The east side of Oahu is my favorite coastline on the island for a short road trip and some excellent beach-hopping. With winding coastal roads, incredible beaches, and some incredibly scenic hiking trails, there is something for everyone on the east coast of Oahu.
EAST SIDE OAHU BUCKETLIST: TOP THINGS TO DO
In this blog post, I will cover all of the best spots on the east side of Oahu so you can add a few to your east coast road trip itinerary. Expect the best beaches, hikes, viewpoints, and snorkeling spots.
Kayak to the Mokes
Kayaking from Kailua or Lanikai is about a 45-minute journey. The paddle takes you out to the Mokuluas or the ‘Twin Islands’ seen from Lanikai Beach. Around the back of the islands, you’ll find quite a few good cliff jumping spots and also the Queen’s bath, which is one of my favorite spots on Oahu. There is pretty sweet fully guided kayak tour, including a professional guide, safety gear, and lunch!
Book your tour: Kayak Kailua Tour including Lunch
Try for a personal record up Koko Crater Railway Trail
The Koko Head Stairs is one of the most popular hikes on Oahu. While it is relatively short hike, don’t be fooled. The steep stairs will have you gasping for breath by the time you reach the top. My personal best was 12:15 but I have seen people fly up much quicker. If you take a leisurely walk up you can expect to finish between 30 to 45 minutes. This is one of the toughest challenges on the east side of Oahu.
The hike itself is free but it isn’t near Waikiki. There is a tour that includes transport, assistance, food, and someone to carry your water and guide you along the way. If you prefer to do the tour with a guide and includes hotel pick/up and drop-off from Waikiki it could be a good option.
Book your tour: Koko Head Trail Guided Adventure
Oahu scenic helicopter flight
I think a scenic helicopter flight is my favorite activity to do on Oahu by far! A helicopter tour over this amazing island will be the number one memory you take home with you from your vacation. It’s definitely the best way to see the entire east side of the island. The circle island Helicopter tour will have you fly above all of the famous locations on Oahu, it’s simply a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Book your tour: Oahu Full-Circle Island 60 minute Helicopter Tour
Book your tour: 25-minute Waikiki Helicopter Tour
Watch the sunrise from Lanikai Pillbox hike
If I had to pick one spot on the east side of Oahu to watch sunrise this would be it. Lanikai is by far one of the prettiest areas on Oahu, with spectacular bechside homes, crystal clear water and the famous Mokoluas also known as “mokes” (two small islands) out in the ocean.
Only a few blocks back from Lanikai Beach is the beginning of the Lanikai Pillbox Trail (Kaiwa Ridge), known for being one of the easier trails on the island of Oahu. There is no better way to start your day than with a short sunrise hike overlooking the ocean and amazing scenery.
Hike the Crouching Lion
The Crouching Lion Hike looks out over the stunning Kahana Bay and offers amazing views, steep drop-offs, and beautiful lush surroundings. It’s located on the Northeast side of Oahu and is usually much less populated than many of the other easy hikes on Oahu despite how beautiful it is.
Snorkel at Hanauma Bay
Hanauma Bay is the most popular spot for tourists to spot a turtle or explore the underwater world of the Pacific Ocean. The coral here is amazing and it is a protected bay so it is perfect for a half-day snorkel adventure. If you are lucky you will even spot a turtle but you can be guaranteed to find hundreds of amazing fish and marine species. It is about a 30-minute drive from Waikiki. This would have to be rated as the most popular snorkeling spot on the east coast of Oahu.
There’s a great tour that includes a snorkeling trip to Hanauma Bay but also a tour of the North Shore. Click Here to check the rates and availability of this tour on the booking website.
Find Dead man’s catwalk (or where it used to be)
Despite what its name might suggest, the Dead Man’s Catwalk provided more amazing views than danger. The catwalk referred to the cement slab that some claim was a possible war-era installation or was previously used as a launching strip for hang gliders. The words “The Dead Man’s Catwalk” were constantly being spray-painted on the 6-yard strip that led out to a steep drop-off down the face of cliffs. The cement platform might be gone but the epic view is still as amazing as ever. Heads up this trail is ‘illegal’ also although still heavily frequented daily.
Walk the trail to Hanauma Bay rock bridge
Hanauma Bay is the most popular snorkeling beach on Oahu with hundreds of tourists visiting each day. However, a beautiful hike winds around the cliffs above the bay leading towards the ocean’s edge. If you follow the path all the way to towards the ocean and venture down the cliffs you will find a small rock bridge. Be incredibly careful in this area as it has claimed the lives of strong swimmers in the past after they were swept off the rocks. One of the lesser known things to do on Oahu but definitely one to enjoy from a safe distance.
