diamond Head in Oahu!

Diamond Head State Monument requires reservations, though, so be sure to book your spot as soon as your date opens up!

Get the full scoop in our guide to the Diamond Head Hike.

Visit the Pearl Harbor National Memorial

Want to pay your respects at Pearl Harbor? The USS Arizona Memorial is a pristine white structure that sits on top of the sunk battleship in the Pacific Ocean.

Paying respects at USS Arizona war memorial at Pearl Harbor over sunken battleship, one of the best things to do in Honolulu
Pay your respects at the USS Arizona memorial at Pearl Harbor

Book your spot for the boat tour that takes you to the memorial, or take a guided Pearl Harbor tour that includes transport from Waikiki and back.

WWII or military history buff? Read our full guide to the Pearl Harbor historic sites if you’d like a more immersive experience.

Or tour the Iolani Palace and the Bishop Museum

More interested in Hawaiian history? Downtown Honolulu is home to many historic sites and is just an Uber ride away from Waikiki.

Tour the Iolani Palace, the only royal palace in the USA. The last reigning monarch of Hawaii, Queen Liliʻuokalani, was imprisoned in a room here after the monarchy was overthrown.

Iolani Palace in Honolulu, Oahu
Visit the Iolani Palace in Honolulu

Bishop Museum, also in downtown Honolulu, is a must-visit museum for visitors that want to learn more about Hawaii’s rich heritage and culture as well as its natural environment.

Or enjoy an ocean activity!

If history isn’t your thing, but you enjoy the outdoors, this afternoon is a great time to enjoy an ocean activity.

There are many tours that depart from Waikiki. One of our favorites is the Turtle Canyon snorkeling excursion, where Hawaiian green sea turtle sightings are virtually guaranteed.

Other fun tours include parasailing over the scenic southeastern Oahu coastline, or embarking on an underwater expedition on a submarine cruise.

Experience Waikiki Beach

Now it’s time to soak in the sun at Waikiki Beach! You’ll find the beach lively and busy during the day and into the evening when the sun sets over the ocean.

Waikiki Beach in Honolulu, Oahu
Enjoy the sun and the sand at Waikiki Beach, or take a surf lesson!

Waikiki Beach is a very long strip of sand, with several sections, so do a bit of research to pick your spot. San Souci and Fort DeRussy Beach Park tend to be quieter than the areas in front of the Hilton or the Royal Hawaiian.

You can sunbathe or swim at Waikiki Beach, but you can also take a surf lesson, or stroll the beach boardwalk end to end, taking in the views.

Be sure to check out Duke Kahanamoku’s statue, right on Waikiki Beach!

Stroll Kalakaua Avenue

Either before or after dinner, depending on whether you like to eat early or late, you will want to stroll Kalakaua Avenue, the main shopping street in Waikiki.

Exploring the Interational Marketplace on Kalakaua Avenue in Waikiki, Honolulu
The International Market Place on Kalakaua Avenue is a must-wander on your 3 days in Oahu!

It’s a fun stroll for people watching, window shopping, and generally enjoying the ambience of Waikiki in the evening.

The Royal Hawaiian Center and the International Marketplace are must-visits. If you are at the Royal Hawaiian Center in the early evening, you may catch a performance of traditional Hawaiian music and dance in the Royal Grove.

Hawaiian performance at the Royal Hawaiian Center in Waikiki, Oahu
Catch a free Hawaiian music and dance performance at the Royal Hawaiian Center!

Enjoy drinks and dinner in Waikiki

You’ll be spoiled for choice when it comes to where to eat in Waikiki.

A trio of fish preparations at Roy's Waikiki in Oahu, HI
A trio of fish preparations in the superb sampler at Roy’s Waikiki!

Stop at House Without a Key at the Halekulani for mai tais with a view, and then walk over to Roy’s Waikiki for superbly-prepared fish and a decadent dessert.

Or enjoy the four-course tasting menu at the beachfront Azure at the Royal Hawaiian!

Day 2 of Your 3-Day Oahu Itinerary: Explore the North Shore of Oahu!

Continuing with your 3 days in Oahu itinerary, today you will explore Oahu’s scenic north shore, where adventures abound in every season! It’s much more laid back than urban Waikiki, and you will love Oahu’s north shore beaches.

Stop at the Dole Plantation

If you are traveling with kids or the idea of enjoying a pineapple Dole Whip on Oahu appeals, then the Dole Plantation is on the inland route from Waikiki to the north shore of Oahu.

