My wife and I spent 9 wonderful days on Oahu as a final big vacation before our baby is born this fall. We were amazed by how beautiful Oahu is and how friendly the people were, and I very highly recommend the island to everyone. We particularly liked it because we are not big "beach people" and tire of sunbathing very quickly, and we're much more interested in sightseeing/cultural activities and visiting places of natural beauty. With my wife 4.5 months pregnant she was certainly able to walk a lot, but we obviously refrained from the more strenuous hikes or any surfing or horseback riding. Below is a trip report with a rundown of our itinerary and our likes and dislikes, and I hope this is helpful for others planning a trip to this gorgeous island.
Diamond Head - arrived early with plenty of water and thoroughly enjoyed this very moderate walk/hike. It's not every day you get to scale a volcanic crater, and it was very doable for my wife as we walked slowly. Wonderful views of Honolulu at the top.
Hanauma Bay - were stunned by how beautiful this is. We viewed this as merely a snorkeling destination, but it is gorgeous and reminiscent of the Dingle Peninsula in Ireland (which you visit simply to photograph it, so the snorkeling here is icing on the cake). Somewhat disappointed by the small # of fish we saw, but overall we loved it.
Halona Point/Makupuu Lookout - what a stunning drive this was right down the road from Hanauma. Definitely come here after snorkeling and bring a good camera.
Lanikai Beach - not hugely impressed. It's beautiful no doubt but not really more beautiful than other beaches we saw, and we were annoyed by the utter lack of parking and I even got a parking ticket for parking in a bicycle lane. In fairness, we planned to stop by here briefly as part of a mini circle island tour and it was the afternoon of Memorial Day, so parking and crowding would be an issue everywhere.
Pali Lookout - very beautiful and worth the stop.
Lyon Arboretum - we really liked it but were surprised by the lack of asphalt and expected it to look more like a traditional botanic garden more like Waimea Valley. We opted for this over Manoa Falls but still found Lyon to be largely muddy and not so great for a pregnant woman. But overall it had great trees and plants from all over the world and gives you the feeling of being right in the heart of a rainforest, and I definitely recommend it.
Tantalus Drive - beautiful lookout in the state park and a great drive. Ended at the punchbowl cemetery which was awe inspiring.
Bishop Museum - very interesting and provided us with great background info re: Hawaii's history and culture. We found the planetarium show and the science hall to be great for kids but kind of juvenile for two thirty-something adults.
Iolani Palace - worth a stop for more background regarding the history of Hawaii and its royalty. Beautiful grounds and the audio tour was nice.
Waikiki Aquarium - didn't love it. Almost no outdoor exhibits and the 2 seals were confined in what I consider to be far too small areas. Recommend skipping this unless you have kids.
Byodo-In-Temple - A Plus, we fell in love. There isn't much to see inside the temple, but the grounds are gorgeous and peaceful and the place is unbelievably photogenic.
Kualoa Regional Park - very beautiful mountains and the politically incorrectly named island was pretty too. Stopped by to take photos on our way north and it was well worth it.
Turtle Bay - spent from lunch through evening enjoying Turtle Bay and absolutely loved it. Great dining options and the pool and ocean were terrific. We even saw a turtle on the beach in the evening and photographed him/her from a respectful distance. Watched a fire knife show in the evening.
Polynesian Cultural Center - loved the Ha Breath of Life Show, but overall do not recommend the PCC. I am sorry but we found it to be largely artificial and inauthentic (which it is, since it's a theme park) but compared to an attraction like the Bishop Museum this just seemed like a big downgrade for someone interested in history and culture. I was also turned off by how much the PCC tried to encourage extra purchases. It's expensive enough just for admission, and I didn't appreciate the "pay for your photo" opportunities around every corner, nor the offering of special $10 drinks at the luau dinner. Again, the Ha show alone was phenomenal and worth prioritizing, but I wish we would have skipped the PCC otherwise and spent the day enjoying the north shore.
Waimea Valley - we liked it but were kind of underwhelmed. The waterfall was nice but nothing special, and we enjoyed the "cultural" section with artifacts and homes, but didn't find the valley overall to be nearly as beautiful as we had hoped. Perhaps visiting Lyon earlier in the trip had given us our fill of botany, but we weren't really in love with the valley overall. I'd give it a B or a B-minus but certainly don't hate it or anything.
Pearl Harbor - we very much liked the USS Bowfin and visiting Pearl Harbor generally was very moving for us and of course sad. We had inquired about USS Arizona tickets but due to scheduling we decided to not wake up at 5 a.m. and instead chose to visit the Bowfin, which was nice, and we took pictures of the Arizona and the Missouri.
Outrigger Reef on the Beach - fantastic. Spacious, modern room and we loved the pool and its location in Waikiki close to but not right on top of the action. Loved the staff and hugely recommend it. Not a fan at all of the timeshare people in the lobby who set up to portray themselves as concierges, which unfortunately leads a lot of unsuspecting guests to end up having to awkwardly decline invitations to "free" breakfasts, etc. I very highly recommend this hotel but dislike the timeshare program and the particular way in which it is set up.
Turtle Bay - loved it. Gorgeous property and had amazing dinners at Ola and Pakaai. The staff was fantastic and it was well worth the hefty price tag. We were very pleased with our decision to split our time between Waikiki and the north shore, and 6 nights Waikiki and 3 at Turtle Bay worked out perfectly.
Thanks again to everyone who helped us to plan this special and amazing vacation. I hope this helps others in the future and wish everyone here nothing but my very best.