Chill at Cockroach cove
Cockroach Cove is right next to Halona Blowhole. Although tourists will come and go en masse in the carpark above the cove it is actually a great spot to chill out. Turtles often feed in the area and the rock formations and little caves make a great backdrop for an afternoon chill session. This is a little hidden gem on the east side of Oahu.
Get sprayed by Halona Blowhole
The Halona Blowhole is on the east side of Oahu and is one of the most popular things to do on Oahu. As the waves crash into the cliffs under the rocks the water surges out of a blowhole shooting into the air. The rougher the day the bigger the spray from the blowhole usually. Expect the parking lot to be full as this viewing platform is one of the most crowded and popular spots on the east side of Oahu.
Survive the Three Peaks ‘Olomana Trail’
Three Peaks or Olomana Trail is a treacherous looking hike with three steep peaks that can be seen all the way from Lanikai. This is not a hike for the faint-hearted with a number of narrow parts of the trail with steep drop-offs. The views of the Koolau’s are worth it all.
Lay in the Makapu’u Tide pools
The Makapu’u Lighthouse hike is one of the most popular things to do on Oahu. However, what most people don’t do is venture down the cliffs to the tide-pools on the water’s edge. Once down on the rocky coastline, a number of tide pools are deep enough to jump into and a few blowholes might give you a surprise too. This is one of the most underrated spots on the east coast of Oahu.
Visit Waimanalo Beach
This beautiful white sand paradise offers the kind of views that beach calendars are made of. Bright aqua waves lap the soft sand shore and the treeline comes right up to the edge of the sand. In addition to the main parking lots, there are multiple street entrances to this beach that offer street parking.
This beach is popular for wedding parties and photo sessions as it is similar to Lanikai but much more quiet and spacious. It actually won the award for best beaches in America one year so it’s hard to leave off my list of the top beaches on Oahu and it’s definitely one of the top beaches on the east side of Oahu.
Jump off the plank at Alan davis
When parking in the Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail carpark, there is another attraction close by. If you walk back towards Waikiki along the coast away from the lighthouse there are a collection of wooden planks hanging out over the crystal clear water at Alan Davis Beach. Only a few yards high they make the area a perfect spot to hang out for the day. This is one of the lesser known Oahu attractions.
Hike and Kayak to Chinaman’s Hat
The Chinaman’s Hat is a small island near Kualoa Ranch. It is accessible by kayak or a short swim. Once you arrive at the island a mini hike to the top will give you amazing views of the shore and the Kualoa Mountains. There is a great kayak rental at Kaneohe that sets up the kayaks on the beach for you so you can paddle out Chinamans Hat. This rental company is a not-for-profit, with proceeds helping to fund Kama’aina Kids and He’eia State Park!
Book your kayaking tour: Kaneohe Guided Kayak and Snorkel Tour
Jurassic Zipline at Kualoa Ranch
Zipline through the Ka’a’awa Valley rainforest on this tour at Kualoa Ranch. Fly safely down fourteen tandem cables, then cross two suspension bridges that swing over rushing streams. Learn about the native plant and animal life that abounds in this lush valley from your experienced adventure guides, who are there to ensure your comfort and safety. No zipline experience is necessary.
- Zipline tour at Kualoa Ranch on Oahu
- Zoom through the treetop canopy on 14 tandem zipline cables and two suspension bridges
- Learn about the native Hawaiian plants of the sacred Ka’a’awa Valley during a short hike
- Choose from multiple tour times in the morning or afternoon
Hang out at Lanikai Beach
Lanikai Beach Park on Oahu is a half-mile stretch of beautiful sand and palm trees, which looks out over the crystal clear waters of the Pacific Ocean. Two islands called “Na Mokulua” are situated less than a mile off-shore create a beautiful paradise atmosphere on what is one of my favorite beaches on Oahu.
Lanikai Beach, which means “heavenly sea”, is often ranked in the world’s top beaches and even has some nice snorkeling spots close to shore. This is easily my favorite beach on the east side of Oahu.
Lanikai Beach is an excellent spot for swimming. The sandy beach has few rocks, corals, or lava tubes to watch out for. It’s very easy to enter and exit the water and often the wave conditions are minimal. However, it isn’t the most exciting place for snorkeling. It is quite clear and you may be lucky enough to bump into a Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle. However, aside from fish, there aren’t many interesting corals to explore compared to other sites on the island.
Laie Point Cliff Jump
A 25-30 ft cliff jump on Oahu’s north shore is a well-known spot for a strange reason. The popular cliff jump scene from the movie, ‘Forgetting Sarah Marshall’ was filmed right here. It’s the best out and out cliff jump spot on the north shore of Oahu and a great way to break up the drive if you are heading up from the east coast.