A frankly touristy attraction, the Dole Plantation features a pineapple maze, a plantation garden, and a mini train ride.

Walking the gardens at the Dole Plantation in Oahu, Hawaii
Strolling the Plantation Garden at the Dole Plantation

We resisted going for a long time, but enjoyed strolling the garden when we did. It has lots of colorful plants!

Buy your train tickets for the first departure to avoid a long wait.

Or go shark cage diving on Oahu’s North Shore

If you are an adventure-loving visitor, you may want to head straight to the north shore to begin the day with a shark cage dive.

School of hammerhead sharks in Oahu waters
A school of hammerhead sharks in Oahu waters

On this thrilling Oahu north shore activity, you are lowered under water in a polyglass cage with the opportunity to see sharks swimming wild in the ocean.

Galapagos and sandbar sharks are common sightings in the waters here.

>> Check price and availability for the north shore shark cage dive now!

Explore the charming town of Haleiwa

One of the most charming little towns in Hawaii, Haleiwa has a stroll-worthy main street, with a multitude of boutique shops and art galleries, a historic church to photograph, and many eateries.

Display in a boutique in Haleiwa, Oahu
Checking out the stores in Haleiwa | 3 Days in Oahu Itinerary

Be sure to end your time in Haleiwa with shave ice at Matsumoto Shave Ice! The acai bowl at Haleiwa Bowls or Nalu Health Bar is another option if you aren’t a shave ice fan.

Enjoy Beach Time!

Now it’s time to spend some time at one of the famous beaches on Oahu’s north shore. There is a string of pretty beaches from which to choose, so have a few options ready in case parking isn’t available at your top choice.

Pupukea Beach Park, home to Three Tables and Shark’s Cove, is a great place for families, for snorkeling and exploring tidepools. Waimea Bay is stunning and offers a cliff jump for the daring.

Pupukea Beach Park on Oahu’s north shore

Note that Oahu’s north shore beaches feature huge walls of waves in the winter and aren’t safe for water activities at that time of year, unless you happen to be a world-class surfer that wants to ride the waves.

But even watching the action is great fun!

Have lunch at an Oahu food truck!

Oahu’s north shore shrimp trucks are just as popular an attraction as the beautiful beaches here!

You will find food trucks all across the north shore, but we usually budget the time to drive to the Kahuku food trucks along the Kamehameha Highway.

You will find Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck here (it’s on the bucket list for most foodies visiting Oahu), but there are several other excellent options as well: try Da Brazilian Braddahs!

Visit Waimea Valley

After lunch, head to Waimea Valley, a lush green oasis on Oahu’s north shore. It’s home to Toa Luau, one of the best luaus on the island.

But before the luau, take the time to wander the lovely botanical garden, which houses more than 5,000 plants. The mature trees are gorgeous, and you may come across a wild peacock as you stroll.

Waimea Valley, Oahu
Lush Waimea Valley | 3 Days in Oahu
Peacock at Waimea Valley in Oahu, Hawaii
Snap photos of peacocks at Waimea Valley!

Also hike to Waimea Falls, one of the top waterfalls in Oahu. It is part of Waimea Valley, and the walk is paved and easy. You may even be able to take a dip in the plunge pool.

End your day on the north shore with the luau and the Polynesian show, which includes fire knife dancing.

>> Check price and availability for the Toa Luau now!

Or the Polynesian Cultural Center

Instead of Waimea Valley, you can opt to drive on to the Polynesian Cultural Center on t he northeastern side of Oahu for a rich cultural immersion.

Polynesian Cultural Center Oahu Hawaii
The Fiji Village at the Polynesian Cultural Center

The luau at Polynesian Cultural Center is arguably the best on Oahu with the show Ha: The Breath of Life rated superb.

The center features six Polynesian villages that you can explore before the luau and evening show. each village offers cultural demonstrations and interactive experiences.

We loved learning the steps to a traditional dance at the Tahitian village and paddling a canoe along tranquil waters at the Tonga Island village.

Day 3 of Your 3 Days in Oahu: The Best of Oahu’s East Side

In our opinion, Oahu’s east side is the most scenic part of the island, with spectacular ocean views from the coastal road, beaches with aqua waters, and a wide variety of activities, from hiking to gardens and kayaking to touring movie sites.

Our 3-day Oahu itinerary includes the most iconic experiences on the east side of Oahu!

Try a hot malasada from Leonard’s Bakery

A malasada is a Portuguese doughnut, and it’s best eaten fresh and hot.

