Planning your days off site

WishingMom

DIS Veteran
Joined
May 18, 2008
We’re in the beginning stages of planning our first trip to Oahu, looking at staying 5 days offsite and 4 days at Aulani (won’t be planning anything more than enjoying Aulani during our stay there). How would you plan your days during the time outside Aulani? I’d like to do the following, hike diamond head, kualoa ranch, visit the north shore, pearl harbour. And Waikiki beach/area. And we‘d also like to do some snorkelling. I’d also like to hike to a waterfall (suggestions recommmended). It will be myself, DH and dd (10).

thanks in advance.
 
Last edited:

abdgeek

DIS Veteran
Joined
Jul 29, 2012
We’re in the beginning stages of planning our first trip to Oahu, looking at staying 5 days offsite and 4 days at Aulani (won’t be planning anything more than enjoying Aulani during our stay there). How would you plan your days during the time outside Aulani? I’d like to do the following, hike diamond head, kualoa ranch, visit the north shore, pearl harbour. And Waikiki beach/area. And we‘d also like to do some snorkelling. I’d also like to hike to a waterfall (suggestions recommmended). It will be myself, DH and dd (10).

thanks in advance.
Congrats on planning your first Oahu trip. There are several things to keep in mind as you plan:
1) Do you plan to rent a car to visit these places or book a tour?
2) How many activities do you want to do each day?
3) Where will you stay off-site? Waikiki?

Most tours leave from Waikiki. Aulani has tours that leave from there, but only on certain days. Read the fine print to see whether transportation is included or not from the resort. As long as you have a car, you can easily get to any of the places you mentioned. It just depends on how much driving you want to do. Of the sites you listed, the North Shore is closest to Aulani. Everything else is closest to Waikiki. Hanauma Bay is a great place to snorkel, but can be crowded and hard to find parking.

I would probably recommend doing one of the activities you mentioned each day so that you also have time to relax. You can combine some of them, but then you’ll be worried about how much time you need for each. Decide whether your visit to Pearl Harbor will include more than seeing the USS Arizona. That will determine how much time you’ll need. Tickets are free to the Arizona, but you have to pay for the other sites there. If you get tickets online for the Arizona, you pay a fee.

Good luck.
 


Adventures_abrod

Earning My Ears
Joined
Apr 20, 2020
We’re in the beginning stages of planning our first trip to Oahu, looking at staying 5 days offsite and 4 days at Aulani (won’t be planning anything more than enjoying Aulani during our stay there). How would you plan your days during the time outside Aulani? I’d like to do the following, hike diamond head, kualoa ranch, visit the north shore, pearl harbour. And Waikiki beach/area. And we‘d also like to do some snorkelling. I’d also like to hike to a waterfall (suggestions recommmended). It will be myself, DH and dd (10).

thanks in advance.
We did Kualoa Ranch and the North Shore on the same day. We booked the very first zip lining excursion and did “Secret Beach” which in my opinion you could probably skip. Then we drove around the island went to the North Shore it was a little crammed since we did a two part excursion. However I imagine it all depends on how much you want to do at each location.
 
  • newdeal

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Apr 12, 2009
    We’re in the beginning stages of planning our first trip to Oahu, looking at staying 5 days offsite and 4 days at Aulani (won’t be planning anything more than enjoying Aulani during our stay there). How would you plan your days during the time outside Aulani? I’d like to do the following, hike diamond head, kualoa ranch, visit the north shore, pearl harbour. And Waikiki beach/area. And we‘d also like to do some snorkelling. I’d also like to hike to a waterfall (suggestions recommmended). It will be myself, DH and dd (10).

    thanks in advance.
    Depends how much you want to do at those places. If you want to do everything at Pearl Harbour its a whole day. If you want to just do arizona memorial then its a couple hours. Kualoa if you want to do the 3 pack adventure is a whole day, if you want to just do the movie sites then half a day. Diamondhead is best done early so I would do that and then go to waikiki after. We did two waterfall hikes. One at Waimea botanical gardens which is a paved road basically but you can swim at the waterfall (bring water shoes its super rocky on your way in and they are sharp and slippery). Manoa Falls is hiking through a jungle and they don't suggest swimming in the waterfall (although there is no one there to stop you). The Manoa falls hike is far better I would pick that one personally. North shore can be its own day also as its a long drive however you could do it after Pearl Harbour as Pearl harbour is on the way. Personally I would find 4 days at Aulani to be a bit boring. 2 days is adequate unless you are fine with just laying in the sun for the day.
     