The best time to make the cliff jump is in the summertime because the waves on the north shore of Oahu get crazy big during the winter. Floating next to a cliff at Laie Point trying to scramble out of the water is not where you want to be during January.
Walk the Makapu’u lighthouse trail
On Oahu’s, most eastern point sits the Makapu’u Lighthouse. The paved trail that takes you there is one of the most popular hikes on Oahu because of how accessible it is and the amazing views it presents. Because the trail is so clearly marked (unlike many of the hikes on Oahu) it is completely foolproof and great for beginners. It is family and dog friendly and a great way to see some fantastic views of the east side. This trail is one of the top five most popular things to do on Oahu.
Visit and/or jump at Spitting Cave
One of my favorite things to do on Oahu was to head to spitting cave on the east coast cliffs and watch the divers jumping off. I had done some Oahu cliff jumping in the past but this spot was always a little bit sketchy for me at the time. Water rushes in with waves, filling the cave before being spat out with great force. It’s one of the top things to do in Oahu for adrenaline junkies. This is also a great place to watch the sunset in the summer or spot whales in the winter.
Swim with Hawaiian Sea Turtles
This whole-day tour is a combination of land and water excursion and will show you Oahu’s famous spots and hidden gems with sea turtle snorkeling on Oahu. The tour picks you up at 7:15 in the morning at selected Waikiki hotels and the itinerary includes Diamond Head Lookout, Tropical Hawaiian Coffee, and Macadamia Nut Farms, ChinaMan’s Hat, North Shore Shrimp Trucks, North Shore Fruit Stand, the legendary Sunset Beach, Turtle Snorkeling, and Dole Pineapple Plantation.
The highlight of the trip is the snorkeling in Hanauma Bay where it’s quite famous for swimming with lots of tropical fish and sea turtles. Don’t worry about the gear as the tour guide will provide you snorkel gear like goggles and masks. This tour is perfect for visitors who stay in Oahu for a short time but still want to see what Oahu has to offer.
Book your tour: Hidden Gems of Oahu with North Shore Turtle Snorkeling
Bodyboard in the Shore break at Sandys
Nicknamed ‘Neck Break Beach’ the waves at Sandy Beach are unforgiving. Huge waves crash directly onto sand or only a few feet of water. It sounds like there would be few venturing into the water however, this is the most crowded beach on a weekend. Locals flock to get barrels before getting dumped and the beach is always full of action. Be careful, this is one of the most intense shorebreaks on the island and one of the most dangerous beaches on the east side of Oahu.
Take an Oahu Photography Tour
There are plenty of awesome spots on Oahu to get a good look at the stars each night. Away from the city at Kaena Point or at Makapu’u seem to be the most popular. There are several photography tours on Oahu and I will link them below. Some are for sunrise, sunset or landscape focused with locals who know the spots and can teach you how to shoot amazing photos.
Photography Tour: Full-Circle Island Photo Tour
Photography Tour: Sunset Photography Tour
Watch a sunrise at Chinamans Hat
Get up early and head to the east coast of Oahu before the sun rises. The Koolau’s will loom behind you in the darkness as you wait for the sun to creep over the horizon. This area is really beautiful during sunrise and just after as the mountains will be lit perfectly and Chinamans Hat is a nice silhouette out in the water.
Kahekili Ridge Trail
- Distance: 5km
- Duration: 2-3 hours
- Elevation: 600m
The Kahekili Trail is a short but adventurous ridge hike on the beautiful east coast of Oahu, Hawaii. With 600 meters of elevation over just three kilometers to the summit, this trail is a steep climb. With lots of exposed ridges, you will find some of the best east coast views while on the Kahekili Trail with vantage points of Kualoa, Chinaman’s Hat, and Kahana Bay. The hike is an awesome choice for sunrise but also great for those vibrant blue and green hues of the midday sun.
View the full blog post: KAHEKILI TRAIL – EPIC RIDGE HIKE ON OAHU
Hanauma Bay Ridge Hike
Hanauma Bay is undoubtedly the top snorkel location for tourists on the island. It boasts crystal clear water and a shallow reef, all within a protected bay, it is truly beautiful. The best way to see Hanauma Bay is actually not with a snorkel in your mouth, but to throw on your hiking shoes and get up on the ridge. The Hanauma Bay Ridge Hike is a short and easy trail giving you the best views of Hanauma Bay with Koko Head Crater as the backdrop.
Hike Distance: The total distance of the hike is 3.5 miles or 5km if you reach the top towers although you can explore further or turn back earlier to meet your needs.
Hike Duration: The hike will take you about 1-1.5 hours up and down
Hike Incline: Total incline for the hike was 500ft or 150 meters when starting all the way from the Koko Head parking lot.
View the full blog post: Hanauma Bay Ridge Hike