You can get them plain or filled with a sweet custard or tropical fruit like guava. Yum!

Leonard’s Bakery, which has the best malasadas on Oahu, is on the way to the east shore from Waikiki, so this morning is the perfect time to stop and get one!

The bakery opens really early but unless you go really early too, you’ll be standing in line for a bit.

Malasada in Oahu, Hawaii
Try a malasada in Oahu!

Start your day with a hike

On the southeastern side of Oahu, here are a few hikes from which to choose:

For a relatively family-friendly hike with expansive ocean views, try the Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail. In season, this is an excellent whale-spotting route.

Looking down at the Makapuu Point Lighthouse

If you are up for a challenge, put the Koko Head Stairs hike on your 3-day Oahu itinerary. You’ll climb over 1,000 steep steps to the top, but the views are sensational on a clear day!

And for an easy hike, walk the 2-mile loop trail through the Koko Crater Botanical Garden. This trail is especially worthwhile in the spring and summer, when the plumeria grove in the garden is in full bloom. Lots of color and fragrance!

Whichever of these Oahu hikes you choose, it will be a picturesque start to your day!

Snorkel Hanauma Bay

For many first-time visitors to Oahu, snorkeling at Hanauma Bay is high on the wish list.

And it’s not surprising why: the nature reserve features the best snorkeling on Oahu. So rich is the marine life here that it sometimes feels like you are snorkeling in an aquarium.

Snorkeling at beautiful Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve is one of the best things to do on the windward side of Oahu!
Snorkeling at Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve is one of the best things to do on your 3-day Oahu trip!

Equally unsurprising, you have to reserve your spot in advance if you want to snorkel Hanauma Bay…or, if you aren’t able to score a reservation, you can join a guided tour.

>> Check pricing and availability for this highly-rated Hanauma Bay snorkeling tour now!

Take a tour at Kualoa Ranch

Kualoa Ranch has a spectacular setting. It is nestled at the base of the majestic Ko’olau Mountains, and your itinerary needs at least one activity that features views of this stunning mountain range!

Kualoa Ranch in Oahu, Hawaii
Kualoa Ranch has a spectacular setting!
The Koolau Mountains in Oahu, Hawaii
A view of the ko’olau Mountains from Kualoa Ranch

You can only tour the ranch on guided tours, and the tours are popular, so book yours well ahead of your trip.

We enjoy the Hollywood Movie Sites Tour, which is a bus tour that takes you through some of the most scenic parts of this working Oahu ranch.

If you’d like a more adventurous experience, you can also opt for a guided UTV tour.

Enjoy beach time!

A day on Oahu’s east side would not be complete without beach time, and there are many beautiful beaches from which to choose!

Waimanalo Beach in Oahu, Hawaii
Waimanalo Beach on Oahu’s east side

Lanikai Beach, the top beach attraction on the windward side of Oahu, is considered one of the most beautiful beaches in the world.

The golden sand beach offers picture-perfect views of the Mokulua Islands (The Mokes) and is a great beach for sunbathing as well as swimming and snorkeling, with usually calm waters.

Kailua Bay Beach Park is another popular Oahu east side beach, with better parking and amenities. The aqua waters are stunning. Kayaking to the Mokes is popular.

Kailua Beach Park in Oahu, Hawaii
Kailua Beach Park

But for an even more relaxed experience, head to Waimanalo Beach, a long golden sand beach with turquoise waters and ironwood trees that offer shade for picnicking.

Late night flight out of Oahu but have to check out in the morning? You will find Bounce luggage storage locations in Waikiki, and luggage storage at the airport.

We sometimes book an extra night to have the accommodation for the day of departure, budgeting it into our trip cost.

The Best Time to Visit for Your 3 Days in Oahu

Oahu is an excellent year-round destination, with lots of things to do in every season.

With its mix of historic and cultural sites, beautiful landscapes, and vibrant Waikiki, Oahu is a good idea no matter when you choose to go.

Koko Crater in Oahu
Koko Crater in Oahu

That said, here are a few things to consider:

If you are looking to enjoy water activities on Oahu north shore beaches, you will want to visit in the summer. In the winter, the surf is too dangerous!

But if you do visit in the winter, you will be able to watch exciting surfing competitions on the north shore if you time your visit right. And watching the massive waves is fun regardless of whether there are surfers in the water.

Winter is also whale-watching season in Hawaii, including Oahu.

Spring and fall are relatively lower crowd seasons, although even then you will still find lots of people at popular spots like Waikiki Beach.