    nkereina

    Last chance to lose your keys.
    Joined
    Feb 11, 2009
    hike diamond head, kualoa ranch, visit the north shore, pearl harbour. And Waikiki beach/area. And we‘d also like to do some snorkelling. I’d also like to hike to a waterfall (suggestions recommmended).
    I am assuming you will have a rental car? I would highly recommend it staying at Aulani and visiting these areas. Assuming this is the case, I think the most important thing when planning is the locations and the logistics. Even though its an island, traffic does not make it quick or easy to get from one end to the other. We found it most time efficient to plan things in similar areas, but also taking the actual activity into account as well.

    For example, Diamond Head is near Waikiki. However, Diamond Head is best hiked early in the morning both to avoid crowds, parking hassles, and the hot sun. This is what we did, but we were far too sweaty and gross in our workout clothes to enjoy an afternoon in Waikiki afterwards. If you plan to just spend the afternoon at Waikiki beach, I think you can make it work, but IMO part of the appeal of Waikiki is the shopping and dining and it would be too far to go all the way back to Aulani to freshen up in between. I'd also caution that Waikiki beach itself is underwhelming for any beach time. Its very busy and relatively small - I'd save beach time for Aulani, or plan time on the windward side of the island which has gorgeous beaches. Kualoa Ranch is on the windward side of the island. We spent a morning there, with an afternoon at the beach in Kailua.

    IMO, North Shore can be its own day. We started our North Shore day at the Dole Plantation, spent the afternoon in Haleiwa, and also visited Waimea Valley and Laniakea Beach where the sea turtles are. Waimea Valley has a waterfall at the end of it where you can swim; however, I will caution that admission to the trail is $16 per person and its more of a paved nature trail for walking than it is a hike. We worked this in because it was best for maximizing our time on our North Shore day, but I know there are better waterfall hikes to be seen.

    I would highly recommend trying to obtain Pearl Harbor tickets in advance (60 days prior) so you know what time your Arizona tour will be, which will allow you to plan this day. Otherwise, you'll need to arrive early in the morning and whatever tour time you're assigned (they are assigned first come first serve) will dictate the rest of your day. We did an organized tour to Pearl Harbor and had a 9:15am Arizona tour time and we were done by 11:30am. I think if you can secure a morning tour time, you could easily spend the afternoon in Waikiki from here. If you don't get a morning tour time, I think the latest tour is around 3pm because Pearl Harbor closes at 5pm. You may hit some traffic, but you could still spend the evening in Waikiki for dinner, shopping, strolling. Things are open a bit later there, and you'd be after all the rush hour traffic heading back to Aulani.

    Lastly, for snorkeling, Hanauma Bay is often recommended which is south of Waikiki. This is another location that's best done early in the morning because of parking and capacity challenges. However, I believe there are some people here who have gone later afternoon that found that time to work well too - @cgattis , was that you? If afternoon can work at Hanauma Bay, this might be a good option after a Diamond Head hike.

    My rough itinerary suggestion would be:

    Day 1 - Diamond Head / Hanauma Bay (snorkeling)
    Day 2 - North Shore / Waimea Valley (waterfall)
    Day 3 - Pearl Harbor / Waikiki
    Day 4 - Kualoa Ranch / Kailua beach

    Since you have a 5th day to work with, you could easily break up Diamond Head/Hanauma Bay, or Pearl Harbor/Waikiki. If you're interested in the Mississippi, you'll need more time at Pearl Harbor anyhow. When planning, keep in mind that you'll be traveling with the flow of rush hour traffic coming from and going to Aulani. I believe the general timeframe is 6am-10am and 3-7pm. Its best to avoid those times, but there were instances when we couldn't, so we managed expectations and built in time to allow for that.
     

    cgattis

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Jan 1, 2009
    However, I believe there are some people here who have gone later afternoon that found that time to work well too - @cgattis , was that you? If afternoon can work at Hanauma Bay, this might be a good option after a Diamond Head hike.
    Yes that was me :) We did exactly this—did Diamond Head, got all sweaty, had Teddy’s for lunch (yum), and then hit Hanauma Bay a little before 1:00. We literally got a parking space right in front of the entrance, so I’m sure we got a spot from an early-arriver who had already left for the day. Saw several other spots open as well. All those folks who arrive early don’t stay until closing, and there’s not a lunch option there (except a possible snack), so some will clear out. I’m sure it’s awesome in the morning, but it’s such a large lagoon, we felt like we had it practically to ourselves even on a pretty busy (judging from the parking lot) day.
     

