Venturing out to the east side of the island is a must do while on Oahu. A trip without a visit to the naturally beautiful and less crowded east coast means you don’t get to truly experience all the wonders of what Oahu has to offer. Unlike Waikiki, the east side of the island does not have multi-million dollar sky rises or lines of designer shops and high end restaurants. It definitely will have a place in my heart for a long time.
Instead, the east side of the island is a dream come true for those who enjoy the outdoors and the ocean. The beaches are less packed and stunning in ways that words cannot fully describe. Small and authentic restaurants serve fresh pulled luau pork, sweet tropical fruit juices, and poi. The options are endless!
Now, lets start with how to get to East Oahu from Waikiki.
Getting to East oahu
If you are staying in Waikiki, it is generally a good idea to either take an Uber/Lyft or rent a car for 1-2 days to get to the east side of the island. There are a multitude of car rental stations that you can choose from with discounted pricing and flexible options to meet your needs.
The drive from Waikiki to the east Oahu takes approximately 45 minutes to an hour and a half, depending on whether or not you decide to make stops along the way. Although the drive is somewhat long in length, the beautiful sights throughout the ride are 100% worth the drive. The two main highways, H3 and 61, are the two choices to get you from Waikiki to east Oahu. The highways are surrounded by magnificent, towering mountain ranges and millions and millions of trees.
No matter if I looked left, right, straight, or behind, I was greeted by green vegetation everywhere! I really felt as if I was in a jungle…something I never get to experience in Los Angeles.
things to do
1. Go on a tour at kualoa ranch
Have you ever watched Jurassic World or Jurassic Park? If so, then you will definitely want to spend some time at Kualoa Ranch. Why? Because, put simply, Kualoa Ranch is the place where they filmed the movies. It is an undeniably gorgeous working ranch with horses, cows, chickens, cats, and more. Kualoa Ranch offers various tours including: UTV raptor tours, jungle jeep expeditions, zipline tours, ATV tours, horseback riding tours, and movie walkthrough tours. With reasonable pricing ranging from $30 to $100+, these popular tours sell out fast and it is highly recommended to book them at least 2 weeks – 1 month in advance.
My family and I did the jungle jeep tour and we had such a blast! The jungle jeep tour lasted about 1.5 hours total and was $45.95 for each adult ticket. The tour guide gave us detailed information about the Hawaiian culture, talked about the different films shot at Kualoa ranch, and even gave everyone a freshly plucked strawberry guava to sample. Man, the strawberry guava was sour! BUT also delicious… I guess it was comparable to a sour patch gummy.
Not only did we absorb interesting cultural information, but we also got fabulous views and pictures of Kualoa ranch, Chinaman’s hat, and of Kualoa beach throughout the tour. There was not a second where I was bored, especially because of the bumpy ride that felt almost like a roller coaster. The jungle jeep tour was worth it, and I would definitely do it again in a heartbeat.
2. Visit kualoa park and kayak to chinaman's hat
Kualoa Regional Park is literally a one minute drive from Kualoa Ranch. I got stunning views of the park, ocean, and Chinaman’s hat while at Kualoa Ranch. Kualoa Regional park is an actual park right next to the beach. There are several benches to sit and eat lunch or BBQ your own food. My family and I went to an authentic Hawaiian cafe beforehand and got to-go orders of Kalua Pig and Poi. It was relaxing eating our lunch at the park with the waves crashing onto the shore and the gentle wind blowing around.
Chinaman’s Hat, also known as Mokoli’i Island, has been termed that nickname because the island itself resembles the hat of a Chinaman. It is located about ⅓ of a mile offshore of Kualoa point. If you crave adventure, feel free to rent a kayak from Hawaii Beach Time. Hawaii Beach Time offers free delivery to any beach on the island, like Kualoa Regional beach. Choose from kayaks and paddle boards to beach chairs and umbrellas. Although I did not kayak to Chinaman’s hat, I did my research beforehand and I would have used Hawaii Beach Time.