Cherry blossom in bloom in Wahiawa, Oahu
Cherry blossoms in bloom in Oahu in January

Summer, and the winter holidays (Christmas break) are high season in Oahu and you will have to contend with higher prices on accommodations and more people everywhere. If you do plan to visit then, book activities well in advance!

The Best Oahu Tours

Have you booked these popular Oahu tours and excursions yet?

Love snorkeling? This Turtle Canyon snorkeling excursion from Waikiki lets you frolic with colorful fish and Hawaiian green sea turtles. Hands down the MOST BOOKED Oahu snorkeling tour: turtle sightings are guaranteed!

The most popular luau in Oahu, Paradise Cove Luau has a 4.5 rating on Viator with over 3.5K reviews. The tour includes pick-up from your Waikiki hotel, pre-dinner games, arts, and crafts, a delicious meal, and an award-winning show.

Based in Waikiki but want to see more of the island? This full-day Oahu Circle Island Tour includes Diamond Head, Hanauma Bay, Haleiwa, the Dole Plantation, and more!

Pay your respects at the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor! This popular Pearl Harbor tour includes boat tickets and round-trip transport from Waikiki.

A super popular Oahu North Shore excursion, this Oahu shark cage dive allows you to observe wild sharks in the open ocean from the safety of a cage! It’s a THRILLING Oahu adventure for your bucket list.

We have a detailed guide to the top Oahu tours and excursions if you are in the midst of planning your itinerary for the island.

Honolulu Airport-Hotel Shuttle

If you are not planning to get a rental car at Honolulu Airport, consider booking shuttle transport in advance!

This shared shuttle can be canceled up to 24 hours from the date of service. It serves hotels in Waikiki and Honolulu and then back again to the airport the day you leave. It’s convenient and inexpensive, and saves time and hassle!

>> Check prices and availability for shared round-trip airport transfer in Oahu now!

Staying in Ko Olina? Consider this round-trip airport transfer instead!

More Oahu Travel Inspiration

Planning a trip to Oahu? Check out our other in-depth Oahu travel guides for help finalizing your Oahu itinerary!

Start by discovering the best things to do in Oahu. We also have a detailed guide to Oahu’s North Shore, a round-up of things to do on the east side of Oahu, and the best things to do in Ko Olina, on the west coast of the island.

If you ar planning a short first visit to the island, we have the perfect day-by-day 3 days in Oahu itinerary for you!

Of course you’ll want to learn about all the exciting things to do in Honolulu, Hawaii’s capital, and Waikiki, the touristic core of Oahu. We also have an article on the best places to eat in Waikiki!

Check out our guide to the best beaches in Oahu, and a round-up of the best beaches on the north shore of Oahu. Also read about must-visit Oahu waterfalls and botanical gardens in Oahu you have to visit.

Oahu is home to so many must-visit landmarks! Check out our in-depth article on how to visit Pearl Harbor, and our guides on the beautiful Waimea Valley in Oahu and the spectacular Byodo-In Temple.

Want to enjoy the thrill of observing sharks in the wild? Check out our article on shark cage diving on Oahu’s North Shore!

Discover the top places to go snorkeling in west Oahu, where you will find a long coastline with lovely beaches, and tips for snorkeling Kaneohe Sandbar on the island’s east coast as well as the super popular Hanauma Bay.

And if you love marine life, also check out our complete guide to (respectfully!) see and swim with dolphins in Oahu, and the best spots to snorkel with turtles in Oahu.

For hikers and outdoor enthusiasts, we have a round-up of the best Oahu hikes, and if you are looking to exclude the harder Oahu trails, a guide to the best easy Oahu hikes.

Find out how to do the iconic (and VERY popular) Diamond Head Hike near Waikiki for exceptional views. We also have a guide to the very popular Manoa Falls Trail in Honolulu.

More advanced hikers will want to read up on the Koko Head Hike, a long set of stairs leading to expansive views.

Learn where to go for the best sunsets in Oahu, whether you want to hike or enjoy watching a colorful Hawaiian sunset without working up a sweat.

We also have a guide to the best sunrise hikes in Oahu, one of which is the spectacular Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail in the southeastern part of the island. The Lanikai Pillbox Hike is another wonderful sunrise hike on Oahu!

If you are a garden enthusiast, check out our detailed guide to the Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden, our article on the unique Koko Crater Botanical Garden, and our guide to Foster Botanical Garden!

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Discover the best 3 days in Oahu itinerary! Hike Diamond Head, explore Waikiki, snorkel Hanauma Bay, more!


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