    WishingMom

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    May 18, 2008
    Thank you everybody for the info, it’s a great starting point. I can plan disney world with my eyes closed, this is totally new territory to me...have a great day! 😀😀
     
  • cgattis

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Jan 1, 2009
    So there are two polar opposite sets of opinions on this, and lots of regular posters on both sides. But I’m going to start off the discussion.....

    What is it you’re looking for out of the Waikiki portion? Because to be blunt, I pretty much hated Waikiki. I was glad to see it, and for my kids to take some easy surfing lessons there, and it was convenient to Diamond Head. Oh, and we enjoyed the free hula show. Otherwise, it was just like any other city—tall buildings with chain shops in the bottoms of them—next to a tiny crowded beach. I could see if you had a mall-obsessed teen that just HAD to shop, but otherwise—unless one night for cruise or flight logistics purposes—I’d never stay there again. Others love the nightlife. I went to Hawaii to see nature, not shop. YMMV. Not that you asked LOL
     

    nkereina

    Last chance to lose your keys.
    Joined
    Feb 11, 2009
    So there are two polar opposite sets of opinions on this, and lots of regular posters on both sides. But I’m going to start off the discussion.....

    What is it you’re looking for out of the Waikiki portion? Because to be blunt, I pretty much hated Waikiki. I was glad to see it, and for my kids to take some easy surfing lessons there, and it was convenient to Diamond Head. Oh, and we enjoyed the free hula show. Otherwise, it was just like any other city—tall buildings with chain shops in the bottoms of them—next to a tiny crowded beach. I could see if you had a mall-obsessed teen that just HAD to shop, but otherwise—unless one night for cruise or flight logistics purposes—I’d never stay there again. Others love the nightlife. I went to Hawaii to see nature, not shop. YMMV. Not that you asked LOL
    We loved Waikiki, but I can definitely see this point of view and its a good thing for anyone to consider.

    From our perspective, as two 30 year olds on our honeymoon with no kids, we liked the busy atmosphere. There was a ton of stuff in walking distance of our hotel and there was always something to do or a place to go, no matter if it was 5am or in the evening. There were lots of active people early in the morning there because so many people are coming from the east and up early due to the time change. And we also found during our trip that night time activities are few and far between across Hawaii. Waikiki is the only place that really had options for things after dinner. One night, the main street was shut down for a festival with lots of local vendors and food trucks. We also liked the shopping because they had a lot of unique stores and even chain stores we don't have back home. While we didn't spend a ton of time shopping, it was nice to spend an afternoon strolling the stores and picking up a few souvenirs along the way (we LOVED 88 Tees!). Lots of resorts along the strip to explore, similar to Vegas. Lots of restaurants to choose from for dinner or just a drink. Great people watching. Overall, just a very different vibe than any place else we visited in Hawaii, something you can only find in Waikiki. If you've never been to Hawaii, I think Waikiki is a must do simply because its what so many people picture and think of when someone mentions Hawaii. Seems like part of the experience to say you did it.

    All of this said, I can see where what I described would not be conducive to a family with kids. They do fireworks in Waikiki on Friday nights, so that may be a good time to go for a family activity. I also agree with PP that the beach leaves a lot to be desired. I knew this in advance, so we planned no beach time while there. As I mentioned, its much better for those who want to shop or even casually browse, eat, and drink.

    Last thing I'll mention for anyone considering a stay there is that almost all organized tours offered on Oahu will offer transportation to and from your Waikiki hotel. We planned it so we did not have a rental during our Waikiki stay, and utilized organized tours to visit Diamond Head and Pearl Harbor, where parking and tickets can be a challenge. Worked out perfectly, and we avoided rental car and parking costs and traffic nightmares.
     

    kyton

    Mouseketeer
    Joined
    Jul 10, 2012
    We’ve been taking our kids to Oahu yearly since they 6, 4 and 2. Unfortunately we didn’t go last year due to family commitments so the last visit they were 13, 11 and 9.