From various reviews on Yelp and Tripadvisor, kayaking to the island takes approximately 20 minutes. Some reviewers noted that during low tide, it is even possible to wade, or walk, over to the island. Just make sure to check the tide levels beforehand, or it will be a somewhat difficult swim and back. Also, bring water shoes so you don’t cut your feet on anything sharp on the seafloor. Safety first!
3. visit the legendary sandbar
On my last day of the trip, my parents and I took an Uber to He’eia State park. I previously made a reservation for a 4 hour self guided kayak tour on www.holokaiadventures.com in order to kayak to the legendary Sandbar. Upon our arrival at He’eia state park, we checked in at the front desk, signed a waiver, and took a short trek to the kayak dock. The helpful employee at the kayak dock gave us a waterproof map, life vests, and quick instructions on how to kayak (and how to get ourselves back in the kayak in case we flipped over…AHH).
The kayak adventure took a terrifying, yet thrilling 45 minutes from shore to the Sandbar. For inexperienced Kayakers like myself and my mom, I sure had lots of confidence. Originally, I thought to myself…how hard can it be to kayak in the ocean? I’ve kayaked several times in lakes, this should be no different. Er, no. Big no.
The first 5-10 minutes were quite pleasant. We laughed, smiled, and took a bunch of selfies. Everything was great. Then, came the ginormous patches of coral in the water. They were so large that our kayak touched the coral reefs numerous times, even accidentally breaking off small bits of the coral. After maneuvering our way farther into the ocean, the water began to get darker and the waves stronger. We furiously paddled our way through the “rough waters” and throughout that time, my heart was beating so fast because we were literally the only kayak, and humans, in the water. We were totally scared out of our minds and just wanted to get to land as fast as possible.
30 minutes later, soaked with ocean water and drenched in sweat, we finally made it to the sandbar!
Oh my god, it was so amazing. Words cannot describe the beauty of this wondrous place. The sandbar, which is the largest saltwater sandbar in the world, is basically a white beach in the middle of the vast ocean. After anchoring our kayak in the sandbar, we hopped off into the water. It was around 9 am and low tide so the water went as high as our ankles. It was an amazing experience being able to stand in the middle of the ocean and get stunning views of the the lush mountain ranges, Mokoli’i island, and Coconut island. There were only a few other boats so it felt as if we had the same sandbar/ocean to ourselves! A group of people eve brought their own beach chairs and umbrellas, relaxing while drinking a beer. What a dream come true.
If you decide to venture out to the sandbar, make sure to look at the tide levels beforehand. The Sandbar can only really be experienced when the tide is low, or else the water levels will be too high for you to stand in. Going in the early morning is preferable than in the afternoon because the tide will be much lower. Although kayaking to the sandbar was terrifying, I did not regret it one bit. If you ask me whether I want to go to the Sandbar, I will say YES! But via kayak? Hmm, I may prefer going by boat next time haha. Not only did we get an awesome arm workout from kayaking, but we had plenty of time to soak in the views of the sandbar and take lots of memorable photos and videos.
These were the only places I personally visited in East Oahu. Each and every place was stunning in its own way and I highly recommend visiting all three places if time permits.
Other places to visit in east oahu
4) Lanikai Beach: A beautiful and popular beach spot destination. Great for snorkeling!
5) Lanikai Pillbox Hike: Depending on how far you go, this hike offers spectacular views of the ocean, especially during sunrise and sunset. It can get crowded at times…so the earlier, the better!
6) Waimanalo Bay: Another beautiful beach area that is typically less crowded.
7) Makapu’u Point: Also along the coast and it even has an awesome tide pool. Great for the kids!
East Oahu should be experienced at least once in your life. A good 2-3 days should suffice to see everything; however, if time allows, spend as much time there and just relax…I mean, that is what a vacation is for. Right?
I hope this post was helpful and gives you a better idea of what fun things you can do on your next trip to East Oahu. As always, I would love to hear you feedback. Feel free to leave a comment below or email me.
If you haven’t already, check out my first blog on the Best Things Do In Honolulu – A Travel Guide
Thank you so much for reading!!!