    Our family as a whole loves Waikiki just as much as Ko Olina. Ko Olina is a tiny manmade enclave removed from everything. It is a great place to relax but that is really it. Waikiki is closer to many more sightseeing locations and has more to see and do.

    As they get older, they are actually preferring to just stay in Waikiki so I can see that our next visit (which sadly probably wont happen this year with travel being non-essential) will more then likely be solely Waikiki and day trips from there.
     

    skittles67

    Mouseketeer
    Joined
    Jan 14, 2017
    I am assuming you will have a rental car? I would highly recommend it staying at Aulani and visiting these areas. Assuming this is the case, I think the most important thing when planning is the locations and the logistics. Even though its an island, traffic does not make it quick or easy to get from one end to the other. We found it most time efficient to plan things in similar areas, but also taking the actual activity into account as well.

    For example, Diamond Head is near Waikiki. However, Diamond Head is best hiked early in the morning both to avoid crowds, parking hassles, and the hot sun. This is what we did, but we were far too sweaty and gross in our workout clothes to enjoy an afternoon in Waikiki afterwards. If you plan to just spend the afternoon at Waikiki beach, I think you can make it work, but IMO part of the appeal of Waikiki is the shopping and dining and it would be too far to go all the way back to Aulani to freshen up in between. I'd also caution that Waikiki beach itself is underwhelming for any beach time. Its very busy and relatively small - I'd save beach time for Aulani, or plan time on the windward side of the island which has gorgeous beaches. Kualoa Ranch is on the windward side of the island. We spent a morning there, with an afternoon at the beach in Kailua.

    IMO, North Shore can be its own day. We started our North Shore day at the Dole Plantation, spent the afternoon in Haleiwa, and also visited Waimea Valley and Laniakea Beach where the sea turtles are. Waimea Valley has a waterfall at the end of it where you can swim; however, I will caution that admission to the trail is $16 per person and its more of a paved nature trail for walking than it is a hike. We worked this in because it was best for maximizing our time on our North Shore day, but I know there are better waterfall hikes to be seen.

    I would highly recommend trying to obtain Pearl Harbor tickets in advance (60 days prior) so you know what time your Arizona tour will be, which will allow you to plan this day. Otherwise, you'll need to arrive early in the morning and whatever tour time you're assigned (they are assigned first come first serve) will dictate the rest of your day. We did an organized tour to Pearl Harbor and had a 9:15am Arizona tour time and we were done by 11:30am. I think if you can secure a morning tour time, you could easily spend the afternoon in Waikiki from here. If you don't get a morning tour time, I think the latest tour is around 3pm because Pearl Harbor closes at 5pm. You may hit some traffic, but you could still spend the evening in Waikiki for dinner, shopping, strolling. Things are open a bit later there, and you'd be after all the rush hour traffic heading back to Aulani.

    Lastly, for snorkeling, Hanauma Bay is often recommended which is south of Waikiki. This is another location that's best done early in the morning because of parking and capacity challenges. However, I believe there are some people here who have gone later afternoon that found that time to work well too - @cgattis , was that you? If afternoon can work at Hanauma Bay, this might be a good option after a Diamond Head hike.

    My rough itinerary suggestion would be:

    Day 1 - Diamond Head / Hanauma Bay (snorkeling)
    Day 2 - North Shore / Waimea Valley (waterfall)
    Day 3 - Pearl Harbor / Waikiki
    Day 4 - Kualoa Ranch / Kailua beach

    Since you have a 5th day to work with, you could easily break up Diamond Head/Hanauma Bay, or Pearl Harbor/Waikiki. If you're interested in the Mississippi, you'll need more time at Pearl Harbor anyhow. When planning, keep in mind that you'll be traveling with the flow of rush hour traffic coming from and going to Aulani. I believe the general timeframe is 6am-10am and 3-7pm. Its best to avoid those times, but there were instances when we couldn't, so we managed expectations and built in time to allow for that.
    Great information! Thank you!
     
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